The Story of America – The Wild West

Listen to the videos and answer the questions.
(You can write your answers in the comments section at the bottom of the page)

America was a British colony. The first settlements were in the west. European Americans gradually spread west. The west was wild and dangerous and rugged so it was called The Wild West.

Listening – Cowboy Culture Today

Listen for these phrases and try to understand the whole sentences that they come from. What percentage of the audio can you understand?

Present Simple Tense

I hear stories about people using them for…

Present Perfect Tense

I have never had to do that.


It may be thought of as a decoration.
It might be thought of as a decoration.

It is just something I put on.
It is just something I wear.

Noun Phrases

something I have worn most of my life
something I have worn all of my life


if I was gonna be out in the weather for a day
if I was gonna be out in the weather for the whole day
if I was going to be out for the whole day

Adverbial Phrase

basically it is the same thing


like I was going to be holding up a stagecoach
as if I was going to be holding up a stagecoach

States in the USA

I am from ..Nebraska

Jack Smith from Idaho

Adverbial Phrases of Location

I purchased here

in the far northeastern corner of California

most of the people in our part of the country

Hyperbole – Exaggeration – Comparative Phrase

the skies are bluer out west

A US State with a Spanish Name


Present Simple Tense

we wear the scarves because of the cold

Present Continuous Tense

whether we are riding or walking in it


the silver which our locals make
the silver that our locals make

Time Phrase

probably about fifteen or twenty years ago

Present Perfect Continuous Tense

I have been making ponchos for about …

Noun Phrase

the cowboy arts

Points of the Compass

northern Arizona
southern Arizona
eastern Arizona
western Arizona

Comparative Phrase

in our part of the country it is more functional than it is decorative

Future “will” to describe routine action

they’ll tie ’em kinda loose

Causal Phrase

and the reason is because it keeps my neck warm

Prepositional Phrase

in my happy little home out west

Do country people wear a special style of clothing in your culture? Do you have a national dress?


That video was about people in cowboy country today. The next video is more historical.

Cowboys and the Cattle Industry

This video talks about the origin of the “cowboys”:

General Phrases

Listen for these phrases:

Listen and try to understand the sentences that the phrases come from. Are you able to complete the sentences?

Texas was famous for its cattle.

a crowd of Mexican boys from

was worth but two or three dollars

the annexation of Texas to the United States

day and night

in good weather and bad weather

each individual

the whole herd

quiet and unmolested

the fugitives driven back to their proper grazing ground

Did you know that Texas used to belong to Mexico? It was annexed by the United States. For a short time Texas was an independent country.

Has your country always been independent?

Passive Focus

The passive phrase is highlighted: in bold:

the care was left to a few men

not much money could be paid in wages

were accompanied by such numbers (so many)

were called Texas cowboys

will be carted

are divided up into reliefs

their trail must be followed up

must be driven back

great watchfulness and labor are required for their care

the grass is covered with snow

If you want to practise passive voice, try the Carmen interactive story

Simple laws govern the use of grammar. It is not like the American west which was wild and lawless.

The Outlaws

The west was wild and dangerous. It was a place of freedom and danger. It was place of adventure. There were many famous outlaws in the old west. Do you know any of these?

Billy the Kid
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Roy Bean – an unusual case
Jesse James and the James Gang

Listen for these phrases:

William H. Bonney

Today we are going in search of …

… one of the west’s most notorious outlaws

she passed it on to her boys

little or nothing

is believed to be a picture of …

the only authenticated picture of Billy the Kid

believed to have been taken

people who knew Billy

a good-looking boy

That was the story of Billy the Kid. Had you heard of him before? Listen to this story of another outlaw who was not as famous as Billy the Kid.

Listening Practice – A Lesser Known Outlaw

Each sentence has a verb. Sometimes it is a verb phrase. Look at these verb phrases. Listen to them in context as you watch the video. They are the base of the sentences.

has been called

was born

was fascinated by

had already robbed

was a florist

left town in 1866

met and fell in love with

married and had two children

tried to settle down

could choose her or a life of crime

was about to run up against

was born in

was determined not to be like his father

rode into Little Boulder

had been given advance warning

fired first

clipped Wesley in the shoulder

dropped to the ground

Some of the verb phrases are passive. Some of them are past simple tense in active voice. Some of them are past perfect tense (also in active voice).

Reading – Grave Sites of the Old West

This next video has images of the grave sites of people from the old west. Notice the words:

was born


Passive Voice and Active Voice

“Passive voice” and “active voice” have nothing to do with “singing voice”. They are just grammatical terms. They describe how the verb works.

He was born

is passive.

He died

is active.

“He was born” originally meant “he was carried”.

He was born.
He was carried.
He was carried by his mother.
He was born by his mother.
He was borne by his mother. (old fashioned spelling)
He was born by his mother for nine months.
He was born by his mother for nine months as he grew.
He was born by his mother for nine months as he grew in her womb.

Then he came out!

He was born. (passive – note the be verb and past participle pattern)

He grew up. (active voice – two word verb)
He lived. (active voice)
He died. (active voice)

Note that although we think of dying as a passive act (death takes us) in grammar we actively die (I die) and we are born (I am born) passively.

In life there are many different kinds of people. On the road of life there are many different kinds of people. What is an outlaw? Where does the law come from?

The Case of Judge Roy Bean – An Unusual Case

The historical figure Judge Roy Bean was an unusual case. He broke some laws but he also upheld some laws. He was a judge. Do you have a personal sense of morality which is stronger than the laws of the country where you live?

This is a story about a man who lived in violent and dangerous times. The problem is that it is a Hollywood movie. Is it true? What is the truth? Look at the video clip and listen for the phrases below:

Listen for these phrases:

the only real attempt

Bad Bob

the albino

Bad Bob is in town

“Don’t you ever question what I say!”

Hey Beano!

It’s me, Bob!

You can find out more about the historical figure Judge Roy Bean here: Judge Roy Bean Interactive Story

That was a clip from the Hollywood version of the life of Roy Bean. There was also a television program about him.

The Television Version of the Life of Roy Bean

Present Perfect Tense

Hollywood has romanticized the past
Hollywood has sentimentalized the past.
Hollywood has fictionalized the past.
Hollywood has made up the past.
Hollywood has modified the past.

The Hollywood Perspective on the West

We subconsciously accept events in the media and think that they are real but look at this clip of the Lone Ranger:

Do you think that life in the west was really like that?

Marlon Brando’s Protest against Hollywood’s Treatment of the Indians

Marlon Brando refused to accept his Oscar for the Godfather because of the treatment of American Indians in stereotypical Hollywood movies and the damage he perceived that it did to the young native Americans in terms of their self-image.

Miss Sasheen Littlefeather

I am Apache

I am representing Marlon Brando this evening.

the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.

and on television in movie re-runs

and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee

will meet with love and generosity

thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando

Cowboys and Indians

You can find out more about the great American actor, Marlon Brando and his political views in this interactive Story:
The Life of an American Actor

Look at the phrases and variations. Try to hear the complete sentence that the phrase is taken from. Look at the variations. Observe which one Marlon Brando uses:

These people are injured by seeing themselves represented …
These people are injured by seeing themselves portrayed …

the adults to a lesser extent
not so much the adults

children – Indian children
the children of the native Americans

seeing Indians represented as savage nasty vicious treacherous drunken
seeing them portrayed as savage brutal untrustworthy subhuman

they grow up with only a negative image of themselves
they were raised with only a negative portrayal of themselves

Did that surprise you?
Were you surprised by that?

I wasn’t surprised, no.
No, it didn’t surprise me.

There were number of people who thought ..
There were a few people who were of the opinion that

I received an awful lot of mail in support of that
I got a large number of letters in the mail in support of that

you are ruining our fantasy with the intrusion of a little reality
you are spoiling our dream with the intrusion of a little reality

there is a larger issue
there is a bigger issue

the blacks have brought about changes
the blacks have managed to bring about changes

they were damn angry
they were extremely angry

if they had just been silent
if they had just been quiet

in the business of the movies
in the movie business

and they will do right by us
and they will do the right thing by us

the image of blacks was changed changing
the image of Arabs was changed … is changing

it is a block by block fight
it is a step by step process

showing blacks in an unkindly light
portraying African Americans in an unbalanced way

the Filipino houseboy

little yellow-bellied rats

the thing that bugged me
the thing that bothered me

a social cause bandwagon
a protesters bandwagon

fishing with the …
angling with the …

there are a couple of books
there are one or two books

to the interviewee
to the person who is being interviewed

I always wondered why you did that.
I was always curious why you did that?

looked at them or said it?

I don’t know what to say about that.
I’m not sure what to say about that.

I don’t think it is worth going into
I don’t think it is worth talking about

some are two dollar items
some stories are two dollar stories

news is business
the media is not impartial

people sell news
creating images is a huge business

people in the public eye
famous people

something that you do with your fingernails after you cut them off
something that you might do with your fingernails after you cut them off

if you smoke the grime from your navel
if you smoke the dirt from your belly button

that is news
that’s newsworthy

that is important
that is considered to be important

I thought I could trust you
I thought you could be trusted

It doesn’t matter
it is not important

People don’t really believe all the nonsense they read.
People don’t really believe most of the nonsense they read

She brings you a cup of coffee
she serves a cup of coffee

a courteous person
a polite person

kind of a funny person
kind of a strange person

threw horse manure out the window
threw horse shit out the window

is irrelevant
is not relevant

where do they come from
where on earth do they come from

and did you?

I think that is the kind of question that ….

Marlon Brando was an early voice against the negative treatment of native Americans in the American media. There is a documentary which elaborates on some of these ideas:

Media Distortion of the Past – Cowboys and Indians

This documentary talks about the idea which Marlon Brando championed decades ago. It charts the history of the film industry and points out the error it has made.

Listen for these phrases and try to get the rest of the sentences that they come:

they say history is written by the victors

more than four hundred movies

the role of bloodthirsty savages

common plot devices

that was in the late forties

the only indians in the neighbourhood

we had to fight our way out of those theatres

we had to create our own image

our land just like they owned it

have been made for white audiences

and to make money

and to portray history

who slaughtered our parents

the bottom line is

a native American story

a euro-American story

Cheyenne, wasn’t it?

Cheyenne, Apache, Blackfoot, Sioux

often unrealistically positive

the white guy

on the one hand

the white guy beats them every time

the bloody annals of indian warfare

slaughtered to the last man

a classic western formula

indian ferocity

Apache atrocities

outnumbered and threatened by an overwhelming force

it was just the opposite historically

the native Americans were overwhelmed by white settlement

history has turned around and modified to suit the formula

thanks to Hollywood, this country refuses to face what happened …

a nation that does not know its history has no future

Native Americans – The American Indians

The native Americans were called Indians. Do you know why?

Colombus sailed in search of India. He tried to reach the east by going west. He tried to get to India from the west. He thought America was India. He called the people “Indians”.

There were many different groups of “indians”.

Chief Seattle

The city of Seattle is named after Chief Seattle. He was a great native American. He criticized the rapacious nature of modern culture. He lamented the passing of the old ways. He lamented the loss of beauty and simplicity and reverence for nature.


Videos with Music and Images of Native Americans

Videos with Examples of Languages of Native Americans

Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce

Oil Company Video about Indians Giving Away Land

Historical Video narrating History of the Nez Perce War

the history of the twelve tribes is replete with great chiefs

the tribe remained at peace

it had never drawn the blood of whites

the saddest and most unnecessary war

it was absolutely uncalled for

Washington had decided to move these

old Chief Joseph fought back

he had refused to sign

lands on which gold had been found

conceded that Joseph had been correct

the executive order was revoked because of the outcry by land hungry Oregonians

thrown open to settlement

the younger Chief Joseph continued his father’s

gold was discovered

US forces moved in to dislodge the peaceful..

resisted stoutly

advanced eastward into Idaho and Montana

failed to defeat the elusive well-disciplined warriors

could never prevail

sought to lead his people north to Canada

over some fifteen hundred miles

evading two pursuing armies

while resting in Montana

about forty miles from the Canadian border

on October fifth

have been much quoted

I am tired of fighting

the little children are freezing to death
I want to have time to look for my children
maybe I shall find them among the dead

my heart is sick and sad

I will fight no more forever.

were sent to a reservation in present day Oklahoma where many died of illness

were allowed to move

where he devoted the rest of his life to the peaceful betterment of his people

Listening and Writing

Listen for the phrases and then use punctuation and extra words that you hear to complete the sentences.


When chief Joseph said he will fight no more forever …

their Nez Perce language ties them to their native land

there are only a handful of native speakers

I think our backs are against the wall so to speak

three or four or five who think in the language

that’s how close we are

that handful of people are the only ones left

and they are in their eighties and nineties

to understand the importance

were forced from their land

in search of gold

the trauma of leaving

refused to give up their lands

including women, children and elders

our valuable stories of the past

sometimes the language defines us in a different sort of way than can be done with English

but if you understand our language

there is more to us than meets the eye

we have a law

we have a way

we are in a sense civilized in that way

we are a people

if we lost the language, we would lose the heart of that

Chief Joseph’s Speech

good words do not …

it makes my heart sick

all the god words and all the broken promises

A Visual Journey to the Grave of Chief Joseph

This video is a clip of a journey to the reservation.


Are your people the dominant group in your country? Did your people take the land from people who were there first like the Americans took the land from the Indians and the Australians took the land from the Aborigines?