I’m sure noone wants to know—or imagine!—how life would be without music, songs and poems. Did our ancestors want to? Of course not…thankfully!
Well, let’s be honest…can you imagine a saloon without music? Or a lonely cowboy without singing? You know the answer! This time I’m really in a nostalgic mood…so saddle up, my dear, grab your drink and join me in a western adventure full of melodies, lyrics and memories!
The music the settlers brought with them in mid-19th century America had several roots. Some parts of western music had its influences from the English, Irish and Scottish traditional music, and that is how, today, we have our well-known folk music! So, the music of the Old Wild West is a combination of the above, as well as of Mexican folk.
Western music celebrates the life of the cowboy, on the western range and prairie. Many cowboy songs during this time can also be traced back to European folk songs. There are others, though, that are so sensitive and touching that weren’t happy songs at all. Because, let’s admit it, the life of a cowboy during the Western Frontier Period was extremely rough!
The most popular and widely used instrument by the pioneers was the “fiddle,” or, as we know it today, the Violin. For years it was the primary instrument found on the frontier.
The Concertina, that belongs to the famous accordion family, is an octagonal shaped instrument with bellows and buttons on each end. It was used as a dance instrument and as a means to accompany singing…for happy occasions I might add!
The Banjo is a stringed musical instrument of African origin, popularized in the United States by slaves in the 19th century, then exported to Europe. Because of its size, it was portable and became a favorite instrument of soldiers during the Civil War.
The Cowboy Life
While travelling to find a new land, cowboys had many difficulties to deal with. Some of them had to do with wild animals, days and even weeks without food or water, rains or complete droughts, poisonous snakes, huge terrains or fast flowing rivers. There were many deaths, many people who didn’t make it to the “Promising Land”. Music is always a great companion, whether it is happy or sad…it always cheers us up!
What is more, cowboy songs originated during the long cattle drives of the late 1800s (1870-1890), when ranch hands were responsible for moving large herds of semi-wild longhorns from Texas to the rail lines in Kansas.
On average, each trail drive included about 2,000 to 5,000 animals (cattle). Since stampedes were a constant threat, especially at night, the cowboys would sing songs to the herd, in order to soothe and calm the animals. It was believed that if the animals could hear a familiar voice, then they would be less likely to be spooked over the course of the night.
What?! Yodeling? In songs?
Many of the original cowboy songs included yodeling, a singing style more often associated with the Swiss Alps than the American West. Nonetheless, yodeling survived and even flourished during the long trail drives of the late 1800s. Certainly, some of the songs that were sung at night were meant to soothe the cattle, but the necessity of relieving the boredom of working a lengthy night shift was of equal importance.
Well, Get Along With Doggies
A cowboy ballad! A very popular song that the cowboys would use to calm the cattle.
Fun Fact 1: The “doggies” in the song are runty or orphaned calves.
Fun Fact 2: Either “Get” or “Git” is the same thing!
Fun Fact 3: Either “doggies” or “dogies” is also the same thing!
Sing Me A Sad Song
Many cowboys used to sing “Streets of Laredo” around their campfires. Oh my! That’s my favorite song, I love it! Honestly, I cry every time I listen to it. But I will leave the lyrics speak for themselves…
“I see by your outfit, that you are a cowboy.
These words he did say as I slowly passed by.
Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story,
For I’m shot in the chest, and today I must die.”
Tell Me About Your Love, Cowboy
Many many songs based on the folk genre had been composed during the Western period and the early 20th century, totally inspired by‒what else?‒love! Despite the low number of happy marriages and Mail Order Brides, there were true romances as well.
“Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl…”
In this beautiful song called “El Paso” we see first-person narration! Our love story is told by a cowboy in El Paso, Texas, in the days of our beloved Wild West. The singer recalls how he used to visit a nightclub called “Rosa’s Cantina” where he became smitten with a young Mexican dancer named Feleena…
Oh my darling, this couldn’t be missing from my list! “Oh, My Darling, Clementine” is an American western folk ballad credited to Percy Montrose (1884). The melody of the song was originated from an old Spanish ballad. It was made popular by Mexican miners during the California Gold Rush. The melody was best known from a sad love story very popular in Spanish-speaking cultures, which was also in various English texts.
It is unclear when, where and by whom the song was first recorded in English but the first version to reach the Billboard charts was that by Bing Crosby recorded on June 14, 1941.
The song is an ode to the narrator’s deceased lover, Clementine, who drowned after she stubbed her toe and fell into the river, “hit her foot against a splinter, fell into the foaming brine”…
And For The End, Smile Please!
Music was, is and will be the human soul’s medicine.
To sum up my dear, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade…
And that’s exactly what people of the Wild West did, to cope with their harsh lives. It’s a nice thing to see that there was indeed romance and true love back in that time, despite the difficulties and the rough conditions of the era…
Love always finds a way…and that’s what I truly believe!
Thank you for reading my article and I sincerely hope I made you smile! Don’t forget to leave a comment with your thoughts, right below ♥️
I’m closing this article with my favorite song, I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart!
Enjoy your day!
Written by Cassidy Hanton