How to Build an Eye Catching Wild West Bulletin Board

The Wild West is perhaps one of the most colorful eras of American history.  From the Pony Express to panning for gold, cowboys to Conestoga wagons and everything in between, people wanted a piece of the action!  The bulletin board ideas presented in this article can be easily tweaked to fit your classroom needs, whether you’re giving an overall view of the Wild West or focusing on one particular place and event.

Backgrounds and borders –

For a special Wild West theme, choose one of the following backgrounds for your board – burlap fabric, crinkled brown paper bags, or an enlarged map of the states west of the Mississippi River.  Maps of the Wild West era can be found in encyclopedias, fiction and non-fiction books and, of course, on the internet.  Use an overhead projector to enlarge a map (observing copyright laws) and trace it onto light brown bulletin board paper.

Borders with a western theme can be purchased, or you can make your own using any of the following ideas alone or in an interesting combination – colorful bandanas and frayed rope or hay twine, and leather shoelaces threaded through silver buttons.  Another border idea is to design or print copies of wagons, canteens, wanted posters, or other thematic elements to scatter around the edges of the board. 

If you involve your students in designing the board, what they learn along the way will stay with them much longer.  Why not divide the class into groups to study the following themes?  You can focus on only one theme for your board, or you can incorporate all three to make a colorful, eye-catching board.

Bulletin Board #1 – The Oregon Trail

You will need a large silhouette of North America (or an old map of the U.S.) for this board.  Outline strategic states involved in your theme, name main rivers or lakes located there and sketch mountain ranges found along the Oregon Trail.  An excellent 50” by 10” map can be copied by clicking here.   You could also use it as a sample if a student volunteers to sketch the map free-style.

Next, print a out a drawing of a Conestoga wagon, (sometimes called a prairie schooner), and increase or decrease in size depending on how many copies you’ll be making.   Students will write interesting bits of information on the wagons before attaching them on or around the trail.  Consider the following questions as students study:

The life of families who rode the trail was difficult and dangerous.  Why did people want to go settle in the state of Oregon?  What were the dangers of such a trip?  What were the approximate dimensions of a Conestoga wagon?   What was involved in daily care of the wagons and the animals that pulled them?  How important was a good guide for the trip?  Read a fascinating true story of two families that survived and thrived once their trek across the Oregon Trail was finished.

Bulletin Board #2 – The Gold Rush

Imagine 80 million dollars of gold harvested in one year alone!  The year was 1852 and the place was California.  Enlarge a map of the western states or of California alone for this thematic board.  Make smaller copies of the map for each student so they can study them while doing research.  Interesting facts about the Gold Rush on bright yellow paper “nuggets” to place around the map.  Some things to consider as you research this topic:

There was a tremendous influx of people pouring into the California at that time.  Did people come from other countries during the Gold Rush?  How did California’s population explosion affect housing and food supplies?  Discuss the increase in crime during the Wild West days, likely due to crowded conditions and fighting over claims. 

Describe the process of panning for gold and the way it was assayed or its value determined.  How did the price of gold back in those days compare with the price of gold today?  For a deeper study of this event, click here and do some fascinating research. Your students may come up with other facts they’ll want to include on their Gold Rush bulletin board.

Bulletin board #3 – The Pony Express

The Pony Express lasted only 19 brief months, but its impact on the Wild West was far-ranging.  As your class studies this time period in history, be sure you pay tribute to the amazing riders who delivered mail across dangerous open territory.  Many of these men (some of them famous) are listed in the encyclopedia.

A beautiful map of the Pony Express route is available as “public domain” on Wikipedia, but some restrictions apply.  Read the information with the map carefully and give tribute to the public domain copyright if you use the map.  You can also have one of your students make a rendition of this map by sketching it by hand for the bulletin board.

Now design your own miniature mailbags and write information on them to surround the Pony Express map.  You’ll find lots of interesting trivia about this mail service when you click here and scroll down to #9 on the list.   Illustrations and coloring sheets about the Pony Express and its riders can be found on the internet.

In conclusion, first decide if your Wild West bulletin board will focus on one event or include all three mentioned above.  There are also other important events in the era, including the Continental Railroad and the Chisholm Trail.  Whatever you decide to focus on, get students involved in research and designing the board.  This way, they’re sure to always remember the wild, Wild West!