Saturday, July 25, 2009


Probably the earliest predecessors to the lyceum in Red River land were magician shows held at Pembina and other lower Red River settlements during the early 1800's. The usual admission to these shows was one buffalo sinew1, one of the most prized articles of barter in early Red River trade. These sinews, which were about two feet long and two inches wide, came from the flat of a buffalo's back and were the finest material available at that time for use as sewing thread. A sinew could be split as wide or as narrow as desired and a thread could be ripped the full length of the sinew.

The lyceum, which in later years followed these early shows, was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in small communities.

From The Challenge of the Prairie, by Hiram M. Drache

1 - The Plains Indians also used the buffalo for one other important material. They used what was called sinew thread to sew with. The process was not done easily, and took a skilled worker to complete the task. Sinew was obtained from buffalo, elk, moose and other animals. There was usually an ample supply in camp after the hunts, since every part of the animal was preserved for its special use. The prime sinew for sewing was taken from the large tendon which lies along both sides of the buffalo's backbone, beginning just behind the neck joint and extending in length for about three feet. It was removed as intact as possible to obtain the greatest length. The short piece of tendon found under the shoulder blade of the buffalo cow provided an especially thick cord of sinew, several lengths of which were sometimes twisted together for use as a bowstring. To prepare the string the moist tendon was cleaned by scraping it thoroughly with a piece of flint or bone. Before it was too dry, rubbing it together between the hands, after which the fibers of sinew could be stripped off with piece of flint, softened it. If the tendon was not prepared soon after it was taken from the body, or if the natural glue was not removed by immediate soaking in water, it became stiff and dry and had to be soaked until freed from the glue which clung to it. Then it was hammered and softened until the fibers could be stripped off readily. As the fibers were peeled off in lengths of from one to three feet, they were moistened with saliva and twisted by rubbing them against the knee with a quick motion until they acquired the proper degree of elasticity. The sinew was always carefully wrapped in a hide cover until it was to be used. Sinew could be kept indefinitely and even if it became too dry it could be soaked in warm water until its flexibility returned...

- From Plains Indians: An Interdisciplinary Unit of Study