Native Americans of the Northwest Plains


The Northwest Plains were home to many Native American tribes long before English settlers ever set foot on the continent. The tribes that lived in this area are some of the most well-known tribes even if the information surrounding them was false. Amongst them were the Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow, Comanche, Plains Apache, Sioux, and even the Arapaho.

These tribes lived a largely nomadic way of life – they followed the bison that they hunted as they roamed the plains. This was referred to as “Buffalo Culture.” When the bison moved, they would pack up their homes and follow them seasonally. Bison gave the tribes anything they needed from food to hides and bones to make cups, decorations, tools, and clothing. Every part of the animal – save for the heart which was buried – was put to use. To sustain this lifestyle, they lived in tipis that would easily be dismantled and transported. After horses were obtained, they incorporated them into their everyday life as well.

From November to March, when it was too cold to travel, they would set up winter camps. Ideally, they had to find a place protected from the weather with access to water and grass and settle. They would settle in small groups as opposed to the whole tribe and each band was headed by a council. When they got back together, they again lived under the rule of a single chief and resumed their daily life.

These tribes did not follow a single religion. They believed all things possessed spirits, a belief called Animist. They worshipped one single God, the Great Spirit, who had power over everything. The tribes believed that by worshipping him they would get stronger. Spirits were worshipped every day. Before a child became a man, he would embark on a vision quest to receive a vision of his future. This vision would be bestowed upon him by an animal spirit after many days of being on his own. After receiving this vision, a man was given a special name.

Family was also extremely important to the tribes. They were taught stories about how to become useful members of a tribe. Boys would learn to hunt and make weapons, introduced to their first hunt at age 12. Girls were taught how to cook, sew, tan hides, set up, and dismantle tipis plus a whole host of other duties. Plains Native Americans were also known for being fierce warriors. They would war with another often and their weapons included bows and arrows as well as spears with sharp points attached. While they were fierce in defending themselves and their peoples, they also upheld the virtue of honor, generally preferring peace instead of war.