History American West

Cards on American West Edexcel exam board 

Also, there's a glossary on the very last flashcard

  • Created by: neve_xx
  • Created on: 13-02-23 17:37

Plains Indians - Social Structure

The next 5 cards will be on social structure 

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Tribes and bands

Tribes and bands

Lots of tribes that are combined together make up the Plains Indians. Lots of bands combined to make tribes.

  • Bands were sub groups in a tribe, more than 1 band would be in a tribe
  • In each band there was a cheif who ruled the band, when making decisions he would consult the band's council
  • Roughly 30-200 people in a band
  • The most important thing was survival - you had to act for the good of the band
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Chiefs, tribes and councils


The members of the band who were most successful were elected as the band's chief. In the American West society the way you gained power was through fighting or hunting. Chiefs would make the final decisions for the band.

Tribes and councils

  • Lots of bands = in the same tribe
  • Most famous tribes: Apache, Cheyenne, Sioux, etc
  • There would be an annual meeting arranged by the tribes and they would meet with the chiefs and elders from the bands
  • Elders were wise people who transmitted culture and values
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Warrior society

Warrior society

The people who were the best hunters and fighters from a band would be in a group called the warrior society

The warrior society was important as they would have influence over the bands chief and council

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Decision making and gender roles Part 1

Decision making

Nowadays, one person makes a decision (whatever they say goes in a way). However, it wasn't like that for the Plains Indians as decisions are usually made by the council and everyone had to agree, if someone didn't agree they could go down a different path to everyone else (literally).

Gender roles

In the bands, men (braves) usually hunted, protected the tribe and the tribe's defense.

Women (squaws) looked after the tipi, they did the cooking and they also fixed clothes, squaws were allowed to divorce their husbands

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Gender Roles Part 2 and Elders

Gender Roles Part 2

Squaws looked after the home and fed their family

Both braves and squaws would teach the band's children how to survive


They were wise, but old. Plains Indians respected age, wisdom and spirituality 

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Plains Indians - Way of Life

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Food, travel and shelter Part 1

The importance of buffalo

  • Buffalo is very important to the Plains Indians as it is their main source of food
  • Buffalo is also known as American bison
  •  The Plains Indians could also use the buffalo's hide as interior design for their tipis, they would also use it as clothes

Where did the Plains Indians live?

  • They lived in an area called 'The Great Plains', its 2000 miles long, 500 miles wide. As it is very exposed it can either be really hot or really cold.
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Food, travel and shelter Part 2

What did the Plains Indians live in?

  • They lived in wooden tipis, these tipis could be quickly put up/taken down
  • The Indians were nomads
  • They would often follow herds of buffalo and go wherever the buffalo would go


  • Horses were vital transport for the Plains Indians, they could travel long distances 
  • They could also carry heavy weights, having horses was a sign of succes for a band/tribe
  • The Indian's clothes and meals relied on the buffalo, so riding horses was the best way to kill buffalo
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Land, nature and war Part 1


  • Indians thought that all things in the world had a 'spirit'
  • Elders/chiefs could communicate to spirits through 'visions'
  • The Eagle and Buffalo were sacred to the Indians


  • Many White American settlers came from Britain, British law has always valued property rights but the Plains Indians didn't believe in any of that - lots of nomadic tribes have this view
  • Different bands had different sacred places, e.g: the Sioux's sacred place was the Black Hills
  • But the White American settlers built Mount Rushmore on the Black Hills
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Land, nature and war Part 2


  • The Indians had a nomadic approach to war, they often rode on horseback and if they fought with each other they would rather flee than fight
  • This made the warfare more difficult as they were always moving around
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Migrations and Early Settlement

There are 3 sub topics

But there are more smaller topics

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The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail

  • 1810s - merchants and traders began to lay a trail across America
  • This enabled white settlers to move around America more easily
  • The Oregon Trail had a similar impact to the railroads - late 1800s

Migration events

  • 1837 - collapse of some American banks = unemployment
  • 1841 - US gov published map for migrants - how to follow the Oregon Trail
  • 1843 - Great Migration - 1000 people left Oregon, went to Missouri
  • Religious persecution meant people moved West 
  • Mormon Church - started 1830 by Smith - 1844 - Smith was killed in Illinois
  • 2 years later - 1846 - All Mormons were banned from Ilinois
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The Gold Rush

Gold Rush

  • encourage migration westwards
  • Began in California - 1848
  • Gold - discovered in Black Hills and Rocky Mountains
  • The Black Hills were sacred to the Sioux tribe 
  • White Americans - encouraged to go move to the Rocky Mountains
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Farming land

  • The Great Plains are grasslands
  • Grasslands = good garzing areas for livestock
  • As unemployment rates were high - idea of moving to the Great Plains sounded more attractive
  • However corn and wheat prices fell
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The magnitude of the gold rush

  • Between 1848-49 over 100,000 people arrived in San Francisco 
  • James Marshall - found gold - in Sierra Mountains = rush started
  • Most people found no gold and lost money
  • 1849 - rapid rise in California's pop. so they applied to become part of USA
  • 1859 - California pop. - 380,000
  • Many of gold rushers killed many Plains Indians in disputes over land, etc
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The Homestead Act 1862 and the Problems

  • Allowed homesteaders to claim 170 acres of land for free if they lived and worked on it for 5 years
  • The idea of free land was exciting to people who couldn't afford their own farm back home
  • Living on the Plains was tough though, here are some of the problems they faced:

Problem                                    Solution

Little wood to make houses     Make a sod house

There was disease and flies  Coats of white wash on houses killed the bedbugs clay stopped leaks

No wood, no shops to buy soap  People would stop by, sell things but not all the time so women would make fuel from buffalo chips

Law and order was non existent  Sheriffs such as Wyatt Earp slowly established law and order

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The Pacific Railway Act 1862

  • Signed by Abraham Lincoln 
  • It provided gov. support of building the first railroad to link the east and west coasts of the USA so from San Francisco to New York in other words.
  • The gov. gave them 6400 acres of land (10 square miles) and $16,000 in bonds.
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