Roget's Int'l Thesaurus
Fowler's King's English
The King James Bible
Brewer's Phrase & Fable
Frazer's Golden Bough
Shelf of Fiction
Later National Literature, Part III
> Cowboy Songs
Game and Play-Party Songs
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.
§ 8. Cowboy Songs.
The name American ballads is now often applied to a body of cowboy, lumbermen, and negro songs, recovered, chiefly by John A. Lomax, in Texas, New Mexico, Montana, and other States. These make when brought together an interesting and picturesque display. They reflect the life, tastes, narrative themes, and metrical modes of the singers. Cowboy life is communal, and it is vivid, full of incident, and exciting. The cowboy pieces, despite their prevailing crudity, have a certain force and breeziness.
Im a rowdy cowboy just off the stormy plains,
My trade is girting saddles and pulling bridle reins.
O I can tip the lasso, it is with graceful ease;
I can rope a streak of lightning, and ride it where I please.
The mass of cowboy songs, so-called, including probably that just quoted, is not, however, of cowboy creation, the result of group improvisation, but rather of cowboy adoption or adaptation, homogeneous as they seem. The few indigenous pieces, attested as of cowboy origin, are the most negligible and the weakest. They have little or no narrative element, are songs rather than ballads, have won no diffusion, and hold no promise of reaching better form or of assuming real ballad structure. The majority of the songs represent assimilated material, made over until the characters and the events conform to the horizon of the singers. In general, material from all sources, once in the stream of popular tradition, tends to accommodate itself to the modes and the tastes of the community that preserves it. It is instructive to analyse the cowboy pieces, as a group, for the light that is thrown on the songs of a new community and on the processes of folk-song.
has been referred to as composed early in the nineteenth century in New England.
RattlesnakeA Ranch-Haying Song
is a stuttering farce version of the New England
Springfield Mountain. The Cowboys Lament,
known also as
The Dying Cowboy,
is a plainsmans adaptation of
An Unfortunate Rake,
current in Ireland as early as 1790. Its origin is reflected in the absurd request for a military funeral retained in the chorus:
O beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
Play the Dead March as you carry me along;
Take me to the graveyard, there lay the sod oer me,
For Im a young cowboy and I know Ive done wrong.
Bury Me not on the Lone Prairie
is an adaptation of
by W. H. Saunders.
The Little Old Sod Shanty on My Claim
is an adaptation of Will S. Hayss
The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane. Bonnie Black Bess, Fair Fannie Moore, Rosin the Bow, The Wars of Germany
are from the Old World.
The Old Man under the Hill
is a Child piece.
The Railroad Corral
was composed by J. M. Hanson, and originally published in an Eastern periodical.
The Ride of Billy Venero
is made over from Eben E. Rexfords
Ride of Paul Venarez,
first published in
The Youths Companion,
and once a popular declaiming piece.
Home on the Range
was a popular parlour song, while
From Markenturas Flowery Marge
reflects the flowery sentimental day of American poetry.
The Boston Burglar
are derivatives of Old World ballads; and
Betsy from Pike, The Days of Forty-nine, Fuller and Warren
are not of cowboy origin but immigrated from other States.
Im a Good Old Rebel
the composition of Innes Randolph, who wrote for
The Baltimore American.
Even the few rough improvisations which seem to have come from the cowboys themselves are largely built on or reminiscent of some well-known model and are fitted to some well-known melody. They are creations in a qualified sense only. For instance,
Whoopee-Ti-Yi-Yo, Git along Little Dogies
owes its form to
The Cowboys Lament,
the origin of which has been mentioned, and it is sung to the same melody as its Old World original. The influence of Irish Come-all-yes and of deathbed confession pieces is pretty strong on the cowboy songs as a whole.
The term American ballads is better applied, not to the small, structureless and nearly characterless group of cowboy songs which may be genuinely of cowboy improvisation, but to ballads of the type exemplified by
Springfield Mountain, Young Charlotte, Poor Florella, The Young Man who Wouldnt Hoe Corn, Jesse James.
It is these which form the truer analogues of the oral legendary and romantic song-tales of England and Scotland.
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
Game and Play-Party Songs