Plains Indians

Plains Indians, Interior Plains Indians or Indigenous people of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies are the Native American tribes and First Nation band governments who have traditionally lived on the greater Interior Plains (i.e. the Great Plains and the Canadian Prairies) in North America. Their historic nomadic culture and development of equestrian culture and resistance to domination by the government and military forces of Canada and the United States have made the Plains Indian culture groups 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 became a fully nomadic horse culture during the 18th and 19th centuries, following the vast herds of buffalo, although some tribes occasionally engaged in agriculture. These include the Blackfoot, Arapaho, Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Lakota, Lipan, Plains Apache (or Kiowa Apache), Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwe, Sarsi, Nakoda (Stoney), and Tonkawa. The second group of Plains Indians were semi-sedentary, and, in addition to hunting buffalo, they lived in villages, raised crops, and actively traded with other tribes. These include the Arikara, Hidatsa, Iowa, Kaw (or Kansa), Kitsai, Mandan, Missouria, Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, Ponca, Quapaw, Wichita, and the Santee Dakota, Yanktonai and Yankton Dakota.

George Catlin - Buffalo Bulls Back Fat - Smithsonian
A Plains Indian in all his finery, about 1835.
Henry Farney Chie Spotted Tail
Spotted Tail, a Dakota chieftain.

Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies

Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains are often separated into Northern and Southern Plains tribes.


Nomadic tribes historically survived on hunting and gathering. People hunted the American Bison (or buffalo) to make items used in everyday life, such as food, cups, decorations, crafting tools, knives, and clothing. The tribes followed the seasonal grazing and migration of the bison. The Plains Indians lived in tipis because they were easily disassembled and allowed the nomadic life of following game.

The Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was the first European to describe the Plains Indian culture. While searching for a reputedly wealthy land called Quivira in 1541, Coronado came across the Querechos in the Texas panhandle. The Querechos were the people later called Apache. According to the Spaniards, the Querechos lived "in tents made of the tanned skins of the cows (bison). 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."[2] Coronado described many common features of Plains Indians culture: skin tepees, travois pulled by dogs, Plains Indian Sign Language, and staple foods such as jerky and pemmican.

The horse

Bodmer -- Blackfoot Indian, 1840-1843
Blackfoot warrior, painted between 1840 and 1843 by Karl Bodmer

The Plains Indians found by Coronado had not yet obtained horses; it was the introduction of the horse that revolutionized Plains culture. When horses were obtained, the Plains tribes rapidly integrated them into their daily lives. People in the southwest began to acquire horses in the 16th century by trading or stealing them from Spanish colonists in New Mexico. As horse culture moved northward, 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.[3]

The horse enabled the Plains Indians to gain their subsistence with relative ease from the seemingly limitless buffalo herds. Riders were able to travel faster and farther in search of bison herds and to transport more goods, thus making it possible to enjoy a richer material environment than their pedestrian ancestors. For the Plains peoples, the horse became an item of prestige as well as utility. They were extravagantly fond of their horses and the lifestyle they permitted.

The first Spanish conqueror to bring horses to the new world was Hernán Cortés in 1519. However, Cortés only brought about sixteen horses with his expedition. Coronado brought 558 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. Only two of Coronado's horses were mares, so he was highly unlikely to have been the source of the horses that Plains Indians later adopted as the cornerstone of their culture.[4]:429 In 1592, however, Juan de Onate brought 7,000 head of livestock with him when he came north to establish a colony in New Mexico. His horse herd included mares as well as stallions.

Cheyenne, Stump Horn and family showing Horse Travois (see Bull.77, pl 14). - NARA - 523855
Stump Horn and his family (Cheyenne) with a horse and travois, c. 1871–1907

Pueblo Indians learned about horses by working for Spanish colonists. The Spanish attempted to keep knowledge of riding away from Native people, but nonetheless, they learned and some fled their servitude to their Spanish employers—and took horses with them. Some horses were obtained through trade in spite of prohibitions against it. Other horses escaped captivity for a feral existence and were captured by Native people. In all cases the horse was adopted into their culture and herds multiplied. By 1659, the Navajo from northwestern New Mexico were raiding the Spanish colonies to steal horses. By 1664, the Apache 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 people captured thousands of horses and other livestock. They traded many horses north to the Plains Indians.[4]:429–431 In 1683 a Spanish expedition into Texas found horses among Native people. In 1690, a few horses were found by the Spanish among the Indians living at the mouth of the Colorado River of Texas and the Caddo of eastern Texas had a sizeable number.[5][4]:432

The French explorer Claude Charles Du Tisne found 300 horses among the Wichita on the Verdigris River in 1719, but they were still not plentiful. Another Frenchman, Bourgmont, could only buy seven at a high price from the Kaw in 1724, indicating that horses were still scarce among tribes in Kansas. While the distribution of horses proceeded slowly northward on the Great Plains, it moved more rapidly through the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin. The Shoshone in Wyoming had horses by about 1700 and the Blackfoot people, the most northerly of the large Plains tribes, acquired horses in the 1730s.[4]:429–437 By 1770, that Plains Indians culture was mature, consisting of mounted buffalo-hunting nomads from Saskatchewan and Alberta southward nearly to the Rio Grande. Soon afterwards pressure from Europeans on all sides and European diseases caused its decline.

Alfred Jacob Miller - Hunting Buffalo - Walters 371940190
This painting by Alfred Jacob Miller exaggerates the portrayal of Plains Indians chasing buffalo over a small cliff.[6] The Walters Art Museum.

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 most of the mixed-economy Apaches from the plains and by the 1730s were dominant in the Great Plains south of the Arkansas River.[7] 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 families owned an average of 35 horses and mules each – and only six or seven were necessary for transport and war. The horses extracted a toll on the environment as well as required labor to care for the herd. Formerly egalitarian societies became more divided by wealth with a negative impact on the role of women. The richest men would have several wives and captives who would help manage their possessions, especially horses.[8]

The milder winters of the southern Plains favored a pastoral economy by the Indians.[9] 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.[10]

The Lakota or Teton Sioux enjoyed the happy medium between North and South and became the dominant Plains tribe by 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 bison range which was also an excellent region for furs, which could be sold to French and American traders for goods such as guns. The Lakota became the most powerful of the Plains tribes.[11]

Slaughter of the Bison

Extermination of bison to 1889
This map of the extermination of bison to 1889 is based on William Temple Hornaday's late-nineteenth-century research.

By the 19th century, the typical year of the Lakota and other northern nomads was a communal buffalo hunt as early in spring as their horses had recovered from the rigors of the winter. In June and July the scattered bands of the tribes gathered together into large encampments, which included ceremonies such as the Sun Dance. These gatherings afforded leaders to meet to make political decisions, plan movements, arbitrate disputes, and organize and launch raiding expeditions or war parties. In the fall, people would split up into smaller bands to facilitate hunting to procure meat for the long winter. Between the fall hunt and the onset of winter was a time when Lakota warriors could undertake raiding and warfare. With the coming of winter snows, the Lakota settled into winter camps, where activities of the season ceremonies and dances as well as trying to ensure adequate winter feed for their horses.[12] On the southern plains, with their milder winters, the fall and winter was often the raiding season. Beginning in the 1830s, the Comanche and their allies often raided for horses and other goods deep into Mexico, sometimes venturing 1,000 miles (1,600 km) south from their homes near the Red River in Texas and Oklahoma.[13]

There were U.S. 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.[14][15] They were slaughtered for their skins, with the rest of the animal left behind to decay on the ground.[16] After the animals rotted, their bones were collected and shipped back east in large quantities.[16]

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.[14] The herds formed the basis of the economies of the Plains tribes. Without bison, the people were forced to move onto reservations or starve.

Bison skull pile edit
A pile of bison skulls in the 1870s.

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 through 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, among others, spoke in favor of protecting the bison because he saw that the pressure on the species 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 "pocket vetoed" a federal bill to protect the dwindling bison herds, and in 1875 General Philip Sheridan pleaded to a joint session of Congress to slaughter the herds, to deprive the Plains Indians of their source of food.[17] This meant that the bison were hunted almost to extinction during the 19th century and were reduced to a few hundred by the early 1900s.

Indian Wars

Ghost dance
The Ghost Dance ritual, which the Lakota believed would reunite the living with spirits of the dead, cause the white invaders to vanish, and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to Indian peoples throughout the region

Armed conflicts intensified in the late 19th Century between Native American nations on the plains and the U.S. government, through what were called generally the Indian Wars.[18] Notable conflicts in this period include the Dakota War, Great Sioux War, Snake War and Colorado War. Expressing the frontier anti-Indian sentiment, Theodore Roosevelt believed the Indians were destined to vanish under the pressure of white civilization, stating in an 1886 lecture:

I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.[19]

Among the most notable events during the wars was the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.[20] In the years leading up to it the U.S. government had continued to seize Lakota lands. A Ghost Dance ritual on the Northern Lakota reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, led to the U.S. Army's attempt to subdue the Lakota. The dance was part of a religious movement founded by the Northern Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka that told of the return of the Messiah to relieve the suffering of Native Americans and promised that if they would live righteous lives and perform the Ghost Dance properly, the European American colonists would vanish, the bison would return, and the living and the dead would be reunited in an Edenic world.[20] On December 29 at Wounded Knee, gunfire erupted, and U.S. soldiers killed up to 300 Indians, mostly old men, women, and children.[20]

Material culture

Agriculture and plant foods

Wichita Indian village 1850-1875
The Wichita were an agrarian Southern Plains tribe, who traditionally lived in beehive-shaped houses thatched with grass surrounded by extensive maize fields. They were skilled farmers who traded agricultural products with the nomadic tribes in exchange for meat and hides.

The semi-sedentary, village-dwelling Plains Indians depended upon agriculture for a large share of their livelihood, particularly those who lived in the eastern parts of the Great Plains which had more precipitation than the western side. Corn was the dominant crop, followed by squash and beans. Tobacco, sunflower, plums and other wild plants were also cultivated or gathered in the wild.[21] Among the wild crops gathered the most important were probably berries to flavor pemmican and the Prairie Turnip.

The first indisputable evidence of maize cultivation on the Great Plains is about 900 AD.[22] The earliest farmers, the Southern Plains villagers were probably Caddoan speakers, the ancestors of the Wichita, Pawnee, and Arikara of today. Plains farmers developed short-season and drought resistant varieties of food plants. They did not use irrigation but were adept at water harvesting and siting their fields to receive the maximum benefit of limited rainfall. The Hidatsa and Mandan of North Dakota cultivated maize at the northern limit of its range.[23]

The farming tribes also hunted buffalo, deer, elk, and other game. Typically, on the southern Plains, they planted crops in the spring, left their permanent villages to hunt buffalo in the summer, returned to harvest crops in the fall, and left again to hunt buffalo in the winter. The farming Indians also traded corn to the nomadic tribes for dried buffalo meat.

With the arrival of the horse, some tribes, such as the Lakota and Cheyenne, gave up agriculture to become full-time, buffalo-hunting nomads.


Kane Assiniboine hunting buffalo
"Assiniboine hunting buffalo", painting by Paul Kane

Although people of the Plains hunted other animals, such as elk or antelope, buffalo was the primary game food source. Before horses were introduced, hunting was a more complicated process. Hunters would surround the bison, and then try to herd them off cliffs or into confined places where they could be more easily 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 a person covering himself with a bison skin and imitating the call of the animals.

Before their adoption of guns, the Plains Indians hunted with spears, bows, and various forms of clubs. 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 more difficult to locate and hunt bison.


Hides, with or without fur, provided material for much clothing. Most of the clothing consisted of the hides of buffalo and deer, as well as numerous species of birds and other small game.[24] Plains moccasins tended to be constructed with soft braintanned hide on the vamps and tough rawhide for the soles. Men's moccasins tended to have flaps around the ankles, while women's had high tops, which could be pulled up in the winter and rolled down in the summer. Honored warriors and leaders earn the right to wear war bonnets, headdresses with feathers, often of golden or bald eagles.

Society and Culture


Ghost Dance at Pine Ridge
An Oglala Lakota Ghost Dance at Pine Ridge. Illustration by Frederic Remington

While there are some similarities among linguistic and regional groups, different tribes have their own cosmologies and world views. Some of these are animist in nature, with aspects of polytheism, while others tend more towards monotheism or panentheism. Prayer is a regular part of daily life, for regular individuals as well as spiritual leaders, alone and as part of group ceremonies. One of the most important gatherings for many of the Plains tribes is the yearly Sun Dance, an elaborate spiritual ceremony that involves personal sacrifice, multiple days of fasting and prayer for the good of loved ones and the benefit of the entire community.[25]

Certain people are considered to be wakan (Lakota: "holy"), and go through many years of training to become medicine men or women, entrusted with spiritual leadership roles in the community. The buffalo and eagle are particularly sacred to many of the Plains peoples, and may be represented in iconography, or parts used in regalia. In Plains cosmology, certain items may possess spiritual power, particularly medicine bundles which are only entrusted to prominent religious figures of a tribe, and passed down from keeper to keeper in each succeeding generation.

Gender roles

Historically, Plains Indian women had distinctly defined gender roles that were different from, but complementary to, men's roles. They typically owned the family's home and the majority of its contents.[26] In traditional culture, women tanned hides, tended crops, gathered wild foods, prepared food, made clothing, and took down and erected the family's tepees. In the present day, these customs are still observed when lodges are set up for ceremonial use, such as at pow wows. Historically, Plains women were not as engaged in public political life as were the women in the coastal tribes. However, they still participated in an advisory role and through the women's societies.[27]

In contemporary Plains cultures, traditionalists work to preserve the knowledge of these traditions of everyday life and the values attached to them.[28]

Plains women in general have historically had the right to divorce and keep custody of their children.[26] Because women own the home, an unkind husband can find himself homeless.[26] A historical example of a Plains woman divorcing is Making Out Road, a Cheyenne woman, who in 1841 married non-Native frontiersman Kit Carson. The marriage was turbulent and formally ended when Making Out Road threw Carson and his belongings out of her tepee (in the traditional manner of announcing a divorce). She later went on to marry, and divorce, several additional men, both European-American and Indian.[29]


This painting depicts the speed and violence of an encounter between the U.S. cavalry and Plains Indians.

The earliest Spanish explorers in the 16th century did not find the Plains Indians especially warlike. The Wichita in Kansas and Oklahoma lived in dispersed settlements with no defensive works. The Spanish initially had friendly contacts with the Apache (Querechos) in the Texas Panhandle.[30]

Three factors led to a growing importance of warfare in Plains Indian culture. First, was the Spanish colonization of New Mexico which stimulated raids and counter-raids by Spaniards and Indians for goods and slaves. Second, was the contact of the Indians with French fur traders which increased rivalry among Indian tribes to control trade and trade routes. Third, was the acquisition of the horse and the greater mobility it afforded the Plains Indians.[31] What evolved among the Plains Indians from the 17th to the late 19th century was warfare as both a means of livelihood and a sport. Young men gained both prestige and plunder by fighting as warriors, and this individualistic style of warfare ensured that success in individual combat and capturing trophies of war were highly esteemed [32]:20

The Plains Indians raided each other, the Spanish colonies, and, increasingly, the encroaching frontier of the Anglos for horses, and other property. They acquired guns and other European goods primarily by trade. Their principal trading products were buffalo hides and beaver pelts. The most renowned of all the Plains Indians as warriors were the Comanche whom The Economist noted in 2010: "They could loose a flock of arrows while hanging off the side of a galloping horse, using the animal as protection against return fire. The sight amazed and terrified their white (and Indian) adversaries."[33] The American historian S. C. Gwynne called the Comanche "the greatest light cavalry on the earth" in the 19th century whose raids in Texas terrified the American settlers.[33]

Although they could be tenacious in defense, Plains Indians warriors took the offensive mostly for material gain and individual prestige. The highest military honors were for "counting coup"—touching a live enemy. Battles between Indians often consisted of opposing warriors demonstrating their bravery rather than attempting to achieve concrete military objectives. The emphasis was on ambush and hit and run actions rather than closing with an enemy. Success was often counted by the number of horses or property obtained in the raid. Casualties were usually light. "Indians consider it foolhardiness to make an attack where it is certain some of them will be killed."[34] Given their smaller numbers, the loss of even a few men in battle could be catastrophic for a band, and notably at the battles of Adobe Walls in Texas in 1874 and Rosebud in Montana in 1876, the Indians broke off battle despite the fact that they were winning as the casualties were not considered worth a victory.[32]:20 The most famous victory ever won by the Plains Indians over the United States, the Battle of Little Bighorn, in 1876, was won by the Lakota (Sioux) and Cheyenne fighting on the defensive.[32]:20 Decisions whatever to fight or not were based on a cost-benefit ratio; even the loss of one warrior was not considered to be worth taking a few scalps, but if a herd of horses could be obtained, the loss of a warrior or two was considered acceptable.[32]:20 Generally speaking, given the small sizes of the bands and the vast population of the United States, the Plains Indians sought to avoid casualties in battle, and would avoid fighting if it meant losses.[32]:20

Red Earth Parade Cheyenne Chiefs Becky Meyer
Southern Cheyenne Chiefs Lawrence Hart, Darryl Flyingman and Harvey Pratt in Oklahoma City, 2008

Due to their mobility, endurance, horsemanship, and knowledge of the vast plains that were their domain, the Plains Indians were often victors in their battles against the U.S. army in the American era from 1803 to about 1890. However, although Indians won many battles, they could not undertake lengthy campaigns. Indian armies could only be assembled for brief periods of time as warriors also had to hunt for food for their families.[35] The exception to that was raids into Mexico by the Comanche and their allies in which the raiders often subsisted for months off the riches of Mexican haciendas and settlements. The basic weapon of the Indian warrior was the short, stout bow, designed for use on horseback and deadly, but only at short range. Guns were usually in short supply and ammunition scarce for Native warriors.[36] The U.S. government through the Indian Agency would sell the Plains Indians for hunting, but unlicensed traders would exchange guns for buffalo hides.[32]:23 The shortages of ammunition together with the lack of training to handle firearms meant the preferred weapon was the bow and arrow.[32]:23


The people 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 (originally) collected by Franz Boas for the World Columbian Exposition. This information is significant to anthropometric historians, who usually equate the height of populations with their overall health and standard of living.[37]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Preamble." Constitution of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. Archived 2013-10-07 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 5 Dec 2012.
  2. ^ Winship, George Parker (ed and trans), The Journey of Coronado, 1540–1542, from the City of Mexico to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and the Buffalo Plains of Texas. New York: A.S. Barnes & Company, 1904, 65, 112
  3. ^ Hamalainen, Pekka (2008). The Comanche Empire. Yale University Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-0-300-12654-9.
  4. ^ a b c d Haines, Francis. "The Northward Spread of Horses among the Plains Indians. American Anthropologist, Vol 40, No. 3 (1988)
  5. ^ Bolton, Herbert Eugene. Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542–1706. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2007 (reprint) pp. 296, 315
  6. ^ "Hunting Buffalo". The Walters Art Museum.
  7. ^ Hamalainen, Pekka, "The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Culture." Journal of American History, Vol 90, No. 3, 3–4.
  8. ^ Hamalainen, 7–8
  9. ^ Osborn, Alan J. "Ecological Aspects of Equestrian Adaptation in Aboriginal North America." American Anthropologist, Nol. 85, No. 3 (Sept 1983), 566
  10. ^ Hamalainen, 10–15
  11. ^ Hamalainen, 20–21
  12. ^ Hyde, George E. Red Cloud's Folks: A History of the Oglala Sioux Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1937, p. 160; Price, Catherine, The Oglala People, 1841-1879 Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, pp. 13-16
  13. ^ DeLay, Brian, The War of a Thousand Deserts. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008, pp. 116, 317-319, 327
  14. ^ a b Moulton, M (1995). Wildlife issues in a changing world, 2nd edition. CRC Press.
  15. ^ Smits, David D. (1994). "The Frontier Army and the Destruction of the Buffalo: 1865-1883". The Western Historical Quarterly. Western Historical Quarterly, Utah State University on behalf of The Western History Association. 25 (3): 112–338. JSTOR 971110. PDF:
  16. ^ a b Records, Laban (March 1995). Cherokee Outlet Cowboy: Recollections of Laban S. Records. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-2694-4.
  17. ^ Bergman, Brian (2004-02-16). "Bison Back from Brink of Extinction". Maclean's. Retrieved 2008-03-14. For the sake of lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated.
  18. ^ Thornton, Russell (1990). American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-8061-2220-5
  19. ^ Cary Michael Carney (1999). "Native American Higher Education in the United States". pp. 65-66. Transaction Publications
  20. ^ a b c "Plains Humanities: Wounded Knee Massacre". Retrieved August 9, 2016.
  21. ^ Drass, Ricard R. "Corn, Beans, and Squash: Cultivated Plants and Changing Economies of the Late Prehistoric Villagers on the Plains of Oklahoma and Northwest Texas" Plains Anthropologist, Vol 53 No. 205 (Feb 2008), p. 12; "Prunus Americana", accessed 12 Dec 2012
  22. ^ Drass, p. 12
  23. ^ Schneider, Fred "Prehistoric Horticulture in the Northeastern Plains." Plains Anthropologist, 47 (180), 2002, pp. 33-50
  24. ^ Strutin, Michal (1999). A Guide to Contemporary Plains Indians. Tucson: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association. pp. 9–11. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  25. ^ Brown, 1996: pp. 34-5; 1994 Mandelbaum, 1975, pp. 14-15; & Pettipas, 1994 p. 210. "A Description and Analysis of Sacrificial Stall Dancing: As Practiced by the Plains Cree and Saulteaux of the Pasqua Reserve, Saskatchewan, in their Contemporary Rain Dance Ceremonies" by Randall J. Brown, Master thesis, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, 1996. Mandelbaum, David G. (1979). The Plains Cree: An ethnographic, historical and comparative study. Canadian Plains Studies No. 9. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center. Pettipas, Katherine. (1994). "Serving the ties that bind: Government repression of Indigenous religious ceremonies on the prairies." Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.
  26. ^ a b c Wishart, David J. "Native American Gender Roles." Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Retrieved 15 Oct 2013.
  27. ^ Price 19
  28. ^ "Traditional Vs Progressive « Speak Without Interruption". Archived from the original on 22 September 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  29. ^ Sides, Hampton. Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West New York: Doubleday, 2006, p. 34
  30. ^ Winship, George Parker (Ed. and Translator) The Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542, from the City of Mexico to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and the Buffalo Plains of Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska, As Told by Himself and his Followers. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co, 1904
  31. ^ John, Elizabeth A. H. Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975, p. 154
  32. ^ a b c d e f g Robinson, Charles The Plains Wars 1757-1900, London: Osprey, 2003
  33. ^ a b "The Battle for Texas". The Economist. 17 June 2010. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  34. ^ Ambrose, Stephen Crazy Horse and Custer New York: Anchor Books, 1975, p. 12.
  35. ^ Ambrose, p. 66
  36. ^ Ambrose, p. 243
  37. ^ "Standing Tall: Plains Indians Enjoyed Height, Health Advantage" Archived 2007-03-03 at the Wayback Machine, Jeff Grabmeier, Ohio State

Further reading

External links

Battle of Palo Duro Canyon

The Battle of Palo Duro Canyon was a military confrontation and a significant United States victory during the Red River War. The battle occurred on September 28, 1874 when several U.S. Army regiments under Ranald S. Mackenzie attacked a large encampment of Plains Indians in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle.

Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site

Bent's Old Fort is an 1833 fort located in Otero County in southeastern Colorado, United States. A company owned by Charles Bent and William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain built the fort to trade with Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indians and trappers for buffalo robes. For much of its 16-year history, the fort was the only major white American permanent settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements. It was destroyed in 1849.

The area of the fort was designated a National Historic Site under the National Park Service on June 3, 1960. It was further designated a National Historic Landmark later that year on December 19, 1960.

The fort was reconstructed and is open to the public.

Big Stone Island Nature Area

Big Stone Island Nature Area is a nature area on Big Stone Island in Big Stone Lake in Roberts County, South Dakota. The island is also known as Kite Island and Big Island and is near the border with Minnesota. Originally the island was a village used by the Plains Indians. During the late 1800s and early 1900s several resorts were located on the island but were abandoned. In the 1940s during World War II the island was used by military aircraft to practice take-offs and landings. The area is only accessible by boat or canoe and today preserves the island for wildlife.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, formerly known as the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, is a complex of five museums and a research library featuring art and artifacts of the American West located in Cody, Wyoming. The five museums include the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indians Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Draper Natural History Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum. Founded in 1917 by Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney to preserve the legacy and vision of Col. William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is the oldest and most comprehensive museum complex of the West. It has been described by The New York Times as "among the nation's most remarkable museums."

Buffalo dance

The Buffalo Dance, or Bison Dance, is an annual dance festival of many North American Plains Indians, including the Mandan, Sioux, Cheyenne, Pawnee, and Omaha, among others. The festival traditionally coincided with the return of the buffalo herds, and included a feast and a dance with a number of men wearing buffalo and other animal skins.As the buffalo, or bison, was so central to society, it was important to assure the return of the herd and an abundance of food and resources.A short, 16-second, black-and-white silent 1894 film Buffalo Dance shows people performing the dance. It is notable for being one of the earliest films made featuring Native Americans.

The Buffalo Dance can also refer to section of larger ceremonies and dances, such as the Sun Dance. In some societies it was also a dance more associated with curing the ill, calling on the spirit of the buffalo.

Cherokee (Europe song)

"Cherokee" is a 1987 single released by the Swedish band Europe. It was the fourth single released internationally from the album The Final Countdown, and reached number 72 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States.

The song was written by vocalist Joey Tempest in 1985, and was in fact the last song written for the album. The video for "Cherokee" was filmed in September 1987, in Almería, Spain. It was filmed a half mile from where Sergio Leone shot the famous Clint Eastwood spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars. When filming the scene where the horses run through the valley, someone accidentally set some brush near the set on fire. The entire video crew, including band members, had to fight the fire by quickly digging a trench around the fire to stop it spreading. Historically, the video is very inaccurate. It showed the Cherokee as plains Indians, living in teepees on the desert. The Cherokee originally lived in the wooded, southern Appalachian Mountains. They were forcibly moved to the wooded, rolling hills of eastern Oklahoma. The Cherokee never used teepees.

On 30 July 2007, "Cherokee" and "The Final Countdown" were used in a preview for Superbad following Raw.

At the beginning of the song, drummer Ian Haugland says: "Nu ska vi spela!" which means "We're gonna play now!" in Swedish.

Contrary (social role)

A Contrary, among the historical Amerindian tribes of the Great Plains, a tribe member who adopted behavior deliberately the opposite of other tribal members. They were a small number of individuals loosely organized into a cult that was devoted to the practice of contrary behavior.

The Contraries are related, in part, to the clown organizations of the Plains Indians, as well as to Plains military societies that contained reverse warriors. The Lakota word heyoka, which translates as clown or opposites, serves as a collective title for these institutionalized forms of contrary behavior of the Plains Indians. When Lakota Indians first saw European clowns, they identified them with their own term for clowns, heyoka.

Counting coup

Counting coup was the winning of prestige against an enemy by the Plains Indians of North America. Warriors won prestige by acts of bravery in the face of the enemy, which could be recorded in various ways and retold as stories. Any blow struck against the enemy counted as a coup, but the most prestigious acts included touching an enemy warrior with the hand, bow, or coup stick and escaping unharmed. Touching the first enemy to die in battle or touching the enemy's defensive works also counted as coup, as did, in some tribes, simply riding up to an enemy, touching him with a short stick, and riding away unscathed. Counting coup could also involve stealing an enemy's weapons or horses tied up to his lodge in camp. Risk of injury or death was required to count coup.Escaping unharmed while counting coup was considered a higher honor than being wounded in the attempt. A warrior who won coup was permitted to wear an eagle feather in his hair. If he had been wounded in the attempt, however, he was required to paint the feather red to indicate this.After a battle or exploit, the people of a tribe would gather together to recount their acts of bravery and "count coup". Coups were recorded by putting notches in a coup stick. Indians of the Pacific Northwest would tie an eagle feather to their coup stick for each coup counted, but many tribes did not do so. Among the Blackfoot tribe of the upper Missouri River Valley, coup could be recorded by the placement of "coup bars" on the sleeves and shoulders of special shirts that bore paintings of the warrior's exploits in battle. Many shirts of this sort have survived to the present, including some in European museums.Joe Medicine Crow (1913–2016) is credited with achieving the feat while serving with the US Army during World War II, as on one occasion he overpowered and disarmed a German soldier, and later stole horses from an SS unit.

Fort Washita

Fort Washita is the former United States military post and National Historic Landmark located in Durant, Oklahoma on SH 199. Established in 1842 by General (later President) Zachary Taylor to protect citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations from the Plains Indians it was later abandoned by Federal forces at the beginning of the American Civil War. Confederate troops held the post until the end of the war when they burned the remaining structures. It was never reoccupied by the United States military. After years in private hands the Oklahoma Historical Society bought the fort grounds in 1962 and restored the site. Today the Fort Washita Historic Site and Museum is a tourist attraction and hosts several events throughout the year.

Jesse Chisholm

Jesse Chisholm (circa 1805 - March 4, 1868) was a mixed-blood Scottish-Cherokee fur trader. His name is most famous because of the namesake cattle trail, which he originally scouted and developed to supply his various trading posts among the Plains Indians in what is now western Oklahoma. Although Chisholm died before the heyday of the Texas-to-Kansas cattle drives, he was nevertheless a participant in several important events in Texas and Oklahoma history.

Chisholm's father, Ignatius, was of Scottish descent, and his mother Martha (née Rogers) was a Cherokee from the region of Great Hiwassee. He moved with his mother to Oklahoma during a period when Cherokees were migrating voluntarily. In 1826, Chisholm became involved in a gold-seeking party, who blazed a trail and explored the region to present day Wichita, Kansas. In 1830, he helped blaze a trail from Fort Gibson to Fort Towson. In 1834, he was a member of the Dodge-Leavenworth Expedition, who made the first contact with the southern plains Indians on behalf of the United States federal government.In 1836, Chisholm married Eliza Edwards. They resided in the area of her father's trading post on the Little River near its confluence with the Canadian River, where Jesse worked in the Indian trade.

Chisholm was an interpreter and general aid in several treaties between the Republic of Texas and local Indian tribes, as well as between the United States federal government and various tribes after Texas joined the United States. This diplomatic work spanned 20 years, between 1838 and 1858. During this period, he also continued in the Indian trade, trading manufactured goods for peltry and for cattle.

During the Civil War, he mostly remained neutral. Many residents of Indian Territory feared they might be massacred, either intentionally or as an accident of war if either side attempted to contend for control of the territory. He led a band of refugees to the western part of the territory. For some time, they suffered privation, as the trade had dried up during the war, as well.

At the end of the war, he settled permanently near present-day Wichita, and recommenced trade into Indian Territory. He built up what had been a military and Indian trail into a road capable of carrying heavy wagons for his goods. This road became known as Chisholm's Trail. Later, when the Texas-to-Kansas cattle drives started, the users of the trail redubbed it the Chisholm Trail.He died at his last camp near Left Hand Spring due to food poisoning on March 4, 1868, and is buried there. Chisholm was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners in 1974. His grave site in Blaine County is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ledger art

Ledger art is a term for Plains Indian narrative drawing or painting on paper or cloth. Ledger art flourished primarily from the 1860s to the 1920s. A revival of ledger art began in the 1960s and 1970s. The term comes from the accounting ledger books that were a common source of paper for Plains Indians during the late 19th century.

Little Arkansas Treaty

The Little Arkansas Treaty was a set of treaties signed between the United States of America and the Kiowa, Comanche, Plains Apache, Southern Cheyenne, and Southern Arapaho at Little Arkansas River, Kansas in October 1865. On October 14 and 18, 1865 the United States and all of the major Plains Indians Tribes signed a treaty on the Little Arkansas River, which became known as the Little Arkansas Treaty. It is notable in that it lasted less than two years, the reservations it created for the Plains Indians were never created at all, and were reduced by 90% eighteen months later in the Medicine Lodge Treaty.

The full treaty can be found online.

Medicine wheel

In some Native American cultures, the medicine wheel is a metaphor for a variety of spiritual concepts. A medicine wheel may also be a stone monument that illustrates this metaphor.

Historically, the monuments were constructed by laying stones in a particular pattern on the ground oriented to the four directions. Most medicine wheels follow the basic pattern of having a center of stone, and surrounding that is an outer ring of stones with "spokes" (lines of rocks) radiating from the center to the cardinal directions (east, south, west, and north). These stone structures may or may not be called "medicine wheels" by the people whose ancestors built them, but may be called by more specific terms in that nation's language.

Physical medicine wheels made of stone were constructed by several different indigenous peoples in North America, especially those of the Plains Indians. They are associated with religious ceremonies. As a metaphor, they may be used in healing work or to illustrate other cultural concepts.

The medicine wheel has been adopted as a symbol by a number of pan-Indian groups, or other native groups whose ancestors did not traditionally use it as a symbol or structure. It has also been appropriated by non-indigenous people, usually those associated with the hippie, New Age or Neopagan communities.

Plains Music

Plains Music is an album released in 1991 by Manfred Mann's Plain Music, which was a project initiated by Manfred Mann after he retired his Earth Band in the late 1980s.

"This album is called Plains Music, as it consists mainly of the melodies of the North American Plains Indians. We do not pretend that it is in any sense representative of the original ethnic music which was its source material. I tried to make a simple album of plain music, using as few notes as possible and keeping the tracks short and to the point." - Manfred Mann 1991

Mann recorded some of the album in his homeland, which he had been exiled from for nearly three decades because of his opposition to apartheid.

The album was initially released in 1991 and was re-mastered digitally with three additional tracks in 1998.


Starhaven is a fictional planet first depicted in stories of DC Comics' Legion of Super-Heroes set in the 30th and 31st Centuries, and described as being located near the core of the Milky Way galaxy. It was portrayed as being the home of Legion member Dawnstar and R.E.B.E.L.S. member Wildstar.

Starhaven was described as being forcibly settled in the 13th Century by the Anasazi tribe, believed on Earth to be extinct. As a result of genetic engineering by the same unknown alien race which abducted them from Earth, their metagenes were said to have been triggered to cause specific mutations.The inhabitants were given feathered wings which could move air, and which had an undescribed role in assisting the open-space flight of their descendants. Some of them, at first by random variation and later through selective breeding, have superior navigation and tracking skills.Their clothing and hairstyles resemble those found in various tribes of Plains Indians: feathered war bonnets, fringed deerskins, hair-pipe breastplates, breechcloths, high-top moccasins, and long flowing hair or two long braids (for both men and women).

Their main temple, held to be sacred ground of the Great Spirit whom they see as ordering the universe, rests atop a grand mesa and resembles a hewn monolithic moai. Inside, wide-open arches are supported by large, smooth columns through which Starhaven's moons can be seen. Braziers are lined along polished floors and upon a low, raised dais where vigils can be held.Family dwellings resemble futuristic wigwams and can accommodate an open hearth. The top is opaque from the outside, but the open sky can be seen clearly from within. Community structures are cylindrical, upright, rounded at the top, and supported by six legs.By the time of Dawnstar in the 30th Century, it is seen as being traditional for a Starhavenite reaching his or her eighteenth year to embark on a spiritual "Grand Tour" of the galaxy. After reaching one's naming place, it is believed one receives a vision of a destined soulmate or life partner.

Texas–Indian wars

The Texas–Indian wars were a series of 19th-century conflicts between settlers in Texas and the Southern Plains Indians. These conflicts began when the first wave of European-American settlers moved into Spanish Texas. They continued through Texas's time as part of Mexico, when more Europeans and Anglo-Americans arrived, to the subsequent declaration of independence by the Republic of Texas. The conflicts did not end until thirty years after Texas joined the United States.

Although several Indian tribes occupied territory in the area, the preeminent nation was the Comanche, known as the "Lords of the Plains." Their territory, the Comancheria, was the most powerful entity and persistently hostile to the Spanish, the Mexicans, and finally, the Texans. These conflicts lasted from 1820, just before Mexico gained independence from Spain, until 1875, when the last free band of Plains Indians, the Comanches led by Quahadi warrior Quanah Parker, surrendered and moved to the Fort Sill reservation in Oklahoma.

The half-century struggle between the Plains tribes and the Texans became particularly intense after the Spanish, and then Mexicans, left power in Texas. The Republic of Texas, which had increasing settlement by European Americans, and the United States opposed the tribes. Their war with the Plains Indians was characterized by deep animosity, slaughter on both sides, and, in the end, near-total conquest of the Indians.The Comanche were known as fierce warriors, with a reputation for looting, burning, murdering, and kidnapping as far south as Mexico City. When Sul Ross rescued Cynthia Ann Parker at Pease River, he observed that this event would be felt in every family in Texas, as every one had lost someone in the Indian Wars. During the American Civil War, when the US Army was unavailable to protect the frontier, the Comanche and Kiowa pushed white settlements back more than 100 miles along the Texas frontier.


A tipi (also teepee or tepee) is a cone-shaped tent, traditionally made of animal skins upon wooden poles. Modern tipis usually have a canvas covering. A tipi is distinguished from other conical tents by the smoke flaps at the top of the structure. Historically, the tipi has been used by Indigenous people of the Plains in the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies of North America. They are still in use in these communities, though now primarily for ceremonial purposes rather than daily living. A similar structure, the lavvu is used by the Sámi people of northern Europe.Tipis are often stereotypically and incorrectly associated with all Native Americans in the United States and Indigenous peoples in Canada, despite their usage being unique to the peoples of the Plains. Native American tribes and First Nation band governments from other regions have used other types of dwellings. The tipi is durable, provides warmth and comfort in winter, is cool in the heat of summer, and is dry during heavy rains. Tipis can be disassembled and packed away quickly when people need to relocate and can be reconstructed quickly upon settling in a new area. Historically, this portability was important to Plains Indians with their at-times nomadic lifestyle.

Tolar Petroglyph Site

The Tolar Petroglyph Site is an archeological site in Sweetwater County, Wyoming. The site includes a sandstone rock formation with 32 panels of petroglyphs running for 150 feet (46 m) along the rock face. Many of the illustrations are of horse-mounted people of the Plains Indians in historical times. Other motifs include the turtle motif, spirit bear and shield-carrying warriors.The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 30, 2014.

War bonnet

War bonnets (also called warbonnets or headdresses) are feathered headgear traditionally worn by male leaders of the American Plains Indians Nations who have earned a place of great respect in their tribe. Originally they were sometimes worn into battle, but they are now primarily used for ceremonial occasions. In the Native American and First Nations communities that traditionally have these items of regalia, they are seen as items of great spiritual and political importance, only to be worn by those who have earned the right and honour through formal recognition by their people.

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