Just above the banks of Running Water Draw, a band of Comanches enjoys several days of respite from their arduous trek across the Llano Estacado in pursuit of big game. Survival of their ten families is at stake. A young boy shatters the tranquility. He runs the length of his band’s encampment and stops at his family’s nʉmʉ ka̲hni, a steeply pitched conical abode covered in stretched buffalo hides. The excitement in his voice can only mean one thing. He points into the sea of grass and hollers tasiwóo, tasiwóo, tasiwóo, the Comanche word for buffalo. Within minutes the men of his nomadic band mount horses and surge into the grasslands brandishing hunting weaponry.
A distant roll of thundering hooves drifts into the camp on the prairie winds. The hunters have engaged a maternal buffalo herd and it’s on the run. Except for several old bulls, male bison are conspicuously absent. Breeding season is still a few months off. A ferocious chase fraught with danger ensues. The daring hunters pit bows and lances against the formidable giants of the Great Plains. Comanches hold the magnificent beasts in high regard and will only kill the number they can use. Just before sunset word of the successful hunt reaches the camp. A song of joy erupts. Tonight and in the days ahead nemene (our people) will eat well.
The Great Spirit has smiled upon the people of the Buffalo-eater Band. Out of respect for the animals they do not waste any part of the kill. The meat feeds their community. They work the hides into shields, saddles, foot gear, robes, and cover their dwellings with it. Sinews make excellent bow strings. Shoulder blades become tools. Horns are fine head dress. Hooves boil down into glue.
Within a few days the Comanche band strikes camp and renews their journey on the northbound highway carved out by thousands of hooves. On the shortgrass prairie of the Llano Estacado the bison favor warm season grasses. They graze on the move, rest and chew cud during midday heat, then lumber onward along watersheds and across ridges. Their instinctive ability to find water and travel routes of least resistance allow the men of the Buffalo-eater Band to mark future warrior trails and thoroughfares to hunting grounds. The buffalo touches every part of their lives and defines their spirit as a people of the plains.
The American Bison, colloquially the American Buffalo never overgraze. As a keystone species their grazing load on the vast grasslands of the Great Plains ensures a robust and diverse biome.
© Ilija Lukić 2013
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