Students review a primary source document about the recollections of a pioneer woman in Oregon. They then fill out a cause and effect chart to develop generalizations about pioneer life.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Oregon | Unit 5: The Oregon Trail and Settling Oregon." Oregon’s unique role as the ultimate destination of the heavily traveled Oregon Trail will be considered in this unit.
4.2: Explain how key individuals and events influenced the early growth and changes in Oregon.
4.7: Use primary and secondary sources to create or describe a narrative about events in Oregon history.
Class set of the Primary Source Document: Early Pioneer Life (pages 2–5 of PDF)
An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show images to the class
Class set of Cause and Effect: Oregon’s Pioneer Era handout
Before class, navigate to the collection, Library of Congress: Media Gallery | Westward Expansion: Encounters at a Cultural Crossroads. Scroll down and launch the document, Early Pioneer Life. Print copies of pages 2–5 of the PDF.
In class, tell students that they will be learning about early pioneer life in Oregon by reading an account based on materials collected as part of the Federal Writers Project, a program developed as part of the Work Projects Administration as a way to give employment to authors and journalists during the Great Depression.
Distribute copies of the Early Pioneer Life primary source document. Explain that Sara Wrenn was a writer who, in 1939, interviewed Jean Slauson about her background and copied down writings that she and her cousins had collected describing their female relatives’ experiences as early Oregon pioneers. Briefly, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of personal writings of others’ recollections as a primary source. [Strengths: first-hand accounts, potential for interesting anecdotes, insight into lives of ordinary people; Weaknesses: potential for faulty memories, human tendency to romanticize the past, possible unwillingness to share embarrassing, sad, or unflattering information]
Have students read the document, either silently or aloud with students taking turns. Then, distribute the Cause and Effect: Oregon’s Pioneer Era handout, which they should fill out working alone or with partners.
To conclude the lesson, ask students what generalizations they can make about pioneer life in Oregon based on the reading and handout. [Possible answers include: life was hard; people were vulnerable to natural disasters and harsh climate; some women were strong-willed and in favor of suffrage for women]
For more information, see: Westward Expansion: Encounters at a Cultural Crossroads (historical context, teaching suggestions, links to online resources, and more) [Source: Library of Congress]