The Pageant of America: A Pictorial History of the United States - Vol. 1

By Clark Wissler; Constance Lindsay Skinner et al. | Go to book overview

INDIANS OF THE PLAINS

THE forest mantle in which the forest Indians lived stretched across what is now central Canada from the Rocky Mountains to Labrador and then extended southward along the Atlantic coast plain and the Appalachian mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. Climate made some differences but, in general, the Indians of this vast wooded area were much alike. Quite different were the tribes dwelling in the grasscovered plains in the center of the continent. Bounded on the west by the towering Rockies, extending northward to the Saskatchewan river and almost to Lake Winnepeg, reaching eastward as far as the Illinois river and southward almost to the Nueces in Texas lay a country in which trees were rarely found. Here grazed vast herds of bison and multitudes of prairie dogs dug their burrows. Packs of wolves ranged the plains seeking their prey and coyotes howled through the nights. In this environment dwelt the plains Indians.

They differed from their forest neighbors because their surroundings were different and because, as a result, their whole mode of living was different. Yet they belonged to the same race and, like the forest Indians, had not progressed beyond the neolithic stage of culture. In general the Indians of the plains were a vigorous, capable people. There were few weakling tribes. These had been driven off the low country in the fierce competition of the bison hunters and many of them had taken refuge in the sheltered recesses of the mountains. Like the forest Indians, the peoples of the plains, while divided into many tribes and speaking a number of languages, belong to a common group because the way of life was essentially the same from Texas to the Saskatchewan.

In 1832-34, a German scientist, Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, left behind him the frontier of the young United States, which had barely crossed the Mississippi and worked his way up the Missouri to its headwaters. Week after week he journeyed through the country of the plains and the bison, home of the plains Indian, who was as yet scarcely touched by the influence of the white. Maximilian took with him Carl Bodmer, an artist who left posterity a priceless heritage of Indian portraits and pictures.

62 Fort Clark on the Missouri, February, 1834, from Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, Travels in the Interior of North America (Translation), London, 1838-43; lithograph after the drawing by Carl Bodmer

-34-

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