Plural Communities on the Plains: Dismal River People and the Puebloan Diaspora


This study considers how significant multi-regional processes, such as Spanish colonization of the U.S. Southwest and the later Puebloan diaspora, affected the lives of Native peoples living on the Central Great Plains. Social and economic connections existed between Puebloan people and several Great Plains groups, including those known to archaeologists as the Dismal River Aspect (AD 1600-1750). One significant Dismal River site in western Kansas, the Scott County Pueblo (14SC1), includes the remains of a Dismal River occupation, a seven-room masonry pueblo, and Puebloan material culture. Previous researchers interested in 14SC1 have used Spanish historical documents and archaeological evidence to focus on who built the structure and why. To date, very few attempts have been made to move beyond this pueblo to consider how Puebloan migrants who moved to the Central High Plains were influencing Dismal River communities. The primary goal of this research was to determine the nature and extent to which Puebloan migrants impacted the lives of Dismal River groups, and how far these influences may have spread to Dismal River people living outside of western Kansas. This research employed reviews of available ethnographic and Spanish historic documents, the analysis of Dismal River ceramic assemblages, and the mineral and chemical characterization of raw material sources and ceramic samples. Ethnographic accounts provided evidence for variation found in foodways practices and ceramic vessel use between Great Plains and Puebloan groups, providing a baseline for Plains technological styles versus those commonly found in northern New Mexico. A careful analysis of how ceramic vessels were manufactured and used can provide insights into the practices and identity of the people who made them, and whether Puebloan practices were shared with Dismal River groups. The analysis of archaeological specimens, using both whole vessels and sherds, showed that Dismal River people living at and near the Scott County Pueblo in western Kansas were influenced by their interactions with Puebloan migrants. However, there was no ceramic evidence indicating that Puebloan migrants or their practices were present at Dismal River sites outside of Kansas. Evidence of Puebloan manufacturing practices, vessel forms, and foodways are present at three sites in western Kansas. Compositional analyses confirmed that while Dismal River Gray Ware ceramics were locally made, possible examples of Tewa Red Ware and Kapo Black recovered from Scott County sites were also locally made. These data indicate that adult Puebloan women were living in western Kansas, making pottery in culturally significant styles that they learned in their natal communities. These Puebloan women, while preserving their cultural heritage, were also influencing the Dismal River community they joined and likely passed their cultural practices on to their children. The characterization of micaceous ceramics recovered from many Dismal River sites indicates that they may have origins in both New Mexico and the Front Range and Laramie Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. Dismal River people living across the Central High Plains were tied into larger inter- and intra- regional exchange networks and much of their observed cultural variation likely stems from their interaction with different neighboring groups. Additional research is needed to identify the possible sources of these micaceous ceramics and to better understand how Native American-Native American interactions were impacting the identity, practice, and technology of groups living on the Plains during the Protohistoric period.

Cite this Record

Plural Communities on the Plains: Dismal River People and the Puebloan Diaspora. Sarah Trabert. Doctoral Dissertation. University of Iowa, Anthropology. 2015 ( tDAR id: 398500) ; doi:10.6067/XCV87S7PXS

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1600 to 1750 (Dismal River site dates)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -111.292; min lat: 36.664 ; max long: -93.977; max lat: 45.548 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Sarah Trabert

File Information

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Trabert_2015.pdf 7.02mb Apr 29, 2015 9:50:23 AM Public