The anthropometric history of Native Americans, C.1820–1890

Research in Economic History

ISBN: 978-1-78350-487-9, eISBN: 978-1-78350-488-6

ISSN: 0363-3268

Publication date: 18 March 2014


We analyze heights of Indian scouts in the U.S. army born between ca. 1825 and 1875. Their average height of ca. 170 cm (67 in.) confirms that natives were tall compared to Europeans but were nearly the shortest among the rural populations in the New World. The trend in their height describes a slightly inverted “U” shape with an increase between those born 1820–1834 and 1835–1839 of ca. 1.8 cm (0.7 in.) (p = 0.000) and a subsequent slight decline after the Civil War. This implies that they were able to maintain and perhaps even improve their nutritional status through the Civil War, though harder times followed for those born thereafter. We also recalculate the heights of Native Americans in the Boas sample and find that the Plains Indians were shorter than most rural Americans. The trend in the height of Indians in the Boas sample is similar to that of the scouts.




We thank Richard Jantz for providing a copy of the “Boas sample.” This paper was written while John Komlos was a fellow of the National Humanities Center.


Komlos, J. and Carlson, L. (2014), "The anthropometric history of Native Americans, C.1820–1890", Research in Economic History (Research in Economic History, Vol. 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 135-161.

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