The mission of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
is to educate the public about the Oregon Trail and life in Eastern Oregon during the 1800’s. The facility is owned and operated by the Bureau of Land Management.
The keynote speaker about the Plains Indians was Michael Bad-Hand Terry
, who is a Native American actor, model, writer and historian. He is also sometimes a technical adviser for television and motion picture films that depict Native American Indians during the 1800’s.
Terry has worked with or assisted 44 major motion pictures and television documentaries, such as Dances With Wolves
, Return to Lonesome Dove
, Indian in the Cupboard
, The Postman
, Last of the Mohicans
, Betrayal at the Little Big Horn
, The Mountain Men
, Ancient Warriors - The Sioux
, and War Horse
When he is not busy assisting the television or film industry, Terry spends a lot of time reliving the life of Native American Indians. He travels all over the Western half of the US to lecture on his topic. He also creates a lot of original buckskin Native American clothing and other items that were common to that culture.
During his lecture at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Terry demystified several cultural traits about the Plains Indians that you do not see on television or in motion picture films. Some of the cultural traits that were demystified include the following:
The Plains Indians were not very tall people during the 1800’s. The average height of a Plains Indian was 5’6” - 5’9” tall. The Plains Indians rode horses that weighed about 800 pounds. A female Plains Indian did most of the work at a Tepee camp. She could lift heavy Tepees and other items by herself that weighed 100-200 pounds.
A Plains Indian warrior would sometimes become ill with Mercury poisoning after unknowingly painting his forehead, face or other areas of his body frequently with a natural substance Mercury-lined pigment dye before hunting or participating in a raid or battle.
When a Plains Indian warrior fired an arrow at his target while riding a horse, he would hang his buckskin quiver of arrows close to his stomach for easy reach. He would then wait until the last possible moment before firing his arrow into the target. Warriors did not like fighting with knives or using hand-to-hand combat techniques. They preferred killing their targets from a distance.
If a Plains Indian warrior wanted to fire a musket rifle at his target, he would first take some lead shavings from his pocket, put them in his mouth, and use his tongue to swirl the shavings around in his mouth (like chewing gum) until the shavings were mixed with saliva to form a small lead ball. He would then remove the lead ball and use it as a bullet for his rifle.
Unfortunately, a lot of Plains Indian warriors became ill with lead poisoning after frequently mixing together lead shavings in their mouths to create lead balls for their musket rifles. In addition, the lead balls did not hold together very well with saliva after fired from the rifle. They would often explode into shreds after traveling only 10-15 feet, and was not very effective, except at close range.
The Plains Indians were warriors and hunter-gatherers who were expert tacticians and knew how to blend in with their environment. They also instinctively knew when and how to scare and attack both animals and US Calvary soldiers with precision and deadly accuracy.
For example, if a small warrior party of Plains Indians wanted to scare the daylights out of US Calvary horses at close range, each warrior would place a cloth face mask (with eye holes) over the head of their horse. The face masks would have feathers or horns to make the horse look strange or terrifying to a Calvary horse, which could not recognize the animal.
During the 1800’s, European settlers and merchants would often create metal arrowheads and trade them with the Plains Indians. The Plains Indians soon discovered that metal arrowheads were far superior in quality then stone or bone arrowheads.
The European settlers would also trade rifles, clothing and other items with the Plains Indians to try to develop friendship and a barter system. Unfortunately, this did not always work out for the settlers or the Plains Indians. Disease, greed, theft, language barriers and cultural misunderstandings often ruined their efforts.
Terry did an excellent job of not only demystifying several cultural traits about the Plains Indians, but he also showed the audience some excellent examples of Native American buckskin clothing, tanned hides, arrows, saddles, rifles, revolvers and small leather shields.
Throughout his presentation, Terry answered numerous questions from the audience. He also made a very positive impression on everyone with his open, relaxing and candid mannerism, his joyful personality, and his ability to help the audience truly appreciate and understand the beautiful cultural heritage of the Plains Indians.
Terry's lecture also made me stop and reflect on my own personal family heritage. I am one-eighth Choctaw Native American Indian, on my mother’s side, and the Choctaws were farmers. I believe my small, one-eighth Choctaw heritage probably influenced my current height, weight and personal characteristics today, which I think is very fascinating.
If you would like to watch three short video clips that I recorded of Terry’s lecture, please click on the website links below. Each link will take you to a short video on my YouTube page.
My first video clip is a recording of the first 8-minutes of Terry's lecture and an introduction to life as a Plains Indian. My second video clip is a 8-minute recording of Terry talking about horses and equipment the Plains Indians used when riding across open prairies. My third video clip is a 9-minute recoding of Terry talking about the typical wardrobe of the Plains Indians and some of the tanned hides and other items they used during the 1800's.
Lecture on the Plains Indians at Oregon Trail Interpretive Center - Part 1
Lecture on the Plains Indians at Oregon Trail Interpretive Center - Part 2
Lecture on the Plains Indians at Oregon Trail Interpretive Center - Part 3