The Sioux Indians were a very large Native American group that was composed of several tribal groups who all spoke a language known as Siouan. The Sioux tribes who lived west of the Missouri River are known as the Lakota and sometimes referred to as the Teton Sioux. The Lakota are comprised of seven subgroups: Oglala, Brule, Sans Arc (No Bows) Hunkpapa, Miniconjous, Sihasapa (Blackfeet), Two Kettle. Of these, the Ogalala, and the Brule, were the main tribes to roam across what is now western Nebraska.

The Lakota gradually moved west from the tip of Lake Superior around 1700. By 1740, they had acquired horses and they became more and more nomadic, hunting game across the Central Plains. They often came into conflict with the Pawnee on these hunts. By 1780, it’s estimated that there were up to 10,000 Lakota living on the plains.

The Lakota had several methods for hunting bison. Sometimes, hunters on foot would disguise themselves with wolf skins and stalk the herds. During the winter, hunters with snowshoes would drive the bison into deep snow where they could be more easily killed. Sometimes, individuals on horseback would single out one animal from the herd and kill it with a lance or bow and arrow, and later with a rifle. But usually, the hunts were communal exercises. Groups of mounted horsemen could surround a herd and keep them bottled up as the hunters killed the animals. At other times, the tribe would stampede the buffalo into enclosures, blind canyons or over a cliff.

The various parts of the bison gave the tribe food, shelter, clothing and all kinds of tools and equipment. Before contact with Europeans, Native Americans used almost every part of the bison they killed.

Battle between Sioux and Sauk and Fox 1846-1848, by George Catlin

Battle between Sioux and Sauk and Fox 1846-1848, by George Catlin
Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr., 1985.66.545
Lakota life was a man’s world in which the warrior sought personal fame through his achievements on the hunt or in warfare. For instance, there was great honor for a warrior to be the first to touch an enemy in battle — known as "counting coup." Coups were remembered and recounted by the warrior during dances and ceremonies. The successful warrior also got wealth by capturing horses from the enemy, and he could enhance his prestige by distributing horses to others in the group. Lakota values included honor, fortitude, generosity, wisdom and honesty.

While it was a man’s world, the women actually built and owned the tepees that the tribe lived in. The tepees were made of tanned buffalo skins supported on a framework of long poles. The women butchered the bison, dried the meat, prepared the meals, made clothes, gathered wood, water, roots and berries and cared for the children. The tribes enjoyed games, feasts, story-telling, singing and dancing. Most games involved some form of gambling — for instance, dice or the moccasin guessing game. Others were games of skill, like archery and hoop and pole.

Lakota religion was based on a belief in an all-pervasive, supernatural power that dwelt in the sky, earth and the four directions. Young men were often sent on a vision quest across the plains until exposure to the weather, fasting and self-torture produced dream visions. In these dreams they acquired a song, or various taboos, or medicinal objects that would protect or treat them. Each year, supernatural forces were invoked to protect the tribe in a Sun Dance and related ceremonies during the annual encampments.

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