RUE Episode 109: Great Plains

The Great Planes are the setting for troubles and catastrophe for Native Americans on both sides of the Mississippi River. Welcome to Episode 109 of Ramping Up your English. Listening Comprehension is the skill we’re honing with this series of videos about Native Americans.

Bison supported numerous Indian tribes on the Great Plains
Horses led to high levels of success in hunting bison.

Watching Episode 109

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Episode 109 Summary

The Sauk people lived at confluence of Rock Creek and the Mississippi River. The Treaty of St. Louis in 1804 would prove disastrous for the Sauk and their close allies – the Fox.

The Nez Perce Indians formed a strong bond of friendship with the Lewis and Clark expedition. Their esteem of these explorers would later motivate them to send envoys to St. Louis, where they met with William Clark and asked for the book that held such powerful medicine for their white visitors.

French trader Pedro Vial played a pivotal role on the Great Plains, as he helped broker peace between various tribes and between the Comanches and the Spanish authorities. Vial lived the life of multiculturalism, feeling at home with the Comanches, Wichitas, and other plains tribes. Along with caring on trade from the French, he often interacted with Spanish authorities and settlers. He also blazed several trails linking together settlements in Spanish America.

Mexico’s independence from Spain opened Spanish North America to the United States, and soon traders were arriving in Santa Fe along the Santa Fe Trail. Mexico welcomed this trade. There were some problems between traders and Native Americans, but the trail remained active.

The trade in Beaver pelts launched the explorations of Jedediah Smith, who had friendly contact to the Ute, Yuma, Mojave, and other Native Americans groups as he travelled to California and met missionaries at San Gabriel Mission. When he travelled north into Oregon, many of his companions were killed by Umpqua Indians. Smith met the same fate back in the Southwest when he died at the hands of Comanches on the Santa Fe Trail. His legacy was the Old Spanish Trail.

Removal of Indians from the East created problems and violent clashes with Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, like the Osage. They had to give up part of their homeland the make way for the victims of the Indian Removal Act. When the Osage resisted, they were met with attacks by the Cherokee and others, who were armed and urged to attack by the U.S. Government. The Osage had been pushed west out of the Ohio Valley by the Iroquois seeking to dominate the fur trade.

The Sioux were also forced to move west as a result of the fur trade. They had been allies of the French, but their traditional enemies – the Ojibwa pushed them west since they were first to receive weapons from their French partners. As they moved west, some Sioux gave up farming for hunting bison on the Great Plains. With the horse, the Sioux became a mounted warrior society.

Further west, the Hudson Bay Company established fort Nez Perce at the confluence of the Snake River with the Columbia River. They also established Fort Vancouver near the confluence of the Willamette River with the Columbia. Fort Vancouver became the headquarters of the Hudson Bay Company in the Pacific Northwest. As trapping and trading parties fanned out from Fort Vancouver, more Native Americans had contact with Europeans and Euro-Americans.

The request by Nez Perce envoys for a bible resulted in missionaries traveling to the Pacific Northwest, settling up missions in the land of the Nez Perce and their neighbors, the Cayuse. These missionaries encouraged people from the United States to travel to Oregon Territory.

The Sauk had lived in their territory east of the Mississippi River for twenty years since the signing of the St. Louis Treaty – continuing their lives of agriculture and hunting bison. That all changed when settlers from the United States appeared. While Sauk leader Keokuk agreed to move his people across the Mississippi River to Iowa, war leader Black Hawk resisted. When he led over 1000 warriors, women, children and elders back across the river, war broke out.

Battles between the Sauk and the United States went back and forth across the region. When Black Hawk tried to have the women and children cross the Mississippi River to return to Iowa, he was attacked at the Bad Ax River. The Women and children were gunned down as they tried to cross by a steam boat. Of the group returning to the east bank with Black Hawk, over half were dead by the end. Even those who survived the crossing back into Iowa were hunted down by various tribes with the blessings of the U.S. Army. Black Hawk learned the lesson that Keokuk had learned during the War of 1812 – resistance was futile.

Language Objectives

Use past-tense verbs to Give Examples of when encroachment by white settlers caused suffering of Native Americans

Use appropriate conjunctions for linking cause and effect toDraw conclusions of how the loss of hunting grounds to settlers caused hardships for specific Native American tribes

Use appropriate conjunctions and phrases to List causesof the Black Hawk War.

Use appropriate conjunctions and phrases to List effects of Black Hawk’s War on both the United States and the Sauk People.

Use descriptive words and phases to Characterize the actions of the British Band before war existed between them and the United States.

Use descriptive words and phases to Characterize the actions of the British Band, the U.S. Army, and the militia groups during the war.

Use sequencing words and phases to briefly summarize the main events of Black Hawk’s War.

Academic Content Objectives

Characterize  the 1804 Treaty of Saint Louis between the United States and the Sauk Nation.

List causes of Black Hawk’s War.

Describe efforts by Black Hawk to assemble a pan-Indian movement to resist encroachment of white settlers on Indian land.

Characterize the initial stages of Black Hawk’s War.

Characterize the conditions in Iowa during the winter when Black Hawk and his band moved there.

Explain the reasons for Black Hawk’s re-entry into Illinois from Iowa

Characterize the initial behavior of the British Band when they entered Illinois from Iowa.

Describe the response of settlers to the return of the British Band to Illinois.

Relate the actions of local militia when approached by Sauk warriors holding flags of truce.

Characterize the response of Black Hawk to the killing of his messengers.

Characterize the attacks on settlers by the British Band.

Characterize the attacks on the women and children from the British Band as they sought to escape across the Mississippi River during the Battle of Bad Ax..

List the tribes of warriors who joined Black Hawk’s British Band in fighting the U.S. Army and local Militia.

Explain the response of regional tribal leaders to Black Hawk’s pleas to join him, and the attacks carried on by Black Hawk’s followers.

Trace the main events that occurred during Black Hawk’s War.

Explain how the treaties with the United States divided the Sauk nation.

Characterize the treatment that surviving British Band members received by Sioux and other hostile tribes.

Give reasons why Native Americans in the region offered to fight the British Band on the side of the United States.

Explain how the conclusion of the Black Hawk War benefitted the United States.

Videos Used in Episode

Language Instruction

First, a note about the objectives listed above… I did not attempt to tie an objective to every event contained in the video. Rather, I focused on the Black Hawk War.

I refer to some of those objectives for this instructional segment. You’ll notice that many objectives contain the verb “characterize.” It’s important to consider what that means. To characterize is to express the nature of an action. This often calls for use of adjectives and sometimes adverbs. Let’s look at some of the objectives above and use these descriptive words to express these thoughts.

Characterize the initial the initial stages of Black Hawk’s War.

Let’s start with his return to Illinois. Blackhawk sought to assure settlers and soldiers that his intentions were not hostile. So you could characterize this stage as: The initial stages of Blackhawk’s war were characterized by Black Hawk’s efforts to reassure settlers that his intentions were peaceful. So the adjective “peaceful” helps characterize this phase of the war. The word “reassuring” also serves this purpose.

About that winter in Iowa; let’s see which adjectives can be used.

The winter in Iowa was brutal, with members left hungry and freezing. The adjective “brutal” serves well to describe the overall conditions. The adjectives “hungry” and “freezing” add more detail.

Characterize the response of Black Hawk to the killing of his messengers. Black Hawk was outraged and vindictive at the killing of his messengers under a flag of truce. Can you spot the adjectives? There are two of them. The adjective “outrage” relates a personal, emotional response. The adjective “vindictive” expresses Black Hawk’s actions when he attacked and killed soldiers and settlers.

Characterize the attacks on the women and children from the British Band as they sought to escape across the Mississippi River.

The attacks on women and children as they tried to cross the Mississippi River to safety were vindictive, cruel, and murderous.

We have three adjectives in this sentence. We use “vindictive” because the actions were getting revenge for the killing of settlers, including women and children. The adjective “cruel” expresses the killing of non-combatants as they desperately sought to save their lives. The adjective “murderous” expresses that these attacks were not for defending or protecting. The fleeing women and children were of no danger to anyone. Hence, their killing was murder. The killings of these non-combatants at the Battle of Bad Ax is recognized as a massacre, a word that is used to characterize many actions during conflicts between Native Americans and Euro-Americans.

Do you see a pattern? Look for other objectives beginning with the word “characterize.” Se if you can think of some adjectives that tell about the action that’s noted. We’ll have more instruction on the task of characterizing in future episodes.

Videos Used in Episode 109

Episode 109 features a video entitled The Great Plains. Click here to see the video.

There’s a longer version of this video. Click here to see it on Rogue Valley Voices on

Links to Related Videos

Native Americans being pushed west by the United States found themselves in conflict with tribes already living there. One such tribe was the Osage Nation. Click here for a video about the Osage then and now by the Saint Louis Art Museum. The Osage found great wealth in Oklahoma via oil revenue, but they also suffered a series of murders by those coveting that wealth. Such is the theme of the book Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. Click here to watch his interview on Best Sellers Studio. This reign of terror suffered by the Osage in the 1920’s became the focus of a movie. Several videos followed the book. Click here for one produced by The 1920s Channel. Click here for a report from WGN in Chicago. Click here for a short film by PBS. Author David Grann addresses an audience at the National Archive about his book. Click here for the lecture, where he goes into a bit more Osage history than the program listed previously. You may want to skip the five minute introduction.

Next Episode Page

Episode 110 features the video Divided. Click here to go to the Episode 110 page of Ramping Up your English.