Fortuitously, our local home school group planned a field trip to a more local pioneer museum in The Dalles, a place that also claims to be the End of the Oregon Trail. The Discovery Center has exhibits on Native American history, Lewis and Clark, and pioneer history. Lewis and Clark traveled right through this region on the Columbia River. Some day I'll have to take the boys out to Astoria on the coast where the Corps of Discovery stayed for the winter before returning east.
Our visit to this museum was a bit too short to thoroughly absorb all the information on display (don't all museum visits tend to be that way?) but what we did see enhanced our understanding of what we had read.
In our reading, we had learned about mountain men, trappers and rendezvous so this display of their typical gear was interesting.
The main event for the visit was a planned project for the homeschool group. The museum had a clever way for the students to think through what it was like to be a pioneer on the Oregon Trail. The kids were divided into two groups, each representing a wagon train. Each group was appointed a Trail Master. Peter was head of one train and Sam was the leader of the other. They were given honorary straw hats. Other kids were given jobs for their group such as record keeper, animal herder, etc. Each team was given a set of dice and the rules for rolling them.
After they determined the status of their wagon train, the number of people and animals, how much money they had, etc., they then had to explore which option would be most feasible for continuing west- rafting everything down the Columbia River or crossing Mount Hood on the Barlow Road, a toll road with many dangers.
More dice rolling determined how successful each option would be for the group.
Each group would decide which route they would take.
I thought this project was well-done and informative. It was a good way for the students to think through some of the details of the dangers of traveling in the nineteenth century. My boys were severely disappointed though, that they were not physically loading a covered wagon and hitching up real live oxen to drive. They fully expected the museum to provide them with that kind of experience.
The museum director reported to us that he was conducting a class for a school in Louisiana via Skype following our project with him. Maybe the Discovery Center would do this for other homeschool groups in the country. If you are interested, it could be worth contacting them to find out.