How the Horse Impacted the Plains Indians

By | June 27, 2019

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Bison Hunt, by Alfred Jacob Miller, 1858, 19th Century, watercolour on paper, 24,1 x 38,5 cm. Source: (

One of the most common images in historical memory is that of an American Plains Indian sitting astride a mustang ready to hunt a herd of buffalo. Curiously, the horse was a relatively modern introduction to Plains Indian culture and demonstrates how the addition of a single new element can revolution societies.

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Circa 1850: A woman attaches a small travois to a dog in front of a skin lodge or tepee in an Assiniboine encampment. Source: (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Before the Horse

Horses originated in the Western Hemisphere but became extinct at some point between 8 to 12 thousand years ago. Nomadic Indians, who lived on the wide expanses of the Great Plains, relied on their feet to travel and hunt while some sedentary tribes scratched a living through agriculture and seasonal hunting. To haul items and supplies, Indians either carried it themselves or employed an A-shaped travois pulled by a dog or human.