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        Idaho | Activity 5.2: Traveling to Idaho

        Unit 5: Westward Expansion

        This Unit introduces students to the period of Westward Expansion, when people lived much differently than they do today. In spite of these differences, pioneer families struggled with how to obtain food and shelter, how to define the roles of each family member, and how to balance risk and opportunity—much like families in modern day Idaho.

        Lesson Summary

        Students learn about the difficult and challenging Idaho terrain and the terrain presented difficulties to the pioneers traveling during the Westward Expansion. 

        Standards: 413.06 Identify the geographic features of Idaho; 4.SS.2.1.1 Use geographic skills to collect, analyze, interpret, and communicate data; Goal 2.3: Trace the migration and settlement of human populations on the earth’s surface.

        Time Allotment

        25 minutes



        1. Navigate to the National Parks Map of the Oregon Trail and project this map in your classroom.

        2. Zoom into the map to view where the Oregon Trail went through Idaho.

        3. Describe landforms or geographic features that might have made travel for pioneers difficult. The following are some examples:

          1. Massacre Rocks – also known as “Devil’s Gate” due to the large boulders, narrow passage, and fear of Indian attacks

          2. Shoshone, Twin, or Upper Salmon Falls – waterfalls caused travelers to reroute and find easier passage, adding to the journey’s time

        4. Describe landforms or geographic features that might have made travel for pioneers easier. Some examples include:

          1. Thousand Springs – fresh water source

          2. C.J. Strike Ruts – large reservoir for fishing

        5. Choose an excerpt or excerpts from Palmer’s Journal for the students to read. You can assign different excerpts among your students.

          1. Excerpt 1: Sets up sparse feeding grounds, Aug 23 is about crossing the Salmon River

          2. Excerpt 2: Fort Boise and short cuts through mountains

          3. Excerpt 3: Difficulty of crossing creeks and rough roads

          4. Excerpt 4: Grand Valley to Blue Mountains, rough terrain

        6. As they read, have students circle or underline words or phrases that describe difficulties or successes during the travels. Explain that some passages have footnotes, or further explanation, marked by superscript numbers in the text.

        7. Ask students to pick from one of the features previously mentioned in parts 3 or 4 of this activity, and write a three-paragraph journal entry or story about what they think navigating that specific geographic feature would have been like and how it might have been navigated, such as with canoes, horses, or on foot.


        Read all of Palmer’s Journals


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