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Cattle drives were a key feature of the American West in the mid-to-late 19th century. The growing cities were a market for meat and cowboys drove vast herds of cattle to Chicago where the railroad then shipped them on. The life of the cowboy was extremely hard and not as glamorous as is usually portrayed in the movies. The pre-eminence of the cowboy was short lived as his lifestyle was eroded by progress, chiefly in the form of settlers moving westward and enclosing the Great Plains for farming. The last hurrah of the cowboys was in the development of large ranches in Montana but even here, civilisation began to move in on an outdated way of life.
This clip is from:
First broadcast:
29 January 2004

Classroom Ideas

Challenge students to create a video, radio or poster advertisement for a cattle boss or rancher who wants to recruit cowboys. What aspects of the life would be highlighted and what might be missed out? Who would they target their adverts at?
The class could create a virtual museum exhibition about cowboys, using artefacts, text and narration to explain how the Hollywood portrayal of the cowboy does not tell the whole story.