September 15, 2011

‘Buffalo tro’ event set for Touch of Nature

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The chance to experience the ancient American plains Indian ceremony known as “buffalo tro” is coming to Southern Illinois University Carbondale Touch of Nature Environmental Center Oct.  7.

The event is a popular tradition at the University, dating back more than half a century.  Hundreds of years ago, the nomadic American natives traveled far and wide in pursuit of the life-sustaining buffalo they relied on for food, clothing, tools, hides and indeed their very survival.  The tribes celebrated the success of their quest by cooking the meat directly on buffalo chip coals and then gathering as a group to eat and enjoy.

The University’s buffalo tro includes a dinner, drinks, evening reception and silent auction.  Set for Freeberg Hall and Sledgefoot Lounge at the Touch of Nature Environmental Center, the event melds a unique historic event with an evening featuring special entertainment, delicious food and drinks as a fundraiser to support Touch of Nature and its mission as an outdoor laboratory for experiential education.

The tradition dates back to Lloyd B. Sharp who brought it to the University, with support from Delyte Morris, then president of the University, and Wiliam Freeberg, an SIUC recreation visionary.  Sharp shared his tro expertise with Doc Abernathy who in turn passed it along to his son, Scott Abernathy, who will perform the buffalo tro at Touch of Nature, located about eight miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road.

The event begins with a 6 p.m. reception featuring local wines from Alto Vineyards and beers from Big Muddy Brewing.  Beef steaks for the 7 p.m. dinner will be prepared in similar fashion to the way the Plains tribes cooked them although hardwood chips of oak, hickory or maple will substitute for buffalo chips.  After the wood burns for three to four hours, cooks will pile it 6-8 inches deep and cover with steaks in ceremonial fashion.  The intense heat sears the meat and seals the juices inside. 

Diners will then enjoy the steaks, “klinked” to remove coals and accompanied by salad, baked potato, hot bread and a dessert bar.   There is also a vegetarian option featuring grilled seasonal vegetables.

Tickets are $50 per person and provide those attending with the dinner and two alcoholic beverages.  Those purchasing tickets will receive a gift receipt for $25 indicating the contribution above the value of the meal. 

The deadline to purchase tickets is Sept. 30.  Participants can download the RSVP card and find additional information, including auction items, online at  To purchase tickets, send back the RSVP card with payment or contact Julie Eisenhauer at 618/453-5682 or by email at  Seating is limited so organizers suggest making your reservation as soon as possible.

Donations are also welcome for Touch of Nature, which opened in 1951 on a 150-acre plot along Little Grassy Lake.  The facility now comprises 3,100 acres bordered by Giant City State Park, the Shawnee National Forest and the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.  It is home to Camp Little Giant, the country’s first university-affiliated residential camping program for people with disabilities as well as a host of other programs, activities and services including Therapeutic Recreation, Environmental Education, Underway Adventures, Spectrum Wilderness and more.