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        Many of our famous  cowboy songs exist independent of any printed origin.   They have come down to us through oral tradition, passed down from one camp fire to another.  After the labors of the day were over, the cowboys gathered around the campfire, and the social hour of their day began. They spent the time yarning, telling poems, singing, joking, laughing. In the words of the painting (below) by Charles M. Russell , "Laugh Kills Lonesome", they killed a lot of lonesome.... and singing was a large part of it.                                                                                                                             


      Many of the songs they sang were anonymous; the original authors had long since been forgotten. However some of these songs can be traced back to the country of origin...and many of them came from Ireland.  It has been said that the Irish are the prime originators of country western music. And that brings us to "The Cowboy's Lament"...more commonly known as "The Streets Of Laredo."

           "The Cowboy' Lament" started out as an Irish drover ballad called "Bard of Armaugh".  The immigrants who settled this country brought with them a version called "The Unfortunate Rake".  In this song, a young man lies dying of mercury poisoning, brought on by the 18th century treatment for venereal disease. This song found its way to the cowboy camps and camp fires across the west.

        In 1876, Francis Henry Maynard changed the lyrics to fit cowboy life as he knew it. Maynard apparently took out a copyright. That doesn't necessary mean that he was the original or the only author of  lyrics to the song. (It means that he was the only one that cared enough to copyright his version of the old ballad.) The facts surrounding the emergence of  "The Cowboy's Lament" as the cowboy song we know today, are murky.

           While Maynard is generally credited with the authorship, there are authorities who claim otherwise. "Cowboy's Lament" appears in Jack Thorp's "Songs Of The Cowboys". Thorp says this in the head note to the poem:
               "Authorship is credited to Troy Hale, Battle Creek, Nebraska. I first heard it sung in a bar-room at Wisner, Nebraska, about 1886.

         There eventually were dozens of the song; and through the years it came to be known  as "The Streets of Laredo". They all retained a lot of the terminology from the songs days as "The Unfortunate Rake". The narrative line became confused and littered with the old Irish expressions that dated back to "The Bard Of Armaugh". As revised,"The Streets Of Laredo" became one of our best loved cowboy songs.   Well folks, here it is.

                                 

The Cowboy's Lament (The Streets of Laredo)
(Taken from "Songs Of The Cowboys" by Jack Thorp)

As I walked out in the Streets of Laredo
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a young cowboy, all wrapped in white linen
wrapped up in white linen and cold as the clay.

"Oh, beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
Play the Dead March as you bear me along;
Take me to the graveyard, and lay the sod over me,
For I'm a young cowboy, and I know I've done wrong.


I see by your outfit, that you are a cowboy,
These words he did say as I slowly stepped by-
"Come,  sit down beside me and hear my sad story;
I was shot in the breast, and I know I must die.

"Let sixteen gamblers come handle my coffin,
Let sixteen cowboys come sing me a song.
Take me to the graveyard and lay the sod over me,
For I'm a poor cowboy, and I know I've done wrong.

"My friends and relations they live in the Nation,
They know not where their boy has gone.
He first came to Texas and hired to a ranchman,
Oh, I'm a young cowboy, and I know I've done wrong.

"Go write a letter to my gray-haired mother,
And carry the same to my sister so dear;
But not a word shall ever you mention
When a crowd gathers round you my story to hear.

"There is another more dear than a sister,
She'll bitterly weep when she hears I am gone.
There is another who will win her affections,
For I'm a poor cowboy, and they say I've done wrong.

"Go gather around you a crowd of young cowboys,
And tell them the story of this my sad fate;
Tell one and the other before they go further
To stop their wild roving before 't is too late.

"Oh, muffle your drums, then play your fifes merrily;
Play the Dead March as you bear me along.
And fire your guns right over my coffin;
There goes an unfortunate boy to his home.

It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing,
It was once in the saddle I used to go gay.
First to the dram-house, then to the card-house:
Got shot in the breast, I am dying today.

"Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin;
Get six pretty maidens to bear up my pall;
Put bunches of roses all over my coffin,
Put roses to deaden the clods as they fall.

"Then swing your rope slowly and rattle your spurs lowly,
And give a wild whoop as you bear me along;
And in the grave throw me, and roll the sod over me.
For I'm a young cowboy, and I know I've done wrong.

"Go bring me a cup, a cup of cold water,
To cool my parched lips", the cowboy said;
Before I returned", the spirit had left him
And gone to its Giver - the cowboy was dead.

We beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly,
And bitterly wept as we bore him along;
For we all loved our comrade, so brave, young and handsome,
We all loved our comrade, although he'd done wrong.

Anonymous
 


 

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