Lesson Three: The Open Range and New Land Openings
- What crops grew well in eastern South Dakota?
- Why was ranching best suited to western South Dakota?
- How did railroads help the Black Hills develop?
- Why did the government hold land lotteries?
Imbedded Information in the Student Lesson:; Lead
Homesteading and Town Building Word Match
While cowboys idled away the long winter months, between building fences and cutting firewood, they played a game that sharpened their reading and memory skills. They would recite from memory the words on the labels of the canned goods that were used in the ranch house. Canned foods were popular in the West. The cowboys called them "airtights." Try this game with canned foods. Have each student bring a can of food from home. Set a timer for three minutes. Have the players study the writing on their cans, trying to memorize every word—even punctuation! (You may want to make the game easier by having them memorize just the front of the can.) When time is up, each player gives his or her can to someone else and tries to recite as much writing on the can as she or he can remember. To make the game a bit different, save front labels from several different cans and glue them to index cards. Pass the cards out, one to a player, set the timer for three minutes, and then challenge everyone to recite what was on the label they were given. Mix the cards up and play another round, with everyone getting a different card.
Cowboys needed to be able to keep an accurate count of the number of cattle in their care. It was especially important at branding time, when cattle were being loaded onto railroad cars for shipment to market, or after a stampede on the trail. If the cattle were calm and standing around, the tally man kept a record with paper and pencil. When the cattle were passing by or running up loading ramps, the counter filled his pocket with small stones. As the cattle went past, he would take a stone from the full pocket and put it in the empty pocket after each tenth cow. Or, he might cut notches on a stick or tie knots in a string. Students can try counting a tally of cars passing by or people walking past. They can use pebbles, cut notches in a stick or strip of paper, or tie knots in a tally string (a piece of yarn or string).
Invite a rancher or other knowledgeable person in to discuss brands: how they are created; how you read them; how they are put on, etc. Then have the students create their own brands and read them for the class—or have the class try to read them as a group.
Students can explore the history and development of cattle and sheep ranching in South Dakota with Cowboys & Ranch Life, a suitcase education kit from the South Dakota State Historical Society. The kit’s hands-on objects let students learn about some of the everyday work cowboys do. Objects in this kit include a branding iron, cowhide, cowboy boots, spurs, a sheep fleece, and hand carders. Nine photographs are also included. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 605-773-6011.