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Lesson Plan 5 - Transportation
download lesson05.pdf

This lesson introduces students to the history of steamboat travel and shipping on the Sacramento River. You can view or print most single images directly as a JPEG file. However, some documents are in Adobe Acrobat PDF format and must be viewed or printed with Acrobat Reader . In Lesson 5, students use the Sacramento History Online database at

1. Explain why steam travel on the river grew rapidly and later declined.
2. Identify three challenges or dangers of steamboat travel.
3. Use the SHO database to find specific historical information.

4.1.3 - 4.1.5 Physical and human geographic features that define places and regions in California
4.4.1 - 4.4.4 California's rise as an agricultural and industrial power

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DOCUMENTS TO DISCUSS (view online or print screen)
The documents below relate to steam travel on the Sacramento River.
CLICK on an image to view or print the document.

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1. View of Sacramento City, from the River
[ca. 1850]
Engraved illustration of Sacramento ca. early 1850's shows buildings in place of earlier tents.

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2. Riverboat - (Central) Pacific Railroad depot
At the dock of the California Company in Sacramento, with the steamer Chrysopolis. Also shows the Central Pacific Railroad depot.

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3. John Laggas and crew of the steamer Varuna
View of John Laggas and crew members of the Varuna sternwheeler, in front of warehouse at Sacramento waterfront, near M Street.

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4. Travel by Water through the Heart of California
[ca. 1915]
Brochure of the California Transportation Company, with descriptions and timetables.

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5. Riverboat - Fruit label - Sacramento River - Locke
Colorful fruit crate label advertising pears grown in the Sacramento Valley and shipped via steamer on the Sacramento River.

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6. Barges and steamboats on the Sacramento River
View of the barge Alabama loaded with steel and iron for the Thomson-Diggs Co., at the dock.

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1. Print any of the images and PDF files shown above that you will use in your discussion, as well as Student Activity Sheet 5 and Key. (Label the documents by their number to identify them in the instructions).

2. Read Background Article 5. You may wish to read it to your students or have them read it by themselves. Discuss any questions that they may have.

3. Show and discuss Document 1, View of Sacramento City, from the River. Tell them that the picture shows Sacramento. Ask them what kind of document it is. (print) How old do they think the picture is? (1850) Why? What transportation is shown?

4. Document 2, Riverboat - (Central) Pacific Railroad depot (with the Chrysopolis at the dock). Ask students how the Chrysopolis is powered. (steam) Tell them that the Chrysopolis was called a sidewheeler. Later boats with paddles at the stern were called sternwheelers. Do they know any other terms for steamboats. (riverboats, paddlewheelers)

5. Document 3, John Laggas and crew of the steamer Varuna. The Varuna and the Chin du Wan were opposition steamers. Ask the students if they know the meaning of the word opposition. Why do they think a boat would be in opposition to something? Explain that competition was fierce in the early years. Some steamboat owners joined together to form a company to control the steamboat industry. However, other owners continued to operate independently, running what were called opposition boats.

6. Document 4, Travel by Water through the Heart of California. Tell students that this document is an advertisement and timetable for the California Transportation Company, which introduced two new steamers, the Capital City and Fort Sutter. Read the description of the boats. How does this advertisement compare to a modern cruise ship ad? Show students how to read a timetable. Discuss the fare price and the prices of accommodations and meals. How do these prices compare to those for modern ships?

7. Document 5, Riverboat - Fruit label - Sacramento River - Locke River. This image also depicts the steamer Pride of the River. Ask students why they think someone would advertise fruit using an image of a steamboat. Notice the description of the Pride of the River in Document 4, which indicates that this boat stopped to pick up and leave freight, while the others only left or picked up passengers at river stops. Where did the steamboats stop? Discuss what types of freight might be shipped in this manner. (fruits and vegetables)

8. Document 6, Barges and steamboats on the Sacramento River. Several of the images in the SHO collection show barges being pulled by steamboats. What kind of freight might be shipped on barges? Have students seen modern barges? If so, where?

9. Give students Activity Sheet 5: Steamboats on the Sacramento (printed from PDF file). After they have finished the activity, discuss their answers as a group.

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1. Find out more about the individual steamboats mentioned in this lesson. Make a report about your favorite steamer.

2. Make a broadside that a dock agent might have used to convince potential passengers in San Francisco to travel on your favorite steamboat.

3. Write a journal entry describing a trip that you took on a steamboat in 1850 from San Francisco to Sacramento. How did it feel to travel on the river? Where did you stop? Whom did you meet and where were they going?

4. Solve a historical mystery

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Opposition to Sacramento
Landing at Benicia

Broadside advertising
the departure
of the Chrysopolis.

Although all sources consulted for preparation of this lesson indicate that the Chrysopolis was operated by the California Steamship Navigation Company, this broadside presents it as an opposition steamer. Could the CSNC have been trying to fool passengers? At deadline time, no one had solved this mystery. Perhaps you can help by conducting further research.

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Cook, F. S. Steamboats in the valley. Volcano, CA: California Traveler, Inc. 1971.
  (includes information about all boats listed in this lesson).

Dana, J. The Sacramento: River of gold.
  New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1939.

Holden, W. Sacramento: Excursions into its history and natural world.
  Fair Oaks, CA: 2 Rivers Publishing Co., 1988.

Hunt, R. D. and Arent, W.S. Oxcart to airplane. Los Angeles, CA:
  Powell Publishing Co., 1929.

MacMullen, J. Paddle-wheel days in California. Stanford, CA: Stanford
  University Press, 1944.

Wilkinson, P. and Pollard, M. Ideas that changed the world: Transportation.
  New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1994. (juvenile)

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Features many photos of the Delta King.

Towns and Cities of the California Delta

When Paddlewheeler Steamboats Pushed through Delta Waterways

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Sacramento History Online © 2003 - 2004