The Rise of Native American Reservations

The Rise of Native American Reservations
Mary Lincoln: Religion, Social Issues and Reform

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Three to four class periods


When Mary Todd Lincoln was First Lady, western expansion was ever increasing, which resulted in the conflict between Native Americans and those encroaching on their land.  One solution to this recurring problem was the creation of reservations on which Indian tribes could live, and to which some were forcibly moved.  A number of the Nation's Presidents in the 19th century, including Abraham Lincoln, created reservations for Indians in various parts of the country.


Students will learn the history of the creation of Indian reservations during the 19th century.  Students will become aware of potential reactions to governmental restrictions on property by simulating the creation of an Indian reservation..

Materials Required:

Computer Internet access Word processor (or paper and writing utensil) Research tools (books, videos, photos, and magazines)  


1. Using some of the websites listed below on the history of reservations, ask students to research the various reasons for the creation of reservations and to think about common themes in the history of Native American reservations.

2.  Then, engage students in a class discussion, asking such questions as:

  • What is a reservation?
  • Who lives on reservations?
  • Why were reservations created?
  • What does a reservation look like today/

3.  In order to place students ‘in the shoes’ of the Native Americans of the 19th century, engage students in a role-playing activity by giving the students a scenario in which their families have just been ordered to leave their homes and move to a completely new area of the U.S., and, in addition, to change their way of life by taking up new ways, such as farming. 

4.  Have students write a reaction paper in regard to this change in their lifestyle as a young adult being told by the government that they have to move to this certain area.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson could be extended by arranging for communication (letter, chat room, or discussion forum) with a school on an Indian reservation (or vice versa) so students can ask other students what it is like where they live.

Sources & Resources:

Websites: Credits:
This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University.