Western Expansion for Kids - The Wild West Illustration

Western Expansion for Kids - The Wild West

For Kids: The penny press refers to a time, during the 1800s, when newspapers cost one penny. Around 1830, the penny press began to carry news articles about the Wild West, stories of swashbuckling outlaws. No doubt about it - there were criminals operating in the American West. But many stories reported as news about these outlaws were in fact made up. They were invented.

In the early days of newspapers, many false news stories about many things were published. One of the most famous examples of false news was the "Great Moon Hoax" of 1835. The Sun newspaper published a series of articles claiming an astronomer had discovered trees and rivers on the moon. Soon, it was reported that blue goats and a weird race of men - half man, half bat - lived on the moon (no doubt on the banks of the rivers or hanging like bats from trees.) This went on for some time before it was finally exposed as a hoax. Even when faced with facts, even when the hoax was uncovered, many people still believed in moon goats and half-bat-men.

News articles published back East about bank robbers and gunfighters in the Wild West were especially popular and helped to sell a great many newspapers. Many of these articles were false news.

As more and more people arrived in the Western frontier, thousands of men enforced the law as constables, sheriffs, policemen, marshals, and detectives. Most law enforcement officers were brave men who did their job. They arrested outlaws. They collected taxes, broke up local fist fights, and issued licenses. They kept the peace. They kept law and order.

There were a few law enforcement officers who worked both sides of the law, and there were some notorious outlaws in the Old West. But they were not swashbuckling heroes. They were thugs. Don't believe everything you see in the movies or watch on TV or read on the internet about the Wild West. If they portray the Western frontier as suffering from constant gun battles, with town folk hiding behind wooden posts, waiting to see who was the fastest draw, be suspicious, be very suspicious, because, in fact, most people in the West rarely if ever resorted to gunplay. Still, there were criminals. If you want to learn more about them, see the links below. 

Notorious Outlaws of the Old West - What a job! Check out the A-Z list, the gangs, the legends, the real stories

Shoot Out with Wild Bill Hickok (Eyewitness to History)

Texas Rangers Bring Law and Order

Get out of Dodge - Fake news

For Teachers

Debunking the Myth of the American West, free lesson plans with classroom activities

Free Lesson Plan: The Penny Press

Newspapers and the Press, background