Maintenance Outages: our website is experiencing some issues with pages loading as we undergo maintenance, please check back soon

Snowshoes in Pioneer Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Snowshoes in Pioneer Wisconsin

Snowshoes in Pioneer Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeA couple sitting outdoors in the snow holding snowshoes.

Sigurd Olson and Elizabeth Olson

Sigurd F. Olson was an American author, environmentalist, and advocate for the protection of wilderness. Sigurd and Elizabeth Olson are sitting outdoors in the snow holding snowshoes. View the original source document: WHI 63197

Grade level: Elementary

Duration: More than one class period

In a one or two-day lesson, students receive a brief history of snowshoes and their development, discuss various types of snowshoes and their construction, learn about people using snowshoes throughout Wisconsin history, and experience a hands-on, or in this case "feet-on," snowshoe excursion.


Students will:

  • Gain awareness of American-Indian contributions to Wisconsin history
  • Understand the impact of weather on travel and communication


An emphasis on the American Indian creation of snowshoes is important in Siren School, which includes the St. Croix Reservation, to help honor and value American Indian lifestyle, society, contributions, and influence. Availability of snowshoes is necessary and multiple pairs are required if students will be allowed to try them.


  1. Show students a pair of snowshoes available for the lesson. Better examples will have ash or wood frames, although earlier models or those built in haste were made of bent willow.
  2. Pass around the model snowshoes and tell students that North American Indians developed snowshoes at least one thousand years ago. They likely observed certain animals, such as a Snowshoe Hare or Lynx, who had developed large, furry feet for that purpose.
  3. Discuss the design and shape of the snowshoes, letting students know that these elements varied according to geographical differences in the respective tribal regions. Different regions had different types of terrain to be crossed, various kinds of vegetation, and different types of snow.
  4. If possible, match the different types of snowshoes while discussing these different geographic regions. For example, for open terrain, American Indians designed long, narrow, snowshoes; where roots or brush were not a problem, they designed snowshoes with upraised tips; all snowshoes are designed to walk on top of, rather than through, deep snow.
  5. Share with students that each tribe developed a distinct style or design. One example would be the Cree design, also known as traditional, where both ends are pointed.
  6. Ask students if they know about manufactured snowshoes, and those produced today. Manufactured snowshoes have traditionally been made out of bent ash wood for the frame, oak braces, and leather laces. Today's snowshoes usually are made of aluminum and neoprene lacing.
  7. Give two examples of snowshoe use in a historical context: Robert LaSalle is given credit for bringing the first sailing ship to Wisconsin waters. During the construction of the ship, The Griffin, La Salle used snowshoes to travel near Niagara Falls, Closer to home, Asaph Whittlesey was elected to the state legislature in 1860 and he snowshoed from Ashland to Chippewa Falls on his journey to Madison.
  8. If you have enough snowshoes available, students can use an open area of the playground as a snowshoes area. Most students can manage for twenty to thirty minutes, with various levels of success.


Bleeker, Sonia. The Chippewa Indians. William Morrow and Company, New York, 1955.

Kohl, Johann Georg. Kitchigami: Life among the Lake Superior Ojibway. Minnesota Historical Society Press, Minneapolis, 1985.

Thomas, David. Ed. Native Americans. Time Life Books, Alexandria, VA, 1995.


This teacher-submitted, elementary-level lesson plan appeared in Badger History Bulletin. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs. Author: Rick Abrahamzon, Siren Media Center, Siren.