Visiting South Pass
A good way to record thoughts, ideas and discoveries at South Pass 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 South Pass:
- Check out Will Bagley’s overview article on the historical importance of South Pass and, if possible, his shorter pieces on the Astorians, the first wagons over the pass, the early missionaries who crossed the pass and the South Pass gold rush of the 1860s.
During the ride to South Pass:
- 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?
- Coming from Lander on Wyoming Highway 28, stop at the point of interest with a historic marker about the Lander Road, on the left or southeast side of the highway, 0.6 mile past milepost 38. (Coming from Farson, the marker is 0.4 mile past milepost 37). Built in the late 1850s, the Lander Road offered travelers heading for Oregon or California a shorter route to Fort Hall, in Idaho, cutting off the long trek south to Fort Bridger. Talk with students about the many choices pioneers had to make about what routes to take. Why did this matter?
- If possible, stop at the South Pass Rest Area on Wyoming Highway 28. The creek nearby is the Sweetwater River. Where does it go? How is the Sweetwater important to the Oregon, California and Mormon trails?
- From the rest area, the turnoff to South Pass itself is 0.9 mile further south, toward Farson, on the left or southeast side of the highway. As you turn onto the county road, ask students about the landscape: how has it changed since pioneer times? How is it the same?
Arriving at South Pass:
- Probably it would be best to leave the bus parked on the county road and hike the last three-fourths of a mile on the two-track—which is the actual Oregon-California-Mormon trail at this point—to the stone monuments at South Pass.
- Ask students to look around. What is your first impression? Can you spot the Wind River Mountains? Oregon Buttes? How did the buttes get that name?
- Walk back and forth on the two-track past the monuments a couple of times. Each time, students are crossing the Continental Divide. What does that mean? What did it mean to the pioneers?
- The next place with water west of South Pass, where wagon trains often camped, is visible as a low, greener place in the landscape to the southwest. It was called Pacific Springs. Ask students why they think it got that name.
- Again, as you depart, talk about time and distance. How far had pioneers come from Missouri or Iowa? How far did they have to go? How long would that take?
- Imagine you’re part of a pioneer family camped near South Pass. You meet a traveler headed east, back to Missouri. He offers to take letters, but he wants to leave in an hour. Write a quick letter home, describing what you see, and what the journey has been like so far. Use all your senses and feelings to describe the experience.
- Newspapers sent artists out to draw pictures of the sites on the trail. Pretend you’re one of those artists. Draw what you saw at South Pass in a way that allows you to “tell the story” of that place to people back east.
- Imagine another wagon train is camped nearby, 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 an Indian tribe that has hunted at and traveled through South Pass every year for a very long time. It’s the late 1840s, and suddenly it seems there are more wagons and white people coming through the pass every summer. What do you think and feel about this? What do other people in the tribe think? Any idea what people in other tribes think about it? Should you do anything about it? What? How will you decide what to do?