This page contains information about the environment of the plains that the Lakota inhabited druing the times these counts were kept.
Go to What Are Winter Counts page Links to exhibit of Lakota winter counts contained in the Smithsonian collection Links to general information about the history of the Lakota people Links to information about the social structures of the Lakota people, circa mid-19th century. Environment Links to a page contining three subpages containing additional resouces. A downloadable teachers' guide, a bibliography and a page containing additional information sources including links to other online resources.

The Great Plains encompasses a vast area extending from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Mississippi River in the east. Precipitation is often scanty and unpredictable. The climate is usually dry year-round, with hot temperatures in the summer and bitter cold weather in the winter. Much of the area is a grassland, which supported huge herds of bison, or buffalo as they are usually called.


Image of Dakota Landscape


The Lakota spent summers on the open plains hunting buffalo. When the weather grew colder, family groups would seek protection from the frigid winds, moving their camps to more protected, wooded areas.

During much of the time period recorded in the winter counts, the Lakota were nomadic, following the buffalo herds for food. They did not grow crops, but often supplemented their diet by trading with neighboring farming tribes. These groups were often represented in winter counts by ears of corn. In addition to buffalo the Lakota also hunted deer, elk, and antelope, and women gathered a wide variety of wild plants.