Cowboys of the American West for Kids and Teachers Illustration

Cowboys of the Old West for Kids and Teachers

For Kids

The birth of the cattle industry began at the end of the Civil War. Tens of thousands of people were left homeless. Where to go? What to do? The last open land was the vast grassland of the midwest. Pioneers on their way to a new home on the frontier had been traveling by wagon train all the way to the far west. These settlers were mostly farmers. They did not think the plains and prairies would make good farming land. It was too dry and there were no trees, just grass. But it was perfect land for raising cattle.  A new era was born - the era of the cowboy. Someone had to manage the herds. That was the cowboy. The tools of a cowboy's trade were a rope, a horse, and a gun. The pay was poor, the dangers great, yet many thousands of men wanted to become cowboys. From about 1866 to 1886, there was little to no fencing in the midwest. It was open range.

Two acts worked together to encourage farmers to settle in the midwest - the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Railroad Act of 1862. The invention of barbwire allowed fencing to change the face of the open range. The era of the cowboy in the Old West inspired many legends and folktales. There are still cowboys today, on horseback, caring for cattle and keeping the cowboy traditions alive. 

The American Cowboy (video)

Texas Ranch House games

The Open Range

Cowboys today - keeping the cowboy tradition alive (video)

The Drift, an American Cattle Drive today - an old fashioned cattle drive, still done on horseback (50 minutes, PBS)

Miners, Ranchers, Railroads - What would make you give up a cowboy's life?

Cowboys (short video)

Cowboys in the Old West - who was a wranger, what was a dogie, how were they paid, what did they eat and wear?

Free Interactive Cowboy Games, Brands, Ranch Games (some educational, some not, wartgames)

For Teachers

Cattle Drives, Music & Tall Tales, Food - 3 lesson plans

Learning About Cowboys Using Primary Source Materials

Cowboy Lesson Plan Packet

A Cowboy’s Gear

Home on the Range: The Life of a Cowboy

The Devil’s Rope

Cattle Drive, Music & Tall Tales, Food - 3 lesson plans

Build a Brand lesson plan (K-4) and Virtual Brand Generator


Cowboys - Free Presentations in PowerPoint format