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What it means to ‘pack the wagon’ has changed over the past couple hundred years. Today, it might mean heading to the beach with floaties and beach bags. Two hundred years ago, though, packing your wagon meant fitting as many of your belongings and as much food as you could in a covered wagon. Think Oregon Trail. Think sleeping in a two-person tent with six people. Think staring at the back end of a horse all day long–that’ll give a new meaning to the term road trip. Imagine wanting to go to Michigan that badly.
Getting a Feel for the Past
Settlers began coming to Michigan from the east between 1800 and 1830. First, they came by wagon and horseback, and then after the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, many came by barge to Buffalo and then by steamboat to Detroit. From there, they again used land transportation to travel further inland. Many settlers also sailed by boat on the Great Lakes and settled in towns along the shores. After 1830, the population of Michigan grew very fast. See the growth in this chart:
Settlers began to move to the Northwest Territory of Michigan from the East for many reasons. Some came to buy inexpensive farm land, others to join relatives already here. A sense of adventure brought young and single men. Later (1840s+), they came to fill jobs (for example, recruiters went to large eastern cities or advertised in eastern newspapers for men to work in the mining and lumbering industries).
Visualize the Journey
- Students will make choices based on reason and practicality.
- Students will measure various objects and fit them into a defined space.
Key Components: You Will Need….
Removable tape or chalk; yard stick or ruler; objects that can be found in the classroom, brought from home or around the school–backpacks, lunchbags, jackets, shoes, desk chairs, basketballs, class pet, etc.
To Begin the Journey, We Must Assess the Space: Packing Means Prioritizing
Divide students into groups of 4-8, depending on the size of the class and the space available to work with. You will need enough space for each group to mark an area on the floor approximately the size of a wagon bed-about 10 to 12 feet long by 4 to 6 feet wide by 2 feet high. Use removable duct or masking tape or chalk to outline the area.
Ask the students imagine that they are members of a pioneer family coming to Michigan to buy a farm in 1830. Have students make up a family profile. How many people are in the family? What are their ages and sizes? Who does the most work, and who does the least? Who needs to eat the most, and who needs to eat the least?
Create a list of roles for each group. Different roles will have different decision-making tasks about what to bring. Each group might make up a different list, e.g., household items (coats & backpacks), tools to start farm (pencils, rulers?), children’s things, clothing, etc. After lists are made, have groups report back and write lists on chalkboard.
Divide the items into three lists:
- Absolutely necessary—must take
- Things we would take if there is room, useful but could do without (e.g., a special piece of furniture);
- Fun items, toys, “extra” clothes.
With the measured area in sight, the class should come to an agreement on what will be included. What is a necessity? Do you need to bring your desk chairs? Or would a basketball be more appropriate? How about the class pet? Why? What things on the list can be left behind? Estimate the measurement of household items, tools, or measure similar items at home. Decide what will be taken so that all will fit, including people. Will everyone ride?
Talk About It
1. How did you go about choosing what to take? If members of the group disagreed, how did you make the decision? How do you think the members of an early settlement family made their decisions?
2. Would settlers have taken livestock with them to Michigan?
3. Choose a year in settlement times (e.g., 1840). Find out how far people traveled in a day at that time. Decide how long it would have taken you to travel the same distance you would cover on a field trip from your school to the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing. (See the “Other Resources” tab for Lansing B. Swan’s journal about his trip across Michigan.)
- Erie Canal: A waterway around 360 miles long constructed across central New York state from Albany to Buffalo used for travel and shipping. It is now part of the New York State Canals.
- Necessity: Something that cannot be done without.
Michigan Social Studies Content Expectations
This lesson presents an opportunity to address, in part, these standards:
- 3.H3.0.1 – Identify questions historians ask in examining the past in Michigan (e.g., What happened? When did it happen? Who was involved? How and why did it happen.
- 3.H3.0.2 – Explain how historians use primary and secondary sources to answer questions about the past.
- 4.G1.0.1 – Identify question geographers ask in examining the United States (e.g., Where is it? What is it like there? How is it connected to other places?)