The Buffalo Tro tradition has been a part of Southern Illinois University and Touch of Nature for over fifty years. Thousands of visitors have taken part in this ancient ceremony, which originated with the American Plains Indians as a means to feed the tribe in its entirety. The Buffalo Tro offers a unique opportunity to socialize and enjoy a memorable steak dinner, cooked on an open coal fire in the true native tradition.
For centuries, the nomadic Plains tribes traveled great distances in search of the mighty buffalo. The bison was the ultimate provider, giving the people food, clothing, tools and other materials necessary for survival. The Buffalo Tro is an adaptation of a Plains Indian cooking technique. The Plains Indians used fresh buffalo meat and since firewood was scarce, the meat was cooked directly on the coals of buffalo chips.
Luckily for us, our cooks use hardwood in place of chips. A fire pit of oak, hickory, or maple is lit and burned for three to four hours and then the coals are raked into a bed six to eight inches deep. After a ceremony, the “tro-ers” place the steaks directly on the coals, and the intense heat cauterizes the pores in the meat keeping juices inside. The steaks are then “scraped” or “clinked” to remove coals before serving to the gathering.
Native Americans viewed nature, and especially the bison, as gifts from their Creator or Great Spirit. In turn, they felt an obligation of stewardship to preserve, maintain, and share the gifts that they had received.
Here at Touch of Nature, we are indebted to those who came before us. Individuals such a Lloyd B. Sharp, who introduced the Buffalo Tro to Southern Illinois, as well as SIUC President Delyte Morris and recreation visionary William Freeberg, helped create Touch of Nature and left a legacy in line with Native beliefs.
L.B. Sharp also shared this magical cooking method with Doc Abernathy, who then passed it onto his son Scott Abernathy.