Pioneer Women

Adventure 2

History Center Excursion

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Be a Museum Curator!

Look at what we found in that old trunk!

You are a member of a teamof curators at the History Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As a curator, your work is sometimes like that of a detective. One of your team's assignments is to go through an old trunk donated to the History Center several months ago. To your great satisfaction, you discovered that the trunk is filled with interesting objects from the Kelsey family. Trunk KeyThe trunk contains letters, photographs and maps that tell more about the family. To begin putting the pieces of the puzzle together, read What We Know about the Kelsey family. As you carefully unpack the trunk, you take a close look at each new artifact.

Step 1

Look at the list of documents and click on each one to preview what it contains.

Step 2

Develop research questions and identify which artifacts will help you answer those questions. Here are a few questions to begin your research.
  • What did Jane Kelsey look like?
  • What did James Kelsey look like?
  • What was life like as a pioneer woman?
  • What hardships did pioneers face?
  • Where was the Kelsey farm located?
Write two or three more research questions.

Step 3

Look at the inventory list of documents. Identify which artifacts will help you answer each question.

Step 4

Now you are ready to write captions for each artifact in your Kelsey museum display. Work with a partner and write captions for one or more items that will be included in your museum display. The caption should be two to four sentences in length describing the main idea of the item.

Step 5

Print a copy of each artifact for a classroom display. Display a copy of each artifact in your classroom and place your caption with each item.


Inventory list for Kelsey Trunk

1. Photograph of woman (Jane Kelsey)

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2. Photograph of woman (James Kelsey)

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3. Photograph of family reunion

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4. Photograph of cottage home

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5. Photograph of cottage 1880's

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6. Letter - 1849

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7. Letter - 1854

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8. Letter - 1863

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9. Map 1 - 1859 Closeup Map

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10. Map 2 - 1859 Kelsey Bend Map

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11. Map 3 - 1906 Color Map

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12. Map 4 - Plat 2001

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Media Center

Books to Read


Arrington, Frances. Bluestem. Philomel Books, 2000.
With their father away and their mother traumatized by the death of a child, eleven-year-old Polly and her younger sister are left to take care of themselves and their prairie homestead.

Conrad, Pam. Prairie Songs. Harper & Row, 1985.
A young pioneer wife has difficulty adjusting to the harsh conditions of life on the prairie, and becomes totally unable to cope after a tragedy hits.

MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. Harper & Row, 1985.
In the late 19th century a widowed Midwestern farmer with two children advertises for a wife, but when she arrives from Maine, she has trouble adjusting to life on the farm.

Turner, Ann W. Grasshopper Summer. Macmillan, 1989.
A boy and his family move from Kentucky to the southern Dakota Territory in 1874, where harsh conditions and a plague of hungry grasshoppers threaten their chances for survival.

Van Leeuwen, Jean. Nothing Here But Trees. Dial Books, 1998.
A close-knit pioneer family carves out a new home in Ohio in the early nineteenth century.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. On the Banks of Plum Creek. Cadmus, 1937.
Laura and her family live in a dugout in Minnesota and face misfortunes caused by floods, blizzards, and grasshoppers.


Bial, Raymond. Frontier Home. Houghton, 1993.
Describes the challenges that settlers faced when creating a new home on the prairie.

Gillespie, Sarah. A Pioneer Farm Girl: The Diary of Sarah Gillespie, 1877-1878. Blue Earth Books, 2000.
Excerpts from the diary of Sarah Gillespie, a pioneer in Iowa in the nineteenth century. Includes activities, photos of artifacts, and a timeline related to the era.

Greenwood, Barbara. A Pioneer Sampler: The Daily Life of a Pioneer Family in 1840. Ticknor & Fields, 1995.
A blend of fiction and fact provides a full picture of mid-nineteenth-century pioneer life.

Isaacs, Sally Senzell. Life on a Pioneer Homestead. Heinemann, 2001.
An overview of life on a pioneer homestead including building a home, cooking, clothing, schools, and everyday activities.

Kalman, Bobbie. Pioneer Recipes. Crabtree, 2000.
An illustrated cookbook that features recipes from the many immigrant groups who settled in the Midwest. Describes how pioneers prepared their meals and gives step-by-step instructions on preparing recipes.

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. Homesteading: Settling American's Heartland. Walker, 1998.
Describes the activities of homesteaders who settled the prairies during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Includes building a home, starting a farm, and surviving on the prairie.

Toht, David. W. Sodbuster. Lerner, 1996.
Includes quotes from pioneers' diaries, verses from songs, old-time remedies, games, and recipes. Presents the hardships, as well as the good times, of pioneer life.

Warren, Andrea. Pioneer Girl: Growing Up on the Prairie. Morrow, 1998.
Describes the daily life and activities of a pioneer girl growing up on the prairies of Nebraska in the late 1800s. Includes living in a soddy, collecting buffalo chips for fuel, battling prairie fires, learning to quilt, surviving a drought, teaching school, and becoming a rancher's wife.

Web Resources

General Information About Pioneer Life

Life as a Pioneer - Why Move West?
A brief explanation of the push/pull factors which influenced many people to settle in the Midwest and West.

Life as a Pioneer- Traveling West
A brief description of the modes of travel used in Iowa during pioneer times, including maps of railroad lines.

Pioneer Farming - Life in a Log Home
Describes what it was like to live in a log cabin in pioneer times; including how cabins were built, how meals were prepared, and how housekeeping chores were done.

Pioneer Life in Ohio
A description of the hardships endured by Ohio pioneers in the mid-1800s. Includes information about pioneer food, medicines, cabin-raisings, and money.

Hinckley-Big Rock School District (Illinois) in conjunction with Southern Illinois University, presents information about toys, games, customs, crafts, clothing, farm life, and housing, including many photographs.

Information about pioneer food, clothing, medicine, transportation, farming, games, and homes, including many photos.

The Domestic Frontier
Includes links to information on pioneer clothing, food, and home building.

Pioneer Recipes
Recipes for homemade soap, ice cream, and stew.

Pioneer Farming Techniques

Introduction to Pioneer Farming
Describes the methods and tools used to cultivate Iowa farmland in the 1800s.

Interactive Sites

Not For Ourselves Alone
An interactive quiz about a typical day in the life of a Nebraska farm girl in the 1800s.

Dear Laura
Students may ask questions about pioneer life and have them answered by a historian at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.

Firsthand Accounts: Diaries, Posters and Articles

Diary of a Young Girl
A reprint of a diary kept by Ellen Strang in the early 1860's. It contains a record of pioneer farm life including information on household chores, planting and harvesting crops, illnesses, and travel.

Millions of Acres for Sale Poster
A copy of a Land for Sale poster to entice people to come to Iowa in 1872.

Iowa Farm Letters - John and Sarah Kenyon
Describes a family's efforts to stop a prairie fire in Iowa in 1859.

Pioneer Farming - Journal of William Buxton
A diary of one man's journey from England to Iowa in 1853 includes descriptions of travel by steamship, train, steamboat, rail, and stagecoach.

Pioneer Farming - Pioneering at Bonaparte and Near Pella
Sarah Welch Nossaman's recollections of the hardships she experienced on several Iowa farms where her family lived in the 1800s.


conservator - A person in charge of taking care of or restoring objects, photographs, and materials so that they remain in good condition and last a long time

curator - A person who manages or oversees a museum collection

excursion - A going out or forth; deviation from a direct, definite, or proper course

historian - A person who writes or compiles a chronological record of events and investigates and interprets the past by researching original sources like objects, photographs, letters and other documents to find out more about individuals and groups of people

plat map - A map showing actual or planned features, such as streets and building lots

immigrant - One that immigrates; a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence

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