Freedman, Russell. BUFFALO HUNT. New
York: Holiday House, 1988. ISBN 0823407020.
In BUFFALO HUNT, Russell Freedman examines the importance of the buffalo in the daily life and the lore of the
Great Plains Indians.
This book contains a skillful mix of illustration and text that make it appealing to children. The paintings included
in the book are not only complimentary to the text, they are beautiful, full-color reproductions of artist-adventurers who
traveled west during the mid-1800’s and observed Indians as they hunted buffalo. The paintings show how life for the
Indians revolved around the buffalo - from moving camp to the hunt site, to sacred
rituals. These illustrations are important on two levels; they provide a vivid compliment to the text, and they also expose
children to some important art from this time period in American history. Freedman includes a note at the end of the book
about the artists who are represented in the illustrations.
This book is not the story of one buffalo hunt, but a compilation of the many ways that hunts were made by Indians,
and later by the white hunters, whose massive slaughters of the creatures brought them to near-extinction. Freedman has divided
the book into logical chapters, beginning with Indian lore surrounding the buffalo and concluding with the disappearance of
the buffalo and the tribes of the Plains Indians moving onto reservations.
My favorite chapter is “From the Brains to the Tail.” This chapter focuses on what happens to the buffalo
after it is killed, and includes interesting details such as how the Indians
ate parts of the buffalo that would spoil immediately, as the animals were being butchered. Freedman writes, “…the
hunters devoured thin slices of raw liver, still warm and smoking, dipped in the salty juices of gallbladders. They ate mouthfuls
of raw brains, taken from the cracked skulls.” (p. 38) Another detail of
interest included in this chapter is that even buffalo droppings were of value to the Indians; they were prized for their
ability to burn slowly and were used for cooking fires. Freedman’s clear, easy to read text is full of details like
these which provide an interesting look at the life of the Great Plains Indians
during the time of the buffalo.
An index at the end of the book makes it easy to locate specific information, and when new vocabulary is introduced,
unusual pronunciations are presented phonetically. This social history of the Great Plains Indians is an appealing, accurate
and readable source of information for children in the late elementary and middle school grades.