History Collage Lesson

Goal: Students will understand how different communities have lived in and shaped the Iowa River valley where the Amana Colonies are today.


Collage lesson Collage lesson

Over thousands of years of human settlement in the Iowa River, people have relied on the land and waters as the foundation of their economies. The means of production, the plants raised, the animals hunted, and the livestock raised have changed over time with changes in land ownership, developments in technology, and evolving attitudes toward the environment.

In the Amana Colonies, known archaeological sites place Indian settlements near South Amana, though signs of their presence are situated throughout the area. Indian communities established their summer villages in river valleys, which provided them with fertile ground in which to raise crops, game, and fish. In the summer, the Meskwaki lived in O-te-ni-ka-ni (which roughly translates to “town house”), made of wooden frames covered with elm bark. In the winter, they moved to smaller encampments along river tributaries and lived in wickiups, constructed with wooden frames covered with layers of bark or overlapping cattail mats.

The Meskwaki shaped the land through the things they did and the tools they used. To promote plant growth and to assist with hunts, Indians often used fire. They grew corn, beans, and squash in gardens, hunted large mammals such as bison, deer, and black bears, and trapped smaller animals such as beaver and muskrats. They gathered nuts, berries, fruits, milkweed, roots, and other plant materials for food and medicine. They used wood and grasses for building and making household objects. To hunt, the Meskwaki used bows and arrows. On the Iowa River near Amana there is a remnant of a fishing weir used to guide fish into a narrow channel where they could be caught more easily.

The Meskwaki traded with other groups, but primarily used natural resources to meet their community's needs. Their major shaping influences on the land, fire and small-scale agriculture and hunting were largely driven by local needs until traders from white communities introduced the market economy in the early nineteenth century.

When the Community of True Inspiration settled in the Iowa River valley, they brought large scale agriculture. A handful of earlier settlers had started working the land but their impact was limited. The Amana Colonists used metal plows to turn over the prairie grasslands and planted crops to supply the communal kitchens, feed livestock and draft animals, and sell to outside markets. They introduced crops and livestock familiar to them. The Amana Society's higher, year-round population density required that they produce more per acre than the Meskwaki.

The Amana colonists left some prairies intact, using the native plants as fodder for farm animals. For the most part, however, they replaced the matrix of prairie plants with a vastly simplified system of crop lands and pasture. The introduced species they planted included wheat, barley, potatoes, onions, oats, various grasses that were cut for hay, and some specialized crops such as grape vines and broom corn. The Amana Colonists also introduced a number of non-native animal species: chickens, hogs, dairy cows, beef cattle, sheep, and oxen. While the Meskwaki had utilized horses since the mid-1700s, the Amana Society added draft horses to the local environment. As the nineteenth century progressed, the Amana Society purchased more and more agricultural equipment that allowed them to farm their land more intensely.

The Amana Society also influenced the land by the things it excluded from its land. Fire no longer burned across the land, removing one of the most important factors in maintaining forest health. Animals that relied on the prairie habitat became locally extirpated or had to adapt to the new single-crop habitat and the regular plowing and harvesting that disrupted that habitat. Over time, the Society dug ditches that drained water off the land more quickly, reducing the wetland areas that supported a whole host of native species. Many large mammals were largely extirpated during this period as settlement replaced habitat with farmland and hunting reduced their numbers. Trees were harvested for fuel, furniture, wagons, barrels, and other household objects. Natural reseeding replaced some of this harvest, but replanting the forests in any significant amount did not begin until the 1970s.

After the Amana Society reorganized in 1932, farming continued, but with a new emphasis on production for outside markets. By deciding to fully integrate themselves in the market economy and reduce their self sufficiency, the Amana Society members began making crop, livestock, and technology decisions based largely on market returns, leading to an intensification that would further shape the land.

The Amana Farms accelerated its adoption of tractors and other mechanized farm equipment, replacing the oxen and most of the horses. During the latter half of the twentieth century, dairy cows, hogs, sheep, and chickens were also removed from the farms. Beef cattle became the focus of modernization efforts, with feedlots operations predominating.

With the end of many of the livestock operations and the use of draft animals, many of the fodder crops no longer had to be grown. The farms began to grow primarily hybrid corn, introduced in the 1920s, and soybeans, introduced in the 1940s, which could be used to finish cattle in the feedlots or sold to outside markets. The Amana Society continued to utilize the forests for raw materials for building furniture and selling lumber.

Over the past half century, farm machinery has gotten bigger and more sophisticated. Combines can harvest fields in hours that used to take days. GPS systems allow the Farms to measure moisture, fertilizer use, and harvest volumes precisely.

Interestingly, the categories of land use have remained fairly constant over time. Local communities have harvested wood to provide fuel and to build tools and structures. They have used the rich soils to grow crops and have made use of animals that live off the land. It has been differences in culture, economy, and technology that have changed the scale and types of activities and their impact on the landscape.

  • Photos and drawings of native plants, crop plants, native wildlife, livestock, Indian horticultural tools, Indian wickiups, dugout and birchbark canoes, horse-powered farm machinery, gasoline-fueled farm machinery (see Resources below)
  • Squares of heavy-weight paper appropriate for medium to be used, approximately 5" x 5"
  • Colored pencils, crayons, or paints
  • Whiteboard, chalkboard, or large piece of butcher paper to make a chart with the students:


  Meskwaki Amana Society (Communal Era) Amana Society (post-1932)
Animals badger, eastern chipmunk, coyote, red fox, black bear, beaver, wild turkey, bald eagle, greater prairie chicken, turkey vultures, bison, river otter, white-tailed deer, elk, catfish, bass, bullhead, walleye, muskrat, opossum, snapping turtle, cottontail rabbits, horses cattle, dairy cows, horses, oxen, hogs, sheep, chickens cattle, dairy cows, hogs
Plants Bur oak, prairie cordgrass, pale purple coneflower, Indiangrass, big bluestem, prairie dropseed, shagbark hickory, basswood, red oak, black walnut, sugar maple, silver maple Wheat, corn, barley, oats, rye, timothy, broom corn, willows, garden vegetables, grapes, fruit trees Corn, soybeans (there are other crops grown, but these two are predominate)
Toos/Machines dugout and birch bark canoes bone, then metal, hand tools Plows, reapers, threshers, wagons, trains Tractors, combines, tru
Lesson Steps
  1. Explain to students the three different eras of human occupation covered in this lesson. Remind them that there were other Indian cultures going back thousands of years, but we are just looking at the Meskwaki who lived in the Iowa River valley when settlers came to the valley.

  2. Discuss the differences in house types, plant and animal species, forest uses, fire and its absence, and technology. Distribute images of plants, animals, and farming tools and machinery, or show them on the classroom screen. On the Resource pages, there are links to additional sources for images. Lead the students in organizing the species and objects into a large chart arranged according to the three eras (see example under Materials above). Encourage them to think of other examples to add to the chart.

  3. For each era, have each student draw an element that is representative of it, such as a chicken for the communal era, or fire for the Meskwaki era. The images can be provided (see Resources), or students can do research to find the images.

  4. Arrange the art into 3 groupings along a wall, in chronological order. Lead a class discussion about why the different changes occurred. One of the most important is economics. Another is the worldview and agricultural practices that result from each group's ethnic background. Finally, changes in technology increased the impact farming had on the land.

  5. Have students write a number on their image and then hang a "key" on the wall adjacent to the collage with short descriptions, written by each student, about how their image is symbolic of the era.
Lesson Extensions
  1. Have students create a timeline showing when the different cultural groups have lived in the Amana Colonies area, when new technologies have been introduced (bone tools, metal hand tools, metal plows, tractors, etc.), when different economic systems have been introduced, etc.

  2. After discussing why the different changes occurred, students can write about the differences between two of the eras, or one type of change (native plants to crops, horses to gas-powered machinery, etc.).

  3. Groups of students can create skits illustrating the different time periods or an aspect of one of the time periods.
Additional Resources

Mary Bennett, Johnathan Lantz Buffalo, and Dawn Suzanne Wanatee, Meskwaki History, cd-rom
(Iowa City, IA: State Historical Society of Iowa, 2004)
(available online at http://www.msswarriors.org/history/MeskinteractiveCD1/Pages/index.htm)

Mark Müller, Prairie in Your Pocket: A Guide to Plants of the Tallgrass Prairie 
(Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000)

Mark Müller, Wetlands in Your Pocket: A Guide to Common Plants and Animals of Midwestern Wetlands
(Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 2005)

Mark Müller, Woodland in Your Pocket: A Guide to Common Woodland Plants of the Midwest
(Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002)

Iowa CORE Standards, Essential Concepts, and Essential Skills addressed by this lesson

K-5 Writing

#2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

6-12 Writing

#2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

K-2 Science as Inquiry

Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment.

K-2 Life Science

Understand and apply knowledge of the characteristics of living things and how living things are both similar to and different from each other and from non-living things.

K-2 Geography

Understand how geographic processes and human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.

3-5 and 6-8 Geography

Understand how physical processes and human actions modify the environment and how he environment affects humans.

Understand how geographic and human characteristics create culture and define regions.

9-12 Geography

Understand how human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.

Understand social, cultural and economic processes shape the features of places.

Understand the effects of human and physical changes in ecosystems both locally and globally.

K-2 History

Understand individuals and groups within a society may promote change or the status quo.

Understand cause and effect relationships and other historical thinking skills in order to interpret events and issues

Understand relationship between geography and historical events.

3-5 History

Understand historical patterns, periods of time and the relationships among these elements.

Understand the role of culture and cultural diffusion on the development and maintenance of societies.

Understand the effect of economic needs and wants on individual and group decisions

Understand the effects of geographic factors on historical events.Understand the role of innovation on the development and interaction of societies.

6-8 History

Understand the effects of geographic factors on historical events.

Understand the role of innovation on the development and interaction of societies.

9-12 History

Understand the role of culture and cultural diffusion on the development and maintenance of societies.

Understand historical patterns, periods of time, and the relationships among these elements.