TBH Lesson Plan

Lesson Title : Drawing Our Lives: Plains Indian Ledger Art Revisited

Subject: Social Studies and Art

Grade level: 7th (can easily be adapted to 4th)

Rationale or Purpose: This lesson illustrates how art can be used to chronicle important aspects of any given culture.

Introduction: Ledger art grew out of the Plains Indian custom of painting artistic images on buffalo hide robes and tipi covers. After western expansion forced Plains Indians onto U.S. government reservations, their traditional way of life began to pass into history. They preserved their culture, however, by drawing pictures of their past battles, heroic deeds, ceremonies, and everyday customs in ledger books. Today, ledger art is still a popular form of artistic expression for many American Indians.


Lesson Duration: 1-2 class periods of 45 minutes

Objectives: Students will view examples of Plains Indian ledger art from different eras, then create an example of ledger art that documents some aspect of their own culture. They will then write a paragraph explaining their choice of subject.

Middle School Art1


Step 1: Review with students the elements of Plains Indian culture by having them name elements of that culture aloud while you record them on the board. (Examples may include dependence on buffalo for many of their critical needs, such as food, skins for clothing; use of tipis for shelter; etc.).

Step 2: Explain that before Plains Indians were forced onto reservations by frontier expansion westward, they recorded elements of their culture by drawing pictures of their battles, heroic deeds, ceremonies, and everyday customs on their tipis and buffalo robes.
Display images of Kiowa Tipi Covers. Explain that with westward expansion, the U.S. government tried to force Plains Indians onto reservations where they would no longer be able to hunt buffalo.

Step 3: Explain that students are going to view two primary source documents related to the Plains Indians. Display the image of Satanta and his speech (given at the Medicine Lodge Treaty council in 1867) and read aloud to students Satanta’s account of being driven off his land by white Americans. Point out that once on reservations and unable to hunt buffalo any longer, Plains Indians began recording aspects of their culture by drawing in ledger books given to them by traders, government agents, missionaries, and military officers.

Step 4: Display the webpage http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/spotlights/ledgerart/ledger-art.htmlto view examples of Plains Indian ledger drawings. Ask students the following:

Step 5: Point out that these Plains Indian artists had no formal artistic training and many of their figures seem simplistic and out of proportion, almost like stick figures. These artists had as their goal to record elements of their culture before it changed forever as a result of being forced onto government reservations.

Step 6: Display the ledger drawing, "The Road to Indian Market is Filled with Potholes” by Dolores Purdy Corcoran (2012). Ask students if this drawing could have been created during the same time period as the other drawings they viewed. Explain that it was obviously created much later, as it contains trucks, which did not exist in the late 1800s when most early ledger art was created. Ask students to volunteer explanations of what’s going on in this picture and what aspects of Indian culture are represented. Inform them that today, many Indians sell their crafts at various Indian markets to earn income. Point out that ledger art is a very popular form of Indian art today and illustrates aspects of Indian culture both past and present.

Step 7: Explain that students are going to create a ledger drawing, but it won’t include images of the Plains Indians. Instead, they will illustrate part of their own culture that is important to them today. Give students the following prompts:

Step 8: Distribute copies of the Ledger Page (or used paper documents) and colored pencils to students. Explain that ledger art is always created on paper that has been printed on and modern ledger art is sometimes drawn on newspapers, concert tickets, etc.

Step 9: Display the Ledger Art Project Grading Rubric and go over the assignment expectations with students. Suggest students make a practice drawing before creating their final ledger drawing. Reassure students that very little drawing ability is necessary for this project - stick figures are just fine, but they should include as much detail as possible. Instruct students to fill the page with their drawings and make them very colorful.

Step 10: After completing their drawings, have students write a paragraph explaining why they chose their ledger art subjects.

Step 11: Collect drawings and explanatory paragraphs.

Assessment: Use the Ledger Art Project Grading Rubric to evaluate the ledger drawings and explanatory paragraphs

Modification: (for special learning needs)

Extension Activities:

Related Websites.

Texas Beyond History’s “Kiowa”


Carol Schlenk

University of Texas

Texas Archeological Research Laboratory

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