How the Horse Changed Native American Tribal Nations
by oliviaclark
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Jun 17, 2021 | 2774 views | 0 0 comments | 231 231 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Horses are highly valued among Native American tribal nations. In ancient times, these animals had become extinct in most areas, especially North America, owing to climate change. Later, the Spanish explorers reintroduced them to America. With this occasion, which was equated to an invention or a new technology, the possibilities became endless for the tribes living in Western Plains and Northwest regions, and perceptions changed for the better. The presence of horses sparked a revolution of the generation with most tribes such as the Comanche being among the first to adopt the horse culture and abandon their sedentary lifestyles for a nomadic life. Transition to the horse culture by Native American tribal nations meant freedom and has had a turnaround effect on their art, status, hunting, life, and warfare tactics.

In particular, horses helped expand trade with other villages and amass wealth due to ease of access to markets as well as bartering of horses for hides and other goods. The horse prices were exorbitant, encouraging the ambitious tribes to keep more herds. Therefore, horses were often stolen and traded leading to transfer of power. For instance, the Mandan traded horses through villages on the upper Missouri, concentrating on the trade rather than incorporating the horse usage for practical purposes. American Indian tribes were also exposed to a global economy, using their large horse herds to go miles and facilitating trade with other tribes due to the convenient access to markets.

Horse trade also afforded western communities significant power and affluence. Consequently, social stratification emerged on the Plains, increasing a divide between the rich and poor Indians. The rich had significant power and prestige based on the value of horse herds and the ability to acquire other items that stamped authority and power. For example, the capacity for acquiring firearms from white traders in exchange for items such as buffalo robes further widened the gap. Eventually, Comanche tribes managed to establish the largest and most powerful Indian empire in North America spanning the regions from the Central Great Plains to Mexico with the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne tribes reigning the Northern Plains.

Moreover, the opportunity to ride horses expanded hunting ranges. Hunters could go further than before, which allowed them to hunt more buffaloes and bison. Horses were used in place of dogs that were initially used as hunting companions in North America, as they had many advantages that far outweighed those of dogs. For instance, horses had a large carrying capacity for lugging and ate grass surviving even in adverse conditions as opposed to dogs that were rather small and ate meat, which was harder to provide. Horses also relieved women from the burdensome duty of carrying the hunters’ possessions and allowed them to concentrate on their domestic responsibilities.

As a result, hunting expeditions and the nomadic way of life gave hunting tribes undue advantage against their farming counterparts, leading to improved quality of life, development, and population growth. Efficient and effective skills of hunting with horses helped the Native Americans obtain adequate food supply and abundance of buffalo hides to make warm robes, so that they could migrate to warmer regions during winter. Thus, the population of the Plains tribes, such as the Comanche, Lakota Sioux, and Cheyenne, grew to unprecedented numbers due to the increased ability to hunt and conquer, while the populace of agricultural tribes, such as the Mandan and Pawnee, suffered raids and attacks of diseases like smallpox. However, the immense hunting created black markets, leading to a drastic decline in the number of bison and buffalos, which were the mainstay of the Plains tribes.

Furthermore, expansion of hunting ranges triggered competition and intensified warfare with tribes keen to protect their territories. To proceed with the expansion, tribes adopted equestrian military skills, which helped resist those that were slowly accustomed to horses. Eventually, all Native Americans used horses for wars and raids. Horseback warriors were powerful and feared, could move faster than those on foot could, and were able to push and conquer other tribes from their territories. In particular, the Cheyenne and Comanche were quick to learn and train their horses for war; therefore, they conquered the Apache, Wichita, and village dwelling tribes such as the Mandan. In addition, they increased the resistance against white settlers in severe circumstances.

Horses also impacted the art scene for the Native Americans; it is common to see movies, images, paintings, embroidered clothing, and photographs of them riding across plains on horsebacks The Indians harnessed their innate artistic skills to craft decorative horse masks, war paintings, and ceremonial outfits for special occasions. Horse masks for the Native Americans, especially the western Sioux, were a sign of spiritual protection and power; they were made from buffalo hide and decorated.

Despite the significance of changes brought about by the horse culture in realigning the economy, lifestyles, and environment of Native American tribes, they were short-lived since empires that flourished in Texas Panhandle during the era came to an end in 1874. According to West (n.d.), the Comanches were ambushed and fled on foot leaving their horses captured and property destroyed. The horses were later shot by the Fourth Cavalry troops under the command of Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, ending the domination of horse tribes in the Plains.

In conclusion, the introduction of horses changed the lives of Native American tribal nations significantly. The tribes of Comanche, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Plain and Sioux Indians began relying greatly on them for their transportation, hunting, trading, art, and war needs. The horses simplified daily tasks, enabled efficiency, and increased productivity of the tribes in acquiring food, wealth, authority, and power. On the downside, the weaker communities were conquered by the stronger communities such as the Comanche, whose power was later seized by war marshals.



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