The Tribes and Their Habitat

The country occupied by the tribes belonging to the three linguistic groups whose villages are now to be described extended from south of the Arkansas northward to and beyond the Canadian boundary, and from the Mississippi across the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains. It thus embraced the western section of the valley of the Mississippi, including the entire course of the Missouri, the hilly regions bordering the rivers, and the vast rolling prairies. The climatic conditions were as varied as were the physio-graphical features, for, although the winters in the south were comparatively mild, in the north they were long and severe.

The three linguistic families to be considered are the Algonquian, Siouan, and Caddoan. Many Algonquian and Siouan tribes formerly lived east of the Mississippi, and their villages have already been described, 1 but within historic times all Caddoan tribes appear to have occupied country to the westward of the river, although it is not improbable that during earlier days they may have had villages beyond the eastern bank of the stream, there remains of which exist.

The Algonquians included in this account comprise principally the three groups which may be termed the western division of the great linguistic family. These are: (1) The Blackfoot confederacy, composed of three confederated tribes, the Siksika or Blackfeet proper, the Piegan, and the Kainah or Bloods; (2) the Arapaho, including several distinct divisions, of which the Atsina, or Gros Ventres of the Prairie, who were closely allied with the Blackfeet, were often mentioned; (3) the Cheyenne, likewise forming various groups or divisions. Belonging to the same great family were the Cree or Kristinaux, whose habitat was farther north, few living south of the Canadian boundary; also the Ojibway, whose villages were scattered northward from the upper waters of the Mississippi. Some Sauk later lived west of the Mississippi, as did hands of the Foxes and some of the Illinois tribes.

The Siouan tribes were among the most numerous and powerful on the continent, and those to be mentioned on the following pages belonged to several clearly defied groups. As Classified in the Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico 2 these include:

  • Algonquian Tribes
    • Ojibway
    • Cree
    • Cheyenne
    • Blackfoot confederacy
    • Arapaho
    • Sauk and Foxes
    • Illinois
  • Dakota-Assiniboin group:
    • Mdewakanton
    • Wahpekute (forming, with the Mdewakanton, the Santee)
    • Sisseton
    • Wahpeton
    • Yankton
    • Yanktonai
    • Teton
      • Sichangu or Brines
      • Itazipcho or Sans Arcs
      • Sihasapa or Blackfeet
      • Miniconjou
      • Oohenonpa or Two Kettles
      • Oglala
      • Hunkpapa
    • Assiniboin
  • Dhegiha group
    • Omaha
    • Ponca
    • Quapaw
    • Osage
      • Pahatsi
      • Utsehta
      • Santsukhdhi
    • Kansa
  • Chiwere group
    • Iowa
    • Oto
    • Missouri
  • Winnebago
  • Mandan
  • Hidatsa group
    • Hidatsa
    • Crows
  • Caddoan Tribes
    • Arikara
    • Pawnee confederacy
      • Chaui or Grand Pawnee
      • Kitkehahki or Republican Pawnee
      • Pitahauerat or Tapage Pawnee
      • Skidi or Wolf Pawnee
    • Wichita confederacy
      • Waco and various small tribes
    • Caddo proper

The Caddoan family is less clearly defined than either of the preceding, but evidently consisted of many small tribes grouped, and forming confederacies. Those to be mentioned later include:

Although thee latter are included in the same linguistic group with the Arikara, Pawnee, and others as mentioned above, they are regarded by some as constituting a distinct linguistic stock.

During the years following the close of the Revolution, the latter part of the eighteenth century, many tribes, or rather the remnants of tribes, then living east of the Mississippi, sought a refuge in the Nest beyond the river. Many settled on the streams in the southern part of the present State of Missouri and northern Arkansas, and, as stated by Stoddard when writing about the year 1810: “A considerable number of Delawares, Shawanee, and Cherokees, have built some villages on the waters of the St. Francis and White Rivers. Their removal info these quarters was authorized by the Spanish government, and they have generally conducted themselves to the satisfaction of the whites. Some stragglers from the Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaws, who are considered as outlaws by their respective nations, have also established themselves on the same waters; and their disorders and depredations among the white settlers are not unfrequent.” 3 And at about the same time another writer, referring to the same region, said: ” Below the Great Osage, on the waters of the Little Osage, Saint Francis, and other streams, are a number of scattered bands of Indians, and two or three considerable villages. These bands were principally Indians, who were formerly outcasts from the tribes east of the Mississippi. Numbers have since joined from the Delawares, Shawanoes, Wayondott, and other tribes towards the lakes. Their warriors are said to be five or six hundred. They have sometimes made excursions and done mischief on the Ohio river, but the settlements on the Mississippi have suffered the most severely by their depredations.” 4

No attempt will be made in the present work to describe the habitations or settlements occupied by the scattered bands just mentioned.

It is quite evident that during the past two or three centuries great changes have taken place in the locations of the tribes which were discovered occupying the region west of the Mississippi by the first Europeans to penetrate the vast wilderness. Thus the general movement of many Siouan tribes has been westward, that of some Algonquian groups southward from their earlier habitats, and the Caddoan appear to have gradually gone northward. It resulted in the converging of the tribes in the direction of the great prairies occupied by the vast herds of buffalo which served to attract the Indian. Until the beginning of this tribal movement it would seem that a great region eastward from the base of the Rocky Mountains, the rolling prairie lands, was not the home of any tribes but was solely the range of the buffalo and other wild beasts, which existed in numbers now difficult to conceive.Citations:

  1. Bushnell, D. I. Jr.,  Native Villages and Village Sites East of the Mississippi. 69, Bureau of American Ethnology. Washington, 1919.[]
  2. Bull. 30, Bur. Amer. Ethn., part 2, p. 579.[]
  3. Stoddard, Sketches . . . of Louisiana, pp. 210-211. Philadelphia, 1812.[]
  4. Cutler, Jervis, A Topographical Description of the State of Ohio, Indiana Territory, and Louisiana, p. 120. Boston, 1812.[]

Bushnell, David Ives. Villages of the Algonquian, Siouan and Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi. Published in Bulletin 77, Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution. Washington. 1922.

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