RANCH LIFE - Steinbeck in the Schools

Language Arts, History, Art
Grade Level
Turn of the Century
Type of Activity
Small Group, Individual, Entire Class, Pre-Reading, Research, Writing, Performing Arts
Students should understand the nature of ranch life in the 1920s and 1930s.
Students should gain an understanding of migrant ranch life in the 1920s/1930s
vs. current migrant ranch life.
Students will be able to analyze and understand (through discussion and writing)
secondary documents.
As in all of Steinbeck’s books, setting is very important and always plays an integral role
in the understanding of his novels, and Of Mice and Men is no exception. The ranch in Of
Mice and Men is important and functions almost as a character would.
Understanding ranch life in the 1920s/1930s and the migrant ranch experience from that
period, and today, are both essential for understanding the novel. This topic should be not
only informative but entertaining for the students.
Materials Needed/Preparation
Copies of Of Mice and Men.
(current migrant ranch life).
(migrant ranch life in the 1930s).
http://www.asha.org/Research/reports/migrant_workers/ -- article about current
migrant workers in America.
http://www.wcl.american.edu/hrbrief/v5i1/html/migrant.html --another article
about current migrant workers in America.
http://www.ufw.org/_page.php?inc=history/07.html&menu=research -biographical information about Cesar Chavez and the birth of the modern farm
workers movement.
“Growing Up on the Steinbeck and Hamilton Ranches in the 1920s and 1930s”
(An Interview with Thomas Steinbeck—see below).
“The Ranching Life” (see below).
LCD projector (to show the Internet articles—or use photocopies).
Markers and large construction paper for posters.
Estimated Time
Two periods to discuss the articles in Materials Needed/Preparation. Teachers
should assign the two articles below and at least two of the above Internet articles
(one about migrant ranches in the 1920s/1930s and one about current migrant
farm life). Teachers need not assign every article above for discussion; they will
use their own discretion.
One or two class periods for skit preparation and presentation. (See Procedures
One class period for the creation of posters.
Discussion starter/journal entry:
o What do you think life was like on a ranch around the year 1900?
o How do you think life on a ranch around the year 1900 was different from
your life? From life on a farm or ranch today?
Before reading Of Mice and Men, students should understand the context of life
on a rural ranch in the 1930s. Setting is important in all of Steinbeck’s books, and
students should break into small groups to write a brief skit (dressing up in
costume if they wish) of what they think life on a rural ranch in 1930s Salinas
Valley might be like. Be sure they have no preconceived notions of what ranch
life would be like. This should lead to a class discussion.
Have student groups write a brief skit about ranch life in the 1930s and then
perform for the class.
Have students read the following two articles. Even though they are taken from
the Steinbeck Young Authors’ Curriculum Guide—The Red Pony, they apply to
life on a ranch in Of Mice and Men. The reading can be done entirely in class, or
partially, and then finished as homework.
o Have students complete the worksheet (found after the two articles) as
homework and discuss in class the next day.
Have students read two articles (teacher’s discretion--one about migrant ranch life
in the 1920s/1930s and one about current migrant worker ranches—see Materials
o Have the students discuss the differences between ranches in the 1920s/1930s
and today’s migrant ranches.
o Have students write a short paper (see TOPIC: SHORT WRITING
PROMPTS) comparing/contrasting the two articles.
o In small groups, have students create posters detailing the benefits of
1920s/1930s migrant ranches and current ones.
Standards Met
Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
o Key Ideas and Details: 1,2
o Craft and Structure: 4,5,6
o Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
Reading Standards for Informational Text 6-12
o Key Ideas and Details: 1,2,3
o Craft and Structure: 4,5,6
o Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 8,9
o Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
Writing Standards 6-12
o Text Types and Purposes: 1,2,3
o Production and Distribution of Writing: 4,5
o Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 8
o Range of Writing: 10
Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
o Comprehension and Collaboration: 1,2
Language Standards 6-12
o Conventions of Standard English: 1,2
o Knowledge of Language: 3
o Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 4,5,6
Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
o Key Ideas and Details: 1,2
o Craft and Structure: 4,5,6
o Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 8
o Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical
Subjects 6-12
o Text Types and Purposes: 1,2
o Production and Distribution of Writing: 4,5
o Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 9
o Range of Writing: 10
Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up
 Takeaways
o Have student groups hang their posters around the classroom and answer
questions of other groups.
 Follow-up
o Teachers can have students write an evaluation of the project and what they
have learned.
o In groups, have students summarize ranch life in the 1920s/1930s and now.
Other students will take notes.
Teachers can give brief quizzes on ranch life to ensure students have a basic
understanding of the ranch setting in Of Mice and Men and in more current times.
“Growing Up on the Steinbeck and Hamilton Ranches
in the 1920s and 1930s”
An Interview Thomas Steinbeck
Thomas Steinbeck, the son of John Steinbeck, provided the following information about his
father and the family ranch.
John Steinbeck’s grandparents owned ranches in the King City area and in Hollister. Samuel and
Eliza Hamilton, his mother’s parents, owned a ranch in the hills east of King City, the southern
part of the Salinas Valley. John Steinbeck spent a part of every summer at this ranch, doing
chores, taking care of the animals, and exploring the land—just like Jody from The Red Pony. In
his book East of Eden, John Steinbeck wrote that his grandfather “built his house with his own
hands, and he built a barn and a blacksmith shop.”
A typical day for ranch children began at 5:00 AM. Certain chores needed to be completed before
the family and ranch hands had breakfast, including hauling water from the well, feeding the
horses, and collecting wood for the stove. The children then walked to school. Some attended a
one-room schoolhouse with a teacher, while others gathered at a neighboring ranch to be taught
by mothers and relatives. The children were at school for about four hours before returning home
to work on the ranch. The younger children fed and cared for the chickens, goats, or pigs. Older
children, about 14 years or older, worked with the adults to harvest the crops or herd the cows.
Older girls usually took care of their younger siblings while the adults worked in the fields or
with the livestock.
Ranch families would travel to the nearest town to purchase supplies and tools, go to church, and
visit family members. The frequency of these trips depended on how far away they were from
town. For example, ranchers in Big Sur would only go to town once every three to six months,
depending on the weather and their needs. For many families, this trip took an entire day or
longer. Ranchers also received supplies from traveling salesman, livestock traders, migrant labor,
and veterinarians. John Steinbeck wrote about a traveling salesman in his short story,
According to Thomas Steinbeck, his father used to call the Hamilton ranch “old starvation ranch”
because of the hard work involved in making enough money to feed the family. When the
ranchers did not make enough money, the men worked in town for a few months while the wives
ran the ranch. John Steinbeck’s parents left their family ranches to work in town where the job
opportunities were more stable. His father had a variety of jobs in Salinas. He worked as a sugar
beet factory worker, flour mill manager, and, later, the treasurer of Monterey County. Steinbeck’s
mother became a teacher. Despite the hardships, it was important to keep the ranches in the
family because only male landowners could vote.
When Steinbeck visited his grandfather’s ranch near King City, he must have learned about the
hardships of running a family ranch and caring for livestock. He used this experience to write The
Red Pony and bring the characters in the book to life.
“The Ranching Life”
There were two types of ranches that existed in the Salinas Valley in the 1920s/30s. These
ranches could be distinguished from each other by their location in the valley. The first type was
located low on the green fertile valley floor. Hill ranches, the second type, were usually nestled
up higher in the rocky and dusty terrain of the foothills of the surrounding mountains.
The ranches on the valley floor were characteristically agricultural since they had more water.
The rich soil and mild year-round climate lent itself to raising the lettuce and vegetables that the
Salinas Valley is famous for. The ranch in The Red Pony was modeled after the second type of
ranch, the hill ranch. Hill ranches were primarily interested in the cattle industry. Since there was
often a shortage of water at the higher elevations, the hill-ranchers raised cattle instead of the
thirsty crops that lined the valley floor. These ranches were usually quite a bit further from town
than the valley floor ranches, and this added to the hardships brought on by drought years and
supply shortages.
The families living on these hill ranches were very resourceful. Though raising cattle was their
main source of income, they would also engage in a great amount of subsistence farming in order
to put food on their tables. These families usually had their own blacksmith shop to shoe horses,
fix wagons, and fabricate random necessary parts around the ranch. Many of them also had a milk
cow or two, some chickens and hens for eggs, pigs for pork, and a small vegetable garden. These
were all things that would minimize the need for traveling into town for supplies, tools and other
necessities. In fact, someone living on a hill ranch in the 1920s might not make the journey into
town more than once a month since the trip would take the entire day. A hill-rancher would need
to begin the journey at 5 a.m. just to make it back home by 10 p.m. Families living on hill ranches
were reliant on supplies that could only be acquired in town, so they had to carefully plan what
items to buy—and when—in order to make ends meet and maximize their infrequent journeys
into town.
Ranch Life
Complete the below chart after reading the articles on ranch life.
1920s/1930s Valley Ranches
1920s/1930s Hill Ranches