Buffalo Hide Pictographs

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Social Studies

Grade 3- 5


Students learn about the Native American practice of writing stories on buffalo skins. They learn about pictographs and use symbols to write their own stories


Discuss with students the fact that the Plains Indians depended on the buffalo (bison) for their existence. The buffalo provided clothing, food, robes, blankets, tools, rugs, fuel, and eating utensils. The Plains Indians respected the buffalo and always gave thanks for the buffalo's assistance in their way of life.
Oftentimes, stories would be recorded on buffalo skins. These stories were written in symbols known as pictographs. Distribute to students copies of the Buffalo Hide reference page, which has examples of a number of pictographs. Explain to them that they will use these pictographs to tell their own stories.
Directions for Creating the Buffalo Hides:
1. Cut along one seam of the paper bag to open the bag into a large piece of paper.
2. Using scissors or tearing (tearing looks more authentic), cut out a hide shape from the paper.
3. Using crayons and the pictograph samples from the Buffalo Hide reference page, write a story on the bag. Be sure to press very hard on the bag with the crayons.
4. In a sink or bucket of water placed on a newspaper, dilute one cup (250 mL) of brown tempera paint.
5. Lightly crumple the paper buffalo skin and immerse it in the tempera mixture.
6. Knead the hide gently to remove excess water.
7. Carefully open up the hide and lay it flat on newspapers to dry thoroughly.


Buffalo Hide reference page
large brown paper bag (one per student)
light brown tempera paint
bucket or sink full of water

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