Horses, Guns, and Smallpox

  • Colin G. Calloway
Part of the The Bedford Series in History and Culture book series (BSHC)


In the century before Lewis and Clark, Indian peoples dealt with the triple impact on their lives of newly introduced horses, firearms, and epidemic diseases, which penetrated the plains far in advance of white traders and settlers and generated dramatic changes in Indian culture, social organization, trade, warfare, and tribal location. The equestrian hunting peoples enjoyed unprecedented freedom and prosperity in this era, but their new way of life was already being undermined as killer diseases followed horses and trade goods through Indian country and European guns injected a deadly new element into intertribal relations. Biological disasters and escalating warfare with powerful new weapons eroded the Plains Indians’ capacity for resistance to American expansion long before American soldiers and settlers invaded their lands.


Eighteenth Century Great Plain Oral Tradition Indian People Fine Plain 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Frank B. Linderman, Pretty-shield, Medicine Woman of the Crows (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972), 83.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See, for example, LaVerne Harel Clark, They Sang for Horses: The Impact of the Horse on Navajo and Apache Folklore (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1966).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Frank Gilbert Roe, The Indian and the Horse (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955); John C. Ewers, “The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture, with Comparative Material from Other Western Tribes,” Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 159 (1955).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Frank R. Secoy, “Changing Military Patterns on the Great Plains,” Monographs of the American Ethnological Society 21 (1953), 92. (Reprinted, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    For analysis of both encounters see James P. Ronda, Lewis and Clark among the Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    The relationship between war and trade is discussed in more detail in Colin G. Calloway, “The Intertribal Balance of Power on the Great Plains, 1760–1850,” Journal of American Studies 16 (1982), 25–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 8.
    A. P. Nasatir, ed., Before Lewis and Clark: Documents Illustrating the History of the Missouri, 1785–1804. 2 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 ed.) 1:299;Google Scholar
  8. Gary Moulton, ed., The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 9 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), 2:482n, 3:401–02;Google Scholar
  9. Annie Heloise Abel, ed., Tabeau’s Narrative of Loisel’s Expedition to the Upper Missouri (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968), 123;Google Scholar
  10. Alice M. Johnson, ed., Saskatchewan Journals and Correspondence (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1967), 294;Google Scholar
  11. Russell Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987), 91–94;Google Scholar
  12. William R. Brown, Jr., “Comancheria Demography, 1805–1830,” Panhandle Plains Historical Review 59 (1986), 1–17;Google Scholar
  13. Ernest Wallace and E. Adamson Hoebel, The Comanches (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952), 149.Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    For another Indian account of how the Blackfeet obtained their first horses and guns, see James Willard Schultz (Apikuni), Why Gone Those Times: Blackfoot Tales (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974), 129–40. In the winter of 1877–78, Red Eagle told Schultz how the Blackfeet got their first guns from the Crees and then turned them against the Crows and other enemies. Red Eagle said, “This is the story of the gun as my grandfather told it to me — and as his father told it to him.”Google Scholar
  15. 10.
    Colin G. Calloway, “Snake Frontiers: The Eastern Shoshones in the Eighteenth Century,” Annals of Wyoming 63 (1991), 82–92.Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    For more information, see Karen Daniels Peterson, Howling Wolf: A Cheyenne Warrior’s Graphic Interpretation of His People (Palo Alto, Cal: American West Publishing Co., 1968);Google Scholar
  17. Joyce M. Szabo, Howling Wolf and the History of Ledger Art (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    Ibid.; John H. Moore, The Cheyenne Nation: A Social and Demographic History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987), 6–7.Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    James Mooney, “Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians,” 17th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1895–96, part 1 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1898), 274; Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival, 128–31.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© BEDFORD BOOKS of St. Martin’s Press 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin G. Calloway
    • 1
  1. 1.Dartmouth CollegeUSA

Personalised recommendations