Encyclopedia of the Great Plains Indians

Encyclopedia of the Great Plains Indians

Encyclopedia of the Great Plains Indians

Encyclopedia of the Great Plains Indians


Until the last two centuries, the human landscapes of the Great Plains were shaped solely by Native Americans, and since then the region has continued to be defined by the enduring presence of its Indigenous peoples. The Encyclopedia of the Great Plains Indians offers a sweeping overview, across time and space, of this story in 123 entries drawn from the acclaimed Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, together with 23 new entries focusing on contemporary Plains Indians, and many new photographs. Here are the peoples, places, processes, and events that have shaped lives of the Indians of the Great Plains from the beginnings of human habitation to the present-not only yesterday's wars, treaties, and traditions but also today's tribal colleges, casinos, and legal battles. In addition to entries on familiar names from the past like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, new entries on contemporary figures such as American Indian Movement spiritual leader Leonard Crow Dog and activists Russell Means and Leonard Peltier are included in the volume. Influential writer Vine Deloria Sr., Crow medicine woman Pretty Shield, Nakota blues-rock band Indigenous, and the Nebraska Indians baseball team are also among the entries in this comprehensive account. Anyone wanting to know about Plains Indians, past and present, will find this an authoritative and fascinating source.


This encyclopedia consists of 123 entries and an introductory essay that have been excerpted from the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains (University of Nebraska Press, 2004), together with 23 new entries and many new photographs. Most of the original entries, and the essay, come from the Native American chapter in the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, but others were dispersed throughout the book in chapters such as “Literary Traditions” (for example, James Welch and Linda Hogan), “War” (for example, Red Cloud and the Battle of the Little Bighorn), and “Water” (for example, Winters Doctrine). The new entries, focusing mainly on contemporary Plains Indians, were written by Dr. Charles Vollan of the Department of History at South Dakota State University, for which I am most grateful.

There was never any doubt in our minds that our initial paperback spin-off from the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains would feature the Indigenous peoples, whose enduring presence is a primary defining characteristic of the region. This is a presence that will only grow in importance, because the reservations in the United States and the reserves in Canada are islands of population increase in a sea of rural population decline. Moreover, the association of Indians with the Plains region is one of great historical depth, extending back at least eighteen thousand years. That means that until relatively recently (really only the last two centuries), all the human landscapes of the Great Plains were shaped by Indians alone.

During the last two centuries, the Great Plains has been both a tragic and a triumphant setting for its Native peoples. The tragedies—nineteenth-century population collapse and dispossession, for example, or the massacres at Sand Creek (1864), the Washita (1868), and Wounded Knee (1890)—come most readily, and disquietly, to mind. But even in the nineteenth century, against a backdrop of violence, disease, and the two federal governments' relentless assimilation policies, there were Indian triumphs, such as Standing Bear's epic trek in 1879 back from Indian Territory to the Ponca homeland on the Niobrara River (in present-day Nebraska) and his equally epic victory in court, mandating that an Indian is indeed a person.

Still, the nineteenth century was mainly a time of loss for Plains Indians, and in the early years of the twentieth century many observers believed that Indians were headed to extinction. Extinction did not occur; population revived; court cases were won (for example, United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians “1980”, compensating for the illegal taking of the Black Hills in 1876); many ceremonies persisted, and new ones (the Native American Church, for example) were added; most Indigenous languages survived and are now being taught in schools and colleges; and economic conditions have improved in some places, in part because of gaming. And along the way great athletes like Jim Thorpe, singers like Buffy Sainte-Marie, and artists like Oscar Howe have emerged from Indian cultures to enrich the overall fabric of Plains, and national, life.

Finally, it cannot be emphasized too much that over time Indians have endowed the . . .

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