Guide: FORGOTTEN JOURNEY
Author: Carol A. Verbeeck, educator/writer
-- copyright 2004 Carol A. Verbeeck
"Forgotten Journey" in your classroom...
Here are some ways to inspire students
to think about the circumstances that the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy
Party found themselves in, understand the historical
context of the times in which they lived, and consider
how decision-making and leadership affected the positive
outcome of their journey.
activites will extend students' understanding
of this true story of the opening of the overland trail
to California. To encourage students to find out more
from books and other websites, look for other
are many ways that the National Standards in
History can be applied when viewing and discussing
the video, "Forgotten Journey." Discussion
questions and activities are designed with these five
dimensions of historical thinking in mind:
2) Historical Comprehension
3) Historical Analysis and Interpretation
4) Historical Research Capabilities
5) Historical Issues -- Analysis and Decision-making
more information on these standards, go to
View a segment of the video, then pose these questions:
Bluffs - The Gathering
for leaving home...
of these families were drawn to California by the promise
of good farmland. What were some of the additional reasons
that the Murphy family decided to go to Alta California?
(They liked the idea of settling in a
place in which Catholics were welcomed. They also wanted
to escape malaria, which had taken the lives of family
were some of the reasons Dr. Townsend also decided to
make the journey? (He expected new and
prosperous business opportunities, and thought the climate
in California might be better for his wife's health.)
reasons might cause your family to decide to move now,
in modern times? In what ways would your reasons be
similar to reasons of families heading west in the 1800s?
In what ways would they be different?
(Answers will vary.)
you think it would be easier to move and start over
if you had already done it before? Why or why not? (Answers
people heading West...
what ways did mountain men like Caleb Greenwood help
the overland travelers? (Since the mountain
men had experience traveling west already, they often
acted as guides for families with wagons. They had more
experience with the Native Americans that might be encountered,
and could sometimes serve as interpreters or laisons
between the travelers and the native people.)
of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party had different
skills and training. The group included a physician
(Dr. Townsend), a gunsmith (Allen Montgomery), trappers
(Caleb Greenwood, Elijah Stephens, and Isaac Hitchcock
), a blacksmith (Elijah Stephens), and many others with
practical experience in farming and hunting. In what
ways might these different skills have helped the group
be successful in their journey west? (Discuss
with students what each of these skills offered, i.e.
"What does a blacksmith do?" Then discuss
ways in which these skills might be helpful along the
Incognita - Crossing the rivers
video mentions the large freight-carrying Connestoga
wagon and compares it to the smaller farm wagon that
was used by the overland travelers. What were the advantages
of using the smaller farm wagon? (lighter
in weight, able to turn in a smaller area, easier to
break down for river and mountain crossings) What
were some of the disadvantages? (limited
amount of space to carry supplies.)
were some of the advantages of following along the rivers?
(grass; water for animals and people;
game to hunt and fish to catch) What
were the disadvantages? (mosquitoes,
some of which carried disease; boggy places that made
traveling more difficult; contaminated water carried
diseases such as cholera)
Cut-Off - Life on the Plains
a chance on a new route...
Hitchcock suggested a cut-off that would save the group
time. It was risky, leaving them two days without water,
but saved them a week's travel time. The Donner Party
of 1846 also followed advice to take a short-cut from
the known trail, with vastly different results. Their
choice cost them precious time, taking longer than the
original route. Discuss the pros and cons of taking
such a chance. Acting out the parts of different members
of the party (Caleb Greenwood, Dr. Townsend, Mr. Murphy-head
of a large family, Captain Stephens, and Mrs. Miller-mother
of a new-born baby), debate whether or not to follow
- Indian Encounters
with the native people...
were some of the expectations of the overland travelers
when encountering Native Americans at Ft. Laramie?
(Many people had heard stories about how the Native
Americans were dangerous and untrustworthy.) How
were their actual experiences different from the expectations?
(The party traded for horses and moccasins
at Ft. Laramie. No negative experiences were described
with this encounter.)
scouting ahead and confirming the information given
them by Truckee, a Piute man, the party knew to travel
west across the desert to the Truckee Meadows, where
they could rest and recover after the desert crossing.
What roles did luck and careful planning play in their
finding the meadow? (They were fortunate
in finding Truckee, which may have been a chance encounter.
Mountain man Greenwood somehow communicated with Truckee
to find out where the meadow was located, but Capt.
Stephens, Dr. Townsend and Mr. Foster took Truckee along
with them to make sure they found it before they returned
to move all the wagons.)
Waters - Tackling the Mountain Barrier
until the ascent of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the
group stayed together. At the fork of the Truckee River,
however, six people were sent ahead on horseback, while
the rest of the group continued with all eleven wagons.
Moses Schallenberger stated there was a "conference..."
and they decided jointly that the group should split.
This implies that the group made decisions together
in a democratic way. How might this way of working together
have influenced the way people felt about decisions
when they were made and acted upon? (Answers
Summit - Crossing the Sierra
they discovered their way was blocked by a granite cliff,
but had found the narrow pathway, what choices did the
party have as to what to do next? (Answers
may vary. Go back, but to where? Lead the animals up
the narrow pathway, and pack whatever they and the oxen
could carry - abandoning the wagons. Try to hoist the
wagons and their supplies up and over the cliff, re-pack
and go on.)
Camp - New Life in California
did the party decide to split up again, leaving the
women, children, and only two of the men, behind at
a camp by the Yuba River? (Snows and
weary oxen made further travel with the wagons impossible.
A second baby was due to be born. It was thought that
the men going on ahead could travel more quickly without
the wagons and their families. They would hurry on to
Sutter's Fort and resupply, returning to their families
as soon as possible.)
horseback party arrived at Sutter's Fort on December
10, 1844. They left Council Bluffs between May 18 -
22 earlier that year. Approximately how long did it
take those six people to travel from Council Bluffs
to Sutter's Fort (about 6 months, 20
Bye Mose" - The Lonely Vigil
in the mountains...
Foster, Allen Montgomery, and Moses Schallenberger at
first didn't feel that staying at the cabin through
the winter was risky. They predicted how conditions
in the Sierra Nevada mountains would be based on their
own experiences with winter snows and hunting back home.
In what ways were winters where they came from different
from those in the Sierras? (Back home,
the snow never got too deep before melting away. Traveling
was possible throughout the winter there. In the Sierras,
the snow continued to get deeper and deeper, and could
no longer support a person walking on it.)
Schallenberger chose to go back to the cabin alone,
rather than cause his two companions to risk their lives
along with him. What were the two things that most troubled
him during that lonely winter? (He worried
about having anough to eat, and finding ways to kill
brother-in-law, Dr. Townsend, had left a number of books
behind in his wagon. Moses read them during his stay
at the cabin. Imagine yourself in Moses' circumstances...
what else could you have done to help keep your mind
occupied and maintain a positive outlook?
(Answers will vary. Student may suggest finding materials
to make things... wood carving, etc.; keeping track
of the days; writing in a journal; and so on.)
Civil War - California in turmoil
south, or go back - a difficult choice...
making camp near the Yuba River for the women and children,
most of the men went on ahead to Sutter's Fort. When
they arrived, they were surprised to find California
facing a civil war. The Mexican governor, Micheltorena,
was being threatened by two other men, Alvarado and
Castro. They wanted to remove Micheltorena from his
role as leader of Alta California. Instead of getting
new supplies and returning for their families, the men
from the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party joined Captain
Sutter and his forces to help fight on behalf of Micheltorena.
What reasons could they have had for going with Sutter's
group instead of returning to their families right away?
What would you have decided... go south with Sutter's
army, or go back for your family? Why?
(Answers will vary.)
women, children, and men that had stayed at the Yuba
River camp finally arrived at Sutter's Fort in early
March, 1845. Knowing they left Council Bluffs between
May 18 - 22, 1844, how long did it take them to travel
from Council Bluffs to Sutter's Fort?
(nearly 9 1/2 months.)
Sunset - A Legacy Lives On
legacy of names and places...
Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party were the first to succeed
in bringing wagons over what is now called "Donner
Pass," yet the pass wasn't named after the party
or it's captain. Instead, both the pass and the lake
were named after the members of the Donner Party - who
came through two years later, and suffered terribly.
Should the pass have been named "Stephen's Pass"
instead? Why or why not? (Answers will
more about a topic...
internet resources and the library, find out more about
malaria. What was known about the disease in 1844? Did
people know how it was transmitted? What did they do
to treat it? Compare this with what we now know about
malaria and how it's treated.
was the general attitude of people in the United States
towards Catholicism in the 1840s? Try to find information
from original diaries, letters, and newspapers of the
time to get some clues. In old newspapers, search for
advertisements for domestic help and other services,
as well as stories about people and events. Librarys
often have archives of old local newspapers on microfilm.
out more about the animals the party encountered along
the way (antelope, bison, etc.). Working in small groups,
have students choose an animal to research. Find out
what habitat the animal lived in, what it ate, and the
range in which they were found at that time. Have students
draw pictures of their animal and create a bulletin
board display. Include a quote from a primary source
that describes an encounter with each animal. Students
can compare the range in which the animal was found
in the mid-19th century with the current range. Discuss
how the habitat and range may have changed over time,
and what may have contributed to this change.
was happening in the world and within the United States
between 1840-1850? Make a timeline that shows world
events and discoveries, and compare that to a timeline
of events and discoveries within the United States.
Include events that shaped California's history, such
as the war with Mexico and the gold discovery.
happened while the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy party was
traveling? Make a timeline from May, 1844 to March,
1845. Include political events and news stories from
U. S. states and territories.
and using maps...
a classroom map tracing the route of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy
Party. Include landmarks and forts, rivers, and other
geographical features they encountered. When known,
include the dates that the party reached each of these
primary sources, including drawings, paintings, letters,
diaries, etc., create a collage of images and descriptions
of locations on your map. Use information from c1840s
- early 1850s overland travelers. Have students create
their own drawings based on the original images. Display
the drawings on the classroom map, or bind them in a
"journal," sequencing them as they would be
encountered traveling east to west along the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy
a map of California and maps of the San Francisco Bay
area, find some of the locations mentioned in the video
which were named for different members of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy
Party... Stevens Creek Blvd. in Cupertino - note the
change in spelling; Schallenberger Road in San Jose;
Sunnyvale, San Martin, and Murphys Ranch (places where
the Murphy family settled).
a map of your local area, search for streets or cities
named after people from local history. Find out more
about them: When did they settle in your area? Where
did they come from? Why did they come to your community?
a model of a Connestoga wagon, and a model of a typical
overland traveler's covered farm wagon. Make sure that
the two models are to the same scale (for example, 1"
of the model size = 2' of the original dimensions).
Compare the models and discuss how they were designed
and used for different purposes.
three-dimensional models of some of the landmarks the
party encountered along the way, such as Chimney Rock,
Independence Rock, Ft. Laramie, or Sutter's Fort. Label
them and display them on a table-top map to show their
locations along the route west.
A sampling of research sites
and books to get you started:
A good source for teachers wanting an overview of the
of events, 1840-1850
sources (original documents and images)
about the trail experience
to Native American site information, and other American
more about oxen
Across the Plains in the Donner Party;
Virginia Reed Murphy; Vistabooks, 1995.
Worthy of inclusion here as Virginia was a child
of 12 when her family started out. Numerous Frederick
Remington engravings offer illustrations of Ft. Laramie
in 1849, drawings of landmarks such as Chimney Rock,
and a map of the Western Territories in the 1840s.
The California Trail; George R. Stewart;
Helpful maps and graphics include an illustration
comparing the emigrant farm wagon and a Conestoga wagon.
Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from
the Western Trails, 1840-1849; Kenneth L. Holmes; University
of Nebraska Press, 1983.
Diaries of the Westward Journey; Lillian Schlissel;
Schocken Books, 1982.
Both of these books offer numerous first-hand descriptions
of food, equipment, animals, and events along the trail.
Magazine, November 2002
Designed for the school audience, this volume is
about the California Trail.