Forests, Fields, and the Falls: Activity Ideas

Lumbering Sawmilling Farming Flourmilling Map of Minnesota Glossary About this project Primary Sources Activity Ideas Tips

Activity Ideas

An Overview of the Site

Forest, Fields, and the Falls: Connecting Minnesota introduces students to Minnesota's lumbering, sawmilling, flour milling, and farming history through four first-person narratives presented in a comic-book format. A single message connects these four stories:

Farming on the prairie was made possible by the lumbering of the white pine forests. The Mississippi River divides these two regions; the work at the sawmills and flour mills at Saint Anthony Falls bridges the divide.

The stories and their authors

The four stories are edited versions of original accounts. The following list names the author and the original source their stories were edited from.

  • Lumbering: Beginning in 1899, Joseph DeLaittre spent three winters as a clerk in a logging camp near Aitkin, Minnesota. His reminiscence is titled A Story of Early Lumbering in Minnesota.
  • Sawmilling: Melvin Frank grew up near the sawmills of northwest Minneapolis at the turn of the century. His memoir, "Sawmill City Boyhood," appeared in Minnesota History magazine in 1980.
  • Farming: Mary Carpenter and her family moved to a homestead near Marshall, Minnesota in 1873. Her letters are a part of the Minnesota Historical Society's collections.
  • Flour Milling: Journalist E.V. Smalley visited Minneapolis to write an article promoting the Minneapolis flour mills. It appeared in The Century magazine in 1886.

Historic Sources

More info

Inside each story you will find links to related historic sources (i.e. documents, photos, objects, etc.) and quotes. Look for the icon of a small brown scroll, or skip straight to Primary Sources.

Ideas for Learning Activities

Find the Connections

Have students find visual clues to thematic relationships between the stories. Turn it into a game. Challenge students to look in the comic panels and in the links. For example, students might find flour barrels in the lumber story, references to wheat in the flour milling story, buildings being constructed of lumber in the farming story, and logs coming down the river in the sawmilling story. Each story has relationships to all the others.

Mapping Minnesota's Natural Resources

Introduce your students to the terms prairie and pine forest. Once students have gone through the stories, give them a blank map of Minnesota and display a wall map of Minnesota. Ask them to:

  • locate Marshall, Aitkin, and Minneapolis.
  • sketch in the Mississippi River.
  • shade in the prairie, pine forest, and the river zones.

(The result should look something like this:)

Minnesota map.

Lumbering, Sawmilling, Flour Milling, and Farming: Then and Now

Have students select and explore one story. In groups, or individually, have them research their story's topic as it relates to today. Students could do a broad survey of their topic in Minnesota or they could find and interview someone working in that area.
Have them:

  • identify what they've learned about their topic from the story.
  • brainstorm a list of questions and key words that will help them explore their topic today.
  • brainstorm a list of how they might research those answers: web sites, books, organizations, magazines, or people.
  • investigate their questions and present their findings to the class.

Marshall, Aitkin, and Minneapolis: Then and Now

Have students research and report on the present economic, social, demographic, and/or political conditions of the different locations of the four stories. How have the communities changed, how have they remained the same? Resources for information include the Aitkin County Historical Society, Hennepin History Museum, the Minneapolis Public Library-Downtown, Forest History Center, Southwest State University, the Lyon County Historical Society, and the Minnesota Historical Society.

Write a Letter, Illustrate it as a Graphic Comic.

Have students go through the "Farming" story and identify the main themes of Mary Carpenter's letters (i.e. family, health, hardships, work, joys.) Have students write a letter about themselves that includes at least three of the themes they've identified. After they've written the letter, have them illustrate it in a comic format, either on paper or digitally.

Scavenger Hunt

Have students find four primary sources —one from each story—and answer as many of the following questions as possible: What type of source is it? When was it made? Who made it? Why was it made? How does it relate to the story? What information does it give you? What do you find most interesting about it?


Have students read through the four stories, paying close attention to the modes of transportation. Have them write down both the modes of transportation depicted and the objects being transported. Ask the students to compare and contrast past and present modes of transportation. How have things changed? How have they remained the same?

Identify Point of View

Have students select one of the stories, paying close attention to the perspective of the narrator. Students should record biographical information (i.e. where they're from, what they do, age, gender, and anything else.) Ask them to think about how the narrator's background might affect his or her point of view. Have students describe someone who might offer a different perspective on farming, flour milling, saw milling or lumbering. It might be someone shown in the drawings, referred to in the text, or someone not mentioned at all. Have students describe who the individual is, how his/her opinions would differ from the narrator's, and why.

Understanding Historical Interpretation: Editing and Interpreting Mary Carpenter's Words

Introduce students to the concept of historical interpretation using the Farming story and the unedited letters of Mary Carpenter. Explain that a historian edited Mary Carpenter's letters to make the story. He interpreted her experience by including some events and feelings she described and omitting others.

Have students read over the Farming story. Then direct them to the unedited versions of Mary's letters.

Ask them to read and print out a certain number of Mary's letters (or pre-select and print the letters you'd like them to read). Have them:

  • identify, with pencil, passages that were included in the edited Farming story and passages that were left out.
  • write about how they would edit the letters differently. What parts of the letters would they add? What would they take out? How would they change the physical representations of Mary? How would their changes affect the depiction and interpretation of Mary Carpenter?