American West Revision

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Geogrpahy of the West

  The Great Plains

Harsh weather with extremes of hot and cold. 

Lack of timber for building. 

Lack of fresh drinking water and disease spread easily. 

Strong winds made it difficult to build upon the Plains.

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The Plains Indians

Who were they- The name given to the indigenous people of North America who lived there before the arrival of foreign explorers. 

Where did they come from- Original Indians came from Asia and spread across North America, adapting to their surroundings. 

Why did they move to the Great Plains- 1640 – Pueblo Indians of Mexico revolted against the Spanish and captured horses from them. From then on, horses bred and trained by the Indian nations.

1690s – Nations like the Cheyenne and Sioux had horses and moved to the Plains to hunt buffalo, eventually giving up farming completely. European travellers brought diseases like cholera and smallpox to the eastern Indian nations, to which they had no resistance. In one smallpox epidemic (1830), 50% of the Indian population around the Mississippi River died, forcing the others to move west.

Where did they live- Lifestyle varied from nation to nation. Centre of the life was the tipi. They lived nomadic lifestyles.

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Centre of the life was the tipi, which was a frame made from wood arranged into a circle with 10-20 buffalo skins providing protection from weather.

Tipis could be put up or taken down within 10 minutes. Poles were also used to make travois (small sledge).

A small flap at the top allowed smoke to escape, or let fresh air in.

In winter, floor was covered with furs. In summer, the sides were rolled up.

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The Buffalo

The buffalo served as the main source of food, clothing and shelter for the Plains Indians.

Before a hunt, there was a buffalo dance. The men dressed and imitated buffalo, which was a call upon the spirit world.

There were two ways of buffalo hunting: on horseback/foot or herding them into narrow spaces.  

The hunts themselves were highly organised – they had to be to stop the buffalo from leaving the area.  

Two or three good hunts a year would be enough to provide food and shelter for the band.

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men and women: plains indians

Men were responsible for hunting, fighting and ensuring the safety of the group.

 Women were responsible for the tipi, food, water and clothing. They were also highly valued because of their role as mothers.

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Marriage: plains indians

There were some arranged marriages but most were love matches. 

A brave could impress a potential bride by his hunting and fighting skills. He would also give a gift of ponies to her family to show that he could provide for her. 

After marriage, the couple would live with the bride’s family (matrilineal). 

Most of the men had only one wife, but polygamy was not uncommon especially amongst the rich as it made sure that all the women of the band were taken care of. 

Divorce was possible, with either partner being able to ask for divorce but the woman always kept the tipi.

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Children: plains indians

They were highly valued as they were the future generations of the group.

Boys were taught to hunt and girls taught how to maintain a home by their parents, getting them ready for their responsibilities as adults.

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Elderly: plains indians

They were respected for their wisdom but when they were old and weak they could be left to die of exposure.

This was done because the group was seen as more important than individuals.

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Indian warfare was a series of short raids rather than long term battles which they were not suited for.

 As well, the raids were more to do with stealing horses or destroying enemies as a result of rivalry over hunting and living spaces.

The raids themselves were undertaken in summer and were used to keep the band together.

This meant that many bands had traditional enemies – such as the Sioux, who held the Crow and Pawnee to be their enemies.

Raids were also important for marriage within the band, as they were a way for a young man to get wealth and standing within the group.

However, it was not considered heroic to die in battle as that would leave a wife and family behind.

In most cases, more men were lost through hunting than fighting.

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Scalps were often taken as evidence of success in battle. 

If an enemy was scalped he could not enter the next life and be an enemy there. 

In some cases, this led to men who had been scalped ‘stealing’ the scalps of others to ensure that they could enter the next life.

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Believed in Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit. 

He created the world and everything in it. 

They also believed that everything in the world had a spirit. 

Circles were very important – the circle of seasons, villages were set out in circles, the tipi was circular, and most importantly the circle of life. 

The circle of life was the belief that they wore born from the earth and would return to it. 

No one owned the earth – this was one of the reasons they found it difficult to understand the idea of land ownership.

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They were seen as a way to contact the spirit world. 

Young men and women got their adult name through a vision. 

Women could contact the spirit world during menstruation.

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