National Geographic : 1944 Jul
Indians of Our Western Plains the Cree, Plains Chippewa, Gros Ventre, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. The Arikara, the Pawnee, the Caddo, and the Wichita speak Caddoan dialects. On the western High Plains the Shoshonean stock is represented by the Northern and .Wind River Shoshoni, the Bannock, the Ute, and the Comanche. The Athapascan stock con tains, on the Plains, the Sarsi and the Kiowa Apache. Kiowa and Nez Perce belong to two dif ferent groups. The Siouan languages seem to have impinged on the Plains from the east, the Algonkin from the north, the Shoshonean from the west, and the Caddo from the south. "Basic Indian" Was Sign Language Perhaps as a result of this linguistic diver sity, combined with nomadic habits, the In dians of the Plains developed the most effec tive sign language ever devised. By graceful signs and gestures made with the fingers and hands they communicated with one another as fluently as by oral speech. So realistic were the gestures and so adept the sign talkers of the Plains that even the uninitiated, with very little practice, could follow the trend of this unique manual con versation. Sign language became of great use to the early white trappers and traders, and later to American military men. The majority of the tribes we consider most typical moved into the Plains in quite recent times, many of them after 1700. In that year, for example, the Cheyenne and Arap aho were farmers living in permanent vil lages in the region of Minnesota. The Dakota, living still farther east in the Woodlands, were feeling strong pressure from the Chippewa behind, them, who had been given firearms by the French. Driven by the Chippewa, the Dakota forced the Cheyenne and Arapaho westward across the Missouri and finally to the base of the Rockies. The Dakota themselves, and some of the Chippewa, moved out into the Plains. Similar pressures from the region of the Ohio River forced other Woodland. tribes onto the Plains. The expanding settlement of the whites along the Atlantic seaboard set up a pressure impetus which traveled from tribe to tribe until they reached three-quarters of the way across the continent. The northern and eastern sections of the Plains, especially, were populated from these causes. The tribes of the southern Plains, such as the Wichita and Pawnee, seem to have occupied their lands for a much longer time, tribal territories remaining much as they were when first visited by Coronado. T. Benjamin Faueett Sign Language of the Plains Indians These tribes developed this novel system of com munication. Later, it helped the white traders to talk to the Indians. The late Maj. Gen. Hugh L. Scott demonstrates four positions. From top to bot tom: "I see," "friend," "right there," and "an elk."