Chapter 16: The Truckee

Teacher's Guide Chapter Author: Lindsay Warneka, 4th grade teacher, Sheila Tarr Elementary, Clark County School District

Note: This content is also available on Miss Warneka's blog.

Chapter Overview: Donner Party continues to travel on the California trail and they receive help from Mr. McCutcheon and Mr. Stanton who brought supplies from Ft. Sutter. With them came two Indian Vaqueros, this meant that the Reeds no longer had to walk (they were able to ride). There is rain on the trail which means there is snow in the mountains. Bad luck continues to plague the wagon train.

Chapter Themes: Survival, Struggle, Persistence

Chapter Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Activity Idea 1: Write a play
      • Write a script and role-play the party receiving help and news from Ft. Sutter.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.4.7 - Identify structure of stories, plays, poetry, and non-fiction selection
        • 6.4.2 - Organize ideas through activities that require sequencing and classifying skills
    • Activity Idea 2: Journal entry
      • keep a journal as a member of the Donner party and make an entry for reaching the Truckee River and receiving aid from Ft. Sutter and hearing about snow in the mountains.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.4.4 - Write responses to literature, using supporting details from the selection
        • 5.4.5 - Write compositions with a main idea and supporting details
  • Mathematics
    • Activity Idea 1: Divide the provisions
      • Given an amount of supplies, students must divide them equally between the families left on the wagon train.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4) 1.24 - Generate and solve +, -, x, /, using whole numbers in practical situations
        • (4) A.2 - Apply previous experiences and knowledge to new problem solving situations
    • Activity Idea 2: Are we there yet?
      • Students will use a map and the scale to determine how much further it is from the Truckee River and Ft. Sutter (the final destination).
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4)1.23 describe and use algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
        • (4) 3.3 measure, compare, and convert length in inches, feet, yards, and miles to the nearest fractional part
  • Social Studies
    • Activity Idea 1: Native American perspective
      • Justify why Native Americans might have been shooting arrows to kill the wagon trains' oxen.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Geography 4.0 Human Systems - Students understand how economic, political and cultural processes interact to shape patterns of human migration and settlement, and conflict and cooperation.
        • History (4) 4.3 - Identify Nevada's Native American cultures including Northern and Southern Paiute, Washoe, and Shoshone
    • Activity Idea 2: Map it out
      • Make a map to guide the Donner party through the last leg of their journey.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Geography (4) 3.9 - Locate and name major mountains and rivers on the map of the United States
        • Geography 6.0 Geographic Applications - Students apply geographic knowledge of people, places and environments and environments to interpret the past, understand the present, and plan for
  • Science
    • Activity Idea 1: Design a tool to improve mountain travel
      • Students will create a model of a better wagon or tool to help the pioneers to get through the mountains before winter sets in.
      • Standards Addressed
        • N5A6 - Compare a model with what it represents
        • N5B2 - Describe the advantages and disadvantages of using technology
    • Activity Idea 2: Hypothesize weather conditions using an almanac
      • Students will use a farmer's almanac to predict the weather in the Sierra Nevada mountains in late October
      • Standards Addressed
        • N5A3 - Draw conclusions from scientific evidence (the farmer's almanac)
        • N5A7 - Use observable patterns to organize information
Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

Many pioneers traveling west had to make difficult decisions in order to stay alive and keep their families together. In many instances families ended up with next to nothing when they arrived at their final destination whether it was in Oregon, California or somewhere along the way. One way a family could lose all their possessions was in one of the many river crossings. A fatal tip could see a family's only belongings washed down the river. The same could happen when crossing a mountain. Ropes could fray and break, and an entire wagon would be lost down a steep grade never to be recovered. In the Reed families case, they were forced to leave everything behind in the salt desert or die of thirst and the animals with them. These kinds of choices had to be made. The only way to survive on a journey such as this is to travel in groups and be willing to help a fellow member. The Breen family helped carry some items for the Reeds once their wagons were lost.
Not all families lost their items in one fell swoop. Some left items behind one at a time, when their animals were tired or a family member was ill and needed the space in the wagon. This was less drastic, but still necessary for the well being of the family unit. The families in the wagon trains depended on one another to make it through the long journey not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually.
Many who traveled depended on their faith for comfort and guidance. They also relied on each other to help when someone fell ill or was injured. In the unfortunate case of a death, the members of the train would pitch in and do their best to console those left behind. Travelers on the wagon trains also did their best to entertain each other and boost each others spirits when needed. The long days and difficult travel took their toll on many.
Despite the weather, terrain and travel difficulties the hopeful pioneers persevered through it all clinging to each other and the hope of a better life in the West.

Additional Resources

  • Nevada: Our Home, Chapter 5 (pp.82-97)

1 comment:

Christy G. Keeler, Ph.D. said...

Although it's a rather dark suggestion...

Consider extending the math lesson about distribution of food by adding in a science lesson. Have students determine the calories available to the party, the number of people in their party, their weights, etc. to determine whether they could all survive.