Student Activities

Circles in the Snow

Overall Rating

Add your review
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Social Studies
State Standards:
Oklahoma Social Studies PALS
Grade 4 United States Studies Regional Geography and History- Process and Literacy: Skills Stand 3



Two 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.


Ask students the following questions:

1. Describe what you see in the image of tipis (downloadable from Materials section).

2. Do you see 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?

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 (attached Word document).


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?

Step 3- Show Harvey Pratt's painting, Crimson Dawn (in Materials section)


1. Describe what is happening in this picture.

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.

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 (attached Word document).

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?


Optional 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?



Includes: Moving Behind's account of what happened next in Richard Hardorff's book Washita Memories. pp 327-328 Moving Behind's account in Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869 by Jerome Greene pp. 128-130

Download Image of Tipis

Download Harvey Pratt's painting, "Crimson Dawn"

Download Reading Materials

Last updated: July 20, 2015