I was recently introduced to Marshall Publishing through the TOS Schoolhouse Review Crew. From their website:
"Our goal is to provide lots and lots of media fun for everyone through award-winning DVDs, Books, CDs, CD-roms, and broadcast and Internet programming that will amaze, amuse, entertain, and educate."
The Review Crew had the opportunity to review four of Marshall Publishing's dvds which included The History of The Oregon Trail and The Pony Express, The Historic Expedition of Lewis and Clark, The History of America in the 1880's, and Lots and Lots of Playful Penguins dvd set. You can read the reviews of these products on the Schoolhouse Review blog.
As a member of the Review Crew, I received The History of The Oregon Trail and The Pony Express dvd. A couple of days after receiving it, we were settling down for our "rest time" after lunch. Usually my littlest ones lay down for a nap and my bigger ones gather around the living room for a read aloud time. But on this day, we opted to view our new history dvd instead.
From Marshall's website:
Breathtaking photography, live re-enactments, illustrated maps and rare photographs make these award-winning historical adventures come to life and ones that will entertain and educate all age groups for many years to come.
THE OREGON TRAIL -
The reasons for going...the hauntingly beautiful landscape...the rivers they followed and crossed...the joys and hardships...and the elation and the dissension as described in immigrants diaries...all come to life in this detailed account of Americas longest and most famous trail.
Approx. 35 Minutes
THE PONY EXPRESS -
Glossed over by all of the adventure and romance attached to it, most people dont realize the Pony Express lasted only 19 months. It was a grand gamble that eventually led to the bankruptcy of the three men who started it. Yet, during its brief life span it caught the attention of Americans, made a legend of the riders and provided a vital link between California and the Northern states at the onset of the Civil War.
Approx. 16 Minutes
The website also offers a short study guide with discussion questions for the video.
As we watched the video, we did enjoy seeing the actual footage of the landscape of the Oregon Trail described by the narrator as "a 2000 mile stretch of dirt and rock and mud". However, there was much beauty along the trail and we were shown many wildflowers, waterfalls, and wildlife that would have been spotted by the Oregon Trail travelers.
Some of the tidbits I personally enjoyed learning about the Oregon Trail were:
"Of the 300,000 who traveled, 90% made it to then end of the trail"
"The meat of the buffalo was the daily bread of the trail"
Some of the narration is spoken as a reenactment as if it is read straight from the journals of the Oregon Trail travelers.
Many monuments were shown including stone etchings and even a stretch of land where deep ruts in the rock ground still can be seen from the constant stream of wagon wheels during that time.
I learned that The Pony Express was born out of the citizens of California's demand for a regular mail service following the growth there after the California Gold Rush. Unfortunately, the entrepreneurs who invested in the Pony Express didn't fare well as the venture only lasted 19 months without government backing despite all its fanfare.
It was neat seeing film footage of actual newspaper ads that read the following:
From Leavenworth to Sacramento
in Ten Days!
Clear the track and let the Pony come through!
YOUNG, SKINNY, WIRY FELLOWS
not over eighteen. Must be expert riders,
willing to risk death daily.
Wages $25 per week.
The Pony Riders were hailed for their bravery and considered "National Heroes".
However, there were a few aspects of the video that we didn't love. The Marshall Publishing website says, "Over the past 30 years our management team has produced and represented over 35 television and home video programs that have been broadcast on both network and PBS television stations in the U.S". And I'm not being sarcastic when I say my guess is that the film footage from The History of the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express was filmed over 30 years ago.
The quality of the video was very "scratchy" and reminded me of watching a movie on an old film projector with dust and lines constantly popping up on the screen. The music and narration and footage all had a very distinct 1970s (maybe early 80s) feel. The only reenactment was done be narrators and instead of seeing people we would view still shots of statues while the narrators were conversing back and forth. Perhaps all of this is not at all unappealing to you, but for us it just seemed that this video was lacking in the "entertainment" department. By about 5 minutes into the video, each of my children ages 5-11 had asked if they could read quietly instead of watching the video. I told them they could read while the video was on, thinking that the video would eventually catch their attention. They only glanced up from their reading when I would point out something I thought was interesting.
The other thing that bothered me about this video is probably a bit more controversial. About three minutes of the 31 minute video portion about the Oregon Trail was devoted to information about Mormon church history. At first, I was taken aback by the inclusion of this information and how it related to the Oregon Trail. I'm aware that the Mormon church is very evangelistic and initially thought, "This must be a Mormon film production company" which bothered me slightly as we don't agree with Mormon theology. But as I watched it again with my husband, I'm really just not sure. They tied in the information about the history of the Mormon church with the fact that apparently after Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon church) was murdered that many of the Latter Day Saints traveled a portion of the Oregon Trail to Salt Lake City. However one of the quotes from the narrator was, "Smith was jailed on a charge of treason and murdered by an armed mob. Two restless years elapsed before the Lion of the Lord, Brigham Young led a portion of the Saints on a wintry exodus across the frozen Mississippi...the Saints fled violence and followed prophecy to a new homeland in the valley of the Rocky Mountains." I'm not opposed to my children being taught about other religions in the light of what I believe to be the Truth - the authority of God's Word, The Holy Bible. But that quote just felt a tad bit like Mormon propaganda to me. Other than those three minutes, there was no other mention of the Morman church in either portions of the video.
The History of the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express is on sale right now for $19.99. You'll find many other educational videos on their website as well!