Giving Voice to Children in History
In the late 1800's when homesteaders first located their new claims in the Midwest, some saw nothing in any direction but tall prairie grass. On 160 acres of windswept land, there might not be a single tree. But these settlers were resourceful. They set to work building homes and barns from the one thing they had in abundance: the sod beneath their feet.
Because the soil had never been tilled, roots were tightly packed, and sod could be cut from the earth in three-foot- thick blocks. The sod houses that settlers built stood up well to harsh Midwest weather. Sod was a natural insulator, keeping out cold in winter, and heat in summer, while wood houses, which usually had no insulation, were just the opposite: always too hot or too cold. Another advantage of a soddy was that it offered protection from fire, wind, and tornadoes.
But a soddy also had drawbacks. Dirt constantly sifted down from the ceiling, making it almost impossible to keep clean. Rain or melting snow caused water to work its way through the roof and walls and run in trails along the floor, turning it to mud. Settlers actually used umbrellas or wore jackets—not to mention boots--to keep dry. Heavy rains and snow put the roof at risk of collapsing under the extra weight. If the soddy was built into a hillside and the family cow decided to graze on the roof, the cow could come crashing through the ceiling, especially if it had rained or snowed recently.
The worst drawback was insects and critters. Blocks of sod were home to fleas, ticks, mice, worms, and even snakes. One settler reported a snake dropping down from the rafters right onto the table at dinnertime. And a young mother never got over finding a snake curled up with her baby. Before getting up in the morning, folks learned to look under the bed first--because you just never knew.
In spite of this, lots of settlers loved their soddies and stuck with them even after they could afford to have wood shipped in to build what most people considered to be a proper house. They added on rooms, plastered all the walls, and installed wood floors and ceilings to keep the critters out. With that done, living in a soddy suited them just fine. And when the soddy needed repairs, they merely stepped outside, looked down—and there was their building material.
You can learn more about what it was like to live in a sod house in Andrea Warren's nonfiction book for young readers,Pioneer Girl: A True Story of Growing Up on the Prairie.
Andrea Warren is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "Snakes on the Dinner Table! Life in a Sod House." Nonfiction
Minute, iNK Think Tank, 9 Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature's Animal Ambassador
How often do you check your cell phone or email each day? Use Twitter or Facebook? Can you stand not to “stay in touch” for even one day? We’re used to being able to hear from people anywhere in the world at any time, with just a few taps on a keyboard or telephone pad.
Through most of human history people could only communicate when they were within shouting distance. When alphabets came along, our ancestors could create messages on stone or wood and later on parchment (made from animal skin), or paper, made from wood pulp. Then, of course, the message had to get from one person to another by way of a messenger. When public mail came along, it made that process much easier and more reliable.
That’s where things stood for a long time. Imagine being a soldier in 1804 joining explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their epic trek across the west to the Pacific Coast. This was territory almost totally unknown at the time to European Americans.
You’ve left behind your family and all your friends. Now you have no way of finding out what happened to those dear to you. Did your father or mother die? Did a sister get married? How many babies were born? Your loved ones get to be a bit luckier, since in the spring of 1805, the keel boat that carried the expedition to Indian villages for the winter is sent back down the Missouri River with a small crew, and you get a chance to write notes to your loved ones, reassuring them that you are okay.
A lot can happen during a 2½ year span like the one endured by members of the expedition! Finally, in September of 1806, you and your colleagues return to the St. Louis area and find out that most people assumed you were all dead. Now you must figure out as quickly as possible how to reconnect with family and friends. It won’t be easy, since they don’t know you are alive, and you don’t know where they are after so long. How can you even locate everyone you care about?
Think about it: If you didn’t have email or a phone of any kind, whose messages would you miss the most? And who would you most wish you could tell about these events in your life?
Dorothy has written about how the horse changed the lives of the Plains Indians and everything that followed.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom,a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "Keeping in Touch." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 4 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/keeping-in-touch.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
Do you know that the Plains Indians lived in North America for centuries before they got horses? These people were nomads, moving from place to place through the seasons as they sought protection from winter weather and hunted for buffalo, their main source of food. Can you imagine how difficult it was, walking many miles in soft moccasins across the rough prairie ground with only dogs to help carry their possessions? The dogs dragged goods on a travois, a set of wooden poles strapped together. A big, strong dog could manage a load of just seventy-five pounds or less. It took an Indian band a long time to get from one place to another, and the people couldn’t bring very many things along.
Then, in the 1500s, Spanish explorers and settlers brought horses with them to North America. Indian slaves in the Southwest took care of the horses on Spanish ranches but were forbidden to ride them. Of course they figured out how useful horses were, and soon the Apache tribe had horses. In 1680, the Indians rebelled against the Spanish, driving them out of New Mexico and forcing them to leave many horses behind. From then on, horses spread northward and by 1750, tribes all the way into Canada had horses.
These powerful animals revolutionized Indian culture. With horses, the Indians could ride instead of walk. They could bring along more goods, as a horse could drag a travois load of three hundred pounds. Just five horses could transport everything needed by a family, including enough buffalo hides to make a big, comfortable tepee. Old or sick family members could be carried along on a travois as well.
Just as the Indians were embracing the horse, European Americans were moving into Indian lands, forcing some tribes to move westward onto the prairie and adopt the horse culture. Within a generation, Indians became supreme horsemen and used horses to hunt buffalo and to wage warfare. They fought against one another as well as against the U.S. Army, which was trying to clear the way for white settlers to make their homes on the prairie. By the late 1800s, the Plains tribes had been beaten and forced to live on reservations.
The Indians still value their horses, competing with them in rodeos and races as well as for recreation and transportation.
Every winter, a group of young Indians show their pride in their cultural traditions by challenging themselves to repeat the frigid 287-mile ride of Lakota Chief Big Foot and his band to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where they were massacred by the U.S. Army in December, 1890. Indian Teens, Wm. Munoz
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent says about her book, The Horse and the Plains Indians: "This book was truly a labor of love and respect. Within a few years of acquiring horses after the Spanish brought them to America, Indians became among the greatest horsemen in the world and created vibrant new horse-related aspects to their cultures. I wanted to communicate these achievements to young people and to show them that despite all they have suffered at the hands of European American culture, the Indians heart and soul attachment to horses endures." For more information, click here.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "How Horses Revolutionized the Lives of the Plains
Indians." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 5 Mar. 2018,
On a night in 1768, a meteor streaked across the skies over a Shawnee village in western Ohio so Chief Puckshinwau named his new little son Tecumseh or “Shooting Star.” He hoped his boy would grow up as he had, farming and hunting along with the other Native tribes in the wild Ohio River Valley. But how troubling it was, those white people from the east, who kept arriving, always wanting more of the beautiful land! Tecumseh was six when one of them killed his father in 1774, the year before the Revolutionary War began.
Throughout the war, British, American, and Native warriors attacked one another in the vast frontier that lay west of the white folks’ towns. At age 12, Tecumseh saw white soldiers burn his village and his people’s crops. After the Americans won their independence, in 1783, they were even more determined to win the West and settle there. To Tecumseh, the Native peoples were up against an all-out invasion! As a young chief, he led fierce raids on white settlements, earning a reputation as a brilliant commander. As a charismatic leader, he traveled up to Canada and down to the Gulf of Mexico, urging the tribes to UNITE, fight, and sign no treaties at the cost of losing their land.
“Let us form one body, one heart,” Tecumseh cried, “and defend to the last warrior our country, our homes, our liberty, and the graves of our fathers.”
As Tecumseh’s message spread among the tribes, along with word of his younger brother’s strong spiritual visions, a religious, political movement surged through Native America. Warriors gathered at the brothers’ settlement by Indiana’s Tippecanoe River. And then, when Tecumseh was away, in November 1811, U.S. soldiers surrounded it. They defeated the Indians in the fateful “Battle of Tippecanoe.”
Tecumseh did not give up. He and warriors from 32 tribes fought on. The British weren’t grabbing tribal lands so the Natives sided with them against the United States in the War of 1812. Valiant Tecumseh led armies and flotillas of canoes against U.S. forces up until an enemy bullet ended his life on October 5, 1813. It marked the end of Tecumseh’s alliance, but the legendary Shooting Star still burns brightly in the skies of memory.
Daniel Boone's story is every young adventurer's fantasy: A childhood in Pennsylvania spent hunting on lands shared with Native Americans; a coming-of-age fighting in the French and Indian War; and the fulfillment of a life's dream with the blazing of the Wilderness Road across the Appalachian Mountains and the settling of Boonesborough in Kentucky. Add to this the rescue of his daughter from Shawnee warriors, and readers are quickly in the thick of another irresistible Cheryl Harness History. For more information on The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Tecumseh, the 'Shooting Star.'" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 7 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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