- The Plains Indians occupied the Great Plains, which include ten states in the present-day United States and three provinces in Canada.
- The Plains Indians engaged in the Plains Indians wars to fight for their land and culture
- The Plains Indians hunted buffalos for its hides which they used to make clothing and teepees
History and Tribes of the Plains Indians
The words indigenous or Native in reference to societies is a term used to describe the first people to inhabit a land. The Plains Indians, before the 1860s, were indigenous Americans living in the Great Plains. The Great Plains formerly called the Great American Desert is a vast stretch of flat land occupied by the Native Indians at the time. The area spurned over one-third of the present-day United States equivalent to ten states; North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Kansas, Colorado Oklahoma, Wyoming, Nebraska, Texas, and New Mexico. It also includes the grassland provinces of Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan in Canada. Historical material unearthed from Dallas, Texas indicate that the Native Americans may have lived in the Plains for not less than 38,000 years.
There are six different language stocks among the Plains Indians, with multiple groups. The first is the Algonquian language speakers. They included the Arapaho, Atsina, Blackfoot, Plains Cree and Plains Ojibwa of the Northern Plains and the Cheyenne of the Central Plains. The second is the Siouan languages, which included the Crow, Mandan, Assiniboin, Omaha, Hidatsa, Osage, Kansa, Oto, Iowa, Ponca, and Missouri. The Wind River Shoshone and the Comanche groups belonged to the Uto-Aztecan language stock while the Caddoan stock included the Pawnee, Arikara, and Wichita. The Athabaskan stock had the Sarcee group in the Northern Plains, and the Kiowa group represented the Kiowa-Toan stock. Lastly, the Plains Indians Sign Language is an additional language used among Plains Indians with different spoken languages.
The Plains Indian Wars
The extended conflicts between the Native American Indians, the federal government and the white settlers over the Great Plains natural resources and land from 1855 to 1890 was called the Plains Indians Wars. In 1851 representatives from the Sioux, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Assiniboine, Hidasta, Ankara and Mandan entered into a treaty with the United States federal government. The agreement outlined the territorial claims as among the groups, and the U.S. recognized the land covered in the accord as Indian Territory. Further, Natives guaranteed the settlers passage along the Oregon Trail and for an annuity of fifty thousand dollars for fifty years, allowed roads and forts are built in their territories. In August 1854, a cow escaped into the Sioux (Lakota) camp and Lt., John Grattan, upon receiving reports from the settlers that the cow was stolen; he stormed into the village with an army unit to arrest a man whom he insisted had killed the cow. The man asserting on his innocence refused the arrest. The Lt., Grattan gave orders for cannons fired. Upon Chief Conquering Bear and other were killed in the assault. In anger, the Sioux killed Lt. Grattan and his party. In September 1855, General Williams took 600 troops to retaliate against the Natives, killing 85 of them and took 70 women as captives.
In the following year, the Natives engaged the federal government army and the settlers in open war and raids. In 1856, Col. Edwin Sumner, encountered an eager Cheyenne ready to engage in battle with the assurance of the safety of magical waters. Sumner, in an unprecedented move, ordered his men to fight with sabers, making the Cheyenne flee in confusion because the magical waters did not protect them from the steel blades. There was relative peace in the central plains for a while after the incident.
In May 1858, in the northern border of Texas, in the Comanche territory, Capt. John Ford, leading allied Indians and rangers attacked and destroyed Chief Iron Jacket’s following in Oklahoma. In October General Earl Van Dorn attacked Chief Buffalo Hump’s camp in Rush Spring and killed one hundred Comanche. The Comanche executed numerous raids against the settlement of Elm Creek and into north Texas in 1863.
There was a continuing assault against the Natives by the federal government officials mismanaging the reservations causing excessive bitters among the Natives. In August 1862, the most prominent leader of the Dakota, Chief Little Crow commanded assaults to hundreds of settlers death. Col. Henry Hastings Sibley, in September attacked the Dakota in retaliation and defeated them at the Battle of Wood Lake. A rushed court found three hundred and three Dakota guilty of rape and murder because of the attack led by Chief Little Crow. President Lincoln suspended the annuities of the Dakota for four years and paid the whites during this period. He lifted the death sentence of two hundred and eighty-four men and signed the death of thirty-eight men who were hanged at Mankato, Minnesota. Most of the two hundred and eighty-four died in prison.
In the South, Gen Alfred Sully, attacked over 1000 Dakota at Whitestone Hill, in September 1863, killing hundreds of men and taking an equal number of women and children as captives. Noting the wars in the northern plains in 1864 officials in Colorado mobilized regulars and volunteers to engage in battles with Apache, Kiowa, Arapaho and Cheyenne processions. Col. Chivington thinking that controlling the Natives would jumpstart his career in politics, waited near Sand Creek, where about 500 Arapaho and Cheyenne devotees of Chief Black Kettle, who had a reputation as a peacemaker, lived. Chivington and his volunteers went into the village, on November 29 and slaughtered over 200 Indians.
From 1866 to 1868, Chief Oglala Sioux led his people in the Wyoming Territory and the Montana Territory on a war against the federal government. The fight was over the control of Powder River Country in north central, a primary access trail to the Montana gold fields, along with the Bozeman Trail. The Native won, and the war was ended with the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. In the Black Hills War of 1876 and 1877, engaged the federal government on a succession of other battles including the Battle of Rosebud and Battle of the Little Bighorn.
In 1890, the battle between the US military troops and Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek in South of Dakota resulted in the death of over 300 Sioux men, women, and children. War broke out when someone fired a shot after the Indians had already surrendered, resulting in the massacre. The battle marked the last of the major conflicts between the Sioux and the federal government.
Culture and Arts of the Plains Indians
The way of life of the Plains Indians were two categories, the nomadic hunters who moved around following the buffalo migration and semi-sedentary tribes who were buffalo hunters and farmers. The nomadic tribes were the Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow, Comanche, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Sioux and Shoshone to mention but a few. They followed the seasonal migration of buffalos. The Mandan, Osage, Omaha, Otoe, Pawnee, Iowa, Kansa and Hidatsa were led a semi-sedentary way of life.
The Arapaho and Cheyenne were initially sedentary people, focusing on agriculture, but when the discovered the horse from the white settlers, they adopted into a nomadic lifestyle, raiding the horse of the Pawnee and Comanche.
The Plains Indians had common a culture and art expressions. Plains Indians lives in semi-permanent structures called Teepees (tipis). The teepees were long cone-shaped made with long wooden poles used as frames and covered with buffalo hide. 30 – 40 Plains Indians could fit into the structure.
The Plains Indians used buffalo dang as fuel for fire for warmth in the night and over winter. They used buffalo’s intestine and bladder as food bags, cooking vessels, and buckets. Unlike pots, which were heavy and easy to break, the intestines and bladder were durable and light to carry around owing to the nomadic nature of their lifestyle.
Plains Indians were also fierce warriors. The Sioux tribe is considered the most violent of all the tribes and were the most resistant to the European invasion of their land. In warfare, the Plains Indians warriors would cut off the scalps of their dead enemies to achieve honor. At times, they would tap an enemy with a stick in battle, rather than kill. A strategy they called ‘counting coup.’
The Native Indians are a deeply spiritual community. They believe in the Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka. They still think that the earth is their mother and belongs to all living creatures. They have ceremonies, the Sun Dance, in awe of the Sun.