Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the unique features of Great Plains ecology, including topography, climate, water, grasses, and animals. What features made settlement of the Great Plains by Europeans different from settlement of the eastern seaboard region?

2. What were some responses of women to nature on the Great Plains as revealed in the documents? What technologies aided women's life on the plains? Were women "reluctant pioneers"? How did the Homestead Act aid women?

3. Assess the environmental impacts of cattle and crops on the Great Plains. In your view, which of the two uses is more environmentally sustainable?  Defend your answer.  Why do you think cattle rather than buffalo became marketable U.S. commodities?

4. What is Frederick Jackson Turner's argument about the "significance of the frontier in American history"? What is the underlying narrative in Turner's account?  What are Turner's underlying political assumptions?

5. According to Walter Prescott Webb, what technological innovations made settlement of the Great Plains possible? Can Webb be characterized as either an environmental or technological determinist? What is the underlying narrative of Webb's account?

6. What does Donald Worster mean by the "tragedy of the laissez faire commons"? In your view is capitalism the primary cause for environmental degradation on the plains?

7. How does William Cronon characterize the two different "stories" told by Webb and Worster about the Plains? Compare the stories of the Great Plains as told by Plentycoups and the author of "Good Riddance to Buffalo." What advantages and disadvantages does a narrative approach have over other approaches to environmental history, such as those discussed in Chapter 1?