Plains Indians
The Plains Indians are the Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 who live on the plains and rolling hills of the Great Plains of North America
Great Plains
The Great Plains are a broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe and grassland, which lies west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada. This area covers parts of the U.S...

. Their colorful equestrian culture and resistance to White domination have made the Plains Indians an archetype in literature and art for American Indians everywhere.
Plains Indians are usually divided into two broad classifications which overlap to some degree. The first group were fully nomadic, following the vast herds of buffalo
American Bison
The American bison , also commonly known as the American buffalo, is a North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds...

, although some tribes occasionally engaged in agriculture; growing tobacco and corn primarily. These included the Blackfoot
The Blackfoot Confederacy or Niitsítapi is the collective name of three First Nations in Alberta and one Native American tribe in Montana....

, Arapaho
The Arapaho are a tribe of Native Americans historically living on the eastern plains of Colorado and Wyoming. They were close allies of the Cheyenne tribe and loosely aligned with the Sioux. Arapaho is an Algonquian language closely related to Gros Ventre, whose people are seen as an early...

, Assiniboine, Cheyenne
Cheyenne are a Native American people of the Great Plains, who are of the Algonquian language family. The Cheyenne Nation is composed of two united tribes, the Só'taeo'o and the Tsétsêhéstâhese .The Cheyenne are thought to have branched off other tribes of Algonquian stock inhabiting lands...

, Comanche
The Comanche are a Native American ethnic group whose historic range consisted of present-day eastern New Mexico, southern Colorado, northeastern Arizona, southern Kansas, all of Oklahoma, and most of northwest Texas. Historically, the Comanches were hunter-gatherers, with a typical Plains Indian...

, Crow
Crow Nation
The Crow, also called the Absaroka or Apsáalooke, are a Siouan people of Native Americans who historically lived in the Yellowstone River valley, which extends from present-day Wyoming, through Montana and into North Dakota. They now live on a reservation south of Billings, Montana and in several...

, Gros Ventre, Kiowa
The Kiowa are a nation of American Indians and indigenous people of the Great Plains. They migrated from the northern plains to the southern plains in the late 17th century. In 1867, the Kiowa moved to a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma...

, Lakota, Lipan, Plains Apache (or Kiowa Apache)
Plains Apache
The Plains Apache are a Southern Athabaskan group that traditionally live on the Southern Plains of North America and today are centered in Southwestern Oklahoma...

, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwe
The Saulteaux are a First Nation in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.-Ethnic classification:The Saulteaux are a branch of the Ojibwe nations. They are sometimes also called Anihšināpē . Saulteaux is a French term meaning "people of the rapids," referring to...

, Sarsi
Tsuu T'ina Nation
The Tsuu T'ina Nation is a First Nation in Canada. Their territory is located on the Indian reserve Tsuu T'ina Nation 145, whose east side is adjacent to the southwest city limits of Calgary, Alberta...

, Shoshone
The Shoshone or Shoshoni are a Native American tribe in the United States with three large divisions: the Northern, the Western and the Eastern....

, Stoney
Nakoda (people)
The Nakoda are a First Nation group, indigenous to both Canada and, originally, the United States....

, and Tonkawa
The Tickanwa•tic Tribe , better known as the Tonkawa , are a Native American people indigenous to present-day Oklahoma and Texas. They once spoke the now-extinct Tonkawa language believed to have been a language isolate not related to any other indigenous tongues...


The second group of Plains Indians (sometimes referred to as Prairie Indians) were the semi-sedentary tribes who, in addition to hunting buffalo, lived in villages and raised crops. These included the Arikara
Arikara are a group of Native Americans in North Dakota...

, Hidatsa
The Hidatsa are a Siouan people, a part of the Three Affiliated Tribes. The Hidatsa's autonym is Hiraacá. According to the tribal tradition, the word hiraacá derives from the word "willow"; however, the etymology is not transparent and the similarity to mirahací ‘willows’ inconclusive...

, Iowa
Iowa tribe
The Iowa , also known as the Báxoje, are a Native American Siouan people. Today they are enrolled in either of two federally recognized tribes, the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma and the Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska....

, Kaw (or Kansa)
Kaw (tribe)
The Kaw Nation are an American Indian people of the central Midwestern United States. The tribe known as Kaw have also been known as the "People of the South wind", "People of water", Kansa, Kaza, Kosa, and Kasa. Their tribal language is Kansa, classified as a Siouan language.The toponym "Kansas"...

, Kitsai, Mandan, Missouria, Nez Perce, Omaha
Omaha (tribe)
The Omaha are a federally recognized Native American nation which lives on the Omaha Reservation in northeastern Nebraska and western Iowa, United States...

, Osage
Osage Nation
The Osage Nation is a Native American Siouan-language tribe in the United States that originated in the Ohio River valley in present-day Kentucky. After years of war with invading Iroquois, the Osage migrated west of the Mississippi River to their historic lands in present-day Arkansas, Missouri,...

, Otoe
Otoe tribe
The Otoe or Oto are a Native American people. The Otoe language, Chiwere, is part of the Siouan family and closely related to that of the related Iowa and Missouri tribes.-History:...

, Pawnee, Ponca
The Ponca are a Native American people of the Dhegihan branch of the Siouan-language group. There are two federally recognized Ponca tribes: the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma...

, Quapaw
The Quapaw people are a tribe of Native Americans who historically resided on the west side of the Mississippi River in what is now the state of Arkansas.They are federally recognized as the Quapaw Tribe of Indians.-Government:...

, Santee
Santee tribe
The Santee Indian Organization, a remnant tribe, was officially recognized by the South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs, January 27, 2006. Historically it was a small tribe , speaking a Siouan language and centered in the area of the present town of Santee, South Carolina...

, Wichita
Wichita (tribe)
The Wichita people are indigenous inhabitants of North America, who traditionally spoke the Wichita language, a Caddoan language. They have lived in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas...

, and Yankton
The Sioux are Native American and First Nations people in North America. The term can refer to any ethnic group within the Great Sioux Nation or any of the nation's many language dialects...



The nomadic tribes survived on hunting
Hunting is the practice of pursuing any living thing, usually wildlife, for food, recreation, or trade. In present-day use, the term refers to lawful hunting, as distinguished from poaching, which is the killing, trapping or capture of the hunted species contrary to applicable law...

, and the bison
American Bison
The American bison , also commonly known as the American buffalo, is a North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds...

 was their main source of food. Some tribes are described as part of the 'Buffalo Culture' (sometimes called, for the American Bison
American Bison
The American bison , also commonly known as the American buffalo, is a North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds...

. These animals were the chief source for items which Plains Indians made from their flesh, hide and bones, such as food, cups, decorations, crafting tools, knives, and clothing. (See Bison hunting
Bison hunting
Buffalo hunting was an activity fundamental to the Plains Indian tribes of the United States, which was later adopted by American professional hunters, leading to the near-extinction of the species.- Native hunting :...


The tribes followed the seasonal grazing and migration of bison. The Plains Indians lived in tipi
A tipi is a Lakota name for a conical tent traditionally made of animal skins and wooden poles used by the nomadic tribes and sedentary tribal dwellers of the Great Plains...

s because they were easily disassembled and allowed the nomadic life of following game. When Spanish
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

s were obtained, the Plains tribes rapidly integrated them into their daily lives. By the early 18th century some tribes had fully adopted a horse culture
Horse culture
The term "Horse culture" is used to define a tribal group or community whose day to day life revolves around the herding and breeding of horses...

. The Comanche were among the first to commit to a fully mounted nomadic lifestyle. This occurred by the 1730s, when they had acquired enough horses to put all their people on horseback.

The Spanish
Spanish Empire
The Spanish Empire comprised territories and colonies administered directly by Spain in Europe, in America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. It originated during the Age of Exploration and was therefore one of the first global empires. At the time of Habsburgs, Spain reached the peak of its world power....

 explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján was a Spanish conquistador, who visited New Mexico and other parts of what are now the southwestern United States between 1540 and 1542...

 was the first European to describe the Plains Indians. While looking for the wealth of Quivira
Quivira may refer to:*Quivira, a place first visited by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado while in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold*Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, a salt marsh located in south central Kansas...

 in 1541 Coronado came across the Querechos
The Querechos were a Native American people.In 1541 the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vazquez de Coronado and his army journeyed east from the Rio Grande Valley in search of a rich land called Quivira...

 in the Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 panhandle. The Querechos were the people later called Apaches. According to the Spaniards, the Querechos lived “in tents made of the tanned skins of the cows (bison). They travel around near the cows killing them for food....They travel like the Arabs, with their tents and troops of dogs loaded with poles...these people eat raw flesh and drink blood. They do not eat human flesh. They are a kind people and not cruel. They are faithful friends. They are able to make themselves very well understood by means of signs. They dry the flesh in the sun, cutting it thin like a leaf, and when dry they grind it like meal to keep it and make a sort of sea soup of it to eat....They season it with fat, which they always try to secure when they kill a cow. They empty a large gut and fill it with blood, and carry this around the neck to drink when they are thirsty.” This brief account describes many typical features of Plains Indians: hide tipis, travois
A travois is a frame used by indigenous peoples, notably the Plains Indians of North America, to drag loads over land...

 pulled by dogs, Plains Indian Sign Language
Plains Indian Sign Language
The Plains Indian sign languages are various manually coded languages used, or formerly used, by various Native Americans of the Great Plains of the United States of America and Canada...

, jerky
Jerky (food)
Jerky is lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and then been dried to prevent spoilage. Normally, this drying includes the addition of salt, to prevent bacteria from developing on the meat before sufficient moisture has been removed. The word "jerky" is a bastardization of the...

, and pemmican
Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food. The word comes from the Cree word pimîhkân, which itself is derived from the word pimî, "fat, grease". It was invented by the native peoples of North America...


The Plains Indians found by Coronado and later Spanish explorers were still on foot. It was the introduction of the horse that led to the flowering of their culture.

The horse

The Horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

 enabled the Plains Indians to gain their subsistence with relative ease from the seemingly limitless buffalo herds. The horse enabled the Plains Indians to travel faster and further in search of bison herds and to transport more goods, thus enjoying a richer material environment than their pedestrian ancestors.

Coronado brought five hundred and fifty-eight horses with him on his 1539–1542 expedition. At the time, the Indians of these regions had never seen a horse, although they had probably heard of them from contacts with Indians in Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

. Only two of Coronado's horses were mares, so Coronado was highly unlikely to have been the source of the horses that Plains Indians later adopted as the cornerstone of their culture. Juan de Onate
Juan de Oñate
Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar was a Spanish explorer, colonial governor of the New Spain province of New Mexico, and founder of various settlements in the present day Southwest of the United States.-Biography:...

, however, brought 7,000 head of livestock with him when he came north in 1598 to establish a colony in New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

. His horse herd included mares as well as stallions.

Pueblo Indians learned about horses by working on the ranches of the Spanish colonists. The Spanish attempted to keep knowledge of riding away from Indians, but the Indians learned and some fled their servitude to Spanish masters—and took the horses with them. Slowly, the Indians adopted the horse into their culture and built up the numbers in their herds. By 1659, the Navajo
Navajo people
The Navajo of the Southwestern United States are the largest single federally recognized tribe of the United States of America. The Navajo Nation has 300,048 enrolled tribal members. The Navajo Nation constitutes an independent governmental body which manages the Navajo Indian reservation in the...

 from northwestern New Mexico were raiding the Spanish colonies to steal horses. And by 1664, the Apaches of the Great Plains were trading captives from other tribes to the Spanish for horses. The real beginning of the horse culture of the plains began with the expulsion of the Spanish from New Mexico in 1680 when the victorious Pueblo Indians captured thousands of horses and other livestock. They traded many of the horses to the Plains Indians. In 1683 a Spanish expedition into Texas found horses among the Indians. In 1690, a few were found by the Spanish among the Indians living at the mouth of the Colorado River
Colorado River (Texas)
The Colorado River is a river that runs through the U.S. state of Texas; it should not be confused with the much longer Colorado River which flows from Colorado into the Gulf of California....

 of Texas and the Caddo
The Caddo Nation is a confederacy of several Southeastern Native American tribes, who traditionally inhabited much of what is now East Texas, northern Louisiana and portions of southern Arkansas and Oklahoma. Today the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma is a cohesive tribe with its capital at Binger, Oklahoma...

 of eastern Texas had a sizeable number.

The French explorer Claude Charles Du Tisne
Claude Charles Du Tisne
Claude Charles Du Tisne led the first official French expedition to set foot in Kansas and visit the Osage and the Wichita Indians in 1719.-Life:...

 found 300 horses among the Wichita
Wichita (tribe)
The Wichita people are indigenous inhabitants of North America, who traditionally spoke the Wichita language, a Caddoan language. They have lived in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas...

 on the Verdigris River
Verdigris River
The Verdigris River is a tributary of the Arkansas River in southeastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma in the United States. It is about long...

 in 1719, but they were still not plentiful. Another Frenchman, Bourgmont
Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont
Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont was a French explorer who documented his travels on the Missouri and Platte rivers in North America and made the first European maps of these areas. He wrote two accounts of his travels, which included descriptions of the Native American tribes he encountered...

, could only buy seven at a high price from the Kaw
Kaw (tribe)
The Kaw Nation are an American Indian people of the central Midwestern United States. The tribe known as Kaw have also been known as the "People of the South wind", "People of water", Kansa, Kaza, Kosa, and Kasa. Their tribal language is Kansa, classified as a Siouan language.The toponym "Kansas"...

 in 1724, further indicating that horses were still scarce among tribes in Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

. While the distribution of horses proceeded slowly northward on the Great Plains, it moved more rapidly through the Rocky Mountains
Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States...

 and the Great Basin
Great Basin
The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America and is noted for its arid conditions and Basin and Range topography that varies from the North American low point at Badwater Basin to the highest point of the contiguous United States, less than away at the...

, possibly stimulated by the Navajo. The Shoshone in Wyoming
Wyoming is a state in the mountain region of the Western United States. The western two thirds of the state is covered mostly with the mountain ranges and rangelands in the foothills of the Eastern Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third of the state is high elevation prairie known as the High...

 had horses by about 1700 and the Blackfoot
The Blackfoot Confederacy or Niitsítapi is the collective name of three First Nations in Alberta and one Native American tribe in Montana....

 of Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan is a prairie province in Canada, which has an area of . Saskatchewan is bordered on the west by Alberta, on the north by the Northwest Territories, on the east by Manitoba, and on the south by the U.S. states of Montana and North Dakota....

, the most northerly of the large Plains tribes, acquired horses in the 1730s. By 1770, that Plains Indians culture was mature, consisting of mounted buffalo-hunting nomads from Saskatchewan and Alberta
Alberta is a province of Canada. It had an estimated population of 3.7 million in 2010 making it the most populous of Canada's three prairie provinces...

 southward nearly to the Rio Grande. It had hardly reached maturity when the pressure from Europeans on all sides and European diseases caused its decline.

It was the Comanche, coming to the attention of the Spanish in New Mexico in 1706, who first realized the potential of the horse. As pure nomads, hunters, and pastoralists, well supplied with horses, they swept the mixed-economy Apaches from the plains and by the 1730s were dominant in the Great Plains south of the Arkansas River
Arkansas River
The Arkansas River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River. The Arkansas generally flows to the east and southeast as it traverses the U.S. states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The river's initial basin starts in the Western United States in Colorado, specifically the Arkansas...

. The success of the Comanche encouraged other Indian tribes to adopt a similar lifestyle. The southern Plains Indians acquired vast numbers of horses. By the 19th century, Comanche and Kiowa men owned an average of 35 horses and mules each – and only six or seven were necessary. The horses extracted a toll on the environment as well as requiring labor to care for the herd. Formerly equalitarian societies became more divided by wealth with a negative impact on the role of women. Rich men took several wives and captives (slaves) to manage their possessions, especially horses.

The milder winters of the southern Plains favored the acquisition of horses by the Indians. On the northeastern Plains of Canada, the Indians were less favored, with families owning fewer horses, remaining more dependent upon dogs for transporting goods, and hunting bison on foot. The scarcity of horses in the north encouraged raiding and warfare in competition for the relatively small number of horses that survived the severe winters.

The Dakota or Sioux
The Sioux are Native American and First Nations people in North America. The term can refer to any ethnic group within the Great Sioux Nation or any of the nation's many language dialects...

 enjoyed the happy medium between North and South and became the dominant Plains Indians tribe in the mid 19th century. They had relatively small horse herds, thus having less impact on their ecosystem. At the same time they occupied the heart of prime buffalo range and also an excellent region for furs which could be sold to French and American traders for goods such as guns. The Dakota became the most powerful of the Plains tribes and the greatest threat to American expansion.

For all the Plains Indians the horse became an item of prestige as well of utility and the Indians were extravagantly fond of their horses and the life style they permitted.

Hunting in the Plains

Although the Plains Indians hunted other animals, such as elk
The Elk is the large deer, also called Cervus canadensis or wapiti, of North America and eastern Asia.Elk may also refer to:Other antlered mammals:...

 or antelope
The pronghorn is a species of artiodactyl mammal endemic to interior western and central North America. Though not an antelope, it is often known colloquially in North America as the prong buck, pronghorn antelope, or simply antelope, as it closely resembles the true antelopes of the Old World and...

, bison was the primary game food source. Before horses were introduced, hunting was a more complicated process. The Native Americans would surround the bison, and then try to herd them off cliffs or into places where they could be more easily killed. A commonly used technique was the Piskin method. The tribesmen would build a corral and have people herd the bison into it to confine them in a space where they could be killed. The Plains Indians constructed a v-shaped funnel, about a mile long, made of fallen trees, rocks, etc. Sometimes bison could be lured into a trap by one of the tribe covering himself with a bison skin and imitating the call of the animals.

Before their adoption of guns, the Plains Indians hunted with spear
A spear is a pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head.The head may be simply the sharpened end of the shaft itself, as is the case with bamboo spears, or it may be made of a more durable material fastened to the shaft, such as flint, obsidian, iron, steel or...

s, bows
Bow (weapon)
The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.-Description:A bow is a flexible arc that shoots aerodynamic projectiles by means of elastic energy. Essentially, the bow is a form of spring powered by a string or cord...

 and arrows, and various forms of club
Club (weapon)
A club is among the simplest of all weapons. A club is essentially a short staff, or stick, usually made of wood, and wielded as a weapon since prehistoric times....

s. The use of horses by the Plains Indians made hunting (and warfare) much easier. With horses, the Plains Indians had the means and speed to stampede or overtake the bison. The Plains Indians reduced the length of their bows to three feet to accommodate their use on horseback. They continued to use bows and arrows after the introduction of firearms, because guns took too long to reload and were too heavy. In the summer, many tribes gathered for hunting in one place. The main hunting seasons were fall, summer, and spring. In winter harsh snow and mighty blizzards made it almost impossible to kill the bison.

Bison were hunted almost to extinction
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

 in the 19th century and were reduced to a few hundred by the mid-1880s. The main reason they were hunted was for their skins, with the rest of the animal left behind to decay on the ground. After the animals rotted, their bones were collected and shipped back east in large quantities.
There were government initiatives at the federal and local level to starve the population of the Plains Indians by killing off their main food source, the bison. The Government promoted bison hunting for various reasons: to allow ranchers to range their cattle without competition from other bovines and to weaken the Plains Indian population and pressure them to remain on reservations. The herds formed the basis of the economies of local Plains tribes of Native Americans for whom the bison were a primary food source. Without bison, the Native Americans would be forced to leave or starve.

The railroad industry also wanted bison herds culled or eliminated. Herds of bison on tracks could damage locomotives when the trains failed to stop in time. Herds often took shelter in the artificial cuts formed by the grade of the track winding though hills and mountains in harsh winter conditions. As a result, bison herds could delay a train for days.

As the great herds began to wane, proposals to protect the bison were discussed. Buffalo Bill Cody
Buffalo Bill
William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody was a United States soldier, bison hunter and showman. He was born in the Iowa Territory , in LeClaire but lived several years in Canada before his family moved to the Kansas Territory. Buffalo Bill received the Medal of Honor in 1872 for service to the US...

, among others, spoke in favor of protecting the bison because he saw that the pressure on the species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 was too great. But these were discouraged since it was recognized that the Plains Indians, often at war with the United States, depended on bison for their way of life. In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 "pocket veto
Pocket veto
A pocket veto is a legislative maneuver in United States federal lawmaking that allows the President to veto a bill indirectly.The U.S. Constitution limits the President's period for decision on whether to sign or veto any legislation to ten days while the United States Congress is in session...

ed" a Federal bill to protect the dwindling bison herds, and in 1875 General Philip Sheridan
Philip Sheridan
Philip Henry Sheridan was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War. His career was noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with Lt. Gen. Ulysses S...

 pleaded to a joint session of Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 to slaughter the herds, to deprive the Plains Indians of their source of food. By 1884, the bison was close to extinction.
The main reason for the bison's near-demise, much like the actual demise of the passenger pigeon
Passenger Pigeon
The Passenger Pigeon or Wild Pigeon was a bird, now extinct, that existed in North America and lived in enormous migratory flocks until the early 20th century...

, was commercial hunting.


The Plains Indians wore bison
Members of the genus Bison are large, even-toed ungulates within the subfamily Bovinae. Two extant and four extinct species are recognized...

 skins in the winter. The women in the tribe mended the clothes. They used buffalo sinew for thread.

There were two ways to prepare a buffalo hide. The women could tan it or leave it as rawhide. To tan it, the woman would scrape the hair off the buffalo and then soak the hide in a mixture of brains and liver.

Great Plains religion

The Plains Indians followed no single religion. Animist
Animism refers to the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle....

 religion was an important part of a Great Plains Indians' life, as they believed that all things possessed spirits. Their worship was centered on one main god, in the Sioux language Wakan Tanka
Wakan Tanka
In the Sioux way of life, Wakan Tanka is the term for "the sacred" or "the divine". This is usually translated as "The Great Spirit"...

(the Great Spirit). The Great Spirit had power over everything that had ever existed, and the Plains Indians believed that by worshiping him they would become stronger. Earth was also quite important, as she was the mother of all spirits. Spirits were worshiped daily. People sometimes prayed alone, while other times there were group gatherings. The most important group ceremony was the Sun Dance
Sun Dance
The Sun Dance is a religious ceremony practiced by a number of Native American and First Nations peoples, primarily those of the Plains Nations. Each tribe has its own distinct practices and ceremonial protocols...

, in which participants danced for four days around a sacred object, and some would inflict harm upon themselves on purpose, all while staring at the sun. They believed this self-sacrifice would encourage powerful spirits to support and defend them.
There were also people that were Wakan, or "blessed" in Lakota
Lakota language
Lakota is a Siouan language spoken by the Lakota people of the Sioux tribes. While generally taught and considered by speakers as a separate language, Lakota is mutually understandable with the other two languages , and is considered by most linguists one of the three major varieties of the Sioux...

, who were also called a medicine man
Medicine man
"Medicine man" or "Medicine woman" are English terms used to describe traditional healers and spiritual leaders among Native American and other indigenous or aboriginal peoples...

 or shaman. To become Wakan, your prayers must be answered by the Great Spirit, or you must see a sign from him. Wakan were thought to possess great power. One of their jobs was to heal people, which is why they are also sometimes called "medicine men". The shamans were considered so important that they were the ones who decided when the time was right to hunt.

Plains Indians believed that some objects possessed spiritual or talismanic power. One such item was the medicine bundle, which was a sack carrying items believed by the owner to be important. Items in the sack might include rocks, feathers, and more. Another object of great spiritual power was the shield
A shield is a type of personal armor, meant to intercept attacks, either by stopping projectiles such as arrows or redirecting a hit from a sword, mace or battle axe to the side of the shield-bearer....

. The shield was the most prized possession of any warrior, and he decorated it with many paintings and feathers. The spirits of animals drawn on the shield were thought to protect the owner.


The tribes of the Great Plains have been found to be the tallest people in the world during the late 19th century, based on 21st century analysis of data collected by Franz Boas
Franz Boas
Franz Boas was a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the "Father of American Anthropology" and "the Father of Modern Anthropology." Like many such pioneers, he trained in other disciplines; he received his doctorate in physics, and did...

 for the World Columbian Exposition. This information is significant to anthropometric
Anthropometry refers to the measurement of the human individual...

 historians, who usually equate the height of populations with their overall health and standard of living
Standard of living
Standard of living is generally measured by standards such as real income per person and poverty rate. Other measures such as access and quality of health care, income growth inequality and educational standards are also used. Examples are access to certain goods , or measures of health such as...


The Plains Indians (College Station
College Station, Texas
College Station is a city in Brazos County, Texas, situated in East Central Texas in the heart of the Brazos Valley. The city is located within the most populated region of Texas, near three of the 10 largest cities in the United States - Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio...

, Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

: Texas A&M University Press
Texas A&M University Press
Texas A&M University Press is a scholarly publishing house associated with Texas A&M University. It was founded in 1974 and is located in College Station, Texas, in the United States.-Overview:...

) by Paul H. Carlson
Paul H. Carlson
Paul Howard Carlson , an historian of Texas, the American West, and Native Americans, is a professor emeritus at Texas Tech University in Lubbock....

, professor emeritus at Texas Tech University
Texas Tech University
Texas Tech University, often referred to as Texas Tech or TTU, is a public research university in Lubbock, Texas, United States. Established on February 10, 1923, and originally known as Texas Technological College, it is the leading institution of the Texas Tech University System and has the...

 in Lubbock
Lubbock, Texas
Lubbock is a city in and the county seat of Lubbock County, Texas, United States. The city is located in the northwestern part of the state, a region known historically as the Llano Estacado, and the home of Texas Tech University and Lubbock Christian University...

, won the History Book Club selection of 1998 and was subsequently published in 2004 in a French language
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 translation in Paris. In 2005, The Plains Indians was named one of the 100 most outstanding books on the American West published in the 20th century.

See also

  • Plains Standard Sign Language
  • Plains hide painting
    Plains hide painting
    Plains hide painting is a traditional Plains Indian artistic practice of painting on either tanned or raw animal hides. Tipis, tipi liners, shields, parfleches, robes, clothing, drums, and winter counts could all be painted.-Genres:...

  • Hair drop
    Hair drop
    A hair drop is an ornament worn by men from Great Lakes and Plains tribes. It would be tied to the man's hair. The typical example consists of a quilled or beaded section on a strip of leather, which was later attached to an American buffalo tail...

    , Plains men's adornment
  • Native American tribes in Nebraska
    Native American tribes in Nebraska
    Native American tribes in the U.S. state of Nebraska have been Plains Indians, who have a history of varying cultures occupying the area for thousands of years. More than 15 tribes have been identified as having lived in, hunted in, or otherwise occupied territory within the current state boundaries...

  • Buffalo jump
    Buffalo jump
    A buffalo jump is a cliff formation which North American Indians historically used in mass killings of plains bison. Hunters herded the bison and drove them over the cliff, breaking their legs and rendering them immobile. Tribe members waiting below closed in with spears and bows to finish the kills...

Further reading

  • Carlson, Paul H. (1998) The Plains Indians. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 0-89096-828-4
  • Taylor, Colin E. (1994) The Plains Indians: A Cultural and Historical View of the North American Plains Tribes of the Pre-Reservation Period. Crescent. ISBN 0517142503.
  • "American Indian Contributions To Science and Technology", Chris R. Landon, Portland Public Schools, 1993
  • "Buffalo and the Plains Indians", South Dakota State Historical Society Education Kit

External links

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