The Cost of Finding Gold
As soon as the Gold Rush got into full swing, prices began to soar in California. Often people would purchase goods from vendors in neighboring states because their prices were significantly less than those around the mine sites in California.
Introduce your students to the lifestyles of pioneers traveling through the west, by reading them stories, such as "Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails," by Verla Kay. The book you choose should express the difficulty that pioneers experienced while they crossed unfamiliar territory. This book should be a jumping off point for you to use to introduce a journaling activity. Discuss with your students that many of the people who traveled all the way to California to find gold had to quickly hit the trails again in order to buy necessary and affordable goods in order to live.
Tell your students that you are going to pretend that you are living in Southern California during the mid-1800s (the height of the Gold Rush) and your are taking an imaginary journey along such a commerce route to purchase less expensive goods in New Mexico. On the first day, tell them to think about the trail, and the different environments they will be traveling through to get to New Mexico. As their first journal entry, have your students write about why they are going on this trip, what they intend to purchase, who are they traveling with, and what they will be bringing along with them on their travels. Each day tell your students where they are headed for (you can plot this on a map) and have them write about their journey. You may even choose to tell them about weather changes along the way (sudden storms, severe heat waves, etc.). Have a few students share their journal entries aloud each day. Collect and read the journals each day and start off the next day's journal writing period by reading a well-written entry to the class.
The project described above reflects some of the national standards of learning as defined by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), and the International Society for Technology in Education. These standards are listed below:
Language Arts Standards
Gather and use information for research purposes: The students will explore the resources available to them in order to gather information on the "Old West" in the mid-1800s.
Demonstrate competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process: The students will apply their general writing skills to complete journal entries.
Demonstrate competence in the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing: The students will attempt a new style of writing - journaling.
Demonstrate competence in speaking and listening as tools for learning: The students will listen to each other's findings in order to develop an understanding of the physical environment around the Old Spanish Trail.
Social Studies Standards
Time, Continuity, and Change: The students identify a pattern of change within a culture as they examine the need for a commerce route in the mid-1800s in the Western United States.
People, Places, and Environment: The students use information that they have researched on the climate and physical features of a particular area to create a map of that region.
Production, Distribution, and Consumption: The students explore the role that supply and demand plays in society. Because gold was plentiful in California, prices rose tremendously, and sometimes people traveled hundreds of miles in order to find less expensive goods.