Presented by Valley View Elementary School. Funded by

Unit 5: The Oregon Trail

Grades 3-5

PDF Version

Lessons: Geography and History- A Road Well Traveled - Day to Day Life on the Trail - Vocabulary



Art Project

Introduction: The Oregon Trail served as the most practical pathway to the entire western United States between 1836 and 1869. Pioneers settled in what became the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho and Utah, for a variety of reasons. This unit serves to show the students why this journey on the trail was extremely challenging. Students will read real accounts from journals, follow the route across a map, understand what was needed to bring for survival, and write about some of the life threatening situations such as childbirth, disease, poor sanitation, weather, river crossings, and accidents. They will appreciate the role the Native American peoples had upon the journey and how their culture was much different then their own. They will understand how day-to-day life was hard work; such as food attainment and preparation, caring for the wagons, animals, and each other, and walking long distances. Students will vision how the pioneers quest, courage, and hope for the future, kept them moving forward.

Desired Academic Results

Essential Academic Learning Requirements in Social Studies


EALR #1 The student examines and understands major ideas, eras, themes, developments, turning points, chronology and cause-effect relationships in U.S., world and Washington State history.
1.1 Examine historical contributions of various individuals and cultures
1.4 Understands and develop historical perspective: what happened in the past
and how it affected the present and the future
EALR #2 The student understands the origin and impact of ideas and technological developments on history.
2.2 Use information and resources (e.g. eyewitness accounts, art photos, letters) to investigate and understand historic occurrences
EALR #3 The student understands the impact of technology, ideas, and creativity on history and social change.
3.3 Understand how individual creativity underlies the origin of technological developments and ideas that impact society


EALR #1 The student uses maps, charts, and other geographic tools to understand spatial nformation about people, places, and environments on Earth’s surface.
1.2 Understand how physical processes and human activities can impact one another
EAR #3 The student observes and analyzes the interaction between people, the environment and culture.
3.1 Identify and examine a variety of perspectives regarding the interaction between people and their environment

Overarching Understandings

• The Oregon Trail played an important part in the settlement of
the West.
• Courageous, hardworking people made this difficult journey for
many reasons.
The emigration resulted in many changes in U.S. History

What the Students Will Understand

• The Oregon Trail was a very important pathway to the West.
It was the only practical way to the West.
First emigrants on the Oregon Trail in 1836 traveled in covered wagons.
“The Great Migration” started in 1843 and lasted 25 years with more than half a million people using the Oregon Trail.
In 1869 the transcontinental railroad was completed supplying an improved means of travel through new technology.

• There were several reasons for the travel to the West.
-Free land was available.
-Freedom from slavery attracted many people.
-Good land for farming meant more and better crops.
-Good businesses could be made at forts.
-People wanted to control and populate new parts of the country (Manifest Destiny).
-Men and women had hopes and dreams for a growing nation.
-Heartache and hardship made people look for a new start.
-Some families were looking for a place to call home.
-Movement and change was desired by some travelers.
-Emigrants searched for opportunity.
-People were hurrying to obtain gold that had been discovered.

• Preparation for the trip was hard work.
-Selling all belongings and property from home was hard on the people.
-Packing for a 6-month trip was complicated and difficult.
-Acquiring the appropriate wagon and supplies was necessary.

• Daily hardships were encountered along the way.
-Rattlesnake bite
-Fording river
-Undrinkable water
-Birth of a baby
-Native Americans
-Mountains to cross
-Proper hygiene
-Equipment maintenance
-Food acclamation
-Buffalo stampede
-Personal hardship
-Lack of proper shoes, clothing
-Fire building

• Many travelers kept diaries during their trips on the Oregon Trail that
are available today in archives, libraries, online.
• Mapping the route of the Oregon Trail lead to better understanding
of distances, times and important geographic locations.

Overarching Questions

• What is an emigrant?
• Why do people move from one place to another?
• What qualities do people have that endure hardships over long periods
of time?
• How did new technology improve travel during the 19th century?

Unit Questions

• How did the Oregon Trail come to be?
• Where was it located?
• What were the different modes of travel used on the Trail?
• What supplies were needed for a trip on the Oregon Trail?
• Why did people choose to travel on the Oregon Trail?
• What obstacles did they encounter along the way?
• What did a traveler’s day look like?
• How did the Native Americans of the area react to the amount of settlers coming into their regions?
• What are some untruths about their journey?
• Who are some people that traveled on the Trail and what is their story?
• How did technology in the field of transportation end the importance of the Oregon Trail?
• Did art have an impact on the Oregon travelers? In what ways?

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Assessment: The Evidence That Will Demonstrate Student Understanding

Performance Tasks and Projects

Student will:
• After studying several maps of the route of the Oregon Trail, on an outline of the western part of the United States trace the path of the Oregon Trail. Label all landmarks and forts. Include a title and legend for the reader.
• Simulate the Oregon Trail journey through the web site, The Oregon Trail computer game, or journal writing.
• Dramatize an individual’s accounting on the trail. based on a true or embellished story.


• The teacher will observe the correct use of new vocabulary in discussion
and writings within the class. Student will write using common language
of the time.
• The teacher will note a student’s thinking skills in problem solving activities during simulation activities.
• The teacher will become aware of a student’s level of understanding when planning for the trip.

Student Self-Assessment

• Each student will use the computer to design a five question multiple choice test about the Oregon Trail. The teacher will choose twenty of the best questions for an exam for the class.
• Use a rubric to grade a letter that you have written as if you are the President of the United States to your Vice President explaining the problems that people are having on the Oregon Trail. Take into concern the needs of the Native Americans and the pioneers. Make suggestions as to how to help the situation. Remember the Six-Traits of good writing.

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Learning Experiences and Instruction

What the Students Will Need to Know

• How to read and develop a their own map
• Computer skills such as using Word and the Internet
• How to research life on the Oregon Trail through Internet sites, books, videos,
on-line encyclopedias, and magazine articles
• Steps to problem solving

What the Students Will Need to Be Able to Do

• Define terms on the vocabulary list that is attached
• Read and graphs
• Develop and understand the part technology played in travel and transportation of
the 1800’s.
• Write using the Six-Trail Model

• Use a computer
• Read a map
• Use an electronic card catalogue

Field Sites

• Pioneer Family Museum and Ohop Indian Village
7716 Ohop Valley Road, Eatonville, WA 98328
Voice mail: 360-832-6300

-An one hour and thirty minute “hands on” living historical guided tour to experience 1880 pioneer homestead, authentic pioneer cabin, activity cabin, barn, blacksmith shop, and woodworking shop.

• Washington State History Museum
1911 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402
(253) 272-3500

-Call for field trip information and a catalogue field guide. This informative book is beautifully edited and produced by Stephanie Lile. Washington State Historical Society. 1997

• Longer Trips to Oregon:
Baker City, Oregon – End of the Trail Museum

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Part 1: Geography and Historical Background

Divide the students into small groups. Give some groups geographical maps of the United States and some relief maps. Begin at Independence, MO and have them surmise what would be the easiest route of the Oregon Trail. Which way would they travel? Why? Where might be the most difficult areas for travel? Was water available? How long might the trip take? Check the distances between points on (Go to maps, then driving directions.) How would sites today be different from what was seen in the mid-1800’s?

To look at actual maps of the Oregon Trail, try the following Web site: It shows several maps of the Oregon Trail routes, maps of the California Trail and maps of where the various Native American tribes were located at the time. Have students fill in the names of the Native American tribes along their trail map.
Phone 1-800-962-1643. Request an oversized map entitled 1803-1848 The Pathfinders Map shows the routes west and the names and places of the Native American tribes that they encountered along the way. Another choice to visit for teacher's guide, maps, and activites created by PBS is,

A Road Well Traveled

1. Use Website for lesson plans to match various portions of the video. These lessons are clever and will excite your students. There are many ideas from which to choose.

2. Travel on a simulated journey of the Oregon Trail via the web.
Decisions must be made regarding situations on the trail. Students will interact with students from other schools. A problem of the day may ask them to decide what time of year to travel, what supplies to bring, how to cross-rivers, and survive dangers. Attach your computer to a television screen with appropriate cable and the students will be able to see the screen more easily or connect to a LCD projector.

3. Interview your family. How did your family come to Washington and when? Did any of them come on the Oregon Trail? How did they come if not by the Trail? How would their trip have been different from that of the people on the Oregon Trail.

4. Read about the wagon they used. What were they made of? How did they change over the years of the Oregon Trail? What is the size of a wagon? What other means of travel were used? What animals were used to pull wagons and why? What other animals were beneficial to bring? How much did they cost? What did they pack inside the wagon? How did they cross rivers and difficult terrain? Look in books, encyclopedias, on-line, and in the library. There are several fun and interesting Web sites with great photographs. Write a one-page paper about these “Prairie Schooners.” Use an Alpha Smart, a computer with word processing, or handwriting to complete the document. Add a picture of one of these wagons…drawn or scanned into your report.

Visit the Washington State Historical Museum to see an actual wagon that belonged to Ezra Meeker. Who is Ezra Meeker? Tour the museum for other history about The Oregon Trail such as how the Native Americans and pioneers reacted to one another.

5. Students write an advertisement for coming out west with an understanding of the Land Claim Act and Manifest Destiny, and all the various reasons for coming.

6. Read a journal from an actual accounting of life on the trail at,,

Day to Day Life on the Trail

1. List five belongings other than food and clothing that would be essential for a sixth month trip today in the 21st century and a trip on the Oregon Trail.
How do your items differ? Why? Suggestions: maps, notes, first aid, tools.

2. Make an old looking journal out of brown paper (perhaps make ragged or torn edges on the paper). Attach binder paper and have the students write an except from their journals. They can work as individuals or in pairs. They may be writing from the perspective of the wagon train leader, a mother or father or child, Native American, or African American on the trail. Write one unforgettable event or borrow a story from a real journal. Note: This became the essence of an entire play for my group. Students read their journals around the campfire; while others acted out the events. We had props, costumes, a poem to begin and end the play and sang songs in between several scenes to add some variety. The songs included Side by Side by Harry Woods, This Land is Your Land by Woodie Guthrie, America by Carey and Smith, and America the Beautiful by Lee Bat.

3. Study quilting in the pioneer period. What is a quilt? How are they made? Why were they important to bring on the Oregon Trail? (They were a keepsake, a way to remember a part of the past.) Why did they make patchwork or piecemeal quilts? (They were scraps from worn-out garments.) Study the designs shown in Mary Cobb’s book The Quilt – Block History of Pioneer Days. Kids projects are included.

Have the boys and girls design three quilt blocks that would be similar to those during Oregon Trails days. Pick one block and make it over the next two weeks.

Have a quilter come into class and talk with the children about the art of quilting and help you start them with their quilting squares. Piece the squares together at the end of the unit to make a class quilt.

4. Study four artists from the Oregon Trail era: Thomas Moran, Karl Bodmer, Alfred Bierstadt and Charles Russell. Have books available with their interpretation of the move west. Which is the students’ favorite and why? Discuss color, texture, mood, technique, medium.

5. Visit the Pioneer Family Museum, a hands-on living farm from the 1880’s. Learn how everyday life has changed over the past 150 years. On the computer make a two-column list of important items seen at the museum. List on one side the item of the past and on the other side the item that we use for the same task today and how it is different from the item in the 1840’s. Title your list. Put at least one graphic on the sheet before you hand it into the teacher.

6. The Donner Party became a famous story of the Oregon Trail. Why? A newspaper article from the San Francisco Museum in regards to Sutter going out to search for the Donner Party.

7. Explain the impact on the Native Americans during the years that the pioneers traveled. (They asked for payment to cross their land or water, they were uprooted.) How did they benefit the travelers? (Trading, route information, ferry service) Why were the “whites” allowed to claim the land for their own, but the Native Americans could not? Name some myths about the Native Americans. (Rarely any violence occured between them and the pioneers.)

8. Who were the Whitmans and when did they travel across the Oregon Trail to eastern Washington? Research what happened to the Whitmans. What was the reason that they were murdered? Where did diseases originate during the 1800’s, how were they spread, and what effect did they have on the Indians?

9. Chose a reason why you would go on the trail and explain

10. What year did the first party of immigrants make it out west? Explain why the numbers of people who migrated west was highest in the year 1852. What was going on in California during this time? What year did the transcontinental railroad get finished? What impact did the railroad have on the way people traveled and the numbers who came overland by foot?

11. For a culminating activity teach some square dancing and make butter. (Note: How did the travelers make their own butter without actually doing anything.)

Scatter Square
Use any square dance music.
Students “hit the dusty trail” (walk around the space) until a command is given. Students try to accomplish the command quickly.
Commands: Swing a Partner (right or left elbow swing)
Do-si-o (arms crossed, pass by left shoulders)
Circle Four (4 walk in Circle the Wagons (the whole group holds hand in one circle)
Birdie in a Cage (2 hold hands and 1 stands inside)
Wring the Dishrag (2 hold hands facing each other, turn around without releasing hands)
Make up your own…

Butter Recipe
Ingredients: Heavy whipping cream, salt to taste
1. Take cream out of refrigerator 1 hour beforehand
2. Pour cream into glass jar that has a tight-fit. Fill only half full.
3. Shake jar until curd (solid) separates completely from whey (liquid)
4. Pour whey into a separate container (this is buttermilk)
5. Pour curd into a strainer and let drain until all liquid is gone
6. Place curd into a bowl and stir in salt

Source: Barchers, Suzanne L. and Patricia C. Marden. Cooking Up U.S. History,: Recipes and Research to Share with Children. Englewood, CO: Teacher Ideas Press, 1991.

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BLACKSMITH: Worker who shapes heated iron by pounding it with a hammer. Blacksmiths were common on the Oregon Trail because the iron rims of the wagon wheels were often in need of repair.

CHOLERA: An infectious disease caught by many emigrants on the Oregon Trail. It spread rapidly because of unsanitary water. There was no cure and most died within a day.

CIRCLE THE WAGONS: Not done to fight off Indians, but to pen in livestock.

CONCOCHIN: Something made by mixing ingredients

DYSENTERY: A disease

EMIGRANT: A person who is leaving one country to enter another. Pioneers in the early years of the Oregon Trail were called emigrants because most were leaving the United States to enter the unorganized “Oregon Country.”

FORD: To cross a river on foot or by animal. Often the pioneers forded streams or small rivers. Many were too deep to ford, so they floated their wagons across or hired a ferry.

49th PARALLEL: Separated the British lands from the U.S.

GEORGE WASHINGTON BUSH: African American settler who could not own land like the whites. Indians helped his family survive the winter.

HOMESTEAD ACT of 1862: Free land for those who came west to settle and farm. Little thought was given to the fact that the Indians already occupied the land that the U.S. assumed was theirs for the taking.

HEIRLOOM: Item of significance passed down to one’s children

“OREGON COUNTRY”: Refers to a large territory that was originally not controlled by any other colonial nation. It is today’s Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, much of British Columbia and small parts of Wyoming and Montana.

PASS: A gap in a mountain range. Many passes are narrow gorges, but South Pass of the Oregon Trail was a large “saddle” in the mountains many miles wide.

MANIFEST DESTINY” The idea that Americans had the right and were destined to expand and claim the western territories.

PATTERN BLOCKS: The patchwork shapes of squares, triangles, and rectangles on a quilt. Originally, they were small pieces of fabric left over from making clothing or cut from old, used clothes; which served to fill in the places of the quilt that were worn-out from use.

PIONEER: An early settler in a new territory. All the people on the Oregon trail.

QUILT: Warm bed covering made of three layers- top, back, and padding. The stitching together of the three is the quilting.

RAFT: A flat log structure used as transportation on water.

TERRITORY: Land that belongs to or is under the control of another country.

“THE WEST”: A term used to describe the part of the United States that lies to the West and beyond the Mississippi River.
TRAIL: A cleared or marked route.

WAGON TRAIN: A group of wagons traveling together.

WESTWARD HO! An exclamation to get moving.

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American Heritage’s Westward on the Oregon Trail narrated by Marian T.Place. 1962. Junior Librarian history book.

Cobb, Mary. The Quilt -Block History of Pioneer Days. Millbrook Press, 1998.
Essential history of quilting and pattern blocks. Kid projects included.

Coerr, Eleanor. The Josefina Story Quilt. NY Harper and Row, 1986.
Josefina, the hen, is considered a nuisance on the trip west until her squawking saves her from robbers.

Crutchfield, James. A. It Happened in Washington. Twodot Helana, Montana, 1995.
A chapter book with a couple pages a piece focused on significant and interesting events in this state.

Edwards, Roy. Oregon at Last. Willaims Morrow & Company, 1961.
A thirteen-year-old boy leads his brother and sisters across the trail in the 1840’s.

Gibson, Jamie. Wagon Train 911. Harper Trophy, NY, 1996.
Fictional account of all the fifth graders at a school playing the parts of
individuals on wagon trains for 2 whole weeks. Across the curriculum ideas.

Hatt, Christine. The American West. Native American, Pioneers, and Settlers. Peter Bedrick Books, NY, 1998.
A History Source Book for children.

Holland, Isabelle. Journey Home. NY Scholastic, 1990.
Two orphan sisters in the late 1800’s leave NY on the orphan trail to the west.

Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
True story of a black slave mapping the escape to freedom on a quilt.

Hooks, William H. Pioneer Cat. A Steppin Stone Book, Random House, NY, 1988.
A cat and her kittens accompany a young girl across the Oregon Trail. readers, young readers novel.

Knight, Amelia Stewart. The Way West. Journal of a Pioneer Woman. Aladdin, NY, 1999.
True daily entries from the trail with husband and seven children written in her words “of the times.” Really eye opening about the true difficulties and dangers of life.

Laughlin, Mildred Knight, Peggy Tubbs Black, and Margery Kirby Loberg. Social Studies Readers Theater for Children. Teacher Ideas Press, Englewood, Co., 1991

Levine, Ellen. If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon. NY: Scholastic, 1992.
Book recounts from a child’s perspective that travels on the Oregon Trail.

Miller, Wanda J. US History through Children’s Literature. Teacher Ideas Press, Englewood, Co., 1997.
From the Colonial period to WWII, the section on Pioneer Life and Westward Expansion is great, especially Pages 118-129.

Moss, Marissa. Rachel’s Journal. Scholastic, Inc., NY, 1998.
A hand written fictional journal based on real diaries of 12-18 year old girls whom traveled the Trail from 1846-68.

Sandler, Martin W. Pioneers, A library of Congress Book. Harper Collins Publishers, NY, 1994.
Some significant details of the trip that I wasn’t aware of. Only a small part of the book is actually focused on the Oregon Trail. Written like a newspaper.

Selwyn, Douglas. Living History in the Classroom Integrative arts activities for making Social Studies meaningful. Zephyr Press, Tucson, Ariz., 1993.
A mock trial of the murder case of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Pg. 31.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Homestead Act. Chicago, Children’s Press, 1978.
From 1863-90 thousands moved west to claim free land on the praries.

Sterling, Mary Ellen. Thematic Unit: Westward Ho! Huntington Beach, Ca., Teacher Created Materials, 1992.

Turner, Ann. Sewing Quilts. NY: Macmillan, 1994.
A pioneer girl sees pieces of her life sewn into the quilt she, her sister, and mom make.

Van Leeuwen, Jean. Bound for Oregon. NY: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1994.
Story of a nine-year-old girl and her family over Oregon Trail in 1852.

Going West. NY: Dial Books for Young Reader, 1992

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie. NY: Harper and Row, 1935.
Laura and her family journey by wagon into Indian Territory.

Wilson, Laura. How I Survived the Oregon Trail. A Beech Tree Paperback Book, NY, 1999.
A fictional journal of a ten year old boy with lots of close-up info and authentic photographs on various artifacts and procedures of daily life on the trail.

Woodruff, Elvira. Dear Levi: Letters from the Oregon Trail. NY: Alfred A. Knopt, 1994.
Twelve year old Austin writes letters home to his brother Levi in Penn., and tells Him about the danger, sorrow, and excitement he encounters on the trail.

Wright, Courtni C. Wagon Train. Holiday House, NY,1995.
A black family goes west in 1865


Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
5000 Discovery Drive, The Dalles, OR 97058
(541) 296-8600
An amasing museum of exhibits for all ages. Learn about the changes to the Columbia River.

End of the Trail Museum
Oregon City, Oregon.
Web site has emigrant names and biographies, emigrant families of the month, and their history library is free for teachers.

Fort Walla Walla Museum
755 Myra Road. Walla Walla, Wa. 99362.
Sixteen historic and replica buildings, as well as several exhibit buildings with collections.

Oregon Trail Regional Museum
2305 Main Street, Baker City, OR
(541) 523-9308
Across from the city park, this used to be the towns community center and ballroom. It’s filled with exhibits and collectables from the1800’s. It houses the model of “No Name City” from the movie “Paint Your Wagon,” filmed right here in Baker City. The downtown’s 1889 Geiser Grand Hotel is a National Historic Landmark.

Pioneer Family Museum and Ohop Indian Village
7716 Ohop Valley Road, Eatonville, Wa. 98328
Voice mail: 360-832-6300
1 ½ hour “hands on” living history guided tour to experience 1880 pioneer homestead, authentic pioneer cabin, activity cabin, barn, blacksmith shop, and woodworking shop.

National Historic Oregon Tail Interpretive Center.
Flagstaff Hill, Flagstaff Hill, Hwy. 86, PO Box 987, Baker City, Or 97814
(541) 523-1843
A hill just outside of town from where you can see the well-preserved segment of the Oregon Trail crossing the steppe between The Rockies, and Cascades. Self-guided museum with westward migration exhibits, living history theater, encampments, interpretive trails, wagon ruts, and mine sites.

Washington State History Museum.
1911 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, Washington 98402
(253) 272-3500
WSHM Field Guide available. Edited and produced by Stephanie Lile. Washington State Historical Society. 1997.

Whitman Mission.
National Historic Site near Walla Walla, Washington


Pelz, Ruth. Discovering Washington. Gibbs-Smith Publisher, Salt Lake City, 1997.
(4th grade) Chapter 8: Across the Oregon Trail


Hill, William E. Reading, Writing, and Riding Along the Oregon-California Trails. Oregon-California Tails Association. Independence, Missouri, 1993.
Copyable worksheets for upper elementary


Oregon Trail Foundation:
Offers biographies, diaries, and info about historical sites.

Trail’s history:
Varied selection including history in the states it passed through, diaries, genealogies, and maps.

Whitman, Narcissa
The life story of the first woman to travel the Oregon Trail. Includes links to other resources bout Narcissa and her husband.

Smith, Jedediah S. – Mountain Man
Discover the travels of this explorer of the western US whose travels opened the way for the Oregon Trail. Includes a portrait.

For a simulation:
Students grades 4-6 are on the simulated wagon train trail west. Can share in discussions with other schools. Students encounter a problem of the day and make daily decisions such as: what time of year to travel, supplies to bring, how to cross-rivers, survive dangers.

AskERIC Lesson Plans:
Click #1 Social Studies, Click #2 US History, Click #3 Oregon Trail Diary (grades 5-12) Information, test questions, long list of events and actual places and where they take place. Suggestion: Use one per day for problem and journal.

Encarta Lesson Plans Some helpful links, one is the study guide from above.

Another is In Search of the Oregon Trail: This one is maintained by Public Broadcasting Service and includes quiz, timeline, classroom materials, and links.

Links to the Oregon Trail: This site has general information, routes, landmarks, Donner Party, Whitmans, diaries, memories and letters, modern sites and main links. One of the best!

Great connection site! Clackamas County has this Website. It links a reader with several other interesting sites on the Oregon Trail.

National Historical Trails Interperative Center.This site has photos of the wagon train re-enacted in 2002. Included in this site are interactive maps history and education pages.



The Oregon Trail II (CD ROM)
Minneapolis, MN: MECC.
Excellent game for 3-4th grade. New challenges, more decisions, and a built-in journal for student use.Writing Along the Oregon Trail. For audio download from Oregon Trail ll CD go to:


US History Video Collection: Expansionism.
Bala Cynwyd, Pa. Schlessinger Video Productions, 1966 (35 minutes)
Presents Louisiana Purchase, The Lewis and Clark expedition, the War of 1812, Native American resistance, the Trail of Tears, and the Oregon Trail.

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Web Quest, printouts, links for background information on the Oregon Trail and trivia questions.

Westward Ho!

Use the World Wide Web to find the answers. On a separate piece of paper write your answers. (Another idea is to create a folder that the students save their responses to from this online worksheet.)

    Click on the "All About the Trail" In the 1840's and 1850's, people walked and rode west on the Oregon Trail. The Oregon Trail was _______miles long.
  2. Use the same website from above and click on "Camping". A group of emigrant wagons traveling together was called a wagon train. At night the emigrants pulled the wagons into a _______ to corral* the animals and to protect themselves and their belongings. (*So they wouldn't stray.)
  3. When they arrive at the campsite for the night, the children would rush to collect the best ___________ ___________ to use as fuel for the campfires.
  4. Use the same website as above and click on "Power". Most covered wagons were pulled by____________, which were strong, cheap, and docile and could live on prairie grasses along the way.
  5. The Prairie schooner was a type of covered wagon used by the emigrants. The tires were made of ______________ .
  6. Go to the topic and click on "History" then type in "Goldrush" and click on "Go". Many pioneers traveled west to homestead or establish their own farms. Some were seeking their fortunes. In 1849, news of the _____________ inspired thousands to set off for California.
  7. Look at the list of pioneer families on this site and click on one of the names.

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The Oregon Trail

Finding Their Way Out West

Web Quest

1. How did the fur trappers/traders, missionaries, and early emigrants find their way west?

2. Was there a map available for use by the Oregon Trail travelers?

3. What is a landmark? Describe a trip to a friend’s house using landmarks.

4. What natural feature did the Oregon Trail mostly follow?

5. What would you name the landmarks along the trial? Look at pictures of the Oregon Trail to help you make this decision.

6. Locate landmarks on a map, mark with a symbol. Use your Oregon Trail map.

7. Students can take a test about landmarks, and read diary entries from famous spots along the Oregon Trail at “The Trails Project”

8. In which state can you find Chimney Rock?

9. Why did the emigrants carve their names into the landmarks?

10. Was Courthouse Rock and Jailhouse Rock, Nebraska, really what it said to be?

11. Why did Independence Rock, Wyoming, get its name?

12. Why is Haystack Rock, Wyoming, easy to spot?

13. What is a mountain pass? What is South Pass, Wyoming?

14. What is the name of the cutoff to Pilot Peak, Nevada?

15. What happened at Massacre Rock in Southeast Idaho?

16. Name a volcanic peak that is south of the Columbia River in Oregon?

17. What were the two options of travel when they reached Oregon?

18. After descending Windlass Hill, Nebraska name this stop along the trail. It provided a natural spring, shade, beauty, and a makeshift post office.


1. By natural geographic formations and rivers, the sun, worn animal trails, and
with help from the Native Americans.
2. First there were the fur trappers such as Joseph Reddeford Walker, Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Caleb Green. Next there were the explorers, Lewis and Clark, Jedediah Smith, Benjamin Bonneville, Zebulon Pike, Charles Fremont. Then the missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Henry and Eliza Spalding, Jason and Daniel Lee, Father Francis Blanchet, Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet. There was a guidebook written by J. M. Shively in 1846 entitled “Route and Distances”. John Fremont and Charles Pruess are the best known map makers of the American West from 1842-46. The emigrants often had a leader that had previously traveled the trail.
3. It is a structure used to orient oneself from one point to another.
Answers telling the route to a friend’s house should describe landmarks, directions, distances, and routes.
4. Rivers were the most important landmarks. They emigrants needed water for sustenance.
5. Various answers. (The real names for these landmarks are the most common names.)
6. Use an Oregon Trail Map.
7. Click on “fun section.”
8. Chimney Rock, Nebraska.
9. To mark the spot, register name and date, or be remembered. Many died along the way.
10. No. (Courthouse Rock)
11. A pioneer named “4th of July Pass” because their wagon train arrived on July 4th, 1830.
12. Haystack stands alone on the flat prairie of Wyoming.
13. A mountain pass is a route over a mountain range. South Pass marked the crossing of the Continental “Great” Divide.
14. Hastings Cutoff or the Mormon Trail.
15. Massacre Rock is near an area where ten pioneers and an unknown number of natives were killed.
16. Mt. Hood is the peak in Oregon.
17. The Columbia River by raft (dangerous, fast, waterfalls) or overland by the Barlow Trail. (long, lack of provisions, hot)
18. Ash Hollow, Nebraska

Additional Web Pages

Please look at these links for further background information, and the last link is an Oregon Trail Online Trivia Game.

Oregon Trail Introduction:

Oregon Trail Background Information:

Oregon Trail Era Art:

Oregon Trail - Teacher's Guide - Population Charts:

In search of the Oregon Trail - Trivia Questions:

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Background: Landscape artists of the mid 1800s helped to draw pioneers westward with their grand views of the west, particularly with paintings of the Rocky Mountains. One such artist was Albert Bierstadt, a German American who went west on a surveying expedition. He was awed by the grandeur of the Rockies and made sketches in a journal of what he saw and felt as he traveled in present day Colorado and Wyoming. When he returned to his studio back east he painted mountain scenes from his memory and sketchbooks. His paintings are grand panoramas of the west with beautiful snowy peaks surrounding lush river valleys and Indian encampments. In the days before photography this was the way the west was visually presented to the public and it looked gorgeous!
Bierstadt was offered $35,000 for his paintings, a kingly sum in those days! Less famous artists found their work being used in magazines to encourage people to head west.

Lesson Ideas

Find a print(s) of Bierstadt’s The Rocky Mountains, 1863, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. If you are in the Highline School District, it is available from film booking. (206-433-2394) Have the students gather around so they can see closely. You may provide a few magnifying glasses since this picture is rich in detail.
Discuss landscape painting with the children. Help them to identify the background, middleground and foreground. Allow the children to make observations of what they see in these parts of Bierstadt’s work. This painting is large in scale; the artist is covering a lot of territory here! Be sure they notice the great details in the Indian encampment in the foreground, and the artist’s own easel in left center. Note the subtle use of color. Compare and contrast the painting to a photograph. Would this be a place they would like to head west to see or live in? Why would it attract pioneers?
Give the children landscape photos to draw. Emphasize filling the entire paper and drawing in the background, mid ground, and foreground. See if they can blend and match colors with their photo. Does their final picture look like the photo? Why or why not?
Another idea would be to have the students imagine they are in the picture, The Rocky Mountains. Can they write a story of where they might go and what they would do if they suddenly entered the picture?


-Large print or prints of Bierstadt’s The Rocky Mountains
-Magnifying glasses
-Photos of landscapes, Sunset Magazine and calendar pictures work well.
-Colored pencils

Direct link to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Rocky Mountains
The Kennedy Center ARTSEDGE link to painting a landscape
A brief biography and a collection of nearly 400 paintings by Bierstadt
Landscape photographs of Glacier National Park

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