Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Teton are primarily associated with bison hunting. In aboriginal times, men, women, and children stampeded herds over cliffs where they would be killed in the fall and then butchered. Later, after the advent of the horse, bison hunting was an equestrian pursuit, both dangerous and thrilling. Most bison were originally hunted with bows and arrows and lances, and later with rifles. The entire bison was utilized for food, clothing, and shelter. Additionally, various species of roots and berries, such as pomme blanche or prairie turnips, and chokecherries, buffalo berries, and sand cherries were dried and used through the hard winters. Small game, deer, and elk were also stalked by individual hunters, and their meat and hides were utilized.
After the establishment of the reservations and land allotments, many Teton turned to farming and ranching, both successful enterprises until the Great Depression hit, when many lost their source of income and were never able to recoup. Since World War I, many Teton landowners have made their living by leasing their rich pastures to non-Indian ranchers. Others have invested in individual enterprises such as service stations, grocery stores, and small appliance stores, although many of the larger businesses such as supermarkets are owned by non-Indians. Arts and crafts provide a living for a few who continue to make quillwork and beadwork. About one-third of the work force is employed by the federal government in various agencies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service. An undisclosed number are welfare recipients. Pursuant to treaty stipulations, all enrolled members of the various Teton reservations are eligible to receive annuities, mainly in the form of food, each month.
Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts include pictographic hide painting and ornamentation with porcupine quillwork. After the introduction of trade goods, Teton women were particularly known for their elaborate and voluminous bead-work. One of the most outstanding art forms associated with Teton today are their handmade star quilts, originally learned while at school and modeled after those made by the Amish of Pennsylvania. The star quilt is used for all sorts of traditional occasions from cradle to grave, and many of them are in great demand by trading posts and stores catering to the South Dakota tourist trade. The Red Cloud Indian Art Show, sponsored by the Holy Rosary Mission at Pine Ridge, is one of the largest in the country and has produced a number of outstanding Teton artists.
Trade. During the latter part of the eighteenth century, the Teton engaged in trade fairs with other Plains tribes. Trade with Europeans began at the turn of the nineteenth century, and for the first quarter of that century trade was monopolized by French traders from St. Louis. Many Teton bear French surnames today as a result of marriages between French traders and Teton women. Later, the Teton traded with the American Fur Company and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and by 1850 trade goods such as beads, blankets, hair pipes, and metal axes, blades, and cooking utensils dominated Teton culture.
Division of Labor. The harsh vicissitudes of the plains required cooperation between males and females. Although men actually hunted bison, women and children accompanied them on the hunt to help kill animals wounded in the chase. Butchering was the primary job of women, but men assisted them when necessary. Women were responsible for collecting fruits, berries, and tubers, but some fruits were collected by men. Making the tipi and clothing was in the domain of females, but men made and decorated ceremonial and war objects. After marriage, however, the tipi and its belongings were considered the property of the woman, and hunting and war implements were owned by men. Today, both men and women share equal positions in the business place as well as in tribal politics, the judicial system, the Indian Health Service, and the reservation school system. A fairly larger percentage of women attend colleges and Universities located on and off the reservations.
Land Tenure. Being nomadic, the Teton did not have a concept of land tenure until after the Indian Allotment Act of 1887, when reservation lands were issued in fee patent.