It is always fascinating to see how other people live or to speculate how our ancestors went about their daily lives. The foods they eat, how they care for their children, and their basic everyday activities can tell us quite a bit about them. Today we’re getting a glimpse into Native American life from 150 years ago.
For the Native Americans, the herds of buffalo were one of the most important resources they had. In addition to meat, the animals provided them with clothing, shelter, and trade items.
Buffalo in Sight ~ One scout would be sent to the top of a hill neighboring the camp to act as a lookout for the buffalo herd. When the animals were sighted, the scout started waving a blanket to signal the camp.
Killing Buffalo on Snowshoes ~ Heavy snows put them on a more even footing with the large buffalo, allowing them to spear the animal.
By donning snowshoes, the hunter was able to stay on top of the snow even as the buffalo sank through it.
Killing Buffalo in the River ~ The Native Americans were adaptable and courageous when hunting, using various skills including swimming. They often managed to kill a buffalo by swimming next to it as it crossed a river.
Using only their knife, they would cut its throat and then depend on their own swimming ability to stay out of its way as it weakened.
Related: Lost Native American Survival Skills
Life was full of danger for the Native Americans. They battled nature and the damage it could inflict as well as always trying to keep other tribes from stealing their horses, women, and food.
Attacked By a Lion ~ The hunter often became the hunted when dealing with a mountain lion. These wily cats were known by different names depending on what part of the country they lived in – puma, panther, and catamount.
These big cats wrought havoc on prey animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats. The risk they posed to the horse herds along with the value of their skins were just two of the reasons they hunted them.
In a Tight Place ~ Superior numbers of hostile tribes were a constant threat. A lone scout out in the open could depend on his horse to help protect him.
These horses were trained to lay down quietly and provide a living shield for his master.
Buffalo Charging Hunter ~ Hostile tribes weren’t the only thing that charged at or tried to run down the brave Natives. Large buffalo cows and bulls could turn from prey to hunter in a moment’s notice.
Once again, the well-trained and lightning-fast horses came to the rescue. As the hunter was only armed with a bow and arrow, it was necessary for the agile horses to get them close enough for the kill but to also keep them out of harm’s way.
Native Americans used boats for more than just fishing. As their skills grew, so did the purposes and types of their watercraft.
Salmon Fishing on Columbia River ~ Contrary to popular belief, not all canoes or boats built by the Native Americans were made from the bark of birch trees.
Birch doesn’t grow on the banks of the Columbia River, the Natives used whatever trees were available and suitable to carve their dugouts like the one above.
The Bull Boat ~ The bull boat is known to be one of the most primitive boats in the world and is so named because of the bull hides originally used in its making. Raw hides that have been soaked in water are stretched over a wood framework.
The hide was then bound in place and allowed to dry in the sun until it was as hard as bone and waterproof.
Canoe Racing ~ Crafting canoes was a skill in which many Native Americans excelled.
The canoes were quite fragile while being strong and sturdy at the same time.
Young tribesmen enjoyed racing their craft to show off their abilities.
Horses were a vital part of daily life for Native Americans. Transportation, hunting, trading, and even food were some of what horses offered the tribes.
Capturing a Wild Horse ~ While the Natives were expert horsemen, they weren’t in the business of breeding horses. The replenished their horses on a regular basis by using their current mounts to help them capture new ones from the wild herds. Stealing horses from other tribes was also a common occurrence.
A Mean Cayuse ~ Ponies or horses were also known as a cayuse or broncho. These wild horses were frequently found to be difficult to tame and train. It required extensive horsemanship skills to accomplish this, but once trained, they became a highly prized possession.
A little-known fact is that it was quite often the women who were the horse trainers. Their abilities rivaled and even surpassed those of the men at times.
A Spilt ~ Due to their excellent horsemanship and the agility of their horses, they often took risks that ended in disaster.
Accidents were common as the riders asked their mounts to perform unsafe maneuvers.
The Native Americans were primarily hunters and gatherers. While the women took care of all of the gathering and some of the fishing, the men were expected to provide the game.
Stalking the Antelope ~ Because the antelope or pronghorn is an extremely curious creature, it is also one that easily falls prey to hunters. Their natural tendency is to investigate anything new or unusual in their surroundings.
A common ploy was to tie a bright piece of fluttering cloth on a stake in the ground. The hunter then lay in wait for the nosy antelope to approach and become easy targets.
Elk Hunting Disguised as a Buffalo ~ Before they relied on the use of guns for hunting game, they had to improvise in order to get up close to the elk herds.
By covering themselves with a buffalo hide, they were able to creep in near enough to the animals to kill them with their bows and arrows.
Stalking Deer ~ Similar to their method of stalking elk above, they commonly covered themselves with the head and hide of a deer in order to approach the wily animals.
As their bows and arrows were ineffective from long ranges, they needed to close in on their quarry before being detected.
The medicine man and chief tended to stay in or near camp most of the time. In some tribes, they were even the same person.
Medicine Man ~ With little to no knowledge of drugs or more modern methods of treating diseases, the Medicine Man used other ways to attempt to drive evil spirits from his patients. He relied heavily on chanting, shaking his medicine rattle, and burning sweet smelling herbs. Find out the medicinal plants the Native Americans used on a daily basis.
Medicine Man’s Mascot ~ The Medicine Man was widely respected for more than just his healing arts, he was also admired for the pets or mascots that he kept.
It was not unusual for him to have tamed bears, pet crows, and trained dogs.
Chief Painting Face ~ Painting their bodies and faces with bright stripes of color was something the Natives did on a regular basis. In times of peace it was for decoration. While engaging in war, it was meant to distract and terrify their enemies.
Carrying small mirrors or looking glasses was common as they were also used for ornament and as signaling devices.
The women were the hardest working group of the tribe. Their many responsibilities and tasks kept the camp in order and functioning. Aside from hunting and fighting, the men didn’t do much else as they thought ordinary tasks were beneath them.
Stringing Vegetables By Young Women ~ The Native Americans didn’t do much gardening, they depended more on gathering vegetables that grew wild. One of these prized plants was known as pomblanch or white root.
Once it was gathered it was strung, dried in the sun, and then pounded until it turned into a flour.
Fleshing a Robe ~ Once the hunter killed the animal, his job was done and the women was expected to do everything else. This image shows her preparing the skin as her husband lounges against the tent smoking.
She will eventually either use the skin for her family or as a trade item, bartering it for sugar, flour, and possibly calico fabric at the trader’s store.
Gathering Grapes ~ It was not uncommon for the women of the tribe to travel long distances searching for wild fruits, roots, and vegetables. Grapes were a staple that they dried in preparation for winter use.
The women often took their baby or papoose with them while gathering, sometimes hanging them in their board from a branch. This allowed them to keep an eye on the baby.
So now you’ve had a chance to see what went on in a typical day in the life of a Native Americans. Would you have enjoyed that lifestyle?
You may also like: