This activity is designed to familiarize students with the cowboy culture of the Old West and its presence in our modern times.
- B Is for Big Sky Country: A Montana Alphabet, by Sneed B. Collard III, 2003
- Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story, by Julius Lester; ISBN 0-8037-1787-3
- C Is for Cowboy: A Wyoming Alphabet, by Eugene Gagliano 2003
Cowboys, by Lucille Recht Penner; ISBN 0-448-40947-X
- Cowboys and Cowgirls: YippeYay! by Gail Gibbons, 2003
- Cowboy Up, by Larry Dane Brimner; ISBN 0-329-26522-9
- Fact or Fiction: Cowboys, by Stewart Ross; ISBN 1-56294-636-6
- Grumpy Bunny Goes West, by Justine Korman; ISBN 0-8167-4298-7
- How I Spent My Summer Vacation, by Mark Teague; ISBN 0-517-59998-8
- I Want to Be a Cowboy, by Dan Liebman; 1999
- Jack Creek Cowboy, by Neil Johnson; ISBN 0-8037-1228-6
- Just Like My Dad, by Tricia Gardella; ISBN 0-06-443463-X
- Matthew the Cowboy, by Ruth Hooker; ISBN 0-8075-4999-1
- Why Cowboys Need a Brand, by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton; 1996
- Why Cowboy Sleep With Their Boots On, by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton; 1995
Background for Teachers
Students should have an understanding of what culture means and
what it represents. Culture is a way of living. It can be your beliefs, a
form of art or dance and/or certain traditions or customs of a group of
people. Each culture has certain traditions and cultural activities that
we may learn and participate in as we live in that culture.
This activity focuses on the cowboy culture of the Old West and
its presence in our modern times. In any community in the state of
Utah you will find the influence of cowboys. The following activities
are designed to familiarize the students with this culture that is unique
to the American West where they live. A cowboy is defined simply as
a person who works on a ranch and rides on a horse while he herds
cattle. However, on the modern day ranch, the job has evolved into
more duties such as branding, fencing, hay production, and machine
and animal maintenance.
The American cowboy was actually created as a result of the Civil
War. Beef was sold to the soldiers and they grew to like it. It also
became more popular with the city folk in towns further east. During
the war the plains cattle went unattended and grew into a free roaming
herd five million strong. An animal that was worth a few dollars in
Texas was worth up to fifty in the north. Thus, herding the cattle to
rail stations created the cattle drive and also the need for the cowboy.
To be a cowboy or cowgirl a person needs a few basic items to
accomplish the job. In order to be a cowboy you need to have the
- Horse: back in the day of the long cattle drives most cowboys
did not own their horse. Horses were an expensive item and
cowboys rarely rode the same horse all day. A cowboy often changed his mount up to six times a day. Then and now
quarter horses are preferred because they are small and sure-
footed and can move at great speed over a short distance. They
are a good cutting horse when it comes to separating unbranded
calves from their mothers.
- Saddle: the saddle is made from wood, metal and leather. It
weighs around 40 lbs. It keeps the riders weight rested on the
horses shoulders and not on its back. Back in the day a good
saddle could cost up to a years wages but lasted all the cowboys
- Boots: boots can be made of plain leather or intricately tooled
leather. Boots have high sides that protect from brush, thorns
and rattle snakes. Also, they have high heels that keep the
spurs off the ground and help the cowboy to keep his feet in the
stirrups. At the top of the boot are mule ears. Cowboys use
them to pull their boots on.
- Spurs: spurs are worn over the heel of the boots. They are used
to goad a horses flank to urge the horse on. They are used
carefully and spur marks are a sign of poor horsemanship.
- Neckerchief or Bandana: there are many uses for this item. The
most common ones are: to protect the neck from sunburn,
a face mask for cold or dust, a bandage, a filter, and a
- Cowboy Hat: most cowboy hats are made from felt. They have
wide brims to protect from sun and rain. They can also serve as
a fan or pail.
- Chaps: chaps are leather leggings that are worn over the
cowboys pants for warmth and protection from brush, thorns
and cactus spines. In the coldest weather hair pants can be
worn. Hair pants are hide chaps with the animals hair or
wool left on.
- Lasso or Lariat: cowboys use lassos or the full lariat, which is
about 60 feet long, to rope cattle, especially the young calves.
- Branding Iron: a brand is an owners mark. It is burned into an
animals hide with a hot iron. Each brand is different and is the
registered symbol of each cattle owner.
From the mid-1800s to the present day, the romantic journey
of the cowboy has evolved. The cowboy continues to influence our
movies, music, dance, dress and even toys.
Intended Learning Outcomes
2. Develop social skills and ethical responsibility.
5. Understand and use basic concepts and skills.
6. Communicate clearly in oral, artistic, written, and nonverbal form.
Invitation to Learn
Come to class dressed as a cowboy. Read How I Spent My Summer
Vacation. Have a cowboy volunteer come to class and discuss
cowboy items and lifestyle.
- Put the Cowboy Questions and Icon Cards in your hat. Check
prior knowledge by having students take one out and tell
what they know about that question or icon. The student
may tell the teacher or a partner.
- Read Cowboys.
- Tell the students the information from the Detailed Cowboy
- Put the Cowboy Question and Icon Cards back into your hat.
Have the students take one out and tell what they now know
about that question or icon. Ask the student to give a more
detailed answer to the question or to tell the class anything
new they have learned about that icon.
- Show the students the visual cues for My Homes in Montana.
Teach the song using the cue cards. Students can hold the card
and hold it up when it is their turn, or the cue cards could be
posted up on a board and some removed as the students become
more familiar with the song.
- You could teach the class the song, Home on the Range or you
could have other teachers or parents sing it while the class
sings, My Homes in Montana. I have had parents practice
Home on the Range right on the spot at programs and then
they partner sang the song while the class sang, My Homes in
- Have a corral of Lincoln Logs and a bag of plastic horses, have
the students put a plastic horse into the corral if they have ever
ridden a horse. Have a couple of ranch hands make tally marks
to see how many students have ridden a horse.
- Follow the same procedure as above but change the question to
how many students would like to ride a horse.
- Teach the students how to draw a simple horse step by step.
- Take a field trip to a ranch and have ranch hands talk to the
- Solve math problems with plastic cows and horses.
- Invite parents to come and listen to your song.
- Take the music home and teach it to your family.
- Ask parents and grandparents about their experiences with
horses and cattle.
- Ask parents to teach the students or the class any other cowboy
songs that they know.
- Have the students teach their families how to draw a horse.
- Observe that the whole class is participating in the choosing
of cowboy item icons. Make sure that they are answering the
questions to you (the teacher) or to their partners.
- Have students call out the name of the cowboy items when you
hold them up.
- Have students work in small groups and give each group a set
of the Cowboy Question and Icon Cards. Have the students rank
the cards in order of items that are most needed by cowboys to
the items that are least needed.
Rimaly, B.K.; (1999) Increasing the Literacy Growth of Kindergarten Students thorough
Developmentally Appropriate Emergent Literacy (ERIC-Education Resource Information Center) ED 436761
Using integrated thematic units that incorporate emergent literacy
instructional strategies such as read-alouds, story retelling using props,
shared reading, acquisition of vocabulary, music, art and writing
activities enhances learning.
Suther, L., & Larkin, V. (1996) Early Childhood Arts Games (ERIC Education Resource Information Center) ED403-056
The arts are central to quality early childhood programs. Using
games, music, dance and movement help develop physical skills such
as coordination, jumping, and ball handling. Cognitive skills such as
language development, problem solving and social skills (cooperation,
sharing and group negotiation) are enhanced through the arts.