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Lesson Plan: Leonidas Merritt

For Teachers - An Introduction:
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to a person in Minnesota history. Students will be provided with source data, online activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about primary source research in general. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but rather serve as examples of what students might find in their own research attempts.

Leonidas Merritt:
A member of the Mesabi Range's "Seven Iron Men," Leonidas (Lon) Merritt helped to explore and develop the range for mining and business ventures. His work eventually led him to a job with John D. Rockefeller's railroad interests in the area. This business relationship and the loans that Merritt secured within it developed into a lengthy legal battle against Rockefeller. This battle eventually destroyed Merritt's business and assetts on the range.

What You Will Need for This Lesson:

  • Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
  • Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
  • If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.

Skills Objectives:
The student will be able to:

  1. access primary sources online for research and study
  2. identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
  3. identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
  4. explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and reliability

Using this Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, lead them through the following sequence (you may wish to use an overhead projector screen):

  1. Go to the Communities web site.
  2. Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. Click on Hibbing.
  4. Click on Leondias Merritt.
  5. Read the introductory material on Merritt and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a photograph of Merritt. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this photograph by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions and possible answers about each source.
  7. Once students have studied this photograph and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to another source to explore.
  8. Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
  9. When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).

What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
Below is a listing of each source provided on the Merritt section of the web site and a transcript of the activity questions for each source. (The questions are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button.)

Photo 1
Click on the Photo 1 button to open the primary source.

As part of the Iron RangeŐs ŇSeven Iron Men,Ó Merritt and his family built a strong mining operation on the Range. He eventually went to work with John D. RockefellerŐs company. This work arrangement led to a lawsuit that almost ended MerrittŐs career.

News 1

Click on the News 1 button to open the primary source.
This article describes the purchase of mineral leases by Merritt.

    2.1) What do you think was stated in the law (mentioned in this article) that the legislature had recently passed?

    Possible Answer: The article seems to suggest that these mineral leases would not have been possible to give without the passage of that law. We can then assume that the law either opened up new land for use by prospectors or allowed more leases to be sold in a certain period of time.

    2.2) What benefits does the state get from the sale of these leases?

    Possible Answer: The land will get developed, and the state will be able to get money for the use of the land, plus a 25-cent tax on each ton of ore taken out of mines on the land. The state will be able to get income from this land for many years from mines that are successful.

    2.3) Why would a mining company want to pay the state large amounts of money over time when they have not prospected enough yet to know if a mine will be profitable?

    Possible Answer: The company probably has already done some drilling on the site to determine whether or not there is any ore at all. Since they decided to go ahead with purchasing a mineral lease, they are expecting the mine to pay off. If a mine were successful during this time, purchasing the lease and agreeing to pay the tax would have been a fairly small expense compared to the profits that could be gained.

    2.4) Why do you think the issuing of these leases would be "a matter of the greatest importance" to the community?

    Possible Answer: The mining industry was beginning to be very profitable at this time, since the Mesabi Range was just beginning to be developed. The sale of mineral leases would open up the opportunities for more mining in the area, which would mean more jobs, more money, and more business for the shipping companies that transported the ore after it was mined.

News 2
Click on the News 2 button to open the primary source.
This article describes a large sale of land to Lon Merritt.

    3.1) Why do you think there was such a demand for state lands when these went up for auction?

    Possible Answer: State lands were often sold at a less expensive rate than other lands, and many people were eager to have the opportunity to get in on land that could be very profitable in the mining business.

    3.2) The headline of this article suggests that the money raised in the sale of these lands will benefit other state services. What state service is going to be getting the money from these sales?

    Possible Answer: The money was going to be used to fund and support schools in the state.

    3.3) What can we assume about Lon Merritt from the information provided in this article?

    Possible Answer: From this article, we can see that Merritt bought more sections of land than any of the other bidders, and some of the prices he paid for that land were higher than the prices paid by others. Either the land itself was exceptionally good, or he was successful enough by this time to be able to outbid the others.

    3.4) Why do you think that the state auditor decided he could make more money by NOT selling the Grassy Point lands?

    Possible Answer: It's possible that the prices being named for the other lands were lower than he had wanted and he might suspect that he could get more money for the land at a later date. In the meantime, the state might have some use for those lands that could make more money for the state or that would help them sell at a higher price in the future.

Document 1
Click on the Document 1 button to open the primary source.
This complaint was filed by Merritt against a company owned by John D. Rockefeller.

    4.1) According to Merritt in this complaint, what did Rockefeller or his company do while Merritt was working for him?

    Possible Answer: Merritt says that he did his job and still has not received the pay that was promised to him.

    4.2) What in this complaint tells you that Merritt has tried out of court to get his wages?

    Possible Answer: He says that he "made due demand" to the company and still was not paid.

    4.3) What was Merritt's job at the railway?

    Possible Answer: He was a vice president in the company and worked to get loans and money for the company so it could build the railway.

    4.4) What did the company ask him to do while he was working for them with the promise that he would get repaid?

    Possible Answer: The company required him to use his own money for company expenses and promised him that he would be repaid for the money used. Not only is he claiming that he wasn't paid his salary, but he wasn't repaid money that was spent out of his own pocket at the request of the company.

Document 2
Click on the Document 2 button to open the primary source.
This booklet was a response to the court case against the Rockefellers.

    5.1) The two documents at the end of this book describe agreements made by the Merritts in order to end their court case. What does Appendix A tell us about the case?

    Possible Answer: It would appear that the Merritts were at first unwilling to give up their accusation of fraud against Rockefeller's company. The lawyer for Rockefeller refused to settle if the Merritts didn't give up their claims of fraud. If they would, however, "take back" their accusations, he would be willing to meet with their lawyer to negotiate a settlement.

    5.2) What does Rockefeller's lawyer require the Merritts to do in order to settle?

    Possible Answer: Not only do they have to drop their accusations of fraud, but also they have to agree to have their withdrawal of charges published and to allow the Rockefellers to publish the testimony of their witnesses and accuse their witnesses of testifying falsely.

    5.3) Appendix B is said to be the actual agreement between Rockefeller's company and the Merritts. What agreement is made in this document?

    Possible Answer: The Merritts must state that there was no fraud or misrepresentation committed on the part of the Rockefeller company. They have to withdraw all charges or accusations against Rockefeller and give up any hopes of winning a court battle.

    5.4) If Leonidas Merritt brought the first case against Rockefeller, why do you think his entire family (brothers, sisters-in-law, etc.) had to sign the agreement?

    Possible Answer: Rockefeller's lawyers probably wanted to make sure that none of the other family members would be able to bring any case against them in the future. By having the whole family sign the agreement, the lawyers were able to ensure that the family could not try to expose any fraud or sue Rockefeller again.

Document 3
Click on the Document 3 button to open the primary source.
This is Leonidas Merritt's response to the pamphlet written by Gates.

    6.1) What reasons does Merritt give for signing the agreement with Rockefeller?

    Possible Answer: He and his family were being "worn down" in court by Rockefeller's expensive lawyers and constant appeals. The financial cost was weakening them (they couldn't pay their lawyers), and Merritt seemed to worry that the trials would continue indefinitely if they did not settle.

    6.2) What outcome did Merritt think further trials would have?

    Possible Answer: Merritt didn't think that any more trials would get them a better outcome, because the trials they had already been through had simply caused more trials. The Rockefellers would appeal any decision that was made against them, and they had the money to appeal as long as possible until they got the ruling they wanted.

    6.3) What argument does Merritt give for why Gates's copy of the agreement (Document 2) is false?

    Possible Answer: Merritt says that the agreement his family signed does not say that their witnesses testified falsely. The fact that Gates put the telegram in Appendix A right above the agreement (Appendix B) that they did sign makes it look like they signed an agreement saying that their witnesses lied in the courtroom.

    6.4) Why do you think Merritt would feel so strongly about Gates that he would say he has "rat-like cunning?"

    Possible Answer: Gates supported Rockefeller in this case, and his booklet makes some strong accusations against the character and honesty of the Merritt family. Merritt probably was very angry with the way his family was portrayed in the pamphlet and wrote this response to set the record straight.

Thought Questions for online Exploration:
During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.

  1. What can information about a purchase (such as MerrittŐs purchase of land in the newspaper article) tell us about a person? What other sources might give us more information about the purchase or the reasons behind it? How could we find out if a purchase was a good investment for the person we are studying?

  2. Court records can give us a summary of a case or argument against someone. What role can court records play in your research if you are studying a person's life? What other kinds of legal documents would help your research?

  3. In a court case, there are always at least two sides to a story. The issue involving the Merritts and the Rockefellers is an example of this. What advantages are there to seeing both sides of an issue when doing your research? What challenges can this present for the researcher?

  4. In looking at GatesŐs pamphlet and MerrittŐs response to the pamphlet, how would you go about deciding which of these was more accurate? What other information might you need to make that decision? Where might you look to get that information?

Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes Leonidas Merritt
You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to Leonidas Merritt. Below are possible activities and discussion starters to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about Leonidas Merritt does not provide a comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.

Possible Themes:
1. Exploration and Industry
2. Conflict in Your World

Theme One:
Exploration and Industry

The student will be able to:

  1. describe, define and evaluate the role of exploration and experimentation in industry
  2. identify and evaluate the role of exploration and experimentation in their community
Class Discussion:
In small groups, have students discuss the following questions. You may wish to provide these questions on an overhead transparency or supply a handout for student reference.

  • Who explored your area and founded your community? Why did they come here? What natural features of your community make it unique and valuable?

  • What challenges do you think the first visitors to your area faced? How do you think they handled those challenges? How do you think you would have handled the same challenges?

  • Often when people try something new (such as exploring a new place to live) they are not taken seriously by others. How do the opinions of others influence your attempts to try something new? How do you know when others have your best interests in mind? What other factors contribute to your decision about a new activity or idea?
Optional activities:
  • Ask students in groups to choose an area of the world about which they have little knowledge. As a group, students will prepare a kind of travel guide for that area. They should use a variety of sources to gather information about this location, including brochures, newspaper articles (if any), maps, encyclopedia entries, magazines, and reminiscences of people who have been to this location. When they are finished exploring this region, they should prepare a 5 to 10 day itinerary for a visit to the area and describe this trip to the class as if they were trying to convince the class to purchase the trip through their "travel agency." Students can use maps, photographs from magazines or brochures, and other sources to make a poster or display encouraging visits to the area.

  • Individually or in groups, have students research an invention that influences present technology. They might choose inventions or processes such as packaging soft drinks into aluminum cans; advances in the Internet or in other computer functions, cellular phones, DVD; or improvements in car safety. Have students compare this new technology to the technology it replaced and explain its benefits. How does this new invention improve our life? What environmental issues might arise because of this new technology? Who invented the technology or process that you are studying and how did they do it? Students should present their information to the class in a speech, skit, or demonstration format.

  • Ask students to prepare a written or oral report about a famous (or not so famous) explorer. What challenges did this person face? What obstacles did they overcome? What mistakes did they make along the way? What impact did their discoveries have on the world as we know it? Students may wish to present this report to the class as a speech, written report, newspaper edition announcing the discovery, mock news interview with the person (scripted and acted), or costumed performance.

  • Merritt's explorations on the Mesabi Range were very successful, but not all explorations succeed. Have students research some explorations or inventions that did not succeed. Some examples of unsuccessful attempts might be the colony at Roanoke, efforts to turn objects into gold (alchemy), or trends of today that have simply not "caught on" or been as successful as you might have expected. What makes the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful effort? How much control does the explorer or inventor have over their own success? What outside influences can cause an invention or an effort to fail? Have students prepare lists of "hints for success" and "mistakes to avoid" from their research that can help them create their own success and learn how to use their talents and abilities effectively.

Theme Two:
Conflict in Your World

The student will be able to:

  1. Examine, evaluate, and implement techniques of basic conflict resolution in their own lives
  2. Describe, define and examine some of the causes and effects of conflict in the world around them.
Class Discussion:
In small groups, have students discuss the following questions. You may wish to provide these questions on an overhead transparency or supply a handout for student reference.

  • Conflict is a part of our lives in some way almost every day. What kinds of basic conflicts do you have with your parents, friends, siblings, or other people in your life? What do you do to resolve these conflicts?

  • In business, conflicts are sometimes resolved through legal cases in the courts. What famous legal cases can you list and what were their outcomes? Do you think the outcomes were fair or correct? What would you have done if you had been the judge for that trial and why?

  • Sometimes conflicts can teach us about ourselves and how we work with others. Think about the most recent small conflict you had with a friend or family member. How did you handle the situation? How could you have handled it differently? How important is it for you to always "win" in a conflict? What are you willing to give up in order to "win" an argument? What can you do to improve how you handle conflicts like this one?

  • Brainstorm a list of good ways (e.g. peaceful discussions, talking to a reliable adult, negotiations, taking a time-out to think about the problem, compromise, etc.) and a list of bad ways (e.g. violence, refusing to communicate, lying about the other person, threatening someone else, running away, etc.) to handle conflict. Cite examples of people in recent history who have handled conflict in a good way. What can we learn from them? What examples can you think of in which conflict was handled unproductively? What can we do to prevent incidents like these? What programs or resources are available in your community to help people deal with conflict in a good way?

Optional activities:

  • Have students work as a class to create a conflict resolution pamphlet. They can explain the "good" conflict resolution techniques they brainstormed in class and research others to prepare an illustrated (computer or class artwork) booklet describing positive ways to handle conflict. Make copies of this booklet and distribute it to class members. You may wish to have students write this as a children's storybook for younger students and present it to an elementary class. You may also wish to work with your school counselor to help the students prepare the booklet and make it available in the counselor's office.

  • Ask students to study how conflicts are handled in the courts. You may wish to make a visit to a courtroom or ask a local judge to visit your class and discuss how they work to resolve conflicts in legal cases. Students may wish to choose a recent court case that has been in the news for further study and report back to the class about the case.

  • Have students in groups role play a conflict that might happen in your school lunchroom or hallway. After each skit, ask the class to brainstorm how that conflict can be resolved peacefully and have the group act out the class's resolution to the problem. Discuss why peaceful resolutions are important for their safety and security while they are at school.

  • Have students research someone they consider a role model. How does that person handle conflict? Are they a good role model for dealing with conflict? You may ask your students to consider how appropriate their chosen role model might be for a small child (maybe a younger brother or sister of theirs). If they would not recommend that person as a role model for their young sibling, why is the person an appropriate role model for them? If the person is an appropriate role model, what can we learn from them and how they handle conflict situations? Students can present their research to the class in an oral report. You may wish to create a "hall of fame" bulletin board for people students consider to be good role models.

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