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Puzzles From the Past Traveling Resource Trunk

Using this trunk to teach about foodways of Plains Indians:

This trunk contains several photographs and objects related to Native American foods. These items can be used to talk about hunting, growing crops, and gathering wild plants.

Native Americans relied on the environment to fulfill their needs at one time. Three basic methods of getting food were - hunting, gathering wild plants, and growing crops. The common denominator in these three is nature.

Food needed to be preserved and stored for use. Foods such as dried corn and beans, bison jerky, and pemmican were stored in rawhide bags or containers. Many of the gardening tribes dug bell shaped pits, or caches, in which to store and hide their food supplies. Pits varied in size from six to ten feet in depth and diameter, which allowed room for storage. It was important that the pit not be raided. It was a necessity to the tribe. If animals or other individuals stole the food supply the tribe might go hungry during the winter.

By drying and storing meat and plants, the Pawnee maintained a food supply when fresh food was not available. Dried food also remained usable much longer than fresh and was lighter and easier to transport. Dried mats woven from strips of pumpkin made good items for trade with tribes who did not garden. Trade between different groups existed even before European and American traders arrived.

Hunting

Trunk Objects Useful in teaching about hunting:

  • Scapula Hoe Blade - This is a bison scapula that has been altered for use as a hoe blade. When bison were hunted for food other parts of the animal were used for tools, clothing, shelter, etc.
  • Digging Stick Tip - This tip was made from a leg bone (tiba) of a bison. It would have been attached to a stick. When bison were hunted for food other parts of the animal were used for tools, clothing, shelter, etc.
  • Needle - Wichita women used needles made from bison ribs to sew prairie grass onto the pole frames of the grass homes. When bison were hunted for food other parts of the animal were used for tools, clothing, shelter, etc.
  • Bone Fragments - Most bones did not end up as tools. Rather they were broken up and used for their nutritional value.
  • Stone Dart Point - A dart with a stone point was used with an atlatl for hunting beginning about 7000 B.C. It replaced the earlier spear and would eventually be replaced by the bow and arrow.
  • Stone Scraper - This chipped stone tool had many uses, including scraping and cleaning animal hides.
  • Stone Arrow Point - The bow and arrow was brought to the Plains by eastern Woodland cultures around A. D. 1. The relatively small, light chipped stone points mounted arrow shafts replaced the heavier, and less, compact, atlatl and dart.
  • Metal Arrow Point - When the Spanish and French introduced iron and brass to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries Indians quickly recognized its superiority to chipped stone. They soon began making arrow points from metal rather than chipped stone.

Hunting large game was a major part of most Native Americans' lifestyles well into the 19th century. Large game such as deer, antelope, and especially bison formed the greatest part of the nomads diet and contributed significantly to the villagers' food supply.

The bison, or American buffalo as it is more commonly known, provided the major source of meat for the Native Americans of the Plains. Bison are easily hunted because they stampede readily. Although they have a keen sense of smell, they have very poor eyesight. A bison herd could number from about twenty to well into the hundreds. Many herds appeared on the Plains in enormous numbers.

Hunting bison was part of the annual cycle of life for many tribes. The Pawnee relied on summer and winter bison hunts to supply their meat. The Wichita left their villages for an annual hunt during the late fall or the winter. Throughout the remainder of the year they hunted game such as deer and antelope, but their main source of meat was the buffalo.

Hunting traditions varied from tribe to tribe, but in general the men hunted and the women dealt with the carcass. While on the hunt, groups of women would skin the bison and carry the meat and hides back to camp for processing. They used stone or bone tools. The meat was cut so thin that it took only a couple of days for it to dry and harden. By following the natural contours of the animal's body they did not cut through bone or across the grain of the meat.

Bison flesh was eaten fresh or dried for year-round use. The liver was often eaten raw, and the blood was drunk fresh. The intestines were cleaned and eaten raw, baked in the fire, or used for food storage. Almost any piece of meat could be made into jerky. Fat was collected and preserved in large balls or bags for later use in making pemmican. To make pemmican the dried meat was pounded until fluffy and light. It could be mixed with dried chokecherries and fat or left plain.

Most parts of the bison were used. Bones became tools, and the stomach a cooking "pot." It was hung on a tripod of sticks, filled with water, and heated by dropping hot stones into it. Meat and vegetables were added. The "pot" was eaten after it finished being used for cooking. Bones not used as tools could be broken up and boiled to remove any nutrition they contained. The hide found use in everything from clothing to a tipi cover to a rawhide storage container.

Growing Crops

Lesson 5 will provide you with additional information on Pawnee traditions associated with corn.

Trunk Images and Objects Useful in teaching about growing crops:

  • Graphic #1 - Illustration of a Native American woman using a scapula hoe to work the soil around corn plants.
  • Graphic #3 - Sketch of a Wichita village showing gardens in the foreground and a flat topped platform that probably served as a drying rack.
  • Graphic #4 - Photograph of a Wichita homestead of the 1890s. A flat topped drying rack is shown near the right hand side of the photo.
  • Graphic #10 - Illustration of how a scapula blade is fastened to a stick with rawhide to make a hoe.
  • Graphic #12 - Sketch of a Pawnee village showing its location near a river. The river location would have been important for the crops grown by the Pawnee.
  • Trash Filled Storage Pit (peach colored stratigraphy card) - Photograph and cross section sketch of a pit created for storing dried food.
  • Scapula Hoe Blade - This is a bison scapula that has been worked for use as a hoe blade. It has been sharpened and part of the bone has been removed from the length of the underside of it. This tool was so effective it was preferable for many long after metal hoe blades were available through trade.
  • Digging Stick Tip - This tip was made from a leg bone (tibia) of a bison. It would have been attached to a stick and used for planting seeds and cultivating crops.

Some Native Americans built permanent villages near rivers or creeks. They planted gardens near the water. Corn, beans, squash, watermelon, pumpkins and sunflowers made up their major crops.

Women were responsible for planting and tending the gardens in Pawnee villages. They planted crops in plots assigned to them by the village chief. Pawnee women grew many varieties of corn including flint, flour, dent, sweet, popcorn, and the rare pod corn. No one tended the gardens while the village traveled on their summer hunt. Upon their return the entire village worked to harvest the crops. Some corn was picked when ripe and roasted in the husk. The kernels were cut from the cob with a clam shell and dried. Other varieties, especially the blue flour corn, were allowed to dry on the stalk. After drying the kernels were pried off with a pointed stick. Flour corn was a favorite with the Pawnee as it could be easily crushed or ground.

The Wichita also had gardens. Tools, such as bison scapula hoes and bone tipped digging sticks, were often used for cultivating crops. At times the Wichita roasted or boiled their corn and ate it immediately after harvest. Usually they roasted the corn and placed it on a specially constructed arbor to dry. The dried corn was shelled and used in meat and corn soups or was ground into cornmeal for bread. Shelled corn was also placed into hide bags and stored for future use. By drying produce from the gardens, the Wichita preserved food for the winter when they lacked fresh produce. Large pits dug into the ground provided a place to store food after it was dried or smoked.

Gathering Wild Food

Trunk Images and Objects Useful in teaching about gathering wild plants:

  • Graphic #3 - Sketch of a Wichita village showing gardens in the foreground and a flat-topped platform that probably served as a drying rack.
  • Graphic #4 - Photograph of a Wichita homestead of the 1890s. A flat-topped drying rack is shown near the right hand side of the photo.
  • Graphic #12 - Sketch of a Pawnee village showing its location near a river. The cattails in the foreground would have been a food source during the year.
  • Trash Filled Storage Pit (peach colored stratigraphy card) - Photograph and cross section sketch of a pit created for storing dried food.
  • Scapula Hoe Blade - This is a bison scapula that has been worked for use as a hoe blade. It has been sharpened and part of the bone has been removed from the length of the underside of it. This tool was so effective that many people preferred to continue using it long after metal hoe blades were available through trade.
  • Digging Stick Tip - This tip was made from a leg bone (tibia) of a bison. It would have been attached to a stick and used for planting seeds and cultivating crops.

Gathering wild fruits, berries, and other plant foods from the Plains supplemented a diet of meat, and provided a good source of nutrition. When the bison hunt or the corn crop failed, or did not provide as much food as needed, gathering sustained tribes for short periods of time.

Many different kinds of berries were picked from short bushes growing among the thick Plains grass. Plums, strawberries, cattails, onions, water chestnuts, and other edible plants could be found on the Kansas plains. Delicacies included tiny wild strawberries and plums. Some were eaten fresh, but most were carefully sorted and spread out in the sun to dry. The dried fruits provided vitamins for Native Americans during the long winter months when fresh fruit was not available.

Herbs were also picked and dried. Peppermint was mixed with pounded meat to keep the meat fresh.

Gathering wild plants was a seasonal task. Different plants, or parts of plants, were gathered at different times of the year. Gathering was a part of the seasonal journeys to and from the annual bison hunts.

In the spring and summer Pawnee women gathered hundreds of bushels of Indian potatoes. They collected wild onions, cucumbers and lamb's quarter in addition to wild plums and chokecherries. Young cattails shoots and buds were boiled and eaten.

During the fall they gathered Jerusalem artichokes. The Pawnee ate the roots of this plant fresh or saved them to use during the winter in soups. Sunflowers grew wild in Kansas. Their seeds were gathered and roasted. The seeds could be eaten after being roasted or ground into flour for later use in breads or soups.

Wild plants were less abundant in the winter. Cattail roots could be gathered all winter and baked or boiled like potatoes or ground into flour for making bread. These were eaten by the Pawnee when other foods were not available. Rose hips, the small fruits formed on rose bushes, were gathered regularly by many tribes. The seeds of the lotus, a flower that grows in water, would be parched, ground and put into bread or soup. The roots of this plant could be peeled, cut up, and cooked with meat or corn.

 

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