The Great Plains
Most Europeans from about 1840 which was when the great plains were being developed regarded the Great Plains of North America as uninhabitable desert. However the Native Americans lived there successfully long before the arrival of the Europeans.
The Great Plains is the main grass land of the North American continent, and lie between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. It takes up a major area of the middle of North America. Early European explorers found the Plains a very hostile environment, and the area was marked on early maps as the 'great American desert'.
Characteristics of the Great Plains
• enormous size (covered most of North America)
• lack of trees (mostly grass land)
• little water available
• unpredictable weather, including extremely cold and violent winters
• ferocious winds - the winter(very cold) and the scorching summer winds (very hot)
• many areas flat and featureless
• inhabited by locusts and grasshoppers
• inhabited by wolves
Native American society
Native American society lacked order and regulation to the new settlers of the Great Plains, but they were looking for the wrong things. There was a lot of community spirit among the first people on the land, fostered by a range of customs and rituals. The Native Americans practiced polygamy (they had more than one wife), because many men died in the struggle to survive, so there was an excess of women to be cared for.
The Native Americans were a group of many tribes. The most famous tribes were the Apache, Sioux, Blackfeet and Cheyenne, each one led by its own Council of Elders.
The hunt was the only occasion when everybody had to obey. The Native American tribes did not need strict laws, because the harsh environment forced them to work together. Consequently, most tribes had few laws, and the worst punishment was banishment (which meant death, given the harsh Plains environment). The only duty that members of the tribe had was to pray. They were more worried about being shamed publicly than having a physical and painful punishment.
Community spirit on the plains
• The tribe joined together to go on a buffalo hunt.
• The young brave children thought of it as an honour to feed the old and sick.
• Old people often committed to wonder off and die because they were slowing down the rest of the tribe because they couldn’t afford to hang on and wait for slower people.
Native American view of war
• War was mainly based on a person’s skill
• No one was ever forced to go to war everyone had the choice if they wanted to go to war or not
• The aim was to capture horses to show bravery
• They scalped their opponents’ this would happen if they were dead or alive
• The most important aim was to stay alive so you could look after your family
Why did Native Americans live in tipis?
• 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.
Why were buffalo so important?
• Every part of the buffalo was used to supply the needs of the Native Americans.
• 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…