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Lesson Plan Reservation Controversies


Reservation Controversies covers historic issues dealing with American Indian Reservations in the 1870s.

This experience uses problem based learning (PBL), in which the student is confronted or faced with a real world problem which has no preconceived right or wrong answers.

Using various teaching/learning strategies, which include brainstorming, role playing, and oral presentations, the students access primary sources and other background sources to arrive at a recommendation, based on the information. The teacher, librarian, and other support staff act as guides or advisors through most of the process.


Students will be able to:

  • use primary sources effectively to gain an understanding of the history of government relations, policies, and experiences with American Indian peoples; and
  • effectively use primary sources from the Library of Congress and

Time Required

Three weeks

Lesson Preparation



If you or your students are not very familiar with the Library of Congress online collections, we recommend that you review Using Primary Sources.

Read these accounts to get a flavor of differing histories and views.

  • Clint Padgitt
    Padgitt tells of Comanches coming to his house to get some food. Some terrified boys went with them. Oddly, an Indian admired Padgitt even though he killed his brother.
  • Los Comanches
    A Mexican trader tells of his experiences dealing with the Comanches. Also talks about a Mexican captive girl they want to rescue. Sad ending.
  • Sallie Chisum Roberts
    Girl and her brothers get their cattle stolen by Indians. Shows how frustrating it could be living near such raiders.
  • O. M. Ratliff
    Annie MacCauley tells about her dad, Mr. Ratliff, who had dealings with Comanches, Quanah Parker, and how Mom kept guns at school.
  • C. D. Bonney--Old Timer
    Bonney is an "Indian Scout" who helps return Indians to reservations.
  • O. W. McCuistion
    Famous head cutting off story...He was a friend of the Ute Indians. Indians stealing horses.
  • William Blevins
    Blevins was a Texas Ranger and a saloon-keeper. Good stories.
  • Miss Mattie Mather
    Tells of several settler contacts and relations with Indians in Texas.
  • Mrs. J. D. Rylee
    Tells of contacts with Comanches from the reservation, and also of settlers being abducted and rescued.
  • Don Manuel Jesus Vasques
    A buffalo hunter and trader with Indians of the Great Plains tells of his experiences.
  • Rev.D. D. Tidwell
    A prairie minister tells of raids and trades with the Indians, as well as battles between settler clans.

Lesson Procedure

The Indian Agent Appointment Interview

This scenario puts the student as prospective Indian Agent for the Comanche Indian reservation in 1873. For this scenario there are specially selected online links and resources for the unit. It also has the prompt which sets the entire lesson into motion.

Students read the fictional letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In this letter they will find what the scenario entails. They will role play applying for a job as the Indian Agent for the Comanche Reservation in Oklahoma, and must prepare for an interview for the position. They learn as they read the letter that they can use online primary sources as well as other online and print sources to find information.

Fictional letter from the Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Department of the Interior
Bureau of Indian Affairs

From: Zachary Sherman, Undersecretary, Bureau of Indian Affairs

To: Woolman Naylor, Candidate for Agent Position

Re: Interview for Indian Agent position, Comanche Reservation

Mr. Naylor,

I should like to congratulate you for being selected as a candidate for the position of Indian Agent for the Comanche Indian Reservation. Your interview has been scheduled for Monday, October 27. This appointment is a very sensitive one. The people in that area of Texas are largely Scotch-Irish and with your Quaker background, you can expect some resistance. Part of the reason you are a candidate is the long history of fair dealings your religion has toward the Indians. I have recently heard from Dr. Eleazar Thomas (by way of Pastor Oscar Penn Fitzgerald, page 140), about the dangerous situation with the Modoc Indians and Captain Jack out in California. Dr. Thomas also notes (his chapter starts on page 75) that the "Quaker policy," while sometimes successful, is quite different from other more popular approaches.

As you can understand, your appointment is subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior. With that in mind, it is imperative that you understand and can communicate to me that you understand the concerns and rights of Texans as much as your community has also demonstrated toward the Indians. I expect that you are familiar with the history of the relations of the Comanche with the Texans, the fears and concerns of all persons in the state. Here are some of the areas that you will be expected to discuss with me:

  • What are potential problems?
  • Past and present problems and issues?
  • Successful and unsuccessful approaches used by other agents?
  • And, how you will effectively protect both the Comanche and the Texans' lives and property without stirring up controversy?

You may bring with you any documents and resources you feel would assist you in your efforts. Please make use of my staff members to put you in touch with experienced people in this matter. The Library of Congress is at your disposal as well.

Groups will then begin to define exactly what it is that they are to do.

They will answer the three main PBL questions:

  1. What do we know?
  2. What do we need to know?
  3. How do we find needed information.

Groups then assign information retrieval to selected students who will then share what they find with the group.

On the second day, class starts with sharing of found information. Other students then ask follow-up questions to gain a better idea of what is there.

Have students write a letter to the fictitious official.

An alternative is to have an actor who plays an interviewer come into class and role play the official. Students take turns interviewing and answering questions.


Research more recent issues relating to American Indian reservations, such as gaming casinos, using Questions to consider might include:

  • What have been the major issues and differences, and how have they been resolved?
  • What are the rights and responsibilities of both the government and the tribes?
  • How does gambling relate to other issues?

Advice To The Teacher

The following points and thoughts are offered to the teacher who is guiding the students through the PBL unit.

  1. The use of brainstorming with the students will assist them in clarifying (throughout the unit) what they are doing and where they are in their progress toward their presentation.
  2. Students should, at the very least, be able to come to an understanding that they will be expected to know relevant U.S. laws and Supreme Court decisions, historical events which led to the laws and cases, the key individuals who played roles in the development of the laws and policies, and that they will need to know their material well enough to respond to questions.
  3. They should be made aware of the range of resources available, both in their local school library, community, and online. They should not depend solely upon Internet resources.
  4. Students should be encouraged to collaborate, and within acceptable limits, make shared presentations, as long as you as a teacher are comfortable that the presentations reflect the shared knowledge of the group members.

Lesson Evaluation

Points to consider when evaluating student work include:

  • Seeing the many sides of the issue is critical: students who are well prepared will not become very partisan or blaming of one side or the other.
  • Students will demonstrate that they are familiar with the history and nature of the difficult relations of the Comanches with the Texans, based on their readings of primary sources.
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of the differences between the various approaches.
  • Students will show they understand all sides of the issues, and in doing so demonstrate they would make a good Indian agent who will protect the rights of both Comanches and settlers.
  • Students will be able to respond to with solutions to problems which are based on their readings of primary source documents.
  • Their responses will demonstrate that they can offer suggestions that could make the reservation idea work for both sides, based on approaches described in the resources.


Brett Silva & Peter Milbury