For Classrooms

Here are  helpful questions and activities for middle, high school, and college students. Be sure to check out links to additional resources at the bottom of this page. Thanks to Dr. Bruce Wendt from Billings West High School for providing these materials.



Examine the twelve photographs on the cover of the book.

  • Who do you recognize?
  • Why did the author choose these twelve?
  • Do they suggest major themes of the book?
  • Does the subtitle suggest clues for themes?
  • What role does President Lincoln and the Civil War play in 1864?

Define Manifest Destiny.

  • Why is this historical term important to understanding 1864 and the year’s place in the sweep of history?
  • Read Granville Stuart’s comment on p. 20. How does he reflect the ideals of Manifest Destiny?
  • Contrast Gad Upson’s perception of Manifest Destiny with those of Bull Lodge.

Why does the author use Indian names for each month? How does this help the reader perceive core ideas?

Study the map of Montana in 1864 provided in the book.

  • Can you find the places named in the book?
  • Can you identify the traditional people’s land?
  • Where are the major routes of travel?
  • What are the major mining camps?


  • What concerned the native people of the Powder River Country?
  • How does the 1851 Fort Laramie treaty impact their lives?
  • Examine the photograph on p. 27.
    • What businesses can you identify?
    • What can you deduce about life in Bannack?
  • Describe Henry Plummer. How does he symbolize life in 1864?
  • Who are the Vigilantes? What role do they play in shaping early Montana?
  • Examine the photograph on p. 31. Describe life for an eleven-year-old Mollie.
  • Examine the photograph on p. 37. Taken in 1898, how does this image reflect Clark’s success?


  • How do Nathaniel Langford and other Republicans interpret Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom” as expressed in the Gettysburg Address?
  • Would the native people have a different interpretation?
  • Why does Langford choose to be photographed in the pose on p. 41? Does he symbolize the westward movement?
  • Discuss the goals of Langford and Francis Thompson as described by the author on p. 44. How do they mesh with national ambitions?


  • Describe the community of Virginia City as shown in the photograph on p. 47. Note the layout of the community and the buildings.
  • What do the Stuarts learn about the geography of the Beaverhead Valley?
  • Why are they surprised about the people they find living there? How does this refute stereotypes of Indian people?
  • How do the Stuarts symbolize the transitions taking place in Montana? Consider the different life paths the two brothers follow in their adventures.
  • Examine the picture on p. 54 of Awbonnie Stuart. How does she challenge preconceived perceptions of Indian women?
  • Does Johnny Grant’s photograph on p. 63 resemble your image of a cattleman? Contrast his portrait with one from your favorite Hollywood western. Explain the differences.
  • Is Charley Russell on p. 67 dressed for work or to impress the photographer?


  • How does John Owen’s life epitomize the beginning of white settlement in Montana?
  • Describe John Owen’s views on President Lincoln and the Civil War.
  • Before looking at his picture on p. 71, read the physical description. Does the photograph match the image?
  • Why is Jim Bridger important in Montana?


  • Henry Plummer
  • Granville and James Stuart
  • Awbonnie Stuart
  • Mary Ronan
  • Gad Upson
  • Wilbur Sanders
  • Sidney Edgerton
  • Nathaniel Langford
  • John Owen


  • Describe the trip on the Emilie from St. Louis to Ft. Benton.
    How does it reflect the challenges of travel during the Civil War?
    Explore the mixing of cultures along the banks of the Missouri.
  • What is life like for the family on the farm? What do they do? Who visits?
  • What type of impression do Henry Plummer and Jack Cleveland make? Do you see any foreshadowing in this description?
  • How does the abandoning of the farm and their move to Bannack symbolize the population shifts taking place in the western territories?
  • Examine the photograph of Governor Sidney Edgerton (p. 101). How does he symbolize the territory?
  • Examine the photograph of Victor, Salish headman (p.111) How does his dress and pose represent change?
  • How does Montana get its name?


  • Abram Voorhees (p. 117) differed from the usual pioneer to Montana. After examining his photograph, can you discern why? From the description, can you describe why this particular wagon train reached Bozeman? Why did Hurlbut lose his captaincy? Does it surprise you that Voorhees returns home? Explain.
  • Read the Assiniboine Legend. What is the storyteller explaining to his listener? Explore the symbolism of the story.


  • Examine the photograph of General Alfred Sully (p. 126). What is the military’s role in Montana? Does it reflect the values of the newcomers to the region?
  • Examine Sitting Bull’s portrait (p. 129). How does he symbolize the values of the original inhabitants?
  • How does the description of the battle between Sully’s troops and the Sioux capture the horror for both sides?
  • Does the sketch (p. 135) of Ft. Benton accurately portray the community in 1869? Explain. What is Ft. Benton’s importance in early Montana?
  • Describe the impact of beliefs about the Civil War in the emigrants coming to Montana Territory in 1864.
  • Do you see symbolism in “the Last Chance Gulch” name? Why?
  • What can you observe in the photograph of Diamond City (p. 145)?


  • How can you tell the importance of Pretty Shield and Plenty Coups (p. 146 and 149)?
  • Describe how Crow life represents the shifting dynamics on the plains between various Indian nations and the emigrants from the East Coast. Pay particular attention to the alliances between the nations.
  • Why is James Fergus unhappy? What does his letter reveal about life in Montana? What adventures did Pamela Fergus face?
  • Examine closely the Fergus family photograph (p. 155). What can you discern from the dress, the props and the positioning of the couple?
  • Consider the role of husband and wife; using the Fergus family as a sample what responsibilities do each undertake in the move west? Does her role surprise you? Explain.
  • Describe Bull Lodge’s education on the road to become a leader of his people. How does his spiritual journey define his role with the people?
  • How does the founding of Bozeman signify a shift in the early Montana economy?
  • What drives Bozeman and Jacobs to risk their lives on the new trail? Why do the Crow oppose their passage?


  • How does the marriage of Coth-co-co and Malcolm Clark symbolize the melding of cultures in the
    19th century?
  • Consider Malcolm Clark’s photograph (p. 177). Does he represent Americans? In what respect?
  • In what way does James Welch’s “The Man From Washington” represent the beliefs of Native Americans about the United States government?


  • What is the role of the Chinese? Describe their contributions to early Montana.
  • Explain the significance of the Sisters of Providence establishing boarding school at St. Ignatius for Indian girls.
  • Assess Father Pierre DeSmet’s impact on Montana and the West. How does his photograph (p. 195) represent his role in Montana?


  • Why does geography influence the location of C. P. Higgins and his partners’ store? Describe the store (p. 205) and its owner. What is the town that springs to life here? Why?


  • Explain Judge Hezekiah Hosmer’s comments about vigilantes. Describe the first legislative building in Bannack (p. 211).
  • Politics in the new territory in 1864 reflect national issues taking place during the Civil War. What are the differences of opinions in the first meetings?
  • Why is Martha Jane Canary (Clamity Jane) such a beguiling figure (see photograph on p. 219)? How does she contribute to the creation of the mythological west?


  • How does Mollie Sheehan’s dancing at the news of Lincoln’s death reflect different perspectives of the President?
  • Study M. L. Smoker’s writing. How does it catch the sense of place that is Montana—no matter where one’s parents originated?

Background Research

  • Blackfoot Treaty of 1855 (provisions in the treaty, see this site.
  • For a detailed look at steamboats on the Missouri, see the Arabia museum in Kansas City.
  • For a detailed Bozeman Trail map, visit this site.
  • Bozeman Trail diaries have been published by Montana Historical Society Press and edited by Susan Badger Doyle, Land of Gold: Emigrant Diaries from the Bozeman Trail, 1863-66.
  • For multiple links about the Bozeman Trail, go here.
  • A valuable look at Native American stories is Ella E. Clark, Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest (Berkeley, 1963).
  • For a good (and short) overview to the importance the oral tradition in Montana Indian culture, see James Welch’s introduction in The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology, edited by William Kittredge and Annick Smith (Montana Historical Press, 1988).
  • The University of Montana Anthropology Department has researched German Gulch’s Chinese. For a haunting video and excellent information, visit this site.
  • For a more pragmatic look at Calamity Jane and others crossing gender lines, see Peter Boag, Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past (Berkeley, 2011). His study refutes much of the mythological mystique of western novels.

Terms and People to Know:

Senator Thomas Hart Benton
Sitting Bull
General Sully
Tabula rasa (p. 139)
Pretty Shield
Plenty Coups
James Fergus
Pamela Fergus
John Bozeman
Malcolm Clark
Wilbur F. Saunders
Father Pierre DeSmet

Mullan Road
Corinne Road
Jocko Valley
Bitterroot Valley
Bozeman Trail
Powder River
Big Horn River
Fort Union
Ft. Benton
Madison River
Virginia City
Hot Springs District
Hell Gate (Clarks Fork) River


1) Research influence of the missions on Native Life. “We didn’t expect them to stay” an Indian leader on Father DeSmet. How do Christian and native beliefs meld? The Father DeSmet impact is chronicled in the exhibit (and book) Sacred Encounters located at Cataldo Mission in northern Idaho. Go here for a video tour.
For example, examine closely the beaded vestments. Watch the video and pay close attention to exhibit headings. Why did the curators call one panel “the dispossessed”? What were the expectations of the missionaries? What did the native people expect? The Western Heritage Center in Billings, Montana has available detailed dvds on Crow and Northern Cheyenne life.
2) Senator Thomas Hart Benton symbolized Manifest Destiny. Design a trip west. Will you travel by steamboat to Ft. Benton? Will you choose to ride a wagon to the Gallatin Valley? What supplies do you need? Who do you meet? What do you see? How does your project show the impact on Manifest Destiny for all the cultures involved. For sources, go here.
3) Build a model mining camp. What businesses would exist? Where do people live? How do they live?
4) Research the boarding schools that attempted to reshape Indian children into good Americans. What happens on a daily basis? What do students do? Can you do the same schoolwork? How is it the same as yours? How is it different? See Glenda McCarthy’s presentation on boarding schools. Contact Ms. McCarthy at