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Cowboys of the Old West Unit Study
Cowboys of the Old West unit study
Cowboys of the Old West combines Geography, History, Art, English, Math and more in a fun unit study that teaches about the Old West and the cowboys that lived there!
This is a preview of the unit study which can be downloaded as a supplement to a lesson plan, or even just for a fun learning experience!
The first cowboys were Spanish. Before the Spanish arrived there were no horses or cattle in North America. The Spanish brought with them hundreds of horse and cattle. Ranchers (rancheros in Spanish) owned large tracts of land and needed skilled animal handlers to move the animals from pasture to pasture. They hired vaqueros (cowboys) for the job.
American cowboys learned their skills and much of their words from the vaqueros - download the entire unit study for a little Spanish lesson!
The Cowboy's gear - Colour the Cowboy
The Cowboy's clothes were chosen for their wear and tear. Many times the same clothes were worn for months.
Find a full description of what the cowboy wore, carried and put on his horse in the downloadable unit study.
Did You Know?
To get lice out of his clothes the cowboy would lay them over an ant hill - the ants would carry the lice away!
The Cowboy's Job
A cowboy was the person hired by a rancher to take care of the animals. Cowboys were also the ones given the job of moving cattle from Texas to the west in the long drive.
download the entire unit study for a geography lesson about the Great Plains!
Did You Know?
Unlike cowboy movies, 1 in 7 old west cowboys were African-American.
Cowboys preferred to ride wild mustangs. These horses were smaller than most horses and could make sharp turns and stay with an animal about to be roped.
Find out about the history of the horse in North America when you download the full unit study!
The first step in the cattle drive was branding. Each ranch had a specific brand that they burned onto their animals to show ownership. During the era of the cattle drive there was at least 100 different brands.
Download the entire unit study to learn more about brands, and design your own!
Did You Know?
In the mid 1850s a rancher named Maverick built up a huge herd of cattle that he had not branded and often, when someone would see one of the unbranded cattle they would say "there goes a maverick" -soon the name was a reference to wild cattle.
The Long Drive
From 1866 to 1885 cowboys and longhorns made the trip to Kansas, this was called the Long Drive. The most popular trail was the Chisholm Trail which started in San Antonio Texas. The outfit was everything needed to get the cattle to Kansas. Typically, it included 18 men and 100 mustangs.
Read more about the outfit, the formation of the cowboys during the cattle drive and enjoy some Math and Geography when you download the entire unit study.
Perils of the Long Drive
The trip to Kansas meant that the outfit had to cross six major rivers. Since the Long Drive took place in the spring when the rivers were at flood stage, crossings could be very dangerous.
The best place to cross the river was at the narrowest part - discover how cowboys would measure across the river when you download the whole unit study.
Did You Know?
The Red River flooding in 1871 caused the death of 6000 longhorns, 10 cowboys and 60 mustangs!
Perils of the long drive
A cowboy had to deal with many perils on the Great Plains, snakes, tarantulas, scorpions, rustlers, bad weather and worst of all, the stampede! Not only did the cowboy have to keep an eye for rustlers, Natives, buffalo and wolves while on the trail but he also had to be very careful where he put his bedroll at night!
Read more about the stampede in the full unit study.
Windies - Stories around the Campfire
After dinner, the cowboys would sit around the campfire and tell stories, some were exaggerated tales known as windies.
Here are some cowboy stories to read aloud
Western Towns - The end of the line
At the end of the long drive was the Western Town. Once the longhorns were loaded onto the train the cowboys would head for town for a bath, some drinks and some gambling!
Some boomtowns continued to prosper and were to base for modern day cities. Many towns though disappeared. People abandoned the towns when all the gold was mined, or all the trees were cut down, or when the ground became too poor to farm.
Remnants of these towns are called ghost towns.
Outlaws, Lawmen and other Western legends
Read about some outlaws of the old west like Jesse James, some lawmen like Wyatt Earp and some other legends like Wild Bill Hickok!
download the entire unit study to find out about these legends.
Did You Know?
Wyatt Earp was just one of four Earp brothers that participated in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
The Pony Express
Eighty riders and 400 ponies were given the job of carrying mail between St. Joseph Missouri and Sacramento California. (2000 miles).
Download the entire unit study to learn more about the pony express and to have some fun with math and letter writing!
Wild West Shows
William F Cody, a former army scout and hunter began a traveling wild west show under the name Buffalo Bill. The show ran from 1883 to 1916, and portrayed the West as a place of glory and adventure. It's embellished interpretations of the West were accepted as genuine and authentic and led to the 'Hollywood' view of the old west.
Download the entire unit study to find out about other Wild West performers like Annie Oakley, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane!
Try it Yourself!
Download the full unit study to supplement your lessons or as a lesson itself.
For the complete unit study go to