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Early Exploration


Lewis and Clark were the first white men to record a bit of Idaho's history. As they entered what is now Idaho, William Clark wrote in his journal, "proceeding on through a beautiful country." Early Exploration reviews the opening up of this "beautiful country." This video looks at early explorers and trappers and the trails they opened up for the first pioneers.


After viewing Early Exploration, students will be able to:

  1. Recognize several of the early explorers and explain why they came to Idaho.
  2. Describe the beginnings of a resource based economy.
  3. Show on a map various trails and the ways explorers moved around the state.
  4. Appreciate the lifestyle of early explorers.

Early Exploration takes the students from Lewis and Clark's journey to the formation of the Idaho territory. The video begins with the host, Phyllis Edmundson, at Lemhi Pass, the first point where Lewis and Clark entered what is now Idaho.

The video reviews Lewis and Clark's exploration of Idaho and the coming of mountain men. Howard Dutton explains what life was like for those mountain men who trapped beaver in Idaho. He describes a rendezvous, where mountain men and others gathered to trade furs.

Phyllis visits Gilmore, an old mining ghost town. She tells about the early history of mining in the state. Historian and Supreme Court Justice Byron Johnson recounts life in Idaho City in the 1860s. As mining expanded, other businesses grew. Farmers and missionaries settled Idaho. And Native Americans saw their lifestyle being forever altered.

The video concludes as the Idaho Territory is formed. Phyllis visits the Salmon River at the point where Lewis and Clark were forced to turn back and find another route through Idaho. She challenges students to get out and explore like those early pioneers.


(Before Viewing)

  1. Discuss why President Jefferson thought it was important to explore the West.
  2. Show a map of the Louisiana Purchase. Discuss its history.
  3. Show the path that Lewis and Clark took across the West. Discuss what students know about the journey. Make a list of questions for further study.
  4. Discuss what resources were available to the early explorers.

(During Viewing)

  1. How would you live if you were all alone?
  2. What challenges would you find?
  3. Why do you think other people would want to go West?
  4. Why do you think a little bit of gold would bring thousands of people to Idaho?
  5. How do you think those nicknames started?
  6. Were there any finds near where you live?

Capital - The seat of government. Boise is the capital of Idaho
Competition - A contest or the act of trying to win
Missionary A person whose job it is to teach religious beliefs
Priority Being more important
Rendezvous A French word for meeting. French trappers who met with suppliers to trade goods for furs called those gatherings a rendezvous.
Resources The raw material available to improve an area
Territory An area of land under control of a government but not yet a state
Trapper A person who hunts for animals using metal traps Treaty An official agreement between parties, usually two countries.


(After Viewing)

  1. Why did Lewis and Clark have a hard time crossing Idaho? How did Idaho's geography affect other explorers?
  2. How did people use Idaho's resources to make money? (i.e. beaver, gold)
  3. What was life like for the early explorers? How is it different from the lives of today's explorers?
  1. Have students draw a picture of one of the explorers on a half sheet of white construction paper. Use yarn to make their hair and beards. Underneath the picture have students write a paragraph or two about that person.
  2. Trace on a map of Idaho some of the routes early explorers took. Measure the route to determine how far they traveled. Start a walking program to walk as far as Lewis and Clark did. Keep records of class progress on an Idaho map.
  3. Have students list on the left half of a sheet of paper aspects of an early explorer's life and on the right half, how students live today. Discuss how the two approaches are both similar and different. Include topics like how to gather food, how to cook food and how a day is spent.
  4. Invite a "mountain man" to come speak to the class.
  5. Have a rendezvous. Have students bring things to trade.

Make an Animal Hide:

  • Using brown or white butcher paper, draw an outline of an animal hide.
  • Cut it out.
  • Scrunch up the paper.
  • Wet paper thoroughly under the faucet.
  • Unscrunch the paper then flatten out on a table.
  • Sprinkle deep brown tempera paint on it. Use a damp sponge to spread the dry paint around on the hide.
  • Allow to dry, then decorate if desired.
  • Students can also decorate the hide with Native American symbol messages.


animal hide