Siouan Habitat

Excepting the Asiniboin, who are chiefly in Canada, nearly all of the Siouan Indians are now gathered on the reservations indicated on earlier pages, most of these reservations lying within the aboriginal territory of the stock.

At the advent of white men, the Siouan territory was vaguely defined, and its limits were found to vary somewhat from exploration to exploration. This vagueness and variability of habitat grew out of the characteristics of the tribesmen. Of all the great stocks south of the Arctic, the Siouan was perhaps least given to agriculture, most influenced by hunting, and most addicted to warfare; thus most of the tribes were but feebly attached to the soil, and freely followed the movements of the feral fauna as it shifted with climatic vicissitudes or was driven from place to place by excessive hunting or by fires set to destroy the undergrowth in the interests of the chase; at the same time, the borderward tribes were alternately driven and led back and forth through strife against the tribes of neighboring stocks. Accordingly the Siouan habitat can be outlined only in approximate and somewhat arbitrary fashion.

The difficulty in defining the priscan home of the Siouan tribes is increased by its vast extent and scant peopling, by the length of the period intervening between discovery in the east and complete exploration in the west, and by the internal changes and migrations which occurred during this period. The task of collating the records of exploration and pioneer observation concerning the Siouan and other stocks was undertaken by Powell a few years ago, and was found to be of great magnitude. It was at length successfully accomplished, and the respective areas occupied by the several stocks were approximately mapped. 1

As shown on Powell’s map, the chief part of the Siouan area comprised a single body covering most of the region of the Great plains, stretching from the Rocky mountains to the Mississippi and from the Arkansas-Red river divide nearly to the Saskatchewan, with an arm crossing the Mississippi and extending to Lake Michigan. In addition there were a few outlying bodies, the largest and easternmost bordering the Atlantic from Santee river nearly to Capes Lookout and Hatteras, and skirting the Appalachian range northward to the Potomac; the next considerable area lay on the Gulf coast about Pascagoula river and bay, stretching nearly from the Pearl to the Mobile; and there were one or two unimportant areas on Ohio river, which were temporarily occupied by small groups of Siouan Indians during recent times.

There is little probability that the Siouan habitat, as thus outlined, ran far into the prehistoric age. As already noted, the Siouan Indians of the plains were undoubtedly descended from the Siouan tribes of the east (indeed the Mandan had a tradition to that effect); and reason has been given for supposing that the ancestors of the prairie hunters followed the straggling buffalo through the cis-Mississippi forests into his normal trans-Mississippi habitat and spread over his domain save as they were held in check by alien huntsmen, chiefly of the warlike Caddoan and Kiowan tribes; and the buffalo itself was a geologically recent-indeed essentially post-glacial-animal. Little if any definite trace of Siouan occupancy has been found in the more ancient prehistoric works of the Mississippi valley. On the whole it appears probable that the prehistoric development of the Siouan stock and habitat was exceptionally rapid, that the Siouan Indians were a vigorous and virile people that arose quickly under the stimulus of strong vitality (the acquisition of which need not here be considered), coupled with exceptionally favorable opportunity, to a power and glory culminating about the time of discovery.


McGee, W. J. The Siouan Indians. Published in the Fifteenth Annual Report of Bureau of Ethnology, 1893 – 1894. Washington. 1897.

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  1. Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, for 1885-86 (1891), pp. 1-142, and map.[]

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