Teach PA History
The Birth of the American Cowboy and the Western Genre



1. Zane Grey was another successful western novelist who lived in Pennsylvania during the early 1900s. One of his most celebrated westerns is entitled Riders of the Purple Sage (1912). Students could look at excerpts from Grey's novel and compare/contrast his work to Owen Wister's.

2. The creation of the western was fueled by an attempt to preserve a way of life that was quickly vanishing from existence. Have students look around their world and write about something that they feel will soon vanish. Students can also ask their parents or grandparents to describe things that have vanished during their lifetimes.

3. Watch a little bit of the old TV episode of The Virginian. Compare the TV versions of Trampas and the Virginian to the novel. Does the TV version stay true to the original characterization Wister gave the villain and hero?

4. Disseminate  Student Handout 6-Biography of Owen Wister  and ask students to read the handout silently. As they read direct them to highlight important dates in Wister's life. Direct students to create a timeline for the world of Owen Wister and his western writing. After the timelines are completed, ask students what period in Owen Wister's life did he produce most of his western writing. [1891-1902. Wister would have been 31-42 years old.]

Field Trips

Grave of Owen Wister
3822 Ridge Avenue
Laurel Hill Cemetery, lot 206-207, section J.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19132

Wister (1860-1938) was a writer born in Philadelphia, attended Harvard law school, and studied music in Paris. He also spent summers in the American West. Today he's best known for Western novels, notably The Virginian (1902), in which he profiled the prototypical American cowboy

Historic Germantown
5501 Germantown Avenue
Germantown Historical Society
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19144
215-844-0514, 215-844-1683

Visit Historic Germantown to see the area where Owen Wister grew up.

Zane Grey Museum
Route 590
Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania 18435

Once the home of this prolific writer, the Zane Grey Museum is a favorite among history and literature buffs. 20 minute long guided tours through the museum are offered. Exhibits include photographs, memorabilia, personal items, manuscripts, and first editions of all of Grey's books.

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