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Tombstone in Boot Hill Cemetery, Tombstone, Arizona

[Detail] Tombstone in Boot Hill Cemetery, Tombstone, Arizona

Lesson Overview

This lesson relates to the westward movement in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Students analyze the role that gunfighters played in the settlement of the West and distinguish between their factual and fictional accounts using American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

Billy the Kid alias, William H. Bonney, alias Henry McCarty, alias Kid Antrim, etc. is an example of the typical gunfighter. He was born in the 1850s and died in 1881 when he was shot by Sheriff Pat Garrett. Billy serves as the focus of the lesson.


After completing this unit students will be able to:

  • develop techniques to analyze primary sources;
  • become aware of effective interview techniques;
  • assess the significance of the contributions of the gunfighter to the settlement of the West; and
  • become familiar with the American Memory collections and learn how to use them effectively when doing historical research.


Time Required

  • One week

Recommended Grade Level


  • Culture & Folklife
  • Oral Histories


  • Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900


Carol Nickerson & Michael Young