Circles in the Snow
OverviewTwo worlds collided on a harsh and cold November day in 1868 in western Oklahoma. In a moment, all was chaos as the charging troopers of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's 7th U.S. Cavalry came splashing across the frigid Washita River into the sleeping Cheyenne camp of Peace Chief Black Kettle.
- To be able to identify a tipi ring and explain what it means.
- To tell the story of what happened to two Cheyenne women in Black Kettle's camp during the November 27, 1868 attack.
- After reading the selected texts, students will be able to critically analyze and discuss why the soldier chose to disobey orders.
Before wooden pegs were used, Plains Indians would place stones around the bottom of their tipi cover to hold it down. These stones prevented blasts of the cold winter winds, sleet and snow from blowing inside. When it was time to break camp and before the tipi was taken down, these stones were rolled away from the bottom edge of the cover and a "tipi ring" or "tipi footprint" was left on the ground.
These nomadic Indians were hard to find in the harsh environment of the Great Plains. They were masters at leaving no trace upon the land. If you were an Army scout, it was challenging work tracking the Indians or to figure out where they had made camp. But, if you were very good and chanced upon a ring of stones on the ground, you would have known that -at one time- Indians had camped on that spot.
If you had happened upon the village of Peace Chief Black Kettle. a few days after November 27, 1868, you would have noticed charred tipi rings lying along the banks of the Washita River.
What story did these tipi rings tell? On November 27, 1868, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer attacked the sleeping Cheyenne village of Peace Chief Black Kettle. The camp was completely surprised and everyone ran for their lives, including two Cheyenne women, Moving Behind and her aunt Cornstalk Woman.
The soldiers' orders were very clear that terrible day- burn the camp and everything in it to the ground, take all the women and children captive and kill all the horses.
Question: What is a tipi ring?
Step 1-The teacher downloads pictures of tipi rings (from search engine) and hands them out to students.
1. Describe what you see in the picture.
2. Stones? What would they have been used for?
3. Why are they arranged as they are?
4. Is this a message?
5. Suppose you were an Army scout in the 1860s, would these stones mean anything to you?
Question: What group of Plains Indians was camped along the banks of the Washita River?
Step 2- Read Moving Behind's account in Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869 by Jerome Greene pp. 128-130.
1. With whom does Moving Behind live on the banks of the Washita River?
2. Would her aunt have placed stones around the bottom of her tipi?
3. What happened to their village on November 27, 1868?
4. What were the chances of escaping for Moving Behind and her aunt?
5. After the camp had been burned and everything destroyed, what might have been left on the ground as proof that the village had been there?
Question: Do you have any idea who these two Indian women are in the painting?
Step 3- Show Harvey Pratt's painting, Crimson Dawn
1. Describe what is happening in the picture.
2. What were Custer's orders before the attack?
3. What would you have done in this situation? Run? Stay put?
Read part 1 of Moving Behind's account of what happened next in Richard Hardorff's book Washita Memories. pp 327-328.
4. Have you ever been told to do something by someone in a position of authority that you did not believe was right for you?
5. Based on what this trooper did, should he have been court martialed for disobeying orders? Why or why not?
A mini class debate: Should the soldier have been court martialed for letting Moving Behind and her aunt escape or should he have been praised because he showed compassion?
Step 4- Closure
1. The teacher will ask the children to arrange themselves in a circle.
2. Hand out one sticky note to each student.
3. Ask each student to write down one word that sums up the entire lesson.
4. Going around the circle, the teacher asks each student to expain what they wrote down and why.
The teacher will be able to assess learning by listening to each student as they explain the reasons for what they wrote on the sticky note.
One of the more poignant stories to come out of the November 27, 1868 story of the Battle of the Washita is the one about Cornstalk Woman and her niece, Moving Behind.
Harvey Pratt's painting hangs in the park visitor center. It shows the moment when Moving Behind and her aunt are discovered by one of Custer's troopers on that fateful day. The story is also referred to at stop #13 on the park's self-guided interpretive trail.
"Some Reminiscences of the Battle of the Washita" Theodore A. Ediger and Vinnie Hoffman. The Chronicles of Oklahoma. Summer 1995, Vol. 33, Number 2. pp. 137-141.
Goble, Paul. 2007. The Home of the Nomadic Buffalo Hunters. World Wisdom, Inc.