III. Lesson Plans and Classroom Activities

This section offers some ideas about how teachers might make use of the primary sources associated with homesteading in the classroom. A good starting point for introducing students to primary sources may be found at the Library of Congress American Memory website, which outlines several ways of identifying and analyzing historical documents. Two other federal websites, Teaching with Historic Places and the Homestead National Monument of America provide more specific models for how such materials relating to homesteading can be integrated into historical lesson plans. The suggestions listed below focus on Washington state and offer some additional classroom activities to consider.

Engaging students in history can depend on making it personal. Many students may be able to count homesteaders among their ancestors, or live on land that was formerly a homestead. The Department of the Interior has developed a web-based database that enables students to search for land patents by name, location, method of acquiring title, and time period.  (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/PatentSearch/) For properly equipped classrooms, this resource could be used as a centerpiece for in-class activities; outside the classroom, it could form the basis for research projects.

One potential in class exercise or homework assignment to introduce students to the range of information made available by the database: in the Basic Search, have students type in their last name into the last name search field, “Washington”, into the state search field, and conduct a search to see if any matches are identified. If so, note the various information the search reveals, such as issue date, authority, and acres. Clicking on legal land description provides the means to locate the land claim through the township and range system.  Help students find exactly where the claim was made on a map, and record the year and under what authority (i.e. “cash sales entry,” “Original Homestead Act”, “Desert Land Act”, - all the various ways title can be granted for land) the land patent was granted. Determining whether or not these claimants were ancestors will likely require input from relatives and further research, but this exercise will introduce students to a useful tool for studying homesteading in Washington and the United States. 

The following classroom activities are organized to correspond to the historical context essays.

Legislative Chronology - Introductory Questions

“Homesteading” typically conjures up notions of pioneers, covered wagons, farming, prairies, and free land. After asking students to list what homesteading means to them (either with words, symbols, or images), discuss what best defines a homesteader and homesteading, particularly as something distinct from “pioneering.” 

It is an easy task to lay out the terms of the 1862 Homestead Act, but students should examine the less explicit ways that the act affected patterns of land settlement and other peoples. After reading the provisions of the act, ask students to consider:

1. Boundary Making. How did homesteading divide up land; that is, how might an open area in Washington look before and after homesteaders arrived? Did earlier occupants set their boundaries differently?

2. Homesteading and Race. What kinds of people were eligible for homestead claims? Discuss who was eligible for citizenship in the United States during the homesteading era using the Citizenship Timeline.

3. Homesteading and Gender. Did women have equal opportunity as men to homestead? Consider that “head of household” was limited to single, divorced, separated, or widowed women, rather than married women. What advantages did marriage hold for the homesteader?

Deciding to Go and Get There

Ask students to consider why a homesteader might come to Washington by looking at the various sources of information at their disposal, including railroad advertising, Immigration Bureau tracts, articles, and world’s fair exhibits (drawing: Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition, 1909; article: The Inspiring Displays of the States). Analyze the various efforts to put the territory in good light.

Using the 1870 Catalogue provided here, have students compose a plan (purchasing the items they imagine they will need) for coming West in 1870 given a certain budget (for example, $1000), justifying their choices with a short essay. After discussing different student plans, have them read Lasting Hastings’ advice on how to travel west in Chapter XV of his Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California. How do student plans measure up to Hastings’ recommendations? Although Hastings’ was writing in 1848, conditions for most westward travelers in 1870 had changed relatively little. What kinds of developments made Hastings’ advice less useful after 1870?

Investigate how transportation and communication related to the homesteading experience in Washington. While the covered wagon and pioneer trail are often associated with homesteading, ask students to determine how valid this stereotype was for Washington and the Olympic Peninsula. Using the maps provided, consider the routes and means potential homesteaders might use to get to different points in Washington, including the eastern counties, Seattle, and the Olympic Peninsula, in three different eras, (Map of the Western Portion of Washington Territory, James Swan, 1857 and Johnson’s Oregon and Washington, 1865), (Railroad and Township Map of Washington, 1887), and (Railroad Commission Map of Washington, 1910). Compare conclusions to the evidence presented in the documents provided below.

Proving Up: Building, Farming, and Life on the Homestead

Using photographs from the University of Washington digital collections or the digital archives of the Community Museum Project, take a tour inside one homestead house (Lars Ahlstrom cabin), and compare different external features. What lessons can be drawn from the contents and the structures about the lives of homesteaders?

Teaching with Historic Places offers guidance about how to use historic sites as the basis for lesson plans. Using the documents below, gain a glimpse into the lives of some Northwest homesteaders and explore how their homesteads might be developed as historic sites.

Using the BLM land patent search engine find the homestead entries associated with the figures below (see hints on entering names for each case), and locate the homesteads on a map of Washington or the Olympic Peninsula with the township and range system information provided in the Legal Land Description tab.

Pat Klahn (Journal of Pat Klahn, Pioneer of the Olympic Peninsula)
Use the name of Pat’s father Theodore Klahn, who emigrated from Germany, to search for the family homestead.

John Huelsdonk (photos, “Pioneers of the Hoh: the Last Frontier”)
John also emigrated from Germany. Use his name to locate his homestead in Jefferson County.

James Milo Nosler (James Milo Nosler Diary)
James staked a homestead claim in Spokane County – his account of establishing a farm in Eastern Washington provides a counterbalance to the emphasis on West End, Olympic Peninsula in this packet.

LeRoy Smith (Pioneers of the Olympic Peninsula, “Brandeberry and the Bear”)
LeRoy Smith did not make a homestead claim himself, but using the excerpt provided above, a map of the names he mentions in his narrative reveals the network of homesteaders in the area where he lived.

Gertrude Fernandes (“Pysht”)
Fernandes' father Joe Stange put in for a claim in Clallam County.

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