Great Plains Indians Views
The French explorer Claude Charles Du Tisne found 300 horses among the Wichita on the Verdigris River in 1719, but they were still not plentiful. Another Frenchman, Bourgmont, could only buy seven at a high price from the Kaw in 1724, further indicating that horses were still scarce among tribes in Kansas. While the distribution of horses proceeded slowly northward on the Great Plains, it moved more rapidly through the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin, possibly stimulated by the Navajo. The Shoshone in Wyoming had horses by about 1700 and the Blackfoot of Saskatchewan, the most northerly of the large Plains tribes, acquired horses in the 1730s. By 1770, that Plains Indians culture was mature, consisting of mounted buffalo-hunting nomads from Saskatchewan and Alberta southward nearly to the Rio Grande. It had hardly reached maturity when the pressure from Europeans on all sides and European diseases caused its decline.
It was the Comanche, coming to the attention of the Spanish in New Mexico in 1706, who first realized the potential of the horse. As pure nomads, hunters, and pastoralists, well supplied with horses, they swept the mixed-economy Apaches from the plains and by the 1730s were dominant in the Great Plains south of the Arkansas River. The success of the Comanche encouraged other Indian tribes to adopt a similar lifestyle. The southern Plains Indians acquired vast numbers of horses. By the 19th century, Comanche and Kiowa men owned an average of 35 horses and mules each – and only six or seven were necessary. The horses extracted a toll on the environment as well as requiring labor to care for the herd. Formerly equalitarian societies became more divided by wealth with a negative impact on the role of women. Rich men took several wives and captives (slaves) to manage their possessions, especially horses.
The Dakota or Sioux enjoyed the happy medium between North and South and became the dominant Plains Indians tribe in the 19th century. They had relatively small horse herds, thus having less impact on their ecosystem. At the same time they occupied the heart of prime buffalo range and also an excellent region for furs which could be sold to French and American traders for goods such as guns. The Dakota became the most powerful of the Plains tribes and the greatest threat to American expansion.
As the great herds began to wane, proposals to protect the bison were discussed. Buffalo Bill Cody, among others, spoke in favor of protecting the bison because he saw that the pressure on the species was too great. But these were discouraged since it was recognized that the Plains Indians, often at war with the United States, depended on bison for their way of life. In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant pocket vetoed a Federal bill to protect the dwindling bison herds, and in 1875 General Philip Sheridan pleaded to a joint session of Congress to slaughter the herds, to deprive the Plains Indians of their source of food. By 1884, the bison was close to extinction.