Friday, February 8, 2008

The Impact of the Horse on Plains Indians: A Historiographical Analysis

The horse was extinct in North America 11,000 years ago. However, horses were reintroduced with the colonization of the New World by Spain in the 16th century. These Spanish horses would eventually come to dominate the continent of North America, forming the base of the wild mustang herds that by the 19th century occupied a larger region of North America than the bison.[1] These mustang herds were originally created, most historians agree, by abandoned and runaway horses and were later complimented by horses set loose after Popé’s Rebellion in 1680, when, in their rush to evacuate northern New Spain, most colonists left behind excess property, including horses. These horses fell under the control of the Pueblo Indians who traded them off to the Apache and Comanche. Following the construction of this early trade system, the Comanche began to funnel horses into the ancient Rocky Mountain trade network that connected them with their relatives, the Shoshone, in present day Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.[2] This explains how horses arrived on the northern Plains during the early 18th century.

The major question that this paper is concerned with is: How did the acquisition of the horse change Plains Indian tribes? Certainly, Indians of the Great Plains region experienced fundamental changes after the horse was introduced to their societies. This paper examines the major changes in historiography that took place from 1914 to 2003. In researching the horse for this paper, three topics emerged as the most studied and documented areas of change by scholars. The first topic is the concept of the mounted warrior and the research question of how the horse changed Plains warfare. The second involves how the horse affected many societies by attacking egalitarianism, leading to the creation of a rank-social hierarchy in most Plains tribes. Finally, the culture of Plains tribes has been a particular area of debate, in particular how much Indian cultures changed as a result of the acquisition of the horse; there is also a debate between those that see a widespread homogenous culture and those that see heterogeneity. Each of these topics, the mounted warrior, rank-social hierarchy, and buffalo horse culture will be examined with an emphasis on how the historical writing on each topic has evolved over time.

The Mounted Warrior

One of the earliest pieces of scholarship produced on the horse and Plains Indians is Clark Wissler’s The Influence of the Horse in the Development of Plains Culture (1914).[3] Most of this article is devoted to the debate as to how much, if at all, Plains Indian culture changed with the introduction of the horse, which will prove useful later in this paper in the section on buffalo horse culture. However, Wissler also discusses changes in warfare brought about by the acquisition of the horse.

The central argument of Wissler’s article is that Plains Indian warfare and culture were not changed following the acquisition of the horse. Rather, Wissler believes that warfare and culture existed in much the same form before and after the horse was adopted.[4] The horse merely served as an “intensifier of original Plains traits”. To make this argument more authoritative, Wissler provides a few examples. The practice of making war was traditionally a pedestrian activity, even when warriors had horses and even when the objective was to capture horses.[5] From this logic, Wissler states that the process of making war has traditionally remained the same; the process did not change once horses were secured, with the exception that the frequency of warfare increased. One area of Plains Indian warfare that did experience some changes was weapons manufacturing. Wissler states that he believes the long lance of the Comanche warrior was probably incorporated from a Spanish example that warriors encountered in their travels. Wissler argues that this is one of the few times when the horse could have caused a change in warfare or culture, a change of nominal significance such as a spear that could be used from a horse instead of as a pedestrian.[6]

Bernard Mishkin’s Rank & Warfare Among the Plains Indians (1940) is in many ways a response to Wissler’s work. Mishkin argues that Wissler failed to understand the connectedness of society and how influences from one area could lead to changes in another.[7] Mishkin believes that the horse was not capable of bringing new institutions or of changing culture by itself; instead, he thinks that because outside forces acted on the horse (warriors and hunters), culture was thus able to change.[8] By itself the horse could not change culture. To support this argument, Mishkin provides the example of the Pawnee, who were a river dwelling, horticultural tribe. The Pawnee were eventually forced to change their culture and become more nomadic as a result of the actions of other tribes who acquired the horse and were then able to attack Pawnee villages quickly and at will. For Mishkin this is probably the most important change in warfare, a group of people like the Lakota acquired the horse and used it to enhance their already predatory nature by harassing semi-sedentary villagers. The example symbolizes his belief that the horse did not bring a culture-complex that changed the face of warfare; rather, it was a tool that could be used by groups like the Lakota and Comanche to enhance their desire to fight.

Ten years after Mishkin’s study, W. W. Newcomb published A Re-Examination of the Causes of Plains Warfare (1950).[9] The significance of Newcomb’s study in relation to those that came before is his emphasis on the economic basis for intertribal warfare. Previous authors tended to believe that war was a game played by warriors to achieve social rank within society.[10] Newcomb takes a different approach in his analysis of how the horse affected warfare than Wissler or Mishkin. He examines the horse from the sense that it served as a foundational technology for the new buffalo horse culture; he believes that the horse revolutionized how Plains Indians hunted the buffalo. Every advantage contains within it the seeds for a future disadvantage and in this case, Newcomb sees that the horse enabled Indians to kill more buffalo and to expand their hunting domains, which increasingly brought groups into contact and conflict with each other. This was an altogether new reason for going to war, Newcomb writes, and it is one of several reasons for going to war that were brought about following the acquisition of the horse. Unlike earlier historians who remained hung up on the debate on whether or not the horse could change how warfare was conducted, Newcomb is clearly on one side of the fence with the opinion that the horse created new reasons for going to war and therefore it changed how warfare was conducted. According to Newcomb, the new causes created by the horse include, migration and displacement, competition for hunting grounds, the need for horses and weapons, and the machinations of traders.[11]

Intertribal warfare is also the subject of Preston Holder’s The Hoe and the Horse on the Plains (1970).[12] Unlike previous historians, Holder conceptualizes the horse is strictly as a tool, an implement of warfare at a time when a dichotomy appeared pitting the river-dwelling horticulturalists on the one hand and the ascendant, nomadic warriors on the other.[13] This is an interesting theory, especially since it differs from other histories that tended to center on the debate of whether or not the horse affected warfare. Preston Holder, says yes, the horse was important, but as a tool that freed the nomads to use the bison herds in ways never before imagined. As such, The Hoe and the Horse is the story of two Indian economies fighting for supremacy on the Plains, a useful context for the importance of the horse.
As twentieth century historians studied the horse and Plains Indian warfare, increasingly they came to accept the belief that the horse was responsible for changes in Plains warfare. Wissler’s study was the first and only one examined for this paper that attempted to debate whether or not the horse produced changes for the Plains tribes. By the time John C. Ewers published his 1975 article entitled, Intertribal Warfare as the Precursor of Indian-White Warfare on the Northern Great Plains, the idea of change appears to have been almost universally accepted.[14] In this article, Ewers attempts to frame the history of intertribal warfare on the northern Plains in the context of the four major alliances that existed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.[15]

More important for this study though, is his examination of how the horse changed intertribal warfare. According to Ewers, who provides a history of pre-equestrian warfare based on written accounts, the traditional methods of fighting were usually long distance fights between groups of warriors in two lines wearing lots of rawhide armor and shooting arrows at each other from long bows; casualties were usually light.[16] All of this changed after the horse. Warriors no longer fought in two lines, armor was reduced so as not to inhibit movement, and bows were shortened for use on horseback. In this new style of combat, warriors were increasingly exposed to attack, casualties skyrocketed, and interestingly, opportunities to distinguish themselves in combat were presented to warriors which led to coveted war honors. Horse raids soon became the major reason for going to war with other tribes and many people would lose their lives as a result. According to Ewers, some warriors survived forty or more horse raid missions while other died on their first attempt. In some horse raids as many as 300 people lost their lives, numbers that were unprecedented in traditional warfare.[17]
The most sophisticated study of intertribal warfare at the time of its publication was Richard White’s The Winning of the West: The Expansion of the Western Sioux in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1978).[18] In this article, White examines the traditional interpretations of intertribal warfare and finds them to be generally focused on what he terms “the heroic resistance approach”.[19] The problem with this approach, according to White, is that it frames the history of Plains warfare as nothing more than a brief and unimportant prelude to the “real story” of Indian-white warfare. The approach that White advocates is similar to that of Ewers. White believes that intertribal warfare can best be understood in the context of battles for natural resources, better hunting grounds and most importantly, horses.

At the center of White’s argument is the example of the Lakota and their rise to dominance on the northern Plains. White examines the Lakota across three stages of development, beginning when they were fur trappers and traders in Minnesota in the seventeenth century until they crossed the Missouri River and pushed west, toward the Big Horn Mountains in present day Wyoming. Early on, White argues that the Lakota were faced with an economic choice to either continue their lives as fur trappers or to become fully nomadic and hunt the buffalo.[20] This was a difficult choice that eventually caused the Lakota and Nakota to split apart. However difficult the choice was though, White argues that with the horse, many Lakota felt they could make the transition to a fully nomadic, buffalo hunting economy. This economy depended on warfare to secure the horses needed for hunting buffalo.[21] So the picture that emerges of the Lakota economy is cyclical: the buffalo horse economy depended on large supplies of horses for its maintenance. To acquire those horses, warriors had to make raids on their neighbors. Lots of hunting and then raiding and then more hunting; this is how the horse changed warfare and the overall culture of the Lakota, according to White.

Many scholars have acknowledged the role that European trade goods had in increasing intertribal warfare. W. W. Newcomb believed that the machinations of white traders were a major cause for warfare; especially after many Plains tribes adapted the horse. Anthony McGinnis authored a monograph about this subject in 1990, Counting Coup and Cutting Horses: Intertribal Warfare on the Northern Great Plains 1738-1889.[22] The main argument that McGinnis advances is that guns and horses, both provided to Indians in some way through Europeans, gave intertribal warfare a large technological boost that increased the intensity of their conflicts.[23] In McGinnis’ opinion, intertribal warfare occurred out of a desire to obtain wealth and glory, these are the primary reasons. This interpretation differs from that of Richard White, John C. Ewers, and W. W. Newcomb who all stressed the economic necessity of intertribal equestrian warfare.

McGinnis’ argument that warfare was practiced as the basis for acquiring social prestige is the result of his research on how the horse impacted warfare. McGinnis, like most scholars of the subject, sees that there were technological changes in warfare immediately following the adoption of the horse by the various tribes. Shoshone warriors devised long war clubs that could be wielded from the back of a horse and could cause great damage to enemy lines.[24] This new technology, when paired with the horse, enabled the Shoshone to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents; that is, until their enemies, the Blackfoot, acquired guns from their allies. As a result of these dual technologies, the horse and the gun, McGinnis argues that casualties soared with the end result that warfare was delimited. Horse raiding parties and war parties were purposefully kept small to ensure that large numbers were not wiped out in pitched battles between mounted warriors armed with guns.[25] While the number of warriors engaged in battles was generally kept low, McGinnis acknowledges that intertribal warfare was so intense, especially throughout the nineteenth century, that bringing it to an end was a major goal of the United States government. This is one reason that during battles with Plains Indians, such as the 1868 Battle of the Washita with the Cheyenne, horses were often targeted for slaughter.

The cost of owning horses is discussed in Pekka Hämäläinen’s article, The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Cultures (2003). Other historians have touched on the negative effects of horse acquisition, for example W. W. Newcomb posited that the overall impact to Plains culture was the loss of their culture, with the extinction of the bison. For Hämäläinen, though, the costs are more complex and better documented. First of all, Hämäläinen begins his study by acknowledging that horses did bring new possibilities, prosperity and power to the Plains Indians.[26] However, more importantly, horses brought destabilization, dispossession, and destruction due to the speed and transformational power they unleashed.

The overall argument advanced by Hämäläinen in this article is that historians have for too long focused on groups like the Lakota and Comanche and have generalized their experience as the normal Plains Indian experience with equestrianism.[27] This has created the belief that there were only positive, romantic images associated with the Plains Indians; in effect, it de-humanizes them. The significance of Hämäläinen’s work is that he points out both the good and bad sides of Plains Indian equestrianism and in the process, he brings to light some images of their culture that have not been exposed in the past. One of the examples furnished by Hämäläinen to underscore this theme is warfare. Acquiring horses meant that tribes had to constantly attempt to expand and protect their borders from other equestrian groups. Counter to McGinnis’ argument, Hämäläinen interprets horse raiding not as a means of achieving war honors, although it could, but, it would be more accurate to describe it as an ongoing process of resource extraction.[28] Horses needed grasslands to graze on, hunters and warriors needed a constant supply of horses since the winters on the northern Plains were so harsh and most horses died off during that time. In fact, Hämäläinen argues that the most serious threat facing all northern Plains Indians throughout the equestrian period was the constant warfare that stemmed from the chronic scarcity of horses.[29]

Some tribes fared better than others during what Hämäläinen describes as “the horse wars” during the nineteenth century. The Blackfoot were able to secure guns through trade and they were able to raid their weaker neighbors for horses. The Crow, however, were smaller in number, originally they were part of the Hidatsa tribe, and were completely surrounded by their enemies, the Blackfoot, Assiniboin, Cree, and Lakota. For groups like the Crow, no amount of horses could have saved them from their enemies; instead, they chose an alliance with the Americans.

Rank-Social Hierarchy

The debate regarding what effect, if any, the horse had on Plains Indian society, especially in the creation of rank-social hierarchy is still actively debated today. One of the earliest scholars to weigh in on this debate was historian Bernard Mishkin with his study on the Kiowa. Historians have not always been able to determine in what ways the horse was responsible for changing Plains societies, but as for the authors discussed in this section, most understand the role the horse played.

In the case of Mishkin, his goal was to determine what Kiowa social hierarchy looked like during the nineteenth century. For Mishkin, the significance of the horse for Kiowa social hierarchy is that the two were interrelated; he believed that an increase in the number of horses a man owned, the more his rank within their society would increase. Mishkin does an excellent job of explaining the process by which rank could be achieved and he states the role the horse played in that process. Rank within the Kiowa social hierarchy was not limited solely to military prowess.[30] By the nineteenth century, horse ownership was considered a new standard of wealth, and rank could be achieved by acquiring large numbers of good (especially hunting) horses. In fact, Mishkin argues, because of the horse, the Kiowa completely reorganized their system of value and wealth, which led to those people that owned the most horses being placed on top of the social hierarchy system.[31]

The horse was such a powerful medium of transfer and it represented such a great deal in terms of value that among the Kiowa captives or slave class, those who owned horses were able to achieve rank. If they served their owners well, captives would receive horses that became their inviolable property and in this way, were a means of social mobility.[32] For young men within Kiowa society who happened to be interested in marriage, horses also played a significant role, especially when the bride price for most women (or the women that most men wanted to marry) became payable only in horses, except for rare occasions. Mishkin thus demonstrates the centrality of horse ownership among the Kiowa for gaining brides, rank, and wealth within their society.

The effect of the horse on Blackfoot society is the focus of Oscar Lewis’ The Effects of White Contact Upon Blackfoot Culture: With Special Reference to the Fur Trade (1942).[33] In this slim volume, Lewis discusses the interrelation of the horse and the fur trade and how that connection changed Blackfoot society. One of the most obvious changes in the transition from the dog travois to the horse travois was the size of the tipi for the average family of Blackfoot Indians. Lewis says that as horses came into wide use, that is, after they acquired the animal from their Shoshone enemies, many Indians began to see that many new things were possible, especially for well-to-do chiefs with large herds of horses.[34] The size of the largest tipi among the Blackfoot that Lewis was able to find data for was built for a chief and could accommodate approximately 50 people, again, something unimaginable without horse power and more importantly only possible with horse wealth for certain chiefs.[35]

The connection that Lewis describes in his book, between the horse and the fur trade, basically meant more wealth for those Indians that had access to good hunting horses. These were horses that could carry a rider and chase buffalo, which were killed mainly for the value of their hides. As these buffalo hides were sold to agents along the Missouri River or farther north, wealth was unequally distributed in Blackfoot society. That is the connection of which Lewis speaks, the horse was necessary for the hunt which was necessary for hides to trade for goods in order to increase wealth and rank.

Noticeable changes in the material culture of the Blackfoot also denote which Indians were able to acquire large horse herds and profit from their use. Lewis says that for those wealthy groups among the Blackfoot, pottery fell into disuse in the rush to buy metal items such as pots and pans that would not break during periods when the tribe pursued the buffalo. Locally cultivated tobacco fell out of favor for those wealthy enough to buy the item from white traders, again underscoring the disparity in wealth that can be attributable to the horse.[36]
One final area of social reorganization that Lewis discusses is marriage. According to Lewis, what is significant about how the horse changed the institution of marriage among the Blackfoot is that a bride price became linked to a certain number of horses; this meant that usually only the wealthy could marry.[37] Once the desire among fathers to realize the bride price for their daughters spread throughout the Blackfoot a new trend emerged. Girls as young as eleven or twelve were married off to increasingly older men who could pay their bride price of two or more horses; and naturally, the effect of having households with larger and larger numbers of wives meant lots of infighting (another status symbol!).

Not all historians will agree when presented with the same data, as is the case with Oscar Lewis and John C. Ewers. One year after Lewis published his study on the Blackfoot and the horse, Ewers published a response article entitled, Were the Blackfoot Rich in Horses? (1943).[38] One of the major points that Ewers disagrees with Lewis on is the number of horses the Blackfoot owned. What Ewers does not disagree with is the contention of Lewis and Mishkin that the horse was a form of wealth and was highly valued by many Plains Indians; he accepts this notion. For this historiographical essay, what is of more interest is Ewers attempt to establish how much wealth and therefore social stratification existed because of the horse. Ewers begins his discussion by setting the limits of poverty, which he defines as having just under the minimum number of horses needed to hunt and for transportation (less than ten horses).[39] Being wealthy meant having enough horses to buy medicine bundles or having disposable wealth to give away and thereby receive prestige. Those individuals that were part of an “average” household needed between ten to twenty horses just to meet their basic subsistence needs. However, maintaining that size of herd was very difficult due to harsh winters. So according to Ewers, horse herds were generally small but large ones did exist and the people that owned them possessed great wealth. In fact, Ewers points out that even as late as the 1870s, large numbers of the Piegan (a division of the Blackfoot tribe) owned one or no horses.[40] This is one of the major ways that he differs with Lewis who saw large amounts of wealth in the form of horses for a lot of Blackfoot but not over half of them.[41]

With such small horse herds, Ewers believes that those people who owned just enough horses to meet their subsistence needs put constant strain on them. This is important in terms of the quality of their horses and the fact that these horses could then not be used as gifts, for marriage or otherwise.[42] This information is significant in terms of how Ewers’ work differs from Lewis’. Lewis believed that the fur trade was an institution that Indians could equally compete within for rewards. Ewers does not see it that way, in fact he rarely mentions the fur trade and he definitely does not see it as an equalizing institution that rewarded competition. Instead, Ewers develops a discussion of how poverty was treated and alleviated among the Blackfoot.[43] According to Ewers, the very wealthy among the Blackfoot would loan out horses to anyone in the tribe so they could hunt or travel as necessary. The poor were cared for by the wealthy and their needs were supplied, partly out of a desire to receive more prestige on the part of the wealthy and partly because it was the right thing to do. Incidentally, later historians such as Pekka Hämäläinen disagree with this image of wealthy Blackfoot horse owners becoming philanthropists “for the good of the tribe.”

The next major study of the Plains Indians and the horse in terms of how the animal affected the social hierarchy is by Joseph Jablow, The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations 1795-1840 (1950).[44] The major argument that Jablow makes in his book is that two things, the horse and European goods, acquired through the fur trade, are interdependent and interacting.[45] In other words, Jablow is arguing that the major changes that took place among Plains Indians after they acquired the horse (social and cultural changes) were brought about by the incorporation of trade goods, both European and Indian. What is significant in terms of how Jablow conceives of changes to Plains society are the “new needs” that Jablow says were created by Europeans. Jablow believes that Europeans made Plains Indians dependent on trade goods, luxury items for which they truly had no need and for which there already existed an equivalent or similar item in their traditional material culture.[46] These items included iron and steel arrow points, axes, steel traps, brass kettles and other items. From this argument, it can be seen that Jablow is repeating the old argument that to civilize the Indian, they first had to be given reasons to settle down and participate in trade and society (what whites defined as such, anyway).

What is lacking from Jablow’s study is the focus that is present in other earlier histories of the same topic, namely the sharp social divisions that came about because of the acquisition of horse wealth by some individuals and the inability to acquire that wealth by others. One example of this is his brief treatment of the Plains Cree. In discussing this group, Jablow points out that few of their men owned horses which were swift enough to chase buffalo and fewer still were trained to hunt buffalo.[47] This is significant because Jablow uses this information from his research to posit his belief that wealthy Indians did not necessarily own slaves or captives (which both previous and future historians argue); rather, poor families would attach themselves to the camp of a wealthy individual and he would feed them as a matter of course. As Jablow states, “Since these families were dependent on the horse owner for food, they were naturally quick to carry out his wishes or orders”.[48] So what we have in this study is, in many ways, a step backward in the interpretation of how the horse affected the social order of the Plains Indians.

One thing that Jablow does discuss that previous historians failed to bring up is the changing social status of women following horse acquisition. The major changes experienced by women centered on their labor activities. Most women went from active participation in the buffalo hunt before the horse to the role of hide scraper and dryer after the horse.[49] The benefits of the horse did not alleviate women’s work load so much as their work was redirected to the role of producers for the fur trade or as traders at fur posts, exchanging corn and other produce for leather and metal items.[50]

Preston Holder also provides insights into how the horse affected social hierarchy which complements scholarship on the Dakota. Holder argues that the Dakota lacked a stratified social structure into which the goods taken by warriors on horse raids or earned through the fur trade were channeled. The significance of not having a social structure that was dominant meant that leadership positions were constantly changing, due to the fact that whoever achieved the most prestige from giving away their belongings could become a leader by replacing the contemporary leaders.[51] Holder describes this process as one that could occur quickly.

Pekka Hämäläinen takes an environmental approach to the study of how horses changed the social structure of the Plains Indians. He begins by discussing the Blackfoot, a tribe that has been the subject of other books used in this essay. According to Hämäläinen, the major reason that two of the three Blackfoot divisions had few horses but the third, the Piegan, had plenty of horses was environmental. The Piegan lived close to the Marias River Valley which sheltered their horses during winters, which were usually mild thanks to the Chinook belt along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.[52] The chronic horse shortage prevented most northern Plains tribes from making the complete transition to a nomadic lifestyle and it also led to constant horse raiding between those tribes who possessed horses and those that did not. Eventually fur trade groups would arrive on the northern Plains and provide the Blackfoot with an equalizer for Shoshone horses: the gun. Once the fur trade companies made inroads into their societies, Hämäläinen argues, trade goods disrupted the equality of Indian societies.[53] This process did not happen overnight, but it began with the arrival of the horse.

The process began slowly among the Blackfoot, to use an example. Those with horses were able to hunt more efficiently and prosper by participating in the fur trade. By the 1830s, beaver had been trapped out and the emphasis of trade switched almost completely to buffalo robes. Those men with horses could afford to pay the bride price for wives to prepare the hides and sell them to the trade posts; this had the effect of creating huge disparities in wealth between those who had horses and those who had none.

Hämäläinen’s assessment of what transpired among the Blackfoot differs markedly from what other historians have said, especially men like Oscar Lewis and John C. Ewers. Hämäläinen believes that philanthropy, although it might have existed, was actually driven by economic considerations. The wealthy Blackfoot horse owner that loaned out his best horses to poor people rarely did so free of charge. They usually charged between 50 and 100 percent of the hides taken in the hunt with their horse, which made them a handsome profit.[54] Some poor families among the Cree, Hämäläinen states, attached themselves to high-ranking men’s camps and worked as laborers, skinners, and processors in exchange for food and clothing. This meant that increasingly, the wealthy were controlling larger and larger percentages of the work force.[55] Unlike other historians who fail to document why horses caused such disparities in wealth on the northern Plains but not on the southern Plains, Hämäläinen has an interesting theory. He believes that horses were not part of the tribal reciprocity networks. The wealthy and high-ranking would circulate food and clothing and other items through these networks to maintain their status but horses were much too valuable.

The end result for the Blackfoot was the creation of a rigidly rank-social hierarchy system that benefited a few at the expense of the vast majority, and to back up this argument, Hämäläinen provides an example of women’s experiences in this system. Hämäläinen states that wealthy Blackfoot men who could afford to marry extra wives would do this and they would generally refer to the wives after their first three as “slave wives”.[56] These “slave wives” were treated terribly by their husbands and his first wives and were employed in the most physically demanding tasks and were often motivated through the use of violence.

Buffalo Horse Culture

In this final section, the influence of the horse in changing Plains Indian culture will be examined with an emphasis on the debate over homogeneity versus heterogeneity in terms of the resulting cultural changes. One of the original supporters of a homogenized buffalo horse culture was Clark Wissler. According to Wissler, hunting the buffalo did not change after the acquisition of the horse, although the methods certainly did change. The only real change that he sees in the historical record is that as the horse was distributed across the Plains the animal was substituted for the dog in the cultural complex that already existed.[57] Thus, there existed a broad, homogeneous buffalo horse culture, and nothing truly changed save for the creation of new forms of material culture and new methods for hunting the buffalo.

In his article, Personality Structure in the Plains (1957), Thomas Gladwin continues the myth of homogeneity by stating, “Theirs (the Plains Indian) is a unique record of cultural unity achieved from diversity. The Plains form one of the most clearly delimited and the most homogeneous of the culture areas of North America.”[58] Gladwin’s article consistently refers to the Plains Indians as a homogenous group with occasional references to individual tribes that serve as examples indicating that he did in fact consult the historical record. The culture that Gladwin believes the Plains Indians shared consisted of untrammeled freedom, their principle values were centered on warfare and they depended almost exclusively on the vast buffalo herds that roamed the Plains.[59]

What is significant about Gladwin’s article is that while he believes the Plains Indians shared the same cultural complex as a result of the influence of the horse, he is attempting to determine if these groups maintained their personalities in the process of transitioning from their former cultures to the new buffalo horse culture. Gladwin’s findings indicate that groups like the Comanche and Cheyenne, two “typical” Plains tribes, were largely able to preserve their personalities. Gladwin reinforces his argument by studying certain behavior mores that could be found in both the dog culture and horse culture complexes.[60]

Other historians have weighed in on the debate over homogeneity versus heterogeneity during the second half of the twentieth century. Pekka Hämäläinen joined the debate over whether or not there ever existed a homogeneous Plains culture at any point prior to the twentieth century with his article from 2003. In this article, Hämäläinen argues that the experiences of the Lakota, the success that they enjoyed in adapting horses to their culture and their ability to dominate the northern Plains, were the exception; they were, in effect, nothing more than an anomaly.[61] The significance of this statement rests with the argument that Hämäläinen makes in his article, that historians have generalized the experience of groups like the Lakota to the point where it appears that a homogeneous culture existed. That, according to Hämäläinen, is incorrect. The southern Plains tribes enjoyed access to a large supply of horses, which influenced each of their cultures (Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa) in a unique way. Likewise, the northern Plains tribes (Crow, Lakota, Blackfoot, and others) suffered from a chronic shortage of horses that affected intertribal warfare, society, and culture for each tribe in a unique way.


So how have historians treated the question of how the acquisition of the horse changed Plains Indian tribes? Many changes in interpretation have occurred which reflect the evolving understanding of Native Americans as unique individuals with all of the social and cultural complexities of Euro-Americans. The horse was an important environmental resource for the Plains Indians and the impact the animal had on warfare, social hierarchy, and culture were immense, as most of the studies used for this paper indicate.
As this paper demonstrates, the debate over the significance of an animal, (how much can culture really be affected by an animal) has elicited a wide array of responses. Historians like Clark Wissler are clearly against such a possibility while other historians like Richard White and Pekka Hämäläinen are more open to believe that a horse could deeply affect many cultures in the Plains area.

Tim Flannery, The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples
(New York: Grove Press, 2001), 294.

Pekka Hämäläinen, “The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Cultures,” The Journal of American History
Vol. 90, Issue 3 (2003): 10.

Clark Wissler, “The Influence of the Horse in the Development of Plains Culture,”
American Anthropologist Vol. 16, No. 1 (Jan.-Mar., 1914).

Ibid., 18.

Ibid., 12.

Ibid., 18.

Bernard Mishkin, Rank And Warfare Among the Plains Indians
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), 7.

Ibid., 8 & 18.

W. W. Newcomb, “A Re-Examination of the Causes of Plains Warfare,”
American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jul.-Sep., 1950).

Ibid., 318-320.

Ibid., 329.

Preston Holder, The Hoe and the Horse on the Plains: A Study of Cultural Development
Among North American Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974).

Ibid., 20.

John C. Ewers, Plains Indian History and Culture: Essays on Continuity
and Change (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).

Ibid., 172.

Ibid., 170.

Ibid., 171.

Richard White, “The Winning of the West: The Expansion of the Western Sioux
in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” The Journal of American History
Vol. 65, No. 2 (Sep., 1978).

Ibid., 320.

Ibid., 323-324.

Ibid., 331.

Anthony McGinnis, Counting Coup and Cutting Horses: Intertribal

Warfare on the Northern Plains 1738-1889 (Evergreen, Colorado:
Cordillera Press, 1990).

Ibid., x.

Ibid., 9.

Ibid., 9-10.

Hämäläinen, 1.

Ibid., 22.

Ibid., 9.

Ibid., 14.

Mishkin, 35.

Ibid., 21.

Ibid., 42-45.

Oscar Lewis, The Effects of White Contact Upon Blackfoot Culture
with Special Reference to the Role of the Fur Trade
(Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966).

Ibid., 35.

Ibid., 35-36.

Ibid., 36-37.

Ibid., 40-41.

John C. Ewers, “Were the Blackfoot Rich in Horses?,” American
Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 45, No. 4, Part 1 (Oct.-Dec., 1943).

Ibid., 607.

Ibid., 608.

Ibid., 604-606.

Ibid., 608.

Ibid., 609.

Joseph Jablow, The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations 1795-1840
(Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966).

Ibid., 11.

Ibid., 17.

Ibid., 19.

Ibid., 19.

Ibid., 21.

Ibid., 48.

Holder, 123-125.

Hämäläinen, 11.

Ibid., 13.

Ibid., 13.

Ibid., 14.

Ibid., 14.

Wissler, 24.

Thomas Gladwin, “Personality Structure in the Plains,”
Anthropological Quarterly Vol. 30, No. 4 (Oct., 1957).

Ibid., 112.

Ibid., 123-124.

Hämäläinen, 21.

1 comment:

Pam T said...

I've looked at several of your book reviews and really liked them.

Will return.