Activities & Lessons

Forgotten Stories of the Oregon Trail: Trailblazing Business

2 Min Read
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Pioneering Businesses

The early- to mid-1800s was a rapidly changing time in US history. By 1860, the population had nearly quadrupled from what it was in 1814, the people had spread across the whole continent, the telegraph connected the entire United States, and businesses shifted from agriculture to machines. Some settlers on the Oregon Trail traveled to start their own businesses in the West. Others set off for different reasons but soon discovered opportunities that led to new business ventures.

William John Livingstone is a great example of a pioneering businessman—in more ways than one! He was born into slavery in Missouri in 1836 but was freed during the Civil War. He made his way to Oregon in 1864 and settled in the Clarkes area, southeast of Oregon City. Livingstone worked at many different jobs. As a hostler (someone who cares for horses), he worked at a stagecoach relay station, caring for the horses as the stagecoaches changed teams. He also worked at a lumber mill and, eventually, saved enough money to start his own successful business .

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Livingstone became a well-respected farmer and landowner and an important member of the Oregon State Grange. When he died in 1912, he left his family 180 acres of land in eastern Oregon as well as an estate valued at over $15,000 (around $388,500 today).

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Create a Business Plan

Teachers for Grades 5–12: Share this blog with your students and then have them create their own business plan. They can focus on industries that were popular during the height of the Oregon Trail or research industries and products they are passionate about today.

Begin by discussing the basic elements of business, including cost, pricing, profits, and marketing. Encourage students to think about these elements in context using local businesses they know. Then students create a plan for their own business, investigating the materials needed, the cost of similar products, and more.

With this activity, students will use math and learn about financial literacy. They can embody William John Livingstone’s hard-working, entrepreneurial spirit and build research, organization, and critical thinking skills as they plan out their new business venture.

Download the teacher guide for tips on how to teach kids about business and financial literacy.

Download the student activity, which helps kids get started on their own business plan.


Explore HMH Social Studies for Grades 6–12, which presents the rich, endlessly inventive story of our world, challenging students to dig deep into the past.

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