People, Prairies, and Plains Presentation

Peggy Carlson
Garfield Elementary School
300 S. 14th
Parsons, Kansas 67357

“God created the Indian country, and it was like he spread out a big blanket. He put the Indians on it. Then God created fish in the river and put deer in the mountains. The Creator gave the Indians life. As soon as we saw the game and fish, we knew they were made for us. For the women, God made roots and berries to gather. The Indians grew and multiplied as a people. When we were created, we were given our land to live on. From that time on, this was our right. We had the fish, berries, and game before the white man came. This was the food on which we lived. We were not brought here from a foreign country. We were put here by the creator.”

These are the words of Chief Weninock of the Yakima as he gave an Indian perspective concerning who has a right to the land. This quote is taken from our Social Studies book in a section titled Point/Counterpoint. From this quote and one from Governor John Winthrop we had a lively discussion of who has a right to the land. This was a springboard to our study of Native peoples and their view of the land.

As I mentioned in my letter earlier, I also used the theme song from “Pocohontas” to introduce the widely different view, not only of the land, but of the animals and plants on the land, that is held by native peoples even today. Once my students understood in some small measure that two almost diametrically opposing views of the world were coming into conflict, we began our study of the various native groups of North America. We paid particular attention to the way the Indians lived in harmony with their environment, taking only what they needed to live and leaving the rest.

During our study of the Plains Indians, we began to delve into the effects of changes introduced by the Europeans even before they moved into the plains. We began with the horse and its effect on the culture of the Plains Indians. The students quickly began to appreciate the differences the horse made in the life of the Plains tribes. We then began to look at not only the benefits to the Indian with the arrival of the horse, but also the impact that this one change had not only on the Indians but also on the environment as a whole.

When we began studying the westward expansion of the Europeans, we talked about changes occurring in the environment as a result of their arrival in any given area. Our discussion of westward expansion into the plains states was interrupted by the end of the year, but I am hoping that next year we will be able to cover more, as I will be more familiar with the materials we are using.

Within the Science curriculum area, I was much more successful. I began with life science and this lent itself to studying many of the institute topics. During the unit on communities, we studied the various biomes in our area, and this was a great springboard for many institute-related topics. As I mentioned in my letter, Nature Reach presented a program on reptiles and amphibians for the students, and we also had some honors Biology students come to talk to the students about various amphibians and their anatomy and do frog dissection for them. We have an OWLS site (Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site) on our school grounds which has become a drawing card for our students. This has been a great teaching tool as there are many native plant species that contrast with the lawn areas of the playground. On Earth Day, we went to the Rec. Center for the presentation by the various groups and saw many demonstrations concerning soil and the effect of various agricultural practices on the land, as well as other areas of the environment.

I would have to say that I rate my accomplishments as unfinished, because I never felt that I reached closure with the students in many areas, but I do feel that I was very successful in awakening in my students the notion that history depends very much on the perspective and point of view of the observer, and that some changes within the environment and in the way that humans react with the environment can have both good and bad consequences as a result of those changes. Perhaps the intangibles were the most telling for me. The fact that many of my students began to look at each new innovation with a more critical eye, and to ask probing questions such as what effect will this have on the environment of this animal, and ultimately on us.

The Iron Horse Comes to Parsons
The Environmental and Historical Impact of the Railroad on the Great Plains

Peggy A. Carlson

Overview: The MKT (Missouri, Kansas, Texas) Railroad, locally referred to as the Katy, played a vital role in our community’s history. The town was named for Levi Parsons, one of the owner-executives of the Railroad. My intention is to personalize this vital chapter in American history which had such profound environmental and cultural effects. The unit consists of two parts: an overview of the role of the railroad in the settlement of the west, in particular the transcontinental railroad, and a unit on the Katy Railroad and its historical significance to our area. Individual teachers will wish to substitute a railroad that is significant to their area. People in your area who are afficionados of local RR history are a great resource. Check with the local library or historical society for people who would be willing to share their knowledge.

Cognitive Goals:

1. The student will gain an understanding of the importance of the role of the RR in the settlement of the plains.

2. TSW recognize the environmental impact of the railroad on the plains ecosystems.

3. TSW understand the economic and the social importance of the railroad to the survival of a town or settlement.

4. TSW be aware of the continuing impact on our present environment of the RR in and around our community.

5. TSW recognize the impact of the RR on transportation, both for long distances and shorter distances.

6. TSW recognize the impact of improvements in communication that occurred as a result of the coming of the RR.

7. TSW recognize the adverse effects of the advent of the RR on the Indian way of life on the plains. 8. TSW work cooperatively with others.

Behavioral Objectives/Procedures: This information will be included with each lesson.

Materials, Resources, and Equipment:

* McMillan/McGraw Hill S. St. Text, Chapter 15, “America On the Move”; Chapter 18, “Changes in the West.”

* Creative Teaching Press Westward Expansion art print “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” by Frances Flora Bond Palmer.

* Teacher Created Materials, Thematic Unit, Transcontinental Railroad.

* Songs from time period as chosen by the Vocal Music Teacher.

* Railroad Memorabilia from the ATSF & the Katy Rail Roads (teacher owned). Other material may be substituted by individuals who want to adapt the unit to their own area Rail systems and history.

* Trade Books (listed in Bibliography).

* Human Resources: Local amateur historian, Music instructor, Art instructor, Librarian, Iron Horse Historical Society Members, parents.

* Iron Horse Museum Field Trip.

* Videotape, The Golden Spike: Story of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Time Required: 2-3 weeks (this is flexible depending on which activities you decide to include in your unit).

Assessments: A variety of assessments will be employed including written exams, portfolios, and a group or individual project which will be displayed for other classes.

Lesson Presentation: The Learning Cycle will be frequently employed as a vehicle to excite interest and introduce the students to the major concepts in the unit. For this reason, I would recommend using the local materials and resources first so that students get background information which will help them to understand the importance of the transcontinental railroad in the settlement of the West.

Transcontinental Railroad

Lesson 1: Introductory Bulletin Board using the art print by Palmer, map of proposed routes of the transcontinental railroad, and various materials such as advertisements sent out by railroads to entice people to come west. This will be used as a springboard for discussion of railroads and the role they played in the settlement of the west. Since this unit will follow units on Westward Movement and the Civil War, the students will have some background in parts of this unit and should have a knowledge base that will be helpful for them.

Students will review material from the text on the Iron Horse (chapter 15) and discuss what changes have taken place in transportation between the years 1850-1865. Make a list of changes in transportation from 1850 until 1865. Introduce term transcontinental and define it.

Assignment to look for material on railroads at home and in the library and bring it to school.

Objective: The student will participate in group discussion.

Lesson 2: Pose the question: Why did people want to have a railroad from coast to coast? Have students brainstorm in small groups and then have whole class make a list of reasons for having a transcontinental railroad. Post the list on the bulletin board.

Question 2: How will we pay for the railroad? Have students brainstorm and then list ways to pay for the railroad.

Question 3: What route will the line take?

Objective: TSW participate in group discussion and generation of list of reasons for building railroad.

Lesson 3: Focus: Again take a look at the Print and ask students to see if they have left out any group that might be affected by the railroad. Students will compare and contrast life on both sides of the tracks.

The teacher will read Death of the Iron Horse and students will discuss the effects of the coming of the railroad on the Indians’ way of life. The students will discuss solutions to the problems of the clash of two cultures. Using skills learned in conflict resolution training, TSW brainstorm other solutions to the conflicts between the white settlers and the Indians. Have students roleplay a meeting between the Indians and the railroad men; set up to give each side a chance to argue their own case for or against the coming of the railroad.

Objective: TSW listen to story and participate in group activities. TSW use conflict resolution skills to mediate disputes. (State SS Outcomes) (This lesson may require more than one class period.)

Lesson 4: After further discussion of the story on Death of the Iron Horse, assign one of the following writing assignments:

Rewrite Death of the Iron Horse from the point of view of the white settlers.
You are the engineer on the train. Write a conversation you could have with your fireman when you first see the warriors.
Your tribe has never seen or heard of an Iron Horse, but you saw one while out hunting. Tell how you would describe it for your tribe.

Objective: TSW do a creative-writing activity based on a story they have heard.

Lesson 5: Have students look at the poster again and note that there are no animals on the wilderness side of the traintracks. Pose some questions such as: what animals would you expect to see in this wilderness? Why are there no animals in the picture? What do you think happened to all the large animals that should be on the prairie? As students discuss this, have them either write descriptions of what they think this prairie looked like before the coming of the railroad, or they could draw their impressions of the prairie before the trains came.

Objective: TSW participate in group discussion and individual activities.

Science: The students will do food web charts representing both before and after the trains come. Predator/prey relationships.

Lesson 6: The trains were powered by steam which required a fuel source and water. Discuss with students the problems of getting fuel and water to power their Iron Horse. Small groups can brainstorm ways to provide fuel and water on the treeless and in some places waterless plains. The groups will present and defend their plans to the whole group. After all presentations are made, students will judge each plan on a set of student- generated criteria for a good plan.

Objective: The student will participate in the group discussion and the presentation of the group plan.

Optional activity: A field trip to a watering stop near your school would be an excellent activity. If you have a railroad in your community, locate the lake, pond, or stream where the railroad got its water and arrange a trip to the area if possible. If that is not feasible, then a videotape of the area with a voice over done by either the teacher or someone knowledgeable about the history of the train in your area would be a good alternative.

Lesson 7: Show videotape The Golden Spike (available from the Entertainment Group). During group discussion of this videotape discuss point of view with the students. Was this a positive picture that was painted about the building of the railroad? What differences might have been present if the story had been told from the Indian perspective? From the buffalo’s perspective? Who won and who lost in the race to cross the continent?

Optional Extension: Have students write a story or script of the building of the transcontinental railroad from the Indian point of view and plan to let them perform the play for younger students.

Missouri, Kansas, Texas Railroad

Activity 1: Field trip to abandoned railroad right of way. Distance 5 blocks. Purpose: Students will take science field journals to record types of plants, animals and rocks on the site. Groups will try to identify plants and any flowers that may be blooming using field guides. The class will collect soil samples from the edge, one specimen of each plant, and various rocks to bring back to class. Most of the railroad ties are gone from the site, but we will take pictures of any that might be there and describe them in the journals as to their condition. Students will record observations of the RR area and the areas away from the track area in relatively undisturbed areas, noting differences in types and numbers of plants. Review scientific terms such as edge environment, native and non-native plants. (Soil samples will be tested on site or back at the school.)

Objective: TSW use science process skills including observation, classification, recording data, communicating data etc. to identify various plants and animals in area.

Activity 2: Discussion of the field trip to include listing of plants, animals, and other observations made by students. Questions to pose: Where were most of the plants located? Were any plants located where the tracks used to be? Why? Why was there a spur track to this place (sawmill)? Why do you suppose that track was abandoned? Where did the rocks for the road bed come from? How can you tell? Students will write a reaction paper in their journal about the field trip and what they learned answering questions such as those on the journal response page in this packet.

Objective: TSW participate in group activities. TSW use writing skills for technical writing.

Activity 3: Introduce material on the Katy Railroad, including posters from The Homestead Guide. Discuss the historical significance of the MKT to our area. Using the posters and maps of Kansas and the US, have students find cities where the MKT went through according to information on the posters. Have students also locate the Neosho valley.

Objective: TSW use map skills to locate towns, cities and physical features on maps. Extension Activities: Have students write their own advertisements for the area used on the way it is now or during the 1870’s.

Have students plan a way to keep people from finding out about the great farm land in Neosho Valley. Were there any drawbacks to the area?

Materials: Maps, posters, paper, markers, pencils.

Activity 4: Guest Speaker. A local historian will visit the class to give them an overview of the history of the MKT in Parsons and Labette County. Emphasis will be on history of Parsons, and lack of trees etc. then as opposed to now. Also will discuss why we have so many trees now.

Objective: TSW participate in group activities.

Student Materials: Material from the Homestead Guide concerning tree bounties and their importance.

(Teacher Materials: Information on non-native plants. Possible source book The Green Immigrants.)

Expansion Activities: Students will classify plants from field trip to railroad as native and non-native plants.

Local histories of Indian removal to the Indian Territory just south of the area. Students may do research to find what happened during this time.

Culminating Activity: Field Trip to Iron Horse Museum to view materials on the MKT Railroad.

Project: Students will choose one project idea from a list of several and do a short research presentation and a visual project to present to the class and to other groups. (Can be done individually or with a buddy.)

* Ex. Short presentation on how the steam engine works, project might be a layered book showing inside and outside parts of a steam engine.

*Three dimensional representation of rail bed and train (miniature) presentation might include how the line was taken over the mountains.

* Double diorama showing the prairie before and after the railroad comes to the area. A layered book can be used to show change over time also.

* Students are limited only by their imagination and will to work on their own. Examples of projects for other units include: a report on Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe, route drawn on a map; a graphic demonstration of the food the voyagers ate represented by a rubber mouse, saw dust and a piece of leather, accompanied by gummy worms for students to eat; diorama of Leif Erickson’s discovery of the new world, layered books with questions on the outside and answers on the inside.


Fiction: Botkins, B.A. and Alvin F. Harlow, eds. A Treasury of Railroad Folklore. Bonanza Books, 1963.

Fraser, Mary Ann. Ten Mile Day and the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Henry Holt, 1993.

Goble, Paul. Death of the Iron Horse.>/i> Bradbury, 1987.

Keats, Ezra Jack. John Henry. Dragonfly Books, 1965.

Quackenbush, Robert. She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain. Harper Collins, 1968.

Wetterer, Margaret K. Kate Shelly and the Midnight Express. Carolrhoda Books, 1990.


Banwart, Donald D. Rails Rivalry and Romance. Sekan Printing Co., 1982.

Brown, Dee. Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow: Railroads in the West. Holt, 1977.

Bryant, Keith. Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. MacMillan, 1974.

Elting, Mary. All Aboard! The Railroad Trains that Built America. Four Winds Press, 1951.

Fisher, Leonard Everett. Tracks Across America. Holiday House, 1992.

Harvey, T. Railroads. Lerner Publications Company, 1980.

Hilton, Suzanne. Faster Than a Horse: Moving West With Engine Power. Westminster, 1983.

Masterson, V.V. The Katy Railroad and the Last Frontier. University of Oklahoma Press, 1952.

Miller, Marilyn. The Transcontinental Railroad. Silver Burdette, 1986.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Golden Spike. Children’s Press, 1978.

Wood, Sidney. Trains and Railroads. Dorling Kindersley, 1992.


Bennett Jill, Collected by. Noisy Poems. Oxford University Press, 1987.

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Click, Rumble, Roar. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1983.

Teacher Materials:

Creative Teaching Press. American Artists Reflect American History: Vol. 5. Westward Expansion. 1994.

Homestead Guide. Authorized Facsimile of the Original Book Microfilms International.

Teacher Created Materials. Transcontinental Railroad. 1993.

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