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Guide to Life and Literature
of the Southwest

Cowboy Songs and Other Ballads

COWBOY SONGS and ballads are generally ranked alongside Negro spirituals as being the most important of America's contributions to folk song. As compared with the old English and Scottish ballads, the cowboy and all other ballads of the American frontiers generally sound cheap and shoddy. Since John A. Lomax brought out his collection in 1910, cowboy songs have found their way into scores of songbooks, have been recorded on hundreds of records, and have been popularized, often -- and naturally -- without any semblance to cowboy style, by thousands of radio singers. Two general anthologies are recommended especially for the cowboy songs they contain: American Ballads and Folk Songs, by John A. and Alan Lomax, Macmillan, New York, 1934; The American Songbag, by Carl Sandburg, Harcourt, Brace, New York, 1927.


Singing Cowboy (with music), New York, 1931. OP.


Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, Macmillan, New York, 1938. This is a much added-to and revised form of Lomax's 1910 collection, under the same title. It is the most complete of all anthologies. More than any other man, John A. Lomax is responsible for having made cowboy songs a part of the common heritage of America. His autobiographic Adventures of a Ballad Hunter (Macmillan, 1947) is in quality far above the jingles that most cowboy songs are.

Missouri, as no other state, gave to the West and Southwest. Much of Missouri is still more southwestern in character than much of Oklahoma. For a full collection, with full treatment, of the ballads and songs, including bad-man and cowboy songs, sung in the Southwest there is nothing better than Ozark Folksongs, collected and edited by Vance Randolph, State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia, 1946-50. An unsurpassed work in four handsome volumes.


Texas Folk Songs, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, 1950. A miscellany of British ballads, American ballads, "songs of doleful love," etc. collected in Texas mostly from country people of Anglo-American stock. Musical scores for all the songs.

The Texas Folklore Society has published many cowboy songs. Its publications Texas and Southwestern Lore (1927) and Follow de Drinkin' Gou'd (1928) contain scores, with music and anecdotal interpretations. Other volumes contain other kinds of songs, including Mexican.

THORP, JACK (N. Howard).

Songs of the Cowboys, Boston, 1921. OP. Good, though limited, anthology, without music and with illuminating comments. A pamphlet collection that Thorp privately printed at Estancia, New Mexico, in 1908, was one of the first to be published. Thorp had the perspective of both range and civilization. He was a kind of troubadour himself. The opening chapter, "Banjo in the Cow Camps," of his posthumous reminiscences, Pardner of the Wind, is delicious.

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