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Whose Buffalo?

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Subject: Texas History, English Language Arts

Grade: 7th. Can be adapted to other grade levels.

Author: Carol Schlenk, revised by Jason Terry (2023)

Time Duration: Two 45-minute class periods or one 90-minute block

Objective: This two-part lesson deals with events on the Great Plains of Texas leading up to the Red River War of 1874. Students will examine how the Plains Indians vied with white commercial buffalo hunters for the millions of Great Plains buffalo and will create an illustrated broadside supporting the interests of either the Indians or the commercial hunters.

TEKS: Social Studies, 7th Grade

  • (1A), identify major eras in Texas history
  • (2A), compare the cultures of American Indians in Texas prior to European colonization such as Plains
  • (6A), identify significant individuals, events, and issues, including the factors leading to the expansion of the Texas frontier, the effects of westward expansion on American Indians, the buffalo soldiers, and Quanah Parker
  • (6D), explain the political, economic, and social impact of the agricultural industry and the development of West Texas resulting from the close of the frontier
  • (8B), locate and compare places of importance in Texas in terms of physical and human characteristics
  • (9A), identify ways in which Texans have adapted to and modified the environment and explain the positive and negative consequences of the modifications
  • (20A), differentiate between, locate, and use valid primary and secondary sources such as media and news services, biographies, interviews, and artifacts to acquire information about Texas
  • (20D), identify bias and points of view from the historical context surrounding an event that influenced the participants
  • (20E), support a point of view on a social studies issue or event
  • (21A), create and interpret thematic maps, graphs, and charts representing various aspects of Texas during the 19th century
  • (22C), create written, oral, and visual presentations of social studies information

English Language Arts and Reading, 7th Grade

  • (2B), use context such as contrast or cause and effect to clarify the meaning of words
  • (5B), generate questions about text before, during, and after reading to deepen understanding and gain information
  • (5G), evaluate details read to determine key ideas
  • (6C), use text evidence to support an appropriate response
  • (6G), discuss and write about the explicit or implicit meanings of text
  • (6I), reflect on and adjust responses as new evidence is presented
  • (8E), analyze characteristics and structures of argumentative text
  • (9A), explain the author's purpose and message within a text
  • (12E), differentiate between primary and secondary sources
  • (12H), examine sources for: (i) reliability, credibility, and bias


  • Photograph of Great Plains buffalo (included)
  • Great Plains Map (included)
  • Student copies of "Whose Buffalo?" fact sheet (included)
  • Student copies of "Whose Buffalo?" graphic organizer and teachers' answer key (included)
  • Student copies of "Whose Buffalo?" grading criteria (included)
  • Internet access for:
  • Pens, markers, paper, etc. for creation of broadsides

Activities and Procedures:

Day 1: Whose buffalo? Gathering information and using prewriting strategies

Step 1: Show the Great Plains map. Explain that in the early 1800s there were 50-60 million buffalo roaming the Great Plains, but by 1890 the number had fallen to 750 and the animals were in danger of becoming extinct.

Step 2: Show the Great Plains buffalo photograph and ask students if they have ever seen a real buffalo. Explain that in the 1870s two groups vied for the right to kill as many of these animals as they wished: the Plains Indians and white commercial buffalo hunters. In the 1870s, each side had supporters who hotly debated the "Whose buffalo?" issue. Advise students that they will gather information about both sides, then choose one side or the other to support.

Step 3: Distribute the "Whose Buffalo?" graphic organizer to students. Explain to students that before deciding which side (the Indians or commercial hunters) they choose to support, they will gather at least 5 facts supporting each side, using a fact sheet and online exhibits at the Texas Beyond History website.

Step 4: Distribute the "Whose Buffalo?" fact sheet. Let students work with a partner to read the fact sheet and list arguments on each side of the graphic organizer.

Step 5: Advise students that after they have read and gathered facts from the fact sheet, they may search for further arguments on the following websites:

Day 2: Creating a Broadside

Step 1: Remind students that in Part I of this lesson, they identified arguments for the rights of both the Plains Indians and the commercial buffalo hunters. In Part II of the lesson, students will take a stand supporting the rights of either the Indians or the commercial hunters.

Step 2: Introduce broadsides by asking students to discuss what forms of media they use to get their news. List their responses. Point out that in the 1870s there were no televisions, radios, or Internet reports, and while newspapers were available in some towns and cities, it was the posting of broadsides that allowed people to express their political or social ideas in public. Explain that the broadside was an inexpensively produced early form of mass media that was usually printed on one sheet of paper, and often contained illustrations and short songs or poems that could help get the author's message across to the public. They were generally posted in stores windows or other public places.

Step 3: Advise students that in this part of the lesson they will work in a group to produce a broadside defending their chosen side of the "Whose buffalo?" debate. Distribute copies of the "Whose buffalo?" grading criteria to students and place a transparency of the grading criteria on the overhead. Go over it with students.

Step 4: Have students get into groups of 3 or 4, letting them choose group mates who share the argument they want to put forth in their broadside. Advise students they will need to consult the "Whose Buffalo?" grading criteria and divide up the work of creating their broadside among their group members.

Step 5: Distribute supplies necessary for creation of the broadsides and allow enough time at teacher discretion for students to produce their broadsides.

Step 6: Gallery Walk. Post each broadside on the walls of the classroom. Have the groups rotate to each broadside, spending 3-4 minutes discussing the other group's product. They might discuss what they found interesting and what was similar/different to their own. What did they learn from this broadside that they didn't know before? Did this broadside change their opinion about the buffalo situation? Then rotate to the next broadside and repeat.

Assessment Options or Extension Activities:

1. Have students list ways they might express their opinions today that didn't exist in the 1870s.

2. Remind students that in the 1870s, killing of the Great Plains buffalo was a hotly debated issue. Ask students to identify issues dealing with animals that are controversial today.

3. Have students view and discuss the actual text of the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty:

4. Have students create bumper stickers for a controversial issue they want to support or protest.

5. Pair this lesson with "Writing Contemporary Protest Music", also found on this website: