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Native American Life on the Great Plains

by Liz Olson

For centuries beginning around 1600, Native Americans settled along the wooded and rich-soil banks of Northern Plains rivers. In the United States the Plains include parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. For the most part, the tribes of the Northern Great Plains were agricultural and trade-based societies. Upon European contact in the 18th and 19th centuries, many villages became major trading posts, bringing prosperity but transforming their culture forever.

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Nomadic Dwellings


Teepees as seen above were a typical dwelling of many Native Americans living on the Great Plains. They were usually made by arranging poles into a cone-shape frame, with an opening at the top to release smoke from fires that burned within the teepee, and then wrapping animal skins over the frame for insulation. Teepees were especially good for nomadic tribes or hunting parties because they were easily transported from one location to another, and provided protection from the weather.

Fun Fact: Because of the adaptability of the teepee to prairie life, Gen. Henry Sibley used it as a model for the tent that bears his name.

Photo source: Library of Congress

Next: Earth Lodge

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