Fun with Buffalo Dung

ABOVE: Even after the Oregon Trail era, settlers in Nebraska used buffalo and cow dung to cook with—because the dried chips burned so well.

If you think frisbees were invented in the 1960s, you're wrong--by about a hundred years. Children on the Oregon Trail threw frisbee-like devices back in the mid-1800s. But they weren't made of plastic--they were made of buffalo dung.

During the great western migration, the entire Great Plains region was covered with buffalo chips--they were unavoidable. And yes, kids occasionally tossed them about in a frisbee-like manner. But the chips had a much more practical purpose for the emigrants--they were burned for fuel.

There was no firewood along much of the Trail, so the only alternative was dried buffalo dung. Even though the pioneers were hardy, they didn't much enjoy gathering up bushels of chips every night.

The chips burned surprisingly well, and produced an odor-free flame. Usually, each family had its own campfire, but sometimes everyone contributed their chips for one big bonfire.