Cowboy Songs & Frontier Ballads

Streets of Laredo

As I walked out on the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen
Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay.


“Oh, beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
Play the Dead March as you carry me along,
Take me to the green valley and lay the sod o’er 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 boldly 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 o’er 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 of this shall you mention
When a crowd gathers round you my story to hear.”

“Then beat your drum slowly and play your fife lowly,
Beat the Dead March as you carry me along,
We all love our cowboys so young and so handsome,
We all love our cowboys although they’ve done wrong.”

“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 young 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 ’tis too late.”

“Oh muffle your drums, then play your fifes merrily
Play the Dead March as you go 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
Once in the saddle I used to go gay,
First down to the dram-house and 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 carry 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 carry me along,
And in the grave throw me and roll the sod o’er 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 turned, 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.

To California during the gold rush.

To California during the gold rush.

Sweet Betsy From Pike – “A California Immigrant Song of the Fifties”

Oh, don’t you remember sweet Betsy from Pike
Who crossed the big mountains with her lover Ike,
And two yoke of cattle, a large yellow dog,
A tall, shanghai rooster, and one spotted dog?
Saying, good-bye, Pike County,
Farewell for a while;
We’ll come back again
When we’ve panned out our pile.

One evening quite early they camped on the Platte,
‘Twas near by the road on a green shady flat;
Where Betsy, quite tired, lay down to repose,
While with wonder Ike gazed on his Pike County rose.

They soon reached the desert, where Betsy gave out,
And down in the sand she lay rolling about;
While Ike in great terror looked on in surprise,
Saying “Betsy, get up, you’ll get sand in your eyes.”
Saying, good-bye, Pike County,
Farewell for a while;
I’d go back to-night
If it was but a mile.

Sweet Betsy got up in a great deal of pain
And declared she’d go back to Pike County again;
Then Ike heaved a sigh and they fondly embraced,
And she traveled along with his arm around her waist.

The wagon tipped over with a terrible crash,
And out on the prairie rolled all sorts of trash;
A few little baby clothes done up with care
Looked rather suspicious, — though ’twas all on the square.

The shanghai ran off and the cattle all died,
The last piece of bacon that morning was fried;
Poor Ike got discouraged, and Betsy got mad,
The dog wagged his tail and looked wonderfully sad.

One morning they climbed up a very high hill,
And with wonder looked down into old Placerville;
Ike shouted and said, as he cast his eyes down,
“Sweet Betsy, my darling, we’ve got to Hangtown.”

Long Ike and sweet Betsy attended a dance,
Where Ike wore a pair of his Pike County pants;
Sweet Betsy was covered with ribbons and rings.
Quoth Ike, “You’re an angel, but where are your wings?”

A miner said, “Betsy, will you dance with me?”
“I will that, old hoss, if you don’t make too free;
But don’t dance me hard. Do you want to know why?
Dog on ye, I’m chock full of strong alkali.”

Long Ike and sweet Betsy got married of course,
But Ike getting jealous obtained a divorce;
And Betsy, well satisfied, said with a shout,
“Good-bye, you big lummax, I’m glad you backed out.”
Saying, good-bye, dear Isaac,
Farewell for a while,
But come back in time
To replenish my pile.

Tall Men Riding

Oh, the high hawk knows where the rabbit goes,
and the buzzard marks the kill
But few there be with eyes to see the tall men riding still
We hark in vain on the speeding train
for an echo of hoof beat thunder
And the yellow wheat is a winding sheet
for cattle trails plowed under

Hoof dust flies at the low moon’s rise
and the bullbat’s lonesome whir
Is an echoed note from the longhorn throat of a steer,
in the days that were
Inch by inch, time draws the cinch,
till the saddle will creak no more
And they who were lords of the cattle hordes
have tallied their final score

This is the song that the night birds
sing as the phantom herds trail by
Horn by horn where the long plains fling
flat miles to the Texas sky
And this is the song that the night birds wail
where the Texas plains lie wide
Over the dust of a ghostly trail
where the phantom tall men ride

Cowboys at Blanco Canyon, Texas

Cowboys at Blanco Canyon, Texas

The Texas Cowboy

Oh, I am a Texas cowboy,
Far away from home,
If ever I get back to Texas
I never more will roam.

Montana is too cold for me
And the winters are too long;
Before the round-ups do begin
Our money is all gone.

Take this old hen-skin bedding,
Too thin to keep me warm, —
I nearly freeze to death, my boys.
Whenever there’s a storm.

And take this old “tarpoleon,”
Too thin to shield my frame, —
I got it down in Nebraska
A-dealin’ a Monte game.

Now to win these fancy leggins
I’ll have enough to do;
They cost me twenty dollars
The day that they were new.

I have an outfit on the Mussel Shell,
But that I’ll never see,
Unless I get sent to represent
The Circle or D.T.

I’ve worked down in Nebraska
Where the grass grows ten feet high,
And the cattle are such rustlers
That they seldom ever die;

I’ve worked up in the sand hills
And down upon the Platte,
Where the cowboys are good fellows
And the cattle always fat;

I’ve traveled lots of country, —
Nebraska’s hills of sand,
Down through the Indian Nation,
And up the Rio Grande; —

But the Bad Lands of Montana
Are the worst I ever seen,
The cowboys are all tenderfeet
And the dogies are too lean.

If you want to see some bad lands,
Go over on the Dry;
You will bog down in the coulees
Where the mountains reach the sky.

A tenderfoot to lead you
Who never knows the way,
You are playing in the best of luck
If you eat more than once a day.

Your grub is bread and bacon
And coffee black as ink;
The water is so full of alkali
It is hardly fit to drink.

They will wake you in the morning
Before the break of day,
And send you on a circle
A hundred miles away.

All along the Yellowstone
‘Tis cold the year around;
You will surely get consumption
By sleeping on the ground.

Work in Montana
Is six months in the year;
When all your bills are settled
There is nothing left for beer.

Work down in Texas
Is all the year around;
You will never get consumption
By sleeping on the ground.

Come all you Texas cowboys
And warning take from me,
And do not go to Montana
To spend your money free.

But stay at home in Texas
Where work lasts the year around,
And you will never catch consumption
By sleeping on the ground.