It Happened on the Oregon Trail
- Student essay questions for individual chapters:

  1. CH.1 "Scaling the Great Landmark"
    1. For this legend to survive the years, do you think there was any other evidence to support the incident of the brave scaling Chimney Rock?
    2. The revelation of the brave’s demise was abrupt. How does this parallel with the reaction that his tribe must have felt?
    3. What do you think was the Indian brave’s plan to get down from Chimney Rock?
    4. What do you think the Indian brave’s last thoughts were as he fell?
    5. What are the benefits/detriments of oral tradition in the Indian culture?

  2. CH. 2 “The Renaming of Me-a-pa-te”
    1. Do you think Hiram Scott forgave those who abandoned him before he died? Why or why not?
    2. How do you think Scott kept his sanity while dying alone?
    3. If Scott had known that the massive landmark of Scottsbluff on the Oregon Trail would be named in his honor, would that have brought him any comfort?
    4. Could you have accepted the fact that your friends could do no more to help you and needed to abandon you in order to survive?
    5. Could you live with yourself if you were one of the ones who deserted your comrades?

  3. CH. 3 “The Platte River Road”
    1. How would Fremont’s trip have been different if the Platte River had not been swollen with rain?
    2. Why was it foolish to not send a reconnaissance team ahead to scout the river before putting Fremont’s inflatable raft in the river?
    3. What was the importance of the expedition that Lieutenant John C. Fremont and Charles Preuss, the German cartographer, accomplished?
    4. Jessie Fremont, John C. Fremont’s wife, edited his travel journals into a readable, interesting text. How did this help emigrants traveling west over the Oregon Trail?
    5. The private journals of the German cartographer, Charles Preuss, were not discovered until 100 years after their expedition. What did these journals add to our knowledge of their overland travels?

  4. Ch. 4 “Over the River or Through the Woods”
    1. How do you think the emigrants mustered the strength to go on when they realized there was one last hazard to deal with at the trail’s end? (IE: upon reaching the rocky rapids at The Dalles and having to raft down the Columbia River in Oregon)
    2. Once the Barlow Road opened in 1846 would you have taken that route, or still opted to raft down the raging Columbia River?
    3. Would you have had the fortitude to persevere if you were widowed on the Columbia River and were left with a family to provide for in the wilderness? How would you survive?
    4. How much did the Applegate brothers’ guilt play a part, if any, in their forging a new path (the Applegate Trail) to the Willamette Valley?
    5. In what ways do you think this rafting experience affected young Jesse?

  5. CH. 5 “For Better or For Worse”
    1. How do you think Mr. Bailey’s trade offer with the Indian brave affected his relationship with his daughter?
    2. Do you think Caroline Bailey saw her father’s trade offer becoming a reality? If so, what do you think she was going through?
    3. Was there a point in the story where you thought that the Indian brave would insist that Mr. Bailey keep his word?
    4. What do you think the reaction of Caroline’s siblings were to the situation?
    5. If the Indian had brought reinforcements with him to see that the trade was enforced, what do you think would have happened?

  6. CH. 6 “The Way Home”
    1. How much did luck play a part in Stephen Meek’s inability to find his way to the Willamette Valley?
    2. To what extent do you think Stephen Meek’s ego came into play in this story?
    3. What do you think Elizabeth Meek, his young bride, was going through?
    4. What could Stephen Meek have done differently to keep his caravan together?
    5. What is your opinion of Stephen Meek? Do you feel any empathy for him?

  7. CH. 7 “Just One More Day”
    1. Would you have made the same choice as Tamsen Donner did to stay with your husband and send your young children ahead with the rescue party? How difficult a decision do you think that was to make?
    2. Do you think Louis Keseberg cannibalized Tamsen Donner? If so, why would Keseberg cannibalize Tamsen if there were other bodies available for such purposes?
    3. What do you think happened to Tamsen Donner’s body?
    4. How do you think the Donner and Reed parties coped with the deplorable situation they found themselves in after living with such excess in their lives previously?
    5. What makes you think Tamsen Donner may have had romantic feelings towards their hired teamster, Hiram Miller, who chose to leave the party?

  8. CH. 8 “He Who Laughs First”
    1. Why was Henderson Luelling having nightmares before he left on his journey?
    2. Why did people laugh at Henderson’s tree wagon idea?
    3. Why did the Indians that the Luellings encountered along their journey not bother them?
    4. Henderson Luelling brought the first grafted fruit trees to Oregon. What was the significance of this accomplishment?
    5. What is meant by the saying, “He who laughs first, laughs last”?

  9. CH. 9 “Turnarounds”
    1. How unsettling do you think it was for the emigrants to encounter the “turnarounds” heading back east? What effect would it have upon their psyche?
    2. The incidence of childhood mortality rate was higher in the 1800s than now. Do you think accepting this as a fact of life made it any easier?
    3. If you found yourself half-way to Oregon and without the person that you depended upon most, would you continue on or turn around and head for home?
    4. At which time would you have preferred to travel over the Oregon Trail? In the early years when the trail was less defined, but the Indians were helpful, or the later years when supply stations were available on a more defined route yet altercations with the Indians were more likely?
    5. If you were Susan Lancaster and your firstborn had died along the journey out west, would you have started out again over the Oregon Trail with your family five years later?

  10. CH. 10 “Patience of a Saint”
    1. Did you feel empathy or contempt for Elizabeth Markham? Why or why not?
    2. Do you think Elizabeth suffered from an illness that would have been labeled and diagnosed today? Is so, would the emigrants have been more sympathetic towards her?
    3. When Samuel Markham was consumed with anger (p. 46, last paragraph) do you think that it was as far as his anger took him, or do you think that he laid a hand on his wife?
    4. Why didn’t other people, especially the women, intercede on Elizabeth Markham’s behalf? Would you have done so?
    5. In Elizabeth Markham’s poem, (p. 49) do you feel that she still had a sense of humor after all that she had been through in life, or was she truly making a statement about the differences between the sexes?

  11. CH. 11 “Up, Up, and Away”
    1. Do you feel that Rufus Porter felt more like a failure at the end of his life, or just frustrated that others did not share his vision?
    2. How do visionaries deal with the closed-mindedness of their contemporaries?
    3. If Porter’s airship had been produced and sold, to what extent would that have affected westward migration?
    4. What could Rufus Porter have done differently to either secure funds for his airship or to market it better?
    5. To this day Rufus Porter is not recognized for his contributions to art, science, and journalism. Why is that?

  12. CH. 12 “Unexpected Luxury”
    1. Do you feel that Rufus Porter felt more like a failure at the end of his life, or just frustrated that others did not share his vision?
    2. Rather than waiting a long time to cross the river, Delano’s caravan chose an alternate route that took them across a long stretch of waterless terrain. How do you think the emigrants kept their spirits up when such decisions resulted in hardships?
    3. What characteristics must an individual possess to head out over the Oregon Trail without any family?
    4. Alonzo Delano’s discovery of the ice slough came at the perfect moment. Would you have felt it was divine intervention, luck, or a combination of the two?
    5. Alonzo Delano seemed to live a charmed life, being successful in all his ventures. Do you think some people are just lucky in life?
    6. Delano’s doctor prescribed fresh air and exercise to cure consumption (tuberculosis). Which do you feel was more effective for Delano, the cross-country trek or his attitude?

  13. CH. 13 “Against All Odds”
    1. What effect did Hiram Young’s master have upon his life when he raised the price of Hiram’s freedom?
    2. How do you think the slaves raised themselves up from their despair?
    3. What character trait do you feel was most impressive about Hiram Young?
    4. Was the U. S. government justified in not compensating Young for his loss of property? Do you think the government tries to rectify its wrongdoing, or do you feel it tries to let the passage of time erase its faults? Can you give an example?
    5. Do you think the residents of Independence, MO respected Young, or did they use him?

  14. CH. 14 “The Marriage Bed”
    1. Do you feel that young girls in the 1840s -1880s looked more forward to marrying than girls do today? Why or why not?
    2. While it is noble to marry for love, the reality is that one must consider what effect such a union would have upon one’s life. Was this truer back then than today?
    3. If you could only bring one treasured item from home with you along your trip over the Oregon Trail, what would it have been?
    4. What one item would you choose for a modern-day trip?
    5. How does courtship and marriage differ today from back in the 1840s-1880s?
    6. Was Rebecca Nutting a romantic at heart, or just infatuated with falling in love?

  15. CH. 15 “Etched in Stone”
    1. Was Abigail Scott Duniway destined for fame, or did she make a name for herself?
    2. Abigail Scott said that her mother’s life was that of “a general pioneer drudge.” How did the life and death of her mother affect her own life?
    3. From what you know about Abigail’s husband, Ben Duniway, do you feel that he did enough to contribute to the welfare of their family?
    4. Was Abigail Scott Duniway an anomaly for her time, or did she simply rally out of sheer determination against the parameters that society set for women?
    5. This is a story of how suppressed women were and how little control they had over their own lives. Does this incite you to encourage other women to vote come election time?

  16. CH. 16 “You Can Run, But You Cannot Hide”
    1. What would be more difficult, to be on Tate’s jury, or to see that Tate’s punishment was carried out?
    2. What is your opinion of trail justice and exacting punishment out on the plains?
    3. What do think was the real cause of the altercation between Miller and the Tate brothers?
    4. Do you think Tate was mean spirited, or just provoked? What part did his temper play?
    5. What does it say about those who dug Tate’s grave intentionally shallow so that the wolves had easy access to his remains?

  17. CH. 17 “A Kindness Returned”
    1. As Dr. Alexander’s medical supplies dwindled, do you think that his willingness to freely administer to others ever wavered?
    2. Did Dr. Alexander fall in love with Annie that night he sat up with her? Why or why not?
    3. If Dr. Alexander had not chosen to travel during a peak year of Cholera epidemic, how might his life have turned out differently?
    4. What is it that makes one person give freely of themselves in life and another not be well-attuned to the needs of others?
    5. Do you think the life expectancy in the mid-1800s affected peoples’ attitude towards marriage and life? How so?

  18. CH. 18 “Bubble Up”
    1. What do you think the emotional toll would be if your best friend and his/her family chose to take a different route and head to California if you were going on to Oregon?
    2. The emigrants were completely exhausted when they reached the rest stop at Soda Springs, ID. How did having the opportunity to rest and bathe bolster their emotional resolve at this half way point?
    3. The springs at Soda Springs were said to have a healing power. Even if this were not true, do you think they may have had a placebo effect upon the emigrants?
    4. The Oregon Trail split for a second time just past Soda Springs at Sheep Rock Point. How difficult would it be to change your mind set if you decided to head for California instead of Oregon, or vice versa?
    5. How do you think the Indians encamped nearby felt about the emigrants taking advantage of the sparkling waters at Soda Springs?

  19. CH. 19 “The Last Great Challenge”
    1. What option did forging the Barlow Road provide?
    2. Describe the Barlow road in 1853.
    3. What do you think was the hardest part of traveling the Barlow Road for Amelia Knight Stewart and why?
    4. How did traveling over the Barlow Road in 1853 differ from traveling the Barlow Road in the 1870s?
    5. How did the emigrants get up and down Laurel Hill?

  20. CH. 20 “Just Around the River Bend”
    1. Which section of the Oregon Trail would you have found more challenging? The first third had the easiest terrain, but was more disease ridden. The last third had the most physically challenging terrain, but the most dramatic scenery.
    2. Do you think it would have been difficult to find ways in which to occupy your thoughts during a 2,000-mile walk, or would you enjoy the opportunity of time to contemplate life?
    3. The emigrants did not have the benefit of scientific explanation for the Lost River that traversed underground and poured out of the canyon wall. What do you think the emigrants surmised about Thousand Springs?
    4. Celinda Hines was bored by the monotonous terrain at the beginning of the trail and completely mesmerized by the majesty of the Thousand Falls. Does this give any insight into her personality? What effect can scenery have upon a person?
    5. Celinda’s exuberance with the Snake River Canyon ended abruptly when her father drowned the next week in the Snake River. How do you think the emigrants’ coped with the highs and lows that they experienced along the Oregon Trail?

  21. CH. 21 “Then and Now”
    1. Which obstacle would present a bigger challenge to you along the Oregon Trail, a physical challenge or an emotional one? Why is that?
    2. What accounts for some people being passionate about the past (history) and others having no real interest in it?
    3. Does standing upon the exact location where something historical happened move you? If so, to what degree?
    4. How did the emigrants muster the strength to overcome huge obstacles on the trail such as encountering Big Hill?
    5. What effect would a wagon tumbling end over end down Big Hill have upon all those struggling with the hill?

  22. CH. 22 “The High Price of Steaks”
    1. To what extent, if any, do you think Hals, Larson, and Monson took responsibility for the massacre that ensued over the altercation of the cows?
    2. How did the Indians exercise constraint when the overzealous Lt. Grattan directed his men to fire and an Indian was wounded?
    3. All but one of Lt. Grattan’s soldiers was killed while attempting to retreat to the safe haven of Fort Laramie. How do you think he survived and made his way back to report the incident?
    4. What is it that makes some people justified in engaging in indiscriminate retaliation?
    5. The four Indian chiefs would not surrender the brave who had shot the cows. Would Lt. Grattan have done the same thing if the situation was reversed? What prevented him from realizing that?

  23. CH. 23 “A Trail Delicacy”
    1. Sixteen-year-old Sarah Johnson Cannon traveled in an all-male wagon with her brothers and father. How difficult would this have been for her to be without female companions for such long stretches of time?
    2. How do you think the emigrant accomplished the feat of getting his wagon on top of Independence Rock?
    3. Do you think such carefree, happy moments such as this day were taken for granted along the Oregon Trail?
    4. To what degree do you think the emigrants felt the pressure to keep on schedule while traveling over the trail? How did this pressure differ for the men and the women?
    5. For some people, food is a very important motivator in life. To what extent would a monotonous trail diet affect the emigrants?

  24. CH. 24 “Push Me, Pull Me”
    1. What was it that made Elizabeth Simpson Haigh Bradshaw think that she could survive a transatlantic sea voyage as well as a 1,300-mile walk in a foreign country as a single mother?
    2. Though Elizabeth’s intentions were pure, was she reckless to take her five children on such an arduous journey? What was her motivation for doing so?
    3. There are no accounts of the European Mormon converts being taken aback when they were given handcarts to pull cross-country in lieu of covered wagons. Why do you think that is? Would you have complained at the change of circumstances?
    4. Hastily constructing handcarts using unseasoned wood caused the wheels to shrink in the hot sun and fall apart. Do you think that the leaders of the Mormon Church knew this? If so, did they feel any moral responsibility for endangering the immigrants’ lives?
    5. Leaving that late in the season was an invitation to disaster. Do you think that the Mormon converts were blinded by their faith?

  25. CH. 25 “Girl Overboard”
    1. Pioneer children often had to assume responsibilities at a very young age. Could today’s children rise to the same occasion?
    2. Could you relate to Mrs. True who had to be removed from the premises while Mr. True set Carro’s leg? Should she have stayed to support her daughter?
    3. Mr. True demonstrated a great deal of inner strength to set Carro’s broken leg without benefit of any pain killers. Could you have done the same thing?
    4. Accidents were inherent in overland travel. How was it possible for parents not to obsess over this?
    5. If Carro’s leg had been set wrong it would have crippled her for life. She most likely would not have become an acclaimed actress in San Francisco. What does this say about the opportunities that are extended to able-bodied people over disabled people then and now?

  26. CH. 26 “A Clean Bed and a Good Meal”
    1. Do you think Emily Fisher ever saw Adam Fisher as her father rather than the man who fathered her?
    2. Why didn’t Adam Fisher grant Emily Fisher’s family their freedom as well when he freed her?
    3. How difficult do you think it was for Emily Fisher to prove herself in the white society in which she lived?
    4. Do you think that it ever occurred to Emily that one day she might be recognized for her accomplishments? What caused her to be so driven?
    5. Why do you think that it took almost one hundred years for Emily Fisher to be honored with a proper tombstone placed in the cemetery in which she was buried?

  27. CH. 27 “Craters of the Moon?”
    1. Without benefit of a scientific explanation, how well do you think a 19th century mind could understand the volcanic terrain that they came upon along Goodale’s Cutoff?
    2. Do you think that the emigrants that came upon the volcanic terrain were more awestruck or frustrated by yet another obstacle set before them?
    3. Would it be possible for anyone in Julius Caesar Merrill’s caravan to compare the volcanic terrain to the surface of the moon, or was that a 20th century notion?
    4. How difficult would it have been for those emigrants who did not take Goodale’s Cutoff to have believed what the other emigrants claimed to have seen?
    5. What do you think the emigrants’ thoughts of the lava rock were considering they knew nothing about volcanic activity?

  28. CH. 28 “Clouded Vision”
    1. What was your reaction to the revelation that the young sentry shot and killed his own father?
    2. Do you think this experience affected the prejudicial views that the caravan had towards the Indians? The young man? How so?
    3. What do you think became of the young man?
    4. What is it about human nature that makes people be prejudiced and feel hatred for people unlike themselves?
    5. At what point, if ever, do people come to realize that indiscriminate retaliation harms the innocent?

  29. CH. 29 “Capturing History in the Making”
    1. Why is it that people who are “before their time” suffer so?
    2. The hard prairie life was not for Solomon Butcher. How do you think that people who had no other option in life but to endure the same handled their desperate situation?
    3. In what way did photography play a role in the settling of the west?
    4. It was customary for the settlers to bring their treasured items outside their sod houses to be included in the photograph. Is this boastful in any way? Why or why not?
    5. Solomon Butcher lamented the fact that he had not been a success in life. How important do you think it is for an artist to be recognized in his/her own time?

  30. CH. 30 “Stuck in a Rut”
    1. How incomprehensible do you think it was for Ezra Meeker to fly over the Oregon Trail at 100 mph compared to previously lumbering in a covered wagon at 2 mph years earlier?
    2. What do you think was Ezra Meeker’s motivation to preserve the trail?
    3. Why do you think Eliza Jane did not accompany Ezra on his cross-country trips?
    4. Do you think Ezra Meeker was passionate about his cause, or was he a fanatic? What is the difference?
    5. What was it about Ezra Meeker that caused him to make millions of dollars in some of his ventures only to then lose it, but always keep on going?

  31. CH. 31 “Right of Way”
    1. What strikes you most about this saga of Rebecca Winters?
    2. Do you think Rebecca Winters was present at her re-interment in 1995 and park dedication in 1996? How so?
    3. How do you explain Rebecca Winters’ premonition that she would not live to see their caravan reach the Promised Land?
    4. In what way do you think the Rebecca Winters story affects her descendants?
    5. Rebecca’s husband, Hiram, died two years earlier. How would knowing that her grave had been looked after all those years have affected him?