Classical Childrens Books

Moccasin Trail Unit Study

Our Moccasin Trail unit study explores the cross-cultural themes and character development of Eloise Jarvis McGraw's novel. Follow the trail of Jim Keath as his two worlds collide and he needs to identify his role in his family and society

We are excited about the Moccasin Trail Unit Study which is currently under development. Adventure and reflection mark this intriguing tale from the mid-19th century.

Themes and Symbols


Major themes include:


Chapter Summaries

Chapter One

We are introduced to the main character, 19 year old Jim, who hunts Beaver in the Oregon Territory with his companion, Tom Rivers. With the disappearance of beaver in the area, the two men will need to leave the area before winter. Flashbacks in this chapter include Jim running away from home at age 11 to follow his uncle to the west, a near fatal attack with a grizzly bear that has left Jim scarred, his rescue by Crow Indians and adoption as the chief's son, and his desertion of the Crow tribe when he sees one of the hunters with a scalp that reminded him of his mother.

Chapter Two

Two Indians bring a letter to Jim that he cannot read but mentions his brother. Jim tells Tom how he left his family at the age of 11 and of his Medicine Dream at age 14. Jim now has to decide if he will go a town to find someone who can read his letter.

Chapter Three

Tom and Jim part company for the winter and probably for good since the beaver are gone. Jim goes to The Dalles to find someone to read his letter and gets into several conflicts with the white settlers there. He meets a man Rutledge willing to help him who reads the letter. He finds out his parents are dead and his brothers and sister are in The Dalles and need his help.

Chapter Four

Jim meets his brother Jonnie for the first time and is stunned by how much he has changed. He learns his siblings are impoverished and Jonnie desperately wants Jim to sign so he can claim land to farm in Oregon Territory. Jim is willing to help Jonnie claim land, but has no interest in farming. Jonnie is put off by Jim's Indian dress and language and his desertion of their family. On the one hand, Jim wants to pretend he doesn't care what Jonnie thinks, but he really does.

Chapter Five

Jim's sister, Sally, is openly hositle and suspicious. The youngest brother, Daniel, takes to Jim right away - the only one in the family to do so. Jim finds they are hungry with little food and Jonnie unable to walk due to foot sores. He burns Jonnie's boots, then applies a soothing Indian ointment. He feeds them meat from his hunt and insists, inspite of their rejection, that he will be in charge as they are unable to meet the challenges of their trail ahead.

Chapter Six

The final leg of their journey begins as they leave The Dalles for their new settlement. They split up for the dangerous and difficult trip. Jonnie and Sally join the Rutledge family on their raft carrying the possessions of both families through the treacherous rapids. Jim takes Daniel and the cattle up over the mountain through a blizzard since they would not be able to travel by raft. Sally does not trust Jim with the care of Daniel, but has no other choice. On their own dangerous journey, Jim provides for Daniel and the animals. Daniel tells Jim he wants to be like him.

Chapter Seven

Jim and Daniel struggle with starvation on their trek through the mountains. Jim fights Moki to get raw meat for them to share. Finally they are reunited with Sally and Jonnie at the Cascades whose raft made it there several days before. They had feared Daniel had died on the overland trail. Jim tells Jonnie it is his plan to stay with his family once they get their land. The final journey includes the difficult portage around the Columbia Cascades (waterfalls) and down the Willamette River. Jim takes them to a place he remembers camping at with Tom the year before. Jonnie, Sally, and Daniel are over-joyed when they see the land. Jim fears the settlers will destroy the area.

Chapter Eight

Jonnie and Sally exalt in building their cabin and clearing land for their farm. Jim is doubtful about the land-clearing and would prefer to live in a teepee. As he hunts, he notices more land is being claimed. A surprise visit from all the neighbors who traveled on the wagon train come over for a surprise visit and Jim watches them dance and laugh as Jonnie plays the banjo. Lonely, he sneaks away. He finds the neighbors eye him suspiciously, but everyone likes Jonnie.

Chapter Nine

Jim overhears Jonnie tell a neighbor he is worried that Jim can't read or write and will be embarrassed that he can't sign the official papers for the homestead. Jim stays up all night to learn how to sign his name. Jonnie is relieved he Jim can sign his name, and Jim is forced to face that fact that he cares very much what Jonnie thinks. Back at their new-owned homestead, Jim helps with the log house building, but frequently sneaks off with Daniel to show him skills he learned as an Indian. When Jonnie confronts them and tells Daniel they are not Indians, Jim's concern for Jonnie's opinion changes. He declares that the Indians are his people. Jonnie responds that his family are his people.

Chapter Ten

Jim continues to help build the cabin but thinks teepees are more practical, while Jonnie is convinced that Jim will see the value of the home once it is finished. But when Jonnie and Sallie move the family possessions and Mother's treasured clock into the newly completed cabin, memories Jim has tried to forget come back. Sally angrily confronts him that he is one of them and should quit dressing like an Indian. In anger, Jim runs away. Settlers report that a lone Indian attacked their farms and stole some horses (though the horses were found nearby.) A local Indian tribe was also attacked by a lone-Indian. The chapter infers that the attacker is Jim. Exhausted, Jim returns to the homestead but vows he will always sleep outside.

Chapter Eleven

Jim spends more time away from the homestead and living the life of a Crow Indian. He is restless, though, because there are no enemies hunting him or to be hunted. He teaches Daniel to "count coupe" by stealing things from the cabin, then giving them back. The chasm between Jim and Jonnie widens until one day when Jonnie watches Jim riding Buckskin furiously. He compliments Jim's horse, and Jim lets him ride it. Excitedly, Jim gets his rifle and leaves the homestead with a new plan.

Chapter Twelve

A group of neighbors ask Jim to help them track a thief who stole their cattle. Jim is an expert tracker and quickly realizes the thief is a Cayuse Indian disguised as a white man. They track the cattle to the Cayuse village. Mr. Rutledge stops Jim from making an all out attack on the village that could lead to further blood shed. Jim, instead, sneaks in and gets the cattle. He also steals a horse for Jonnie who doesn't have one. When the neighbors see that he has stollen a horse, their approval at his talent turns to disapproval and Jonnie's pride in his brother turns to shame.

Chapter Thirteen

In rage and embarrassment of Jonnie's rejection of his gift, Jim returns to the horse to the Cayuse village. He is chased and attacked. In the struggle, he kills an Indian and himself suffers a bullet wound and knife wound. He escapes, but then thinks of the warning of the settlers that the attack will cause trouble for their families. He is relieved to remember that he was dressed as a Crow Indian so the settlers will not be blamed by the Cayuse. He realizes Jonnie and the others were right, and he wants to return and live among the settlers rather than continue a life of raids and coups.

Chapter Fourteen

When he gets back to the cabin, Jim finds his siblings worried that he had left them for good. They apologize for rejecting his culture and accept his different way of life. They bandage his wounds and he rests. When he awakes he gets a visit from the sheriff, a respected mountain man whose reputation Jim knows. He likes Sheriff Meek, but realizes he would be a dangerous opponent if Jim continues to break the law. When Meek tells him how he left the mountain life to farm in order to survive, and then became a sheriff looking for wolves (criminals), Jim realizes that he, too, might have an exciting life among the settlers like Meek has. But first he has to prove himself and give up his wild raids. He is also pleased to hear that the neighbors would not tell on him when the sheriff asked questions. Realizing he has a chance to begin again and fit in with his family and friends, he takes his belongings out of the teepee and into their cabin.

Literary Elements

Figures of Speech



The tension between Jim's white culture and tribal culture is woven through the story. Other elements of culture include:


The following Moccasin Trail maps are partially ready to print:
  • Trip Through The Gorge
  • Timeline

  • 1837 - Grizzy Attack and began life with the Crow tribe
  • 1839 - age 14 - Jim's Medicine Dream (Grizzly and Lord's Prayer)
  • 1841 - age 16 - Jim's father died
  • 1843 - age 18 - slipped away from the Crow Indians at night
  • 1844 - age 19 - the story opens


    Our vocabulary words include less familiar words and their definitions listed in the order presented in the text. Mocassin Trail Vocabulary.

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  • Ready To Use Resources

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