Article from Metro featuring Our 8th Graders!

Students take a journey into Civil War history

students with map


Southwest Charter School students Julian Trumbo and Damien Cartwright present the map to the history quest.

Armed with a map, a poem and a treasure chest, students from the Southwest Charter School traipsed across the dewy grass of the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery to lead a history quest.

Starting at the gates of the 1889 entrance to the cemetery, the 8th grade class led school director Anne Gurnee, teacher Sarah Anderson and parents through a series of clues guiding the group to gravestones of Civil War veterans.

The students created a poem that served as both a pathfinder and a storyteller, with stanzas that alternated between directions and descriptions.

The quest was result of three months of research into the Civil War and uncovering stories of veterans who were buried in the cemetery.

Anderson’s class visited 10 gravestones as stops on the quest, including Salmon Brown, son of the famous abolitionist John Brown, and cavalry Pvt. John W. Millington, who was sent from Washington, D.C., to capture Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

Anderson looked for a variety of stories for this quest. Other graves include colored infantry Cpl. Samuel Arbuckle, female veteran Mary Hartman, and Hartwell B. Compson, who received the Medal of Honor for capturing a Confederate flag.

reading at the cemetery

Students Veronica Rousseau and Allie Nuhring read the quest poem in front of Mary Balmer’s grave.

There was a moment of connection between students and the late William Wallace Root, who was a 14-year-old sharpshooter in the Union Army.

“How many of you are 14 years old?” Anderson asked her class.  Most of the students raised their hands.

At the beginning of the project, the students started with nothing more than a name and gravesite. From that point, they visited the graves, drew the gravestones and began the detective work of uncovering the veteran stories.

Much of the research was through the Multnomah County Library website, which had data from the 1910 Census. They looked through articles from The Oregonian as well as obituaries, trying to use as many primary and secondary sources as possible.

Student Roan Kiggins joked that some students used off limits sources.

“Some people used Wikipedia, even though they weren’t supposed to,” he said.

Going through primary sources of census data and regimental records was not easy but some students enjoyed the challenge Anderson said.

“In some ways it is more work to find it out for themselves,” Anderson said in an interview later. “But some of them got into the detective aspect.  Once they started uncovering the parts to the stories, they got really excited.”

The sentiment was shared by student Graze Heizer, who enjoyed the hands-on learning experience.

“This is a fun way to learn about the Civil War,” Heizer said. “It’s really fun to get out and see the graves and see the people.”

Heizer’s classmate, Julien Downey, enjoyed the project and learning about the life stories of the veterans.

“I think that this is probably one of my favorite projects, it’s really interesting to find out about the people,” he said.

Hanging the treasure chest


Classmates look on as student Madeleine Abrams hangs the treasure chest.

The last stop on the tour ended at a large tree, where the class hung a treasure chest, which was constructed by students Madeleine Abrams and Ari Grad.  The students put handmade items inside the chest: a book for other questers to write comments, a stamp, and series of cards describing the lives of these veterans.

This quest was a first for the school and another class will finish a similar quest at Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery in two weeks. Anderson hopes that the school will do more in the future, citing a plethora of civil war artifacts in plain sight in downtown Portland such as cannons from Fort Sumter that are stationed in Lownsdale Square.

Anderson and her students also hope that other people will take the challenge and go on their history quest. In the midst of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it is both a timely and fun reason to head out Anderson said.

“It is a cool way for citizens to get out with their kids and explore history, with a treasure box at the end,” she said.

Arashi Young can be reached at or 503-797-1842. Follow Metro on Twitter @oregonmetro.

Learn more about historic cemeteries

Take the Southwest Charter School history quest

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