Learn American History through 50 pop songs

Early America


Human civilization in America is thought to have begun in the last ice age, when prehistoric hunters crossed a land bridge between the Asian and American continents while following their food. This migration most likely began 30,000 years ago. Throughout what is now the United States, hundreds of Native American populations evolved, each with its own customs, cultures, languages, religions, and ways of life. All changed for these native peoples when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492.


© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

Close your eyes and imagine
A prehistoric icy planet
Untouched by man’s interventions
Just as nature commands it
Asia kisses Alaska through a frozen sheet
Upon a narrow land bridge two continents do meet

And the people of this world
Our mothers and fathers from 30,000 years ago
Follow their food
To a world anew

And spread south
And spread out
And become the first – Americans
And become the first – Americans
And become the first – ones

Crouched down low, creeping slow, 15,000 years ago
Pounding hearts, connected minds
There at a swamps edge they do find
A lazy, grazing herd of bison
Then the hunters from nowhere leap
And the startled bison in fear stampede
Into the mud and then they’re stuck
And spears fly, and bison die

In early America, so dark at night
And under this sky, worlds evolve
North, South, East, West - none the same
But so dark at night in early America

Around the globe, climates rose, 10,000 years ago
Glaciers melted, mammoths felt it
There in a thawed land they did bite it
A new earth, rebirth adaptations
Then the people from all around begin to change
Gathering berries, catching fish and smaller prey
Into traps, and tools advance
And sunlight beams, and grass greens

On early America, so dark at night
And under this sky, worlds evolve
North, South, East, West - none the same
But so dark at night in early America

Seed is sown, crops now grow, 5,000 years ago
Reaping beans, squash, and corn
There in a field a new way of life is born
Farming swiftly ends migration
Then the farmers work the earth
From tribe to tribe one more rebirth
In the ground, these farmers found
A way to nourish and to flourish

In early America, so dark at night
And under this sky, worlds evolve
North, South, East, West - none the same
But so dark at night in early America

The Mound Builders built earthen mounds
Throughout America these mounds are found

The Anasazi irrigated Southwestern lands
And built adobe pueblos from sun-dried bricks of sand

The Inuit built igloos of ice and snow
Seal oil kept their warming lamps aglow

The Iroquois lived in long houses of bark and wooden poles
One family to each room and each person had a role

The Plains people moved with the seasons of their life
So their buffalo hide tee-pees were portable and light

Different homes and different foods
Different Gods and different grooves
Different natural balances
Different natural challenges
Different customs, traditions and cultures
Shoshone, Apache, Navajo, Aztec
Comanche, Cheyenne, Dakota, Natchez
Algonquin, Huron, Chippewa, Shawnee
All different worlds sharing…

Early America, so dark at night
And under this sky, worlds evolve
North, South, East, West - none the same
But so dark at night in early America

A tale of woe, the tribe Taino, 500 years ago
Carribean heat, a friendly greet
There on the Atlantic shore they did meet
A weary, leary ship of sailors
Then the new men smiled and traded
But soon they roared, killed, invaded
Onto our sands, throughout our lands
When Columbus came, we were forever changed

In early America, so dark at night
And under this sky, worlds evolve
North, South, East, West - none the same
But so dark at night in early America


Asia kisses Alaska through a frozen sheet/Upon a narrow land bridge two continents do meet (The Bering Land Bridge)— Long ago the land on the earth's surface was shaped very differently than it is now. What is now Asia was connected to North America by a land bridge on the Bering Strait. That bridge is now beneath the ocean. Various animals such as mastodon, mammoth, bison, moose, elk, and foxes migrated to North America over the Bering Strait land bridge.

Our mothers and fathers from 30,000 years ago/Follow their food/To a world anew (migration across the Bering Land Bridge)—Probably by 30,000 years ago, people began to cross the Bering Strait land bridge and migrate to North America.

15,000 years ago. . .— By 15,000 years ago it is believed that humans were widespread throughout the Americas and that they were primarily hunter gatherers, hunting large animals such as bison and gathering wild vegetation and migrating with their prey and the seasons.

10,000 years ago. . .— Around 10,000 years ago global temperatures began to rise as the last ice age came to an end. Large animals, such as the wooly mammoth, became extinct and human hunters of the Americas began hunting smaller prey with more advanced tools, fishing and gathering more vegetation as the world warmed and greened.

5,000 years ago. . .— Around 5,000 years ago early Native Americans began to shift from being primarily hunter-gatherers to farming. The first crops sown were squash. Agriculture led to a new way of life for early Americans. No longer dependent on following their food, they were able to establish more permanent living areas.

Mound Builders— A general term referring to prehistoric inhabitants of North America who constructed various styles of earthen mounds for burial, residential, and ceremonial purposes.

Anasazi— The ancestors of today's Pueblo Indians, the Anasazi originate from what is now the American Southwest. They evolved from a nomadic to a sedentary culture and existence. At first hunter-gatherers, in time the Anasazi began raising maize and other crops. Their villages, built at the top of cliffs or in hollowed-out natural caves at the base of canyons, included multiple-room, complex apartment structures of stone or adobe.

Inuit— This people inhabited the arctic regions of North America, hunting arctic animals and living in villages of igloos, dome shaped ice dwellings.

Iroquois— This people are known for their living structures called Longhouses which housed large extended families. Iroquois women owned land and enjoyed power equal to men. They farmed corn, squash, and beans and eventually formed the Iroquois League of Nations.

Plains People— Plains Indians lived in teepees made of buffalo hides and held up by wooden poles.  These teepees were warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They transported their teepees from place to place using horses.

Taino— The Taino were native inhabitants of the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles. Christopher Columbus’s ships first landed on an island inhabited by the Taino.

Christopher Columbus— In 1492 Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain with three ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Columbus wasn't actually looking for America. He was looking for a shorter route to the Fareast hoping to find valuable silks and spices. Instead he landed on a small island in the Bahamas which he named San Salvador. Columbus thought he had landed on the Spice Islands near India. This is why he named the people he met Indians. Life was then forever changed for the native people of the Americas.

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

How did people come to North America 30,000 years ago?

What happened 5000 years ago that dramatically changed the lives of humans?

Name 3 Native American peoples and tell one thing about how they lived.

Who landed on the island inhabited by the Taino?

Tier 2 Questions

Explain how migration played a role in humans coming to North America.

Explain how agriculture dramatically changed the lives of humans 5000 years ago.

What is meant by the line in the song “North, South, East, West –none the same”?

How did the landing of Columbus change life for Native Americans?

Tier 3 Questions

Write a description of what an early human may have seen and experienced as he crossed the Bering Land Bridge 30,000 years ago.

Imagine you are living 5000 years ago and your tribe has just been taught by a neighboring tribe how to grow crops. You now no longer need to spend your days hunting and gathering. Write a letter explaining how this has changed your life.

Write 2 journal entries:
One by a sailor from one of Columbus’s ships upon reaching the island.
One by a Taino upon witnessing Columbus’s ships and men coming to his land.

Test Prep Questions

1) What Native American Indian viewpoint does the cartoonist support?

  • (1) Illegal immigrants should not be allowed to settle on Native American Indian reservations.
  • (2) European settlers took Native American Indian land.
  • (3) Government efforts to restrict immigration should be supported.
  • (4) Native American Indians support government efforts to stop illegal immigration