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Settling of the West: Expansion, Emigration, and Extermination

During the middle of the nineteenth century from 1830-1880, many factors combined to result in the push of the American frontier from the Appalachian Mountains across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Settling of the West is the story of the conquest of land, natural resources and native peoples. By 1848, the United States claimed virtually the entire West. The Louisiana Purchase, the annexation of Texas and Oregon, and the war with Mexico had stretched the nation's boundaries all the way to the California coast.This unit will investigate the different waves of Western expansion: the Oregon Trail, the Gold Rush, various Homestead Acts and the railroad, all of which included a disregard for the Native American people already populating the West.

In this unit, the students will be trained in the art of  “looking at painting” to hone their observation skills. I intend to use some of the strategies from the Project Zero and Artful/VisibleThinking developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The students in grades 5-8 will investigate the paintings of Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Frederic Remington and George Catlin. The lessons will use many primary source documents. In addition to the paintings of George Catlin, the students will also read the journals and notes of his travels among the Native American tribes. The students will examine the journal of Catherine Sager, an orphaned survivor of the Oregon Trail who was also a survivor of an Indian massacre in the Willamette Valley. Students will examine the reasons people left their homes and traveled thousands of miles and endured unspeakable hardships as they sought a better life and hope of owning their own land.

Nancy B. Matlack
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