Texas Ranch House -- For Teachers
Meet the Adventurers
Visit the Cooke Ranch
Interactive History
Adventurers Take Stock
1867: Places, People & Events
About the Project
For Teachers
Lesson Plan 1
Lesson Plan 2
Lesson Plan 3
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Procedures for Teachers
Introductory Activity:

1) Tell your students to imagine that they will be going on a long car trip with friends or family. Ask your students what they like to take along on long road trips to keep themselves occupied and interested. (Student answers will vary.) If students do not mention it, ask them if they like to take food along on long trips. What kind of food do they most like to take on long trips? (Accept all answers; write student answers on the chalkboard or whiteboard.)

2) Review the list of favorite foods with your students. Ask your students if they think the foods they have listed would have been available approximately 150 years ago. (Student answers will vary.) Tell your students that while many of the foods we eat today would not have been available, people have been eating certain foods for a lot longer than they might suspect.

3) Explain to students that they are going to be studying the history of food, and in particular, how Americans cooked and ate on a very particular kind of "road trip." Point out the four columns you have created on the chalkboard or whiteboard to your students. Again, the columns should read: 17th Century or Before (1601-1700 or earlier), 18th Century (1701-1800), 19th Century (1801-1900), and 20th century (1901-2000).

4) Tell your students that they will each be receiving an index card with a food listed on it. Once everyone has received their card, tell your students that they will be asked to come up to the board and tape their index card to the board in the appropriate column. Tell students that you are looking for their "best guess" of when they think that particular food was introduced or invented.

5) Distribute the "Food, Glorious Food" organizer to your students. Distribute the food item cards to your students. Ask your students to write down their food item in Part 1 of the organizer, and to make their best guess during which century that item first appeared. Then, ask students to come up to the board and tape their food item card to the appropriate area. After they tape their item to the board, they should return to their seats.

6) Once students have finished putting their cards on the board, discuss what items students have placed in each century column. What led to their decisions? What information assisted with their placement? Do not provide your students with any additional information at this point.

7) Tell your students that they will now be discovering when their particular food item was invented or introduced. Ask your students to log on to the Food Timeline web site at http://www.foodtimeline.org. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask your students to use the timeline on the site to pinpoint when their food item was introduced or invented. After finding their item, students should click on the item's name to learn more information about its origin. Students can use the Part 2 of their "Food, Glorious Food" organizer to jot down notes about where and when their food item was introduced or invented. Explain to students that the dates on the Food Timeline web site can denote the first time an "ancestor" of a modern food appeared, or the first time that particular food is mentioned in print. While a particular date may be listed, a "version" of that food may have been available earlier.

If you wish, advise students that they can find their item on the timeline more quickly by using the "Find" command on their keyboards (Ctrl+the letter "F" on PCs, Open Apple + the letter "F" on Macs). When the "Find" box appears, students can type in their food item, and it will be found on the timeline.

8) Ask your students to record the date that their item was invented or introduced in Part 3 of their "Food, Glorious Food" organizer, as well as to write 3-5 sentences about the history of their item. Then, ask your students to come up to the board and move their food item to the appropriate century column (if necessary). Some students may not need to move their cards at all. Use the Food Item Timeline Answer Key to monitor student work.

9) Review the placement of cards on the board with your students. Is there anything surprising about when various items were invented or introduced? If the class has specific questions on individual items, ask the student who was assigned that food to provide the details that they've gathered.

10) Ask your students to think about cowboys and pioneers on the 19th century American frontier. Which foods listed on the board would definitely NOT been available to them? (All of the items in the twentieth century column on the board would not have been available; remove them from the board.) Ask your students if a group of cowboys was going on a cattle drive in Texas in the year 1867, which foods in the 19th century column would not have been available to them? (Review each item in the 19th century column, remove the cards for items introduced or invented after 1867.) Ask your students if the foods left in the 19th century column would have been available on the Texas frontier? Why or why not? (Student answers will vary.) Would any of the foods that your students take on a long road trip be available to cowboys on a cattle drive? What's their best guess?

11) Explain to your students that in this lesson, you will be examining the food available on the Texas frontier in the 1860s, as well as how it was prepared and transported during a cattle drive. Collect the "Food, Glorious Food" organizer for assessment purposes.

Learning Activity:

1) Explain to your students that recently, a group of people had the chance to experience the life of 19th century Texas cowboys first-hand. They were participants in a "hands-on history" TV series called TEXAS RANCH HOUSE, and they agreed to live for more than four months under the conditions of ranchers and cowboys in the year 1867. They will be exploring the ranch used in this production to better understand frontier food and how it was prepared.

2) Distribute the "Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch" organizer to your students. Ask your students to log on to the Texas Ranch House: Visit the Cooke Ranch web site at http://www.pbs.org/ranchhouse/visit.html. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to take the virtual tour of the Cook's Room on the web site and complete the questions on the organizer. Give your students 15-20 minutes to complete this task.

3) After your students have completed their tour, check for comprehension in a class discussion. Use the "Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch" answer key to double-check student work.

4) Remind your students that when cowboys went on trail drives, they were often hundreds of miles away from their ranches. Food and cooking supplies for a company of up to fifteen men had to be transported on the trail. Explain to your students that food and cooking supplies were transported in "chuck wagons" during cattle drives. "Chuck wagons" were specially adapted wagons which held all of the supplies and equipment needed for feeding cowboys during the long weeks -- or months -- on the trail.

5) Ask your students to log on to the Diamond R Ranch Chuck Wagon web site at http://www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/diamondr/exhi_chuc.html. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to explore the chuck wagon and familiarize themselves with the following five pieces of equipment: skillet, dutch oven, meat grinder, sourdough keg, and clock. Give your students 5-10 minutes to complete this task.

6) After your students have had a chance to explore the chuck wagon, check for comprehension. Ask your students why cowboys did not want to slaughter any cattle on the trail. (Cattle represented money to the ranch owner.) Ask your students why the skillet had such a long handle. (The skillet has a long handle so that it could be placed on the fire without burning the cook's hands.) Ask your students which piece of equipment is still used today by campers. (The dutch oven.) Ask your students what the cook would put on top of the dutch oven to help heat the food. (Hot coals.) Ask your students what food the cook made using the sourdough keg. (Biscuits.) Ask your students why an alarm clock was so important to a cook. (The alarm clock was important because the cook had to wake up in time to make breakfast for the cowboys.)

7) Explain to your students that they are now familiar with the food that was available to cowboys on the Texas frontier, as well as the basic set-up of a chuck wagon. They will now be challenged to stock a chuck wagon with period-appropriate food and supplies.

8) Ask your students to log on to the Texas Ranch House, Interactive History: Stock a Chuck Wagon web site at http://www.pbs.org/ranchhouse/history.html. Explain to students that it is their task to stock the chuck wagon with eleven historically-appropriate items (either food or equipment). Students should only select items that would have been in an 1867 chuck wagon, and they should keep in mind both what they discovered during their tour of the cook's room, as well as during the online chuck wagon activity. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask your students to stock the chuck wagon with period-appropriate food and equipment. After they stock the wagon, students should double-check which food DID belong in the wagon and which food did NOT. Give your students approximately 10 minutes to complete this task.

9) After your students have stocked the chuck wagon, check for comprehension. Ask your students which of the available items did NOT belong in the chuck wagon. (Oranges, tomatoes, Coca-Cola, milk, and sugar.) Ask your students if fresh fruits and vegetables would have been available on the trail. (No, only dried fruits and possibly canned vegetables). Ask your students why Coca-Cola would not have been available on the trail. (It hadn't been invented yet.) Ask your students why a cook would not have brought milk on the trail. (Cowboys don't drink it and it would have spoiled quickly.) Ask your students what items DID belong in the chuck wagon. (Beef jerky, sourdough, the dutch oven, flour, tobacco, salt pork, coffee, cornmeal, matches, pinto beans, and lard.) Ask your students if any of the favorite foods that they like to take on road trips were in the chuck wagon. (Probably not.) Tell your students that they are now experts on cowboy and chuck wagon cuisine.

Culminating Activity/Assessment:

1) Ask your students to imagine that they have been hired to open a new cowboy-themed restaurant in west Texas. The company building the restaurant has asked that your students create a menu featuring only authentic foods which would have been found on an 1860s Texas cattle drive.

2) Ask your students to brainstorm what different types of items and/or categories are usually found on a restaurant menu. (Student answers will vary; make sure students realize they will need to include breakfast, lunch, and dinner selections; beverages, desserts, etc.) Tell students that in addition to providing a list of food options for the restaurant, the menu should also provide customers with background information on cowboy cooking, chuck wagons, and food preparation. It will be up to students to make their menus as appealing and informative as possible. Explain to students that they can use any of the web sites used in the lesson to assist them in the preparation of their menus.

3) Encourage students to be creative with their menus, design a distinctive look for the project, and to balance the facts with humor and fun. When students have completed their menus, collect for assessment purposes.

Cross-Curricular Extensions:

Social Studies/Home Economics

Cook and serve an authentic cowboy lunch or dinner. The Food Timeline web site at http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodpioneer.html#cowboy features links to grade-level appropriate foods and additional resources.


Research different methods of food preservation, as well as the development of food-preservation technology.

Language Arts

Create a want ad for a chuck wagon cook. Include specific qualifications and experiences you'd want the cook to have, based on your experiences in this lesson.


Investigate authentic cowboy recipes, and determine how you would double, triple, or quadruple the recipes to feed trail outfits of various sizes.

Community Connections:
  • Interview older friends or family members about how food, cooking, and eating has changed during their lifetimes.
  • Invite your school's cafeteria manager to your classroom to discuss how food orders are made and how food is prepared for students in your school.
  • Create a class cookbook of family recipes.

About the Author:

Christopher W. Czajka is the Educational Consultant for TEXAS RANCH HOUSE, and served in the same capacity for Thirteen/WNET's previous hands-on history series FRONTIER HOUSE and COLONIAL HOUSE. He also worked as a Historical Consultant on FRONTIER HOUSE. He is the Associate Director of the LAB@Thirteen, which creates, supervises, and executes community and educational outreach initiatives associated with Thirteen/WNET's broadcast and online productions. Czajka has developed substantial web-based resources associated with the PBS series AFRICAN-AMERICAN LIVES, BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL, and SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA. Czajka is a proud graduate of Northwestern University, and received an M.F.A. in Theater for Young Audiences from Arizona State University.