American West - Plains Indians

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The Great Plains

When the Europeans first arrived in America, the Great Plains were also known as the "The Great American Desert", and it was believed to be entirely uninhabitable. The only people to live there were the Plains Indians, who had been living there successfully for hundreds of years before the Europeans came along.

The Plains were in fact grasslands, but it is easy to see why they might have been described as a desert, their key characteristics included:

  • Enormous Size
  • Lack of Trees
  • Semi-Arid - Meaning there was little water available
  • Unpredictable Weather - It could go from extreme heat to blizzards and hurricanes very quickly
  • Huge Winds - Cold in winter, and Hot in summer
  • Many areas flat and featureless
  • Inhabited by various wild animals, including locusts grasshoppers and wolves.

The Appalachian Mountains, and the Mississippi River were dangerous areas which formed a natural frontier which prevented the Americans pushing Westwards. The Americans couldn't live on the plains because they relied on farming for food, and they believed that the plains were too dry and infertile to grow crops. The plains Indians started out in Asia, thousands of years ago, but at this time the continents of Asia and America were joined together, the Indians travelled into American following herds of buffalo amongst other animals, and continued to settle on the plains. Horses were introduced to the plains Indians by the Spanish in the sixteenth century when they conquered many tribes in central America. In 1640 the Pueblo Indians fought back, and drove the Spaniards out, but kept horses for breeding, meat, and selling. The horses became important to the Plains Indians because it gave them a new way of life, horses allowed them to hunt far more easily, they also used horses in war.

The Plains Indians were Nomadic Hunter-Gatherers. They formed horse-warrior societies. They were hunters and Warriors.

Native American Society

To white settlers, the Plains Indians appeared to lack order and regulation, however this was not the case, it was just something they did in a different way to the white "government". The Native Americans lived in "Nations" for example the Sioux, which were made up of many "Tribes" for example the Teton. These tribes were divided into "Sub-Tribes" for example the Hunkpapa. Tribes were led by councils of elders. As you can see, it wasn't that Native American Society lacked structure, but it was structured in a way that the whites found hard to understand. Each tribe had a "Chief" however, this chief had no power over his people, although he was a highly respected figure. The tribes didn't really need any strict rules, because the harsh conditions brought them together. The Native Americans practised polygamy, because there were more women than men and they all needed to be looked after, this was a practical solution, but something the white's saw as very uncivilised. Community Spirit

  1. The whole tribe had to join together for the buffalo hunt.
  2. The young braves thought it


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