To use primary source accounts to study notable events in the history of the western United States.
1 and 1/2 class periods
This lesson includes five primary source reading selections that provide students with a first-hand look at some of the people and events that shaped the history of the western United States. The readings are condensed versions of longer primary source accounts written by persons who took part in the events being described.
Go over the directions for the activity with the class. Ask for volunteers to read aloud the paragraphs of the first primary source account. At the end of each reading selection, class members will answer the true/false questions.
The reading selections are entitled:
Alexander Ross describes the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest.
William G. Johnston accompanies the first wagon train into California.
Virginia Reed Murphy recalls the terrible experiences of the Donner Party, a group of 87 settlers who became trapped by snows in the Sierras on their way to California.
Walter Colton tells how the people of Monterey, California, reacted to the news of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.
Mark Twain describes the Pony Express in Roughing It.
Have the students continue individually with primary source readings 2-5.
To conclude the lesson, students will complete a writing assignment of at least 125 words where they pretend to be living in the far west of the United States during the mid-1800s. For example, they might pretend to be a Pony Express rider and would then use facts mentioned in Reading #5 to help write their story. Other examples of who students can pretend to be are provided the directions for the story, and each one has something to do with one of the previously provided primary source readings.