“No berry, except the Saskatoon, is mentioned more often in the journals of travelers in the west a few generations ago (the buffalo berry).” Annora Brown said when speaking to a Macleod audience in 1939.
“The Indian name of the Bull-Berry, signifying Rabbit Berries, but the fruit was so commonly used as a garnish for the buffalo roasts and steaks of that day that the voyageurs were soon calling it Buffalo Grease or Bull Fat. From there it is a natural step to the common name of Buffalo Berry and Bull Berry, when the French-Canadian population began to be outnumbered by the English-speaking population.
“Flowers, which came first, are like time-yellowed lace. There are two kinds of Bull Berry – those found in the mountains – shepherdia canadensis, and the shepherdia argenica found on the prairie river bottoms. The branches and twigs have queer sharp angles terminated with villainous barbs which make the berries hard to pick. From the Indians we have learned that the berries may be gathered by beating the bush and catching the berries on blankets on the ground.
“This leads to an old Blackfoot legend of Old Man in the days when he ceased to be a god and became a poor, foolish, irrational trickster.
“Old Man wandered through the woods one day feeling very hungry. He came to a deep still pool, and stopping for a drink, he beheld, lying at the bottom of the pool, a cluster of bright red berries. These were just what he wanted so be tried to reach them by diving after them. Again and again he dove into the clear water, but could not reach the bottom. Each time he stood on the bank he saw them there in the transparent depths. At last he conceived a plan that could not fail. Tearing strips of bark from a tree along the bank, he bound heavy stones about his wrists, neck and waist. Then he dove again. This time with the aid of the stone, he reached the bottom – but there were no berries there. When he decided to return to the surface, however, the stones still held him to the bottom, head down, feet floating far above. It was a desperate struggle he had to unloose the strings of bark, but at last he threw himself half-drowned on the mossy bank of the pond. As he lay there gasping and choking for air, he looked up into the tangled branches above, and there, scarcely higher than his head, was the cluster of berries for which he had been diving. Furious at having been so deceived, he seized a stick and beat the bushes till the branches fell to strange broken angles and the berries dropped to the ground. ‘People will always gather your berries by beating you with a stick’ he told the tree. And people always have.
“Having given its bark for strings and its berries for food, this tree turned impish once more and refused its wood for firewood. “Miss-is-a-misoi” or stinkwood, the Indians call it, and if you try burning it in your campfire one time, you will understand the reason.
“These are only a few of the stories connected with wild flowers. There are many, many more: a knowledge of them gives one a whole portable library of adventure, legend and philosophy.”
(These notes were recorded in the Lethbridge Herald, May 12, 1939)
18 - Annora Brown Lectured on the Buffalo Berry – Joyce Sasse
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Picture courtesy of Mary-Beth Laviolette
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Digitized photographs of 260 Annora Brown paintings in the Glenbow Museum (wild flowers, Blackfoot culture & art, landscapes in the Oldman and Waterton River drainage area) can be viewed at:
Mountain Shooting Star 58.45.23 - Collection of Glenbow
Used with permission of Annora Brown Estate