Silent Expeditions

Lesson Plan


Students will look at and discuss how the Kootenai Indians in the painting In the Enemy’s Country remain undetected, then use what they have learned to go on their own silent expedition.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • brainstorm stories that might explain Russell’s painting;
  • participate in a silent expedition re-enacting the activity in the painting;
  • practice non-verbal communication; and
  • compare their expedition with the expedition in the painting.


  1. Warm-up: Play a few quick rounds of hide-and-seek.
  2. Show students Russell’s painting In the Enemy’s Country. This painting tells a story about a group of Kootenai Indians. Have students imagine lots of different scenarios that might explain what the Kootenai are doing in this painting.
  3. When the students have imagined a variety of stories, explain that when this painting was first exhibited, it was described as a group of Kootenai Indians crossing onto another tribe’s land to hunt buffalo. Because they have entered another tribe’s area, the Kootenai must travel carefully and not be seen.
  4. Lead a brainstorm discussion on what it’s like to move around without being seen. Have the students think of a time when they tried to do something without being seen. Were they quiet or loud? How did they keep from being seen? What do you think would have happened if someone had seen you? What do you think would have happened if the other tribe had seen the Kootenai on their land?
  5. Choose a destination in or around the school and explain to the students that you will be leading them on a silent expedition like the Kootenai. Remind students that they will need to be very quiet and cautious and not let anybody see them. Establish a few hand signals beforehand so the students can communicate silently (for example, an index finger to the lips could mean quiet down, waving your hands in the air could mean speed up, pointing to the ground could mean sit down and hide). To make sure everybody sees the signal, teach them to pass it down the line. Have fun taking twists and turns that deviate from the usual route to your destination.
  6. When you return from your silent expedition, show the students Russell’s painting again. Which Kootenai looks like the leader of this expedition? Who was the leader in their silent expedition? Why is having a leader important? Look at the man at the very left side of the painting. What could he be doing with his hands? Talk about your hand signals. Did they work? How did everybody know what to do? Do they think the Kootenai may have communicated with hand signals too?


  • About the Art section on In the Enemy’s Country
  • One color copy of the painting for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

In the Enemy’s Country

In the Enemy's Country


Charles Marion Russell

Who Made It?

Growing up in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, Charles M. Russell was a restless kid and an unimpressive student. He later said the only reason he learned to read was to devour novels about Buffalo Bill Cody, a colorful figure from the American Old West. Hoping that a good dose of hardworking reality in the untamed West would cure him of his romantic fantasies, Russell’s parents finally let him move to Montana at age 16—where rather than being cured, his passion grew. There he worked first as a sheepherder, followed by 11 years as a night-wrangler of horses (a job that gave him plenty of time to sketch during the day).

Beginning in 1893, Russell devoted more time to art and, after marrying three years later, became much more disciplined. His wife Nancy pried him away from his drinking buddies, encouraged him to paint, and ambitiously marketed his work. Russell was essentially selftaught, having participated in only a few sessions with professional illustrators. His skill and vision developed throughout his life as he looked at other artists’ work and, when visiting New York to promote sales, discussed technique with artists he met. If he was struggling with a painting, Russell would put down his palette and go outside to twirl his lasso.

What Inspired It?

Russell tried to keep himself separate from modernization as it crept into Montana, and he lamented the loss of the heroic Old West. His primary interest in art was the celebration of what he called “The West That Has Passed.” The scene in this painting is imaginary, inspired by a nostalgic vision set well before Russell’s time. To make the image look and feel real, Russell relied on his personal experience and observations from his early years in Montana. He also made annual trips to Indian reservations in Montana to brush up on his techniques and refresh his imagery.

Russell’s paintings often bear evidence of a story—hints about what might have happened before or what might follow. When this painting was first exhibited, it was described as a group of Kootenai Indians crossing into another tribe’s territory to hunt buffalo. Because they have entered a hostile area, the Kootenai must travel carefully to avoid conflict. The men walk beside their horses and place buffalo hides, fur side up, on the horses’ backs. When viewed from a distance, the group looks like a small band of buffalo, which kept them from being bothered.


Central Figure
Central Figure

The central figure is bestowed with greater detail, more intense color, and even a halo effect formed by the cloud behind his head.


The clouds in this painting echo the figures. They are brightest and most defined over the men in the lead, and they thin out as they trail off to the right, just like the figures do. This creates a sense of harmony and reinforces the hierarchy within the group.

Illusion of Buffalo
Illusion of Buffalo

Look at the figures near the back of the line—the further away they are, the more they look like buffalo.

Landscape Details
Landscape Details

Russell painted a variety of prairie grass clumps, scrubby brush, and exposed earth with clods of dirt and stones. When you stand about ten feet away from the painting, the vegetation looks incredibly descriptive. But when you move closer it seems to dissolve into wild brushstrokes. Giving the foreground special attention is a technique Russell developed to keep the entire surface of his paintings interesting.

Unexpected Colors
Unexpected Colors

Interesting colors emerge in shadows as a result of reflected light. Notice how the horse’s ankles are green, and the face and neck of the horse on the left have blue spots.

Time of Year
Time of Year

The green vegetation suggests that it’s spring or early summer on the plains. Buffalo will be fat so it’s worth the risk to cross into another tribe’s territory to hunt.


For Russell, the disappearance of the buffalo epitomized the “West That Has Passed.” He may have identified with the buffalo that way—a tiny buffalo skull became a trademark he used with his signature, perhaps because he began to see himself as a relic of the Old West.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.