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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 9, 2002 - Issue 56


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Importance of Bison/Buffalos Students

by Tania Warnock, Staff Writer, Enid News and Eagle
Resting BuffaloENID, OK - In a time when modern conveniences are at the hands of every fourth-grader, it's a little hard for them to imagine a life in which their very survival lies in the hands, or rather hooves, of just one animal.

Desiree Webber, author of "The Buffalo Train Ride," presented the story of the buffalo in Oklahoma to fourth-graders at Chisholm Elementary School.

She has been a librarian at Moore Public Library and recently took a job as the director of the Mustang Public Library.

In her book, she writes about how the buffalo was saved from near extinction by the creation of the Wichita Wildlife Refuge near Lawton.

"It was pretty cool," said Michael Smith, 11.

Trever Simmons liked the part of the presentation in which students got to see and touch a buffalo robe. He also learned that parents would make sleds out of buffalo rib bones. That was pretty neat, too, he said.

Karissa Jordahl's favorite part of the program was learning out people brought buffaloes back from the brink of extinction by making a preserve for them right here in Oklahoma.

Jason Gillpatrick said saving the buffalo was important.

"So we could have a better environment" he said.

He liked the part of the presentation in which Webber explained it took 14 to 15 buffalo hides to make a tepee.

Webber's interest in buffalos was sparked when she learned that 15 were brought to Oklahoma territory from New York in the early 1900s as part of conservation project.

When white settlers first came to North America, they told stories about standing high on a mountain and seeing nothing but buffalo for as far as the eye could see.

"It looked like someone took a big brown blanket and threw it over the landscape," Webber said.

Characters in her non-fiction book told stories of traveling 175 miles in oxen-drawn carts through one solid migration of buffalo.

These buffalo lived in harmony with the American Indians, who used every aspect of the animal.

To help the children realize the mammoth size of some of these creatures she seems to love so much, Webber equated 500 pounds of buffalo meat to eating a quarter-pound buffalo burger for breakfast, lunch and dinner for more than a year and a half.

"The animals were so big," Webber said, "they pushed the trains off the track."

The covering on their horns was used for cups or utensils if cut in half, she told the children.

Their skin, which might range between 25 and 200 pounds, was used to make tepees and to keep the Indians warm, Webber said. She even used her own buffalo hide to keep her warm during the four days she was without electricity in the recent ice storm.

"On a day like this, it would feel pretty good to be wrapped up in one of these," she said, wrapping one of the students up in the blanket.

The tail of the buffalo was used as a fly swatter. The bladder was used to carry water. Even their manure was used. Like the bladder, the manure grossed out many of the kids, who squirmed at the thought of using it to heat their homes, was used. The buffalo chips also were ground up and used as baby power, which was equally disgusting to the kids.

"They literally used all the pieces of the buffalo," Webber said.

With the migration of settlers westward, however, those millions of buffalo eventually dwindled to a dangerous 600.

Some of that devastation of the buffalo Webber illustrated with photos. One photo shows 50,000 buffalo hides stacked on top of one another in what looked to be a heap taller than a 6-foot man.

Today, because of conservation efforts going back nearly 100 years, the mighty beast and largest mammal roaming North America can be seen running, jumping and playing on that preserve near Lawton.

Just like the buffalo were years ago, other animals today are in danger of extinction, Webber said. Understanding the consequences is part of the reason Webber gives presentations like she did Monday to young kids, because she knows students can do something about it.

The cooperation that took place to bring the buffalo back was possible because people, who might not normally work together, did so for a common goal, she said, and that can happen today, too, even if that does "sound a little hokey."

"That's what I think we have to do today to protect our animals," Webber said.

"Hopefully they are going to grow up and make changes and make a difference," she said of the kids.

Webber's newest book, "Bone Head: Story of the Longhorn," comes out in April. The book is also a children's book.

Enid, OK Map

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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