Southern Plains villagers

Last updated
The approximate area occupied by the Southern Plains villagers Southern Plains villagers.jpg
The approximate area occupied by the Southern Plains villagers

The Southern Plains villagers were semi-sedentary Native Americans who lived on the Great Plains in western Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and southeastern Colorado from about AD 800 until AD 1500.

Native Americans in the United States Indigenous peoples of the United States (except Hawaii)

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except Hawaii. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The term "American Indian" excludes Native Hawaiians and some Alaska Natives, while Native Americans are American Indians, plus Alaska Natives of all ethnicities. Native Hawaiians are not counted as Native Americans by the US Census, instead being included in the Census grouping of "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander".

Great Plains broad expanse of flat land west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada

The Great Plains is the broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, that lies west of the Mississippi River tallgrass prairie in the United States and east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. It embraces:

Oklahoma State of the United States of America

Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the fifty United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which dramatically increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.


Also known as Plains Villagers, this pre-Columbian culture cultivated maize and other crops, hunted bison and other game, and gathered wild plants for food. The people generally lived in hamlets of a few dwellings adjacent to flood plains of rivers such as the Washita and South Canadian Rivers in Oklahoma and Texas. Thousands of hamlets have been identified. [1]

Maize Cereal grain

Maize, also known as corn, is a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico about 10,000 years ago. The leafy stalk of the plant produces pollen inflorescences and separate ovuliferous inflorescences called ears that yield kernels or seeds, which are fruits.

Bison genus of mammals

Bison are large, even-toed ungulates in the genus Bison within the subfamily Bovinae.

Washita River river in the United States of America

The Washita River is a river in the states of Texas and Oklahoma in the United States. The river is 295 miles (475 km) long and terminates at its confluence with the Red River, which is now part of Lake Texoma on the Texas–Oklahoma border.

The Southern Plains villagers were likely the ancestors, at least in part, of the historic Wichita and other Caddoan peoples. Some of the Southern Plains Villagers survived into the historic era in the 16th century when Spanish explorers first ventured onto the Great Plains. The Wichita's first contact with Europeans was in 1541 when they were visited by Francisco Coronado in Kansas. [2]

Wichita people confederation of Native Americans

The Wichita people or Kitikiti'sh are a confederation of Southern Plains Native American tribes. Historically they spoke the Wichita language and Kichai language, both Caddoan languages. They are indigenous to Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas.

The semi-agrarian economy of the Southern Plains villagers was always vulnerable due to frequent droughts and climatic variations, although the livelihood of the villagers was enhanced by the periodic abundance of bison. [3]

The Southern Plains villagers, especially on their western fringe, were influenced by the agricultural Ancestral Pueblo peoples of the Rio Grande River Valley of New Mexico. They traded bison meat, robes, and stones for tools to the Ancestral Pueblos on their west and to the Caddoans on their east for maize, pottery, and Osage orange wood for making bows. [4]

Bow and arrow ranged weapon system consisting of an elastic launching device and long-shafted projectiles

The bow and arrow is a ranged weapon system consisting of an elastic launching device (bow) and long-shafted projectiles (arrows).

Archaeologists have divided the Southern Plains villagers into many different archaeological variants based on differences in what has been found of their material possessions. The Redbud Plains variant includes the Paoli, Washita River, Custer, and Turkey Creek phases of western Oklahoma; the Henrietta and Wylie Creek focuses are located in north-central Texas; the Upper Canark variant in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles includes the Antelope Creek Phase, and the Buried City and Zimms complexes; the Apishapa phase in southeastern Colorado; and the Bluff Creek, Wilmore, and Pratt complexes are in south central Kansas. The proto-historic Wichita villages in central Kansas are called the Great Bend aspect. [5]

The Apishapa culture, or Apishapa Phase, a prehistoric culture from 1000-1400, was named based upon an archaeological site in the Lower Apishapa canyon in Colorado. The Apishapa River, a tributary of the Arkansas River, formed the Apishapa canyon. In 1976, there were 68 Apishapa sites on the Chaquaqua Plateau in southeastern Colorado.


In the opinion of archaeologists, the Southern Plains villagers were likely, in whole or part, speakers of Caddoan languages, the ancestors of the historical Wichita, Kichai, and possibly the Pawnee. Some of the easternmost sites of the Southern Plains villagers show an almost unbroken record of occupation for thousands of years and thus it appears, again in whole or part, that the villager's culture developed from people who had long lived in the area rather than being introduced by migrants. The apparent Caddoan origin of the villagers, however, does not preclude the possibility of non-Caddoan speakers and linguistic and ethnic diversity in the region. [6]

Three technological developments in the early centuries of the Common Era led to the replacement of nomadic hunter-gatherer cultures by semi-sedentary cultures on the Southern Great Plains: the replacement of spears and the atlatl by the bow and arrow, a more efficient tool for hunting; the introduction of pottery for storage and cookery; and the adoption of maize agriculture as a major source of food. None of these new technologies was likely invented in the Southern Plains region but rather the knowledge seeped into the area from outside. With these new technologies, the population probably expanded and it became possible or necessary for the former hunter-gatherers of the Southern Plains to become semi-sedentary agriculturalists. [7]


Some of the earliest remains of the Southern Plains Villagers may be in what is called the Paoli phase, located around the Oklahoma town of Paoli and the Washita River Valley and the nearby South Canadian River Valley. Radiocarbon dates for Paoli sites are from AD 900 until about 1250 when the Paoli phase evolved into the Washita River phase, dating from 1250 to 1450. Paoli village sites developed in place from earlier hunter-gatherer settlements. The Paoli and Washita River people lived in hamlets of up to ten thatched-roof houses typically built on terraces overlooking rivers. Hamlets often stood only a few hundred meters from each other indicating a fairly dense population. The Washita phase is distinguished from Paoli by differences in arrowheads, pottery, and architecture. [8]

These people cultivated maize and indigenous marsh elder, hunted and caught deer, rabbits, fish, and mussels, and gathered edible wild plants such as Chenopodium (goosefoot or lambs-quarters), amaranth, sunflower, little barley, maygrass, dropseed, and erect knotweed. They added beans and squash to their crops around 1200. As cultivation of maize, beans, and squash, the "Three Sisters" of Native American agriculture, expanded, use of earlier indigenous crops declined. Bison remains are scarce in earlier sites, but bison became more important as a source of food around 1300, indicating that their herds may have become more abundant in the region of the Paoli and Washita settlements. [9]

The Custer (800–1250) and Turkey Creek phases (1250–1450) were located further west than the Paoli and Washita phases but on the same Washita and South Canadian Rivers. Custer and Turkey Creek people knapped projectile points stones from the Alibates quarries of the Texas Panhandle. There is no evidence that they grew squash and beans in addition to maize. They possibly had a greater reliance on gathering wild foods rather than cultivating crops. This finding is consistent with the drier climate of western Oklahoma compared to the more easterly Paoli and Washita phases. During the later Turkey Creek phase reliance on bison as a major food source increased. [10]

The Henrietta focus or Henrietta complex extends from the Red River valley of Oklahoma and Texas southward to the Clear Fork of the Brazos River near Graham, Texas. The Henrietta focus dates from approximately AD 1100 to 1500. The best-known site of the focus is Harrell, near Graham, which is also the southernmost major site at which Southern Plains villagers lived. South of Harrell the pre-Columbian Indians in Texas were hunter-gatherers, who apparently did not practice agriculture. The Harrell site features a large cemetery demonstrating that the site was inhabited for thousands of year. [11] The Wylie focus is located north of Dallas and reflects a blend of the Woodland agricultural society of the Caddo in East Texas and the Great Plains societies to its west. It dates from AD 1000 or earlier. [12]

Arrowheads made from Alibates flint found in the Texas panhandle were widely traded by the Southern Plains Villagers. Alfl arrowheads from flint 20060717161306.jpg
Arrowheads made from Alibates flint found in the Texas panhandle were widely traded by the Southern Plains Villagers.

The Upper Canark variant includes the Antelope Creek Phase, Panhandle phase, Optima focus, and the Buried City and Zimms complexes. All these manifestations of Canark were located in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, the Zimms complex extending into western Oklahoma. [13] The Canark variant dates from about 1100 to 1500. It is distinguished by the stone-slab foundations of its dwellings, which in multifamily and single-family structures. The people of the Canark variant may have borrowed the technology of their construction from the Pueblo peoples in the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and were possibly related linguistically to the Pueblo speakers. The majority opinion; however, is that they spoke a Caddoan language and were related to the Southern Plains villagers living to their east. [14]

The people of the Canark variant grew maize, beans, squash, and probably sunflowers in addition to hunting (mainly bison) and gathering wild food plants. The drought-prone area they occupied is marginal for agriculture without irrigation and the bulk of its 16 to 24 inches annual rainfall arrived in a few thunderstorms that cause flooding. Thus, the Antelope Creek people probably used water harvesting or "Ak-Chin" dryland farming techniques similar to those practiced by the Ancestral Pueblo peoples. [15]

The Apishapa Phase in southeastern Colorado dates from 900 to 1400 and is characterized by stone slab architecture, often in defensible positions on mesas. The Apishaspa culture probably evolved in place from the earlier Graneros phase. They appear to have been primarily hunter-gatherers, but archaeologists have found some evidence of maize cultivation. Agriculture, however, was probably relatively unimportant due to the semiarid climate and the rocky canyons and dry mesas where many Apishapa dwellings have been found. It is uncertain whether the abundant petroglyphs of the area were the work of the Apishapa people. [16]

The Bluff Creek, Pratt, and Wilmore complexes are located in south-central Kansas near and along the tributaries of the Arkansas River. Bluff Creek is the earliest, dating from about 1000 until 1500. Pratt and Wilmore perhaps derive from Bluff Creek, dating from about 1400 until 1500. The Kansas sites are similar to the sites of the Southern Plains Villagers further south in Oklahoma. Along the Arkansas River in northernmost Oklahoma is the Uncas site, which is quite different than the others in the character of its dwellings and pottery and possibly represents an intrusion of unrelated people. [17]

Protohistoric period

Around 1400, during the Wheeler phase, some Southern Plains Villages moved from small, scattered villages to larger agrarian settlements, particular Little River focus and Lower Walnut focus peoples in south-central Kansas and north-central Oklahoma. These urban, Southern Plains farmers are sometimes called Coalesced Villagers. Meanwhile, others shifted their subsistence patterns, to rely less on agriculture and more upon bison-hunting, [18]

Several theories have been advanced to explain why many Southern Plains Villagers opted to relay more heavily on bison-hunting. First, Southern Athabascans, the Apaches, moved into the Southern Plains and displaced the villagers. Second, bison populations on the Southern Great Plains fluctuated. They may have increased in numbers around AD 1400, and villagers may have begun to rely less on agriculture and more on hunting which required them to be more mobile and less sedentary. Third, a long-lasting drought or climatic change to drier conditions may have reduced the feasibility of an agricultural economy on the southern plains. These theories are not mutually exclusive. [19]

When Coronado traversed the Great Plains of Texas and Oklahoma in 1541, he found only bison-hunting nomads rather than farming villages. The Querechos he found near present day Amarillo, Texas were almost certainly Apaches. The Teyas he found east of present day Lubbock, Texas might also have been Apaches, or perhaps the Caddoan descendants of the Southern Plains villagers. Coronado also found maize-growing Wichita Indians in the land he called Quivira in present-day Rice County, Kansas.

In 1601 Juan de Oñate found the agricultural Rayados, his term for the Wichitas, living in the large settlement of Etzanoa in present-day Arkansas City, Kansas. Both the Quivirans and Rayados were living more than 200 miles east and in much more favorable climates for agriculture than where maize and other crops had been grown by the Southern Plains villagers hundreds of years earlier. [20] The protohistorical Wichita settlements in Kansas are called the Great Bend aspect by archaeologists.

See also

Related Research Articles

Indian Territory U.S. 17th-, 18th- and early-20th-century territory set aside by the United States Government for the relocation of the indigenous peoples of the Americas

As general terms, Indian Territory, the Indian Territories, or Indian country describe an evolving land area set aside by the United States Government for the relocation of Native Americans who held aboriginal title to their land. In general, the tribes ceded land they occupied in exchange for land grants in 1803. The concept of an Indian Territory was an outcome of the 18th- and 19th-century policy of Indian removal. After the Civil War (1861–1865), the policy of the government was one of assimilation.

Caddoan languages family of Native American languages

The Caddoan languages are a family of languages native to the Great Plains. They were spoken by tribal groups of the central United States, from present-day North Dakota south to Oklahoma. In the 21st century, they are critically endangered, as the number of native speakers has declined markedly.

Plains Indians Native Americans/First Nations peoples of the Great Plains of North America.

Plains Indians, Interior Plains Indians or Indigenous people of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies are the Native American tribes and First Nation band governments who have traditionally lived on the greater Interior Plains in North America. Their historic nomadic culture and development of equestrian culture and resistance to domination by the government and military forces of Canada and the United States have made the Plains Indian culture groups an archetype in literature and art for American Indians everywhere.

Kichai people

The Kichai tribe was a Native American Southern Plains tribe that lived in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Their name for themselves was K'itaish.

Quivira is a place named by explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1541, for the mythical "Seven Cities of Gold" that he never found. The location of Quivira is believed by most authorities to be in central Kansas near present-day Lyons extending northeast to Salina. The Quivirans were the forebears of the modern day Wichita Indians and Caddoan tribes, such as the Pawnee or Arikara. The city of Etzanoa, which flourished between 1450 and 1700, is thought to be part of Quivira.


The Tawakoni are a Southern Plains Native American tribe, closely related to the Wichitas. They historically spoke a Wichita language of the Caddoan language family. Currently, they are enrolled in the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, a federally recognized tribe.

History of Oklahoma history of the U.S. state of Oklahoma

The history of Oklahoma refers to the history of the state of Oklahoma and the land that the state now occupies. Areas of Oklahoma east of its panhandle were acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, while the Panhandle was not acquired until the U.S. land acquisitions following the Mexican–American War.

Prehistory of Colorado provides an overview of the activities that occurred prior to Colorado's recorded history. Colorado experienced cataclysmic geological events over billions of years, which shaped the land and resulted in diverse ecosystems. The ecosystems included several ice ages, tropical oceans, and a massive volcanic eruption. Then, ancient layers of earth rose to become the Rocky Mountains.

Caddoan Mississippian culture prehistoric Native American culture in south-eastern United States

The Caddoan Mississippian culture was a prehistoric Native American culture considered by archaeologists as a variant of the Mississippian culture. The Caddoan Mississippians covered a large territory, including what is now Eastern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Northeast Texas, and Northwest Louisiana. Archaeological evidence that the cultural continuity is unbroken from prehistory to the present; that the direct ancestors of the modern Caddo Nation of Oklahoma included the speakers of the Caddo and related Caddo language in prehistoric times and at first European contact, is unquestioned today.

Teyas were a Native American people living near Lubbock, Texas who first made contact with Europeans in 1541 when Francisco Vásquez de Coronado traveled to them.


Etzanoa is a historical Wichita city, located in present-day Arkansas City, Kansas, near the Arkansas River, that flourished between 1450 and 1700. Dubbed "the Great Settlement" by Spanish explorers, who visited the site, Etzanoa may have housed 20,000 Wichita people. The historical city is considered part of Quivira.

The Taovaya tribe of the Wichita people were Native Americans originally from Kansas, who moved south into Oklahoma and Texas in the 18th century. They spoke the Taovaya dialect of the Wichita language, a Caddoan language. Taovaya people today are enrolled in the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, a federally recognized tribe headquartered in Anadarko, Oklahoma.

The Antelope Creek Phase was an American Indian culture in the Texas Panhandle and adjacent Oklahoma dating from AD 1200 to 1450. The two most important areas where the Antelope Creek people lived were in the Canadian River valley centered on present-day Lake Meredith near the city of Borger, Texas and the Buried City complex in Wolf Creek valley near the town of Perryton, Texas. Settlements are also found in Oklahoma near the town of Guymon and along the Beaver River.

Trinchera Cave Archeological District

The Trinchera Cave Archeological District (5LA9555) is an archaeological site in Las Animas County, Colorado with artifacts primarily dating from 1000 BC to AD 1749, although there were some Archaic period artifacts found. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 and is located on State Trust Lands.

Panhandle culture

Panhandle culture is a prehistoric culture of the southern High Plains during the Middle Ceramic Period from AD 1200 to 1400. Panhandle sites are primarily in the panhandle and west central Oklahoma and the northern half of the Texas Panhandle.

Outline of Colorado prehistory

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the prehistoric people of Colorado, which covers the period of when Native Americans lived in Colorado prior to contact with the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition in 1776. People's lifestyles included nomadic hunter-gatherering, semi-permanent village dwelling, and residing in pueblos.

Agriculture on the prehistoric Great Plains

Agriculture on the prehistoric Great Plains describes the agriculture of the Indian peoples of the Great Plains of the United States and southern Canada in the Pre-Columbian era and before extensive contact with European explorers, which in most areas occurred by 1750. The principal crops grown by Indian farmers were maize (corn), beans, and squash, including pumpkins. Sunflowers, goosefoot, tobacco, gourds, and plums, were also grown.

The Plains Village period or the Plains Village tradition is an archaeological period on the Great Plains from North Dakota down to Texas, spanning approximately 900/950 to 1780/1850 CE.


  1. Drass, Richard. R. (1998), "The Southern Plains Villagers" in Archaeology on the Great Plains, W. Raymond Wood, ed., Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, pp. 415-447. Downloaded from JSTOR.
  2. Schlessier, Karl H., Plains Indians, A.D. 500–1500 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 355–359
  3. Drass, Richard R. (February 2008), "Corn, Beans, and Bison: Cultivated Plants and Changing Economies of the Late Prehistoric Villagers on the Plains of Oklahoma and Northwest Texas", Plains Anthropologist, Vol. 53, No. 205, pp 9-10. Downloaded from JSTOR.
  4. Vehik, Susan C. "Trade and Political Development on the Southern Plains" (January 2002), American Antiquity, Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 37-41. Downloaded from JSTOR; Texas Beyond History, accessed 15 Feb 2015
  5. Drass (1998), pp 415-416
  6. "Putting the Pieces Together:the Harrell Site Reconsidered", Texas Before History, http://www.texasbeyondhistorynet/harrell/reconsidered.html%5B%5D, accessed 1 Feb 2015; "The Roulston-Rogers site" Oklahoma's Past" Archived 2014-10-18 at the Wayback Machine , accessed 1 Feb 2015
  7. "Putting the Pieces Together: the Harrell Site Reconsidered", Texas Before History, http://www.texasbeyondhistorynet/harrell/reconsidered.html%5B%5D, accessed 1 Feb 2015
  8. Drass, Richard R. (1999), "Redefining Plains Village Complexes in Oklahoma: The Paoli Phase and the Redbud Plains Variant", Plains Anthropologist, Vol 44, No. 168, pp. 123-133. Downloaded from JSTOR.
  9. Drass (1999), pp. 123–133
  10. Drass (1999), pp. 133–137
  11. "The Harrell Site", Texas Beyond History,, accessed 3 Feb 2015
  12. Lynott, Mark J. (August 1977), "Radiocarbon Dating the Wylie Focus North Central Texas", Plains Anthropologist, Vol. 22, No. 77, pp. 233-327. Downloaded from JSTOR
  13. Gibbon, Guy E. Ed. Archaeology of Pre-Historic Native America: An Encyclopedia. NY: multi-familyRoutledge, 1998, p. 20
  14. Drass (1998), pp. 415-418
  15. Texas Beyond History. city/life.html, accessed Nov 17, 2010; Drass (1998), pp. 415-418
  16. Drass (1998), pp. 422-425
  17. Drass (1998), pp. 439-441
  18. Vehik, Susan V. "Coalesced Villagers". Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  19. Drass (1998), pp. 446-447
  20. Flint, Richard (2008), No Settlement, No Conquest, Albuquerque: U of NM Press, p. 157; Drass, Richard R. and Baugh, Tomothy, G. (1997), "The Wheeler Phase and Cultural Continuity in the Southern Plains." Plains Anthropologist, Vol. 42, No. 160, 198-200