Wild, Wild West
Wagon Trains

Wagon Trains
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 4 to 5
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.33

     challenging words:    development, crucial, drownings, hoop-shaped, lengthy, overland, replenish, roadometer, economic, tremendous, convert, highly, despite, placement, transcontinental, classic
     content words:    United States, American Indians, Native Americans, John Bidwell, Missouri River, Donner Party, In March, Alexander Fancher, Mountain Meadows Massacre, Homestead Act

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Wagon Trains
By Jennifer Kenny

1     When we think of the development of the United States, we can't help but think of those who traveled across the country to settle the great lands of the West. What were their travels like? What images come to your mind when you think of this great migration? The wagon train is probably one of those images.
2     What exactly was a wagon train? It was a group of covered wagons, usually around 100 of them. These carried people and their supplies to the West before there was a transcontinental railroad.
3     From 1837 to 1841, many people were in frustrating economic situations. Farmers, businessmen, and fur traders were looking for new opportunities. They hoped for a better climate, good crops, and better conditions. They decided to travel to the West. Missionaries wanted to convert American Indians to Christianity. They decided to head to the West. Why would these groups head out together? First of all, the amount of traveling was incredible. Much of the country they were traveling through was not settled and was difficult to travel. The trip could be confusing because of other trails made by Indians and buffalos. To get there safely, they went together. Second of all, there was a real danger that a wagon would be attacked by Native Americans. In order to have protection, it made sense to travel together.
4     Wagon trains were very organized. People signed up to join one. There was a contract that stated the goals of the group's trip, terms to join, rules, and the details for electing officers. A wagon train would choose one or two people to be in charge for military and civil purposes. There were aides who were elected. A guide who knew the trails was often hired as well. He would understand the best route based on the travels of the early frontiersmen. The wagon train was highly organized. There was a strict order for placement of the wagons on the trail and at the camp at night. Riding on the trails created a lot of dust. Changing the order of wagons helped people take turns bearing the worst of this choking dust.
5     At night, the wagons would make a circle with one opening. This allowed the group to guard against Native Americans. It also kept the animals from wandering from the group. There was often a musician who traveled with the wagon train to entertain the group at night.

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