A national park ranger may be able to come to your classroom and complete a demonstration and talk prior to your field trip experience. Education trunks may be checked out and sent or brought to the classroom as part of a national park ranger presentation. Inquire by calling Mike Dedman, Education Specialist Whitman Mission National Historic Site at 509-522-6357.
Some students are justifiably upset by what happened here, and knowing about the deaths of the Whitman’s, Sager's and the Cayuse before their visit may help. The following are a few activities and ideas to help your class focus before its trip.
Sager Children; The seven Sager children were orphaned on the Oregon Trail, brought to the mission at Waiilatpu, adopted by the Whitman’s, and then orphaned again three years later. The Sager story gives a good overview of both the Oregon Trail and the mission at Waiilatpu.
Once students arrive at the park, they will see where two of the Sager’s are buried, pictures of the four surviving Sager girls, and some of the toys belonging to the Sager’s. Several historical novels to read about the Sager’s have been written: Stout Hearted Seven is available for sale and a study guide has been developed for its use in the classroom.
Another option is to read Across the Plains in 1844, which was written by Catherine Sager when she was an adult. Students will find that three of the Sager’s die at the mission while on the field trip. Reading activities include having students highlight on a United States map the Sager route, drawing pictures to illustrate events along the trail, imagining themselves as one of the Sager’s, and writing a letter to a relative about the trip and the mission at Waiilatpu in the fall of 1844.
Heading Out On the Trail; Have students think about what is needed for the journey. Gather students together in front of a map of North America, the United States, or the Oregon Trail. Discuss the distance to be traveled and the land they have to travel through.
Talk about what types of people chose to emigrate and why; Those bound for Oregon were usually middle class farmers from the Midwest, many of whom had moved before. Many wanted free and good land, space, freedom for religion, and escape from economic depression in the East.
Ask students to brainstorm a list of items that would be needed for the trail and for once they got to Oregon. Divide students into groups and assign a few items from the brainstormed list to each group. Have them find out the weight of those items. Assist students in choosing which items to carry for a family of 5 — mother, father, boys- 5 and 12, and girl- 7. Remind them of space limitations and keeping food from spoiling.
As an extension activity give each student a brown paper grocery bag. Tell them to imagine that they are moving to Oregon Country and all they can take with them is what they can fit in this bag. Students can fill the bags with precious items at home and write down what was put in there. Bring the list to school to share with the class. After they choose their items, they should explain why each item has to be brought along.