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A bull boat's framework was made of willow branches bent in a huge bowl shape about four feet across the top and eighteen inches deep. A bull buffalo hide (thus the bull phrase) was then stretched around this framework. The entire boat weighed about 30 pounds. The hair was left on the hide because it prevented the craft from spinning and aided in keeping the water out. The tails were also kept intact and used to tie numerous bull boats together. Once in the water, it was not very steady because it bobbed around like a cork, but it was serviceable for short trips.
Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition described them thus:
Two sticks of 1-1/4 inch diameter are tied together so as to form a round hoop of the size you wish the canoe to be, or as large as the skin will cover. Two of those hoops are made, one for the top or brim, and the other for the bottom. Then sticks of the same diameter are crossed at right angles and fastened with a thongs to each hoop, and also where each stick crosses the other. Then the skin, when green [fresh, that is, not tanned] is drawn tight over the frame and fastened with thongs to the brim, or outer hoop, so as to form a perfect basin.