The Great Plains
- Most Europeans at the time when the American West was first being developed (from about 1840) regarded the Great Plains of North America uninhabitable desert.
- The Native Americans or, as they are sometimes called, the First Nations lived there successfully long before the arrival of the Europeans.
- The Great Plains are the grasslands of the North American continent and lie between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains
- Early European explorers found the Plains a very hostileenvironment, and the area was marked on early maps as the 'great American desert'.
Characteristics Of The Great Plains
- - enormous size
- - lack of trees
- - little water available
- - unpredictable weather, including extremely cold and violent winters
- - many areas flat and featureless
- - inhabited by locusts and grasshoppers
- - inhabited by wolves
Native American Society
- Native American society seemed to lack order and regulation to the new settlers of the Great Plains, but they were looking for the wrong things. There was plenty of community spirit among the first people on the land, fostered by a range of customs and rituals.
- The Native Americans were not one people, but many tribes. The most famous tribes were the Apache, Sioux led by its own Council of Elders.
- their government was based on principles that the newcomers had difficulty in understanding.
Native American chief had no power over his people,he did have great respect from them, based on his bravery in war.
dog-soldiers, who selected and broke camp, fed the old and the weak, stopped buffalo being scared away, and controlled the hunt.
Community Spirit On The Plains
- The whole tribe had to join together for the buffalo hunt.
- The young braves thought it was an honour to feed the old and the weak.
- Old people voluntarily committed exposure (wandered off to die), as the tribe couldn't afford hangers-on.
- They considered the worst crimes to be not looking after one's parents, hurting people who were sick, or harming the religion.
- Horse stealing (from other tribes) was admired.
Native American view of war
- War was based on ambush and skill (eg stealing a tied horse).
- No one was forced to go to war - individual warriors chose to follow the chief to war or not, as they felt best.
- The aim of war was to capture horses and to show bravery.
- The bravest act of war was to score a coup (where a warrior tapped his enemy with a stick and escaped).
- Native Americans scalped their enemy to stop him going to an afterworld they called the Happy Hunting Ground.
- The main aim in war was to stay alive, in order to care for the family (community spirit).
Native Americans were still nomads when the first European settlers arrived in America - with each tribe split into smaller bands (of about 400). The bands moved 6-8 times a year, and camp could be broken (dismantled and packed up) in a few minutes. People put their belongings into buffalo-skin bags called parflèches, which were dragged on poles pulled by horses. Native Americans lived like this for two main reasons:
- - Partly because the Great Plains would not support their way of life in any one place for long, and they had to follow the buffalo migrations.
- - Also, because they believed that their god, the Great Spirit, wanted them to live a life of continual moving.
Lifestyle Of The Native Americans
- Native Americans were hunter-gatherers. They gathered maize, squash, beans and turnips (asking permission from the spirits of the land before pulling them up).
- Men went off to the hunt and to war (on horseback). Women (and any males too timid to go through initiation) gathered food, stayed at home and looked after children.
- Native American sports were designed to help their people survive in the Great Plains, by preparing them both for war and for the buffalo hunt. These sports included horse racing (sometimes with the riders dropped to the horse's side)
- The women spent their leisure time decorating their clothes and tipis (tents) with beads and quills. The decorations often had a religious meaning.
- The Native American currency (used instead of money) was horses.
- Tipis were warm in winter, cool in summer.
- A tipi's shape protected it from the Plains winds.
- Tipis were easy to move (and fitted the nomadic lifestyle).
- Tipis were circular, and Native Americans thought that: "...the power of the world works in circles".
- Tipi dwellers believed that a fixed home was unhealthy - a cage - while a tipi was healthy.
- Buffalo provided the people's main food - buffalo liver, brain and nose gristle were a treat, eaten raw.
- Dried buffalo meat, called pemmican, provided food to eat through the winter.
- Buffalo bones provided marrow to eat.
- Buffalo bones were also carved to make knives, and boiled to make glue.
- Buffalo skin could be used to make tipis, clothes, moccasins, bedding, parflèches, saddle covers and water-bags.
- Dried buffalo dung provided fuel for fires.
- Buffalo horns and hooves were made into cups.
- Buffalo sinews were used as bowstrings and thread.
- Buffalo fat was used as soap.
- The rough tongue of a buffalo could be used as a hairbrush.
- The tail of a buffalo could be used as a fly-swat.
Native Americans thought that...
- The land was put here by the Great Spirit to support mankind.
- Land did not and could not belong to any one person.
- The land belonged to all the creatures.
- Land could not be sold.
- Land should be venerated because the ancestors were buried there.
- The land was beautiful and should be enjoyed by all.
- The land was eternal and imperishable.
- Spirits lived in the earth and it was unwise to anger them.
- The buffalo needed open land to migrate; fences and farms were impossible.