I Will Be Meat for My Salish
Society Book a Treasure of Salish and Buffalo Stories
The story of how the Salish Indians drew on the buffalo to sustain them and enrich their spirituality—and ultimately helped save the life-giving animal from extinction—is told in I Will Be Meat for My Salish , a new book published jointly by the Salish Kootenai College Press and the Montana Historical Society Press.
Buffalo had become scarce by the 1870s, when a young Salish man named Sam Walking Coyote captured a number of calves and brought them home to the Flathead Indian Reservation in Western Montana.
These semi-domesticated calves became the nucleus of the Pablo-Allard buffalo herd, the descendents of which now live in the National Bison Range adjacent to the reservation.
The story of the remarkable Pablo-Allard herd is only one fascinating aspect of the Salish relationship with the buffalo detailed in I Will Be Meat for My Salish .
Subtitled “The Montana Writers Project and the Buffalo of the Flathead Indian Reservation,” this new book uses interviews collected in the 1920s and 1930s to provide an authentic window into Salish culture, especially the tribe’s relationship to the buffalo.
“The book is divided into three major parts,” explained Martha Kohl, former editor of the Montana Historical Society Press.
Part one deals with the Salish history and legends about the buffalo handed down from generation to generation. Part two examines the Salish’s role in saving the species. Part three offers a tapestry of other aspects of Salish and Flathead Reservation history gathered in first-person interviews with tribal members by people working for the Montana Writers Project as part of a Works Progress Administration project to help the nation recover from the Great Depression.
Many of the stories offer insight into the tribe’s interactions with buffalo, who served as “a commissary for the tribe,” according to the volume’s editor, Robert Bigart.
For example, Lassaw Redhorn remembers one winter hunt that provided the tribe with prime buffalo hides. The hunters rushed the herd and stampeded it into snow-filled ravines, where the heavy buffalo became stuck in the deep snow.
“The hunters on their snowshoes appeared to literally skim across the crust (of the snow) to their victims. With arrow, lances and the few guns they had, the Indians soon dispatched the entire herd,” Redhorn recalled.
The title of the book is drawn from the story “Sun Buffalo Cow Sacrificed Her Life,” as told by three tribal elders. One year, when food was very scarce, the mythic Sun Buffalo Cow appeared to a group of Salish hunters at the top of a cliff and told the people: “I go into [change to] the form of earth buffalo. I will be meat for my Salish.” Then “she jumped headlong from the high rock to the foot of the cliff,” assuring the Salish would have food to survive the winter.
The 288-page book is edited by Bigart of Salish Kootenai College in Pablo and includes illustrations by noted Native American artist Dwight W. BilleDeaux and several maps of the reservation.
It sells for $18.95 in bookstores or can be ordered from the Montana Historical Society (shipping and handling additional) by calling toll-free 1-800-243-9900.Order