Today you’ll be going back in time to become a trader and build your own fort. You’ll travel through the wilderness and face untold dangers. The ones who make it through alive…win.

Choose your trader identity. These are all real people who worked at a Colorado fort in 1836. As you can see, they came from many different places and represented a variety of nationalities.

First you’ll elect a leader for your team. It’s important to find someone who will make sure everyone’s voice is heard.You’ll be facing a life and death decision today, and you’ll need the combined thinking power of your group if you hope to survive your year on the trail.

Then, choose a location for your fort.  Then, lead the supply caravan from St. Louis, Missouri, and travel across 900 miles of wilderness. What’s your new life as a trader going to be like? Let’s start by hearing from real people who were there in 1836.

So begins our Time Travel Field Trip to 1836. It’s unlike any history lecture, textbook or presentation you’ve ever seen. Why?

It’s incredibly engaging. History is so often taught as a fait accompli, something where the conclusion is already known, something that happened a long time ago to other people.

This is different.


  • Students face real decisions from the time, and feel the effects of the consequences on themselves and their friends. It makes history immediate, urgent, and emotionally compelling.
  • Students are not hearing about events from someone else. They live it themselves, which makes it memorable.
  • There’s an element of chance. In addition to the group decision, every individual student experiences real events from the time, chosen after extensive historical research. Dice rolls determine if the student will experience the (usually horrible, because that’s just so much more interesting) consequences. They hold their breath, blow on the dice, and cheer or groan at their results.

Depth of knowledge:

  • Someone once said the devil is in the details. I think the opposite is true. To feel like you are risking your life as you travel the Santa Fe Trail, you need the little details of daily life that make history a foreign country.
  • It’s what you have to teach anyway. Before beginning three months of historical research, I looked at the current Colorado standards, and built from there. The pre and post-test, the decisions and events in the game, everything directly teaches your history, geography, and economics curriculum for you.
  • Higher-level thinking is engaged when students have to think through the ethics and opportunity costs of real and complex decisions.
  • Students learn essential background knowledge through Reader’s Theater using short comics.

Primary Sources:

  • Students hear directly from the past at appropriate points in the game. Primary sources are woven into letters from the past and shared both in writing, and in movie form (using pictures and images from the time). They are always linked to what the students are about to face. After all, you care a lot more about what it was like to live in Colorado as a trader when it’s your own life on the line.
  • Additional primary source support for student dice rolls included in the appendix. Share it with your students, read it for your own pleasure, or ignore it completely – whatever works for you!


  • So easy and fun to prepare and teach, it’ll actually take things off your plate. (*gasp!*) You might even have free time to go to the gym or relax with a book.
  • Everything you need to know is included as you go – no long background information to read and prepare.
  • Included movies engage students and make your job even easier.
  • Included options for differentiation help all your students succeed.

Traders and Forts focuses on:

  • How did the movement of goods connect forts in Colorado to other places?
  • How did the trade triangle between St. Louis, Santa Fe, and the local Plains Tribes affect the people and animals of the time?
  • What geographical features made a fort more or less successful?
  • What resources drew people to Colorado?
  • Analyze maps to make wise decisions.
  • What was life like at Bent’s Fort?
  • What was it like to travel on the Santa Fe Trail? What were the risks and rewards?


(DOK 1-2) Describe how the physical environment provides opportunities for human activities

(DOK 1-2) Describe how places in Colorado are connected by movement of goods and services

(SS09-GR.4-S.1-GLE.2) Students know about the historical eras and groups in Colorado history.

(DOK 1-3) Give examples of the kinds of goods and services produced in Colorado in different historical periods and their connection to economic incentives.


Two class periods, 45 minutes to an hour each.

Interactive History Lesson_Traders & Forts

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