Introduction: This project locates and documents primary and secondary sources that relate to young people (age 9-20) of the 19

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Memoir project:

Faces on the Changing Frontier of the American West


This project locates and documents primary and secondary sources that relate to young people (age 9-20) of the 19th century- living on the changing frontier during America’s westward expansion. The collection includes artifacts and documents that help middle grades learners understand the opportunities and challenges of growing to adulthood in a changing land. Middle grades students are interested in sharing personal stories. Students have little background knowledge of the time period and people included in the project.

I anticipate that many students will have misconceptions based on fictionalized accounts seen in movies or popular media. Study of the photographs, letters, oral histories and other primary sources in the collection will generate interest in the lives of young people who are near their own age and provide evidence for students’ accurate interpretation of the genre of personal narrative. The variety of perspectives and experiences of groups included is just a small representation of the diverse population of the frontier at that time, but students will find many similarities to their own lives in reading the stories of young people on America’s western frontier.

I expect that students will be able to use the resources collected to:

  • Make inferences that demonstrate an understanding of the lives of young people from a different period in American history.

  • Write and or perform believable first person narratives gathering relevant information from the collection to enhance setting and plot in portrayal of characters from Nineteenth Century America.

  • Compose journal entries and/ or memoir pieces that reflect their own interests and personal history.

  • Compare and contrast the lives of young people represented in the collection and their own.

Statement of the topic

This collection contains primary sources including photographs, maps, advertisements, letters, diaries and autobiographical memoirs of young inhabitants of the American frontier shifting from the Mississippi River – west to Texas, California and the Pacific Coast.

The collection contains primary and secondary source information about experiences of American emigrants, European and Chinese immigrants and indigenous Nations within the following geographic regions:

Northern Midwest- Upper Michigan Wisconsin and Minnesota: loggers, iron miners, families

Central Plains- Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas: settlers, travelers, farm workers, Exodusters, Sioux

Southwest and Texas- African Americans, Mexican Americans, women

Rocky mountain regions- Colorado, Utah, Wyoming: Mormons, Cowboys, silver miners

California and the Pacific coast: Gold Miners, Mexicans, Farmers, Chinese rail workers

It is important to note that not all the groups are equally represented. The collection includes only those groups for whom I have been able to locate sources of interest at this point.

Secondary sources include many books selected to provide background knowledge for teachers to understand the 19th century west and the variety of inhabitants and issues related to contact between European and original inhabitants (Native American nations and Mexicans). Websites and other electronic media including lesson plans, links to primary source materials held in collections at museums or libraries, historical fiction written for young adults depicting characters and settings of the western frontier are included to round out the resources and provide a basis for understanding the primary source material.

Geographical and Chronological Scope:

This historical memoir project embraces the changing demographics during expansion of the United States from the Mississippi River across the North American continent and to the Pacific Ocean, between the Proclamation of 1812 and the end of the Spanish-American War.

Annotated bibliography (under construction)

This bibliography is arranged first by region, next by primary and secondary sources, groups represented, gender and finally ancillary resources that apply to the region as a whole. At the end of the annotated bibliography, I have included listings of other resources that I might need to keep track of or locate again as I create teaching units using the content.

Works Cited

Northern Midwest- Upper Michigan Wisconsin and Minnesota: loggers, iron miners, families

Anderson, William, and Dan Andreasen. Pioneer girl: the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.

This is an easy to read source that can inform students about the life of Wilder.

Armitage, Susan H., and Elizabeth Jameson. "Laura, Ma, Mary, Carrie, and Grace: Western women as portrayed by Laura Ingalls wilder." In The Women's West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987. 87.

This chapter allows a compare/ contrast of fictionalized accounts based on real people and places and the more private writings not meant for publication.

Library of Congress. "Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910." American Memory from the Library of Congress - Home Page. (accessed April 10, 2011).

This site includes the first person memoirs of several miners, loggers and women pioneers living in the region. Described wide European immigration and the work of young people in the camps- how they spent free time, and how first inhabitants were moved from the land. There are images of print materials of the period.

Reimann, Lewis Charles. . "Between the Iron and the Pine; a biography of a pioneer family and a pioneer town: A Boy's Eye View." American Memory from the Library of Congress - Home Page. (accessed May 5, 2011).

Very interesting and easy reading for students. They will like hearing about his childhood and youth in the" Baker's Dozen. Themes of starting over in a new place and making your way as a young man are prevailing. Lewis Reimann was the son of German immigrants who ran a boarding- house for miners and loggers in the Iron River district of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. This book consists of the author's recollections with anecdotes and historical commentary about the region. Reimann conveys a sense of the occupational lifestyles and multiple ethnicities of Iron River's inhabitants and deals in some detail with its folklore, material culture, foodways, and memorable local characters. He devotes a special chapter to Carrie Jacobs Bond, the genteel doctor's wife who left the area after her husband died and became a noted composer of songs.

Riley, Patricia. Growing up Native American: an anthology

Central Plains- Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas: settlers, travelers, farm workers, Exodusters, Sioux

Kehrberg, Pamela. Childhood on the farm: work, play, and coming of age in the Midwest. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005.

Brien, Mary Barmeyer. Toward the setting sun: pioneer girls traveling the overland trails. Helena, Mont.: TwoDot, 1999.

A collection of primary source accounts of girls traveling west with wagon trains is combined with photos and background information

Butler, Anne M., and Ona Siporin. Uncommon common women ordinary lives of the West. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1996.

This is a source of diary and journal writing from many women including young women traveling with their families and young brides

Armitage, Susan H., and Elizabeth Jameson. "10." In The Women's West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987. 300.

This last chapter of the book offers a survey of the many women included in the discussion of the American frontier. Caution that prior chapters are not appropriate for classroom use due to frank discussion of women’s health and sexual issues.

West, Elliott. A story of three families. Topeka: Kansas history, 1996.

Kansas History. Vol. 19. No. 2(summer 1996)

Peavy, Linda S., and Ursula Smith. Frontier children. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

"Ho for Kansas!" Copyprint of handbill. Historic American Building Survey Field Records, HABS FN-6, #KS-49-14 Prints and Photographs Division (109)- Library of Congress

Rocky mountain regions- Colorado, Utah, Wyoming: Mormons, Cowboys, silver miners

Doyle, Susan Badger. Bound for Montana: diaries from the Bozeman Trail. Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, 2004.

West, Elliott. Heathens and angels: childhood in the Rocky Mountain mining towns. S.l.: s.n., 198.

Utley, Robert Marshall. The Indian frontier of the American West, 1846-1890. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984.

Hurt, R. Douglas. The Indian frontier, 1763-1846. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.

This book has primary source material from well-known Native leaders - mostly looking back at first contact with Europeans from adult perspectives. Very clear descriptions of the young lives of some well-known men.

"Trails to Utah and the Pacific (American Memory, Library of Congress)." American Memory from the Library of Congress - Home Page. (accessed March 30, 2011).

Emmaline B.Wells and Ezekiel Headly 18 years old, are included in this collection. Trails to Utah and the Pacific: Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869 incorporates 49 diaries, in 59 volumes, of pioneers trekking westward across America to Utah, Montana, and the Pacific between 1847 and the meeting of the rails in 1869. In addition to the diaries, the collection includes 43 maps, 82 photographs and illustrations, and 7 published guides for immigrants. Stories of persistence and pain, birth and death, God and gold, trail dust and debris, learning, love, and laughter, and even trail tedium can be found in these original "on the trail" accounts. The collection tells the stories of Mormon pioneer families and others who were part of the national westering movement, sharing trail experiences common to hundreds of thousands of westward migrants. The source materials are drawn from the collections of Brigham Young University, members of the Utah Academic Libraries Consortium, and other archival institutions in Utah, Nevada, and Idaho.


West, Elliott. Growing up with the country: childhood on the far-western frontier. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989.

West, Elliott. The contested plains: Indians, gold seekers, & the rush to Colorado. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Taylor, Quintard. In search of the racial frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990. New York: Norton, 1998.

Taylor, Quintard, and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore. African American women confront the West: 1600-2000. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003.

Two parts of this book dividing the 19th century in half. Discussion of the buffalo soldier. - see also the rebuttal after publication by Native American historian

California and the Pacific coast: Gold Miners, Mexicans, Farmers, Chinese rail workers

Doyle, Susan Badger. Journeys to the land of gold: emigrant diaries from the Bozeman Trail, 1863-1866. Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press, 2000.

This is gold. There are several boys’ journals in this source. (Robert and James Kirkpatrick, Eugene Wager, Ward Dalrymple- dictated oral account) Look for pictures of these guys.


McKernan, Victoria. The devil's paint box. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

This work of young adult historical fiction has rich detail of the abject trials of homesteaders and accurate details of indentured service of both boys and girls serving in the logging camps of the Pacific Northwest. Told in first person, there are depictions of first contacts with Native American youth.

Library of Congress. "California, First Person Narratives: General Collections." American Memory from the Library of Congress - Home Page. (accessed March 19, 2011).

PBS Online. "American Experience | The Gold Rush | People & Events | PBS." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. (accessed April 12, 2011).
Paul, Rodman W.. Mining frontiers in the far West. New York: Holt., 1963.

Work roles of men, boys and women in the camps is explained as well as the economy of the company store and safety issues related to mining, racism and the use of Irish immigrants as overseers for the Chinese "Coolies"

Library of Congress. "Westward by Sea: A Maritime Perspective on American Expansion,1820-1890 (American Memory, Library of Congress)." American Memory from the Library of Congress - Home Page. (accessed April 5, 2011).

This site contains the letters written by 12 year old Maud as she traveled w/ uncle to California. Maxson, Maud, Letter, 1870, June 25-Aug. 25. Maxson, Maud, 1870. SUMMARY: Letter from Maud Maxson to her mother, Mrs. Arthur L. Maxson, Mystic, Conn., describing her trip to San Francisco, Calif., in an unnamed vessel of which her uncle, Charles Wheeler, was master. NOTES Cite as: VFM 179, Manuscripts Collection, G. W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc.

The Frontier West Miscellaneous

Created by the American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning (Graduate Center, CUNY). "History Matters." The U.S. Survey Course on the Web. (accessed April 15, 2011).

Designed for high school and college teachers and students of U.S. history survey courses, this site serves as a gateway to web resources and offers unique teaching materials, first-person primary documents, and guides to analyzing historical evidence.

Aron, Stephen. Magazine of history: volume 19, no. 6, November 2005.. Bloomington, Ind.: The Organization, 2005.

This is part of the OAH collection used for the H575 class and includes information to help define "The West" and articles take on many of the groups included in the project. End notes and references point to both primary sources of Diary / journal accounts of women "A Collage of Women", African American homesteading and some useful information about teaching Mexican American history of the nineteenth century.

Clement, Priscilla Ferguson, and Jacqueline S. Reinier. Boyhood in America: an encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2001.

There is only a small part of this book that relates to the frontier west but the information is accurate and engaging and easy for my students to read independently. Because topics are grouped in topics rather than chronologically, I'll need to pull out the relevant parts for students.
Graff, Harvey J.. Conflicting paths: growing up in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 19971995.

For his raw materials Graff has examined more than five hundred accounts of American childhoods between 1750 and 1920. Many are diaries and journals, others are memoirs and reminiscences. The breadth of the selection is impressive, as is the author's grasp of the scholarly literature on childhood and social history generally. (Elliott West History of Education Quarterly

Library of Congress. "Journeys West - FREE Teaching and Learning Resources." FREE -- Teaching Resources and Lesson Plans from the Federal Government. (accessed April 15, 2011).

Journeys West helps students examine the motivations of people who traveled west during the 1800s, as well as the conditions they encountered, the conflicts between settlers and native people, and policies of the federal government. Students interpret first person narratives and choose a role for in-depth study -- a gold miner, fur trader, pioneer family, Native American, or explorer. (Library of Congress)

"History of the American West (American Memory, Library of Congress)." American Memory from the Library of Congress - Home Page. (accessed May 5, 2011).

This collection of photographs from the American West includes many native groups and everyday scenes from frontier towns. . "Old West YA." Over 5000 Historical Novels Listed by Time and Place. (accessed April 4, 2011).

This is a handy list of good titles of YA Historical Fiction of the 19th Century. It is easy for students to use and access.

PBS: Public Broadcasting Service."PBS - THE WEST - Episode Two Introduction." (accessed March 30, 2011). 1821, no one knew who would control the West’s seemingly infinite spaces, what language would be dominant, and whose god would be worshipped -- what the West's destiny would be. Episodes 2 & 3 are the time periods relevant to this project.
Riley, Patricia. Growing up Native American: an anthology. New York: Morrow, 1993.

This book hits the sweet spot for student reading...

West, Elliott, and Paula Petrik. Small worlds: children & adolescents in America, 1850-1950. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1992.

Conclusion: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?”

As this collection and the accompanying instructional unit develops, some areas I am interested in collecting further include specific primary source materials related to:

  • Living with natural processes and adapting to diverse environments

  • Migrating and making a new home

  • Maintaining distinctive cultures/ fighting for identity

  • Living as original inhabitants

I will have much work to do as I search and grow my collection of these sources to be able to focus student learning on these “Big Ideas”. Right now I have more than I can get through on a deep level. I am seeking more visual information and music to add to the collection.

In compiling this collection, I have developed a growing appreciation for the question that I asked on the first day of class. “Why would any woman as busy as this take the time to write down all this?” Women on the frontier wrote for many reasons- family histories, guidebooks for journeys west, or for publication to the remarkably literate citizenry. I have found myself drawn into the lives of these ordinary people. I can imagine the lives of miners, loggers and Native Americans as they see history happening around them- disguised as daily life along with its joys and dangers. I need to make more time to write.

The work of historians has been made more transparent for me and I understand that the study of history evolves and changes as historians decide what to select, what to exclude, how to read and examine the limited source material and discover new connections between the artifacts available.

The nineteenth century is change in America and on the continent. Studying change in the West gives me the perspective to see the dichotomy that historians like Elliott West refer to again and again, economic opportunity and ruin, freedom and bondage, innovation and uniformity, altruism and greed.

I am interested in making these perspectives real for the students I teach. I want them to be inspired by the words and actions of young people who struggle. I want them to be emboldened and to seize the opportunities that come their way. I want young people to recognize the importance of their own stories. How will the events they are living and shaping every day define them and their future – placing them within American history?

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