What Did the Plains Indians Eat?

The diet of the Plains Indians primarily consisted of buffalo meat supplemented with other meats, berries, seeds and edible roots. Some specific foods consumed by these Native Americans included plums, turnips, Camas bulbs, chokecherries and currants, as well as venison, duck, elk and rabbit.

In the Plains Indian culture, men were responsible for hunting game, while women were responsible for gathering edible plant foods. Some tribes settled in semi-permanent villages periodically, and the female members of these tribes established gardens to grow food crops. In some cases, the planted crops were left to grow unattended during the months when the tribe was traveling and harvested in the fall when the tribe returned to the village.

As the primary component of the Plains Indian diet, buffalo was prepared in a variety of ways. Pemmican, a dish made with chokecherries, thin strips of buffalo meat and marrow fat, was a common meal prepared by Native Americans of the Plains tribes. Other common meals included boiled buffalo, tripe soup, smoked strips of meat and roasted intestines.

Since the Plains Indians consumed a varied diet high in lean meat and plant foods, they were typically well nourished. Research from Ohio State University found that Plains Indians of the 1800s were the tallest people in the world at the time. Height is strongly influenced by diet, so this research indicates that Plains Indians consumed a more nutritious diet than most Europeans and European-Americans of the same era.