Monday, September 30, 2013

Resources for Teaching about Homesteading

Last year, I asked readers to take a survey identifying the top ten events in Montana history, promising that I would write up blog posts on resources for teaching some of our collective top tens. I managed posts on the discovery of gold and on railroads, which tied for first, receiving sixty out of eighty votes. (More on the results here.)

Homesteading came in third place, with 50 votes--I personally think it was more place-changing than the discovery of gold. And, luckily, we have lots of resources to use to teach about it.

Elementary Resources

 Elementary teachers, particularly, should see our hands-on history footlocker "Inside and Outside the Home: Homesteading in Montana 1900-1920," which focuses on the thousands of people who came to Montana's plains in the early 20th century in hope of make a living through dry-land farming. You can preview the user guide here and learn more about how to order the footlocker here.  I also recommend teachers look at the Danish Memoirs lesson plan (based around a remarkable homesteading story) in the "Coming to Montana" footlocker. (You can do the lesson without ordering the footlocker by downloading the information from the user guide, starting at page 43.)

Middle and High School Resources

 As always, a good starting place for lesson plans is the Montana: Stories of the Land Companion Website and Teachers Guide, where we've not only posted free PDFs of every chapter of our award-winning middle school textbook, but have also posted worksheets and links to lesson plans and other interesting web resources. For the homesteading, you'll want to see Chapter 13: "Homesteading this Dry Land." 

I'm a big fan of our Learning from Historical Document Units, which in this case include "Letter from W. M. Black to Gov. Joseph Dixon, from Shelby, 1921, Requesting Aid for Drought Victims" and "Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Montana Homesteading Brochure."

There are some other fantastic examples of homesteading propaganda available to download on Montana Memory. My favorites include "Map of Montana's homestead lands: taken from records of United States land offices at Glasgow, Havre, Great Falls and Lewistown, January 1914,"   “The Judith Basin: Fergus County Montana,” 1913, and “We Are Satisfied: Stock Raising, Grain, Dairy Products, Ryegate, Montana,” c. 1914. Corvallis teacher Phil Leonardi came up with a great assignment using homesteading propaganda--having students identify (and then research) potential falsehoods. Details here.

Studying homesteading lends itself to community history projects. If you know the names of homesteaders in your area (which you can probably find by looking in your county history book), you can use BLM records to research their homesteading patents - and often view copies of the actual documents granting them title.

Looking for guidance on how to embark on a community history project? "Exploring Community through Local History: Oral Stories, Landmarks, and Traditions" is a lesson plan from the Library of Congress. The Montana Heritage Project also offers useful advice to teachers wishing to engage in in-depth community study. See particularly the project's ALERT model.

Of course, historic newspapers are a great way to explore the homesteaders' world. Our staff has been working with Chronicling America to digitize parts of our newspaper collection. A full list of Montana newspapers currently digitized is available here. 



When discussing homesteading it only makes sense also to talk about allotment. OPI's Indian Education Division has pulled together a list of resources that "help to provide insight into the impact the law had on Indian communities and provide multiple perspectives."

My favorite resource on allotment is NOT mentioned on the OPI list. They are the letters, to and from Sam Resurrection, a Salish leader who lead the fight against opening the Flathead Indian Reservation to homesteaders. His letters lobbying the federal government and the Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs' responses are incredibly powerful and can be found on the Montana Memory Project. (Select "download all as a PDF" and see particularly pages 10-13 of the document.)

Did I miss your favorite homesteading (or allotment) resource? Drop me an email and I'll pass it along in a future listserv.

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