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Review - Wild West Tech - Native American Tech

Every once in awhile the History Channel re-runs its Wild West tech series. I also found some videos available at my local library or you can watch pieces of the shows on YouTube. I really like the shows because they offer a vivid image of what life was like during the Old West sprinkled with facts and research that I can use for my own works in progress.

This particular episode, Native American Tech, deals with some of the interesting facets of native life including some famous chiefs, fighting tactics, and daily life.

During the gold strikes of Montanan, in the early 1860s, white miners would flow in and several government issued forts appeared along what is now known as the Bozenman Trail (1864). Additionally, there were constant army supply wagons to restock the forts - temptation for nearby natives, such as the Lakota, who found them easy pickings.

The main weapon of natives was the bow and arrow (until later when white settlers traded guns to them). Arrowheads have been found as early as 500 BC and were brought to the plains for hunting. Originally made of flint or obsidian (very sharp), they could travel 100 feet per second. Later arrowheads were made of iron. The arrow shaft was made of a light wood such as ash or hickory and decorated with turkey or hawk feathers. Eagle feathers were too fragile and were rarely used. Bows were under 3 feet long and had a range of about 60-75 yards.

Horses were introduced to natives by the Spanish after 1500. The Commanche tribe excelled at horsemanship. They could jump on and off a horse and shoot arrows while moving. Dogs were used as beasts of burden and pulled travois (a type of sled) loaded with hundreds of pounds.

Commanche and Lakota had portable tipis that could be packed up within an hour but were strong enough to withstand gale force winds. They were typical tipi design - 3 pole tripod with several supporting poles and a hide cover.

By 1890, all plains indians were on reservations.

You can view part of the episode.

Review - The Real West - The Law from Behind the Tin Star

The Real West - The Law from Behind the Tin Star
VHS Format

One of my favorite ways to research is to watch documentary-type television series because we can get a more three-dimensional sense of the facts as opposed to reading in a book. The History Channel's The Real West series is an enjoyable one with plenty of little tidbits and first person accounts throughout.

This particular episode focuses on the Law of the Wild West, which in some places wasn't a whole lot. "Gun Law" ruled before actual lawmen did, which also meant there were vigilante gangs to impose their own form of "justice". Sometimes lawmen overstepped their duties - intentionally or not.

April 15, 1871, James Butler Hickok (known as "Wild Bill Hickok") became marshal of Abilene, Kansas. He was a Civil War hero and flamboyant dresser with a real talent for handling and shooting guns. On October 5, 1871, James is holding off an unruly crowd on the sidewalk and shoots Phil Coe. He also accidentally shoots his deputy, Mike Williams.

Iron cages for jails were shipped to towns via the railroad. Badges were made from tin cans or were emblems sewn on hats.

Pat Garrett was sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches he made an imposing figure. In 1881 he captured Billy the Kid. He died in 1908 almost penniless.

You can check your local library for a copy or find one here:

Review - Smithsonian Channel's Mystery Files - Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Big Horn

The Smithsonian Channel has a great series called Mystery Files which takes an investigative journalism approach to well-known events and offers a glimpse into what really happened. This particular episode, Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Big Horn, digs deep into the events leading up to and during the battle and exposes the truth behind the legendary myth that Sitting Bull led his warriors to victory.

Sitting Bull was a member of the Lakota Nation who had been a respected warrior in his youth but had become a sun-dancer and spiritual leader in his forties. He performed the annual Sun Dance ceremony for his people and had visions or prophecies.

In 1868, the Lakota had agreed to a peace treaty with the United States and were moved to the Great Sioux Reservation with plenty of land to roam. However, in 1874, Colonel George Custer's expedition finds gold deposits in the Black Hills. Once news gets out, white settlers flood the land to mine the precious ore. The government decides to take this piece of the reservation back. The Bureau of Indian Affairs goes one step further and decrees the Indians can no longer roam on/off the reservation and must remain within the reservation boundaries. The Indian's way of life - to follow the herds as hunters - was now in jeopardy. Sitting Bull refuses to accept this new decree.

On June 25, 1876, General Custer charges into Sitting Bull's camp (next to Little Big Horn) but quickly realizes the camp is bigger than he expected. His men, who practiced Civil War-style line formations, are quickly surrounded by warriors who engage in guerrilla-type combat (like hit and run). Sitting Bull was not a combatant. For now, the tribesmen were victorious.

The native people were attacked and pursued for several years. In 1881, Sitting Bull finally surrenders and moves to a permanent reservation.

Learn more on the Smithsonian Channel

Learn more about the gold rush to the Black Hills