Students watch videos about Homesteading in Idaho. Students learn how the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad changed the homesteaders’ lives in different ways. Students write a postcard from the perspective of someone who would have seen the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
This lesson is part of Great States: Idaho | Unit 9: Industry, Economy & Government which explores the interconnections of Industry, Economy, & Government. A particular emphasis will be placed on undertakings that bring all three of these forces together such as resource extraction and infrastructure development.
4.SS.3.2.1: Describe examples of historic and current technological innovations in relation to economic growth in Idaho.
Boise District 413.40: Describe examples of technological innovations in relation to economic growth in Idaho.
Boise District 413.34: Describe examples of changes in transportation and communication in relation to economic growth in Idaho.
- Video: Homesteading - Cost of Homesteading
- Video: Homesteading - Railroad Land Grants
- A smart board, projector, or other type of screen to show videos to the class
- Class set of Transcontinental Railroad History handout
- Index cards
- Pens or pencils
- Markers, crayons, or colored pencils (optional)
Tell students they will be watching a two short videos about:
how homesteaders lived and got their start
how and why the idea of the Transcontinental Railroad first developed
Play the video, Homesteading - Cost of Homesteading[1:52]. Ask students to describe what life was like for homesteaders before the railroads came through.
Play the video, Homesteading | Railroad Land Grants [1:15]. Ask students: what are some of the reasons the video gave as to why a railroad was important?
Ask students if they know what “cultural cohesion” means. Explain that this was about uniting the culture of the country together. Remind them that the transcontinental railroad was built during the Civil War. It was built by men of all nationalities who worked side by side with other men who didn’t speak the same language. Why might cultural cohesion be important to President Lincoln at the time?
Explain to students that the Transcontinental Railroad was completed on May 10, 1869 in Utah. Pass out the Transcontinental Railroad History handout. Have students read about the story of the Transcontinental Railroad and it affected the economy of western states, and then complete the prompt on the handout.
Explain that another economic benefit from the railroad was a lower cost of travel. Before the railroad, it would take months of travel and around $1000 to reach California from New York. The trip only cost $150 and took one week by rail. The Transcontinental also led to advancements in communication. Mail and news could be delivered faster across the country. Telegraph companies worked hand-in-hand or were subdivisions of railroad companies, in order to expand their reach as well.
Have students write a postcard dated in the 1870s from the perspective of someone who would have benefited from the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. This person could be a homesteader living in Idaho before the railroad brought more people either visiting or moving there, or someone who just moved to one of the depot towns. Provide index cards for the students to write on. The postcard should be addressed to a family member or friend from an eastern state who has not visited any western states, have three sentences that would fit on a postcard, and should describe what it is like to have the completed railroad—if there are new towns springing up or new goods coming in to their area.
If time allows, have students draw a picture on the other side of their postcard that illustrates what they wrote.
- Examples of life for homesteaders before the railroads came through:
- The only way to bring any goods or supplies to the area was by oxen and cart, which limited how much and how often supplies were available.
- It was difficult to get building materials delivered to build houses. The materials had to be bought even though the land was free.
- They lived off the land and ate what was grown or raised.
- The railroad was important because it was necessary to support settlers moving out west, to tie the nation together, to make trade across the country easier, help economic development.
- It was important to try and strengthen feelings of patriotism and make it easier to move from place to place.
- Answers on handout should include: passenger travel was easier and faster; traveling from east to west took one week instead of six or more months; goods for stores could be transported faster from east to west, homesteaders may have decided to start businesses in the depot towns because of the increased population to buy those goods or had more demand for any of their farm goods.