The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture: With Comparative Material from Other Western Tribes

The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture: With Comparative Material from Other Western Tribes

The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture: With Comparative Material from Other Western Tribes

The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture: With Comparative Material from Other Western Tribes

Excerpt

The problem of the influence of the horse on Plains Indian culture has intrigued white men for more than a century. On April 6, 1848, Nathaniel J. Wyeth, an intelligent fur trader, wrote to Henry R. Schoolcraft, "I regret not being able to supply more facts to support a view, very strongly impressed on my mind, that the condition of the Indian of this continent has been much influenced by the introduction of Horses" (Wyeth, 1851, vol. 1, p. 208).

Modern anthropologists have recognized the acquisition and use of the European horse by the Plains Indians as a classic example of cultural diffusion. Ralph Linton (1940, p. 478), in a general discussion of processes of acculturation, mentioned the rapid changes that have taken place in Western Civilization in recent years and then added, "However, we have at least one example of almost equally rapid acceptance of a whole now complex of culture elements by a series of 'primitive' groups. This case is that of the horse among the Plains Indians. The speed with which this novelty was taken over is the more surprising in view of the revolutionary effects on many aspects of native life." Generalizations such as this are common in the anthropological literature. Yet, upon close examination, they give no hint of having been based upon a detailed factual analysis of the Plains Indian horse complex. We must conclude that these generalizations were, at best, intuitive interpretations.

For the entire Plains area there has been an appalling lack of detailed analysis of the horse complex. The nearest approach to a study of the facts relating to the functions of horses in a tribal culture isGilbert L. Wilson's The Horse and Dog in Hidatsa Culture (Wilson, 1924). Some portions of that study "approach ideal completeness," as Clark Wissler, who edited it, has observed (ibid., p. 127). But this study had definite limitations. It dealt almost exclusively with the role of the horse in Hidatsa material culture. It described the use of horses by a semisedentary, horticultural tribe which was relatively poor in horses and relied heavily upon dogs for transportation of camp equipment in buffalo-hunting days. The fact remains that no analytical study of the horse complex of any nomadic Plains Indian tribe has appeared in print.

The present study was undertaken in an effort to "supply more facts" (as Wyeth stated the problem) regarding the role of the horse . . .

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