Some animals utilized by the Plains Indians.

Animals were a vital part of the Plains Indians lives. Most stories involve animals and other living things when the elders talk to the children to point out the important qualities of each living thing. Not only did the various animals and birds and other creatures provide food, shelter and other needed items, they taught the people many lessons and showed them how to create useful items as you will see from the story below.

Native Americans thank both the Creator and the spirit of the animal they kill for food and hides because they are related to it in as much that the Creator created all living things for a purpose.


You can see how important it is to have the right intention in everything you undertake. You are always being watched from Above in whatever you do, and you will sooner or later receive the consequences of your actions. Acbadadea is beyond all things of this world, but He is also within all things... So everyone should realize that a man's actions and intentions are observed and that even the way in which he fulfills his daily chores is important. A man's attitude toward the Nature around him and the animals in Nature is of special importance, because as we respect our created world, so also do we show respect for the real world that we cannot see. —Thomas Yellowtail

Naturally magnanimous and open-minded, the red man prefers to believe that the Spirit of God is not breathed into man alone, but that the whole created universe is a sharer in the immortal perfection of its Maker. - Ohiyesa

Antelope. This deer like animal with pronged horns is native to the western plains. The antelope provided food and clothing. The buckskin was used for tops of moccasins and vests. Antelope hair was used to stuff mattresses and pillows. Pipes were made from the shinbones and the horns were made into many different tools or implements. Deer were utilized in the same manner.

Bear. The bear was respected and admired because of its strength and courage. Indians hunted it for its meat and especially for its fat which they preserved in pouches. Winter robes and moccasins were made from bear skins. Bow strings were made from thongs of twisted bear gut as well as sinew, rawhide, and twisted vegetable fiber. Bear oil was applied to the hair and mixed with paint. Bear claws were highly prized. Some clans had the bear as their totem and would not kill it.

Beaver. Many Indians believed that beavers could think like men, had their own laws and language, and were headed by their own chief. Many stories and songs were made about beaver.

Buffalo.   Will be discussed next class because it was the most important survival animal of the Plains Indians.

Eagle.   It is said that the Spotted Eagle flies the highest of all the birds and can come closest to the Creator so it carries the messages and prayers from the people to the Creator for them.

"The Eagle is the messenger of the Creator, said Alvin Manitopyes. "The eagle symbolizes the love the Creator has for the Indian people of North America .... the eagle is the most spiritually evolved of all animals and birds. It is the messenger between the Indian people and the Creator. It is a very sacred bird," said Manitopyes. "(Eagles) have a lot of courage. That is why it is such an honor to earn an eagle feather." Finding an eagle feather is a gift or blessing, explained Manitopyes, and an affirmation of one's own spiritual experience."
Article by Debbie Faulkner

Horse. The horse became a very important part of all of the Plains Indian tribes. Each family owned at least a few and every person learned how to ride at a very young age. You will learn more details about the Indian ponies in an upcoming class.

Turtle. The turtle is an important animal. It is used as a calendar and teaches an important lesson. Patience. All turtles have 13 sections on the top of their backs representing the 13 moons and all have 28 sections surrounding the bottom of the shell top representing the number of days in each moon. The top curved part of the shell represents the universe. The bottom of the shell represents the earth.

            (Notice how deep respect of ancestors and all of nature is shown in this story)

"Moon of the Popping Trees*

Tonight as the wind blows around the house, I am brought back to sitting with my Father in Nevada, listening to the same wind. I hear the voice of my Father as he tells me of the wind singers.

"Where does the wind go?" I ask my Father one day. We were sitting on an outcrop of stones, resting our horses and listening as the wind howled down the valley. The whirlwinds of dust and sand danced in the sage brush whirling here and there in no particular pattern. As usual there was a long silence most people would not be able to endure. Children these days are impatient to get the answer immediately. I waited and watched, the swirling of the wind dancers, as my Father lit up his cigarette and took a few puffs. I always liked the smell of the smoke when it was first lit—it reminded me of the sweet grass burning in our home each day, along with the sweet pine needles we burned in an old iron fry pan, to give thanks and prayer.

My Father looked off into the distance and I could see his eyes go into that strange trance-like stare. I had grown to know this stare and find myself many times lost in just such a trance-like state. Finally he spoke to me in a soft and deep voice that went right into my very being. He said, "Frog," (that was one of the little names I had through the years; he was fond of giving us these names) "What do you hear in the wind?" he asked. I waited to give an answer right, speaking right away was not showing respect but arrogance. Besides, you could make a bad answer unless you thought it all out.

I listened very hard and I said, "I hear music and singing." I felt very proud that I could see a little smile at the corner of his lips, so I knew that I had at least gotten some of it right. I kept my eyes downcast, looking at the ants crawling around my boot toe. He then asked me, "Where does this music and singing come from?" I was stumped, so I said in a proper time frame, "I do not know." I had learned that if you did not know the answer don't ever guess. My Father's favorite saying was "a little knowledge in the hands of those who are not aware is dangerous." I never questioned this but in the years to come I realized what he was talking about. My Father told me this story about the wind:

In the time before the stone lodge, there were no songs to be sung. People were new to this land and had not found their way or their voices. Coyote could sing and so could the Wolf; the birds sang their songs and the grasses and trees too. The many-legged and no-legged had a song to sing that was their very own. But the two- legged did not have a song to sing. There were no drums or flutes or rattles. Only the rattlesnake had a rattle and the grouse would drum on the log as would the woodpeckers. Crickets made their see-saw sound with their hind legs and other insects buzzed or hummed.

My Father looked at me out of the corner of his eye and said, "Even the frogs had a song and they only sang in the evening or at night. It is said that they could call the rain, or let us know when it was going to rain." The fish and the other ones with fins that lived in the water listened to the frog. Frog would tell them of the weather and let them know where the best food was found. The wind was quiet then, when it came to sweep across the plains and slip into the mountain's nooks and crannies. All was peaceful and quiet on the Earth, except for the noises that the animals, birds, and insects made. And, of course, the Frog.

One day, a small child named Sweet Grass was walking in the meadow and a magpie came and set on a branch of a cottonwood tree. The Magpie started to sing to the little girl and she tried to make the same sounds of the Magpie. Soon she was singing the Magpie song and trying to sound like Magpie. Magpie laughed and Sweet Grass laughed too. Sometimes Magpie talked to her in a way that uses the mind and not the voice. He told her that he was also a two-legged and was captured and locked into a bird's body. He told her that there were many such birds that were his relatives and that some lived here and some in lands far away. Raven and Crow, he said, were his relation on this land where we now live.

Each day the little girl would come and listen to the Magpie as he told her about the land and why the two-legged came to live here. He spoke of a land far away in the stars where the ones whom she was related to came from. He said all the two-legged strange ones came from that place beyond the stars in the sky world.

As there was no way to tell her parents about this wonderful bird, she could not share what she had learned. Finally one day, when she did not know her mother was near her, she started to sing the song the Magpie taught her. Her mother ran from the lodge making a high pitched crying noise. This frightened the people and they thought maybe a bad spirit was in this child. Many stayed away from the fire if she was near it and did not eat of the food she had touched. This did not stop the little one, Sweet Grass, and finally many of the other children started to make the same sounds she made. The parents did not understand this and were very much afraid.

Wherever the children went, the Magpie, Crow, and Raven followed them and taught them more and more of the songs and ways to make wonderful sounds. Soon the land was full of sounds and from all of this came the way we speak today. This took many years so it was not done over night or in one generation.

The sounds you hear on the wind are the voices of our ancestors still telling us how to sing and make the music that was given to us by the bird nation. The songs of our people will never be lost as long as we sit and listen to the wind. When we need a medicine song we only have to offer tobacco and listen. Soon the wind will whisper the song we need for healing or for helping the people.

Later from the grouse and the woodpecker, we learned to make the drum, and from the woodpecker we also were given the flute. Rattlesnake gave us the medicine of his rattle to scare away the bad Tokas (spirits). From many animals and creatures, we were given all the things we now take for granted.

The Standing Nation (trees) is still here to carry the voices in their branches of the ancient ones as they tell us their story and teach us their songs.

We are told that all the earth that is ever going to be is here, on this what we call Mother Earth. All the water is here and just recycles in this bubble around the Earth Mother. All the air is here and is recycled from oxygen to carbon dioxide in this bubble. Without these things there can be no life, on this, our Mother. As for the wind, it is also here and circles around the Earth Mother, cooling her and heating her in the seasons. In this wind there is all the sound that ever was and ever will be on this Earth Mother. The wind is carrying the voices of our ancestors so we will never forget who we are, and where we came from.

Sometimes now when I am an old woman, I can go and stand on a hill when the wind is blowing and hear the sound or the ancient ones playing instruments that I do not know. The sound is so sweet that it fills me with wonder and peace. Bells and flutes, horns of birch bark, rattles, drums—all of these are in the wind that flows around this sweet Earth Mother. Ocean waves are in the sound as they crash on the shores. The voices of the animals and people and birds are here in the wind. All the music until now is in the wind. The sounds of people in laughter and in pain are in the wind. All the sounds of war and destruction are also in the wind.

All of my relation's voices are carried in the sound of the wind from all the places of the Earth, making one band singing and playing in harmony. So I am never alone and I am always with my people. The wind sings the songs of our people, all of our people, in one voice, in one song for peace.

As told to me by my Father, Plenty Horses.

May our voices speak as one and sing in the harmony of the wind.

Mitakuye Oyasin, Waynonaha"

See this excellent article "A Woman's Feet." For information contact Waynonaha Two Worlds

Graphic from