Lesson One: First Peoples of South Dakota

Focus Questions:

• Who were the first people in South Dakota and how do we know about them?

• How has South Dakota changed since the first people lived here?

• What have archaeologists discovered about South Dakota’s first peoples?

Imbedded Information in the Student Lesson:

Columbian mammoths; Clovis hunters; giant bison; petroglyphs; burial mounds


Get Acrobat

Beginnings Crossword Puzzle

Classroom Activities:

     A sandbox is ideal for the following exercise, but a children’s wading pool might work as well. Fill it with sand and, depending on size, divide it into two or more segments for the students to work in groups of two or three at a time. Use string secured with thumb tacks or weights (large rocks) to mark the divisions. Bury a few items in each section that will suggest a particular room. Examples: fruit pits, chicken or other bones, broken measuring spoons, food-package wrappers, broken china, etc. (kitchen); fragments of toys, stuffed animal eyes, game pieces, shoe laces, etc. (children’s play area/bedroom); pens, bits of pencil, paper clips, stereo knobs, etc. (living room or den); toothpaste-tube cap, empty shampoo or soap wrappers, toilet-roll holder, etc. (bathroom); and nails and screws, hammer head, etc. (work room); or buttons, clothespins, fabric softener squares, etc. (laundry room). Have students bring some small "archaeologist’s tools" (old toothbrushes, small garden trowels, small strainers, small soft brushes) and assign them to squares. Each team should have a small brown paper bag for their "finds." After about ten minutes or so, have each team guess which room of the house they are excavating and have them tell what clues led them to the answer. They can also talk about what kinds of activity went on in the room.

     Each student can draw a "rock-art panel." You can have them chose a typical event of their day, but they cannot use words or numbers—only pictures. To make it more challenging, you can divide the class into several groups and give each group one of the messages from the list that follows. Again, students must not use any words or numbers in figuring out how to communicate the message. When the panels are done—on a sheet of paper or section of chalk board, they can be exhibited. The whole class, with the exception of the creative group each time, can attempt to puzzle out the meaning. Afterwards, the class can comment on what images or patterns seemed to be used a lot and what made some messages easy and others hard to decipher.


  1. Tomorrow we will travel east to the flat hill and camp on the west side near the river. We will fish for five days.
  2. When winter comes we will go south along the river until two rivers join ours. We will camp between the two new rivers until spring.
  3. We will go west for one month to hunt deer. We will travel six days to the lone hill near the mountains and make camp there.
  4. We will visit the beaver lodge people to the north and bring them corn and a buffalo hide. It takes half a month to go and come back.
  5. We will fish and hunt along the river that flows east. We will do this until winter and then go south across three rivers to the winter camp.
  6. If you have time, students can move on to these more abstract messages and ideas:

  7. The spirit of lightning protects us and gives us fire and wisdom.
  8. We are the People of the Hawk and are enemies of the People of the Turtle.
  9. We believe the spirit of the earth is good and gives us what we need.