Collection: North American Indians Of The Plains

Transportation of Plains Indians

Before the introduction of the horse, the Plains Indians traveled on foot. The tribes living along the Mississippi made some use of canoes, according to early accounts, while those of the Missouri and inland, used only crude tub-like affairs for ferry purpose. When first discovered, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara had villages on the Missouri, in what is now North Dakota, but they have never been credited with canoes. For crossing the river, they used the bull-boat, a tub-shaped affair made by stretching buffalo skins over a wooden frame; but journeys up and down the bank were made on foot. Many of the Eastern Dakota used small canoes in gathering wild rice in the small lakes of Minnesota, though the Teton-Dakota have not been credited with the practice. It seems probable that the ease of travel in the open plains and the fact that the buffalo were often to be found inland, made the use of canoes impractical, whereas along the great lakes the broad expanse of water offered every advantage to their use. Since almost every Plains tribe used some form of the bull-boat for ferrying, and many of them came in contact with canoe-using Indians, the failure of those living along the Missouri to develop the canoe can scarcely be attributed to ignorance. When on the march, baggage was carried on the human back and also by...

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Games of the Plains Tribes

Amusements and gambling are represented in collections by many curious devices. Adults rarely played for amusement, leaving such pastime to children; they themselves played for stakes. Most American games are more widely distributed than many other cultural traits; but a few seem almost entirely peculiar to the Plains. A game in which a forked anchor-like stick is thrown at a rolling ring was known to the Dakota, Omaha, and Pawnee. So far, it has not been reported from other tribes. Hoop Game Another game of limited distribution is the large hoop with a double pole, the two players endeavoring to place the poles so that when the hoop falls, it will make a count according to which of the four marks in the circumference are nearest a pole. This has been reported for the Arapaho, Dakota, and Omaha. Among the Dakota, this game seems to have been associated with magical ceremonies for ” calling the buffalo 7 and also played a part in the ghost dance movement. The Arapaho have also a sacred hoop game associated with the sun dance. Other forms of this game in which a single pole is used have been reported from almost every tribe in the Plains. It occurs also outside this area. Yet, in the Plains it takes special forms in different localities. Thus the Blackfoot and their neighbors used a very small...

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Social Distinction Amongst Plains Indians

Social Distinction. There being no such thing as individual ownership of land, property consisted of horses, food, utensils, etc. These were possessed in varying degrees by the individual members of a tribe, but in no case was the amount of such property given much weight in the determination of social position. Anyone in need of food, horses, or anything whatsoever, was certain to receive some material assistance from those who had an abundance. Beginning at the top, we have Bear-chief (a) on foot surprised by Assiniboin Indians but he escaped; (b) Double-runner cut loose four horses; (c) Double-runner captures...

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Tipi and Earth Lodges of the Plains Tribes

One of the most characteristic features of Plains Indian culture was the tipi. All the tribes of the area, almost without exception, used it for a part of the year at least. Primarily, the tipi was a conical tent covered with dressed buffalo skins. A carefully mounted and equipped tipi from the Black-foot Indians stands in the center of the Plains exhibit. Everywhere the tipi was made, cared for, and set up by the women. First, a conical framework of long slender poles was erected and the cover raised into place. Then the edges of the cover were staked...

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Plains Indians Use of Rawhide

The Use of Rawhide. In the use of rawhide for binding and hafting (handle or strap), the Plains tribes seem almost unique. When making mauls and stone-headed clubs a piece of green or wet hide is firmly sewed on and as this dries its natural shrinkage sets the parts firmly. This is nicely illustrated in saddles. Thus, rawhide here takes the place of nails, twine, cement, etc., in other cultures. The Partleche A number of characteristic bags were made of rawhide, the most conspicuous being the parfleche. Its simplicity of construction is inspiring and its usefulness scarcely to be...

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Plains Indian Culture

Museum collections cannot illustrate this important phase of culture; but since no comprehensive view of the subject can be had without its consideration, we must give it some space. It is customary to treat of all habits or customs having to do with the family organization, the community, and what we call the state, under the head of social organization. So, in order that the reader may form some general idea of social conditions in this area, we shall review some of the discussed points. Unfortunately, the data for many tribes are meager so that a complete review cannot...

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Language of the Plains Tribes

As Stated at the outset, it is customary to classify peoples according to their languages. The main groups are what are called stock languages, or families. Under such heads are placed all languages that seem to have had a common origin regardless of whether they are mutually intelligible or not. Thus English and German are distinct forms of speech, yet they are considered as belonging to the same stock, or family. In North America, there are more than fifty such families, of which seven have representatives in the Plains. Only one, however, the Kiowa, is entirely confined to the area, though the Siouan and Caddoan are chiefly found within its bounds. The others (Algonkian, Shoshonean, Athapascan, and Shahaptian) have much larger representation elsewhere, which naturally leads us to infer that they must have migrated into the Plains. Though this is quite probable, it cannot be proven from the data at hand, except possibly for the Algonkian speaking Plains-Ojibway and Cheyenne, of whose recent movement out into the Plains, we have historic evidence. These tribes are of special interest to students, since in a comparatively short period of time, they put away most of their native culture and took on that of their neighbors in the Plains. Indians Or The Plains, According To Language Siouan Language Assiniboin Mandan Crow Missouri Dakota Omaha Hidatsa Osage Iowa Oto Kansa Ponca Algonquian Language...

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Religion and Ceremonies of the Plains Tribes

The sacred beliefs of these Indians are largely formulated and expressed in sayings and narratives having some resemblance to the legends of European peoples. There are available large collections of these tales and myths from the Blackfoot, Crow, Nez Perce, Assiniboin, Gros Ventre, Arapaho, Arikara, Pawnee, Omaha, Northern Shoshoni, and less complete series from the Dakota, Cheyenne, and Ute. In these will be found much curious and interesting information. Each tribe in this area has its own individual beliefs and sacred myths, yet many have much in common, the distribution of the various incidents therein forming one of the...

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Industrial Arts of the Plains Tribes

Under this head the reader may be reminded that among most American tribes each family produces and manufactures for itself. There is a more or less definite division between the work of men and women, but beyond that there is little specialization. The individuals are not of equal skill, but still each practices practically the whole gamut of industrial arts peculiar to his sex. This fact greatly increases the importance of such arts when considered as cultural traits. Fire making The methods of making fire are often of great cultural interest. So far as our data go, the method...

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Hunting and Food of the Plains Tribes

Since this is a discussion of the general characteristics of Plains Indians, we shall not take them up by tribes, as is usual, but by topics, Anthropologists are accustomed to group the facts of primitive life under the following main heads: material culture (food, transportation, shelter, dress, manufactures, weapons, etc.), social organization, religion and ceremonies, art, language, and physical type. Food The flesh of the buffalo was the great staple of the Plains Indians, though elk, antelope, bear and smaller game were not infrequently used. On the other hand, vegetable foods were always a considerable portion of their diet,...

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Government and Societies of the Plains Tribes

The political organization of plains tribes was rather loose and in general quite democratic. Each band, gens, or clan informally recognized an indefinite number of men as head men, one or more of whom were formally vested with representative powers in the tribal council. Among the Dakota, there was a kind of society of older men, self-electing, who legislated on all important matters. They appointed four of their number to exercise the executive functions. The Omaha had a somewhat similar system. The Cheyenne had four chiefs of equal rank and a popularly elected council of forty members. Among the...

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