I just watched Dances with Wolves. I realize this is hollywood and all, but how realistic was the portrayal of Sioux life? While watching I found myself thinking that if such a way of life exsisted I would want to join them. The way it was portrayed, everyone in the tribe had a valuable job and a purpose, which I suppose is the attraction.
Anyone have the “straight dope” on what life was actually like for the plains indians?
I wanna follow up on that question. The buffalo was central to the existence of many plains tribes. What kinds of veggies were eaten? I’ve found wild onions and mushrooms, berries…what other foods were used for a balanced and nutritious breakfast before Cap’n Crunch came around? I don’t mean to hijack; food is an important part of life, so I don’t think it’s too unrelated.
My opinion is that the depiction of every day life on the Plains was very much stylized, although there probably was some basis in fact. As to every member of a tribe having an important job, you need to consider that merely surviving required a concerted effort–there was little room for folk who did not contribute. As to living under similar conditions, don’t kid yourself: Those people had no real medical care, infant mortality was “high” (no cite, sorry) life expectancy was “low” (no cite) and life revolved around the buffalo–a shortage of buffalo meant starvation, plain and simple. What grains the people ate were usually coarse and unrefined, resulting in rapid tooth wear and loss. As a former resident of South Dakota, I can promise you that the winters are brutal and I used to marvel at how any of the Native Peoples survived while living in a hide tent. I suspect that many of them didn’t. The simple, honest, outdoor life has attractions, but IMHO good medical care and indoor plumbing are things I wouldn’t choose to give up. YMMV. Maybe you should hunt up one of the few surviving communes and try to join up.
Let me recommend a little-known movie: A Man Called Horse. A slightly less romantic view of plains Indians.
Yes, there was a certain appeal to living on the plains, in nature. At least when the weather was nice. Contrary to rumor, the great plains weren’t just grass - a true prarie has a wide variety of plants, some of them edible to humans. These folks also traded with people on the fringes of the praries, and some tribes spent only part of the year on the plains and practiced casual agriculture as well as buffalo hunting (plant in the spring, hunt buffalo in summer, come back in the fall and see how much of the garden survived the weeds and summer). While their diet was meat-heavy, they did eat some vegees and fruit
But, as has been pointed out, infant mortality was high. Medical care was pretty sketchy - people died of infections or were crippled by injuries that we routinely fix. Low level warfare and raids were a constant feature of life, and in addition to stealing horses tribes stole people, too, making them slaves to one degree or another.
On the other hand, “civilized” white folk at the time had pretty hard lives, too - their medical care wasn’t significantly better. They, too, had high infant mortality. Injuries were common. And the whites (and the African-descended folks living with them) had crowd diseases the natives didn’t, because the natives didn’t live in large enough groups to maintain these diseases. (When, however, these diseases hit the natives they were devastating since the natives had no resistance whatsoever) What we would call “industrial disease” - exposure to unhealthy levels of chemicals, lead, mercury, and so forth - were also very common in 19th century America. As an example - the average life-expectancy of a daugerretypist (an early form of photography) was about 2 years.
So… you could live in unhealthy Boston surronded by disease and filth but with creature comforts, or out on the plains with a healthier lifestyle but one requiring more physical work and fewer luxuries.