The Great Plains

Where We Live – in a Tipi

“Lets not argue about it anymore OK?”    “Maybe something will still come up.”     “No, I have tried everything, it’s no use.”     “But”     “No, we have no meat left, there is no food and we have already lost our home, lets face it.”     “Maybe we could..”     “Listen, we have no choice. We will just have to  move into the government housing.”

Natural disaster, catastrophe and calamity can strike down an individual or a community in an instant, depriving them of food, shelter and clothing. In time societies and families rebuild and renew that which was destroyed. Economic recession can also affect access to the necessities of life but  in time, financial balance is usually renewed. However societies disintegrate and can never  recover  when the vital resources for food, clothing and shelter are exhausted or exterminated. What are societies current necessities? and who controls the available resources?

Thipi (Tipi, tepee, teepee) The Lakota words Thi pi  means ‘they dwell’ or most commonly ‘dwelling’, referring to the iconic cone shaped tents of the Great Plains tribes of North America. The tipi was an ideal shelter for a nomadic people. Portable for following seasonal advantages, gathering food and forage during summer, moving south in the  winter. The tipi  was made of wooden poles and an animal hide cover that could be disassembled or reassembled in about an hour. The sloped skin let the rain flow with no catching creases and the wind slipped past with no purchase. A smoke hole at the top had directional flaps that prevented downdraft or rain while being an exit for smoke from a warm interior fire. Light shown in through the translucent skin and light shown out during the darkness of night. The tipi was lightweight, portable and easily transported by dogs.

Dogs were the  burden carriers before horses came to Northern New Mexico and the west in 1598. The introduction of horses  to the natives changed the culture dramatically and improved their quality of life tremendously. The ability to move faster and travel further, now in tandem with the great bison herds they followed allowed their societies to flourish. Juan de Onate brought the first herd of horses (7,000) when building a  Spanish capitol near Santa Fe, NM. The Pueblo Indians soon learned how to handle the horses and where traded a few and in turn traded a few to the hunters on the plains. In the 1680 Pueblo Revolt the Spanish were driven completely from the land. The expulsion did not include the livestock. Comanche where amongst the first tribes to integrate horses, and others soon emulated and adopted the horse culture or as it is sometimes referred to the buffalo culture

The bison was the primary source of food, shelter and clothing for: the Blackfeet, Arapahoe, Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Kiowa, Lakota, Lipan, Apache, Cree, Ojibwa and Tonkawa—most of them living in tipis for their personal shelters as they followed the great, virtually unlimited bison herds. They were respectful and cognizant of their resources and used every part of the animal; tools made of bone, the hide for shelter, robes and moccasins and of course the foodstuffs and meat.  Their nomadic lifestyle left little impact on the landscape,  the grasses  and all species would regenerate after each seasons passing through. The quality of life was good, the people were healthy, the waters flowed, there was culture and art and a steady resource of bison. They couldn’t live without their bison.

Westward expansion by frontiersman, settlers and land speculators had reached the Great Plains by the early 1800s. There where around 60 million buffalo in North America at the time. Believing that  coexistence with the Indians was impossible the government and military decided to subdue the Indians into submission by depriving them of the one indispensable resource they needed for survival. General Philip Sheridan had said ” let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo is exterminated” A buffalo hunter could kill 250 a day. For some years after the Civil War as many as 5,000 hides a day where being shipped out by rail car, 5,000 hides every day.  By 1884 only 1,200-2,000 bison were left, by 1890 there were only 750 alive. The Indian tribes gradually gave up their tipis and moved on to government reservations. They were decimated from disease and warfare, destitute with the loss of no means of survival. Their source of food, shelter, clothing was gone. It no longer existed.

What is our 21st century buffalo? Could it be exhausted or exterminated like when we lived in a tipi ?


About earthstonestation

promoting environmental education, protecting all species and preserving the wild places with art, music and storytelling.
This entry was posted in environment, food, history, the hungry brain and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The Great Plains

  1. ladyfi says:

    Very provoking and thoughtful. I guess you could say that in many parts of the world we’re so dependent on oil and gas… Chaos will ensue when these run out, don’t you think?

    • The quantity of oil will become scarce over time slowly and then be regulated. Society will have to make drastic changes but it will. When our water and food are not available in the cities – because that is also dependent on fossil fuel for delivery is the rub.

  2. Pit says:

    A very interesting, thoughtful and thought-provoking piece of writing!
    As to the queation what the 21st century’s buffalo might be: even if many people would say it’s oil, to my mind it’s water. We can – difficult though it may be – live without oil, but mankind cannot survive without water. And water is squandered at an alarming rate. It always turns my stomach, when, e.g., I see a golf course with plentyful green grass in the midst of Death Valley, or when I see that the once water-rich Colorado trickles out in mud and doesn’t even reach the sea any more.

    • Mahalo for your response Pit. There are not many that realize how critical our water situation is on the planet. In the developed countries we take it for granted the water will flow thru our pipes – someone controls that water – and us.

      • Pit says:

        People take way too much for granted as far as natural resources are considered. I’m afraid mankind will have to learn the hard way about sustainability.
        Best regards from southern Texas,
        P.S.: What does “mahalo” mean?

  3. Sarah Gordon says:

    Your writing and photography are beautiful and thought-provoking!

  4. Thank you for stopping by my blog! Interesting blog post!

  5. Sam Zodiac says:

    Interesting post and a lot of factual information about the Indian tribes. Thanks!

  6. jpgreenword says:

    Very interesting subject. The First Nations Communities in Canada are having a tough time these days. Dohn (and anyone else), you might be interested in reading about the situation in northern Ontario (

  7. McEff says:

    That’s something to think about: what is our 21st Century buffalo? Technology? Oil? Wealth? There are so many things our society depends on to function normally. Even the slightest threat to any one of them has a huge impact. And thanks for the tepee information – it’s fascinating stuff.
    Alen McF

  8. Don MacD says:

    Agricultural land is being gobbled up at an alarming rate to provide suburban housing. I live in the fertile Fraser Valley of British Columbia. I wonder often how long it will be until we are importing all our fruit and vegetables.

    • Happening everywhere Don. Fortunately Hawaii has large tracts of land that are zoned agricultural. A house can be built but suburban development has been blocked. Sustainability for future generations is at stake. Once fertile soil is built on it is extremely difficult to reverse. Real estate developers often have undue influence with the planning commission. Support local farmers

  9. What is it indeed. Certainly food for thought. . .

  10. Cathy says:

    A very interesting thought…

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