What is a Cowboy Song?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2019
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The cowboy song refers to a song by or about cowboys, or both. As a subgroup of folk songs of US origins, the cowboy song is second in number only to the spiritual and the songs of Native Americans.

The cowboy song has been classified into two types. The first type is a song that is made up and passed on by word-of-mouth in the oral tradition. The second type of cowboy song is an adaptation of found words to a familiar tune, creating a new song in the process.

The earliest collections of cowboy songs are credited to Nathan Howard Thorp, whose Songs of the Cowboy in 1908 is reckoned to be the first, and John Avery Lomax, whose 1910 collection, Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, collected for the first time many songs that are now among the best known of the genre.

Among the most popular cowboy songs are these seven. “The Old Chisholm Trail” is an anecdotal cowboy song, each stanza detailing the typical ups and downs in the life of a cowboy. “Git Along Little Dogies” has no ups: only downs. It is an episodic complaint about life on the trail.


“The Cowboy’s Lament,” in some versions called “The Dying Cowboy,” is the tale of a young cowboy who knows he’s “done wrong,” framed by the comments of the cowboy narrator of the story who finds him mortally wounded and sees to his burial. “Home on the Range” extols the beauty of the western United States. “I’m A-Leavin’ Cheyenne,” also known as “Old Paint,” tells of a cowboy leaving Cheyenne, heading to Montana.

Some examples of the cowboy song that tell a story are biographies of outlaws. One of these is “Billy the Kid,” which outlines the fall of Billy the Kid at the hands of Sheriff Pat Garrett. “Jesse James,” focuses on the end of the life of one of the famous James brothers, who was further immortalized in the 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.


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Post 3

@cmsmith10: For many years now, almost everything written about Jesse James has been disputed, even his death.

There are many people that claimed Jesse James faked his death and lived to be 101 years old. Due to all of the uproar, his grave in Missouri was dug up for DNA testing in 1995. The report stated that the mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) was consistent with the mtDNA of one of James’ relatives. However, even the DNA testing is being disputed. We may never know.

Post 2

@cmsmith10: Jesse James was one of the most notorious outlaws of the 19th century. He was a gang leader, bank robber, train robber, outlaw, and murderer from Missouri. He was also the most famous member of the James-Younger Gang. He is the epitome of the Wild West.

Jesse and his brother, Frank James, were Confederate guerillas during the Civil War and were accused of many atrocities committed against Union Soldiers. There were many portrayals of James as a “Robin Hood” by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. There is no evidence to support James giving to the poor.

James and his gang were the most active from 1866 to around 1876. In 1876, they attempted to rob a bank in Minnesota and many of the gang members were captured or killed. Over the years, they still led the life of crime until Jesse James was killed in 1882 by Robert Ford.

Post 1

What was Jesse James famous for?

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