Who were the Crow Creek People?

Pachtuwa-Chita, An Arikara Warrior

The people who lived and died at the Crow Creek site were descendants of people who had moved from the Central Plains in the areas that are now southwestern Iowa, Nebraska, and northern Kansas. Archaeologists call them the Central Plains tradition people. They moved into South Dakota because the climate changed in the Central Plains. Droughts came more often there because the climate grew more hot and dry. They were farmers who lived in small villages near streams and rivers. They usually planted their gardens along the maize, beans and squash. They also gathered wild plants such as prairie turnips, nuts, and fruits. They got meat by hunting buffalo, deer, and smaller animals such as birds and rabbits.

When the droughts came, they could no longer grow their crops as well as they had before. They faced starvation, so they left their homes and moved to the Missouri River in what is now South Dakota. The droughts had little effect on the Missouri River so that plants had enough moisture to grow.

Some people who archaeologists call the Middle Missouri tradition people were already living along the river. They were from a different culture, people who were the ancestors of the present day Mandan people of North Dakota.

Most of the Middle Missouri people moved north. The Central Plains people sometimes actually took over the same village locations left by the Middle Missouri villagers and even adopted some parts of their culture. This happened at the Crow Creek village.

The culture of the Central Plains tradition changed so much that archaeologists decided to change the name they used for them to the Initial Coalescent tradition. This new name shows that they were the first (initial) of these people whose culture had blended together (coalescent). Initial Coalescent people were ancestors of the present day Arikara people of North Dakota.

They lived in earthlodges in large villages sometimes surrounded by fortifications. Their population grew rapidly once they moved into the region. Villages may have had as many as a thousand people. The Initial Coalescent tradition had at least 15 villages along the Missouri River between present day Chamberlain and Pierre.

The people made and used all kinds of tools. The bow and arrow were important hunting tools. Skilled flint-knappers made arrow points, knives and hide scrapers from chipped stone. Bone could be made into many useful tools. The shoulder blade (also called the scapula) of the buffalo, for example, could be attached to a handle and used as a hoe in the gardens. Deer antlers could be used as a rake.These are shown in the picture below. The woman is using a scapula hoe.

Pottery, hand-made from the local clay, often had elaborate rims, handles and incised designs carved in the wet clay.

A typical pot from the Plains Village peoples along the Missouri River

Their religion emphasized corn, the buffalo and the spirits of nature. People traced their ancestors through the women and their closest relatives were connected to them through their mothers.

They had a very elaborate and successful culture. Until the number of people grew too large, their culture helped them live very good lives along the Missouri River.


Return to Crow Creek Site Opening Page

Read about the Crow Creek Village


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