Native American Tribes of the Plains

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13137

You may already know the Plains Indians. They rode horses, followed the buffalo herds, lived in tee-pees, and fought to keep their land. Learn more here, including how to say "I Love You" in Comanche!


United States, World Cultures

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start
  • Did you know that horses went extinct in North America about 11,000 years ago?

The natives who lived on the continent never even saw a horse until around 1500.

  • So how did the plains natives become expert horse riders?

Watch the video below to find out!

Image - Video

Many tribes lived in the North American plains with different languages and cultures, but they shared a common way of life and a love for the open spaces.

The Plains Indians occupied the grasslands in the territory right in the middle of the country from Canada down to Texas. It's an area of almost a million square miles!

Classification of indigenous peoples of North America map

As you explore this lesson, take note of the homes, food, skills, natural resources, languages, and culture of the native Plains tribes. You'll use this information in the Got It? section.

Buffalo and Farming

For years, many Native American tribes hunted the wild buffalo that roamed the plains. We often think of these tribes as nomadic, following the buffalo herds.

But tribes on the eastern half of the plains had access to rivers and better soil for farming, so they settled in villages and farmed the three sisters that many other natives grew: corn, beans, and squash.

These tribes spent part of the year in the villages and part of it hunting buffalo.

Watch the video below for a short introduction.

Image - Video

Something fascinating about the Plains natives is that they used every part of the buffalo. None of it was wasted!

The hoofs and horns were carved into bowls and spoons; the hair was woven into ropes; the fat was made into soap, and so on.

Watch as a young boy named Red Feather explains how his family works and plays. Take note of the different ways the buffalo parts are used!

Image - Video

  • What did you learn about how the buffalo parts are used?


When the natives first saw horses, they called them big dogs. But they quickly learned how to catch, train, breed, and, of course, ride them.

They became some of the best riders in the world. Even children learned to ride, often very soon after learning to walk!

When the tribes of the plains learned how to ride horses, it changed their lives dramatically. Horses enabled them to travel much faster and farther in pursuit of the buffalo, making them stronger in battle.

Watch this next video to learn more.

Image - Video


The Plains tribes spoke many different languages. Listen to some of them in the videos below.

Image - Video

Since they all spoke different languages, the Plains tribes invented a language they could use with each other. They used hand signals for many common words, creating an early sign language.


Now look at some of the tribes that lived on the plains.

Image - Video

End of the Buffalo Hunters

Learn about the destruction of the buffalo herds in this next video.

Image - Video

The arrival of the white man and the destruction of the buffalo brought the traditional life of the Plains Indians to an end.

Many tribes fought for their freedom, and the fighting lasted 36 years. The Sioux held out as long as they could until they were massacred at a place called Wounded Knee in 1890.

That massacre marked the end of the Plain's way of life.

Now, move to the Got It? section, where you'll summarize what you learned in a graphic organizer and create an infographic about the buffalo!

Image - Button Next