Braintan Bison Tanning Class with Barnes River Camp: Cardwell, Montana. April 15 - 30, 2021
Have you ever dreamed of brain tanning a bison hide and having your own beautiful buffalo robe? Imagine snuggling with your lover in luxurious comfort, wrapped in warm woolly buffalo. Display it proudly on the couch or as a bedcover. Or take it with you into the wilderness for an authentic Stone Age bed. In this class you will braintan your own bison hide from start to finish!
Dry-Scraping: The biggest step in the tanning process is to thin the hide with a sharp dry-scrape tool. Make the hide thin and light so it is easier to brain and soften it. For dry-scrape work, the wet bison hide is strung up in a rack and allowed to dry then slowly shaved thinner and thinner. It requires a razor-sharp tool and great care to avoid popping through and making big holes in the hide. Improper dry-scraping can result in numerous holes that must be sewn up. Common ways this happens are over thinning, and trying to hard, so BE careful now.
The Process: This is the summary of the process. Say thank you to the bison, say a prayer, and start having fun. Soak the hide for 12 to 24 hours to soften it and wash out the dirt, then let the hide drip excess water for a bit. Poke frame holes in the hide, and string it up in a frame. Let the hide dry in the frame and start fleshing or dry scraping membrane off hide. Then start thinning hide and don't pop too many holes!
Brain it a few times and spend hours softening hide. Smoke hide and BAMMM....brained bison robe! Keep in mind that this is Montana. Spring temperatures could range from 20 to 50F. Scheduling the class over a longer period will hopefully allow students more time to catch decent weather and be productive. This class is weather dependent. Spare time will allow our bodies to recuperate, learn from each other, laugh often, and keep stress levels low.
Working bison hides is no easy peazy thing. Your body will be sore, tired, and cold at times. There might be forty hours of work on a hide, maybe more or less depending on commitment levels. Staff will help you along your journey, and we will not make you do anything you don't wish. We also will not do a cram session in the last day(s) if you slack off during the class. This class will involve work, frustrations, and play. A natural hot springs is about eight miles away for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Class includes all hide-tanning materials, and price of the hide depends on where Barnes can get hides. There's ample camping at River Camp in various primitive structures, including an earthlodge and wickiups. Cooking happens over the campfire or on a propane stove. Bring your own food and extra warm sleeping bag or laying options. River Camp is a tobacco, alcohol and drug-free site. Please respect the integrity of our campus.
Bison Tanning is offered espcially for Green University® LLC students and is included in the cost of the semester or year-long tuition. Please read more about our Immersion program, and sign up to join the fun!
Anyone interested in Bison Tanning as an individual class must contact us for a phone interview with Barnes prior to registering for the class. Please send us a note with your phone number. Once pre-approved by Barnes, you may formally register as follows: Cost: $950. Deadline: April 1. To register, please fill out and mail in the Medical History (PDF) and Liability Waiver and Release (PDF) forms, along with a check for $250 to reserve your spot. The balance may be paid upon arrival. Or register online through the PayPal button below and send the paperwork separately.
More about Montana Bison
The plains bison (a.k.a. "buffalo") were a one-stop resource for Native Americans, providing nutritious food, warm buffalo robes, stomachs for bags, bones for tools, and much more. Buffalo were nearly exterminated in the 1800s, yet today they are making a slow comeback on private ranches and many public places like Yellowstone National Park, the National Bison Range, and Wind Cave National Park. The burgeoning bison population in Yellowstone National Park has enabled Native American tribes to enact their treaty rights to hunt buffalo, which is now allowed where the animals wander outside of Yellowstone National Park in winter.
Thomas Elpel and Katie Russell stumbled upon the buffalo hunt in the winter of 2013, collected a few surplus hides, heads, and stomachs, and made initial connections with the native hunters. Each winter since then, Katie returned with friends and camped out in February and March to collect and utilize left-behind pieces from the hunt - hides, skulls, bones, fur, organs, and more. In the process, they worked to build connections with the native hunters, the Buffalo Field Campaign, park officials, tourists and townsfolk alike. It was their goal to build a bridge between cultures, factions, and political lines in common recognition of the innate worth of the buffalo, and our own shared humanity, as described in the video below.