Historical Happenings in April 2023
April showers bring “Historical Happenings” flowers! Stop and smell the roses and discover this month’s monumental moments, along with free resources and activities to help make lesson planning a breeze! Enjoy your Spring Break, and we’ll see you for next month’s edition of “Historical Happenings.”
History at a Glance:
April 3, 1860: Pony Express
April 12-14, 1861: Battle of Ft. Sumter
April 22, 1970: First Earth Day
April 22-30, 2023: National Park Week
April 3, 1860: Pony Express
Pioneers and prospectors alike moved westward in search of gold, land, and opportunities in the American frontier beginning in the 1840s. As the population grew, so did the need for a faster way to transport mail between the West and East. Steamships and stagecoaches were employed for the task, but often it took anywhere between three weeks to several months for mail to reach its destination.
Seeing the growing population in California and recognizing the length of time it took for mail to reach residents, Senator William M. Gwin of California looked for a solution. He found it in William Russel, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell’s business plan. These businessmen decided to create a mail delivery service called the Pony Express, which debuted on April 3, 1860.
Crossing more than 1,800 miles of dangerous terrain in just 10 days, a relay of horseback riders delivered mail between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, along the route now known as the Pony Express National Historic Trail. The Pony Express’ official western endpoint was San Francisco, California, which wasn’t reached by horse but by steamship, which carried mail to its final destination.
Along the Pony Express route were relay stations where riders could change horses and exchange mail every 10 to 15 miles. A relay of riders crossed through eight states over various terrain, including valleys, plains, deserts, and mountains. Each rider rode shifts between 75 and 100 miles before resting and switching at home stations.
The Pony Express was only in operation for 18 months, from April 1860 until the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line in October 1861. During its brief enterprise, the Pony Express provided a valuable service by delivering mail in only 10 days. This incredible feat earned the Pony Express a legendary status as a symbol of the Old West.
Giddy up and discover these fun activities to teach your students about the Pony Express!
“The Pony Express National Historic Trail Interactive Map!” by National Park Service: This interactive map is a terrific way for your students to see the route riders took to deliver mail. Students can click on the map to discover historic sites and landmarks along the trail.
Have a Relay Race: Ask your students if they think they would have been able to deliver mail in 10 days. What about in 10 seconds? Host your own race to find out!
Step 1: Split your students into two groups. Randomly select three to five students (depending on how many students you have and the size of your classroom) from each group and spread each group from one side of the classroom to the other.
Step 2: Hand the first person from each group a backpack or satchel and explain that horseback riders would carry mail in a mochila, which means “knapsack” in Spanish. Explain that each group has to work together to pass their mochila from the start of the line to the end and only have ten seconds to deliver their “mail” to the opposite side of the classroom.
Step 3: When you start the timer and say “go,” the first person holding the mochila has to race to the next person in line and pass it off. Time the groups to see which group “delivers” their mail first.
Step 4: Explain that along the Pony Express National Trail, riders had to switch and take breaks; similarly, students from each group will take turns playing.
Step 5: Afterwards, introduce your students to a few of the Pony Express riders.
April 12–14, 1861: Battle of Fort Sumter
Located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, Fort Sumter was the site of the battle that began the American Civil War. It was constructed beginning in 1829 to defend the harbor and the town of Charleston but was never completed. Nearby were two other federal garrisons: Castle Pinckney and Fort Moultrie. Fort Moultrie housed Union Major Robert Anderson and his troops prior to the Battle of Fort Sumter.
With tensions rising after South Carolina seceded from the United States on December 20, 1860, Anderson moved his troops to the more defensible Fort Sumter on December 26, 1860. His decision upset many Charlestonians; one townsman wrote that Anderson’s decision was “like casting a spark into a magazine.”
On January 9, 1861, a federal ship called the Star of the West entered Charleston Harbor. It carried 200 U.S. soldiers and reserves and was headed to Fort Sumter to outfit the garrison with much-needed supplies. South Carolina militia fired on the Star of the West, forcing the ship to retreat. Three months later, Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard wrote to Anderson, demanding that Anderson surrender Fort Sumter and evacuate his troops.
Anderson refused to surrender, and on April 12, Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederate forces firing from the Confederate-occupied Fort Moultrie. The battle lasted for 34 hours, but with Fort Sumter on fire, and food and weaponry supplies dwindling, Anderson surrendered on April 13. He and his soldiers evacuated on April 14. No causalities occurred during the battle; however, one soldier was killed and another mortally wounded during the evacuation when a cannon went off prematurely.
Teach your students about the Battle of Fort Sumter using the resources below.
“Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard to Maj. Robert Anderson” by American Battlefield Trust: Read Beauregard and Anderson’s correspondence during the days leading up to the Battle of Fort Sumter. Our free primary sources guide provides activities you can use to help your students dive deeper into understanding the letters’ historical significance.
“Charleston and Fort Sumter Virtual Tour” by American Battlefield Trust: If a field trip to Fort Sumter isn’t feasible for your school, no worries — you can virtually travel to the garrison! Explore this digital history by clicking on the tour points to see photographs, facts about the fort, and more.
April 22, 1970: The First Earth Day
With the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962, national and international concern for the environment grew, as did the conversation about conservation. Among those concerned for the planet's welfare was Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Seeking a way to raise environmental awareness, Nelson was inspired to create Earth Day.
On April 22, 1970, approximately 20 million Americans participated in rallies, marches, and educational programs across the nation. Earth Day was a triumph, and the awareness it brought to pollution encouraged the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency on December 2, 1970. It also influenced the passage of several environmental legislation, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
Today, more than one billion people from over 190 countries participate in Earth Day, which is held every year on April 22. Learn more about Earth Day in our “Celebrate Earth Day” blog. For more resources, dig into our earth science titles and activities below!
Nina Learns to Appreciate Natural Resources and Conservation! by Carole Marsh/Gallopade International: Wind is a renewable energy source that turbines use to produce electricity. In this experiment, students will observe how wind strength is affected by location, time, and altitude. Download your free copy of the experiment to get started! For more experiments and lessons on renewable energy, check out the full copy of Nina Learns to Appreciate Natural Resources and Conservation.
"Learning and Teaching about the Environment” by the United States Environmental Protection Agency: Discover dozens of lesson plans, science fair projects, and other educational resources to teach your students about the environment. These resources are free to all educators, and they cover different topics for grades K-12.
April 22–30, 2023: National Park Week
From the East Coast to the West Coast and North to South, “America the Beautiful” is full of breathtaking landscapes and natural wonders, many of which are preserved by the National Park Service. The National Park Service oversees more than 400 national parks, which include monuments, historic sites, parkways, seashores, rivers, trails, and more!
Yellowstone National Park became the nation’s first park on March 1, 1872. The Yellowstone National Park Act was passed to protect and preserve over two million acres of land in Montana and Wyoming while also giving Americans a park to enjoy. The Secretary of the Interior was placed in charge of overseeing Yellowstone National Park.
As more parks were created over the following years, different federal departments managed the national parks until the formation of the National Park Service. The National Park Service, a bureau of the Department of the Interior, was established by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916.
These parks, and the National Park Service’s conservation efforts, are celebrated every year during National Park Week. On April 22, 2023, you can visit a national park for free! To find one near you, use the National Park Service’s park locator.
Interested in learning more about national parks? Read our national park books, plus explore the lesson plan ideas below!
“Mapping the National Parks” by Library of Congress: These 200 maps make fantastic visual aides to help students learn about geography. Each map shows the topography of different national parks, and some of these maps date as far back as the 17th century. After viewing the maps, students can create a 3D topographic map of a national park of their choice.
Virtual Hikes by Google Earth and National Park Service: “Hike” through Arches National Park and along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim using these digital maps — hiking boots not required!
Sources:  “1860–1861 History.” National Pony Express Association, https://bit.ly/2ONzlsu. Accessed 28 March 2023.  Pope, Nancy. “The Story of the Pony Express.” Enroute, Smithsonian National Postal Museum, 1992, https://s.si.edu/40IySIt. Accessed 28 March 2023.  “Pony Express, History & Culture.” National Park Service, https://bit.ly/3K8gPFg. Accessed 28 March 2023.  Certo, Joseph J. Di and Wallenfeldt, Jeff. "Pony Express". Encyclopedia Britannica, 11 Apr. 2016, https://bit.ly/42Y7WX6. Accessed 29 March 2023.  Marsh, Carole. Galloping West with the Pony Express: “The Mail Must Go Through!” Gallopade International, 2010.  “Pony Express debuts.” HISTORY, 16 April 2021, https://bit.ly/2q1FEKI. Accessed 28 March 2023.  “Historical Timeline.” Pony Express National Museum, https://bit.ly/3TWXKKD. Accessed 28 March 2023.  “Fort Sumter.” National Park Service,https://bit.ly/2NK95eO. Accessed 27 March 2023.  “South Carolina Secession.” National Park Service, https://bit.ly/40Icm2D. Accessed 29 March 2023.  “Fort Sumter.” American Battlefield Trust, https://bit.ly/2JCsJas. Accessed 27 March 2023.  “Fort Sumter.” HISTORY, 29 August 2022, https://bit.ly/2IOxNHi. Accessed 27 March 2023.  Bordewich, Fergus M. “Fort Sumter: The Civil War Begins.” Smithsonian Magazine, 2011 April, https://bit.ly/2EGZpeQ. Accessed 27 March 2023.  “Today in History – April 22.” Library of Congress, https://bit.ly/3lJu0nW. Accessed 29 March 2023.  “The History of Earth Day.” EARTHDAY.ORG, https://www.earthday.org/history/. Accessed 29 March 2023.  “The first Earth Day.” HISTORY, https://bit.ly/2Gb2nMH. Accessed 29 March 2023.  Lower, Rocío and Watson, Rebecca. “How Many National Parks are There?” National Park Foundation, https://bit.ly/3m1UCQS. Accessed 1 April 2022.  “National Park System Timeline (Annotated).” History E-Library, National Park Service, https://bit.ly/3GrmAwL. Accessed 1 April 2022.  “About Us.” National Park Service, https://bit.ly/419fSDx. Accessed 1 April 2022.