Nebraska Indian Tribes

The earliest European presence in Nebraska was by Spanish and French explorers and traders coming out of the Southwest and the lower Mississippi Valley.

The earliest documented incursions into the region were in the early 1700s, but there may have been occasional explorations in the late 1600s.

The first formal large scale expedition was that led by Pedro de Villasur from New Mexico in 1720. That expedition was massacred by the Pawnee and Oto near what is now Columbus.

Later explorers include individuals such as Lewis and Clark in 1805-1806, Stephan Long, and Zebulon Pike.

(Federal List Last Updated 5/16)

Iowa Tribe (Kansas and Nebraska)
Omaha Tribe of Nebraska
Ponca Tribe of Nebraska
Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri (Kansas and Nebraska)
Santee Sioux Nation
Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska

(Not recognized by the Federal Government)





Spanish explorers brought horses to the Plains, and horses changed Native American culture forever.

The Pawnees and Omahas began to use horses on their bison hunts and nomadic cultures like the Lakota began to center around horses and became completely dependent on bison for food, clothing, tools another items.

A second influence that changed Indian culture was the beginning of the fur trade in the eighteenth century. The Indians traded extensively with Europeans and began to use European guns, drink alcohol, and wear European clothing.

Along with these trade items, the Europeans also brought diseases like measles and smallpox, and epidemics devastated the Indian population.

Despite these changes, traditional Indian culture continued in Nebraska until the 1830s.

As white settlers moved into the area at that time, the US government began to negotiate with tribes for land grants.

In the 1850s, Nebraska became a territory and the land was made available to settlers for ownership, despite the fact that the land had not actually been legally acquired from the Indians.


9,000 – 12,000 years ago – Paleoindian. (Big Game Hunters) The earliest documented human occupation on the Central Plains is dated at around 12,000 years ago near the end of the last great Ice Age.

These early people are called Paleoindians.

This tradition is characterized by a highly mobile lifestyle that relied on the hunting of big game as a primary food source. Reconstruction of the customs are derived primarily from animal kill and butchering sites, and small temporary camps.

The bones of butchered mammoths, camels, ground sloths, extinct forms of bison, and other animals have been found.

Within this tradition several complexes have been recognized largely on the types of chipped stone spear points they used..

Many of these forms have been named and some that have been found in Nebraska include the Clovis, Plainview, Folsom, Hell Gap, Agate Basin, Alberta, Scottsbluff, Eden, Frederick, Lusk, and Brown’s Valley types.

2,000 – 9,000 years ago – Archaic. (Foragers) By 9,000 years ago the last Ice Age had ended and the climatic patterns somewhat characteristic of the modern period became established.

Many of the animals such as mammoths, camels, horses, and others that had dominated the Plains during the Ice Age were extinct.

People changed the way they lived in response to shifts in climate and available plants and animals. More diverse hunting was practiced, utilizing both large and small game species.

Wild plant resources were also exploited to a greater extent than during the Paleoindian tradition.

People continued a nomadic lifestyle. Permanent villages are unknown, although the same location may have been returned to from year to year.

Many changes in tool forms appear. No longer are particular projectile point styles found over large areas. It appears that the range or movement of people was more localized than during the Paleoindian period.

1,000 – 2,000 years ago – Plains Woodland. (Early Potters) The Woodland tradition was a time of innovation during which many new technological, economic, and social ideas made their appearance.

Many of these new elements were borrowed or brought in from other cultures present in the great woodlands to the east of Nebraska.

The name Plains Woodland reflects this adaptation of ideas from the east for use in a Plains environment.

Among the technological innovations is the appearance of the bow and arrow.

Earlier, projectile points were used on hand held spears or short spears thrown with the assistance of a device called an atl-atl.

A second important new technology was the first use of pottery. Large ceramic vessels were produced during this period for use in storage and cooking.

Other innovations of importance include the first documented use of semi-permanent dwellings found on sites that appear to have been occupied year-around.

Often near these small village sites archeologists find evidence of elaborate burials in earthen mounds. Near the end of the period, evidence of experimentation with small scale gardening is evident.

600 – 1,000 years ago – Plains Villagers. (Village farmers) The Central Plains Villagers tradition is marked by a change in subsistence and material culture traits by local Woodland populations.

The adaptation may have been caused by the ending of a moist climatic period, and consequent thinning of game and plant resources.

Subsistence practices were altered by more intense use of small garden horticulture based largely on maize, beans, and squash. Although horticulture was an important addition to the people’s subsistence, hunting and wild plant gathering was still pursued extensively.

Sites consist primarily of occupations with isolated or small clusters of wattle and daub lodge ruins.The lodges were square to rectangular in floor plan, timber-framed with extended entranceways, and covered with a mixture of branches, grass, and mud plaster.

Pits for storage of food and tools are found below lodge floors. Pits were also used for trash disposal.

Sites are usually located along streams, where suitable garden locations were available.

Artifacts include a wide variety of pottery types. Vessels were globular, with rounded bottoms and decorated only on the rim areas. Vessels were not painted and most decoration consisted of geometric patterns of lines cut into the soft paste of the rims prior to firing.

Also characteristic of this period are bow and arrow projectile points that are triangular, with hafting notches on the lower edge and sometimes on the bottom.

The Central Plains tradition has been divided into a number of regional groups or “phases.” Among these are the St. Helena and Nebraska phases centered along the Missouri River, the Upper Republican phase along the Republican River, the Itskari phase in the Loup drainage, and the Smoky Hill phase in the Blue and Kansas River basins.

100 – 400 years ago – Post-Contact Tribes The Caddoan Tradition encompasses the sites of the historically documented occupations of Pawnee and possibly the Arikara peoples in Nebraska.

The primary area of settlement for these tribes was in the lower portions of the Loup River drainage, but earthlodge villages also are found in the Republican, Blue, and the eastern Platte valleys.

The Siouan-speaking tribes include the Omaha, Ponca, Oto-Missouria, Ioway, and Kansa. Their villages are located along the Missouri River and its lower tributaries of eastern Nebraska.

The Caddoan and Siouans groups built and lived in permanent, large earthlodge village complexes where they tended large gardens of corn and other produce and hunted and fished.

These communities sometimes consisted of hundreds of lodges housing thousands of people. Many of these tribes conducted semiannual bison hunting expeditions to central and western Nebraska and were closely involved with the Euroamerican fur trade.

Western Nebraska was home to tribes such as the Apache, Lakota, Crow, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe. These groups were much more nomadic than the tribes in the east and subsisted primarily on buffalo. They lived in tipi villages which were frequently moved.

Genealogy:Sources of records on US Indian tribes Nebraska Native American Boarding Schools Nebraska Tribal Colleges