Plains Indians

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North America Cultural areas of Natives in pre-Columbian Era.

Plains Indians or Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies are Native American tribes with similar cultures in the Interior Plains. This includes the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies. It is between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River. The landscape is mostly flat grasslands and plains. The natives were often on the move (nomadic) and used horses. Natives mainly hunted bison. These people have become part of popular culture. They were one of the last Natives to be taken over. This particular Native group has become a stereotype for Natives in literature and art.

Spotted Tail of the Lakota Sioux

Tribes[change | change source]

There are two main groups of Plain Indians. One moved a lot (nomadic) and the other did not travel that much (sedentary):

History[change | change source]

In the early Prehistoric periods, Native peoples hunted and collected plants. They later developed agriculture and grew corn.[1] Plains people lived there for thousands of years and adapted to changes in climate and landscape. Early Natives mostly did not move and were sedentary.[2] Groups developed Plains Village Cultures. There was not that much war and conflict before horses came.

This painting by Alfred Jacob Miller portrays Plains Indians chasing buffalo over a small cliff.[3] The Walters Art Museum.

The Spanish explorers and conquistadores first brought horses to the Southwest in the 1500s. Hernán Cortés was the first Spanish to bring horses in 1519. Juan de Oñate brought many more horses in 1592. Later these horses moved north and came to the Plains region. The horses changed the way the Plains Indians hunted. They quickly adapted to hunting bison on horseback as nomadic hunters.[4] The Navajo began to steal horses from the Spanish. Apache traded captives for horses. Horses also escaped into the wild.[5] Horses were traded to or captured by other tribes.

Stumickosúcks of the Kainai in 1832

The Comanche soon followed and realized how useful horses could be. The Comanche became powerful and took over the Apache areas.[6] All of these tribes based their wealth and power on the horse. By the mid-1700s, most Plains Indians had each one or more horses. The Plains culture had now fully developed.

The next European advance came from the British and French. They brought guns to North America. Native interacted in these exchanges that were part of the Fur Trade. The British also pushed many of the Eastern Woodlands tribes onto the Great Plains.[7] Guns weakened the Native Americans and caused greater conflict among tribes. Guns increased the intensity of conflicts between tribes. This indirectly led to forced migration.[8]

In the 19th century, US people started to slaughter and hunt bison. The US government wanted to get rid of bison to starve out the Native peoples.[9] Many times, Americans just hunted for the skin and left the meat behind. The bison almost became extinct.[10]

The American government pushed west and this led to conflict, including the Indians Wars. The Plains Wars were from the 1850s to 1870s. Notable examples of wars include the Dakota War, Great Sioux War, Snake War and Colorado War. Natives resisted US American populations. In 1890, many Natives were killed in the Wounded Knee Massacre.[11] After the 1850s, the horse culture of the Plains Indians ended as tribes were moved to Indian reservations.

Examples of Siksika (Blackfoot) painted tipis, circa 1910

Culture[change | change source]

Housing[change | change source]

Plains people lived in teepees. These were cone-shaped homes for single families. Natives used buffalo skin as the walls and poles for the structure of the teepees. There was a hole at the top to allow light and smoke through. Villages lived in earth lodges. These were round-shaped, and the walls were made of earth. Usually, there were several families living in these homes. Other types of homes were the Wichita and Osage. They were shaped like wigwams, which had dome or cone shapes. Native often used grass for the walls.[12]

Food and Clothing[change | change source]

"Assiniboine hunting buffalo", painting by Paul Kane

The most common crops in the Plains regions were corn, squash and beans (the Three Sisters). There was also tobacco, plums and sunflower. Corn culture developed in 900 AD.[13] Natives often collected rainwater.[14] Plains people also hunted buffalo, deer, and elk. With horses, several tribes focused only on hunting buffalo and moved around more. Up to the 1500s, tribes lived on the edges of the Great Plains. They were farmers and hunter-gatherers. From autumn to spring they raised crops. During the summers they went out onto the Great Plains to hunt bison on foot.

At the height of their cultures, their main source of food was the large herds of American bison. Hunting was not only the main activity of Plains Indians but was a central part of their religion. Their culture was formed from the natural environment they lived in. Before horses, it was more difficult for natives to hunt bison. They often had to create traps for the bison.[15] Early on, they used bows and arrows, spears, and clubs. Later the Europeans introduced firearms.[16]

Native peoples mostly used the skins of bison and deer for their clothing.[17] War heroes could wear war bonnets. Natives wore mocassins as shoes. The horses allowed Natives to become wealthier. As a result, clothing began to include more luxury items.[18]

Family, Gender and Society[change | change source]

In Plains culture, inheritance and lineage could be through the mother, father, or both. There were some rules for marriage, like against incest. Arranged marriages were common, and there was sometimes polygamy. The least strict relationship rules were between grandchildren and grandparents. There were particular gender roles in communities. Women did things related to food, clothing, raising children, and teepee building. Women, however, owned the home. Women could get a divorce. Men did more hunting and defending. Natives raised Children more through rewards and praise. Several family members could serve as mentors.[19]

Blackfoot warrior, painted between 1840 and 1843 by Karl Bodmer

Warfare[change | change source]

Warfare was very individualistic. Often, only a few warriors went on a raid. Individual warriors could get plunder and trophies from an attack. Warrior status was important.[20] Raiding became more common with horses.[21] The Comanche were notable warriors.[22] Fighting was both defensive and offensive. Natives attacked other Natives, but also European colonists. Usually, war was about revenge for a person's death or to get praise. Horses were very valuable and, if stolen, could lead to war.[23][24]

Wealth, success, and status were based more on merit and achievement. This system applied to the ranking of warriors. There were many honors for warriors. Bravery was very important. The tradition of "counting coup" was a very high honor. One showed bravery by defeating another warrior without killing the warrior.[25][26] The number of horses won in a raid decided how successful the raid was.[27]

The Plain Natives won several battles against the Americans. Natives won at the Battle of Little Bighorn. War with the Americans lasted up to the 19th century.[28] The Natives were fast, knew the lands, and knew how to control the horses. The Natives could not enter longer wars. This was because of the hunting season. They also did not want to take big risks that would cause more deaths. Natives still used bows and arrows after they got firearms.[29]

Religion[change | change source]

Plains Indians believed in forms of animism. Animism meant animals and certain objects had spirits. Spirits were often the ones that brought about success. Natives could get help from a spirit by doing a vision quest. A spirit could give a vision or dream. These visions would contain knowledge like how to win a fight or to heal sicknesses.[30][31] Some tribes believed that there was one spirit greater than all the others. Other tribes believed that all spirits were equal.[32]

There were certain religious leaders. Shamans had spiritual powers and could heal the sick. They had direct contact with the supernatural. Shamans were different than priests. Priests had a lot of knowledge about the spiritual world. Sometimes one person could be both a shaman and a priest.[33][34] Some people in tribes were wakan (Lakota: "holy"). There was often training to get this status. One could become a spiritual leader or a medicine person.[35]

Natives had many rituals and ceremonies. The Sun Dance was an important ritual. Different tribes came together to affirm their beliefs.[36] The Sun Dance was usually every year. The ceremony also included sacrifices. People would make personal sacrifices to heal the larger community. There were dances and songs. Fasting was also common. There was much preparation for these ceremonies. The dance sometimes included piercing individuals.[37]

Plain Indians in Popular Culture[change | change source]

Popular culture in United States included stereotypes of Plains Indians. Buffalo Bill Cody featured plains Indians in his Wild West shows beginning in the 1880s.[38] When Hollywood began making movies, the western was a favorite topic. They introduced the plains Indians as the stereotypical Native American Indian to the entire world. When fiction about the American Old West shows Indians, they are usually plains Indians.

The Plains Indians have been popular in European countries like Germany. Such views of Natives were often idealized and filled with stereotypes.[39] The richness of Native American culture was not considered. The Plain Indians became a stereotype for all Native Americans. The German writer Karl May wrote many books about the Wild West and Plains Indians.[40]

The American artist George Catlin made many drawings and paintings of Plains Indians.[41]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Krishna, K. R. (2015). Agricultural Prairies: Natural Resources and Crop Productivity. Apple Academic Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-1771880503.
  2. "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | NATIVE AMERICANS". Retrieved 2022-08-02.
  3. "Hunting Buffalo". The Walters Art Museum.
  4. "The Plains Indians (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved 2022-08-01.
  5. Haines, Francis. "The Northward Spread of Horses among the Plains Indians. American Anthropologist, Vol 40, No. 3 (1988)
  6. Hämäläinen, Pekka (2003). "The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Culture". Journal of American History. 90 (3): 833–862. doi:10.2307/3660878. JSTOR 3660878.
  7. Drake, James D.; Drake, James D.; Drake, James D. (2000), "Native American Wars", The Oxford Companion to American Military History, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acref/9780195071986.001.0001, ISBN 978-0-19-507198-6, retrieved 2022-08-03
  8. Worcester, Donald E., and Thomas F. Schilz. “The Spread of Firearms among the Indians on the Anglo-French Frontiers.” American Indian Quarterly 8, no. 2 (1984): 103–15.
  9. Moulton, M (1995). Wildlife issues in a changing world, 2nd edition. CRC Press.
  10. Records, Laban (March 1995). Cherokee Outlet Cowboy: Recollections of Laban S. Records. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-2694-4.
  11. "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | WOUNDED KNEE MASSACRE". Retrieved 2022-08-02.
  12. "Structures of the Plain Indians". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  13. Richard R. Drass (2008) Corn, Beans and Bison: Cultivated Plants and Changing Economies of the Late Prehistoric Villagers on the Plains of Oklahoma and Northwest Texas, Plains Anthropologist, 53:205, 7-31, DOI: 10.1179/pan.2008.003
  14. Schneider, Fred "Prehistoric Horticulture in the Northeastern Plains." Plains Anthropologist, 47 (180), 2002, pp. 33-50
  15. "Bison Bellows: Indigenous Hunting Practices (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  16. "Plains Indian Weapons, part I: the Bow and Arrows". Buffalo Bill Center of the West. 2017-07-21. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  17. Strutin, Michal (1999). A Guide to Contemporary Plains Indians. Tucson: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association. pp. 9–11. ISBN 9781877856808.
  18. Bischof, Amy (2016-06-20). "Clothing and Adornments from the Plains American Indian Collection at The Hershey Story". Visit The Hershey Story Museum. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  19. "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | NATIVE AMERICAN GENDER ROLES". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  20. Smith, Marian W. “The War Complex of the Plains Indians.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 78, no. 3 (1938): 425–64.
  21. John, Elizabeth A. H. Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975, p. 154
  22. "The battle for Texas". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  23. "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | WAR". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  24. Roos, Dave. "How Horses Transformed Life for Plains Indians". HISTORY. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  25. Posted 04.24.2006, Dennis Gaffney |. "Antiques Roadshow | PBS". Antiques Roadshow | PBS. Retrieved 2022-08-03.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  26. "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | WAR CHIEFS". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  27. Ambrose, Stephen  Crazy Horse and Custer New York: Anchor Books, 1975, p. 12.
  28. Robinson, Charles The Plains Wars 1757-1900, London: Osprey, 2003
  29. Ambrose, Stephen E.. Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors. United States: Open Road Media, 2014, p. 66, 243.
  30. "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | VISION QUEST". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  31. yongli (2015-11-02). "Vision Quest". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  32. Gelo, Daniel J.. Indians of the Great Plains. N.p.: Taylor & Francis, 2018., p. 224-258.
  33. Liberty, Margot P. “PRIEST AND SHAMAN ON THE PLAINS: A FALSE DICHOTOMY?” Plains Anthropologist 15, no. 48 (1970): 73–79.
  34. "Indian Shamans & Priests – Legends of America". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  35. "Plains Indians - New World Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  36. "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | SUN DANCE". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  37. "PBS - THE BUFFALO WAR: The Sun Dance". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  38. "Buffalo Bill | Biography & Facts | Britannica". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  39. "German professor lectures on his country's "Indianthusiasm"". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  40. " - redirect". Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  41. "George Catlin | American artist and author | Britannica". Retrieved 2022-08-03.