Singing to the Cattle

(Courtesy of Chain Ranch)

By Ralph Chain

In the 1890s, with the exception of about a dozen, cowboy songs were not generally known. Jack Thorpe, who researched cowboy songs in the 1880s, was only able to find a few verses of cowboy songs.

None of the cowboys who could sing ever remembered an entire song. Cowboy songs were always sung by one person, never by a group.

A cowboy never had a good voice. If he had one to start with, he lost it hollering at cattle, sleeping out in the open or telling the judge he did not steal that horse.

The cowboy hardly ever knew what tune he was singing the song to – just some old tune he had heard and known as a boy. It is generally thought that cowboys did a lot of singing around the herd at night to quiet them.

A lot of those words were taken from songs of sailors. “O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” was originally a tune sung by sailors when they buried someone at sea.

Two of the oldest songs were “When the Work’s All Done This Fall” and “Utah Carroll,” written in the 1880s.

“Little Joe the Wrangler” was written by Jack Thorpe. He knew several of the cowboys who knew Little Joe the night he got killed.

Pick up the July issue to learn more!