At RLS Middle School, the sprawling story of America’s westward expansion burst out of the history books and onto the stage.

Eighth-graders held their seventh annual “Manifest Destiny Experience” on Friday, with skits, multimedia presentations and even samples of “Gold Rush chili” and other historically accurate treats.

The 15 groups each examined an aspect of 19th-century U.S. history, including the Donner Party, Texas Independence and the experiences of various racial, religious and intellectual groups (the Cherokee, Californios, Mormons and transcendentalists).

The Gold Rush skit told the story of a miner who comes to California looking to strike it rich. He trades his coat for a pick and pan, gets cheated when he tries to buy a claim, and ultimately resorts to violence to make things right.

The skit portrays the racial tensions between whites and Mexicans in the wake of the Mexican War, the limited prospects for women, and the lawlessness that pervaded California before it became a state in 1850.

In addition to the skits, presentations on each topic featured paintings, photos, maps, literary samples, and QR codes directing viewers to a website where they could hear a recording of a song from the period.

As a member of the group that studied the Oregon Trail, Alyssa Madrigal played an Indian who clashed with the white settlers who were taking the Indians’ food and resources. One fact she learned was that whites who were kidnapped by Indians often adopted their new culture and, if returned to their families, had a hard time readjusting to their original way of life.

“I liked working together, making our own script and being able to create a story,” she said. “I liked working as a group.”

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.