Chapter Outline

I. The Grasslands

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 is the meaning of natural resource exploitation? (see Glossary) Compare Indian and Euramerican exploitation of the resources of the Great Plains. Which resources were important to each group and for what purposes?

3. Assess the environmental impacts of the native buffalo and nonnative horse on the plains. Why do you think cattle rather than buffalo became marketable U.S. commodities? How were buffalo, cattle, and sheep both used and abused as a result of Great Plains exploitation?

4. What racial and ethnic groups settled on the plains, as revealed in the documents and essays? What social and cultural factors influenced the social stratification that developed there?

5. 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?

6. According to Walter Prescott Webb, what technological innovations made settlement of the Great Plains possible? Assess his interpretation as environmental history. Can Webb be characterized as either an environmental or technological determinist? Do you find determinism plausible as historical interpretation?

7. 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?

8. How does William Cronon characterize the two different "stories" told by Webb and Worster about the Plains? Compare the stories of the plains as told by Plentycoups and the author of the last document. How would you tell the buffalo's story? What restraints, if any, does the environment impose on storytelling about the plains? What advantages and disadvantages does Cronon's narrative approach have over the approaches to environmental history discussed in Chapter 1?