Unit 7: Railroads, Cattle Drives, Cowboys, & Outlaws


Oklahoma History Online - Sample Unit 7: Railroads, Cattle Drives, Cowboys Outlaws


Topic 1: Railroads
Topic 2: Cattle Drives
Topic 3: Cowboys
Topic 4: Outlaws
Oklahoma Notebook
Bible Study
Activities-Read/Write Projects
Activities-Visual Projects
Activities-Auditory Projects
Activities-Kinesthetic Projects
Field Trips

Notes for Topic 1: Railroads

In 1819, Major Stephen Long explored the area beyond the Mississippi River calling it the “Great American Desert.” People in the east, looking for new places to settle, began moving west to California in pack trains and wagon trains. The trails they created became the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, and others. Eventually, railroads took the place of trails.

In the early 1870s, the railroads became a major factor in the economy of Oklahoma. Oklahoma products such as beef, pork, cotton, corn, wheat, and later coal, could reach the other U.S. markets, and the products from the rest of the nation could reach the Oklahoma. Transportation between Oklahoma and the rest of the U.S. also became easier, faster, and cheaper.

The first railroad in Oklahoma was the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (1870-1872), nicknamed, Katy. Other important railroads included the Santa Fe Railroad, which ran north-south through the middle of Oklahoma, the St. Louis & San Francisco, which cut through the Choctaw Nation running southwesterly, and the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, which was west of the Santa Fe and ran north-south.

From 1855-1905, Irish, German, and Chinese immigrants along with Native Americans, freed slaves, and civil war veterans, laid 260,000 miles of track in the U.S. The first locomotives burned wood for fuel. Later they were converted to coal. A single locomotive, also called an “Iron Horse” cost about $10,000 to build. As trains chugged across the prairies, large herds of buffalo often held up the trains for hours. The railroads brought gamblers, drifters, and law-abiding citizens to the frontier.

Because of Texas Fever brought by cattle to the Native Americans living near the cattle trails, Joseph G. McCoy talked the railroads into building a shipping station in Abilene, Kansas, and convinced the cattlemen to drive their cattle up through the western part of Indian Territory, thereby avoiding the Indian settlements. The cattle were then shipped by rail to Chicago. By 1872, an average of 400,000 head was driven north each year from Texas. The Indian tribes charged a toll to cross their lands.

Railroad stations were eventually built in Wichita, Dodge City and other places in Kansas. The original Chisholm Trail (named after Jesse Chisholm, a guide and trader) became famous as a cattle trail during these years.

Harvey Girls served gourmet meals to passengers on the railways during the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s. The photo below is a picture of some Harvey girls at the Vinita depot in the early 1920's. The lady on the left is Charlotte (Lottie) Hailey. Charlotte is the great, great aunt of Liz Eubanks (of Liz's Liszt) who gave me permission to use this photo..

The reconstruction treaty of 1866 granted the railroads the right to lay track across Indian Territory. By 1905, Oklahoma had 5,231 miles of track. The rails brought lumber, food, clothes, and supplies to the new settlers, resulting in profitable businesses and a big incentive for statehood.

Website Research: Railroads

Tulsa Railroad Yard, Copyright © 2007 by Cindy Downes

KATY Railroad pictures

Sante Fe Trail (includes printable map) (1-6)

Railroad History (K-12) and More Railroad History (4-12)

Railroad primary sources (maps and travel schedule for 1882) (4-12)

The Great Train Robbery Silent Movie made in 1903 by Thomas Edison. Short ad first! (all ages)

Remix of The Great Train Robbery - Which do you like better? (all ages)


Remix: The Great Train Robbery (If you cannot see this video, use LINK.)

More like these included in curriculum!

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Notes for Topic 2: Cattle Drives

After the Civil War, the North and East had a beef shortage. Large herds of cattle roamed freely in Texas. The cattle originated from Spanish stock and fed on buffalo and mesquite grass. They were half wild, hardy, well-adapted to sudden storms and long dry summers. Their long horns gave them the name of “Longhorns.” They could run almost as fast as a horse.

Before the Civil War, the cattle markets were in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama. At the end of the war, the North was paying higher prices for cattle, so the ranchers began driving them north across the Red River, then northeast through Eastern Indian Territory to Baxter Springs, Kansas, and then on to St. Louis. As the railroads expanded west, Texans kept cutting new trails through Indian Territory. The most famous of these trails was the Chisholm Trail, named for the Cherokee trader Jesse Chisholm. It ran straight north-south through central Oklahoma, just west of present day Oklahoma City.

As trails multiplied in western Oklahoma, cattlemen negotiated with the plains tribes for grazing and crossing rights. Unfortunately, the cattlemen also brought a strange disease (caused by cattle tick) to these Native Americans. A small number of Native Americans who were not happy about the amount of money they were paid or the diseases that were being brought, attacked the cattlemen and seized their cattle.

In addition to these problems, Texas cattle were soon banned in Kansas and Missouri because of the diseases they carried. Ranchers and farmers settling in the new territory, fenced their land using barbed wire, which also made the drives more difficult. And finally, by the1890s, the railroads reached both Texas and Oklahoma, making the long drives unnecessary. This was the end of the cattle drives.

Website Research: Cattle Drives

Sante Fe Trail (includes printable map) (1-6)

Take a trip on the Cherokee Trail (all ages)

Map of Texas Cattle Trails (2-12)

Jesse Chisholm (4-12)

Primary Source Document: Cowboy Culture from Texas History Educator's Resources. If this link doesn't work, click on Resources 4 Educators, click "Lessons and Resources", "Primary Source Sets, then Cowboy Culture. (4-12)

Chuck Wagon (4-12)

More like these included in curriculum!

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Notes for Topic 3: Cowboys

Read page 10-12, “The Cowboys,” “The Outlaws,” and “Rodeos” in A Look at Oklahoma. (Instructions inclueded with curriculum.)

The era of the cattle drive lasted about 20 years. Cattle drives were established to get cattle from Texas, where cattle was worth $5 to $10 a head, to markets in other parts of the country that paid five to ten times as much. Branding with a registered trademark identified the ownership of the herd. These brands were registered with the county clerks.

Herds were divided into groups of 2,000-3,500 and started on the trail at different times. A herd of 1,000 cattle would stretch out for up to two miles. Each group was led by a trail boss and ten or fifteen other men, including a “horse wrangler” and a cook. Each cowboy took his turn to watch the herd for two hours per night. The cowboys would sing songs to quiet them if they grew restless. Occasionally, lightning or noises would cause the cattle to stampede. It often took many days to gather a herd after a stampede.

The cowboys’ jobs also included breaking wild horses, branding the cattle, and protecting the herds from rustlers. Rodeos and wild west shows developed because the cowboys liked to compete with each other to see who was the best. The most famous wild west shows were Buffalo Bill Cody’s and Pawnee Bill’s. Other famous cowboy entertainers from Oklahoma were Tom Mix, Bill Pickett, May Lillie, Lucille Mulhall, and Will Rogers.

The cook was the most important member of the crew other than the trail boss. He was in charge of the chuckwagon invented by Charles Goodnight in 1866. The chuckwagon carried food, utensils, water, tools, and bedding. Food was prepared on a fold-out counter, supported by hinged legs. Cowboys collected water and wood for the cook. The usual menu was fresh beef or bison steaks, stew, “chuckwagon chicken” (bacon), “Pecos strawberries” (beans), and “sourdough bullets” (biscuits).

A rest stop was available at the Red Fork Ranch near the mouth of Turkey Creek. Cowboys would gather at the trading post and write letters, eat ginger “snaps,” and sing to a fiddle or banjo.

Illnesses were treated with a variety of home remedies. Coal oil was used to combat lice, prickly-pear poultices were used to treat wounds, bachelor button flowers were used to cure diarrhea, salt and bison tallow were used for piles, and bison-meat juice was drunk as a general tonic.

The Dodge City Trail became the principal route north after 1876. The trip from Texas to Dodge City usually took between 25 to 100 days, depending on weather, stampedes, Prairie Indian attacks, cattle thieves, and other problems. When the cattle arrived in Kansas, the owner began taking bids on the herd. Then they were shipped to California. Once in California, thee cattle was worth $100 to 200 per head.

Website Research: Cowboys

The Cattle Ranchmen in Oklahoma Territory (4-12)

Will Rogers (2-12)

Bill Pickett (4-12)

Cowboy Art (Frederick Remington, Thomas Moran, Charles M. Russell, George Catlin, and others). Visit the Gilgrease museum to see these in person.

More like these included in curriculum!

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Notes for Topic 4: Outlaws

The end of the Civil War resulted in a breakdown of law and order in Indian Territory. Outlaws, whiskey peddlers, horse-thieves, and other criminals from neighboring states robbed and murdered at will. They could hide easily and the Indian governments had no control over them. A robber would rob a bank in a neighboring state and then race back to Indian Territory to hide in cabins or rock caves.

Criminals like Jesse James, Belle Starr, William Quantrill, John Wesley Hardin, the Daltons, and Doolins were destructive. The Frontier Police and vigilante groups tried to enforce laws but were mostly unsuccessful.

In 1875, the Federal Government established a federal court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and gave Judge Isaac Parker the power to crack-down on criminals. Judge Parker believed that people were responsible for their actions. He became known as the “hanging judge” because of the numerous death sentences he passed. Famous lawmen who helped Parker tame Oklahoma were Bass Reeves, Heck Thomas, Bill Tilghman and Chris Madsen. After 1883, U.S. criminals of Indian Territory were tried in Wichita, Kansas and Paris, Texas.

Website Research: Outlaws

Oklahoma Lawmen and Outlaws (4-12)

Daltons (4-12)

More like these included in curriculum!

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1866 (Cattle Drives Begin)

1868 (General Custer Stops Plains Indian Uprising)

1871 (First Railroad Crosses Cherokee Nation)

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Oklahoma Notebook:

Moving West. Using a blank Oklahoma map (pdf included in subscription), draw in the major trails west. Mark Three Forks on the map. Place in notebook. (4-12)

Railroads in Oklahoma. Using a blank Oklahoma map (pdf included in subscription), draw in the major railroad lines of Oklahoma. Place in notebook. (4-12)

Hit the Trail - draw three cattle trails that passed through Indian Territory, using a written description of the trails. Click on the letter H. (3-12)

Get the Point - read about cattle drives and measure the width of the horns on drawings of longhorn cattle and then convert the measurements from inches to centimeters and from inches to feet. Click on the letter G. (2-12)

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Bible Study:

Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

Paper or Oral Report: Research the life of one outlaw and one cowboy in the old west. Then write a paper or answer orally: How does the life of these two people relate to Ephesians 4:28? (4-12)

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Activities - Read/Write Projects (Reading, Composition & Worksheets, Vocabulary):

Reading: Trains

The Great Railroad Race: The Diary of Libby West (Dear America) by Kristiana Gregory. 203 pgs. ISBN 059010991X. (4-12)

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. 37 pages. ISBN 0448405202. (K-4)

The Railroad (Life in the Old West) by Bobbie Kalman. 32 pgs. Children will learn about the hard-working people who built the railroads from sea to sea, and how railroads changed the face of western North America forever. ISBN 0778701085. (4-12)

More like these included in curriculum!

Reading: Cowboys, Cattle Drives & Outlaws

B is for Buckaroo: A Cowboy Alphabet by Louise Doak Whitney. 40 pgs. ISBN 1585361399. K-3rd.

Belle Starr and the Wild West by Carl Green. 48 pgs. Illustrated. The story of Belle Starr, one of the outlaws of the west. Buy used or borrow.. (4-8+)

Cowboy (American Pastfinder) by Robert Klausmeier, Richard Erickson. 48 pgs. ISBN 0822529750. A great read aloud for all ages. Covers the history of cowboys, cowboy life, music, recipes, and much more. Nice illustrations. (4-12)

The Dalton Gang by Carl Green. 48 pgs. ISBN 0894905880. (4-12)

More like these included in curriculum!

Compositions & Worksheets:

Read a few tall tales such as Paul Bunyan. Write one of your own. If your child is really in tall tales, you might like Tall Tales Literature Pockets by Evan-Moor. EMC 2732. (2-12)

Write a descriptive essay about one topic studied in this lesson. Example: A description of a cattle drive as told from the point of view of young cowboy on first drive, the sight of the first train going through Indian Territory as seen by a Native American child, or the recollections of a bank robbery as told by a child in a bank/stage coach at the time. (4-12)

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Glossary. Add the words from this unit and write out the definitions. (4-12)

Vocabulary Words: branding iron, chaps, Chisholm Trail, drovers, dugout, lariat, longhorns, rawhide, renegade, rustle, spurs, stampede, tenderfoot, vigilante, wrangler

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Activities - Visual Learner Projects (Art, Crafts, Charts & Graphs, Videos):

Videos (Check your library or video rental store):

The Cattle Drives (Sigma Educational Media, 405-332-8862)

Oklahoma! by Rogers & Hammerstein.

The Railway Children starring Jenny Agutter, Richard Attenborough. NR.

How the West was Won starring Gregory Peck. NR.

More like these included in curriculum!


Train Robbery Coloring Page, pdf document included with curriculum, (K-4)

Learn to draw a train with Jan Brett (online video instruction). (4-12)

Cattle Trail Coloring Page, pdf document included with curriculum (K-4)

The Farmer and the Cowman - learn the difference between a farm and a ranch by making booklets. (K-2)

Pretend you run a Wild West Show. Create a poster to advertise your show.(2-8)

What’s Your Brand? - learn the history and purpose of branding cattle. Click on the letter W. (K-6)

Create your own wanted poster with your picture on it! Desktop publishing project. (1-8)

Armadillo craft project (K-6)

Using any art medium, create a picture or sculpture of a scence from a cattle drive or a train robbery. (4-12)

More like these included in curriculum!

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Activities - Auditory Learner Projects (Music, Poetry, Oral Reports):

Listen to The First Railroads from Oklahoma Audio Almanack (2nd half). (4-12)

Listen to the song, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” (all ages)

Read the lyrics to the song, Pretty Boy Floyd by Woodie Guthrie. What do you think he was trying to say about the outlaw? Do you agree? (4-12)

Read some tall tales such as Paul Bunyan. Tell a tall tale of your own to your family. (2-12)

Words to song, The Old Chisholm Trail. Video of "The Old Chishom Trail." (all ages)

If you can't see this video, use this Link

Write your own poem or song about railroads, cowboys, outlaws, or some other topic from this unit. Sing it for your family, if desired. (2-12)

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Activities - Kinesthetic Learner Projects (Drama, Games, Recipes, Lab Work):

Pretend you are in a Wild West Show. Pick a talent and “perform” it for your family. (all ages)

Pan for gold. Hide small rocks in sand. Punch holes in aluminum pie pan and "sift" out the gold OR you could use sugar for and and M&M's for gold - edible! (PreK-4)

Stick Horse Rodeo - make stick horses and use in simulated rodeo activities. Click on the letter S. (K-4)

Food for Keeps - explore food preservation methods and make beef jerky. Click on the letter F. (K-4)

Recipes (all ages):

Cowboy Chili:
Brown 1 lb. ground beef, 1 onion (chopped), 1 clove garlic (minced) in a skillet. Add 1 cup water, 1 can dark red kidney beans, 1 can tomato soup, and 1 can chopped tomatoes. Add salt, cayenne pepper and chili powder to taste. Simmer on low for 1 to 2 hours.

Melt 1 pkg. butterscotch morsels in plastic container in microwave. Stir in 1 can crispy chow mien noodles. Spoon mixture in 2” mounds onto wax paper. Cool.

Build a paper train Type "train" in search. (4-12)

Have a cowboy party (links to Pinterest)

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Field Trips:

Black Mesa Preserve, near Kenton (OK parks)

Chisholm Trail Heritage Center, Duncan

J. M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum, Claremore

National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City and photos.

Railroad Museum of Oklahoma, Enid (phone: 580.233.3051)

Robber's Cave State Park, Wilburton

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Review of Unit:

Just for Fun: Wild West Quiz.

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Email: cindy@oklahomahomeschool.com

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