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overview prep for teachers steps: class one class two extensions

Even today, planning a long trip requires planning, organization, and careful consideration. The decisions faced by westward-journeying homesteaders and other settlers in the latter half of the nineteenth century -- including weeks (or months) of grueling travel, rough (or nonexistent) roads, and few amenities -- were monumental. Many homesteaders had to abandon the majority of their material possessions, bid farewell to family and friends who they would often never see again, and prepare supplies that would last not only for the long journey ahead, but for the first few months in their new home.

In this lesson, students will reflect on their own basic needs in the year 2002, and compare these needs to those of homesteaders in the 1880s. After consulting a historical essay and online primary source documents, students will participate in an online interactive activity. Students will then work in small groups to determine an acceptable supply list for a 1880s homesteader based on the economic and transportation realities of the period. This lesson can be used as an introduction to a unit on westward expansion in the United States, or as a pre- or post-viewing activity for the PBS series FRONTIER HOUSE. A basic knowledge of 19th-century United States history is required.

Grade Level: 7-9

Time Allotment: A brief (10 minute) overview followed one week later by three 45-minute class periods

Subject Matter: Social Studies and History

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
  • Describe the challenges inherent in preparing for an extended journey with limited resources;
  • Analyze a historic document and compare its contents to their own patterns of consumption and use;
  • Explain the modes of transportation available to homesteaders in the late 19th century;
  • Articulate the personal and economic realities faced by settlers planning to claim a homestead.

From the National Standards for History, available online at

Historical Thinking Standard 4:
  • The student conducts historical research. Therefore, the student is able to:
  • Formulate historical questions from encounters with historical documents, eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifacts, photos, historical sites, art, architecture, and other records from the past.
  • Obtain historical data from a variety of sources, including: library and museum collections, historic sites, historical photos, journals, diaries, eyewitness accounts, newspapers, and the like.
  • Support interpretations with historical evidence in order to construct closely reasoned arguments rather than facile opinions.

    Standard 2E:
  • The student understands the settlement of the West. Therefore, the student is able to explore the lure of the West and the reality of life on the frontier.

    Media Components

    Web Sites
    FRONTIER HOUSE Historical Essay: "Getting Started: Packing and Preparing for a New Life"
    This site contains a historical essay prepared in conjunction with the PBS series FRONTIER HOUSE. The essay details the preparations that homesteaders and other settlers had to make before departing for their new lives on the frontier.

    FRONTIER HOUSE: Planes, Trains, and Spare Wagon Wheels
    This site contains an interactive feature in which users assume the identity of homesteaders making their way to Montana in the year 1883. The site requires the Shockwave plug-in, which is available free at

    Adobe Acrobat Reader is required for the following downloads.

    For each student:
  • Daily Personal Consumption and Use Log -- download
  • Getting Started Focus Sheet -- download
  • Computer with Internet Access

    For each group of four to five students:
  • Homestead Inventory (copied, cut into squares, and inserted in an envelope) -- download

    Each group will also need copies of the following handouts, based on their group's decision:
  • Traveler's Freight Roster and Bankbook: Railroad -- download
  • Traveler's Freight Roster and Bankbook: Wagon -- download
  • Traveler's Freight Roster and Bankbook: Steamboat -- download
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    The Homesteaders
    Animation of homesteaders
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