Suggested Activities

1. Wolves

The story of John McMurty and his family is based on the memoir's of his daughter Martha.

One of Martha's most riveting accounts in her memoirs is that of Mrs. Denbow's perilous escape from wolves.

From this passage can you infer how Martha and the settlers must have felt towards the wolves that inhabited the Illinois wilderness? If you had lived during the 1800s, how might you feel about wolves? After reading this story, how do you feel about wolves?

Now read a contemporary wolf story written by a woman who owns a "hybrid wolf"--her animal is part wolf, part malamute.

Use your favorite World Wide Web search engine to find other wolf-related websites. See if you can find articles that show contrasting viewpoints toward wolves.

2. Class debate: Black Hawk vs. the white settlers

This debate concerns the Sauk claim to the land vs. the white settlers' claim to the land around the Rock River. The debate can take place between Black Hawk, chief of the Sauk, and McMurty or between a group representing the Sauk and a group representing the settlers. Students can debate either of the following propositions:

In November of 1804 at St. Louis, General Harrison of the United States made a treaty with the chiefs of the Sauk and Fox nations of Indians by which the Indians ceded to the United States all their land on the Rock River. This agreement was confirmed by part of the tribe in a treaty with Ninian Edwards, the first governor of the Illinois territories, in 1815 and again in another treaty in May of 1816. These lands, according to former Governor of Illinois Thomas Ford (1800-1850), "included the great town of the [Indian] nation near the mouth of the rivers. The purchasers from the government moved onto their lands, built houses, made fences and fields, and thus took possession of the ancient metropolis of the Indian nation." Black Hawk, "an old chief of the Sauks," denied the validity of these treaties, moved back onto the land and declared war upon the settlers. The war resulted in defeat for the Indians, and by 1832, Black Hawk and his people were removed from the state to the wilderness west of the Mississippi. The last of the Indian lands were ceded to the United States government in 1833.

The following excerpts provide background information:
  1. Background on the events surrounding the treaty of 1804 and the start of the Black Hawk War in 1832: Governor Thomas Ford's retelling of "Black Hawk's own account of the treaty of 1804" and subsequent decision to resettle his lands.
  2. A speech given by Corn Tassel, a Cherokee leader, made to the United States government in 1785. In this speech Corn Tassel argues that the whites had no claim to Indian lands.
  3. Background on Black Hawk: a report on Black Hawk prepared by a seventh-grade student at Wilson School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at:
    Remote Link
  4. Predebate and postdebate discussion topics.

3. Memoirs as Historical Documents

Book Resources

The following books provide wonderful primary-source accounts on frontier life seen through the eyes of women pioneers:
  1. Christiana Holmes Tillson, A Woman's Story of Pioneer Illinois, Evansville, IN: Unigraphic, 1974.
  2. John Mack Faragher, Sugar Creek: Life on the Illinois Prairie, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.
  3. Glenda Riley, The Female Frontier: A Comparative View of Women on the Prairie and the Plains, Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1989.
  4. Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails 1840 - 1890, edited by Kenneth L. Holmes (6 volumes); Glendale, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1983.
  5. Joanna Stratton, Pioneer Women from the Kansas Frontier, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981.

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