Songs Of the Cattle Trail & Cow Camp

Complete Text & Lyrics

By JOHN A. LOMAX, B.A., M.A. Executive Secretary Ex-Students' Association, the University of Texas. Three years Sheldon Fellow from Harvard University for the Collection of American Ballads; Ex-President American Folk-Lore Society. Collector of "Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads"; joint author with Dr. H. Y. Benedict of "The Book of Texas."

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Songs Of The Cattle Trail and Cow Camp About This Book

First let me apologise for the odd errors and weirdnesses you will undoubtedly find in my web version of this book. Scanning and OCRing is a rather hit-and-miss affair at the best of times, and on top of that producing from it something retaining as much as possible of the original format and that will display in a variety of browsers can be a nightmare. The Lomax books have long been a major source and reference for many later collections and are a major contribution to our knowledge and enjoyment of traditional American folk music, and are, in my opinion well worth including here.


In collecting, arranging, editing, and preserving the " Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp," my friend John Lomax has performed a real service to American literature and to America. No verse is closer to the soil than this; none more realistic in the best sense of that much-abused word; none more truly interprets and expresses a part of our national life. To understand and appreciate these lyrics one should hear Mr. Lomax talk about, them and sing them; for they were made for the voice to pronounce and for the ears to hear, rather than for the lamp lit silence of the library. They are as oral as the chants of Vachel Lindsay; and when one has the pleasure of listening to Mr. Lomax — who loves these verses and the men who first sang them — one reconstructs in imagination the appropriate figures and romantic setting. For nothing is so romantic as life itself. None of our illusions about life is so romantic as the truth. Hence the purest realism appeals to the mature Imagination more powerfully than any im- possible prettiness can do. The more we know of Individual and universal life, the more we are excited and stimulated. And the collection of these poems is an addition to American Scholarship as well as to American Literature. It was a wise policy of the Faculty of Harvard University to grant Mr. Lomax a travelling fellowship, that he might have the necessary leisure to discover and to collect these verses; it is really " original research," as interesting and surely as valuable as much that passes under that name; for it helps every one of us to understand our own country. Wm. Lyon Phelps. Yale University, July 27, 1919.


"Look down, look down, that weary road, Tis the road that the sun goes down." " 'Twas way out West where the antelope roam, And the coyote howls 'round the cowboy's home, Where the mountains are covered with chaparral frail, And the valleys are checkered with the cattle trail, Where the miner digs for the golden veins, And the cowboy rides o'er the silent plains,—" The " Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp " does not purport to be an anthology of Western verse. As its title indicates, the contents of the book are limited to attempts, more or less poetic, in translat- ing scenes connected with the life of a cowboy. The volume is in reality a by-product of my earlier col- lection, " Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Bal- lads." In the former book I put together what seemed to me to be the best of the songs created and sung by the cowboys as they went about their work. In making the collection, the cowboys often sang or sent to me songs which I recognized as having al- ready been in print; although the singer usually said that some other cowboy had sung the song to him and that he did not know where it had originated. For example, one night in New Mexico a cowboy sang to me, in typical cowboy music, Larry Chittenden's entire " Cowboys' Christmas Ball"; since that time the poem has often come to me in manuscript form as an original cowboy song. The changes usually, it must be confessed, resulting in bettering the verse — which have occurred in oral transmission, are most interesting. Of one example, Charles Badger Clark's " High Chin Bob," I have printed, following Mr. Clark's poem, a cowboy version, which I submit to Mr. Clark and his admirers for their consideration. In making selections for this volume from a large mass of material that came into my ballad hopper while hunting cowboy songs as a Traveling Fellow from Harvard University, I have included the best of the verse given me directly by the cowboys; other selections have come in through repeated recommendation of these men; others are vagrant verses from Western newspapers; and still others have been lifted from collections of Western verse written by such men as Charles Badger Clark, Jr., and Herbert H. Knibbs. To these two authors, as well as others who have permitted me to make use of their work, the grateful thanks of the collector are extended. As will be seen, almost one-half of the selections have no assignable authorship. I am equally grateful to these unknown authors. All those who found "Cowboy Songs" diverting, it is believed, will make welcome "The Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp." Many of these have this claim to be called songs: they have been set to music by the cowboys, who, in their isolation and loneliness, have found solace in narrative or descriptive verse devoted to cattle scenes. Herein, again, through these quondam songs we may come to appreciate something of the spirit of the big West — its largeness, its freedom, its wholehearted hospitality, its genuine friendship. Here again, too, we may see the cowboy at work and at play; hear the jingle of his big bell spurs, the swish of his rope, the creaking of his saddle gear, the thud of thousands of hoofs on the long, long trail winding from Texas to Montana; and know something of die life that attracted from the East some of its best young blood to a work that was necessary in the winning of the West. The trails are becoming dust covered or grass grown or lost underneath the farmers' fur row; but in the selections of this volume, many of them poems by courtesy, men of today and those who are to follow, may sense, at least in some small measure, the service, the glamour, the romance of that knight-errant of the plains — the American cowboy.
J.A.L. The University of Texas, Austin, July 9, 1919.

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