Americans began moving westward before the American Revolution. In 1862, the passing of the Homestead Act spurred on this westward movement even more. This law gave 160 acres of land free to anyone who settled on it for five years and improved the land by building a house and planting crops.
Life on the prairie was very difficult at times. The pioneers traded conveniences for new challenges when they went West. Included in this chapter are some excellent trade books that can be used to help students better understand life on the prairie.
Read the following selection to your class and discuss to begin your study of pioneer life and westward expansion:
Clothed in buckskin, clothed in homespun,
Clothed in strength and courage, too.
They pressed westward ever westward,
Where the land was wild and new.
Wearing coonskin, Wearing gingham,
Wearing patience mile on mile,
They crossed rivers, prairies, mountains,
Pressing westward all the while.
Toting rifles, toting kettles,
Toting faith and hardihood,
They left comfort far behind them
For a future they thought good.
They took little of the riches
That a wealthy man can boost,
But their courage, patience, vision,
Were the coins that matter most.
Aileen Fisher and Olive Rabe, 1956
This is a collection of adventures that eleven-year-old Caddie has from the fall of 1864 to the fall of 1865 in western Wisconsin. Caddie's father convinces her mother to allow her to grow up a tomboy because she had been a frail child. As a result, Caddie and her brothers have many exciting adventures. The book is based on the author's grandmother's childhood, and it emphasizes the delights of being an American pioneer. Winner of the 1936 Newbery Medal. Caddie Woodlawn was chosen to read with the whole class because it is based on real-life experiences and gives students a real feeling for what life was like for the pioneers. Grades 5 and up.