Teaching Materials
Ask a Master Teacher
Lesson Plan Gateway
Lesson Plan Reviews
State Standards
Teaching Guides
Digital Classroom
Ask a Digital Historian
Tech for Teachers
Beyond the Chalkboard
History Content
Ask a Historian
Beyond the Textbook
History Content Gateway
History in Multimedia
Museums and Historic Sites
National Resources
Website Reviews
Issues and Research
Report on the State of History Education
Research Briefs
Best Practices
Examples of Historical Thinking
Teaching in Action
Teaching with Textbooks
Using Primary Sources
TAH Projects
Lessons Learned
Project Directors Conference
Project Spotlight
TAH Projects
Technical Working Group
Research Advisors
Teacher Representatives
Quiz Rules
Teaching History.org logo and contact info

Tall Tales: The West as Legend

Negative, Madsen, Ralph E. The Tall Cowboy. . . , Harris and Ewing, 1919, LoC

I am working to develop an activity around myths or controversial information about people, places, and events of the American Western Frontier (about 1850–1900). I'm looking for suggestions on people, places, or events. . . This is a high school level course.


One could spend an entire lifetime studying the mythic and historical American West, but with your unit coming up, maybe it’s best to get you right into some resources that you can implement in the classroom.

First, check out Exploring the West, a project of the Bill Lane Center for the Study of the North American West. They have three units available on their website, one of which is on the role of cowboys in the historical myth of the West.

Another good resource is PBS’s New Perspectives on the West. The website has a number of good lesson plans and resources, including Making Myths: The West in Public and Private Writings. If you have time, it might be worth browsing around on the New Perspectives website—it’s full of rich material.

Debunking the Myth of the West is a useful unit plan for your purposes. A project of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, the plan includes three lessons and a guide to resources. And the Library of Congress’s American Memory page also has these great resources on the West, some of which explore the creation of a mythic Western past.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute on American History explores many facets of the American West. One page directly addresses your question on myth by examining the iconic Buffalo Bill. It also contains a teaching module that has complete lesson plans with primary and secondary sources listed.

Finally, if you have time to do some reading, the University of Virginia has Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land: the American West as Symbol and Myth posted as a hypertext online. It also hosts a companion page on the life of Buffalo Bill Cody, exploring the myth of the West through Buffalo Bill.

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <b> <i>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

Enter the characters shown in the image.