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Week Six: Overland Migration

Page history last edited by mwitgen@... 9 years, 9 months ago



October 7: The Oregon Trail and Mormon Migration





June 3, 1836

July 18th – August 7th, 1836

September 21, 1836

September 22, 1836 

June 25 1839

May 2, 1840

March 1, 1842 

September 29, 1842

May 27, 1843 

October 9, 1844

April 22, 1846 

May 15, 1846

April 6, 1848 


  • Clips from Episode Two: Empire Upon the Trails, in Ken Burns' The West (PBS).


If the links do not work properly, use the time stamp or search for the beginning text in the transcript [ctrl + f]

     1- 31: 23- 36: 42 (In the deserts let me labor)

     2- 56:41- 1:08:57 (Westward I Go Free)

     3- 1:15:47-1:20:49 (So We Die)


  • Melvin L. Bashore, "Where the Prophets of God Live" : A Brief Overview of the Mormon Trail Experience, available at Trails of Hope.


  • Map detailing Mormon migration. Pay close attention to numbers 4, 5, and 6 (more background information is available in "Mormon Developments" and "Why They Left/Building a Community" at the top right of each window).



Study Questions 


The Oregon Trail and "pioneers" moving west are familiar images, popularized in television shows, movies, trail days/festivals, games, and monuments. The Oregon Trail game, for example, takes players through the trail, narrates certain events, and requires decisions on what to buy for the trip and how to react to certain situations (broken wagon axle, dysentery, fording a river vs. taking a ferry, when to hunt etc.).


Pulling examples from the Whitman's letters and the journal entries quoted in Bashore's essay on the Mormons, consider how you would create a game about traveling west in the mid-nineteenth century. How would you rewrite The Oregon Trail? Be prepared to discuss your ideas in small groups, creating a more nuanced version of the game that goes beyond popularized stereotypes. Also, feel free to consider individuals' experiences once they reach their destination, such as the Salt Lake Valley or the Walla Walla Valley.


Questions you might consider:

1. What are important decisions travelers had to make? What difficulties did they run into? What motivated their movement west and how did these motivations affect their trip?

2. Compare and contrast the Mormons' trail experience to that of the Christian missionaries, such as the Whitman's. How would a game based on each experience look? Also, consider how the game might look different from the perspective of a man, woman, or child.


*If you are unfamiliar with The Oregon Traila game created for educational purposes around 1971 that was popular in elementary schools in the 1980s and 1990san internet search will turn up videos, blogs, and promotional material related to the game. For example, a video promoting the Facebook version of the game provides an idea of the basic premise. On the Learning Company’s website, you can also find images and links about the different versions of the game, from the original Apple version to the newest home edition.



October 9: California




  • Susan L. Johnson, “ ‘Domestic’ Life in the Diggings: The Southern Mines in the California Gold Rush,” in Over the Edge: Remapping the American West. (Ctools/coursepack)
  • From "California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years" at the American Memory collection.


For each piece in this collection, read the Bibliographic Information:         

"A Frenchman in the Gold Rush: The Journal of Ernest De Massey." Read Chapter X: "In the Trinity Mines"

"California: Four months among the gold finders" by J. Tyrwhitt Brooks. Read Chapters IX, X, XI, XII

"California, in-doors and out"by Eliza W. Farnham. Read Chapter XXXI 

"California Gold Rush Merchant": The journal of Stephen Chapin Davis. Read the Introduction, which provides Davis's biography and read August 26, 1850- February 16, 1851.


  • Edmund Booth. Forty-Niner: The Life Story of a Deaf Pioneer.

Read the following letters:

Jacksonville, Tuolumne Co., California Aug. 18th, 1850. (3 pages)

Sonora, Tuolumne Co., California Nov. 3, 1850





 Tom Otterness, 1999. Sculpture "Gold Rush" at the Robert T. Matsui U.S. Courthouse, Sacramento, California. Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. 


Study Questions 


1. Do the primary sources further support Johnson's argument that the world that emerged around the gold mines was "a world upside down"? How do the primary sources add to or contest Johnson's discussion of gender, class, and race?


2. How do these accounts define "civilization"? What is associated with civilization and what is its opposite? How do these men and women see themselves and their lifestyles in California? How might you connect their accounts to previous discussions regarding civilization?


3. Like the "pioneers" of the Oregon Trail, miners during the California Gold Rush are emphasized by textbooks and other narratives centered on the West. Why? What makes the Gold Rush an "American" experience? How do the different types of readings support the images the Gold Rush evokes and how do these accounts differ or conflict with the popular narrative of the Gold Rush?


4. For this discussion, there are many different types of sources, which each provide a small snapshot of California or the Gold Rush. What information does this material provide when considered in juxtaposition? What is the significance of 1848 newspaper articles placed next to letters from a miner to his wife in 1850? Taken together, what type of picture of the Gold Rush does this material create? Is it an accurate depiction? Are certain perspectives missing?




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