1720s - 1800 Indian migrations

The arrival of the horse, coupled with westward colonizing pressure from Europeans, pushed many tribal peoples out of the forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin onto the Great Plains where they thrived for a century as nomadic hunters.

      Most of the Great Plains and northern prairie lands would not be seen by Europeans until the second half of this century.  Anglo-European pioneers were not the first people to colonize the Great Plains in the 'historical period.'  That distinction goes to the Indians themselves, who moved out of the eastern forests onto the plains in two great waves.  The first, in the early 1700s, was a voluntary exodus; the second, extending over a thirty year period, 1816-45, was a forced march.

       The first wave - made up of thirty tribes - included Sioux and Cheyenne farmers from the upper Mississippi Valley, Blackfeet agrarians from the north of the Yellowstone, and Comanche and Kiowa hunter-gatherers from the Rocky Mountains.  They were joined by woodland Osages, Poncas, Otos, Missouri, and other Siouian speaking people.  New homelands extended from the heartland of modern day Canada, to the Rio Grande Valley, in Texas.  This also was the principal habitat for the American bison, which ranged freely across a million square miles of grasslands in herds that numbered in the millions.

       What made the Indian migration possible was the arrival of the horse, which first appeared in the southwest in the 16th century following the Spanish expeditions of discovery.  The horse was the grand catalyst that revolutionized native cultures and soon became their means of support and the center of their economy