Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

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The Iron Horse vs. the Buffalo: Indian-Settler Conflict on the Great Plains

In this activity, students read a series of primary source documents, including the 1872 print "American Progress," that depict the social, political and cultural conflicts between settlers and Native Americans during the 19th century. Then, working in small groups, students will consider the events from the perspective of Native Americans, and create an illustration to counter George A. Crofutt's famous print of "American Progress" moving across the Great Plains.


  • Students will examine primary source materials that address the impact of the railroad upon Indian life from different points of view.

  • Students will engage in a critical reading of an image.

  • Students will create a new illustration drawn from the perspectives of Plains Indians. 


Step 1: Project or pass out copies of the 1872 print American Progress. Draw attention to the activities represented in the foreground, middle, and background of the print. As a class, discuss the following points and make notes on the board or in students' notebooks. 

  • List the objects or people you see in the image.

  • List adjectives that describe the emotions portrayed in the image. What seems of significance?

  • Describe the action taking place in the image. 

  • What does the image tell us about what happened on the Great Plains? About interaction between settlers and Indians?

  • What is the point of view of the artist? Does he view what happened on the Great Plains as good? bad? both? Explain. 

Step 2: Pass out copies of "Federal Agents Offer Solutions for 'Solving the Sioux Problem'" and "Native American Warriors Describe the Threats to their Way of Life. As a class, read the documents aloud. After reading the documents, have students fill out the change taking place on the Great Plains and who was involved. What new information do the primary documents provide? How do they complement or contradict the perspective shown in "American Progress"?

Step 3: Pass out copies of "George A. Croffut Explains The Print 'American Progress'" and read aloud together. Be sure to point out to students that the essay originally accompanied the image "American Progress."  Ask students to look over their original observations about the print. Ask students to share whether they would change any of their observations and explain why or why not.  

Step 4: Divide the class into small groups. Using the text that accompanied the print written by George A. Croffut, students should discuss how, if they were Ten Bears or Sitting Bull, how they might draw an illustration of the same subject from an Indian perspective. Each group should produce a rough sketch of such an illustration. (Don't worry about artistic skill; it's the concept that's important.)

Step 5: Have each group share out their drawings. As a class, compare and discuss illustrations. 

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2011.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “The Iron Horse vs. the Buffalo: Indian-Settler Conflict on the Great Plains,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 24, 2023,

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