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Bozeman Trail Brings New History Perspectives

We’re excited to announce that the Bozeman Trail game to teach middle school history is available FREE to play online.

Play Bozeman Trail

I’m the first to admit that my history education has been lacking, with my last history course being in the eighth grade. Since I skipped a couple years of school and entered college at 16, I didn’t even take the mandatory U.S. history course that everyone is supposed to have in high school.

All my life, I have been a “math person”. I’ve taught math from middle school through doctoral programs. What history I learned was mostly with working with our cultural consultants on games like Making Camp Lakota, Making Camp Dakota , Making Camp Navajo or Forgotten Trail.

As a developer on Bozeman Trail, a designed to teach middle school history, I was, for the first time, exposed to some new perspectives.

From an Indigenous perspective, history can pretty much be summed up as,

“We were living here and these people came in with guns, took our land, forced us on these reservations and sent our kids to boarding school.”

When I thought about it at all, which was admittedly, not often, my opinion was , wow, those colonist were really awful people.

People moved out west for “a better life.” I never asked, “Better than what?”

In eighth grade, back in the 20th century, I learned about railroad barons and the Homestead Act. People moved out west for “a better life.” I never asked, “Better than what?” and the question never came up.

Playing through the Bozeman Trail, I learned about the Irish immigrants who built the railroad. They didn’t come out west because they wanted to steal Lakota lands. They came because it beat starving back home. Does that make it right? No, but it is certainly a different perspective that I had never considered.

Chinese immigrants that built the railroad, too, had even worse conditions than the Irish. The game does not have a lot of the Chinese immigrant experience – it’s just one game, after all – but it had enough to make me want to learn more.

Life was hard for the Shoshone, Arapaho, Lakota and everyone else

If you were a child, a woman or a freed slave, you had even fewer opportunities and harsher conditions than the men working on the railroad. Children didn’t ride in wagons, unless they were very young. They walked. Deaths from disease and accidents were rampant. If your child got sick and died, you just went on. What else could you do?

Bozeman Trail gives an unvarnished look at the way the U.S. government broke treaties with the tribes. There is some background on the Panic of 1873. People lost all their savings. Banks were collapsing. There were no jobs. If you were lucky enough to have a job in the army and didn’t want to go fight the Indigenous people, you’d be thrown in the stockade.

Did that make it okay to go in and steal the gold from the Black Hills almost as soon as the ink was dry on the treaty says the Great Sioux Nation are the owners of the Black Hills, forever? Did any of this justify moving the Shoshone, Arapaho and Lakota people to smaller and smaller parcels of land and forcing them at gunpoint to comply. No, of course not.

Personally, Bozeman Trail Reminded Me of Immigrants Today

When I see the news with immigrants being getting off buses from Texas in New York City or Los Angeles, I don’t see them as people coming here to steal my job. I understand that it takes a lot for someone to pack up and leave everything they know.

Before Bozeman Trail, I’d assumed that the American west was settled by adventurers, young men who came out to make their fortune. I’m sure there was some of that. The perspective from the Bozeman Trail game, though, was many people were just trying to survive or thrive and they had found that impossible where they were.

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