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Special report: celebrating 400 years of pioneer spirit--from Jamestown to the Wild West.

New Book Allows Students to Explore Life as an American Pioneer

From building sod houses, log cabins, and covered wagons, to creating printing presses and maps, Great Pioneer America Projects You Can Build Yourself will provide readers ages 9 and up a chance to experience how American pioneers pushed westward across America. In fact, the book introduces readers to the day-to-day life of an American pioneer, offering a hands-on look at what life was like both on the trail and on the homestead in the vast western wilderness.

The book includes over 25 hands-on projects that can be made using simple household supplies and minimal adult supervision, and the result is a working model of the original innovation. The activities/projects can be used in the classroom or as homework assignments. Detailed, step-by-step instructions, illustrations and diagrams, and templates for each project are interspersed with historical facts, biographies, anecdotes and trivia about the real-life models, offering kids and adults alike a hands-on way to experience life as an American Pioneer.

Questions and Answers with Rachel Dickinson, author of Great Pioneer Projects You Can Build Yourself

Q: How or why did you become interested in writing about the American Pioneers?

A: I've always loved American history and have been fascinated with the pioneers and the frontier since I was in grade school. My great-great-great-great-great grandfather and his family traveled by wagon from Connecticut to Upstate New York in 1795 where they settled on land given to them as payment for my grandfather's service in the Revolutionary War. I always wondered what it must have been like for them to leave their homes and travel into what was then the wilderness. Would I have had the courage to do that? I would like to think I would but I really don't know.

Q: In researching the book, what information surprised you the most?

A: I guess I didn't have any idea how many people were willing to pull up stakes and move west. Now my picture of 19th century America is one of people on the move--by prairie schooner, on foot, by stagecoach and by railroad. I also didn't realize how close we came to driving the buffalo to extinction. The story of what happened to the buffalo and the Native Americans in the 19th century is a sad one.

Q: What purpose do the activities serve in the book?

A: I hope that kids will have a better understanding of some of the hardships faced by the pioneers when they do some of these activities. I also hope that once they get a glimpse into a pre-television/computer/GameBoy world that they'll find it kind of interesting.

Q: Why is it important that kids learn about the American Pioneers?

A: The people who decided to move west were brave and had to endure untold hardships both on the journey and in the early years of settlement. I want kids to think about whether or not they would have the courage or stamina to endure the 2,000-mile journey that millions of people made more than 100 years ago. These pioneers completely changed our country when they settled the frontier and became farmers and ranchers and established communities. Someday, I hope one of my readers will find him or herself standing in front of an historic marker in Wyoming reading about the Oregon Trail, and they'll look out over the high desert and will see just a faint trace of wagon ruts and a little chill will run up their spine because they'll remember how difficult the journey was for so many who walked the length of that trail.

Q: After researching the book, did you come away with any favorite stories, legends or anecdotes?

A: I love it all--stories about the cowboys, the frontier families, the prospectors, the Mountain men, the Plains Indians, the buffalo and the early explorers. I particularly liked reading about the artists and photographers who documented the changing face of the West--we're so fortunate to have their images today.

Interesting facts about the American Pioneers (adapted from Great Pioneer Projects You Can Build Yourself)

* In 1843, Marcus Whitman led 100 wagons with 5,000 head of cattle from Independence, Missouri, to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. This became known as The Great Migration, and inspired thousands more pioneers to head west.

* On many days a wagon train heading west would only travel ten to fifteen miles. On rainy and muddy days the caravan might only travel one mile! It would take the wagon train five to seven days just to travel the distance we can drive a car in a single hour.

* The Homestead Act was a law made in 1862 by the U.S. Congress. The law said that anyone that was over age 21, and was at the head of the family, could have 160 acres of land if they improved it in five years, or they could buy it for a small amount of money. This law helped approximately 60,000 families find new homes. The law ended in 1976, everywhere in the U.S. except Alaska, where it was ended in 1986.

* The Pony Express spread 500 horses from St. Joseph, Missouri to San Francisco, California in 190 stations spread about 10 miles apart. Every day, up to 40 riders left the stations at a full gallop. Riders would jump on a fresh horse every 10 miles, and after 70 miles would toss their mailbag to a new rider. A letter posted in Missouri reached California in about 10 days.

* The Transcontinental Railroad went from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California, covering 2,000 miles of the great western wilderness. Its completion in 1869 was seen as a great symbolic unifier for the U.S. after it had been torn apart by the Civil War.

* In the 1880s and 1890s, settlers struggled through great drought, dust storms, and swarms of locusts that ate everything, including curtains, clothing and even broom straws.

* When the first wagon trains set out across the Great Plains, millions of buffalo covered the prairie. By 1883, a team of scientists sent from Washington to count the buffalo found only 200 left on the prairie.

Jamestown Audio Series

A new Jamestown audio series, "A Moment in Time," is now available online. Teachers and students can access the series by visiting:

This award-winning series was produced and hosted by Dr. Dan Roberts, professor of history at the University of Richmond. It was first introduced as a nationally syndicated program that aired on public radio stations throughout the U.S. The series offers brief, informative and interesting "slices" of history including the challenges and triumphs involved in the first settlement of the New World.

Historic Briefs

The U.S. National Park Service provides a variety of historical briefs on Jamestown. These "briefs" include short essays on characters present during the settlement of Jamestown including: Pocahontas, John Rolfe, Thomas Rolfe and Robert Hunt, Jamestown's first Chaplain

The briefs also provide readers with a view of life in Jamestown including: the pioneer's interactions with Native Americans, early industry and occupations, timelines, and summaries of Jamestown's historical significance

The briefs can be downloaded by visiting: Jthanout/JTBriefs.html.

Pioneer Exploration--Celebrating Jamestown's 400th Anniversary

Online Lesson Plans

What better way to get students talking about what it would be like to be an early-American pioneer than to introduce them to the Jamestown settlement? This year marks the 400th Anniversary of America's first town. And, to help commemorate the event, teachers can find a number of online and downloadable resources at:

The FREE lessons provided on the site are designed to help teachers and students explore colonial America's first settlement. The lesson plans were designed for the Jamestown Journey Website by the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. Additional lesson plans created by Historic Jamestown, Colonial National Historical Park and U.S. Park Service, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, NASA Langley Research Center, National Geographic, and Colonial Williamsburg have been added to the Web site. These materials were first made available in November 2005 and over 1,000 teachers have already registered and are using these resources.

The lessons are offered as a means to open classroom discussions regarding how Jamestown helped to mold the future democracy of the United States. Lessons are included for a variety of disciplines--not just history! Students can explore:

* Civic engagement in contemporary America

* How the first English settlement was established

* The birthplace of American government

* The many contributions of Native Americans and African Americans to our early settlements

* The beginnings of protected religious freedoms

* Property rights, the beginnings of capitalism and more

To learn more and download lesson plans and classroom activities visit: Additional lesson plans can also be found at:

To access a sample lesson plan visit us online at (click on Subscriber Spot, password = fall).
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Publication:Curriculum Review
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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