Early Iowans and the Bison

Time Frame: Approximately 12,000 Years Ago

Approximately 12,000 years ago bison were essential to ancient Iowans for survival. They provided food, shelter and clothing.
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“First People of the Prairies,” The Iowa Heritage: Program # 1, Iowa Public Television, 1979.

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To the people of Ancient Iowa the bison was an important source of food, clothing and shelter.


Archeologists believe that a bison hunt required the help of every able-bodied member of the group; men, women, children all participated. By shouting and waving the Indians were able to able to herd the terrified bison towards cliffs or into ravine, where the cornered animals fell to their deaths or were easy targets for the Indians spears and knives. A large number of animals could be killed this way, sometimes more than the Indians could use.

(music and drums)

The bison were probably slaughtered on the spot and the useful parts of the meat, bones and hides were taken back to the camp. When the hunters killed an animal, they used many parts of it. The cut up the meat for food, of course, but they also used sharp edged stone to scrap the grease and fat from the hide to make it soft. The leather could then be used to make clothing or shelter. They cracked the bones to get to the nutritious marrow inside and pieces of the splintered bones were sharpened and used as awls for punching holes in the hides. The meat from the big game that they killed made up most of the diet of these nomadic hunters.


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