Native American Products

Period 3-4, Sheridan, Andy, Alix, and Eliot

The American Indians were the tribes that have lived in what is now North America for thousands of years, long before Europeans arrived. The American Indians of the Great Plains were some of the most resourceful people in the world. They hunted buffalo, and used their hides and bones to make almost everything they needed, from clothes to buildings. Because they were such amazing hunters, they had enough time to do things not imperative to survival. The Great Plains Indians painted and made jewelry with beads. They made and traded bags. They even made and played musical instruments.

Although the Great Plains Indians eventually traded with the Spanish and other Europeans, they lived for many thousands of years without contact with European countries. Each tribe was its own separate nation, however, and they were by no means all alike. For example, while the Pawnee Indians were a single unified tribe, the Comanche were split into at least eight separate sub-tribes. Their products also varied, ranging from different textile patterns to varied hunting tachniques. These separate nations did trade with each other, spreading technologies as well as products. Although many people speak of Indians as if they were one people, in fact they were quite diverse.

Native American Tools

American Indians were very good at woodwork. They would use axes, knives, scrapers, drills, chisels, hammers, wedges and sanders made of stone, shell, copper, none, horn and teeth. They made houses, boats, sleds, toboggans, snowshoes, bows and arrows, spears, clubs, shields, armor, traps, weirs, digging sticks, hoes, rakes, bed frames, cradles, cradleboards, pipes, boxes, bowls, utensils, flutes, rattles, drums, toys, masks, and totem poles out of wood. Stone was used as the primary material for cutting, piercing, scraping, and hammering. Native Americans shaped stone in various ways such as, grinding, sharpening, drilling, cutting and polishing. Indians used soft stones also for dishes, containers and ceremonial objects. American Indians used rawhide, usually with the skin scraped off, to make sturdy objects such as pouches, bindings, boxes, shields, rattles and drums. Animal skins were used in different steps of preparation for making dwellings and boats. Plant fibers like the inner bark of cedar tress, cotton, and wool from animals such as buffalo were used to make yarn. Native Americans used finger weaving such as knitting and plaiting. American Indians used hundreds of different forms of baskets to carry things, for storage, for cooking and other things. They would use them for fish traps or even hats. They used twigs, splints of wood, inner bark, roots, canes, reeds, fronds, vines and grasses. Some baskets were covered with resin so that they could hold water. American Indians also made bags for many things. Each pipe had its own pipe bag. Pipe bags had a lot of fringe and were made of soft leather. They made rawhide cases made of rawhide called parfleches. Parfleches were also used to hold food, clothing or any other item. Native Americans used bones, horns, antlers, and tusks of animals for spears, arrows, and club points as well as fishhooks, needles, pins, weaving tools, knives, scrapers, and chisels. They used those materials to make bowls, spoons, ceremonial objects, toys, games, ornaments, and jewelry. Tortoise shells and deer hooves were used for rattles and other objects.

Native American Clothing

Colors and decorations were put in designs on Plains Indian clothing. The designs could have specific meanings, but in some cases, were just for decoration. Dyed quillwork was used to decorate vests, leggings dresses, boots, and moccasins made of buffalo skin or deerskin. Later quillwork was replaced by beadwork. Fringes were another decorative part of clothing. Common clothing found on the plains included leather breechcloths for warm weather, and robes, caps, and headbands made of fur for cold weather. Women prepared the hides for use. They would stretch the skins on frames or on pegs in the ground, then scrape away the flesh and work the hide to an even thickness. It was then rawhide. For leather they did the same thing, and then mixed a mixture of ashes, fat, brains, liver, and various plants into it, and soaked it in water. Hair was sometimes left on for warmth. Headdresses came in different sizes, shapes and many different colors and decorations. Eagle feather headdresses, also known as warbonnets, are the most recognizable of all Native American clothing. During modern day powwows and festivals people see warbonnets used by Indians from all over North America. However, this kind of headdress originated among the Plains tribes. The only people who wore those warbonnets had to earn the privilege to do so in warfare. The longest headdresses belonged to the chiefs. The amount of black-tipped tail feathers from the male golden eagle represented the wearer's exploits. The feathers would be attached to a skullcap of deer or buffalo skin, with a brow band that was decorated with beadwork, dangling strips of fur or ribbons and quillwork. Downy feathers were attached to the base of the eagle feathers and tufts of dyed horsehair were attached to the tips of the eagle feathers.

Native American Art

Animal bones were used as a part of ceremonial masks. The Plains Indians painted on dried and stretched buffalo skins. They mixed minerals from the earth with natural ingredients for colors. Natural ingredients included insides of birds' eggs, buffalo suet, and the juice of the prickly pear as well as many more. The outside walls and inner linings of tipis were commonly painted with symbols. Bright, colorful figures and shapes referred to spirit beings, ancestors, family histories, or honors won in battle. Sometimes though they were just for decoration. Pipes were very important in the Plains Indian tribes. Sometimes pipes were owned by the entire tribe. They were beautifully crafted objects with long wooden stems up to five feet long and stone bowls. They were usually called peace pipes, though they were used in ceremonies besides peace councils. Another name for them was calumet. Ash and sumac were good woods for the stems because they were soft, and were easy to hollow out. A good stone for carving the bowl is catlinite, or pipestone. Many different tribes went to the pipestone quarry in Minnesota for it. Pipestone is red and is soft enough to carve with a knife until it dries in the air. Another good stone that is easy to work with is steatite or soapstone. Sacred pipes could be decorated with feathers, quills, beads, fur, and/or horsehair. Indians would smoke tobacco, which was most common, in the pipes. They would also use other plants alone or in combination also. Sacred shields were painted as a link between the natural and spiritual worlds, pointing to mystical places. Distinction between the arts and crafts cannot be drawn. For Native Americans, art was not something by itself. It was a part of other activities. It was in the decoration of objects such as hunting and fishing equipment, or in the making of objects used for/at ceremonies.

Native American Instruments

Native American instruments are made in a certain way. Their designs are passed along by word of mouth, like in the game "telephone." Just like in the game, they sometimes change slightly from on generation to another. The musical instruments that will soon be described were passed down in this method. Every few years, they change a little bit. These changes build up. For example, when making drums, originally they used buffalo hides. Nowadays, with few buffalo around, they use something called "membranophone" to make the top part.

There were a lot of different instruments used by Native Americans. There were drums, flutes, rattles, rasps, whistles, clapper and many more. They were all traditional and they also made beautiful sounds. Drums could make both low and high pitches, and there were four different types. The first type of drum was called a "simple skin drum." Its name describes it perfectly. They were simple, single skinned drums. These were used in the central area to the east of the Rockies and in the Northern Plains. The second type of drum was a "frame drum." This drum was made of cow, elk, horse, or deer hides. The diameter is usually 30 inches and the pocket of air underneath the hide was 4 inches in depth. The third type of drum was the "water drum." This drum was made by filling a drum with water and covering it with tanned buckskin. This drum was played with a drumstick that has a loop on its head. The last type of drum is the square drum, which is a wooden box that is mostly empty. Native Americans sat on them and drummed with their feet.

The flutes that Native Americans used are different from the flutes that we now use. They are somewhat similar to a recorder. These recorder-like flutes were made of wood, clay, bamboo, or sometimes bird bones. Flutes from each region looked very different, ranging from varying numbers of holes to the length of the flute. Rattles are also popular Native American musical instruments. There are two main types of rattles: a "container rattle" and a "deer hoof rattle." Container rattles are made from turtle shells and seeds. Another way to make them was to scrape out a buffalo's horn and to put seeds in it. A "deer hoof rattle" is a rattle made out of deer hooves. The rattle maker drills into the hooves, puts other materials in the hooves, and puts it back together. There are three other well known Native American musical instruments. There were rasps and whistles. Rasps were special sticks that could be rubbed together to make noises. Whistles were carved sticks through which they blew to make sounds. There were also clappers. The clappers used by Native Americans are much like the ones children use as sound makers, although theirs were made of wood. These musical instruments weren't the only way to make beautiful sounds, however. Native Americans were also very nice singers.

Natural resources used by Native Americans

Native Americans used a lot of different animals, just like we do today. Buffalos were the most useful and important animals Native Americans used. They didn't have leftovers if they had caught a buffalo. However, Native Americans didn't only use buffalos. They also used turtles, eagles, beavers, antelopes, bears, and horses. Native Americans did not always use these animals satisfy hunger, or avoid starvation. They used certain animals like eagles and beavers to be messengers between themselves and a certain god, spirit or something or someone sacred. Native Americans usually caught large animals by shooting them with arrows or digging big holes to trap the animal when it fell in. Small animals were usually killed with arrows or knives carved from animal bones.

The Native Americans used certain animals for education and/or medicine, like the turtle. Turtles weren't hunted to eat, but were used for rattles or calendars. Turtles have 13 sections on their back that represent the 13 moons, and 28 sections surrounding the bottom. The bottom was known as Earth, but was also used as medicine. When a tribe member had a stomach pain they would crush the turtle's shell and rub it on the suffering person's stomach. There were also animals known as messengers or friends of humankind. Eagles were known as the messengers and prayers of the "Creator." The Creator was their god. This is why eagle feathers are so sacred to Native Americans.

Certain animals were also known as humans' friends, such as the beaver. Native Americans had thought that beavers had the same laws as them and spoke the same language. Because of this there are a lot of songs and stories about beavers. Some animals were used for food and materials to make rugs and furniture for households and for blankets. Buffalos were the most popular animals that were used by the Native Americans. They used their hides for teepees and blankets. They ate the fat and the organs for food. Antelopes and deer were used in the same way, although they weren't as useful as buffalos. Although there were animals that were only killed for their hide and meat, there was some animals that were hunted for meat and also some that were sacred, like bears. They were though to represent strength and courage.White buffalos were also sacred, so if they caught a white buffalo, they only took the hide and would leave the meat of the buffalo at the place that it was killed.

Other animals, like horses, that came from another land were used for transportation. Horses changed many Native Americans' lives in many ways. Horses change the amount Native Americans could kill, their ability to move around, and the animals they could catch. Animals were used in many ways by the Native Americans.

 

The Weapons of the Native Americans of the Great Plains

All of the Plains tribes relied on weapons for their hunting and warfare. They also used weapons for tribal ceremonies. Their weapons were various forms of bows and arrows, clubs, tomahawks, and lances. Each weapon was different because it was made by a different person.

Bows and arrows were not simple or easy to make. The craftsman would take a piece of wood and stretch it for a week or so. After the wood was aged properly he would cut notches in the top and bottom of the piece of wood for the bowstring. After the notches were cut he would coat it with many liquids including water-proofing glue made by boiling a beaver’s tail. After it was coated he would put the bow well above a fire to dry the wood. After it was dry and all of the imperfections were smoothed out, the bowstring would be attached. The string was made from either buffalo hair or strands of yucca leaves braided together. The arrows were a bit harder to make. Almost the same drying and aging process would be used on the wood. The hard part came in making the arrowheads. Native American craftsmen would take stones and grind and bash down to a small rock, then sharpen it carefully. They would carefully drill a hole in the bottom of the newly formed arrowhead and tie it on with buffalo hide. This process would be repeated many times to make a large number of arrows. The bow and arrow was used for warfare and for hunting.

Before the introduction of horses, Native Americans would dress up in wolf skins, stampede the buffalo into a corner using a large v-shaped passageway made of boulders and various debris, and open fire, using four to five foot bows. This obviously was a pretty difficult and time-consuming task. After the introduction of horses, the Native Americans would simply stampede the buffalo and use the horses’ overpowering speed to shoot the buffalo at point blank range while on horseback. To make the bows more maneuverable for shooting off a horse, they were reduced in size to two-to-three feet in length.

Individual Native Americans had distinctive weapons that bore their individual mark. This was so that after the buffalo hunt, women of the tribe would find their husband’s kill by finding his specific arrows in a buffalo.

Clubs and tomahawks were used in hand-to-hand combat, or when a buffalo was lying weak on the ground. Clubs and tomahawks are among the simplest weapons. Their clubs were about three feet long and made of wood. The wood was shaped and then aged and treated. It was carved to form a handle and to take various shapes for bashing an enemy or an animal. The tomahawk is a light ax that could be thrown, much like a modern day hatchet. It was made by taking a thick, one-foot long stick and binding a sharpened rock or bone to the top, forming a blade. Tomahawks were especially good for throwing because of the uneven weight. The weight on the blade end was heavier, creating a spin that caused the blade to hit close to 100% of the time.

Lances, sometimes called spears, were also used to kill weak buffalo. They were used in warfare as well, though they were less accurate than bows and arrows. They were made by aging and treating the wood as with tomahawks, then making a lance head, which is a much wider and larger version of an arrowhead. Each tribe and each individual could have any sort of decoration on their lances. Many times eagle feathers and animal parts – bones, skins, or tails – were used, each having its own spiritual significance. Lances were used in tribal dances and ceremonies, with the decoration having special meaning. The Native Americans were and still are great hunters and excellent craftsmen.

 

Native American products used today

Many of the things that American Indians of the Great Plains produced are still used, sometimes in an improved form, today. Some Native American pottery for example, is prized for its beauty and unsurprisingly enough, authenticity. It seems that in the world today, people desire objects made by what used to be an entirely different set of communities, but is now only a separate culture. The reason for this desire is hard to understand, but as a result one can still buy Native American buckskins, fox pelts, feathers, bags, art and even herbs. It is ironic that with all the technology of today, more natural, simpler goods is what many consumers want.

However, the most widespread American Indian products are not exclusively those produced by the Great Plains tribes. These products were used by the soon to be Americans from nearly the day they came here and are still used today: corn and tobacco. The former, corn, was much more efficient than wheat, and without it, the pilgrims would almost certainly have died. It was an American Indian, Squanto, who showed the Americans how to sow and reap corn, which gave almost three times the food per seed as wheat. Tobacco also originated in America. It was used for thousands of years to put shamans in trances to have near-death experiences. Some shamans from South America believe that tobacco allows closer contact with spirits. Once the Europeans were shown tobacco, they quickly spread it throughout the world. As is clear when walking down nearly any street in America, tobacco is still used by many to induce a trance-like state, bringing them closer to death in the process.

The Great Plains Indians were truly amazing. They utilized many parts of many animals. They painted and played musical instruments. They even had elaborate, meaningful clothes. They hunted with skill and precision. Their civilization was in many ways more advanced than that of the "civilized" Europeans, and much of it was lost when many Native Americans died from European diseases.

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