Native Americans – The Plains Indians

The Plains Indians live on the Great Plains of North America. Between 1750 and 1890, they were a powerful force.

In reality, the Plains Indians are divided into two groups. One group was nomadic, following the bison. For this reason, they are known as the Buffalo Culture. Occasionally, they would grow tobacco or corn, but most of their food came from hunting and foraging. These included the Crow, Plains Cree, Blackfoot, Arapaho, Sarsi, Shoshone, and Apache tribes.

The second group, occasionally called Prairie Indians, lived a semi-nomadic life. While they hunted buffalo, they also lived in villages and planted crops. Tribes included the Ioway, Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, and Wichita.

Together, these peoples formed a powerful force on the plains. Based on anthropological examinations and historical evidence, these tribes contained the world’s tallest people during the late 1800’s. This is seen as indicative of the population’s overall health and standard of living. Indeed, for many years the land provided abundant food for all.

The American Bison was a major source of food. All parts of the animal were used – cups were made of the horns, while the heavy, shaggy coat provided warmth. From food to decorations, knives, and other tools, the Buffalo provided for almost all their needs.

Plains Indians lived in tipis, which are easy to assemble and disassemble. As they were expected to move regularly, following the bison, the tipi was a perfect choice. In in the 17th century, Spanish horses often escaped into the wild. The Plains Indians obtained these horses, becoming highly mobile.

Before the use of horses, hunting bison was a risky proposition. Working together, hunters would surround the herd. The bison would then be herded off cliffs or into small corrals, where they could be slaughtered more easily.

With the introduction of the horse, the Plains Indians got a powerful new weapon in their arsenal of spears, bows, and clubs. A man on horseback could catch up to the bison, shooting from point-blank range. Interestingly, this changed the technology of the Plains Indians. The blows were reduced in length to make them easier to use on horseback. Even after guns were introduced, bows were still popular – they were faster to reload, and weighed much less.

Animism was an important belief, and the great plains Indians believed that spirits resided in all things. The Great Spirit was the main god. Earth, as the mother of all spirits, was also important. People would pray alone, or in group, to encourage the spirits to support and defend the tribe.

Shamans were an important part of life to the Plains Indians. Only they decided when the hunt would happen. They were also adept healers, using natural substances to effect a cure.

Chief of the Blackfoot. Courtesy Wikipedia.
Shoshone around their tipi, about 1890. Courtesy Wikipedia.