Ken Burns Classroom

New Frontiers

Ken Burns Film: Horatio’s Drive

Collections: Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

Subject: Geography History Language Arts

Grade Level: 6-10

Run Time: 1 class period


In a twist of fate, the beginning of Dr. Horatio Jackson’s trip marked the 100th anniversary of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s exploration westward into the Louisiana Territory. Both men, although separated by a century, embarked on similar journeys of discovery that would transform American life as we know it. In this lesson, students will compare various aspects of Horatio’s travels with the journey of Lewis an Clark across the Louisiana Purchase. Students will review journals of both trips as well as other resources, and will write “position papers” comparing and contrasting the two trips.


The teacher should begin with an overview of the Lewis and Clark journey, including why the Corps of Discovery was formed, the route taken by the explorers, and so on. The companion site for the Ken Burns film, “Lewis and Clark” (, contains a wealth of information that can be used as background material. Part of this site will also be used as a resource for this lesson.

You can also reference the Lewis & Clark film section of this site.

The teacher should then have students view Horatio’s Drive, directing the class to look for specific instances of danger, hardship, or discomfort that Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker might have encountered on their journey cross-country by automobile in 1903. In addition to specifically viewing the film, students should also to look at the resources available on this Web site.

Next, have students look for comparable hazards that the “Corps of Discovery” might have faced during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Students can:

  • Watch representative scenes from the Lewis and Clark film in class.
  • Do independent research on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The journals of many of the members of the “Corps of Discovery” are located at the Lewis and Clark site, at: (The site is searchable by either name of the journal writer, or date, or range of days.)
  • Study interviews of historians, including Dayton Duncan, William Least-Heat Moon, and Stephen Ambrose, which highlight the difficulties in exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. The interviews are located at:

Next, the teacher should distribute the “Trip Comparison Sheet” to students so they can record their results.

Once satisfactory time has been allotted for students to find comparisons or contrasting information, have them work in groups to develop “position papers” to compare various factors of both Jackson’s trip and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Divide student groups to look at the individual journeys in different geographic areas as they progressed or have students look at issues related with food, or medicine and illness, or comparison of the technology of the two expeditions (for example, Lewis and Clark’s reliance of “Rush’s Thunderbolts” as a cure-all for any form of illness, or difficulties that Lewis and Clark may have had in acquiring horses versus the problems Jackson dealt with regarding finding parts to repair his Winton.)

Have groups present their findings orally or in written form. Additionally, a debate can be organized as to which aspect or obstacle each group feels was the most difficult for that particular expedition to overcome.

The teacher can evaluate student work based on standards and criteria they set for this lesson. If the teacher elects to have students or student groups present their findings in written form, the student(s) can be evaluated as to their use of correct grammar, writing ability, and so on. If the teacher wishes students to have students give their findings in oral form, then students can be evaluated for their speaking ability, ability to persuade and reason, and so forth.


This lesson addresses national content standards established by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) (

US History:

  • Understands the factors that led to U.S. territorial expansion in the Western Hemisphere (e.g., Napoleon’s reasons for selling the Louisiana Territory, expeditions of American explorers and mountain men)
  • Understands the impact of territorial expansion on Native American tribes (e.g., the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole removals, the significance of the Trail of Tears, the original lands held by various tribes of the Southeast and those held in the Old Northwest territory)
  • Understands the short-term political and long-term cultural impacts of the Louisiana Purchase (e.g., those who opposed and supported the acquisition, the impact on Native Americans between 1801 and 1861)
  • Understands the impact of the Louisiana Purchase (e.g., its influence on politics, economic development, and the concept of Manifest Destiny; how it affected relations with Native Americans and the lives of French and Spanish inhabitants of the Louisiana Territory; how the purchase of the Louisiana Territory was justified)

Historical Understanding:

  • Knows different types of primary and secondary sources and the motives, interests, and bias expressed in them (e.g., eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifacts, photos; magazine articles, newspaper accounts, hearsay)
  • Understands that the consequences of human intentions are influenced by the means of carrying them out

About The Authors

Michael Hutchison

Michael Hutchison is the social studies department chair at Lincoln High School. Vincennes, Indiana. He has more than 35 years of classroom teaching experience, and has written lessons for several Ken Burns films, including The Civil War, Empire of the Air, Horatio’s Drive, Unforgivable Blackness, The War, Baseball, The Tenth Inning, Prohibition, The Dust Bowl, and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. He is past president of the Indiana Computer Educators. In 2014, he was named winner of the Caleb Mills Indiana History Teacher of the Year Award by the Indiana Historical Society.

Handout: Trip Comparison Sheet

Event Geographic Location Lewis & Clark? Jackson & Crocker? Both? Result or Impact of the Event