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date: 11 December 2019

Cowboy songlocked

  • Charlie Seemann


An American occupational folk song of working cowboys. Authentic traditional cowboy songs are occupational folk songs, as are the Work songs of sailors, loggers, and miners. With origins in the trail-drive days of the late 1800s, they grew out of day-to-day work experience and reflect the tasks and life of the working cowboy. These songs express harsh realism, dealing with the business of herding cattle, the hardships and dangers of the drive, and the food and living conditions on the trail and in the cow camps. Non-occupational western songs dealing with various other aspects of the frontier experience—outlaws, buffalo hunting, Indian fighting, women, and immigration—are often considered to be cowboy songs. While most cowboy songs comprised verses made up by cowboys, many had origins in folk songs from the British Isles. Some are reworked versions of older songs, such as “Streets of Laredo,” which can be traced to a British broadside ballad, and “Bury me not on the lone prairie,” which is a cowboy version of the old sailor’s song “The Ocean Burial.” Originally an oral tradition, in the late 19th century such songs began to appear in popular newspapers, as broadsides, in stockmen’s journals and other magazines, and in songbooks. The first significant collections were N. Howard “Jack” Thorp’s ...

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