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 A family of emigrants entering the South Loup Valley

[Detail] Emigrants crossing the plains

Lesson Overview

What motivated thousands of people to journey west during the 1800s?

Was it the prospect of land ownership advertised on a broadside tacked to a tree that convinced a family to pack up all their belongings and travel across a continent in search of a better life? Or was it a letter from a friend announcing their good fortune of striking gold in California


Students will be able to:

  • evaluate and gather information from a first person narrative
  • analyze, interpret and synthesize primary sources such as photographs, prints, broadsides and maps to understand a point of view through online primary sources; and
  • integrate multiple resources to develop an understanding of westward expansion.


Time Required

  • Four weeks

Recommended Grade Level

  • 6-8
  • 9-12


  • Maps & Geography


  • National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860
  • Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900


Donna Cantarella and Mary Alice Misuta