Buffalo Bull Boat with Paddle
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Plains Indian Buffalo Bull Boat with Paddle

Plains Indian Buffalo Bull Boat with Paddle

 Mandan or Hidatsa

A bull boat was very practical because it could transport about half a ton yet weighed only thirty pounds.

It could be built in a day. The framework was willow upon which a fresh hide was placed and dried. The hair side was toward the water, which prevented moisture from entering the boat and deterred the boat from spinning. Every household had several bull boats. They were used to carry loads of meat and firewood from up or down-river and to cross areas of water. They were stored upside down above the smoke holes of the earth lodges to keep out rain. Oars were marked with war honors. The cottonwood oars had hourglass cut-outs to allow some water to pass, which kept the blade from twisting during paddling.

The Corps of Discovery members were amazed how the natives handled these boats in the huge waves of the Missouri. One report listed a bull boat as carrying six passengers. The women did the paddling in the front from a kneeling position.

Oct 10 Lewis - "Several Canoes made of a Single Buffalo Skin with 3 thre squars Cross the river to day in waves as high as I ever Saw them on this river, quite uncomposed."

The Celtic people of ancient Europe used hide covered boats similar to these. They were called coracles.


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