Wenatchee Valley Museum : How Can I Keep on Singing?

Introduction to Curriculum Guide
by Ann Wood Smith

Copyright 2007 Moving Images Video Project
For full curriculum guide, contact Moving Images

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The documentary and its classroom uses “How Can I Keep On Singing?” to portray frontier life in central Washington State at the end of the 1800s.

It combines poignant music, the lush images of cinematographers Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin, and the powerful, evocative language of Washington poet Jana Harris and Native American writers Jeannette Armstrong and Mourning Dove to capture the imagination and stimulate the senses. With its focus on family life, especially the contributions of women and girls, the film resonates with students who are often unresponsive to traditional history teaching. Great care has been taken to present North American frontier life accurately. All of these elements combine to make it a powerful springboard for classroom discussion and historical exploration.

This 56 minute PBS documentary is divided into nine [9] stories of 3 to 10 minutes each, providing the teacher flexible use depending on the classroom situation. It can be watched as a whole for maximum effect, or as individual segments viewed and discussed separately, especially appropriate for younger students or those with short attention spans.

The content of the documentary is appropriate for elementary and high school classrooms and is especially useful for Washington State History, United States History, Women’s Studies, and Native American History/Studies. Teachers of junior college classes will also find it helpful as adjunct material to stimulate discussion among adults. Although the content of the documentary is historical, the vehicle of its delivery is aesthetic, making it a valuable resource for photography or writing and literature classes. There are three major classroom sections to the guide and two appendix sections with materials for research, analysis, and evaluation. Includes study guides and a sixteen day unit on using historical resources.

Sample Lesson, Grades 4-6: Wind Woman
by Jeannette Armstrong

Discussion Questions

  1. What does the young girl learn from Maggie?
  2. How did Indian children find their way through miles of wilderness without roads or highway signs?

In Class Activities

  1. Myths are stories or legends often explaining something about nature or about a culture. According to the writer of this story, Wind Woman is a mythological figure. Can you describe some mythological figures from your culture?
  2. Invite a Native American storyteller to class, and ask him/her to tell you some of the creation stories of his/her tribe.
  3. Invite someone from your local tribal center or museum to bring some examples of Native American tools or other objects to class. Ask them to talk about their uses, what they are made of, etc. Then use the Analyzing Your Sources: Artifacts worksheet, Appendix I, p. 41, to practice finding out about historical objects.

Homework Activities

  1. Visit your local history museum or tribal center and find out what kinds of berries and other plants Native Americans gather in your region.
  2. Research the baskets that the women are carrying on their horses to collect berries. Find out what they are made of, and how else they may have been used. Find out what materials were used to make baskets in your region.

    Sample Lesson, Grades 8-10: Cattle-Killing Winter
    by Jana Harris


    • The Oregon Trail
    • Reasons for families moving west
    • Hardships and difficulties encountered in adjusting to the natural environment of the inland Northwest.
    • Role of women in establishing pioneer settlement.

    Teacher Notes

    • “Cattle-Killing Winter” took place in 1889-90. During the recession of the 1880s and 90s in the U.S., economically stressed or adventurous people sought better lives by moving west. The federal government’s Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged agricultural activity by offering cheap land [initially 160 acres for a $10 fee] to those who would work it. Women as well as men were eligible.
    • The invention of barbed wire by Joseph Glidden in 1874 allowed farmers to fence off farmland, and also limited open-range cattle ranching. The completion of two railroads through Washington State, the Northern Pacific Railroad [Duluth to Tacoma] in 1898 and the Great Northern Railroad [Duluth to Seattle] in 1893, encouraged settlement in the inland Northwest, and the railroads became the region’s economic and social lifeline to the rest of the count.


      • slack = lacking in work
      • ox, oxen = male cattle used as work animals
      • land claim = a piece of land staked out by a miner or settler
      • gold fever = heightened activity and excitement to find gold
      • claim jumped = land taken by violence or fraud
      • black powder = a mixture used in explosives
      • mire = deep mud
      • caraway = a flavorful seed used in cooking
      • venison = deer meat
      • avalanche = a slide of a mass of snow or ice
      • laudanum = a form of opium used as an anesthetic or pain killer; highly addictive
      • typhoid = an infectious disease with high fever caused by bacteria
      • Andersonville = a Confederate prison during the Civil War where thousands of Union soldiers starved and died
      • enfeebled = made weak
      • begat = gave life to
      • stone orchard = cemetery, graveyard

        Discussion Questions

        1. According to the storyteller, why did the Sloans choose to move west? What other reasons might they have had?
        2. Besides walking and wagons, what other ways were available for people to travel west? Why would the Sloans not have chosen those means of transportation?
        3. The only mention of Native Americans is a brief reference to John Other Day, Cut Nose and their wives coming to ask for flour from the homesteaders. What does this suggest about the condition of the local Indians at that time and their relationship to the homesteaders? [Notice the interactions between settlers and Indians in the other segments of the film.]
        4. Identify the economic hardships faced by the settlers in the Okanogan and the economic effects of the winter of 1889-90.
        5. What do the images of the natural environment tell you about the geography, vegetation and rainfall common to this region? What challenges would “Kentucky” and his family face in their efforts to start a farm?
        6. Explore the topography of the Okanogan using the 1895 map [Appendix I, p. 51.]

          Activities and Research Ideas

          1. Trace the probable route taken by the Sloans from Omaha, Nebraska to the Okanogan using the Oregon Trail map, Appendix I, p. 49 and any other U.S. map. Identify natural barriers crossed, such as mountain ranges and rivers, and forts and other communities where they might have stopped for brief periods. How did these natural barriers and towns affect the route and the time it took to cross the continent?
          2. Write a letter to east coast relatives from the point of view of a man or woman settler, or a miner, describing life and conditions in the Okanogan during the winter of 1889-90.
          3. Identify some skills that helped the Sloans adapt and survive in this new place. Pretend that you and your family are planning a similar trip across the country by wagon and wish to attract some other families to make the trip with you. Write a newspaper article or advertisement in which you explain your plans and encourage people with particular skills to apply for the trip.
          4. Research prospecting in the Okanogan. What mines operated there, and when? What ore was being mined? What were these materials used for? What positive and negative impact did this economic activity have on the local environment and economy? [You can substitute your local region here and focus on farming, fishing, lumbering or mining.]
          5. Typhoid fever was a relatively common illness on the western frontier. What is typhoid and how does one contract it? [Infectious disease characterized by fever and intestinal disorders that is acquired by drinking infected milk or water.] What was its impact on the settlers?
          6. Research where foreign immigrants to your area came from in the 1890s. Identify any customs they brought with them that have survived in the community to this day. Give a class presentation or a written report. Gather primary and secondary sources to illustrate your points. [For definitions, teachers see p. 31.]
          7. Research the recession of the 1880s that caused the Sloans to move west. What caused the recession? How were people affected? Present your findings to the class.
          8. Build a model of one of the common kinds of wagons that settlers used to travel on the Oregon Trail. Research their usual height, weight, and interior dimensions. How would you engineer it so that it wouldn’t tip over? How would a pioneer family go about fixing a broken wheel when they were on the trail?
          9. Using a Sears Roebuck Catalogue from the 1890s, figure out how you would outfit your wagon for a trip to settle in the West and how much it would cost. Choose carefully, keeping in mind that you probably will have few chances to buy anything for a year after you arrive, and the wagon can only carry 3,000 pounds. The photograph in Appendix I, p. 61 gives you an idea of one of the wagon sizes.
          10. Read The Way West by A.B.Guthrie Jr., Oh Pioneers by Willa Cather, or the story, “Carrion Spring” in Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner. Give a synopsis of the story and state its theme. Compare the depiction of pioneer life in these books with life as portrayed in the film.
          11. Research what laws helped pioneers acquire federal lands. How did families go about claiming land of their own? How did this affect western migration?
          12. Find old pictures of your town, city, or neighborhood in a library, historical society, or museum and make copies. Use worksheet Analyzing Your Sources: Photographs in Appendix I, pp. 45-46 to analyze them. Try to identify them as to date, place and people. What do the clothing styles, the structures, tools and activities pictured tell you about those people and that time period? Make a collage showing the development of your city, town, or neighborhood.
          13. Take pictures or make a movie of old buildings that still exist in your town or neighborhood. Identify what each structure was for and where it is located. Make an album or film of your findings to share with the class.
          14. Research other time periods when many people came to your region from elsewhere in this country, or from other countries. Where did these immigrants come from, how did they get here, and why did they come? How have they affected your community?