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America's History in the Making

Resource Archive: Search Results

Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History

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Anonymous Sioux, PICTOGRAPHS OF THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS. A PRELIMINARY PAPER. Pp. 3-246 in Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1882-1883). Courtesy of Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Creator Lakota Tiyospaye (Winter Count Keeper)
Context The Lakota recorded key annual events by recording them on buffalo robes. Because the Lakota did not keep written histories, these robes are rare pieces of documentary evidence showing how they responded to contact early in the eighteenth century.
Audience The Lakota of current and future generations
Purpose To mark key historical events

Historical Significance

The Lakota of the Great Plains commonly recorded their history through winter counts. Ordinarily placed on buffalo robes, in a spiraling succession, these pictures identified the most important event of the year for an individual or a village. Some winter counts stretched over two or three generations.

The Columbian Exchange transformed relations between Native American groups on the Great Plains. The intersection of horses, buffalo, and firearms drew Lakota groups (such as the Santee) westward in the early 1700s, where they enjoyed great success as hunters, raiding at the expense of more sedentary and horticultural tribes like the Pawnee.

But the European presence brought devastating microbes as well as horses and guns. The first smallpox epidemic evidently arrived in the 1730s, killing great numbers of Native Americans by the 1780s. The figures reproduced below— which are drawn from several robes— depict diseases and other hardships that afflicted the Lakota after contact.

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