Teacher Notes
Grade Level/Unit
H/SS Framework Grade 5: U.S. History and Geography: Making a New Nation
Unit 7: Westward Expansion


Draft H/SS Standards Grade 8: Students describe the divergent paths of the American people 1800-1850 and the challenges they faced with emphasis on the West, including the social and political effects of Manifest Destiny and its relationship to the acquisition, exploration and settlement of the trans-Mississippi West from the Louisiana Purchase and how the effects of geography, climate, canals and river systems, economic incentives, and frontier spirit influenced the distribution and movement of people, goods and services.

Language Arts Standards Grade 8:

Reading: Students read and understand grade-level appropriate material. They describe and connect the essential ideas, arguments, and perspective of text, and they relate test structure, organization and purpose.

Listening and Speaking: Students deliver focused, coherent presentation that convey ideas clearly and relate to the background and interests of the audience. Student speaking demonstrates command of standard English and the excellent organization and delivery strategies.

Lesson Purpose (Outcomes)

The Students will:

1. become more proficient at reading standard road maps and topographical maps.
2. learn about the lives of one or more pathfinders who opened the trails to the West.
3. give a Living History presentation, becoming a character from the past.

Length of the Lesson

This is a project with many variables. The initial map work (with road maps and topographical maps) can be done in two 40 minute periods if the entire class has access to maps or an on-line computer lab. The study of the individual trailblazers might well require a week's time since more than likely the student will have to visit the school or public library and read on their own. The presentation of the first person reports can be spread out over weeks with a schedule of two a day set up. First slot the volunteers; then assign presentation times for the rest, remembering that they will be presenting in pairs.

Resource Materials Needed

The lesson on Jedediah Smith and the route to California via Cajon Pass is but one of many trailblazer projects which can be assigned. For all these projects you will need:

1. Maps of the western United States - one for each pair or group. (Automobile club members can get individual maps.) Maps of the standard fold out road map variety are the easiest to use because of their size.

2. Topographical Maps: These are available on line at http://fermi.jhuapl.edu/states/states.html. Ideally you would have one posted in the class. For a catalog describing magnificent topographical maps contact:

Raven Maps and Images
P.O. Box 850
Medford. OR 97501-0253

3. Information on the various trailblazers. Here a bit of ingenuity is required. Very simple biographies are available at www.biography.com. Encyclopedias (text and CD ROM) will be a bit more informative. A search by name on the various search engines will not be satisfying. The best resources for trailblazer information are books and journals readily available at libraries or for purchase. To get a feel for what is available go to http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/subst/index2.html/6522-3111478-582249 to open up a megabook store. Type in by subject, Mountain Men or Fur Trade, or Jedediah Smith and a world of available books will open to you, many obtainable in two or three days. (They do arrive that quickly.)

In any event, you will need at least a few books which devote a chapter to each of the various personalities who are the trailblazers. Here are two which have proved very helpful:

Westward: The Epic Crossing of the American
Landscape by Gerald Roscoe and David Larkin
The Monacelli Press
1995: ISBN 1-885254-09-1
Jedediah Smith and the Mountain Men of the
American West
by John Logan Allen
Chelsea House Publishers
1991: ISBN 0-7910-1319-7

Background Information That Might Be Helpful

What is described in the lesson is a single application of a project which could easily have fifteen applications going at the same time. The number attempted depends on teacher interest and background. Here is a list of some of the other possibilities.

1. Robert Stuart and the discovery of South Pass(1812). A class which has studied the journey of Lewis and Clark will recognize the difficulty which the Corps of Discovery had crossing The Great Divide when it became evident that there was no water route to the Pacific Ocean. In 1811 Robert Stuart led a party from Astoria, OR to St. Louis and in the process found the only spot in the Divide where wagons would be able to pass through. For all practical purposes he discovered the Oregon Trail years before the wagons began to roll. South Pass was to the west what the Cumberland Gap was to the settlement of the Trans-Appalacian east. Further reading will show that Jedediah Smith rediscovered the Pass in the 20's and Benjamin Bonneville led a large expedition of discovery through the pass in the early 1830's.

2. Jedediah Smith and the first passage by a Mountain Man, west to east, through Ebbetts Pass (1826). The travel of the Smith party in Alta California and his contact with the missions and the Mexican government is fascinating. His crossing of the Sierra range in winter is epic.

3. Joseph Walker and his California expedition (1833). Walker crossed the Great Basin of Nevada, pioneering the trail which so many would follow into California. He entered California across the Sierra at present day Yosemite Park, wintered at Mission San Juan Bautista and Monterey and left California by crossing the Sierras Nevadas near Bakersfield by what is now known as Walker Pass.

This is just a taste. Other names which could lead to Trailblazer Projects are Zebulon Pike (Pike's Peak); William Ashley and the American Fur Company; Nathaniel Wyeth; James Colter (Yellowstone Park); the Bidwell-Bartleson party, the first wagon train using the Oregon Trail and opening the California Trail years before the Gold Rush; Jim Bridger, whose fort marked the point where so many other trails split off from the main trail to Oregon; Brigham Young and the Mormon migration (perhaps the best documented of all the journeys to the west).