Friday, August 14, 2009

Home on the Range a Homesteader's Song

Home on the Range is a Classic Cowboy song, right? Well………..YES and NO. YES, because today we consider it a Classic Cowboy Song and it has been and is performed by many Western Music groups and artists. On the other hand NO, because the original words were actually written in 1872 by a homesteader, Brewster M. Higley.

Brewster Higley wrote a poem he called The Western Home and it was published under the title Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam in the Smith County Pioneer in December of 1873. A neighbor, Trube Reese, visited Higley and convinced him the poem should be set to music.

Together they visited Daniel E. Kelley who was a fidler and had experience as a musical performer. Kelley created the music for the song. Some sources say both Reese and Kelley were homesteaders too, other sources say Reese was a “local” and Kelley lived in Gaylord in Smith County, Kansas and made his living as a carpenter, moonlighting as a violinist with the “Harlan Brothers Orchestra.”

Nevertheless, it is well documented that in 1871 Brewster Higley filed a claim under the Homestead of 1862. Therefore, the original words were written by a homesteader, not by a cowboy.

However, the song was adopted and modified by settlers, cowboys, and others and spread across the United States in various forms. Some of the modifications became the version we know today with a more “cowboy flavor.” This version was published in the early 20th century by John Avery Lomax, a pioneering musicologist and folklorist. The words, "home on the range" never appear in Higley's original lyrics. [See below for Higley’s Version and Lomax’s Version]

When Texan turned New York City recording and radio artist Vernon Dalhardt made the first commercial recording of “Home on the Range” in the 1920’s it was a hit. During the Presidential Campaign of 1932 Franklin Roosevelt even declared it his favorite song. By 1935, Home on the Range was well known all across America and today is considered “an anthem of the American West.” The Kansas legislature voted to make Home on the Range the official state song on April 8, 1947.

Be sure to listen to Home on the Range recorded by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers for RCA on December 1, 1947. For more information visit this National Public Raio web page: http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/patc/homeontherange/index.html

Also see:

Green, Douglas B. 2002. Singing in the Saddle: The History of the Singing Cowboy. Nashville: Vanderbilt Press.

Griffis, Ken. 1986. Hear My Song: The Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneeers. Camarillo, CA: Norken.



Brewster Higley’s Original Version

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not cloudy all day.

Chorus
A home! A home!
Where the Deer and the Antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not clouded all day.

Oh! give me a land where the bright diamond sand
Throws its light from the glittering streams,
Where glideth along the graceful white swan,
Like the maid in her heavenly dreams.

Chorus

Oh! give me a gale of the Solomon vale,
Where the life streams with buoyancy flow;
On the banks of the Beaver, where seldom if ever,
Any poisonous herbage doth grow.

Chorus

How often at night, when the heavens were bright,
With the light of the twinkling stars
Have I stood here amazed, and asked as I gazed,
If their glory exceed that of ours.

Chorus

I love the wild flowers in this bright land of ours,
I love the wild curlew's shrill scream;
The bluffs and white rocks, and antelope flocks
That graze on the mountains so green.

Chorus

The air is so pure and the breezes so fine,
The zephyrs so balmy and light,
That I would not exchange my home here to range
Forever in azures so bright.

John A. Lomax’s Version (1910)

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Chorus
Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Where the air is so pure, the zephyrs so free,
The breezes so balmy and light,
That I would not exchange my home on the range
For all of the cities so bright.

Chorus

The red man was pressed from this part of the West
He's likely no more to return,
To the banks of Red River where seldom if ever
Their flickering camp-fires burn.

Chorus

How often at night when the heavens are bright
With the light from the glittering stars
Have I stood here amazed and asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours.

Chorus

Oh, I love these wild prairies where I roam
The curlew I love to hear scream,
And I love the white rocks and the antelope flocks
That graze on the mountain-tops green.

Chorus

Oh, give me a land where the bright diamond sand
Flows leisurely down the stream;
Where the graceful white swan goes gliding along
Like a maid in a heavenly dream.


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