Lesson Plan

Mormon Era


Lesson Preparation


Teacher Reading

You'll definitely want to use Mormons in San Bernardino by Arda Haenzel.

The last half of Chapter Two "Hacendados to Saints" in Sunshine, Citrus and Science will be helpful.

If you really want to go wild and learn about the Mormon era, read San Bernardino: The Rise and Fall of a California Community by Edward Leo Lyman. This historian from California State University, San Bernardino has written the definitive history of this short period. You will discover the inner political workings that began the Mormon community in San Bernardino, and led to its demise. This is 469 pages of history, availabe in local bookstores.





Materials Needed

(I assigned the projects as optional enquiries to be done at home, then shared at school. That way families worked together, as Mormon families did. We held a museum day in our class and brought in all the projects that students had done. The whole school came to our museum and students loved sharing their history-related projects.)

Wood, cardboard and paper for covered wagons and handcarts

Tin cans for making tin-can lanterns

Wax (paraffin) and wick material for dipping candles

Sourdough starter for making sourdough bread





  • See the Links
  • Do a search, using the keywords "Mormon" , "Willey Handcart Company", "Mormon Trail" or any of the names of the key Mormon leaders.


  • There is a documentary movie locally available for rent called Trail of Hope that details the westward movement of the Mormons, from Missouri to Salt Lake City. It is rather long, but can be used with some fast-forwarding through the "talking heads" parts. It captures the hardships of the trail.


  • It would be great to get a class set of Mormons in San Bernardino. The text can be a little difficult, but the photos and maps are priceless. It would be an excellent text for this period.




1. Habitat: The Mormons set about dividing the land, establishing streets, sewers, water canals, mills and farmland. They had no qualms about taking over the habitat and changing it to their own purposes. They saw the existings land as wasted space, ready to be put to use.

2. Food: The diet of the Mormons was pure "American." They prized fresh fruits and vegetables, and wasted no time in setting up gardens and planting fruit trees. The primary land usage was grain crops. Their main source of money was selling sawn lumber in Los Angeles.

3. Housing: The first Mormon homes were log cabins, the easiest "civilized" home. Later they built more permanent homes. The community was a mixture of adobe homes and homes built with lumber. Frequent floods washed away many homes.

4. Social Structure: The community answered to a Council of Elders. The power of the church was very strong, binding the community together. Non-Mormons who chose to live in San Bernardino had to answer to Mormon law. Drunkenness was outlawed, as well as gambling and prostitution. After the Mormons left, the area developed a hearty appetite for liquor, gambling and prostitution, as well as frequent gunfights.

Slavery is an interesting sidenote to the Mormon Era. The San Bernardino Sun has published several articles documenting how the Mormons brought slaves with them from the South and did not release them. California never allowed slavery, and a court order was required to free the slaves. Some moved to Los Angeles, and some stayed with the Mormon community and eventually became part of the social structure of San Bernardino's later history.

5. Art and Tools: The Mormons introduced mechanized farming, with plows, harvesters and water-powered mills. They were not here long enough to build a temple. There was music and dancing for recreation, but the community worked hard, and had little time for art or play.

6. Footprints: The Mormons can be credited with effectively carving up the land. All later housing developments and land divisions refer to the subdivision of the land under the Mormon leaders. The effect on habitat cannot be emphasized enough. The change from one Rancho to many private plots set the stage for all further land use.

7. Demise: The Mormon community did not dissolve in 1857, but its leadership was recalled to Utah, and at least two-thirds of the settlers sold their holdings and moved to Utah. Those who remained did not control the city any longer, and it ceased to be a Mormon settlement.

Projects and Activities

1. Students can make covered wagons or handcarts with wood, cardboard or paper and find little objects to outfit them. Thread Spools can be painted as barrels, craft stores have miniature tools and furnishings.

2. Students can make tin can lanterns by punching holes (with adult help) in the sides of cans and attaching wire handles.

3. Families may want to try dipping candles. Wick material can be repeatedly dipped in hot wax and cooled.

4. This would be a great time to bring in wheat and grind it in class. Small hand-powered mills can be bought at Clark's Nutrition, Loma Linda Market or other health food stores. Use the wheat flour for the next project.

5. Make sourdough bread. This can be done at home or in class. Most stores now sell commercial sourdough starter with instructions. E-mail me if you can't find what you need to get started. This is an enjoyable experience, with real connections with history.


Worksheet - Mormon Era


The worksheets may be used as either a lesson guide and written in as you go along, or as a test. Feel free to make up your own to fit your approach to the curriculum




1. Definitely schedule a trip to the San Bernardino County Museum. The education department of the Museum can give excellent presentations, followed by exploring the history section of the Museum. The Museum has a wonderful covered wagon, with clothed mannequins and examples of furnishings and tools.

2. (See Links)