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The plain Indians are the Indians who lived in the great plains of North America and dominated between the years 1750 to 1890. The North American plains were characterized by grasslands, valleys, streams, and hills. The climate in the great plains was hot summers and long cold winters. The plains also had many wild animals which the plains Indians could hunt for food but the most hunted animal was the bisons. The plain Indians were divided into two categories. The first group practiced nomadism and some tribes within this group partially engaged themselves in agricultural activities where they grew tobacco and corn. These tribes include the Blackfoot, Arapaho, Cheyene, Crow, Plains apache, Lakota, Lipan, Kiowa, Sioux, Shoshone, Plain Cree, and Tonkawa.
The second category of the plains Indians in addition to hunting bison, raised crops. The major difference between these two groups is that the second group, the Prairie Indians as they were sometimes referred to, were not nomads but settled in villages. They include, the Hidatsa, Iowa, Mandan, Omaha, Otoe, Ponca, Pawnee, Osage and Wichita. During the late 1800, these plains tribes were termed as the tallest people in the world in an analysis carried out in the 21st century. (Robert, 1999)
Economic activities of the plains Indians
The plains Indians tribes of the nomadic category were mainly hunters and nomads. They depended solely on the bison, commonly known as the American buffalo which was their main food source, cups, decorations, craft tools, kniv3es and clothing. They utilized everything from the bison’s body and not even a piece was thrown away. The main reason for being nomads was simply because the bisons kept on migrating and so the people followed them. They lived in tipis, a form of a hut which was easily disassembled and allowed them to move along with it during migration.
In the beginning of the 17th century, the plains tribes adopted the horse culture which originated from Spain with the coming of the white settlers in North America. The horses made hunting of the bison easier as well as other animals such as the antelope, though the American buffalo was the main source of food. Before they adopted horses, hunting used to be very herd and dangerous. In some cases they could surround the buffalo and kill it with spears or corner it at a cliff where it easily died. In some of the most dangerous cases, one of the native men could dress in buffalo attire and imitate the buffalo in a calling to a big trap formed of fallen trees and rocks. The buffalo would follow him into the trap where they could easily be killed by other tribesmen. (Robert, 1999)
The use of horses during hunting made them kill more bisons as they could easily follow them on horse back and kill them with spears, clubs, bow and arrows. Though guns had been introduced by the white settlers, the Indians did not use them during hunting as the gun took time to load and was too heavy to carry on the horse back during hunting.
During the winters it was impossible to hunt due to the snow fall and the Native Americans adapted to this food shortage by adaptation in which they could stay for longer periods with less food between the hunting intervals. They did preserve food during summers to push them through the hard winters by drying corn, meat from antelope and the bison which were stored in Parfletches (A tough bag made from raw hide that was used to carry food as well as storage). In times with plenty of food, in the summers when hunting was easier, they could eat enough and put weight ready for the time of little food. (Robert, 1999)The adaptation worked until the introduction of reservations. Reservations became a threat and the plaqins Indians were unable to hunt for food hence they adopted other means of subsistence such as cultivation.
The plain Indians made cloth from hide and skin of animals mostly the buffalos and the antelopes. Women were the ones responsible for making these kinds of items which they could decorate using beads. Men wore animal skin leggings without shirts, but wrapped buffalo’s fur around their shoulders. While warriors wore eagle feathered war bonnet and the bravest men could wear a bear claw necklace.
The plains Indians were very religious in that they believed that every animal possessed spirits. They believed in animism. They were polytheists but their worship was centered to one Great Spirit, the Wakan Tanka in the Sioux language. This Great Spirit possessed power over everything in existence and worshiping him would make the plains Indians stronger than any other group. The earth was also considered important as it is the mother to all the spirits. Worshipping was a daily routine and people could either pray solely or as a group. One of the most common group worshiping was the famous sun dance among the plains Indians where the dancers could dance for four days around a sacred object while facing the sun, some of the participants could injure their bodies deliberately because they believed that by such sacrifices the spirits would protect and support them.
Amongst themselves were blessed people, the Wakan or the Shaman whose prayers had been answered by the great spirits or have been shown a sign by the spirits. The Wakan were respected in the plains for they were believed to poses unique powers such as the power to heal and that is why they were sometimes referred to as the medicine men. They were so influential in the society and were consulted by everyone before they could do something even during worship. The Shaman determined when and where to go hunting.
The plains Indians also believed that some objects possessed some spiritual powers for example the warriors shield was considered sacred and the animals painted on it were thought to protect the owner. A medicine bundle was another sacred item, it comprised of things like rocks, feathers, among other things and these things were very important to the one who possessed the sack or the bundle. This was a way to honor the spirits by having sacred bundles in their house. (Carlson, 1998)
Plains Indians Intellectual level
The Indians were among the first people in the world to discover ways of preserving food which was as a result of the nature of the climate which forced them to save food for the bad long winters.
Among the preservation methods that were used are, drying of meat and grains. They planted food such as maize, pumpkins, and beans. These foodstuffs were traded among the different tribes in the plains. The nomadic group traded meat for corn with the non nomadic group. The Indians also had natural talents on the work of art which include painting, drawings, and craft. They used the craftwork to make clothes, shoes that were decorated moccasins from the animals’ hides and skins. They utilized basically everything from the animals for their own survival. They were gifted in painting especially where they used to paint their clothes, religious objects as well as on their teepees. Curving using rocks and wood by men was done to beautify their surrounding. In fact some of their works are today found in the Plains Indians museum in North America. (Carlson, 1998)
The construction of their mobile houses the tipis showed that the plains Indians were intelligent. The teepees they made from the hide and animal skins were warm during winter and cool during summer. They also decorated their tipis with religious symbols since they always believed in spirits.
For the Indians who did not move from place top place, they built a dome shaped grass lodge. The construction work was mainly the work of women. Indians technology in food production has till today sustained the growing population of Rassia. The Plains Indians were the one who came up with the technology to grow food for subsistence that later became commercialized, they used fertilizers for growing agricultural products which was adopted by other countries in South America.
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In the business world the plains Indians traded within themselves by exchanging food stuffs, and craftworks. Just like any other community, the plains Indians educated their children at a tender age as part of their playing. Education was offered by the elders since children were brought up in an extended family. The form of education that was offered was aimed at preparing the children for the future of the society. The boys were taught separately from girls as their roles in the society differed.
The spiritual teachings were given a priority since the plain Indians had a strong religious believe in spirits. The Shokama who were considered blessed in the society were also given the role to teach the children as well as advice other people. (Taylor, 1994)The Plains Indian knowledge revolved around the spiritual world and on average a man could spend three quarter of his life in religious instruction. On addition to spiritual learning, some youths were given additional knowledge on medicine and could take care of the sick. In the coming of the white settlers, they assisted in nursing of the sick in the white settlers’ clinics. In general terms the plains Indians did not have much intellectual relationship with nature.
Robert, H. Indians of the plains, New York: Natural History Press, 1999.
Harold, E. Indians of North America, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2001.
Harold, C. The Unjust Society, Edmonton: M. G. Hurtig Press, 1969.
Carlson, H. The Plains Indians, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998.
Taylor, E. The Plains Indians: A Cultural and Historical View of the North American Plains Tribes of the Pre-Reservation Period, New York: Crescent Books, 1994.