Back to the Hide

4 out of 4

What do you think is happening in this picture? How did these people live differently from the Indians of the Plains?


Use evidence from other sources to help you piece together the story.

The whole country is divided into plain, bluff, and valley, and there is not a rod of the 16,000,000 acres that is not the finest grazing and which is not covered with a luxuriant growth of blue, buffalo, and gramma grasses. The whole country is exceptionally well watered by the Republican River, and the great stream has among its tributaries on the north bank, Hoickearea, White Man, Black Wood, Eight Mile, Little River, Red, Stinking Water, Medicine, Turkey, and Elm; on the south bank are Prairie Dog, Sappa Beaver, White, Box Elder, Ash, Cottonwood, and North and South Forks. No particular description of these streams can be given, but they are mostly well timbered and full of beautiful spots and natural homes for hundreds of raisers and tens of thousand of herds.

Here the buffalo were thickest, and only ten years ago it was estimated that there were 1,000,000 head grazing on the Republican and its tributaries. They have all gone, and not 50,000 head of cattle or sheep have yet replaced them. What a field for the future stock kings of the West!

--The Beef Bonanza; or, How to Get Rich on the Plains; Being a Description of Cattle-growing, Sheep-farming, Horse-raising, and Dairying in the West by Gen. James S. Brisbin, U.S.A., Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1881, p 99.

These men [buffalo hunters] have done more in the last two years, and will do in the next year, more to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular Army has done in the last thirty years. They are destroying the Indians' commissary; it is well known that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. For the sake of lasting peace, let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as a second forerunner of an advanced civilization.

--Gen. Philip Sheridan, 1874

Can you find this on the hide painting?

A patent form for barbed wire. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

How did this product change life on the northern Plains?

Advertisement for barbed wire. 1877
Baker Library, Harvard University

How are these people like the ones in the hide painting?

A train comes through Kansas. Kansas State Historical Society

How are these people using the land?

A windmill towers over a farm. Butcher Collection, Nebraska Historical Society

How are these people using the land?

A husband and wife stand on their farm. Butcher Collection, Nebraska Historical Society

Notes from a Smithsonian Historian

The 57 figures in suits and hats on the left side of the painting and the 59 on the right side represent the thousands of settlers who traveled by railroad and wagon train to the northern Plains. The Indians called them "the others." Settlers, unlike the Indians, believed in personal property. They staked claims to the land and put up fences to mark their property. They plowed the land and cultivated crops, turning the vast prairies into fields of corn, wheat, and other agricultural commodities.

The 59 cows in this section represent the arrival of cattlemen and the subsequent destruction of habitats for buffalo and other wildlife.

As early as the 1840s, the U.S. Army was seeking to clear the northern Plains of so-called hostile Indians. Thousands were killed in the Indian Wars of the 1860s and 1870s. In addition, professional buffalo hunters destroyed the herds, making it impossible for the Indians to maintain their traditional way of life. The U.S. government removed surviving Indians to reservations. Settlers moved onto the land.