Leaving a snug and welcoming home early on a chilly and hazy Sunday morning we headed southward toward Fort Macleod. Our destination was the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump which has been used by the Blackfoot for nearly 6.000 years. We knew little about what we were going to see, but when the Interpretive Centre came into view we were amazed by the way the building harmonized with the bluff it was set into.
Information about the site was communicated by means of a wonderfully re-enacted film, narrated animated illustrations and artfully displayed artifacts. We learned from these informative techniques how the Blackfoot peoples would gather in the Fall at the bluffs near the Centre and with ingenious ways, herd the buffalo to the edge where they were forced by momentum of their running to jump off. Any buffalo not killed by the fall, would be killed by those waiting for them below. All the buffalo were skinned; the meat was thinly sliced, dried and mixed with wild cherries to make pemmican. The hides were used for clothing and shelter. The bones were used for tools…even the marrow was used. Nothing went to waste.
From the 1600”s to 1870, the number of buffalo was estimated to be about 60 million. The demise of the buffalo, historically, is explained in many ways. But the coming of the white man, the killing of buffalo for sport, and their prized hide for making coats were in the forefront. At the end of this era, the numbers dwindled to about 2,000. Today it is estimated that the herds have rebounded to about 500,000.
Another sober note about this visit was the derivation of the name of the site. The ‘head smashed in’ refers, not to a buffalo, but to a young Blackfoot lad who decided to watch the proceedings from the bottom of the jump……nuff said!!!
After a lunch in Fort Macleod, over which we discussed the tragic story of the buffalo, we headed west towards the Rockies. Near the Crowsnest Pass, we came to a town called Frank. Once again, we were entering a site we knew nothing about. It was an eerie feeling driving into the valley below Turtle Mountain, because all around us, there were humongous grey boulders – almost as far as the eye could see.
We went to the Interpretive Centre, another place of riveting information. In the early morning of April 29, 1903, a large part of the face of Turtle Mountain slid into the town of Frank and even part way up the other side of the valley. It took only 100 seconds to crush part of the town and to kill at least 76 people leaving a pile of rubble to a depth of 15 metres on the valley floor. This was explained at the Interpretive Centre by the use of displays, exhibits, photographs, and a movie called “In the Mountain’s Shadow”. We were sobered by learning how these events unfolded.
It was also known that the Indians of the area avoided staying or travelling anywhere near Turtle Mountain. They called it “The Mountain That Walked”. The men who worked in the mine at the foot of the Mountain were familiar with its tremors. The evening of the slide the miners became trapped.
The exhibition made us feel the horror and the triumph of this site. We learned of incidents of pure luck, which took people out of harm’s way before the slide, the unusual rescue of the miners trapped in the mine, finding a baby alive on a rock after the slide and most disconcerting, the fact that another part of the mountain is unstable to this day. We are relieved that we will miss the ‘second coming’.
Many thanks to Mum and Dad (Joan and Alan Green) for the guest post.