LUCIA DARLING JOURNAL, JUNE 1-SEPTEMBER 17, 1863
In the summer of 1863, a young woman joined her uncle's family in their migration from Akron, Ohio, to the Western frontier, Idaho Territory. Her name was Lucia Darling, and she was traveling with the Sidney Edgerton family. Mr. Edgerton was the newly-appointed chief justice of Idaho Territory and was taking his family to the Idaho Territorial capital in Lewiston.
The Edgerton family ended their journey in the mining camp of Bannack in September of 1863, due to the onset of winter weather. They remained in Bannack the following spring, as Sidney was becoming involved in a movement to carve a new territory from the eastern portion of Idaho Territory. That movement succeeded, and Bannack was named the capital of the Montana Territory in 1864.
Lucia, who had been a teacher for nearly ten years, set out almost immediately upon her arrival to provide a setting for formal education for the children of Bannack. She found little that was appealing in the small, dank miners' cabins in the area and decided that the Edgerton home was probably the best suited place. The Edgerton home is considered the first schoolhouse for non-Native American students in Montana. Lucia accepted her first students in October of 1863.
During the course of the three-month journey, Lucia kept an extensive diary. The diary records camp life, daily activities, encounters with other wagon trains, interactions with Native Americans, and landmarks along the route.
Lucia Darling's diary is in remarkably good condition. Her writing style is concise, and her penmanship is clean, suggesting a woman of higher education. The care Darling took to create and preserve the diary also seems to indicate that she intended others to view it. The journal was recopied for a more uniform look, and the entries were written in a more formal tone than one would expect for a diary kept only for personal use. Lucia was in fact a long-time schoolteacher and did publish stories of her experiences in magazines and journals throughout her later life.
A simple review of the appearance of the journal can tell the students a great deal about the writer. With a little preparation students could learn so much more!
Some topics to consider
This journal can be used to discuss modes of travel in the 1860s, food preparation and consumption on the Overland Trail, 19th-century attitudes and social mores, women's roles in the development of the West, children on the Overland Trail, racial tensions in Westward expansion, the importance of journals and letters in non-computerized society, or the exploration of student or family journeys into the unknown. All of these topics could tap student analytical, writing, and presentation skills.
Suggested teaching activities for middle-school students:
Explore what it means to take a journey into the unknown.
The following questions might stimulate discussion:
What might have motivated Lucia to join her uncle's family in their trip west?
What were her expectations of the journey? What were her fears?
What was her role during the journey? How did she fulfill that role?
What were some of the difficulties her wagon train faced during the trip? How did they overcome those difficulties? What role did Lucia play? What did she learn from these difficulties?
What decisions does Lucia make during the journey and how does she make them? How do those decisions affect her journey?
Explore "immigrants" of today:
Students collect materials relating to immigration or migration around the world and if possible closer to home. Possible sources include newspapers, evening news reports, the Internet, and news magazines. From these materials the student can: create a journal by pasting articles in a book and providing commentary; make a presentation to the class based on these articles; write a faux news report based on their research; write an essay comparing the struggles of Lucia with those of immigrant or migrant peoples today.
Encourage students to conduct family research:
After the class has discussed the 1860s migration era, ask the students to extend some of the themes to their own families. Do they have family members who came to Montana in a similar fashion? Did someone in their family make a journey from home as a young person to live somewhere else? Have the students conduct interviews with family members who have a "journey story" to tell. Based on the interviews they can make a class presentation explaining what the journey was, why it was taken, the risks involved, how the trip ended, and how the family member feels about the journey now. The presentation should include documents that reveal the journey, such as photographs, journals, letters, and scrapbooks.
Ask students to create fictional members of Lucia's wagon train. Have these characters talk about their perceptions of events described by Lucia, describe their chores and responsibilities, or discuss their relationship with and impressions of Lucia. Students can create a short story, a short skit, a faux journal, or a reminiscent letter written long after 1863.
Women and the frontier experience:
Lizzie: The Letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk, 1864-1893 (ed. Myers, Rex. Missoula, MT. Mountain Press Company, 1988).
More than Petticoats: Remarkable Montana Women (Shirley, Gayle C. Helena, MT. Falcon Press, 1995).*
No Step Backward: Women and Family on the Rocky Mountain Mining Frontier: Helena, Montana, 1865-1900 (Petrik, Paula. Helena, MT. Montana Historical Society Press, 1987).
Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier. (Peavey, Linda and Smith, Ursula. New York, NY. Smithmark, 1996).
Westering Women and the Frontier Experience 1800-1915 (Myers, Sandra L. University of New Mexico Press 1982).
* This publication is geared toward middle school students.
Teaching with historical documents:
Discovering Documents: The Power of Primary Source Materials in the Classroom (Hohmann, Judy P. History News, September 1993).
Sierra Club Petition to Congress Protesting the Proposed Diminution of Yosemite National Park (Blondo, Richard A., and Schamel, Wynell Burroughs. Social Education, March 1993).
Women's Frontier Diaries: Writing for Good Reason ( Davis, Gayle R. Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 1987).
The United States at War: 1944. The thirteenth in a series of teaching packages developed by National Archives and published by SIRS, Inc. This unit is available from the publisher at (1-800-232-SIRS). Montana Office of Public Instruction (http://www.opi.state.mt.us/)
National Archives Resource Center Digital Classroom (http://www.archives.gov/)
Collections of related interest at the Montana Historical Society:
Edgerton Family History: Sidney Edgerton Family Papers (MC26)
Martha Edgerton Plassman Papers (MC 78)19th Century women's diaries, letters, and reminiscences.
TEACHING WITH HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS
Original documents can be an exciting addition to any school curriculum. Journals, diaries, ledgers, deeds, census records, minutes, and photographs can be reproduced easily and brought into the classroom to build skills in various disciplines. This segment, which will be updated periodically, will provide examples and resources to encourage teachers to use primary documents in their classroom activities.
The Lucia Darling Journal (SC 145) is a great collection to use to explore pioneer life, women and Western expansion, racial conflict, and exploration and travel in family history. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination!