Conestoga Wagon

Travel on the Oregon Trail.

Conestoga Wagon Craft
Click the photo to view or print the pattern and instructions for this craft.


My third grade teacher was a stern German woman who liked to sing.  She wasn’t a lot of fun, but she did teach us a cool song, in German, about a 3-cornered hat.  I can still sing it to this day, but I don’t know what the words mean.  She also taught us the song “Yankee Doodle,” which we sang with great patriotic enthusiasm.  I have since learned that the song was sung by the British soldiers to poke fun at the uncultured American colonists.  Back in the day, a doodle was a simpleton and a dandy was a fashionable gentleman.  In the song the doodle tries hard to be a dandy, by putting a feather in his cap, but he’s so clueless, he thinks the feather is called macaroni (an exotic Italian meal back then).  Even though they knew it was a parody, Americans liked the tune and started to sing the song themselves.

When my daughter, Alyssa, was in 5th grade she was cast as Martha Washington in the school play.  The director was the school’s music teacher, a woman who viewed the world through a lens of realism.  We knew of her directorial style from Alyssa’s role as butterfly #3 in the previous year’s production.  In the rehearsal, Alyssa improvised a dance for her butterfly, and was told, “Butterflies don’t leap.  They glide.  There will be no leaping!  This applies to all butterflies.”  The teacher’s advice for playing Martha Washington was even more priceless, “Martha was a buxom woman.  You are going to need lots of stuffing!”

During her elementary years, Alyssa played a computer game called, “The Oregon Trail.”  In the game, you were a pioneer who traveled along the Oregon Trail in a wagon loaded with your possessions and your passengers.  She’d play this game every day and it would always end in tears because she named the passengers after her close personal friends.  When they’d die of dysentery, starvation, or attack, she’d start sobbing, “We had to bury Danielle today!”

So in the spirit of the Oregon Trail, I designed a paper Conestoga wagon.  It’s a color, cut, and paste project that takes about 20 minutes to make.  It is paper, so it’s not real sturdy.  Please don’t name it after your best friend!


#10 Classical Music – Classical music was popular in Europe. (You can listen to Mozart and Beethoven.) Patriotic music was popular in America.  (“Yankee Doodle” was sung during the Revolutionary War.  Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner” in 1814.)

#9 Neoclassical Art – The lost city of Pompeii had been uncovered in Rome.  This brought a renewed interest in Classical art and architecture.  Buildings, like the Capitol building, are symmetrical,  have tall columns that rise to the top, are triangular, and have a dome, much like the Parthenon in Rome.  Neo-classical artists were also inspired by the art of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  Neoclassical paintings often had political themes of bravery and war.

#8 Lewis and Clark Expedition – In 1803, the United States (all 13 of them) bought the entire middle section of the U.S. from France.  This was called the Louisiana Purchase.  Thomas Jefferson sent U.S. Army volunteers, under the command of Captain Lewis and Lieutenant Clark, to explore the newly bought land.  They traveled from St. Louis to South Dakota with a French Canadian trapper and his Native American wife, Sacajawea.  They encountered rough terrain, grizzlies, rattlesnakes, and Native American tribes.  Only one person died on the two year trip.  His death was due to appendicitis.  The Lewis and Clark expedition opened up travel to the western half of the United States.

#7 Pioneers – Many people were still coming to America from European countries.  A large number of the new arrivals decided to travel to the untamed western half of America.  The land was available for homesteading.  It was very cheap or even free.  The soil was fertile; good for growing crops.  But It was a dangerous trip.  Everything a family needed to survive for several months of travel was loaded onto a Conestoga wagon or prairie schooner.  The roads were rocky.  Travel conditions were rough.  Extreme temperatures and disease brought sickness and even death.  If the family was fortunate enough to survive the journey, new challenges awaited them.  They had to build a home and plant crops.  It was a tough beginning, but the rewards that came from independence and a close knit community, were worth it to many.

#6 Plantations – People were building huge plantations where they would grow cash crops.  They needed cheap labor to maximize their profits.  The labor force was provided in the form of indentured servants and slaves.  Indentured servants were mostly Europeans who wanted to sail to America, but didn’t have the money to make the trip.  They signed a seven year agreement to work for free in exchange for passage to America.  Slaves were African natives who were forced onto ships and brought to America to be sold like merchandise at local auctions.  After the American Revolution, slave labor was ended in the North, but continued in the Southern states.

#5 Native Americans – Many settlers feared the Native Americans because they didn’t understand their way of life.  George Washington felt the best way to deal with the problem was to “civilize” the Native Americans; make them behave like white people.  The Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Creek came to be known as the “Five Civilized Tribes.”  In 1830, Andrew Jackson signed the “Indian Removal Act,” forcing the Native American tribes of the southeastern U.S. off of their land and onto the land designated as “Indian Territory.”  This difficult and sometimes deadly journey is known as the “Trail of Tears.

#4 Thirteen Original Colonies:  New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

#3 Declaration of Independence – The 13 colonies wanted independence from Great Britain.  On July 4, 1776 they signed a document (The Declaration of Independence) which stated that America’s 13 colonies were independent from British rule and laws.  They fought the American Revolution, a war for independence, and won.  One famous line from the Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

#2 The Founding Fathers were the men who SIGNED the Declaration of Independence, FRAMED the Constitution, and/or PARTICIPATED in the Revolutionary War.  There are seven key Founding Fathers:  George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Jay Johnson.

#1 The Constitution is the founding document of the United States of America.  It was designed to create a strong central government by dividing it into three separate, but equal branches:  Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. It begins with the words, “We the People of the United States of America in order to form a more perfect union…”  The original seven articles set down the laws  on how the government would work.  The Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments, was added to the Constitution to guarantee rights and freedoms for all citizens.

Click the link to go to the NEOCLASSICAL PERIOD on my website for FREE activities or to purchase the unit.

Make the CONESTOGA WAGON CRAFT.  Click the link to view or print the pattern and instructions for the craft.