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Apsáalooke Writing Tribal Histories Project

Subject: Social Studies

Grade: 9-12

Topic: Small pox epidemics

Content: Students will learn more about the fatal affects of the small pox epidemics which devastated the Apsáalooke Nation, not once but four times.

Goals: Students will gain a better understanding of the devastation of an epidemic.


Social Studies Standard 1: Students access, synthesize, and evaluate information to communicate and apply social studies knowledge to real world situations.

Social Studies Standard 4: Students demonstrate an understanding of the effects of time, continuity, and change on historical and future perspectives and relationships.

Social Studies Standard 6: Students demonstrate an understanding of the impact of human interaction and cultural diversity on societies.

Essential Understanding 1: There is great diversity among the 12 tribal Nations of Montana in their languages, cultures, histories and governments. Each Nation has a distinct and unique cultural heritage that contributes to modern Montana.

Essential Understanding 5: Federal policies, put into place throughout American history, have affected Indian people and still shape who they are today. Much of Indian history can be related through several major federal policy periods:

  • Colonization Period, 1492
  • Treaty Period, 1789-1871
  • Allotment Period, 1887-1934
  • Boarding School Period, 1879
  • Tribal Reorganization Period, 1934-1958
  • Termination Period, 1953-1988
  • Self-determination, 1975–current

Objectives: After completing this lesson students will have learned about the small pox epidemics, which the Apsáalooke survived, albeit not without a huge loss of community numbers.

Materials: Lesson plan, access to web to learn more about small pox epidemics.

Introduction: Students of this generation, and most of their teachers, will not have any memory of a large scale epidemic. The last epidemic to affect Montanans would be polio, and before that the flu epidemic of 1918. The Apsáalooke people suffered greatly at the hands of their encroaching neighbors who brought with them grave epidemics of disease outbreak, foremost among them, small pox. The small pox arrived in differing ways, but always reduced the tribe by one half. The first epidemic came in 1782 dropping tribe numbers from 20,000 to 10,000. The second came in 1818, reducing the Apsáalooke people to 5,000. In 1834 the epidemic left the Apsáalooke with just 2,500 people. And in 1849, the final epidemic reduced their numbers to around 1,250: these were the group of people who would survive genocide, assimilation, and bigotry to become the Apsáalooke Nation of 2007, more than 11,600 tribal members strong.

Development: Students will learn about the overwhelming affects an epidemic can have on a culture and community.

Practice: The teacher asks students to form a circle and close their eyes. The teacher then circles the group and selects a “patient 0” by squeezing an individual’s shoulder. Participants open their eyes and spend time mingling and shaking hands and trying to spot “patient 0’. Patient 0 tries to eliminate everyone without getting caught. Patient 0 strikes by infecting others with their index finger while shaking hands. Each new victim will perform the same deed to others. After just one minute the teacher will stop and ask how many people are infected. Start the game up again, with only those students uninfected. Follow the same procedure for another minute. Repeat two more times.

Checking for Understanding/Evaluation: Students will write about their experience and how they have survived challenges in their own lives.

Closure: Students will, as a class, discuss how they would be affected by the loss of their classmates. What strength and will would be needed to carry on in the face of this struggle? What strength was needed for the dramatic life changes the Apsáalooke people were experiencing during this time period? Also of interest is the PBS American Experience video on the influenza Epidemic of 1918, this epidemic caused many deaths in Montana, check it out at .