Located off I-90, just across the Wyoming border from South Dakota, you will find the Vore Buffalo Jump which archeologists claim is “the most well preserved bone bed in the northern hemisphere”. We stumbled upon this little known site on the drive between Deadwood and Devils Tower, and lucky for us it was still open, so we doubled back from the Welcome Center, which had already closed, and spent a little time learning about the history of this place. These are exactly the type of stops that make me prefer to travel in a car. It gets your feet on the ground, giving you the opportunity to be spontaneous and explore all the random little towns in between your major destinations, which helps you to truly know a place rather than just passing through it.
The sinkhole in the photo below has existed for centuries, but it’s significance was discovered in 1969, while the interstate was being designed. As the entire area is on top of a gypsum formation, there were concerns about foundation stability since gypsum is water soluble and causes the sinkholes to form when caverns are created underground**. This brought them to build a road down into the sinkhole to check the foundations stability and that’s when the bones, which extended across the entire bottom, were discovered. Archaeologists at the University of Wyoming were contacted and in the summer of 1971 excavations began. The property was donated by the Vore family and in 1990 the Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation non-profit was formed to assist the University in it’s research, which continues today.
Between 1500 AD and 1800 AD, Plains tribes used this sinkhole to trap and kill buffalo. They would disguise themselves to lure the herds over the edge of the sinkhole where they met an instant death, or were incapacitated and easier to take out. Researchers have estimated that over 4,000 buffalo were killed during the years this jump was active.
Guided tours are offered during the summer months and take you down into the actual research site that you see here, above. I had never heard of this place before visiting, and learned so much from the guides; not just about the history of the tribes and how they survived on these plains, but also about the research itself. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend giving them the opportunity to share all of their knowledge. As a non-profit, they rely on donations to continue their research. They host “up to 1,000 school children a year, and if you remember what field trips were like when you were a kid, these are exactly the type of experiences that mold our younger generations and encourage them to love learning. I am not sponsored by them, I just really enjoyed the knowledge I gained by their existence and am happy to encourage support of these historical and cultural sites. If you’re inclined to do so, you can find a donation tab at their website, which I linked early in this article.
*All images copyright T Wagner Studios
**Thanks to Ted Vore for providing me with the scientific details about gypsum.