Uses of Plants by the Hidatsas of the Northern Plains


Uses of Plants by the Hidatsas of the Northern Plains

Gilbert Livingston Wilson
Edited and annotated by Michael Scullin

472 pages
71 figures, 1 map


July 2014


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eBook (EPUB)
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July 2014


$65.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

July 2014


$65.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

In 1916 anthropologist Gilbert L. Wilson worked closely with Buffalobird-woman, a highly respected Hidatsa born in 1839 on the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota, for a study of the Hidatsas’ uses of local plants. What resulted was a treasure trove of ethnobotanical information that was buried for more than seventy-five years in Wilson’s archives, now held jointly by the Minnesota Historical Society and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Wilson recorded Buffalobird-woman’s insightful and vivid descriptions of how the nineteenth-century Hidatsa people had gathered, prepared, and used the plants and wood in their local environment for food, medicine, smoking, fiber, fuel, dye, toys, rituals, and construction.

From courtship rituals that took place while gathering Juneberries, to descriptions of how the women kept young boys from stealing wild plums as they prepared them for use, to recipes for preparing and cooking local plants, Uses of Plants by the Hidatsas of the Northern Plains provides valuable details of Hidatsa daily life during the nineteenth century.


Author Bio

Gilbert L. Wilson (1869–1930) was a well-known anthropologist whose dissertation on Hidatsa agriculture was published in 1917 and is still available in print today.
Michael Scullin is a codirector of Midwest Ethnohorticulture LLC. His articles have appeared in the journal Plains Anthropologist and in many edited volumes.


"[Uses of Plants by the Hidatsas of the Northern Plains is] indispensable to anyone interested in Native American life on the plains; valuable for ethnobiology and Native American studies."—E. N. Anderson, CHOICE

"Use of Plants by the Hidatsa is an easy, enjoyable read and a unique, valuable source of information on how people used plants."—Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology

“Every aspect of life is part of this classic ethnology, from acquisition of food to spirituality to the raising of the four sacred wooden pillars of a new Earth Lodge. . . . Editor Michael Scullin does a wonderful job of weaving the many living parts of Buffalobird-woman’s story. . . . The book’s precision—many specific uses for many plants—is a pleasure to read. One gets a sense of a people who rose to the challenge of using what nature provided them to wrest a living from a demanding environment.”—Bruce Johansen, Jacob J. Isaacson Professor of Communication and Native American Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and author of The Native Peoples of North America: A History

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Editor’s Note

Abbreviations: BBW=Buffalobird-woman; PW=Poor Wolf; GB=Goodbird; SW=Sioux Woman; GLW=Gilbert Wilson; WC=Wolf Chief; MS=Michael Scullin

1. Plants That Are Eaten
Domesticated plants (MS)
Sunflowers (BBW)
Corn-smut (BBW)
Prairie turnips (BBW)
Jerusalem artichokes (BBW)
Hogpeanut (BBW, WC, GB)
Chokecherries (BBW)
Making stone hammers (BBW)
Buffaloberries (BBW)
Gooseberries (BBW)
Black currants (BBW)
Wild grapes (BBW)

2. Plants That Can Be Eaten
Hawthorns (BBW)
Wild white onions (BBW)
Ball cactus (BBW, WC)

3. Plants That Are Sweet
Juneberries (BBW)
White juneberries (BBW)
Wild plums (BBW)
Strawberries (BBW)
Roses (BBW)
Red raspberries (BBW, SW, GB)
Biscuitroot (BBW)
Nannyberries (BBW)
Purple prairie clover (BBW)

4. Plants That Are Good to Chew
Sticky gum (BBW)
Pine pitch (BBW)

5. Plants That Smell Good
Purple meadow-rue (BBW)
Blue giant hyssop (BBW)
Sweetgrass (BBW)
Wild bergamot (BBW)
Pine needles (BBW)
Perfumes used in beds (BBW)
Beaver musk (BBW)

6. Plants That Have Medicinal Uses
Big medicine (BBW)
White and red baneberry (BBW)
Gumweed (WC)
Purple coneflower (WC)
“Medicine in the woods” (BBW)
Poison ivy (BBW)
Unknown grass (BBW, GB)
Peppermint (BBW)

7. Plants Used for Fiber
Dogbane (WC)
Upright sedge (BBW)
Grasswork ornaments on leggings (Isokikuas)

8. Plants Used for Smoking
Tobacco 9a (BBW)
Tobacco 9b (WC)
Red-osier dogwood (BBW)
Bearberry (BBW)
Bearberry or kinnikinnick (WC)

9. Plants Used for Dye and Coloring
Yellow owl’s-clover (BBW)
Water smartweed (BBW)
Dye plants—unidentified (BBW)

10. Plants Used for Toys
Umakixeke, or game of throwing sticks (BBW, GB)
Popguns (BBW)
A toy horse
Reed whistle (GB)

11. Plants Used for Utilitarian Purposes
Cordgrass (BBW)
Buckbrush (BBW)
Cattails (BBW)
Box elder (BBW)
Buffalograss (BBW)
Big bluestem (WC)
Common rush (BBW)
Scouringrush horsetail (WC)
Puffball (BBW)
Snakewood (BBW, WC)
Goldenrod (BBW)
Prairie grasses as fodder (WC)

12. Plants Used for Rituals or with Ritual Significance
The three kinds of sage (WC)
Pasture sage 1 (BBW, GB)
Pasture sage 2 (BBW, WC)
Common sagewort (BBW, WC, GB)
Black sage (BBW, WC)
Fringed sage (PW)
Juniper (Cedar) (BBW, WC, GB)
Creeping juniper (BBW, GB)
Prairie sandreed (WC)
Bittersweet (WC)

13. Sources of Wood
Wood as a resource (MS)
Cottonwood (WC)
Ash (BBW)
Peachleaf willow (BBW)
Sandbar willow (BBW, WC, GB)
Heart-leaved willow (BBW)
Quaking aspen (BBW)
American elm (BBW)
Water birch (BBW)
Box elder (BBW)

14. Uses of Wood
Gathering firewood (WC)
Digging-sticks (BBW, WC)
Mortar and pestle (BBW)
Making a bullboat frame (BBW)
Making a wooden bowl (WC)
Rakes (and the bison scapula hoe) (BBW, WC)
Paddle for working clay pots (cottonwood bark) (GLW)

15. Arrows
Significance and utility (MS)
Making arrows (WC)
Types of arrows (WC)
Bows (WC)
Arrows for boys (BBW, GB)
Mock battle with grass arrows (WC)

16. Earthlodges
Building an earthlodge (BBW)
On earthlodges (The observations of Hairy Coat and Not A Woman)
Winter lodges and twin lodges (BBW)
The peaked or tipi-shaped hunting lodge (BBW)
The use of sod as an earthlodge covering
Dismantling an old earthlodge (BBW)
Like-a-Fishhook Village and environs (WC)

17. Miscellaneous Material
Basket making (BBW)
Native drinks of the Hidatsas (BBW)
How our meals were served (GB)
Nettles (BBW)
Forest fire (GLW)

Appendix: Frederick N. Wilson’s Comments on “The Hidatsa Earthlodge”

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