The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

Visiting Fort Bridger

Visiting Fort Bridger

A good way to record thoughts, ideas and discoveries at Fort Bridger is to keep a journal.  Students can record reactions to the following prompt ideas – choose what fits your students, modifying when needed.

Before you go to Fort Bridger:

During the ride to Fort Bridger:

  • Talk about time and distance. How far is the bus going to travel today? At 10 to 12 miles per day, how long would it take a wagon train to cover the same distance? At 30 miles per day, how long would it take a stagecoach?
  • At Fort Bridger, westbound emigrants could continue west to the Salt Lake Valley, or head northwest toward Fort Hall in Idaho—and beyond that, Oregon and California. Talk with students about the many choices pioneers had to make about what routes to take. Why did this matter?

Arriving at Fort Bridger:

  • Ask students to look around. What is your first impression?  Near the entrance, can you spot the renovated motel from the 1930s?
  • Ask students to think about what they would have seen during the different eras of use and occupation at the fort—first Jim Bridger and the mountain men, next, the Mormons, then the military, and eventually, a dairy and the motel, and ask them to keep these eras in mind as they visit the different buildings.
  • The museum in the 1880s barracks will help them think about each of the separate eras, and the reconstructed Jim Bridger stockade will offer a vivid look at the first of the four.
  • Again, as you depart, talk about time and distance. How far had pioneers who reached Fort Bridger come from Missouri or Iowa? How far did they have to go—to Utah, Oregon or California? How long would that take?

Back home:

  • Imagine you’re a trader at the fort working for Jim Bridger and Louis Vasquez. Who else lives there? Who are your customers?
  • Imagine you’re a Shoshone woman, married to one of the post traders and raising a family. What is life like around the fort?
  • In the 1850s and 1860s, newspapers sent artists out to draw pictures of the sites along the Oregon, California and Mormon trails.  Pretend you’re one of those artists.  Draw what you saw at Fort Bridger in a way that allows you to “tell the story” of that place to people back east.
  • Imagine another wagon train is camped nearby at Fort Bridger, but they are headed for a much different place than you are, and for different reasons. Write a journal entry about the people in that wagon train. Where are they from? Where are they going? Why?
  • Now imagine you belong to the Shoshone tribe at the time of the dispute between Jim Bridger and the Mormons in the 1850s over who owns the fort. Who do you think ought to own the fort? Does it matter to you? Should you do anything about it? 

Note to teachers:

This lesson addresses a number of the Wyoming State Social Studies Standards detailed in the 2013 draft of Wyoming Social Studies Content and Performance Standards, benchmarked for the ends of grades 2, 5, 8 and 12. All are available at http://edu.wyoming.gov/sf-docs/publications/DRAFT_2013_Social_Studies_Standards.pdf?

More specifically, the lesson addresses Content Standard 4, Time, Continuity and Change, under which students analyze events, people, problems, and ideas within their historical contexts, and Content Standard 5, People, Places and Environments, under which students apply their knowledge of the geographic themes (location, place, movement, region, and human/environment interactions) and skills to demonstrate an understanding of interrelationships among people, places, and environment.

Under Content Standard 4, the lesson addresses standards SS5.4.4. SS8.4.4 and SS12.4.4, which call for students to discuss, identify or describe historical interactions between and among individuals, families, and cultural/ethnic groups, and standards SS5.4.5, SSD8.4.5 and 12.4.5, which call for students to understand the difference between primary and secondary sources, and how to use them in their research.

Under Content Standard 5, this lesson addresses the Human Place and Movement standards SS2.5.3, SS5.5.3 (which specifically mentions American Indians and the Oregon Trail), SS8.5.3 and SS12.5.3, and the Environment and Society standards SS2.5.4, SS5.5.4, SS8.5.4 and SS12.5.4, which call on students to understand how people in Wyoming adjust and have adjusted to their physical and geographical environment.