8. The Plains Indians were not always nomadic horsemen, with their characteristic mounts only introduced to the region in the 16th century and widespread adoption not occurring until the 18th
Plains Indians, also known as the Indigenous People of the Great Plains, are the Native American tribes who traditionally resided on the Interior Plains of North America; encompassing many of the most famous native peoples, including the Comanche, Crow, and Lakota, among many others, the Plains Indians have come to represent the stereotypical image of North American indigenous people, especially as a leading part of the Old West genre narrative.
Despite the inseparability of the Plains Indian from the horse in popular imagination, reinforced through decades of media representations in this fashion, it is important to recognize that for the vast majority of their histories these indigenous people did not even have access to horses. Living a nomadic existence, the Plains tribes traditionally survived through hunter-gatherer techniques; heavily reliant upon the American Bison (commonly referred to incorrectly as buffalo) for subsistence, these tribes followed the seasonal migrations of these animals and utilized their remaining parts for tools, tepee skins, and clothing. These practices continued through the earliest encounters of Europeans with Plains Indians, with the first recorded meeting occurring in 1541 in which Francisco Vásquez de Coronado detailed extensively the lifestyle of the Apache people; depicting the tribespeople as carrying a gut of blood around their necks to drink, eating jerky as a staple food, and living in portable skin tepees, it is reasonable to assume, given corroborating archaeological evidence, that this manner of survival was replicated across the preceding millennia.
Although horses did indeed historically exist on the North American continent, it is believed that at some point between 8,000-12,000 years ago, for reasons unknown, they became extinct; as such, it was not until the reintroduction of horses by Europeans that the Plains Indians were able to adopt their iconic steeds. Originally acquired from Spanish colonists in New Mexico during the 16th century, either through trade or in some cases theft due to a Spanish prohibition on providing horses to the natives, by the 1730s the Comanche had collected sufficient quantities to transition their people in their entirety onto horseback; this momentous change enabled the Plains Indians to hunt and subsist over much larger areas of land, inevitably inviting conflict between previously distant tribes and beginning a new age in the histories of the indigenous peoples of North America.