Saturday, January 19

We Were There with the California Forty-Niners

In January 1848, an overseer at Sutter’s Mill in northern California saw gold flakes.  Even without social media, the word spread rapidly, and his discovery led to more than 300,000 prospectors flooding into the region!  These people came from all over the world; they came by ship, rail, horse, and foot.  What they found wasn’t exactly the expected dream….

Lack of housing and sanitation, as well as lack of law enforcement, led to dangerous living conditions.  Thievery and murder were on the daily menu.  The work was backbreaking, and few actually struck it rich.  For those who came from someplace other than America, including the many Chinese who crossed the Pacific, xenophobia and prejudice made life even more dangerous.

A lucky few were able to find gold nuggets lying on the ground early into the rush, but it quickly became a line of folks trying to find the best technique to pan for gold.  The most money, however, was to be had in banks, restaurants, saloons, and stores…those who catered to the miners.  It’s said that the amount of gold uncovered in the few years of the rush would be equal to tens of billions of dollars today!

Impacts of the Gold Rush include :
  • Development of the Transcontinental Railroad
  • California earning statehood in 1850
  • Creation of a stronger legal system
Want to go panning for gold?  Here's a short list gear you'll need:
  • Folding chair or bucket to sit on
  • Waterproof boots
  • Prospecting pan (deep base and side ridges)
  • Tweezers (to pick out the flakes)
  • Glass vials (to store your gold)
  • Strainer / classifier to sift debris
Keep in mind that gold panning isn't a get-rich-quick scheme!  Small amounts of gold, such as flakes, are considerably more common to find, but even those tiny amounts of gold add up to a nice chunk of change.  Be sure to lookout for the tiniest flecks of gold, as they do add up quickly!  


Make / Do


Define / Identify
  • Alluvial deposit
  • Assayer
  • Bonanza
  • Boom town
  • Cholera
  • Commodity
  • Cutthroat
  • Greenhorn
  • Freewheeling
  • Hydraulic mining
  • Lode
  • James Wilson Marshall
  • Mercantile
  • Panning
  • Pay Dirt
  • Placer mining
  • President Polk 
  • Prospector
  • Sluice box
  • Trommel
  • Unscrupulous
  • Vein
  • Vicinity
  • Yield
  • How did the Gold Rush reshape the demographics of California?
  • If you had lived in this time period, would you have participated in the Gold Rush? Why or why not?
  • Read this article.  Which fact surprises you the most?  Why?

We Were There With the Mayflower Pilgrims

When King Henry VIII made himself head of the Church of England in 1534, many people were unhappy.  Some of them created a new church and called themselves "Separatists.”  They were treated poorly because they did not conform, so many moved to Holland for religious freedom.
About a decade later, they joined with a group of investors to get ships so that they could sail to America.  The investors provided them with supplies for the journey, and the Separatists agreed to send fish, timber, and fur back to England for seven years to pay off their debts.

The colonists began with two ships – the Mayflower and Speedwell – but had to leave the Speedwell in England due to it taking on water.  Some people stayed in England, and the rest crowded onto the Mayflower.  Not everyone aboard was a Separatist; some were “Strangers” who were coming to the New World for its opportunities.  There were 102 colonists and 26 crew members on the 66 day journey.  Two people died and one baby, Oceanus Hopkins, was born on the ship.

In November 1620, the Mayflower reached Provincetown.  About 24,000 Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe lived in the area at the time.  There were minor skirmishes between the two groups.  Still aboard the ship, the men signed the Mayflower Compact, which was an agreement of government.

They pulled into Plymouth Harbor in December 1620, and began the arduous task of setting up a home site.  They found land that the Patuxet tribe had abandoned (due to a smallpox epidemic), and this provided them with a good harbor, a clean supply of water, cleared fields for planting, a hill to build a fort on, and no nearby hostile natives.  One Patuxet remained who did not die from the plague; Squanto helped these colonists survive the first winter.

Still living on the Mayflower while homes were being built, people began to get sick from disease.  They contracted pneumonia and scurvy, and two or three died each day during the first months in Plymouth.  Half of the crew died; the remaining crew returned to England in the spring.

Squanto, Samoset, and Massasoit helped the colonists to plant seeds, hunt, and live like the Native Americans.  They lived in relative peace alongside the colonists, and brought much food to the first harvest gathering, which we call Thanksgiving today.


Make / Do

  • Take a virtual field trip at Plimoth Plantation
  • Write ten negative things in your life; then find a reason to be thankful for them.  For example, I’m thankful for the spot I find at the far side of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking

Watch / Listen

Define / Identify
  • Pilgrims
  • Vestments
  • Squanto
  • Indentured servants
  • Mayflower Compact
  • William Bradford
  • Wampanoag
  • Samoset
  • Massasoit
  • Patuxet
  • Pneumonia
  • Scurvy
  • Sachem
  • Separatists
  • New World
  • Colony
  • Leyden
  • Investor
  • Puritan                          
  • Common House
  • The Pilgrims made a peace treaty with Chief Massasoit.  What do you think would be important to include in a treaty?
  • Read “THE WAMPANOAG SIDE OF THE FIRST THANKSGIVING STORY.” .”  Why do you think the story of Thanksgiving changed so much through the years?  What do you think of the Native American tribes referring to this as the “Day of Mourning?”
  • Write a newspaper article describing the first Thanksgiving as though you were there.  Remember to address the questions : who, what, when, where, why, and how.

We Were There at the Opening of the Erie Canal

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the industrial revolution led to a need for speedier ways to get goods to market.  One proposed solution was the canal.  The Erie Canal, in particular, linked the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.  It was proposed in 1908, and construction was completed in 1825.  At the time, it was considered the Eighth Wonder of the World!

New York Governor DeWitt Clinton proposed the idea of the canal, which many people considered unwise – it was even called “Clinton’s Folly.”  At a distance of 363 miles, and with 34 locks (to compensate for elevation changes), the canal took a long time, and several millions of dollars, to build.  Nearly twenty years later, Clinton was one of the first to board a packet boat and journey down the canal! 

The Erie Canal provided several jobs and economic growth to the areas around its ports all the way until the 1980s, at which point it became more of a tourist attraction.  The canal was an engineering feat, and required the knowledge of construction workers, stonemasons, engineers, and skilled manual laborers.  Many problems arose during the construction, but they were quickly solved by the crew.

Packet boats were used to transport goods at a quicker and cheaper rate than previously available.  Mules (such as ‘Sal,’ from the song) helped to tote the loads.  Canal families became a ‘thing,’ as families lived on the boats and transported goods for a living.  Eventually, improvements were needed and new sections of the canal were created.  You can still see parts of the original canal today!
Profile of the Erie Canal

Make / Do 
Watch / Listen
Define / Identify

  • canal
  • lock
  • DeWitt Clinton
  • Benjamin Wright
  • mule driver
  • toll
  • barge
  • Westward Expansion
  • Wedding of the Waters
  • Irish Immigrants
  • aqueduct
  • Clinton's Ditch
  • towpath
  • civil engineer
  • Lake Erie
  • Albany
  • hoggee
  • To what degree did geography influence the construction/placement of the Erie Canal? 
  • If you were responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal, what would you have done differently and why?
  • Using this information, what conclusion can be drawn about the effect that the Erie Canal had on America’s economy and population distribution?

We Were There with Lincoln in the White House

He grew up in poverty, helping his father farm and educating himself by the candlelight of a tiny home, but Abraham Lincoln went on to be one of the biggest names in American history! After serving one term in the US Senate, he surprised the nation by winning the Presidency in 1860. He was sworn in as the 16th President in March 1861.

The nation was divided over slavery at the time. The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act had just repealed the Missouri Compromise, and Lincoln had been an active part of that debate in Congress. Early in his first term, he sent troops and supplies to Fort Sumter, in Charleston, SC, to try and maintain a united nation. Civil War broke out at Fort Sumter in 1861.

The Civil War is what defined Lincoln’s Presidency. He was also a great orator. His Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 (took effect in 1863) and Gettysburg Address were two speeches that won the hearts of Unionists and led to his re-election. Early in 1865, Grant and Lee met at Appomattox Courthouse to end the war. (We will visit this in another book.) It was Lincoln’s greatest wish to reunite the nation.

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln as he was watching a play at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln died the next morning, and Andrew Johnson became the 17th president. Booth was killed a week later. Lincoln’s legacy lives on through his icons – he appeared on the penny as of 1909, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated to him, and his face was sculpted into Mount Rushmore.

Lincoln’s legacy includes...

  • Guiding the United States through the Civil War.
  • Creating the first income tax in America.
  • Signing the Homestead Act.
  • Signing the Pacific Railroad Act.
  • Helping to institute the Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Helping Congress to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.
  • Setting new precedents for the president’s role as the chief executive. 

Make / Do
Watch / Listen
Define / Identify
  • abolitionist 
  • equality 
  • antagonism 
  • freedom 
  • deliberation 
  • slavery 
  • democracy 
  • sovereignty 
  • endure 
  • Kansas Nebraska act 
  • Missouri compromise 
  • Homestead act 
  • Pacific railroad act 
  • proposition
  • devotion 
  • Research the amazing connections between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.  What fascinates you the most?
  • Read the primary source letter from Lincoln to a friend, regarding slavery (below).  How does he approach their difference of opinion?  What can you learn and apply to your daily communications from his approach?

Thursday, January 17

Bake for Good : Where Home Ec Meets Character!

Recently, our home school group was selected to take part in the King Arthur Flour Bake for Good program - and we had a fabulous time!!!!!
For over twenty years, the Bake for Good Kids Program has been helping kids learn to bake and then share their homework with those in need. In some cases, the company travels to a location to host an event, but we were provided all of the supplies and hosted the event through the home school group.

Imagine my husband's surprise when sixty pounds of flour and several other boxes of supplies arrived on the doorstep one afternoon! The company provided ingredients, packaging, course booklets for the kids, and tote bags!

The program is designed to teach kids in grades 4-7 how science, math, and reading all come together in a real-world activity. The culmination of the project is a lesson in philanthropy, when they donate their efforts to a local charity.

The day before the BIG DAY, another home school neighbor and I got together and baked up a batch of practice bread. We wanted to know exactly what we'd gotten ourselves long would it take? Were there any extra supplies we needed? What snags were we going to run into? All the little things that you want to be apprised of before entering a room with lots of kids and open sacks of flour! We practiced with our boys, to see how well the kids would do with the project.

We walked through the four hour process, from mixing the yeast, to letting it rise, to the baking process. (During rise times, we proceeded with the usual co-op classes.)

The following morning, we bagged up the bread and drove it up to Straight Street Ministries, a food charity in the next town over. They were very happy to see us, and many loaves of bread were delivered to locals in need within a matter of hours. Overall, it was a win-win event!

Want to learn the basics of bread making?  It's easy!

Ingredients :

Directions :
  1. A lot of the families at the event had only ever used a bread-maker.  While they are a great kitchen tool and very handy, they are not suitable for this particular recipe.
  2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, yeast, whole wheat flour, and warm water.  Cover with towel and let rest until bubbly.
  3. Stir in cooking oil and salt.
  4. Stir in 3 cups white flour, one cup at a time.  Measure out one more cup of flour and sprinkle half of that onto the sticky dough.  Work into dough.
  5. Flour hands and turn dough onto floured surface.  Knead well.  While it is resting, wipe oil onto inside of bowl.
  6. Knead a little bit more, then put the dough back into the bowl and cover.  Let rise in a warm place for an hour and a half.
  7. Punch down down.  Divide into half and form into loaves.
  8. Place loaves on a greased cookie sheet, and cover with a towel.  Let rise again for 30 minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 375.
  10. Remove covering, slash tops of loaves, and bake 30 minutes.  Let cool, and enjoy!
This wasn't the first time our co-op had participated in the Bake for Good program....over the past five years, we have baked bread for the local ministry three times.  Many thanks to the King Arthur Flour Company for supporting this amazing program!!!

Tuesday, January 15

We Were There with the California Rancheros

Before 1848, California wasn't even part of the United States, it belonged to Mexico. And the people who lived there were the Californios.  A Californio was a Spanish speaking, Catholic person of Latin American descent born in Alta California between 1769 and 1848.

Before the 18th century, few Europeans had visited the area we know as California.  It belonged to Indian tribes who had lived along the Pacific coast for thousands of years.  Both Spain and England had explorers claim the bay areas in the 16th century, but it was nearly 200 years before any other visitors came to the area.  In the mid-1700s, Spain decided to build missions in northern California, to bring Catholicism to the area.  Twenty-one missions were built between 1769 and 1823, bringing major change to the area.

Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, and took control of California.  They disbanded the missions and redistributed the lands to be used for ranchos (ranches).  The years of 1833 to 1846 are known as the “golden days of the rancho period,” and are characterized by hard work on the ranchos, great wealth, and leisure time for fiestas.  By the end of this period, there were over 10 million acres of ranchos!

Spain’s original plan for the mission lands (which were now being used as ranchos) was to give that land back to the Indian tribes.  Unfortunately, this rarely happened; when it did, they often traded their land to Mexican ranch owners in exchange for food, liquor, or other goods.

The ranchos, however, had vague boundaries – fences to keep cattle and sheep in were considered more important than a line on a survey map at the time.  After California became a US territory, in 1848, those boundaries became very important!  The end of the Mexican-American War brought new interest in opening up land in California for settlers.  Rancheros suddenly needed to provide a legal survey showing their ownership and boundaries.  Many rancheros lost their land in these legal battles.


Make / Do

    Define / Identify
    • Sir Francis Drake
    • Juan Rodríquez Cabrillo
    • Secularization
    • ranchero
    • Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 
    • California Land Act
    • About 8,000 B.C.     People first come to what is now California, eventually forming the Indian tribes that lived in California for thousands of years
    • 1542     Juan Rodríquez Cabrillo explores near present-day San Diego
    • 1579     Sir Francis Drake sails near San Francisco Bay
    • 1602     Sebastián Vizcaíno explores the coast from San Diego toMonterey
    • 1769     First Spanish mission established by Father Serra
    • 1784     First land use permits for ranchos given by Spanish Governor Fages
    • 1822     Mexico takes control of California; encourages settlement by giving land grants for more ranchos
    • 1833     Missions secularized; more rancho lands opened for claim
    • 1847     United States takes control of California, ending new grants of ranchos
    • 1850     California becomes a state

    • Check out the primary source map below.  This is an original map of Mexico from the era.  Was your home part of Mexican or American soil at the time?
    • How did government differ between the periods of Mexican rule and when California became a state?
    • Given the language barriers, do you think there could be a fair transfer of ownership of property between the rancheros and the government?  Why or why not?
    Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!

    We Were There with Cortes and Montezuma

    In the early 16th century, Spanish colonies were already well established in the Caribbean islands and they were turning their eyes westward.  Under the leadership of Hernán Cortés, the Spaniards looked to Aztec territory in present-day Mexico.

    The island capital of Tenochtitlan, built on islands in Lake Texcoco, was a bustling metropolis of the era!  It was linked to mainland by causeways, had a freshwater source, and was an engineering feat.  Thousands of people visited and lived in this empire.  The area is present-day Mexico City.

    The Aztecs who lived here had an ordered system, but were often regarded as brutal because of their practice of human sacrifice.  They often captured victims for this purpose, and occasionally allowed themselves to become victims to obtain a privileged afterlife.

    Upon his arrival, Montezuma (ruler of the Aztecs at the time) thought Cortes was the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, and he greeted him with great honor.  However, within a few months, Montezuma was captured and killed.  While historians aren’t sure how he was killed, they do know that the Spaniards tried to flee after his death.  The Aztecs attacked them as they fled, killing half of the Spanish army; this is known as the “Night of Sorrows.”

    The Aztecs had already been weakened, though, by diseases that the Spaniards introduced to the area.  After a three-month siege of the area, the Spaniards were able to conquer the Aztecs in August 1521.  In only two years, Hernán Cortés brought about the downfall of this great military civilization.

    Even now, five centuries after his death, many modern Mexicans have little respect for Montezuma, who they blame for the fall of the Aztec empire due to poor leadership.

    Make / Do
    Define / Identify
    • Amanteca 
    • Aqueduct
    • Calpulli
    • Causeway  
    • Chinampa
    • Huitzilopochtli 
    • Mesoamerica
    • Sacrifice
    • Tenochtitlan
    • Tlaxcala
    • Toltecs
    • How did the region of Central Mexico (Mexico City) affect the evolution of the Aztec Empire?
    • How did the Spanish Conquest change the culture of the native groups? 
    Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!

    We Were There in the Klondike Gold Rush

    When three men found gold in the Klondike River in 1896, it set off another huge gold rush!  Thousands of hopefuls set off for Canada’s Yukon Territory, hoping to strike it rich.  The Alaskan towns of Skagway and Dyea became boomtowns, as these were the starting points of the 600-mile journey to the riches.  In our reading, we follow the journey through Dyea and up the Chilkroot Trail into Canada.

    Equipment needed included :
    • warm clothes and outerwear
    • moccasins and boots
    • blankets and towels
    • mosquito netting
    • personal care items
    • medicine
    • first aid items
    • candles and matches
    • soap
    • approximately 1,000 pounds of food (year’s supply)
    • tools and mining equipment
    • camping equipment
    Less than half of the people who set off to find gold actually made it to Dawson City.  While the Chilkroot Trail was difficult for the men who had to climb its steep slopes carrying all of their belongings, the White Pass Trail caused the deaths of more than 3,000 horses, and was thus dubbed Dead Horse Pass.  These horses often died because they were overloaded with supplies and forced up steep, rocky terrain – it was too hard on their bodies.

    Those who did make it to the Yukon found that reports of gold had been exaggerated, and there was little to be had.  Many went home immediately.  Of those who stayed, they could only work during certain months of the year, when the ground was thawed, and they were subjected to disease and poor sanitary conditions.  Unfortunately, the gold rush turned out to be a disappointment for many.  It did boost the economy of areas like Seattle, which was a starting point for the trip north, but it also destroyed the Yukon environment and brought disease to the natives who lived there.

    The real riches to be made in the Klondike Gold Rush were in retail.  Merchants, bankers, restaurant owners, and even saloon girls were able to charge ten times as much for food, services, and supplies, did not have to bear the back-breaking work of mining, and had a steady stream of gold-seekers to keep them in business.

    Make / Do
    Define / Identify
    • permafrost 
    • prospecting 
    • sourdoughs 
    • surveyor 
    • tributaries 
    • Robert Henderson 
    • George Carmack 
    • Skookum Jim 
    • Dawson Charlie 
    • Kate Carmack (“Shaaw Tláa")
    • Read this article.  What conditions might have lent themselves to success or failure for the miners? Would you be willing to drop everything for a chance at fame and fortune?  Why or why not?
    • What would life have been like for the gold seekers of the late 1800's?  What are your thoughts about the lives of the families these gold seekers left behind?
    Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!