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Homework Helper: The Plains Indians

Where Are the Great Plains?

The Great Plains are the part of North America east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Mississippi River. The American states that are part of this region are Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. The land there is flat and includes prairie, steppe and grassland.

Who Are the Plains Indians?

There were many differently-named tribes who lived on the Great Plains when the Europeans came, but they mostly shared a common culture because of living in similar environments. The buffalo (bison) was a major source of food along with other game and cultivated crops. They also gathered wild fruits and vegetables. Nomadic (roaming) tribes lived in large teepees, often painted with religious symbols. Tribes that did not roam often lived in earthen or grass lodges and would grow crops.

Before the Spaniards came, Plains tribes would generally migrate by putting their Nations of the Plainspossessions on a travois  that was pulled by their dogs and head out to follow the game. After the Europeans re-introduced horses to the New World in the 1600s and traded them to the tribes, they used those instead. The tribes also used horses to help them hunt and make war. Some tribes, such as the Lakota, spoke the Sioux language and shared in that larger culture. The Cheyenne tribe was part of the Algonquian group--somewhat similar in language and customs to the Powhatan Indians in Virginia. The Comanche were part of a different language tradition all together—the Uto-Aztecan, which included the language of the Aztecs.  Unlike the Cheyenne, the Comanche were organized as smaller bands, not as one large nation. Some worked with the U.S. Army as scouts and some raided pioneer settlements.

Indeed, during the Westward Expansion in the 1800s, settlers and Plains tribes came into conflict often. It was a time of war. Many lives were lost, and the tribes were eventually restricted to reservations of land that did not mesh with their nomadic way of life. Some rebelled. More lives were lost. To this day, some descendents of the Plains tribes live on those reservations but others have chosen to live out in the wider world while still maintaining their connections to their tribes through organizations, such as the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

Below are some resources that can help you learn more about the tribes of the Great Plains:

Articles Online

Get online, teacher-friendly reference material on the Plains Indians. You will need a CRRL card to access these databases.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Kids: search Plains Indians

Kids Info Bits: search Plains Indians or by specific tribe
Click on the number next to the heading for a fuller list of materials


Daily Life in a Plains Village, 1868 by Michael Bad Hand Terry
“Readers will meet Real Bird and his family, part of a Northern Cheyenne tribe in southeastern Montana. Each member has an important role: Men prepare to become warriors and hunters, while women learn to raise crops and build a home-a tipi-from poles and buffalo hides. The clothes the family wears, from elaborate ceremonial headdresses to colorful beaded moccasins; the foods they eat; the games they play; the crafts and jewelry they make; and the spiritual rituals they perform are among the many topics included.”

The Great Plains Indians: Daily Life in the 1700s by Mary Englar
A rather short book (24 pages). Contents: The Great Plains and its people -- Social structure -- Homes -- Food -- Clothing -- Trading and economy -- Leisure time -- Traditions -- Passing on traditions.

Houses of Hide and Earth: Native Dwellings: Plains Indians by Bonnie Shemie
The Plains Indians built their houses with the only materials they had: the skins of the buffalo they hunted or the soil dug from the earth around them. Homes grew larger and more varied with the arrival of the horse. The earth lodge, dating from AD 700, was larger than the tipi of buffalo hide. Both were laid out according to religious beliefs and symbols, as were arbors, burial platforms, sweat lodges, and the impressive structure for the Sun Dance.

The Lakota by Michael Burgan
Talks about the Lakota’s history, beliefs, way of life, and how they live today. Has a time line, a glossary and a recipe for a Sioux soup. The library also owns similar books on these Plains tribes: the Arapaho; the Cheyenne; the Comanche; the Crow; the Blackfoot (Siksika); the Mandan; the Pawnee and the Sioux.

Nations of the Plains by Bobbie Kalman
A short book that gives an overview of tribes associated with the Great Plains. See also her book, Life in a Plains Camp.

People of the Buffalo: How the Plains Indians Lived by Maria Campbell
This book tells how the Plains Indians lived, including their beliefs, ceremonies and feeling for family life.

Projects about the Plains Indians by Marian Broida
Readers learn about the Cheyenne, the Lakota, and the Hidatsa as they work on crafts related to daily Native American life. Includes instructions for a moccasin game; models of a travois, a shield, and a bull-boat; cooking pemmican; making a felt pouch; growing sunflowers; and drying squash.

The Sioux: People of the Great Plains by Anne Todd
Provides an overview of the past and present lives of people from the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations, which combined is known as the Sioux Nation, and traces their customs, family life, history, culture, and relations with the United States government.

On the Web

These sites have information on the Plains Indians.

Map of the Plains Indians: Tracking the Buffalo
"The shaded area on this map shows the territories occupied by various Plains Indian tribes during the middle of the 19th century." Can be printed.

Myths and Legends of the Great Plains by Katherine B. Judson
An older book filled with stories collected by the Bureau of American Ethnology, as told by the tribes people themselves in the earliest part of the 20th century.


The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has over 130 objects in an online display that tell by showing quite a bit about lives of those who lived on the plains. Click each image for more explanation.

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
With locations in DC and New York, this museum has exploring stations, especially-for-kids video showings, and many artifacts on display. Free admission.


Tracking the Buffalo: Stories from a Hide Painting 
Buffalo played a major part in the daily lives of the Plains tribes, and they used nearly all parts, including painting on the hides. Those paintings tell stories about their lives. Explore the story on a buffalo hide, and make your own "buffalo hide" painting. Includes teaching materials.