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AMERICAN WEST: PLAINS INDIANS
Key Question 1: How did the Plains Indians live on the Great Plains?
A frontier is a divide which separates people and land. This can either be political
frontiers as in boarders between countries and states, or natural frontiers, such as
mountain ranges and rivers.
East America was separated from the West by many frontiers. The first European
settlers settled on the Easter lowlands, an area of fertile land adjacent to the Atlantic.
West of this were the Appalachian Mountains, the first natural frontier. After that there
was the Mississippi River. Then pioneers came across the Great Plains, thousands of
kilometres of prairie grass and scrub. The plains were an arid environment, often in
drought or flash floods and blizzards. They were inhabited by herds of buffalo and
other animals. West of the Great Plains there were the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra
Nevada. Finally there was the West Coast leading into the Pacific Ocean. For those
wanting to move west at first, there were numerous frontier to get past as well as
The Plains Indians
The Plains Indians had a major role in preventing white people's attempts to push west.
The fought fiercely against them and ultimately it was the Indians whose lives were
altered forever by white settlers who believed Manifest Destiny gave them the right to
remove the Indians.
Before all the continents were separated, people followed animals from Asia down into
what is today America. For a long time the Plains Indians lived on the edges of the
Plains as farmers. They grew maize and beans with difficulty in this infertile land and
when they could, hunted buffalo for meat. Everything changed however with the
introduction of horse which were stolen from Spanish settlers and then sold on to
Why did the move into the Plains?
The speed and strength of horses meant that the Indians would be able to live a
Nomadic lifestyle, following the herds of buffalo around the Plains providing them
with a constant supply of food. This way they could leave behind their attempts at
farming and head into the Plains themselves. They also moved in order to escape the
growing European settlers, who brought with them diseases like smallpox, flu and
What did the Indians believe in?
The Plains Indians believed in the Great Spirit. Similar to God in Christianity, the
Great Spirit controlled everything from the "Happy Hunting Ground" (heaven) where
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They also believed that all life had its own
spirit and was all descended from each other. This meant that they treated all animals
with respect and equality. They believed that they could contact the spirits through
visions. Girls were believed to be able to communicate to the spirits when on their
period. They also believed in the power of circles. Everything that they saw from the
Sun and seasons to birds' nests and the wind (this explaining their round Tipis).…read more
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They made travois out of the tipi poles
and by attaching them to the horse's shoulders they could very easily drag all their
possessions across the Plains. Families lived together in Tipis and families which were
related lived in a group known as a band. Many bands made up a tribe and sometimes
tribes formed a nation. Indian families also had fewer children than European families.
This was probably down to increased lengths of time that Indian women breastfed.…read more