Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Home on the Range - an Environmental Folk Song    

By Andy Kerr

Column #20 - Go to next column

Length: 642 words

First published: 24 April 1997, Wallowa County Chieftain

I have this inconsistency.

I am of the opinion that we shouldn't have livestock on public lands, and in general, there are far too many Bovine Americans (livestock).

I can also take or leave cowboys, either the real ones because of how they spend their workday, or the far more plentiful cowboy wannabees because of how they spend their time off.

But I must confess to liking "cowboy" (better known as the western in county and western) music.

Perhaps this is my version of hating the sin, being ambivalent about the sinner, but loving the sinner's music. (William Booth, founder of Salvation Army defended his appropriation of various British drinking music and replacing the bawdy lyrics with more Christian verse by asking: "Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?")

Rounder Records has just issued "Don't Fence Me In: Western Music's Early Golden Era." As I listen to those classics from the late 30s and 40s, I am struck that cows are mentioned by the cowboy singers only in passing or not at all. (While cows may not be the subject of cowboy songs, horses are quite a different matter.)

Instead the verses focus on friendship, wide open spaces, clean air, bright stars, birds, flowers, freedom, love (of women and horses), honor, duty and such.

The album from Rounder gets its title from that Cole Porter classic, made famous by the legendary Roy Rogers. While Roy did have his horse and dog stuffed (Oh!, Trigger and Bullet we hardly knew ye!) where they'll soon be on display at the RogersDale USA in Victorville, California, Roy has never stuffed any cows. (The Lord help Dale if she goes first to her great reward.)

The most well-known of cowboy folk song does not contain a single reference to cows. Instead, it extols the natural richness of the Western landscape, mentioning a number of species now in decline. environmentalists should reclaim this folk song, sing it around the campfire and teach it to their children.

Home on the Range

    Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam
    Where the deer and the antelope play;
    Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
    And the skies are not cloudy all day.


    Home, home on the range;
    Where the deer and the antelope play.
    Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
    And the skies are not cloudy all day.

    Where the air is so pure, the zephyrs so free,
    The breezes so balmy and light;
    That I would not exchange my home on the range,
    For all of the cities so bright.

    How often at night when the heavens are bright,
    With the light from the glittering stars;
    Have I stood here amazed and asked as I gazed,
    If their glory exceeds that of ours.

    Oh, I love these wild flowers in this dear land of ours,
    The curlew I love to hear scream;
    And I love the white rocks and the antelope flocks,
    That graze on the mountain tops green.

    On give me a land where the bright diamond sand,
    Flows leisurely down the stream;
    Where the graceful white swan goes gliding along,
    Like a maid in a heavenly dream.

    Yes, give me the gleam of the swift mountain stream,
    And the place where no hurricane blows;
    Oh give me the park where the prairie dogs bark,
    And the mountains all covered with snow.

    Then I would not exchange my home on the range,
    Where the deer and the antelope play;
    Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
    And the skies are not cloudy all day.

In the honored folk tradition of adding verses, I've penned a new last verse:

    Oh it will not be long 'til the livestock are gone,
    And the bighorn range without fear;
    When the native biotic will retake the exotic,
    And the streams again will run clear.

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