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Buffalo Bird Woman
Buffalo Bird Woman (1839-1932) was a Hidatsa woman born along the Knife River. In 1845, her people moved upstream and built Like-A- Fishhook Village; a village her people shared with the Mandan and Arikara. It was there that Buffalo Bird Woman, known in Hidatsa as Maxidiwiac, became an expert gardener. She and other women in her tribe used centuries old agricultural practices to grow corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers in the bottomlands of the Missouri River. In the mid-1880s, new government policies forced the breakup of Buffalo Bird Woman’s village and dispersed families onto individual allotments on the Fort Berthold Reservation. Despite the many hardships the Native Americans faced, the Hidatsa women continued to grow the vegetables that have proven to be some of the most important crops for Midwestern farmers.
In 1916, Gilbert L. Wilson began gathering information from Buffalo Bird Woman, transcribing her wealth of knowledge on gardening. She described for him field care and preparation, planting, harvesting, processing, and storing vegetables. She also provided him with recipes for cooking traditional Hidatsa dishes, and traditional songs and ceremonies to insure a successful harvest. In 1917, Wilson published this information as a book called Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians: An Indian Interpretation. The title was later changed to Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden.
Buffalo Bird Woman’s methods stand the test of time, as it provides modern gardeners with methods free from pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden is available in print, ebook, and also for free on the University of Pennsylvania Digital Library (http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/buffalo/garden/garden.html).
In honor of Women's History Month, each week of March we will feature a brief story on a woman (or women) in history with a connection to our local area. If you know of someone we should write about, or would like more information, call or stop by the museum and let us know!