Bison jumps, or buffalo jumps, if you prefer, were an efficient way for the people indigenous to North America to obtain food in quantities not available in any other way. Several sites in the plains and in Montana are more famous and better studied, but Idaho has a bison jump that is worth a visit.
The Challis Bison Jump site is on property managed by the Bureau of Land Management near the visitor center for Land of the Yankee Fork State Park, which is just south of Challis at the junction of US 93 and State Highway 75.
How the Shoshoni drove the bison to the precipice may have varied. Before the arrival of horses tribal members probably snuck up on a herd on foot on three sides, making themselves known when they were close enough to startle the beasts, driving them forward and over the cliff. But they may also have used a “lure.”
Meriwether Lewis, writing in his journals about the method of Blackfeet Indians in present-day Montana, wrote, “one of the most active and fleet young men is selected and disguised in a robe of buffalo skin... he places himself at a distance between a herd of buffalo and a precipice proper for the purpose; the other Indians now surround the herd on the back and flanks and at a signal agreed on all show themselves at the same time moving forward towards the buffalo; the disguised Indian or decoy has taken care to place himself sufficiently near the buffalo to be noticed by them when they take to flight and running before them they follow him in full speed to the precipice; the Indian (decoy) in the mean time has taken care to secure himself in some cranny in the cliff... the part of the decoy I am informed is extremely dangerous.”
The Shoshoni may have used the Challis jump site for centuries, though by 1840 the bison were mostly gone. Once plains Indians acquired horses they began to prefer the method of surrounding the animals and running them in a circle while stabbing the beasts with long lances.
Some bison jump sites have yielded bones twenty and thirty feet deep indicating long use. Many bones have been excavated at the Challis site, though not nearly to that extent. Stone weapons and sites where they were made are also associated with the Challis Bison Jump. It was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1975.