LORENA, A Song of the Civil War

This song was actually written in 1857 by H. D. Webster & J. P. Webster and, for obvious reasons, became popular with the men on both sides of the Civil War, after which it became a staple of the Old West. You can hear a traditional interpretation by John Hartford with excellent banjo accompaniment here. If the melody seems familiar, but the words don’t sound quite right, you’re not going crazy. In the 1960s, a more contemporary version made the rounds, and was recorded by such country luminaries as Johnny Cash and Bobby Bare. You can hear Bobby’s version of the song here.


The years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the grass again.
The sun’s low down the sky, Lorena,
The frost gleams where the flow’rs have been.
But the heart throbs on as warmly now,
As when the summer days were nigh.
Oh, the sun can never dip so low
A-down affection’s cloudless sky.

A hundred months have passed, Lorena,
Since last I held that hand in mine,
And felt the pulse beat fast, Lorena,
Though mine beat faster far than thine.
A hundred months, ’twas flowery May,
When up the hilly slope we climbed,
To watch the dying of the day,
And hear the distant church bells chime.

We loved each other then, Lorena,
More than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had but our lovings prospered well.
But then, ’tis past, the years are gone,
I’ll not call up their shadowy forms;
I’ll say to them, “Lost years, sleep on!
Sleep on! nor heed life’s pelting storms.”

The story of that past, Lorena,
Alas! I care not to repeat,
The hopes that could not last, Lorena,
They lived, but only lived to cheat.
I would not cause e’en one regret
To rankle in your bosom now;
For “if we try we may forget,”
Were words of thine long years ago.

Yes, these were words of thine, Lorena,
They burn within my memory yet;
They touched some tender chords, Lorena,
Which thrill and tremble with regret.
‘Twas not thy woman’s heart that spoke;
Thy heart was always true to me:
A duty, stern and pressing, broke
The tie which linked my soul with thee.

It matters little now, Lorena,
The past is in the eternal past;
Our heads will soon lie low, Lorena,
Life’s tide is ebbing out so fast.
There is a Future! O, thank God!
Of life this is so small a part!
‘Tis dust to dust beneath the sod;
But there, up there, ’tis heart to heart.


The Night Herding Song

Harry Stephens, an American cowboy, wrote this song circa 1890, while he was herding wild horses in Canada. While the rest slept, one or two unlucky cowboys always had to stand guard overnight. Called the “night hawk”, this job was one of the worst a cowboy could draw, and they believed the sound of music would keep the herds calm. You can hear a version of it by the inimitable Roy Rogers here. I believe he’s backed up by the Sons of the Pioneers, one of the most well-known Western bands, with whom he sang lead at the beginning of his career.




Oh slow down, little dogies, quit your roving ’round.
You’ve wandered and trampled all over the ground.
Oh, graze along, dogies, and go kinda slow,
And don’t always be on the go.
Move slow, little dogies, move slow.

I’ve circled, trail-herded, night-herded too
But to keep you together, that’s what I can’t do.
My horse is leg-weary and I’m awful tired,
But if I let you get away I’m sure to get fired.
Bunch up, little dogies, bunch up.

Oh say, little dogies, when you goin’ to lay down?
And quit this forever shiftin’ around?
My limbs are weary, my seat is sore
Oh, lay down, dogies, like you’ve laid before,
Lay down, dogies, lay down.

Oh, lay still, dogies, since you have laid down
Stretch away on the big open ground.
Snore loud, little dogies, and drown the wild sound
That’ll go away when the day rolls ’round,
Lay still, dogies, lay still.


#Music #Cowboysongs #amwriting #HistoricalFiction
A popular ditty with cowboys, this old tune has borrowed from both Irish and American traditions. If some of it sounds familiar, the line “Her parents don’t like me, they say I’m too poor” was borrowed by Peter, Paul & Mary for “Pretty Mary”; the lines “I’ll eats when I’m hungry” and “them that don’t like me” and the theme in general, all can be found in The Moonshiner by the Irish Rovers. For an American version of this song, you can’t do better than the Willis Brothers here.



Jack o’ diamonds, Jack o’ diamonds, I know you of old,
You’ve robbed my poor pockets of silver and gold.
Oh, whiskey, you villain, you’ve been my downfall,
You’ve kicked me, you’ve cuffed me, but I love you for all.

Oh Mollie, oh Mollie, it’s for your sake alone
That I leave my old parents, my house and my home,
That I leave my old parents, you caused me to roam,
I’m an old rebel soldier and Dixie’s my home.

My foot’s in my stirrup, my bridle’s in my hand,
I’m gonna leave Mollie, the fairest in the land.
Her parents don’t like me, they say I’m too poor,
They say I’m unworthy to enter her door.

They say I drink whiskey, my money is my own,
And them that don’t like me can leave me alone.
I’ll eat when I’m hungry, I’ll drink when I’m dry,
And when I get thirsty I’ll lay down and cry.

I’ll build me a castle on yonder mountain high,
Where my true love can see me when she comes riding by.
Where my true love can see me and help me to mourn.
I’m an old rebel soldier and Dixie’s my home.

I’ll get up in my saddle, my quirt in my hand.
I’ll think of you, Mollie, when in some far distant land.
I’ll think of you, Mollie, you caused me to roam,
I’m an old rebel soldier and Dixie’s my home.

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck,
I’d dive to the bottom to get one sweet sup.
But the ocean ain’t whiskey, and I ain’t a duck!
So I’ll play Jack o’ diamonds and try to change my luck.

Oh baby, oh baby, I’ve told you before,
Do make me a pallet, I’ll lie on the floor.
I’ve rambled and gambled this wide world around,
But it’s with the rebel army, dear Mollie, I’m bound.

It’s with the rebel army, dear Mollie, I roam,
I am a rebel soldier and Dixie’s my home.
I have rambled and gambled all my money away,
But it’s with the rebel army, oh Mollie, I must stay.

Jack o’ diamonds, Jack o’ diamonds, I know you of old,
You’ve robbed my poor pockets of silver and gold.

The Cowboy’s Dream

#amwriting #cowboysongs

A common theme in cowboy songs is the hope of heaven. This particular song is sung to a Scottish air virtually everyone is familiar with: My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. A very early (1935) and abbreviated recording of the song by The Sons of the Pioneers features Roy Rogers on vocals and yodel. It can be heard here.

The Cowboy’s Dream

Last night as I lay on the prairie,
And gazed at the stars in the sky,
I wondered if ever a cowboy
Would drift to that sweet by and by.

CHORUS: Roll on, roll on;
Roll on, little dogies, roll on, roll on,
Roll on, roll on;
Roll on, little dogies, roll on.

The road to that bright, happy region
Is a dim, narrow trail, so they say;
But the broad one that leads to perdition
Is posted and blazed all the way.

They say there will be a great round-up,
And cowboys, like dogies, will stand,
To be marked by the Riders of Judgment
Who are posted and know every brand.


I know there’s many a stray cowboy
Who’ll be lost at the great, final sale,
When he might have gone in the green pastures
Had he known of the dim, narrow trail.

I wonder if ever a cowboy
Stood ready for that Judgment Day,
And could say to the Boss of the Riders,
“I’m ready, come drive me away.”


For they, like the cows that are locoed,
Stampede at the sight of a hand,
Are dragged with a rope to the round-up,
Or get marked with some crooked man’s brand.

And I’m scared that I’ll be a stray yearling,
A maverick, unbranded on high,
And get cut in the bunch with the “rusties”
When the Boss of the Riders goes by.


They tell of another big owner
Whose ne’er overstocked, so they say,
But who always makes room for the sinner
Who drifts from the straight, narrow way.

They say he will never forget you,
That he knows every action and look;
So, for safety, you’d better get branded,
Have your name in the great Tally Book.

Note: if you’re interested in seeing more traditional cowboy songs, John A. Lomax anthologized many of the lyrics in Cowboy Songs & Other Frontier Ballads, published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1938. It’s available for download from the University of Nebraska.

The Colorado Trail

#cowboymusic #amwriting

Here’s a wonderful cowboy song with one of most popular themes, the girl he left behind. There are several versions out there, some with more or different verses, but my favorite is this short and sweet one by the Norman Luboff Choir. You can listen to it here.

The Colorado Trail

Eyes like the morning star,
Cheeks like a rose,
Laura was a pretty girl,
God almighty knows.

Weep all ye little rains,
Wail, wind, wail,
All along, along, along
The Colorado trail.

Stars fading in the sky,
Day’s gonna break.
Sun will be arisin’ soon,
Everything will wake.


Red River Valley

This is a song whose roots are clouded by history, though two schools of thought prevail.  The first is that it originated in upstate New York as “The Bright Mohawk Valley”, and moved West with the pioneers.  The second is that it originated in the Red River Valley of Canada and moved south from there.  In either case, by the 1880s, it was well known to cowboys (who would have assumed it referred to the Red River in Texas), and the most commonly-heard verses follow.

Red River Valley

From this valley they say you are going,
I shall miss your sweet face and bright smile,
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened my pathway awhile.

I’ve been thinking a long time my darling,
Of those sweet words you never would say.
Now all of my fond hopes have vanished,
For they say you are going away.

Then come sit by my side if you live me.
Do not hasten to bid us adieu,
And remember the Red River Valley
And the cowboy who loves you so true.

I have promised you, darling, that never
Would words from my lips cause you pain;
My life will be yours forever,
If only you’ll love me again.

There never could be such a longing
In the heart of a poor cowboys breast,
As dwells in this heart you are breaking
While I wait in my home in the west.


Do you think of this valley you are leaving,
Oh, how lonely and dreary it will be?
Do you think of the kind hearts you are breaking,
And the pain you are causing to me?

They will bury me where you have wandered,
Near the hills where the daffodils grow,
When you’re gone from the Red River Valley,
For I can’t live without you, I know.

Perhaps the most popular recorded version of this song is by Gene Autry. You can listen to it here.

Or, if you prefer the Smothers Brothers, their version is here.

The Old Chisholm Trail

Tying in with this week’s Tuesday Trivia, I hereby present:

The Old Chisholm Trail

Come along, boys, and listen to my tale,
I’ll tell you of my troubles on the old Chisholm trail.

Come-a-ti-yi-yippy, yippy-yay, yippy-yay,
Come-a-ti-yi-yippy, yippy-yay.

I started up the trail October twenty-third,
I started up the trail with the 2-U herd.

Oh, a ten dollar hoss and a forty dollar saddle,
And I’m a-gonna punch some Texas cattle.

I’m up in the mornin’ afore daylight
And afore I sleep the moon shines bright.

It’s cloudy in the West, a-looking like rain,
And my danged old slicker’s in the wagon again.

No chaps, no slicker, and it’s pouring down rain,
And I swear I’ll never night-herd again.

Oh, it’s bacon and beans ‘most every day,–
I’d as soon be a-eatin’ prairie hay.

I’m on my best horse and I’m goin’ at a run,
I’m the quickest shootin’ cowboy that ever pulled a gun.

I went to the boss to draw my roll,
He had it figgered I was nine* in the hole.

Goin’ back to town to draw my money,
Goin’ back home to see my honey.

With my knees in the saddle and my seat in the sky,
I’ll quit punching cows in the sweet by and by.

*Nine refers to nine dollars; this cowboy had drawn more in advances than he had earned.

This song has at least a dozen more verses, and it’s very easy for children to learn. With this one, and other simple ditties like it, each cowboy would select the verse that he liked best and sing it (or even make up his own verse), while all joined in the refrain. It was usually sung with the refrain after every verse, but usually recorded with the refrain after every 2 or 3 verses.


This is another one of those cowboy songs I learned very early on: I can’t begin to tell you how many verses I’ve heard to it. I’m including only the ones that are most popular, the ones I’ve heard recorded by more than one source. A “dogie”, of course, is a cow.


As I was out walking one morning for pleasure,
I spied a cow-puncher all riding alone;
His hat was throwed back and his spurs was a jingling,
And as he approached he was a-singin’ this song,


Whoopi-ti-yi-yo, git along little dogies,
It’s your misfortune, and none of my own.
Whoopi-ti-yi-yo, git along little dogies,
For you know Wyoming will be your new home.

It’s early in the spring we round up the dogies,
We mark ’em and brand ‘em and bob off their tails;
Round up our horses, load up the chuck-wagon,
Then throw the dogies upon the trail.


Your mother was raised away down in Texas,
Where the jimson weed and sand-burrs grow;
Now we’ll fill you up on prickly pear and cholla
Till you are ready for Idaho.


Notes: Since both my maternal and fraternal grandparents lived two hours away (in opposite directions, no less), and in the days before cars were equipped with anything more than a radio, it was critical for the seven of us children to be happy in the car. One of the tricks my parents had was teaching us these songs, and then letting us make up our own verses as we went along. It was so much fun, I’ve adapted it to my manuscripts, and let my fictional Donovan family do it as well.

Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye

Today’s song is an Irish ditty that was borrowed by America during the Civil War. I’m posting both versions here, starting with the American one. The Johnny referred to was Johnny Reb.

The original Irish version follows. It’s traditionally sung with a pause before the last line of both the verses and refrain. It is, for me at least, a much more realistic look at the fortunes of war.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

When Johnny comes marching home again, Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The men will cheer and the boys will shout,
The ladies they will all turn out,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

The old church bell will peal with joy Hurrah! Hurrah!
To welcome home our darling boy, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The village lads and lassies say
With roses they will strew the way,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

Get ready for the Jubilee, Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll give the hero three times three, Hurrah! Hurrah!
The laurel wreath is ready now
To place upon his loyal brow,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day, Hurrah, hurrah!
Their choicest pleasures then display, Hurrah, hurrah!
And let each one perform some part,
To fill with joy the warrior’s heart,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home!

Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye

When goin’ the road to sweet Athy, haroo, haroo
When goin’ the road to sweet Athy, haroo, haroo
When goin’ the road to sweet Athy,
A stick in me hand and a drop in me eye,
A doleful damsel I heard cry, “Johnny I hardly knew ye!

“With their guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With their guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With their guns and drums and drums and guns,
The enemy nearly slew ye!
Darlin’ dear, ye look so queer, Johnny I hardly knew ye.

“Where are those eyes with which ye smiled, haroo, haroo
Where are those eyes with which ye smiled, haroo, haroo
Where are those eyes with which ye smiled
When my poor heart ye first beguiled?
Why did ye go leave me and the child? Johnny I hardly knew ye!


“Where are those legs with which ye run, haroo, haroo
Where are those legs with which ye run, haroo, haroo
Where are those legs with which ye run
When first ye went to carry a gun?
Indeed yer dancing days are gone, Johnny I hardly knew ye!


“Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, haroo, haroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, haroo, haroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg,
Ye’re an eyeless, noseless, chickenless egg
Ye’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!


“I’m happy for to see ye home, haroo, haroo
I’m happy for to see ye home, haroo, haroo
I’m happy for to see ye home,
Back from the isle of Salam,
So low in flesh, so high in bone, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!


Note: the reference to the isle of Salam probably means the battle of Salamanca in 1812, during the Peninsular War, itself a subset of the Napoleonic Wars.

I Ride an Old Paint

This is one of the first cowboy songs I ever learned. It’s simple and it’s sung quite slowly, making it an ideal introduction to Old West music, particularly for children.

I Ride an Old Paint

I ride an old paint, I lead an old Dan,
I’m goin’ to Montan’ for to throw the hoolihan.
They feed in the coulees, they water in the draw;
Their tails are all matted, their backs are all raw.

Ride around, little dogies, ride around and slow,
For the fiery and snuffy are a-rarin’ to go.

O, when I die take my saddle from the wall,
Put it on my pony and lead him from his stall.
Tie my bones to his back, turn our faces to the west,
And we’ll ride the prairies that we both love best.

Ride around, little dogies, ride around and slow,
For the fiery and snuffy are a-rarin’ to go.

Notes: A “paint” is a pinto pony; an “old Dan” is an old mule; and throwing “the hoolihan” (or “hooley-han”) describes a certain method of back-handed roping.