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Lesson Plan: River

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 landscape 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.

Why was the Mississippi River important to Red Wing?
The Mississippi River was an important part of Red Wing's development. The river provided transportation and brought tourists to Red Wing. Residents caught fish and clams for food and gathered shells for buttons. These activities all helped Red Wing grow into a bustling city.

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 Red Wing.
  4. Click on River.
  5. Read the introductory material on River and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a map of Goodhue County. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this map 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 map 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 River 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.)

Map 1
Click on the Map 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a map of Goodhue County.

    1.1) This map shows a dark green area near the center right of Goodhue County. The key in the upper left says that the area is "Cretaceous." What do you think this could mean?

    Possible Answer: This is the area of the clay pits in Goodhue County. These were formed during the Cretaceous geologic period and were used by Red Wing Stoneware to make pottery.

    1.2) Look at the Mississippi River on the map. Why do you think Red Wing was a good location for a town on this river? (Red Wing is located beneath the "W" in the word "Wisconsin" on this map.)

    Possible Answer: Red Wing is located near the connection of the Cannon River and the Mississippi River. The closeness of the city to both rivers makes it a good place for transporting people and goods throughout the area.

    1.3) There are some black lines on this map that intersect near Red Wing. These lines show another form of transportation that was used at this time. What kind of transportation might this be?

    Possible Answer: The lines on the map show the railroad tracks that were in use at this time.

    1.4) The map of the county is divided up into smaller square-shaped sections that are named. What do you think these squares represent?

    Possible Answer: The smaller named squares in the map are for townships. Since there were not as many towns in the area at the time, people often identified their home by naming the township they lived in. Townships are also broken into even smaller squares of 640 acres that were called sections.

Photo 1

Click on the Photo 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a photograph of a man gathering clams near Red Wing.

    2.1) Why do you think this man would be gathering clams? What could clams be used for?

    Possible Answer: Clams were a popular industry on the Mississippi River near Red Wing. Their shells were used for jewelry items, and inlaid items such as pocket knives as well as to make buttons for clothes. They are also searched for pearls.

    2.2) What other products or industries could a town like Red Wing get from the river?

    Possible Answer: Fish, barge transportation and recreational boating are all benefits that the river could provide for a town like Red Wing.

    2.3) Do you think the man in this photograph was clamming as a hobby or as a way to make a living?

    Possible Answer: He was most likely clamming to make money. Shells could be sold to the nearby button factory, and any pearls the fisherman found could also bring a profit.

    2.4) Why do you think the man is using a flat-bottomed boat to catch clams?

    Possible Answer: Clams often burrow in the mud in shallower waters and flat-bottomed boat would be less likely to get stuck.

Photo 2
Click on the Photo 2 button to open the primary source.
This photograph shows a ferry that was used in Red Wing to cross the river.

    3.1) Why might people need a ferry to carry them across the river?

    Possible Answer: Bridges were not built across the river until 1895 in Red Wing, so ferries were the easiest way for people from Wisconsin to cross over to Red Wing to do business and visit friends.

    3.2) From the information in this picture, what did people bring on the ferry when they traveled?

    Possible Answer: The ferries were able to carry horses, wagons and carriages across the river with their owners.

    3.3) Looking at the photograph of the ferry, how do you think the ferry moved across the river?

    Possible Answer: There were a series of ropes and pulleys that allowed them to travel in a straight line from one side of the river to another.

    3.4) If we didn't know the date of this photograph, what clues might help us determine when it could have been taken?

    Possible Answer: Looking at the clothes of the riders and the design of the wagons and carriages can give us some indication of the time period involved.

Data 1
Click on the Data 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a chart showing the high and low water levels of the river around Red Wing.

    4.1) In what year was the river at Red Wing at its highest?

    Possible Answer: In 1880, the river was at 15.3 feet.

    4.2) In what year was the river at Red Wing at its lowest?

    Possible Answer: In 1934, the river was 3.5 feet below its normal level.

    4.3) Between 1921 and 1927, the river was below normal levels each year. What effect might this have had on local farmers?

    Possible Answer: The low water level would suggest that there was very little rain in those years, which would make it more difficult for farmers to grow their crops.

    4.4) How do you think these readings were taken?

    Possible Answer: The U.S. Weather Bureau set up a gauge (gage) on the river to measure the water level. Someone checked the gauge each day and recorded it.

Data 2
Click on the Data 2 button to open the primary source.
This chart shows the cost differences between shipping by train and by barge.

    5.1) This chart shows that in 1926, shipping goods by barge was cheaper in all shown cases than shipping by rail. Why might this be so?

    Possible Answer: Barges were cheaper to operate because they didn't require rails and a boat could push more than one barge at a time. Labor costs were also cheaper.

    5.2) What can we learn from the list of commodities transported?

    Possible Answer: This list can show us some of the items that were important trade goods at the time. We would probably not see large quantities of oyster shells, molasses and syrup [sic], or cottonseed meal on a list like this today.

    5.3) What is the most expensive item to ship by train on this chart? Why do you think this is?

    Possible Answer: The most expensive item to ship is road-grading machinery by rail from the Twin Cities to New Orleans. This is very expensive because of both the distance traveled and the weight of the machinery to be shipped.

    5.4) What item is listed as being shipped from Red Wing? What does this tell you about the popularity of this product at the time?

    Possible Answer: Stoneware was the only product listed from Red Wing. The fact that it is listed suggests that the stoneware company was selling fairly large quantities of stoneware to other parts of the state and country.

Photo 3
Click on the Photo 3 button to open the primary source.
This is a photograph of Barn Bluff in Red Wing.

    6.1) From looking at the photograph, why do you think this was called Barn Bluff?

    Possible Answer: This bluff resembled the shape of a barn to the early French traders, so they named it Mount LaGrange, which means "the barn mountain."

    6.2) How might a landmark like this help boats navigating on the river?

    Possible Answer: Barn Bluff was an easily recognized spot on the river, so it gave boats a way to judge where they were and how far they might have to go to get to their destination.

    6.3) Why might this bluff have been an important resource for the town of Red Wing?

    Possible Answer: The bluff would have given them a lookout from which to see incoming boats or groups of people. At one point, a stairway was built up the side of the bluff so that visitors and townspeople could more easily get a good view of the surrounding area. The bluff was also a source of limestone for building.

    6.4) In this photograph, there are no houses on Barn Bluff, why do you think that might be?

    Possible Answer: The lime and stone companies owned the bluff until the damage they were causing alarmed local citizens so much that they gathered the money to purchase the land and make it city property in 1910. James Lawther, who was living in Ireland at the time, offered to buy a large portion of the bluff to prevent its further destruction.

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. Some of the sources in this section show us how the river changed over time. Much of this information was gathered by government workers who produced the reports about water levels you see on the site. Why would it be important for a river town to know about the high and low water levels? What changes could be made in a town with that information?

  2. The photograph of Barn Bluff shows us a natural landmark in the Red Wing area. How is a landmark like this useful for a community? What role can communities play in preserving such a natural landmark? How can a landmark aid researchers who might be studying the area?

  3. What can we learn about Red Wing from a report that compares the cost of shipping materials by barge to shipping by train? How can the cost of transporting an item affect an entire town's economy? What other factors could effect the economy of a town like Red Wing?

  4. Historians often use maps as sources for their work. What introductory information about Red Wing could we learn from the map of Goodhue County if this were the first source we studied?

Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes River
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 river towns in Minnesota. 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 River does not give us 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:
River as Resource
Life and Work on a river

Theme One:
River as Resource

The student will be able to:

  1. describe, identify, and evaluate ways in which a community can benefit from a river.
  2. examine the historical significance of a town's development in relation to a natural resource such as a river.
Class Discussion:
Allow students time to discuss the following questions in small groups or as a class.

  • What natural resources are available in your community? How have they been used or misused throughout your community's history? What industries in your community rely on the resource? What benefits do you personally receive from that resource? What would be different about your community if those resources weren't there?

  • What steps are being taken to preserve natural resources in your community? What efforts are community organizations or government bodies taking to ensure that the resource remains available and useful? What is (or can be) your role in preserving the resource?
Optional activities:
  • Ask students to study another community with a different kind of natural resource and find out what natural resource has helped to shape that area. What industries or businesses have developed because of the resource? What is the resource used for? Does the resource make tourism a factor? What efforts have been made to preserve that resource? How well are those efforts working? Have students create a large (blackboard size) class map of the communities they studied and use mini-collages to decorate the map. You may wish to have students get information from their communities' Chamber of Commerce and plan a field trip to a community within a reasonable distance to study their use of natural resources.

  • Invite a member of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to your classroom to present information on natural resources in your area and what the DNR does to preserve and protect them.

  • Present students with a make-believe map of a state. Have students add symbols for certain natural resources (e.g. rivers, lakes, coal, clay deposits, farmland). Ask students to plan and design a town in their state. Have them map out the town and the industries that would utilize that town's resources.(You may wish to provide them with a local city map as an example.) Students should also develop a plan for making sure that the natural resources are preserved for future generations. Students should name their town and describe it to the class using their map and drawings of different areas of the town they have created (e.g. downtown area, recreational area, industries, parks).

  • Have students work together to create a class mural (on butcher paper or a roll of newsprint) of important resources and characteristics of their community. Emphasize industries, schools, long-standing businesses, parks, or other things that would describe their town to a visitor. When the mural is complete, you may wish to display it in a prominent part of the school or a community center such as a shopping mall, courthouse, or youth center.

Theme Two:
Life and Work on a river:

The student will be able to:

  1. describe and evaluate the effects a river can have on a community.
  2. identify and explain the industries and businesses that can come from a river.
Class Discussion:

  • Discuss with the students why so many towns in early Minnesota were built on rivers. Have students list on the board everything a river can provide for a community. Students may list such things as food, water, transportation, power, tourism, etc.

  • What disadvantages can a river hold for a community? What dangers could there be to living on a river? What problems can occur if the river level drops or rises too quickly or the resources in the river become contaminated?

Optional activities:

  • Have students study a river community that has recently endured either a flood or drought. What things were affected by the river's water level? What changes have been made since the event to either prevent it or make it less damaging the next time? What effect did the event have on the members of the community who depended on the river for their income? What efforts did government agencies and volunteers make to help those who were affected? Student should compile their information and present it to the class in an oral report.

  • Ask students to create a puppet show describing the resources that a river can bring to a town (puppets could be fish, clams, boats, a tourist, etc.) and present the puppet show to a class of younger students or videotape it for showing to an elementary class.

  • Just as the government was able to take measurements of the Mississippi River water level, ask students to set up rain gauges at home and record the rainfall at their house for the next month. At the end of the month, compile the information from each student and ask the class to evaluate why some areas got more or less rain than others and what effect that had on the plants or trees in their community.

  • Have students spend a "day in the life" with someone who works with a natural resource in your community. This could be a boat operator, DNR official, park ranger, farmer, etc. If the "day in the life" experience is not feasible, have students interview one of these people about what a "day in the life" is like. What things do they do to protect the resource so it can be enjoyed again? What damage do they see being done to the resource over time? Have students report back to the class about their experience or interview.

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