Amidst the snowy expanse of the Pryor Mountains, an Apsaroke man resiliently traverses the thick drift, burdened by a bundle of firewood. For countless millennia, these sacred mountains have cradled and sustained diverse Native American nations. Archaeological research reveals an enduring human presence in this region, spanning ten thousand years, a testament to the deep-rooted connection between indigenous communities and this storied land.
From ancient footsteps to present-day traditions, the Pryor Mountains stand as a living testament to the rich tapestry of human history and the enduring resilience of Native American cultures. The Apsaroke still return to the mountains year after year to complete vision quests, a spiritual ascent into the mountains to receive divine wisdom and guidance. Apsaroke people still call the stretch of land “The Backbone of Earth.”
The Atsina people were much smaller in number than the surrounding Cree nation and found themselves at loggerheads with the much better-armed and mighty group. Due to this, Atsina warriors relied on stealth more than direct conflict when dealing with attacks.
Dutch and French traders were supplying the Cree and Assiniboines with guns in a trade agreement as the fur industry grew. The far less powerful bow and arrow were no match for the bullets from the Cree, who were driving the Atsina out of their homelands to hunt. In retaliation, the Atsina burnt down two trading posts.
The Rush Gatherer
Edward S. Curtis captures a woman holding a freshly gathered bundle of rush. Rush, formally known as Juncus, is a reed that grows worldwide and is most commonly found at the edges of bodies of water or in very damp, low-lying soil. Humans have utilized rush for millennia.
Native American communities found rush particularly useful for both practical and medicinal uses. The strength of the rush leaf and its flexibility allow for the effortless weaving of items such as baskets. The sprouts and seeds of the Juncus were also consumed to heal a number of health ailments.
As the Native American man nears his tipi, burdened with a weighty load of firewood, the practicality of the structure becomes apparent. While tipis provided shelter, their design presented challenges in harsh winters. The conical shape facilitated the escape of warm air, necessitating the constant burning of firewood to maintain a comfortable temperature within. This symbiotic relationship between the inhabitants and their dwelling reflects the resourcefulness and adaptability of Native American cultures.
Ideally, a winter tipi should be constructed much smaller than a summer one, as the heat radiates much better in the confined space. Ironically, the snow actually helps the tipi stay warm; the snow provides natural insulation and traps heat.
A Hopi family gathers close to a fire being lit in their adobe in this unique colored 1905 capture. Adobes were one of the first permanent dwellings for Native Americans. They were built in large communities called “pueblos,” and the people that built them – such as this Hopi family – would come to be known as “the Pueblo Indians.”
Unlike more nomadic people, pueblos were particularly vulnerable to attack as enemies would always know where to find their targets. One of the largest pueblos in North America is the settlement of the Anasazi people, who mysteriously disappeared.