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Student Exercise on the Gold Rush

The subject that this exercise will be used for is fifth-grade-level history. The specific area of concern will be the California Gold Rush of 1849-1850 and the westward movement of the United States during and after the Gold Rush more generally.

By the time students finish this exercise they should be able to:

trace the land and sea routes from the eastern half of the United States to San Francisco in Northern California during the 1849-50 Gold Rush

describe benefits and dangers of travel by land

describe benefits and dangers of travel by sea

Before this exercise starts, a map should be posted showing westward migration in the United States during the Gold Rush years, including both the land and sea routes. The Santa Fe and Oregon Trails would be identified, as well as the major eastern ports (Boston, New London) from which ships sailed for San Francisco. With that visual aid posted in the classroom, the next phase of the exercise could proceed.

Students should be given excerpts from and directed toward Kimball Webster's (1917) Gold Seekers of '49, James Abbey's (1850) California: A Trip Across the Plains, and Luzena Stanley Wilson's (1937) '49er for a picture of taking the overland route to California. They should be given the entire text of Abiah Marchant's "Poem, Feb.-July," onboard the Magnolia (1849).

Pretend you are grown up and live east of the Mississippi River in 1849. Suppose that you, along with your brother or sister, want to go to California and get rich by looking for gold. You both want to go, but you can't agree on how to get there. Look at the map, which shows the main overland and overseas routes to California. Read the diaries and poem carefully. Find on the map where you live, and look at your destination. Decide which way to California you think is best--overland or by sea--and why. Next, pretend that your brother or sister thinks the other way--not your way--is best. It doesn't matter which w...

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