How did horses change the lives of the Plains Indians?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Horses, once present in North America, became extinct on the continent approximately 10,000 years ago. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the only pack animal the Native Americans on the Plains had at their disposal was dogs. After the Spaniards introduced horses to Plains Native Americans, the lives of the tribes changed. Tribes became less settled and sedentary. The horse allowed them to hunt animals such as bison or buffalo, and, instead of staying in one place, tribes began to be nomadic. Their desire to hunt and their ability to roam over greater stretches of land also put them into greater conflict with other tribes, leading to increased warfare. It became a badge of honor to steal horses from neighboring tribes, and warriors were honored. Some tribes were able to become adept mounted warriors and take over land from other tribes. With the ability to hunt, the population of Plains tribes, including the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux, Comanche, and others, grew, as did their affluence, to new levels. With greater ability to trade, they had access to new items, such as blankets, larger teepees, and firearms. As some tribes developed a greater ability to use the horse, some tribes (such as the Comanche) had more power than others. 

mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The introduction of the horse to the plains Indians had a dramatic effect on Indian culture. Indians quickly adapted to using horses for warfare and hunting. Indians relied on the buffalo to survive. With the horse, they improved their ability to hunt to the point that they were able to create a surplus. They used the surplus of buffalo hides to trade with Europe and the United States. This allowed them to acquire goods that would not have otherwise been available to them.

The Indians quickly learned to use the horse to make their daily jobs easier. This was especially true when moving. Many tribes evolved to become more nomadic, which made it easier to find food sources. It was much more convenient to load their belongings on horses or on carts that were pulled by horses.

Native Americans also became much better warriors through the utilization of horses. The tribes that adapted to riding horses for warfare had an advantage over others. Warfare became more common, but so did the expansion of their territories.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Horses changed the lives of the Plains Indians in many ways.  Two of the most important have to do with transport and economics.  The coming of horses allowed the Indians to transport larger amounts of goods.  The horses could pull much larger loads on travois than dogs or people could.  The horses also changed the Indians' economies.  Many of them bred horses as an economic activity.  The horses also made it much easier to hunt bison.  In these ways, horses improved the material culture of the Plains Indians in a number of ways.