Northern Plains Indians: Rise of the Plains Culture

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Date: 2003
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 526 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1120L

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Rise of the Plains culture

One of the most common images of Indian people in popular American culture is that of the Plains culture, with its fierce warriors, sacred Sun Dance ceremonies, horsemanship, and buffalo hunting. However, the Plains culture was a relatively short-lived way of life. It only lasted about 200 years and was not typical of the way Native American cultures had lived for centuries before.

About 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, all horses in North America died out. Much later, in the 1500s, wild horses (American mustangs) that had escaped from the early Spanish explorers came to live on the Plains. At that time only a few of the nations who would later make up the High Plains Culture were living on the Plains. They lived in small huts and hunted buffalo on foot. Most Indian nations now regarded as Plains tribes lived farther east.

Migration to the Plains

Most Plains Indians migrated onto the Plains after 1650, when European expansion and trade forced many Indians westward. The Iroquois in upstate New York pushed west to gain access to land with fur-bearing animals, which were necessary for trade with Europeans. The Iroquois expansion created a domino effect, as nations pushed each other farther west in their quest for fur. The impact was felt by distant cultures, as the following example shows.

By moving into their territory, the Iroquois pushed the Ojibway (Chippewa) and Ottawa west into the upper Great Lakes area. During the 1700s and 1800s, the Ojibway moved into present-day Minnesota. Armed with guns from European traders, they began pushing the Sioux Indians from their woodland homes in Minnesota onto the Plains during the late 1700s. By the early 1800s, many Sioux bands had moved onto the Plains. There they became accomplished horse riders and buffalo hunters. They practiced the Sun Dance, a dance of sacrifice for the well-being of the community. They also began raiding the villages of farming peoples who lived along the Missouri River, such as the Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa.

Cheyenne adopt Plains culture

Before they moved onto the Plains, the Cheyenne lived in present-day southern Canada. Pushed west by the Iroquois, the Cheyenne were living in present-day Minnesota by the 1700s. By the late 1700s, they were living in eastern North Dakota. Originally farmers and hunters, in their new home they also began using horses and hunting buffalo, while growing corn crops.

By the mid-1800s, the Cheyenne had moved to the western Plains and had fully adopted the Plains culture. They practiced the Sun Dance ceremony, had military societies of young men, and lived in portable teepees. In the summer they gathered to celebrate religious ceremonies; in the winter the Cheyenne (like other Plains nations such as the Sioux, Blackfoot, and Crow) broke up into small bands and spent the cold winter months in separate locations.

Often the indigenous Indian peoples (those who were there originally) considered the newcomers hostile intruders. The original Plains Indians, like the Pawnee and Ponca, tried to defend their hunting traditional territories. The newly-arrived eastern Indians tried to recreate their communities in the Plains territory. It was no surprise that conflict resulted.


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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ2107200476