History of Buffalo Bill Cody for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you live in America in the 1800s, a time before cars, the Internet and TV. You are riding in a wagon pulled by your family’s best two horses. Your mom and dad are up front and you and your siblings are in the back. You look around and see many other families also riding towards the main event. When the wagon stops you climb out and hurry to a stand where your father buys tickets and hands you one. You give your ticket to attendant then rush into the large arena and climb up the stairs to what you think is the best seat with the best view. You smell popcorn and your mother hands you a bag with a smile. You take a bite and wait in anticipation for the show to begin. 

Suddenly a gun fires and you hear the thunder of hooves as a stampede of horses fill the arena. Dust clouds fill the air. Indians whoop and holler. Army men shoot their guns and flash their swords. Soon a battle begins. But this isn’t a real battle, it’s just a show, and the crowd watches in amazement as the showmen act out a battle from American history. An soldier cries out and falls off his horses. An Indian charges and waves his tomahawk. The smell of gunpowder fills the air. Soon the dust and the smoke settles. The battle is finished. The audience cheers wildly. 

Suddenly a lone man rides into the arena, waving his hat. From his leather coat, long hair and mustache, you instantly recognize the rider as the greatest showman of the Wild West — Buffalo Bill Cody. You wave your hat and cheer too. The show has just begun and you can’t wait to see what comes next.

Bill Cody was born in 1847 on a farm outside Le Claire, Iowa to Isaac and Mary Ann Cody. When Bill was young slavery was still happening in some parts of the country. Bill’s father, Isaac, was very much against it.  Many people didn’t like Bill’s family for this reason. One day when his father was speaking out against slavery someone hurt him very badly. After this Isaac had to move away to avoid his enemies. Later, the same group planned to catch Isaac and hurt him again. When Bill heard what they were going to do to his father, he jumped on his horse and rode 30 miles to warn him before they came. 

Not long afterward Bill’s father became very sick and soon passed away. This left Bill to help take care of his family when he was only 11 years old. His first job was with a wagon company. He rode his horse up and down the train of wagons and delivered messages to help them keep in touch with each other. 

When Bill was 14 years old gold was discovered in California and many Americans hurried there in hopes to mine gold and become rich. This was called a Gold Rush. Bill left on his horse for California, but along the way he found a job delivering mail from one place to another. Because there were no telephones, mail by horse was the only way people could talk to each other.

A few years later, Bill joined the Army’s 3rd Cavalry, which was fighting the Native Indians in what was called the Plains Wars. Bill was the Chief of the Scouts. His job was to ride ahead and see if they were going to be attacked. He fought in sixteen battles with the army.

While the army was on the trail they needed food, so one of Bill’s jobs was to hunt buffalo. Buffalo are huge, wild, hairy animals with horns that roamed the plains during the Wild West. At this time there were hundreds and thousands of buffalo and Bill became a very skilled hunter of them. Once, another hunter with the same name as Bill challenged him to see who could hunt the most buffalo within 8 hours. Whoever won would keep the name “Buffalo Bill.” The race was on. Bill took off on his horse and raced around the massive herd of buffalo, aiming his long rifle, and firing, picking them off one at a time. He kicked his horse faster and faster, aiming and firing, aiming and firing, buffalos dropping at every shot. When the time was up, someone rode around and counted the buffalo. Bill had killed more beasts than the other man and won the name “Buffalo Bill.”

Often people came from the East Coast or other parts of the world to visit the Wild West and hunt the famous buffalo. Buffalo Bill started taking these visitors on trips to explore the West and hunt. Some of the people who went with Bill wrote about him in the newspapers and someone even made him a character in a book. Soon many people knew about this famous hunter of the American West.

A few years later Buffalo Bill joined a traveling show called The Scouts of the Prairie. Together with the other actors he would act out famous battles for audiences. These shows were very popular and often they performed to sold out crowds. Everyone was excited to see the famous Buffalo Bill Cody and gun fighters such as “Wild Bill” Hickok. 

Before long, Bill had the idea to start his own show and called it Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. He and his crew dressed in colorful costumes and acted out battles with guns and horses while a live band played music. Many of the acts included horses and their riders from all across the world from Spanish Cowboys to Turks, Arabs, and Mongols from Asia. The American Indian war hero Sitting Bull was in the show along with famous women sharp shooters such as Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane. People came from all across the country to be entertained by Buffalo Bill and his talented performers. 

Later Buffalo Bill’s West West show took a ship across the ocean to Europe, where they performed before such royalty as the Queen of England and the Kings of France and Germany. They also performed nearby the Chicago’s Worlds Fair and were a huge hit.  

Buffalo Bill used the money from his world famous show to found his own town in Wyoming and called it Cody. There he bought land and built a beautiful hotel and brought in cattle for a very large ranch. He designed Cody so people from all over could visit the countryside and pretend to be cowboys, go on horseback rides, and hunt animals in the woods. These activities were some of his great loves and he wanted to share them with others.

Even though Bill fought against Indians early in his life, he later had great respect for them and their simple way of life. He knew the reason many of them attacked settlers was because they had been treated poorly in the first place. He felt bad for what had been done to them, that they had been driven from their lands by the new Americans. He believed they should be treated with respect and hired many of them to work for his show and paid the same as everyone else.

Bill spent much of his time in nature, so he came to have great respect for the land and animals of the American West. He later did what he could to help preserve these beautiful places. This is called conservationism. Americans like he and Teddy Roosevelt believed that much of the land should be kept safe, so it can be enjoyed by everyone. This is why we have National Parks today.

Today spend a moment thinking about what it would have been like to start taking care of your family like Bill did at a young age. It was hard and probably scary at times, but Bill learned new skills such as hunting and horseback riding. When you face challenges remember that sticking with things until you get better is the only way to learn and grow. So be sure to face hard things with courage and keep on trying. 

Like Buffalo Bill you can use your imagination to come up with new ideas to entertain others. Spend some time thinking of an act or show you could perform and share it with a family member or a friend. If you can make someone else smile or laugh, that is a very good thing. 

Also, spend a little more time outside. There is much to appreciate outdoors, even if it is your backyard. Take the time to look at the sky and clouds and the trees and the listen to the birds in them. There is much to be enjoyed in the natural world around you if you take the time to notice it. 

History of the Transcontinental Railroad for Kids

Do you know what a train is? You may have seen one when your car was stopped and you had to wait to watch it pass. Or maybe you’ve even taken a ride on a train. Trains are extremely important because they move goods and people from one place to another and can do it very quickly. Railroads are one of the most important parts of American History, because the country is very big and they helped connect the East and the West.

Many years ago it took a very long time to travel from the East to the West. Most people had to take a boat all the way around the continent, a journey which took months to complete. Travellers could also take a wagon across the dangerous wilderness and tall mountains to get from one side of the country to another. Either way, it was a very difficult journey and kept the country separated in many ways. 

But in the 1800s gold was discovered in the West and many Americans moved there to try and strike it rich. But one major problem was how long it took to get to the gold. One man, Asa Whitney, believed a railroad could be built right through the the middle of the country. Many doubted this could be done, but Asa made a plan and went to the government with his idea, but at first no progress was made.

Later, an American named Theodore Judah decided to find a way to build a railroad across the country. He was a surveyor. A surveyor is someone who looks at the land with special tools and finds ways to build roads and buildings on it. Theodore had many good ideas about how the railroad could be built. He had to learn much about math and other sciences in order to design maps that could be used to make a path for the railroad. 

Eventually two big companies, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad caught the vision of the railroad and decided to make it happen. They would call it the Transcontinental Railroad. Soon afterward one company started in California and the other started in Nebraska with a plan to meet in the middle. 

Building the railroad across the United Stated was a dangerous task and extremely difficult at times. They had to build tall bridges across wide rivers. To go through mountains they had to dig deep holes, then place gun powder in them and blow them up to create even deeper holes that went all the way through the mountain. Many smart engineers worked on creating a path for the 2000 miles of track that were being laid. Railroad tracks were laid by pounding spikes into railroad ties. All of this work was done by hand, by pounding each spike in with a hammer. This was very difficult work and many workers didn’t survive the hard labor. Americans of all different races and colors helped build the railroad. One group that did much of the work were Chinese immigrants. An immigrant is someone who comes from another country. Chinese immigrants worked long and hard for very little pay to help complete the monumental task. 

In 1869 after eight years of work the two companies met in the middle at Promontory Point, Utah. They threw a big party to celebrate the completion of the railroad. A gold spike had been prepared as the last spike in the railroad. President of the Central Pacific Railroad, Governor Stanford gave a speech then lifted a hammer to pound the last spike into the ground. But he swung and missed! The crowd burst out laughing. “He missed it!” They said. He swung again and hit the gold spike in. Everyone cheered! 

News of the finished railroad was sent by telegram to both parts of the country. When it reached New York and California they fired off cannons to show their excitement. It was truly an exciting time for the United States of America! A trip across the country that had taken many months now only took 10 days! The new Transcontinental Railroad was truly an engineer miracle of hard work and smart minds all working together to accomplish a common task.

The History of Sacajawea

A long time ago, in the 1800s, the United States was still a young country. At this time much of the wilderness hadn’t been explored by the new Americans yet. This land was inhabited by Indians and many animals and nature was still fresh and dangerous and wild. The new Americans were curious about this land and wanted to know what plants and animals were there. Most importantly they wanted to know how to best travel from the East Coast to the West Coast. 

In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson bought this land from France in what was known as the Louisiana Purchase. Next, he asked one of his captains, Meriwether Lewis, to discover this new land and make a record of what was there. It would be a dangerous mission, but Lewis was brave and bold and loved discovering new places. Captain Lewis asked his friend Lieutenant William Clark to go with him. So they gathered their team and their supplies, climbed into a boat, and headed down the river to discover the uncharted American wilderness.

A few years before this a little Indian girl was born far across the country near the Rocky Mountains. Her parents named her Sacajawea. Her people were called the Shoshone and they lived among the trees and wild animals, and learned how to live off the land and hunt like many other Indian families. Sacajawea felt safe in this place and loved her family.

When Sacajawea was 12 years old her tribe was attacked by another tribe. A frightening battle took place and afterward Sacajawea and many other girls were kidnapped by their enemies. As she was lifted onto their horse and carried away she didn’t know if she’d ever see her family again. This was a very scary time for Sacajawea.

A few years later Sacajawea was sold to a trapper named Charbonneau and later became his wife. A trapper is someone who traps animals and lives off selling their fur and meat. 

As Captain Lewis and Clark were exploring the wilderness they needed someone who was familiar with the land and the language, so when they met Charbonneau and Sacajawea they knew she would be a perfect fit. 

Not long after they Sacajawea joined Lewis and Clark, she gave birth to a baby boy who she named him Jean Baptiste, but Lewis and Clark liked to call him “Little Pompy.” For the rest of the journey she would travel with her baby boy tied to her back. 

The journey down the river was often very dangerous. One day when they were riding through rough water, the boat suddenly collapsed and everyone and their things dropped into the water. After everyone swam to shore, Lewis realized their precious journals were missing. These journals were very important because they were a record of everything they had seen and done. Knowing this, Sacajawea bravely dove into the water and swam deep down until she found the journal on the bottom of the river. Lewis was so relieved when Sacajawea swam back to the shore with his journals.

Sacajawea was helpful because she knew the plants and animals of this wild land. She would cook up roots for them to eat and show them the way when they were lost. She was also a peaceful ambassador to the other Indians. An ambassador is someone who tries to help two different groups of people talk to each other and make peace. Sacajawea knew the Indian languages and kept Lewis and Clark and their crew safe.

Far along in their journey, they met some Indians and asked them if they could trade horses. At first the Indians would not trade. Suddenly Sacajawea recognized them, they were Shoshones, the tribe she had been kidnapped from so long ago! And to her surprise the chief was her brother. She was so happy to see her friends and family again. After celebrating with her tribe, she helped Lewis and Clark trade some of their things for horses, and although she was sad to leave her family, they were on their way again. She had a new family and a new mission to complete.

Finally, after many days crossing rivers and forests and mountains the team reached the Pacific Ocean, the end of their journey. With the help of Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark had traveled over 3700 miles! Along the way they had learned new things about the land and plants and animals and made maps that would help pioneers and other Americans journey across the country. 

Like Sacajawea, you can be helpful to others and be brave even when you’re not sure about how your journey will go. Also, you can be strong even when sad or difficult things happen to you. It’s okay to feel sad, but always remember that after you’ve let all your feelings out, you can stand back up, continue on, and learn something new. No matter what happens there is always hope and good things will come when you keep moving forward!

History of the Pony Express for Kids

Can you imagine living in a time when were no cell phones, no email and no other electronic way to talk to others living far away? For a very long time that is how everyone lived. Instead of making phone calls they wrote letters, and often it took many days for them to arrive. Imagine if you had something very important to tell someone, but they wouldn’t find out until weeks later! 

In the United States, during the the 1800s, the days of pioneers and cowboys, there lived a creative business man named William Russell. William Russell had a genius idea. He thought of a way to send letters across the country very fast. To do this he used horses and riders who rode as fast as they could from one stop to another. From the state of Missouri to California, across thousands of miles they built many stations. At each station a new horse and a new rider waited.  There, as a soon as a rider arrived, the new rider grabbed the mail and rode as fast as they could to the next station. Instead of letters taking a very long time, they moved across the country is just 10 days. That was very fast! Russell called his new company The Pony Express.

Russells riders need to be fast and also very brave. The journey from Missouri to California was often very dangerous. They could be attacked by wild animals or bandits who wanted to take the mail. The posters looking for riders said: “Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”   Even though the job was dangerous, many brave, young riders volunteered to help.

One of these riders was Bill Cody. Bill was only 15 at the time he started riding for The Pony Express. During one of his trips from Wyoming, he was riding his horse when suddenly an entire gang of Indians burst out of the trees and started chasing him on their horses. Bill looked back in fear as they raised their guns and started firing at him. Bullets whizzed past his head, as he ducked and spurred the horse as hard as he could. The horse moved faster and faster as the natives fired again and again. Bill thought for sure he was done for, but he cried out to the horse and kicked and rode faster, lying flat against the horse’s back. Soon, the natives disappeared behind him and he rode and rode until reaching the next station. Later Bill picked up the nickname “Buffalo” Bill Cody and became famous for his show that toured all across America.

Another famous Pony Express ride was Bob Haslam, who became known as “Pony” Bob. Bob was born in England and came across the ocean to America when he was just a boy. His family moved to Salt Lake City and there he worked on a ranch and as a messenger. He was known for being brave and loyal and always got the job done. Loyal is when someone can trust you because you always do what you say you are going to do. 

When Bob was 20 he joined the Pony Express. Like Bill Cody, he rode at a time when Native Americans were very dangerous in the area. During one ride he got to the station only to find that Indians were on the warpath and he could not stop. So even though he and his horse were very tired he kept on riding. Bob persevered. Perseverance is when you keep doing something even though you are tired and want to give up. Bob kept riding until he reached the next station, only to find that it was under attack as well! Bob did not know what to do. He and his horse were tired and hungry. He knew he had to get the job done and deliver the mail, so he continued riding! Once he reached the next station he handed his mail off and rested for 9 hours. But Bob wasn’t done yet. He picked up the next bag of mail, hopped on his horse, and rode back the other direction. His 380-mile trip was the longest Pony Express ride in history. From then on he was known as “Pony” Bob and remembered for his amazing ride. 

Later, when Pony Bob grew old and passed away the newspaper printed “‘Pony Bob’ Haslam, Who Knew No Fear, Dies in Chicago — a man once famous throughout the United States for his courage, endurance and skill.”

Although the Pony Express was an amazing venture, it only lasted a year and a half. The telegraph was invented a few years later. The telegraph was very long wire that its designers stretched all the way across the country. The wire was used to send messages across it at lightning speeds. Because of this the Pony Express was no longer needed. But riders like “Pony” Bob, “Buffalo” Bill, and others will always be remembered for their strength, bravery and perseverance.

California Gold Rush For Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are standing up to your knees in a cold river. The water is rushing around you. You see a fish swim by. Your feet crunch in the rocks as you walk around. Above you the sky is clear and blue. You are holding a metal panel. You dip it down into the water and scrape it along the bottom, picking up rocks and small gravel. After lifting it out of the water, you sift out the larger rocks and swirl it around, looking very closely at the minerals in the water. You swirl it again and then you see it, a glint of something shiny. You reach down in the water and pick it up. Sure enough, it’s a gold nugget! You hold it up in the air and shout “I found one, I found one.” Your friends nearby see it and congratulate you. You’ve found gold! 

In 1848 in California in the United States a man named John Sutter was building a sawmill. Sutter had hired several workers to help him build the sawmill along the American River in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. One of the workers, James Marshall, was looking into the water when suddenly he saw something shiny. He got down into the water to look closer and noticed a small gold rock. He showed it to the other workers. Could it be real gold or was it just fools gold, also known as pyrite? James and the others spent the rest of the day testing the rock to see if it was real gold. To their surprise, the rock he found was actual gold! 

Gold is special for many reasons. First, it’s not like most metals, which are gray. It’s a shiny, beautiful color that is perfect for making jewelry. It is also soft, but doesn’t break apart when shaped by tools. Gold also lasts a very long time and does not rust in water. 

When John Sutter realized it was real gold he was worried for a couple reasons. One was that he didn’t own the land he was building the sawmill on, so he needed to find a way to buy it quickly so he could own the gold on it, too. The second reason was that once others found out gold was near his land, everyone would rush there to try and mine it, too.

Sutter made deals with the local Native Americans until he owned the land, but the way he went about it wasn’t fair. And even though he tried to keep it a secret, his workers started telling their friends. Before long word spread about gold in California. A newspaper headline in San Francisco read: “Gold Mine Found.” At this time not very many people lived in California, but with news spreading about gold that would change very quickly. This is called a gold rush. This wasn’t the first time a gold rush happened in the United States or other places in the world. In North Carolina in 1799 a young boy found a 17-pound gold nugget near his home. This led to a gold rush there. Later there was a gold rush in the Appalachian Mountains and after the Caifornia gold rush there would be one in Alaska.

As word about gold in California spread across the United States, people started travelling from all around eager to become rich. Someone searching for gold is called a “prospector.” Prospectors travelled to California by land and by sea. Going by land was the cheapest way to go, but was also the longest trip, taking 7 months. Prospectors joined groups of wagons called wagon trains and used the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails to get there. Going by land was very dangerous. They often ran out of water, got diseases, or ran into trouble with Native Americans who didn’t want them on their land. 

The more expensive, but faster way to travel to California, was by sea. Prospectors usually left from New York or Boston and either went all the way around the tip of South America at Cape Horn, which took five or six months, or they took a ship to the Isthmus of Panama. From there they crossed the land at the isthmus (a narrow neck of land) in a wagon, then they boarded a second ship and took it north to California. This was the fastest way to go, but was also dangerous. Prospectors travelling through the jungles of Panama often caught malaria or Yellow Fever along the way.

Once prospectors reached San Francisco, California they usually bought mining supplies and all of the other gear they needed to mine gold. These tools included a knife, a pick to break rocks, a shovel, a round tin pan for panning for gold, a rocker, a tent, and food needed to survive. As more miners came through San Francisco, the town began to grow. More people build stores there to sell tools and other supplies. They also built hotels and places for entertainment to accommodate the prospectors passing through. 

From San Francisco, prospectors travelled another 140 miles into California before they started searching for gold. They usually looked in streams first, using pans to dig up the loose rock and sift through it for flakes of gold. This is called panning for gold. Once the prospector found a spot worth mining they would “stake their claim,” which means reserve it for themselves. Panning for gold was very hard work. Their beards grew long, they became very dirty doing the work, and often the food didn’t give them good nutrition. Many prospectors who travelled all the way to California, and spent all of their money to get there, never found any gold.

The other name for prospectors in California was a “49er,” because the year was 1849. You may have also heard of the team the San Francisco 49ers, which comes from the prospectors who brought fame and more people to California. 

The 49ers who did discover gold took it to cities like Stockton or Sacramento or all the way back to San Francisco to have their gold weighed and sold to the bank. These towns began to grow because prospectors wanted a comfortable place to stay, good food to eat, and entertainment after living out in the wild for so long. In 1849 San Francisco went from having 150 people living there to 6,000! Five years later 50,000 people lived there! It also became known as the Golden Gate, which the Golden Gate Bridge is named after.

Towns nearby the gold became known as “boomtowns.” They were wild, rowdy places where prospectors went for entertainment and to spend the money they earned from mining gold. 

Many miners were unlucky and never became rich during the gold rush, but some did. One of those was John Bidwell. He eventually found $2.5 million dollars worth of gold in today’s money and 600 miners worked there in what became known as Bidwell’s Bar. Brothers John and Daniel Murthy also became very wealthy along with John Fremont. Most people never found large amounts of gold, but instead just small amounts in rivers. But some people became very wealthy not by mining gold, but by building stores and hotels and other businesses to support all of the prospectors coming into San Francisco.

If you’ve ever worn jeans, they became very popular in San Francisco at this time. In 1850 a German businessman named Levi Strauss moved there to start selling his pants. They were made of denim and had pockets and lasted longer than cotton pants. They later became known as Levis and are still a popular jean company today.

Ghihardelli Chocolate Company also started in San Francisco during the gold rush and has been in business for more than 160 years. Our family loves their chocolate chips and if you ever visit San Francisco today be sure to get ice cream with their chocolate topping there.

Once most of the gold nuggets and flakes in rivers had been discovered, miners had to start digging down into the earth to get it. These are called gold deposits. Miners had to tunnel down to get the ore, which is the hard rock with veins of gold inside it. Tunnels were dug and dynamite was used to break up the rock. Mining was very dangerous. Workers went deep into the ground using elevators, which often broke. The air was poor underground and sometimes there were cave-ins. The mining was also bad for the land and water in many of these places. A chemical called mercury was used to separate gold from rock dust. The mercury was poisonous to the miners and much of it got washed into the rivers and killed fish and other animals. Farmland was also destroyed as miners chipped away at the earth. Laws had to be passed to protect the land. The gold rush also caused people to leave other work such as farming and shipping. The other problem was more people moved into California and Native Americans who had lived there for generations were forced off their land onto reservations. 

Over time it became harder to find gold, so prospectors left California for other places. Silver had been discovered in Nevada, so many of them moved there or just decided to do something else with their life. With this, many of the boomtowns turned into what became known as “ghost towns.” This just means that people no longer needed the town, so the buildings were left unmaintained and grew old and fell apart. 

But even though the gold rush was over, the United States would forever be changed. San Franscico became a big city with over 50,000 people living there. While the United States had mostly been populated in the East, it now reached from East to West, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Today almost a million people live in San Francisco and since the advent of the Internet it has seen its success in software as people move to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley to work for large tech companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook.

The History of Thanksgiving For Kids

Imagine yourself sitting around a large bonfire.  The year is 1621 and you have spent the last year travelling from Europe to America on a boat. The journey was very hard.  When you finally arrived in the “new world” you faced a very hard winter. You and your family lived on the boat through the winter, together with other passengers.  It was extremely cold and there was not much to eat.  But all of that has changed.  As you sit waiting, you see that people are cooking up a huge feast. You smell the cooking meat and vegetables. it makes your mouth water. The cooks include people from Europe that you were on the boat with, and Native Americans who have come to celebrate with you.  It is the first Thanksgiving celebration in America, and you are ready to eat!

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States and other countries. But how did this holiday begin?  Where did it start and why?

The story starts in 1620 when a small ship named the “Mayflower” left from England. On board were 102 passengers.  They were all people from different religions that were feeling unwelcome in Europe.  They wanted to leave to find a new home where they could practice their religion freely.  There were also people onboard who were excited about the idea of buying land, which they couldn’t afford in Europe. They hoped to find a new life and become wealthy in the New World.

The Mayflower made a long and difficult journey across the Atlantic Ocean that lasted 66 days! Eventually, they landed at Cape Cod.  This was much further north than where they were hoping to land, which was at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower travelled to Massachusetts Bay and the travellers disembarked, or arrived and came ashore.  They decided to settle, or make a home, in the area and they began building a village, which is now called Plymouth.

The people who started building the settlement were called “pilgrims”.  Pilgrim means a traveller or settler in a new land. The pilgrims in Plymouth did not have time to build houses to live in before the first winter came.  The winter was very cold and harsh, so most of the pilgrims remained on the Mayflower ship for the winter. They were hungry and cold living on the ship. Many people developed scurvy, which happens when you don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables.  Many also caught diseases that spread easily amongst the crowded living conditions. 

By the end of the winter, only half of the Mayflower’s 102 original passengers were still alive.That spring, in March 1621, the people who were still alive moved off the boat and onto shore to start building their homes. While they were settling on shore, an Abenaki Native American came and greeted them in English. Everyone was shocked to see that he was friendly and that he spoke English. 

A few days later, he returned with another Native American man named Squanto.  Years before Squanto had been kidnapped by Englishmen and brought to England.  But he later returned to America and could now speak English. Squanto became friends with the pilgrims and could see that they needed help.  The small group of 50 or so people were all weak and starving and many of them were ill.  Squanto felt bad for them so he taught the pilgrims how to grow corn, how to fish in the rivers and how to extract sap from maple trees. 

Squanto also helped the pilgrim settlers to form an alliance with a local Native tribe, the Wampanoag. An alliance is a bond or union between two groups that pledge to support each other. 

Later that year, in the fall of 1621, the pilgrims’s first corn harvest was successful.  They had an abundance of corn and were able to eat.  The Governor of the group, William Bradford, organized a feast to celebrate the harvest.  He invited all the pilgrims in the community and their Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. The feast lasted for three days.  While no one wrote down exactly what they ate, we do know that it was an amazing feast for the time, and likely included chicken, deer, corn, lobster, seal, shellfish, and possibly turkey. 

This fest is now remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving”.  The pilgrim’s likely didn’t call it that, as they would not have known that this feast would turn into a holiday. They also played games and had fun during the three days with their guests.  They considered this celebration a way to give thanks to God and nature for the harvest and alliance with the Wampanoag people. 

The dishes that the pilgrims prepared were likely made using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. The pilgrims did not have an oven and the sugar supply on the Mayflower had run out by the fall of 1621, so the meal did not include pies, cakes or desserts. But the people were happy to have a harvest meal and party and were happy that their nutrition and health had improved compared to last year — and mostly that they were still alive. That is a lot to be thankful for!

The pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in the fall of 1623. In the two years between, there had been a long drought.  A drought is a long period of time in which it doesn’t rain so everything dries up or doesn’t grow.  Because of the drought, there had been no harvest in the fall of 1622 and people were very hungry.  In 1623, the farming had been good again and they all celebrated as they had before. The practice of fasting, or not eating for a period of time, followed by having a large thanksgiving celebration started to become common practice in other New England settlements outside of Plymouth as well. 

Later, during the American Revolution, the government designated a couple of days of thanksgiving a year.  In 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation.In his speech, he asked Americans to show that they are grateful for the happy ending to the war of independence that Americans had just won and the new constitution, or written framework for the country’s rules, structure and order.  Other presidents after George Washington also designated a couple of days of thanksgiving to remember these events. 

In 1817, New York became the first state to have an official Thanksgiving holiday. After that, other states started adopting their own Thanksgiving holiday, with each one being celebrated on a different day. However, the tradition hadn’t spread to the south, and most southern states hadn’t heard of Thanksgiving holiday for a long time. 

One woman decided that she wanted to change this.  She wanted to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her name was Sarah Josepha Hale.  She was a writer and wrote many articles and books and even wrote the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.   Sara started a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday and she worked on this for 36 years!  A campaign is a planned effort to make something happen or change. She published articles in newspapers and sent letters to politicians.  Eventually her efforts paid off, when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. He scheduled it to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November. Sara was then known ever after as the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving was celebrated annually, or once a year, on this day until 1939.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in order to help stores make more money during the Great Depression. However, people didn’t like the change, and so he ultimately moved it back to the original date in 1941.

Although the original Thanksgiving celebrations were to celebrate the end of the American war of independence and the new constitution, modern American Thanksgiving is quite different.  Now the celebrations center on cooking a turkey and sharing a large meal with family and friends. 

While turkeys are the main dish at most American households for Thanksgiving, it may not have actually been on the menu for the pilgrims’ first thanksgiving feast in 1621. Today, more than 90% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving.  And there are many different ways that people prepare the bird. Most like to cook it in the oven. But some people deep-fry it or smoke it, or find a variety of other ways to make the turkey dish new and interesting.

Other traditional food that Americans eat at this holiday include stuffing or dressing, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.  These are all foods that are “in season” at that time of year.  “In season” means that the fruits and vegetables used are ready to be harvested at that time. 

Another common tradition at Thanksgiving is volunteering.  Many Americans spend Thanksgiving Day doing volunteer activities in their communities.  These activities include holding food drives to collect food for the poor or hosting free dinners for people who are struggling. 

Parades have also become an important part of the Thanksgiving holiday in cities and towns throughout the United States.  One of the largest and most famous is the Macy’s department store parade in New York City.  This parade started in 1924 and was intended to give businesses a chance to celebrate the holiday and advertise their store at the same time.  Today, many Americans tune in on TV to watch the Macy’s parade at Thanksgiving.  The parade follows a 2 ½ mile route and features marching bands, performers, floats and giant balloons.

Starting in the 1950s, the president of the United States has a transition of “pardoning” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year.  This means that those 1 or 2 birds don’t get killed to be eaten, but instead get to go back to living on a farm for the rest of their lives.

Even though Thanksgiving is a modern American tradition, there are similar annual celebrations of harvest that take place all over the world and throughout history. In ancient times, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all held large feasts to say thank you to their gods after the fall harvest.  Thanksgiving also has a lot in common with the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. And Native Americans have a long tradition of celebrating fall harvest with feasts and parties. These traditions are older than the American thanksgiving in 1621, so may have had an influence on the idea to hold a feast. 

Does your family celebrate Thanksgiving?  If so, what are some of your family’s traditions?  When you eat your holiday meal this year, think about the first American thanksgiving at Plymouth.  How do you think that would have been different?  What are some of the things that you are thankful for this year?  However you plan to celebrate, we at Bedtime History wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!  

Sitting Bull for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are in the middle of a battle in the American wilderness. All around you, American soldiers dressed in stiff blue jackets load their guns and fire at the enemy. Running at them are Native American warriors dressed in loin cloths and leather. They are yelling and charging the soldiers with weapons raised. They clash in battle and fight ferociously. Around you echo the sounds of metal clashing on metal, gunfire, and people crying out. Then as you turn around, your eye catches a peaceful sight.  There in the middle of the fight scene sits a Native man with his legs crossed.  He peacefully packs a pipe full of tobacco and lights in on fire.  He sits silently and smokes while men fight all around him.  This man is one of the famous American Indians, Sitting Bull. 

Sitting Bull was born around 1831. He was one of the Hunkpapa people, a Lakota Sioux tribe that lived in the Great Plains area in what is now known as North and South Dakota. When he was born his family called him “Jumping Badger”.  

Later, his parents changed his name.  He was quiet and deliberate and they didn’t think “Jumping Badger” fit him.  Deliberate means careful and cautious.  His parents gave him the nickname “Slow” instead and he was called this as a child. 

Slow’s father was the chief, which meant someday he would be the chief of his people. When he turned 10, “Slow” killed his first buffalo. Hunting buffalo was very dangerous, but the tribe depended on buffalo for their meat for survival. They ate their meat and used their skins for clothes and shelter. Slow’s family was proud of his first buffalo kill and celebrated to honor him. When he was 14, “Slow” and others from his tribe snuck into an enemy tribe’s village and stole food and other items. This is called a “raid” and was common for tribes in the Great Plains to fight and steal things from each other for survival. Because of “Slow’s” bravery during the raid, his father gave up his own name and gave it to his son.  From then on, “Slow” became known as Tatanka-Iyotanka, or “Sitting Bull.” 

Around this time, the government of the United States wanted settlers to move into the western states even though Sitting Bull’s people already lived there. To settle means to make a permanent home. This meant that Sioux Lakota tribes would have to leave and find a new place to live even though they had lived on these lands for man years.

But Sitting Bull and his family refused to leave and fought against the U.S. government and the people who tried to take over their land. The government sent the army to fight Sitting Bull and his people.  As a young man, Sitting Bull became famous for his fighting skills and people all over the United States heard about him and became afraid of the stories about him. 

In 1872 the Northern Pacific Railroad was trying to build a railroad across the United States. It ran through Sitting Bulls land, so he and the Sioux people were determined to block it. When they did, the U.S. Army was called in to try to remove them and the conflict quickly turned into a battle.  During the battle, Sitting Bull, who was now a middle-aged chief, walked out into the middle of the field where they were fighting and sat down in front of the U.S. soldiers. He invited several other tribesmen to join him.  Sitting Bull and his friends sat in the field and had a long, slow smoke from his tobacco pipe while watching people battling all around him. Legend says that after finishing his pipe, Sitting Bull carefully cleaned it and then walked off, without showing any fear. He was very brave!

During the 1860s, Sitting Bull continued to fight against settlers encroaching on Sioux land.  He and his tribesmen attacked white military outposts and stole livestock, or farm animals, or attacked the soldiers living there. Sitting Bull’s group of men was brave, but he knew that it wouldn’t be enough to keep back the U.S army. So he went and spoke to leaders of other tribes nearby and together, they worked as one group, the Lakota Sioux. They decided to just have one leader and in 1869, Sitting Bull became their new leader.  The group continued to grow and by the mid 1870s, the group also included warriors from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. 

Even though Sitting Bull is mostly remembered as a warrier, he was also a type of holy man.  He was believed to have the gift of prophecy, or the ability to see the future. Sitting Bull once had a vision or dream that the Sioux people were soon going to have a great victory in battle.  Shortly after that, the prophecy came true. 

In 1876, a Lieutenant Colonel by the name of George A. Custer’s and his soldiers rode out against the Sioux to battle. They were known as the Seventh Cavalry. They attacked Sitting Bull and his warriors, but they were inspired by Sitting Bull’s vision and even though they were outnumbered by Custer’s army, the Sioux people won the battle against over 200 soldiers. This became known as the Battle of Little Bighorn. 

Sitting Bull’s nephew, White Bull, and another warrior named Crazy Horse fought bravely at the Battle of Little Bighorn and became famous for their victory against Custer and the Seventh Cavalry.

But of course, the U.S. Army was not happy about losing the battle. Instead of backing down, they sent an army of twice as many soldiers to fight Sitting Bull. They wanted to push the Native (or First Nations) people off of the land and force them onto reservations. Reservations were an area of land set aside for them to live on instead of the land the settlers wanted. 

Sitting Bull refused to leave his own land and move to the reservations.  Instead, in May 1877, he led a group of his people to Canada where he spent four years hiding out.  Sadly though, the buffalo in the area disappeared. Because buffalo are what his people needed to survive they almost starved.  Sitting Bull and his people left their camp in Canada and moved back to the United States.  A few years later their camp was attacked and Sitting Bull and his followers surrendered to the U.S. army in North Dakota. 

By this time, Sitting Bull was now an older man.  He spent two years in prison and later was sent to live on a reservation at Standing Rock. He lived on that reservation for the rest of his life. 

Sitting Bull was famous when he got out of prison.  Many people heard stories about his fighting skills and admired him for his bravery.  When they met him they were willing to pay $2 just for his autograph.  He got permission to leave the reservation to go on tour as his own exhibition, or entertainment show.

When Sitting Bull was at a stopover in Minnesota, he saw a show starring Annie Oakley, the famous sharp shooter. Sitting Bull was very impressed with her gun shooting skills. He introduced himself and he and Annie Oakley became friends.  He gave her the nickname “Little Sure Shot” and called her his daughter.  Rumour has it that Sitting Bull gave Annie Oakley the pair of moccasins he had worn during the Battle of the Little Bighorn as a gift.

In June 1885, the showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody hired Sitting Bull to perform in his famous “Wild West” show. Sitting Bull was paid $50 a week to wear his full chief’s war attire and ride a horse during the show’s opening scene. Sitting Bull considered the job an easy way to earn money and help audiences learn about his people and how difficult their lives had become.  But some audience members didn’t like Sitting Bull because they knew he had killed white soldiers during battle. Sometimes, audiences cruelly boo-ed Sitting Bull and threw things at him. 

Sitting Bull soon got tired of traveling and some of the mean crowds.  And he missed his family.  So he left the tour for good after its final show in October.

Beginning in 1889, many Native American (or First Nations) people started talking about a religion called the “Ghost Dance”.  These people believed that a spirit was going to come to earth and remove white people from the area where they lived, allowing the Indians to return to their old ways. U.S. Authorities started to worry that Sitting Bull was going to use the Ghost Dance movement to lead a group of Indian people to war against the white people.  They always knew that Sitting Bull resisted, or refused to follow, white traditions.  So they believed he was likely to get involved and lead this movement against white people.  

On December 15, 1890, police were sent to arrest Sitting Bull and bring him in for questioning.  Sitting Bull, who was 59 at the time, refused to go with them.  So the policemen dragged him from his cabin.  The noise and commotion caused a large group of Sitting Bull’s followers to come to see what was going on.  One of them fired a shot at the policemen, setting off a brief gun battle. In the confusion that followed, more than a dozen people were killed including Sitting Bull.

Sitting Bull had many hard experiences in his life and there is a lot that we can learn from him.  He showed great bravery from a young age while hunting and in battle. He was also able to stay very calm under stress and pressure. Have you ever practiced trying to stay calm when you feel afraid or angry?  What works well for you?  I know it helps me to take deep breaths and try and clear my thoughts. Sometimes if I go outside or take a walk that helps, too. Reacting to stress that way is much better than yelling or calling names or other things we later regret. It’s completely normal to feel upset. I do all the time. The question is how we will deal with those feelings. Sitting Bull showed us that even in intense situations, we can be calm. 

Sitting Bull also fought for what he believed in and stayed close to his family and his tribe. Even when they were threatened and told to leave their lands, he refused. He put himself in great danger to try and save his people. Sticking up for yourself and your family is a very noble thing to do. Think of what you can do to take care of your family and the community in which you live. Like Sitting Bull, we can all be leaders in our communities and families if we stick up for what we believe and for our loved ones.