Not only was this beast their "Walmart," in a sense it was their church.
The lives of the Plains tribes, including the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche and Arapaho, revolved around the bison, or buffalo.
Having few, or no, towns and villages, the Plains Indians were nomadic.
Their movements were based on those of the bison.
This animal not only sustained them with its meat; the hides provided material for clothing, bedding and building; bones made tools and weapons; and buffalo chips (manure) were a source of fuel.
The buffalo was the Native American version of a "super store." The buffalo not only allowed the Indians to survive the harsh environment of the Plains, but allowed them to flourish.
In a rare balance between man and nature, the Plains Indians killed only the bison they needed.
Wasting very little, they used nearly every part of the buffalo. Both species thrived in this balance.
Furthermore, this animal was much more than the source of their livelihood; the buffalo was a vital part of the religious and social life of the Plains Indians.
Their lives were shaped by the buffalo and its movements. The mere consumption of its meat was a spiritual experience.
"You are what you eat" had a deep meaning. Buffalo literally gave their lives so the Indian could live.
As a result, the Indians respected and revered this animal.
The Plains Indian depended on the buffalo for their survival. With the demise of the buffalo due to over-hunting by settlers, the Indians' lifestyle devolved into economic dependence on the U.S. government.
Even with the government's help, Plains Indians suffered from severe poverty. Their societal structure, economy and spiritual life which revolved around the buffalo no longer made sense in the white man's world which had virtually no buffalo.
In 1492, when Christopher Columbus came to the Western Hemisphere, there were about the same number of buffalo and indigenous people in the New World - about 70 million.
Not a coincidence, the buffalo and Indian populations were at their lowest around 1900 - less than 1,000 for the buffalo and about 250,000 for the Indians.