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!

 

Influences

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!

 

Instruments

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.

One of the classic yodeling songs was the Cattle Call, which was actually written in 1934 by a guy named Tex Owens, during an era when singing cowboys were very popular.

 

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…

 

Clementine, Clementine

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

40 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sure many people consider “Red River Valley” to be their favorite cowboy song. It did not originate in the period when the songs you mentioned above originated but is nonetheless a beautiful song that has been sung and recorded by many artists.

  2. My favorite cowboy boy song was Ghosts Riders in the Sky.
    When a young one loved to watch Hopalong Cassidy, Roy
    and Dale Rogers, Gene Autry, Maverick, Bonanza all of
    them. Think it is great all these shows are back if you
    have Cable. My favorite radio show was Bobby Benson and
    the B-Bar-B Riders.
    I also like Sioux City Sue & (I Got Spurs That) Jingle, Jangle, Jingle.
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  3. I loved it! The info was interesting and the old song was great. I would really like to hear more of these songs.
    THANK YOU!

  4. Very romantic! The Wild West and all the unknowns. Could people really meet and fall in love!? Thank you for your writings. Bringing to life everything that was trying and hard to life. Love always finds a way.

  5. It’s interesting how many American Folk ballads have roots in other countries. I was taking a back to see that banjos came from Africa. I clicked on the Streets of Laredo and it took me to where you found this info. There I read the whole song and man is it sad. Thank you for putting together this article. I agree we all need music.

  6. Don’t forget cowboy poets! Some are still around and youngsters are picking up on the popularity of this neglected part of literacy and language education.
    So much history is being lost in the name of “progress” . I could go on and on but I’ll get off my soapbox now. Wonder how many kids know what soapbox were? Hmmmm!

  7. Thanks so much for the “share.” As I read this blog filled with wonderful memories of my daydreams of being a cowgirl, I almost cried. I was born and raised in St. Louis, MO, and my mom’s side of the family lived south of St. Louis about and hour and a half from my home. It was the country and I thought I was related to everyone in the little town of Gumbo, MO. Desloge, Flat River and Farmington were all small towns and there were so many farmers with horses, cattle, pigs as best I recall. My love was horses and the cowboys who rode them. I grew up watching, Sky King, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, The Cisco Kid and Annie Oakley and pretend to own horses just like theirs and as fast on the draw as they were – I was always doing good things in our town (at least in my mind). Growing up I read all I could get my hands on about the Southwest and West. I eventually attended Sul Ross State University in Alpine, TX, and had some of the best Professors in such classes as Southwestern Literature, and studied folklore in classes and met with some of the old ranchers and listened to how their families settled the town. I listened to the Cowboy Poet group when they came to the school – and you brought all that joy and precious memories back to me. Now still at 72 I still dream of when I rode horses and pretended to be a real cowgirl. This makes me so happy and I look forward to any other bloggings or books you want to share. Bless you much for brightening my day!

  8. It’s the first time that I heard this song & my oh my is it uplifting!! I can imagine why it sold like hot cakes during the Depression as it was a way to escape the dreary life being experienced by so very many people. Thank you for this. I do love Western songs & here in Australia we have a plethora of western song singers amongst them the well known & much loved, late Slim Dusty who sang about life in the bush & country towns he travelled with his wife.

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