"The Mormon Cowboy" An Arizona Cowboy Song and its Community

"The Mormon Cowboy"
An Arizona Cowboy Song and its Community
by James S. Griffith

from Chapter 6 in: A Shared Space: Folklife in the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1995. Appearing on the Web with the permission of the USU Press and Dr. James S. Griffith.

With this essay we move north from the PimerĂ­a Alta into the mountains of Gila County and the mining and cattle country south of Globe, Arizona. The song that is the subject of this case study has never achieved importance within the canon of cowboy songs, although a few revival singers have seen fit to add it to their repertoires. As the essay makes clear, however, borders of a kind exist beyond an international context, and materials which are shared by more than one subculture within our dominant society may well serve different functions and have different meanings in their various cultural contexts.

Texts on Record and in Tradition

On 13 October, 1929, a Texas cowboy singer named Carl T. Sprague stepped up to a microphone in a Victor recording studio in Dallas and performed a song which he called "The Mormon Cowboy"2 Sprague was no stranger to the recording process. Inspired by the success of Vernon Dalhart's 1924 recording of "The Prisoner's Song," he had appeared at the Victor offices in Camden, New Jersey, in August 1925 with his guitar and a collection of Texas songs, including some fine cowboy ballads. This was his fourth, and, though he did not know it, his last Victor recording session.3 Here are the tune and the text of the song "The Mormon Cowboy" that he recorded that day and which was issued as Victor V-40246. (I have divided the text into numbered couplets for easy reference, although the song is actually divided into seven verses of four lines each.)4

The Mormon Cowboy

1) I am a Mormon cowboy, and Utah is my home,
Tucson, Arizona, was the first place I did roam.
2) From there into El Capitan, a place you all know well,
To describe that brushy country, no mortal tongue can tell.
3) While at the old post office, a maid came riding down
Upon a bronco pony, and was soon upon the ground.
4) She gave to each and every one an invitation grand,
Inviting us to a grand ball at the old El Capitan.
5) We all went to the dance that night in the schoolhouse by the road;
Many folks came from Dripping Springs and many came from Globe.
6) The music they brought with them, I never shall forget,
'Twas a colored man with his guitar, I can hear him singing yet.
7) There were lots of married women there, and single girls, too;
I soon became acquainted with all except a few.
8) The cowboys in their high-heeled boots were leading the grand march,
While the city dudes soon followed, in collars stiff with starch.
9) After dancing two or three sets I stepped outside to cool,
Every bush that I passed by was loaded with white mule.
10) Then after serving supper, it was a quarter past one,
I heard a fight had started, each cowboy grabbed his gun.
11) Up stepped a little cowpuncher, his eyes were flashing fire,
He said he was the ramrod of the ranch called Bar F Bar.
12) I started for my pony, the guns were flashing fast,
I could hear the cowboys shouting "We broke it up at last."
13) So I bid farewell to my new-made friends and the place called El Capitan;
The fairest face I ever saw was in that wild and happy band.
14) I jumped into my saddle and started back toward home,
Made up my mind right then and there that I never more would roam.

Although the basic action of the song is easy to follow, certain usages should perhaps be explained. A "bronco pony" is one that is only partly broken. That the maid should ride such a horse is an indication that she is a good horsewoman and probably part of the local ranching community. "White mule" in this instance is bootleg or moonshine liquor. Stills were plentiful in Arizona as they were elsewhere during Prohibition, and illicit whiskey-making provides a popular topic of local cowboy reminiscences. (In the area around Globe and El Capitan, it was whiskey that was made; in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson it was mescal, a distilled product of the agave plant.) The "ramrod" of an outfit is the foreman or person in charge. Bar F Bar is the brand of the local ranch, and would be written --F--.

Nearly fifty years later, Sprague recalled that the song "was sent to me by a party whom I did not know but who had some of my early recordings and who had asked me to record this 'Mormon Cowboy' She sent me both the words and the music. I worked it over to suit my guitar playing and recorded it. It seemed to go over real well. I know nothing of the history of the song because the lady told me nothing about it. She just liked my recordings and wanted me to record 'The Mormon Cowboy' the way I had made all the other records."5

Although Sprague was pleased with its reception, the song seems to have not been picked up by other early commercial cowboy singers. Nineteen twenty-nine was late for genuine cowboy songs to take hold, and singing western movies were just around the corner, bringing with them the western song and its highly romanticized view of cowboy life. Furthermore, the localized, low-key events of "The Mormon Cowboy" do not seem to have had the appeal of, say, "The Sierry Petes (or Tying Knots in the Devil's Tail)" (Laws B17).6 Composed as verse by Arizonan Gail I. Gardner in 1917 and set to music by Gardner's fellow Prescott cowboy, Bill Simon, in the late 1920s, "Tying Knots in the Devil's Tail" was disseminated by radio, record, and dude ranch performances at about the same time "The Mormon Cowboy" was recorded. Gardner's song rapidly gained considerable currency in tradition.7

The story line of "The Mormon Cowboy"-a young man experiencing wild and exciting times while on a trip and then returning to the security of home-according to my colleague Hal Cannon, appears at least occasionally in the narratives of older Mormon men.8 This presents a strong contrast not only with such widely distributed cowboy songs as "The Trail to Mexico" (Laws B13)9 but also with many songs in the western genre that was to become so popular in the 1930s and 1940s. These latter often remark on the narrator's eagerness to return to the adventure and freedom of the open range.10 In some of the older cowboy songs, all does not go well for the protagonist. He dies in "The Streets of Laredo" (Laws B1), learns that his sweetheart back home died with his name on her lips ("Cowboy Jack," Laws B24), or decides that cowpunching is pretty unpleasant work ("The D-2 Horse Wrangler," Laws B27). These and similar songs appear to involve the theme of an individual being visited with the results of his own actions. This fits in well with the cow country aesthetic of individual responsibility, but it represents a far different outcome, in my opinion, from a hasty and relatively unscathed return to the fold after a fling at the wild life.

Although "The Mormon Cowboy" was not recorded again until the 1980s, it has been recovered in oral tradition. Al Bittick of Winkelman, Arizona, sang it on two recordings, now preserved in the Fife Collection at Utah State University.11 Neither of Bittick's texts contain any couplet that does not appear in Sprague's recording. Couplets 7 and 14 are omitted, however, and there are minor word changes throughout the song, although the general sense and the sequence of activity remain as Sprague presented them. Winkelman is a mining and ranching community a few miles south of Dripping Springs. It is close enough to Dripping Springs that Bittick might have been a member of the community described in the song.12

Yet another version of the song is in the performance repertoire of folklorist Barre Toelken. Toelken first heard the song from ex-cowboy Buck Fisk on the Navajo Reservation about 1954. In Toelken's words, ". . . he didn't know all of it, so I didn't learn it or begin singing it until I heard Joannie O'Bryant of Wichita sing it. She had learned it from a guy in Colorado, when she spent summers there (around Durango)."13 The late Joan O'Bryant was an English professor who collected and sang folksongs; two albums of her singing were issued by Folkways.14 Toelken went on to state that O'Bryant was aware that the song was also available on record, but felt that her version "had a clearer statement of story line or whatever." He describes her tune as being similar to that used by Buck Fisk. The text of the O'Bryant/Toelken version appears below.15 (For ease in reading, I have chosen to present the text in four line stanzas rather than in numbered couplets.)

I am a Mormon Cowboy and Utah is my home.
From here to old Phoenix was the first place I did roam;
From there down to El Capitan, a place you all know well,
To describe this brushy country no human tongue can tell.

I was standin' by the post office when a maid come a-ridin' down,
She stopped her pinto pony and soon was on the ground;
She gave to all us boys out there an invitation grand,
To attend a cowboy ball at the old El Capitan.

Well, Saturday night we all met there at the school-house by the road,
Some came in from Drippin' Springs, some came in from Globe;
Well, the music that they brought with them I never will forget,
'Twas a colored man with his guitar, and I can hear him singin' yet.

Now the cowboys in their high-heeled boots, they led us in the march,
The town dudes they all followed with their collars stiff with starch;
After dancin' around it once or twice I went outside to cool,
But every bush that I passed by was loaded with white mule.

Before I could reach my pony, the guns was flashin' past,
And the cowboys started yellin', 'It's breakin' up at last;'
So I bid farewell to the whole affair and to the old El Capitan,
But the prettiest girls that I ever met was in that wild and wooly land.

The Sprague recording was reissued in 1965 on the LP, Authentic Cowboys and Their Western Folksongs.16Since then, it has been "covered" by Sprague himself and by the Deseret String Band.17 I first heard the song on the Sprague reissue and was intrigued by the fact that it appeared to describe incidents that took place in Gila County, Arizona. I determined to attempt to trace the song's history and place it within its context. The remainder of this essay presents the results of that effort.

"The Mormon Cowboy" in Central Arizona

The ruins of the El Capitan, schoolhouse stand along Arizona State Highway 77, between the tiny settlement of Dripping Springs and Globe, the county seat. It was built by the residents of the El Capitan area on land donated by a local rancher, probably before 1920. School had previously been held in a tent, until the local people donated money and labor to build the schoolhouse. It had one room and was made of cement. In the early 1920s (the period described by our song) it accommodated about twenty students, between first and ninth grades. The teacher lived in a tent nearby. I have been unable to locate a photograph of the building.

Approximately once a month, the community would get together for a Saturday night dance. The young people would raise the money to pay the musicians by selling watermelons and box suppers, and a fine time was had by all. Local musicians would play, and the dances included squares, two-steps, and one-steps. The evenings would always end with "Home Sweet Home." The dances were attended not only by the families living in the area, but also by many of the cowboys who worked on nearby ranches. That part of Gila County was still rugged, open range, and roads were few. The Saturday night dances at the schoolhouse became important local events for the El Capitan area residents.18

The well-known Arizona writer and cowboy artist Ross Santee devoted a chapter of his book Lost Pony Tracks to the El Capitan dances and to some of the shenanigans that he remembers happening there.19 His was a cowboy's view of the proceedings. The dances were apparently well-chaperoned, and whatever homemade liquor there was remained well outside of the schoolhouse. However, some rather spectacular fights do figure in the memories of even the most respectable of my informants.20

Santee prints a version of the ballad which differs in three places from that sung by Sprague. This is of some interest, because Santee's version appears to be the source of the only other printed version I am aware of, which is in a mimeographed songbook distributed in the early 1970s by Coyote Wolfe, a local Globe character and author. Wolfe calls the song "The Mormon Cowboy, or El Capitan."21

As a result of a letter to the editors of the Globe Silver Belt, I was sent ten texts of the ballad. Two are identical with the Santee/Wolfe version and were probably taken directly from a printed text. Six others are similar to Sprague's text in that they have either the same or fewer couplets, with only the sort of variations one might expect from material in oral transmission. Among these variations are "Some cars came from Dripping Springs" in couplet 5, "wild and wooly band" in couplet 13, and "A Colorado man with his guitar" in couplet 6. There are also paraphrases such as:

She invited each and every one a grand ball to attend
to be held that Saturday night at the old El Capitan school.

None of these variations suggests to me that it might not derive from the same basic source as Sprague's text.

Two texts, though similar in many respects to Sprague's, contain an additional couplet after Sprague's last couplet. It reads:

And as she rode away, on her face a smile did gleam
And every time I thought of her, it seemed a happy dream.

This seems to introduce a new element -- romantic attachment between the maid and the cowboy -- into the song. This is elaborated in one of the two texts, which concludes with the following three "alternate stanzas:"

I went back to Utah, which is my native state,
I never was contented, no longer could I wait:
I received a lot of letters, mailed at El Capitan,
I knew that they were written by my lover's hand.

I saddled up my pony and headed out her way,
I know that she'll be waiting for that happy day;
Miles are getting shorter, I hope to be there soon,
In Safford we'll be married when the manzanitas bloom.

We'll give a dance and supper in the school house by the road,
Our friends will be invited from Dripping Springs and Globe;
The past will be forgotten, our troubles will be o'er,
We'll bring back of friendship and be happy evermore.22

These variations, in addition to many not detailed, should be sufficient evidence that the song was in oral tradition in Gila County and had a certain degree of independence from the recording. Another bit of evidence pointing in this direction is the attribution of authorship of the poem. Two correspondents believe that Sprague wrote the song; another attributed it to a local rancher named George Graham. Two more claim Hugh Wills as the author, while still another two opt for one Brigham Young. (Young did exist; he was a well-known local musician and band leader.) Yet another correspondent (who identifies herself with one of the characters in the song) mentions both Young and a Clarence Wills. Santee mentions being handed a manuscript of the poem by one "Bill Young," while Coyote Wolfe attributes the song to Santee and Shorty Carroway.23 I take all this apparently conflicting information as evidence that the song was around for a good while.

One informant, a man in his mid-eighties, felt that the song under consideration, which he called "El Capitan," is a 1920s rewrite by Hugh Wills of an earlier song, "The Mormon Cowboy." This he said was popular around the turn of the century. The only couplet of the earlier song he could recall is:

We all met at the old rock house, two men was shot that day,
But the lady who rode the buckskin horse was the one that got away.

This intriguing couplet stands alone so far, and I have found nobody else who remembers an earlier song.24

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the information I elicited concerning the song involves the glosses. Several people (including Santee in his book) identified both the black musician in couplet 6 and the feisty little cowboy in couplet 11. The former was a well-known local character named "Old Kentuck" or "Nigger Tuck." Stories concerning his behavior are still remembered and told. One Gila County text even mentions him by name:

The music they brought with them I never shall forget
Of Kentuck with his guitar, I can still hear him singing yet.

The "little cowpuncher" was Lyn Mayes, well known both as a cowboy and as a fighter. One informant volunteered that a fiddler named Jack Vineyard often appeared at the dances, while others identified Brigham Young's band as being regular musicians. Another caller identified the maid who came riding down in couplet 3 as Blanche Brittain, who later married the Mormon Cowboy, a man named "Teet" Hill. This was later corroborated by Blanche Brittain Hill, who provided many of the details used in this essay. For her, this song is a reminder of courtship and marriage.25

Other glosses are of equal interest. One woman called long distance from Missouri to sing a partial text for me and to tell me that the "brushy country" of couplet 2 consisted of manzanita thickets. (Anyone who has tried to ride or walk through a manzanita thicket will understand the comment in the couplet; manzanitas are thick-growing, tough and tangled, and a thicket of them is almost impenetrable.) This same woman told me she had lived as a child with her grandmother in the El Capitan area during the 1920s. Those were wonderful times in her eyes. They had picked manzanita berries to make jelly. They would cut their own Christmas trees, which stood from floor to ceiling, and had wonderful Easter-egg hunts. Mention of the song brought these and other memories back to her.26

A man wrote: "I was raised in that country and my father, grandfather, and many friends had ranches there. In those days there were a lot of cowboys and a lot of wild cattle. I don't know which was the wildest .... The event described wasn't as bad as it sounds. It was just a sort of cowboy harassment of a stranger for dancing with all the pretty girls and the fact that he was a Mormon didn't help him any" This interpretation of the song seems quite different from that given by Mrs. Hill.

Yet another correspondent put Sprague's record in perspective: "I came to Globe in April of 1918 and was a cowboy in Gila County for many years. The song which we called "The Mormon Cowboy" came out in the 1920s and was patterned after an actual incident that happened at a dance at the school .... There was a phonograph record cut of it, and all the `houses of joy' in Globe played it constantly for a while."27

I started my investigation of "The Mormon Cowboy" with one isolated text, that of a commercial record cut in 1929. I now have several additional texts and evidence that "The Mormon Cowboy" is in fact a folk song, using a fairly conservative definition of that term. That is to say, it is of uncertain authorship and has existed over time in more than one version. It certainly is not widely known or performed in Arizona or the West today. The late Van Holyoak, who lived about sixty miles north of Globe, had a copy of Coyote Wolfe's text, but didn't like the song enough to add it to his extensive repertoire of songs and recitations. My informants, on the other hand, had thought well enough of it to write it down, to learn, in some cases to remember and sing the words, and to send me their texts and reminiscences.

The reason seems at least partly clear. The song is a record of a series of incidents that were important to a specific community at a certain time. To those who had lived in the El Capitan area in the 1920s and were acquainted with those Saturday night dances and the people who attended them, the song was important. To others it held little interest. For some members of that western community, however, it brought back memories-of wild cattle, men, and times; of courtship and marriage; of making manzanita jelly with Grandma. How a person looked at the song depended to a great extent on who he or she was, but it is clear that the song was-and still is-the property of a community. A diverse community, to be sure, including cowboys and ranchers, town and country dwellers, Mormons and Gentiles-but a community nevertheless. "The Mormon Cowboy" in its variants and interpretations is in a real sense their song

Moving Beyond Gila County

Sprague's recordings, the O'Bryant/Toelken text, and the Deseret String Band recording provide our only real recorded evidence that the song has moved beyond the Gila County community that gave it birth. I have already stated that Sprague's recording was not covered by any other commercial artist prior to the Deseret String Band, an aggregation that includes among its members the folklorist Hal Cannon. Only the O'Bryant/Toelken version (and, to a lesser extent, the related Bittick version) represents a real departure from the Sprague recording. Although the O'Bryant/Toelken melody is related to that used by Sprague, it has a certain point of variation. While Sprague's melody is basically AABA, with the "coarse" and "fine" parts of the widespread Anglo American, two-part "fiddle tune" pattern, the O'Bryant/ Toelken melody, which has an ABBA organization (typical of Irish ballads), seems to derive from a different tradition. It is possible to speculate that this difference in melodies may reflect the changes that Sprague described as making the melody ". . . suit my guitar playing."

The O'Bryant/Toelken text also differs from the others in significant ways. In the first place, while the text contains no action or couplets that are not in the Sprague version, couplets 7, 10, 11, and 14 have been deleted. The omission of couplet 11 removed Lyn Mayes, "the little cowpuncher," from the song. His presence was not important to the development of the plot, but he was a part of the community present at the dances and, as such, is recognizable to many Gila County residents. The deletion of couplet 14 makes the song more readily acceptable to a community unfamiliar with (and indifferent to) more conservative narrative models that may involve returning to the safety of home after adventures in the outside world.

With couplets 7, 10 and 14 omitted, the narrator becomes less of an actor and more of an observer. Michael Korn has suggested that the narrator's involvement may be an important characteristic of western folk narrative, in contrast to the detached observer stance so prevalent in older Anglo-Celtic balladry.28 Finally, by changing "the fairest face" to the "prettiest girls" in couplet 13, the O'Bryant/Toelken version substantially changes the nature of the narrator's reminiscences. All this becomes more interesting in light of the fact that O'Bryant deliberately learned this version because she preferred the story line to that in Sprague's recording.

It should be noted here that both versions sung by Al Bittick, currently in the Fife Collection, were collected by O'Bryant. Both Bittick texts omit couplets 7 and 14, while including couplets 10 and 11. Both also use the phrase, "prettiest girls," in couplet 13. O'Bryant recorded Bittick twice, once in Arizona and once in Arkansas. I do not know whether or not he was the informant in Colorado who taught her the version she sang. If he was, either she or Toelken seem to have made additional changes in the text. The O'Bryant/Toelken melody seems quite close to Al Bittick's melody as it is transcribed in the Fife Archives.

There are other changes as well. While the Gila County texts do not as a rule express the present participle ending as "in"' (as in "singin"' or "Drippin' Springs"), the O'Bryant/Toelken text does. By the same token, the Gila County texts tend more towards standard English usage in verb pluralization than does the O'Bryant/Toelken text. In other words, there seems to be a deliberate attempt in the O'Bryant/ Toelken text to use dialect of a sort that does not appear in the Gila County texts or in other recorded performances. This may well be connected with the fact that both O'Bryant and Toelken may be described as "revivalist" singers. That is, they perform songs not directly within their tradition for an audience which may contain participants in a wide range of cultures. A typical audience for Toelken may well include people who are totally unfamiliar, not only with the Gila County community of the 1920s, but with any aspect of cowboy life or song.

This seems to indicate that, with the Bittick and O'Bryant/! Toelken renditions of "The Mormon Cowboy," we have some evident of the song beginning to move away from its local constituency, toward a wider audience. A local character is omitted, and narrative, language, and style seem to have been changed to conform to interests other than those of the community. Whether or not this process will continue is yet to be seen. Perhaps a new wave of interest in western song will carry "The Mormon Cowboy" further on his journey. But even if this does not happen, the song remains to remind us not only of events that took place some sixty years ago in central Arizona but also of some of the still important differences between communities in the western United States.

Finally, it seems appropriate to attempt to place "The Mormon Cowboy" within a larger body of folksong. Is it, for example, a "Mormon Song?" I think not. The songs I would be comfortable referring to by that label deal with some communal concern of the Mormon world: Mormon theology, for instance, as in "None can Preach the Gospel as the Mormons Do," or some event, large or small, of Mormon history, as in "The Handcart Song," or "Echo Canyon."29 These songs deal with issues and experiences specific to the social and religious concerns of the Mormon community: the virtues of Mormon religion and order; pushing handcarts across the plains; the experiences of communal labor. (This pattern is perceived by many non-Mormons living in Mormon country; I have more than once heard statements to the effect that "every time those Mormons dig an irrigation ditch, they write a song about it.") Our ballad certainly does not fit into this pattern of communal concern.

Yet, as I mentioned above, its theme reflects a conservative approach to adventures outside the home community-an approach that at least one folklorist found in conversations with older Mormon men who had cowboyed for a while and then been glad to get home.30 So while ours is not a Mormon song in the same sense as much of the material in the Hubbard and Cheney collections, it is apparently informed by attitudes that are compatible with Mormon tradition and world view. However, it remains sufficiently ambiguous in its cultural approach that it has been sung and valued by Mormons and Gentiles alike.

It is certainly a song of the American West. This is apparent in several ways. In the first place, it comes out of a uniquely western community composed of Mormons, Gentiles, cowboys, miners, and ranchers. It uses a vocabulary specific to that community. The melody is relatively sparse and unornamented, a quality which is shared by many older cowboy and western songs. As performed by Sprague, the song fits neatly into the rhythm of a walking horse, an important consideration for those who believe, as I do, that some of the older cowboy songs were adapted to a horse's various gaits. Cowboys sang to each other, of course, but many cowboy singers and reciters of my acquaintance do most of their singing and reciting while travelling from one place to another. Nowadays this can be in a pickup; in the old days it was on horseback.31

Whether the action be interpreted as a Mormon outsider being harassed because he danced with all the girls or as a young man half-regretfully returning to the security of the fold after a fling in the outside world or, given the alternative reading of one informant, as a tale of a courtship ending in marriage, the concerns of the song involve the maintenance of a community. In my opinion, this is not as surprising a theme to find in a cowboy song as one might think.

In an essay on western music, Thomas Johnson states that the thematic focus of older western songs is upon "man's relation to nature, and away from society and women."32 While final confirmation or denial of this hypothesis will have to await careful statistical analysis of a body of song that is commonly agreed upon as being "western" or "cowboy," I would like to comment briefly at this point.

The basic theme of cowboy songs as I know them strikes me as involving the individual, certainly, but often within the setting of the working community. Little Joe joins the trail drive, makes himself useful, and then dies while doing his part ("Little Joe the Wrangler," Laws B5). Charlie, who won't see his mother when the work's all done this fall, suffers a similar fate and is mourned by his fellows after he distributes his worldly goods among them ("When the Work's All Done this Fall," Laws B3). Sam Bass and Jesse James went up not against nature but against organized society and met their fates ("Sam Bass," Laws El; "Jesse James," Laws E4). In each case, their betrayer is reviled in the song-certainly an application of social values important for the functioning of a community.

The "Educated Feller" comes into camp and breaks social taboos by talking too much. "The boys" (read "local working community") attempt to punish him by giving him the Zebra Dun, a notorious outlaw horse, to ride. He redeems himself by proving himself a competent rider and therefore a worthy member of a working community ("The Zebra Dun," Laws B16). To me, it is this combination of individual will, action, and responsibility with community concerns that gives much of the older body of cowboy song its special flavor. The individual is certainly important and often must prove himself, but frequently this proof takes place in a community context, rather than in a solitary struggle against nature.

"The Mormon Cowboy" exhibits some of this concern with society, no matter what interpretation one places upon the action. Our narrator, however, does not prove himself in the classic manner, but vows to hightail it for home, adhering to values other than those of his working community. A far cry from High Chin Bob, who roped a mountain lion around the middle and, as a ghost, bragged that

"I took a ragin' dream in tow
And if I never laid him low
I never turned him loose" ("The Glory Trail" by Charles Badger Clark)33

This brings us once more to the ambiguity of the song. Not really a Mormon song or a cowboy song to the fullest extent, it rather seems to reflect the specific community from which it comes. In the culturally mixed community of the Globe-El Capitan area, several sets of values and cultural traditions coexisted, albeit uneasily at times. And it is my strong contention that this coexistence-between Blacks and Whites, Mormons and Gentiles, cowboys and miners, ranch and town folk, is reflective of the ethnic, religious, and occupational diversity that has always been a very real part of the American West.


1 An earlier version of this paper was read at the annual meeting the American Folklore Society in Nashville, Tennessee, October 1983. The paper was then published as Griffith, "`The Mormon Cowboy': An Arizona Cowboy Song and its Community," JEMF Quarterly 21 (Fall/Winter 1985, published 1990): 127-133. I wish to acknowledge the Center of Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for permission reprint this slightly revised version.

2 Harlan Daniel, Carl T Sprague discography, in Glenn Ohrlin, The Hell-Bound Train: A Cowboy Songbook(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973), 278-80. The song under discussion should not be confused with a bawdy song of the same title, also known in Arizona. In this other song, a young woman marries an unfortunate fellow whose "hobo would not stand." After he is tried and convicted by a Court of Ladies, she marries a Mormon Cowboy and is well satisfied. Guy Logsdon, coll. and ed., "The Whorehouse Bells were Ringing" and Other Songs Cowboys Sing (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1989).

3 John I. White, Git Along, Little Dogies: Songs and Songmakers of the American West (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), 189-95.

4 Recorded by Carl T. Sprague, October 13, 1929. Transcribed from the reissue LP, Authentic Cowboys and their Western Folksongs (RCA Victor LPV- 522.) Tune transcribed by John Fitch, University of Arizona.

5 Carl T Sprague, personal correspondence, June 20, 1978. On file at the Southwest Folklore Center of the University of Arizona Library (83-16/5).

6 This and subsequent citations to Laws refer to G. Malcolm Laws, Jr., Native American Balladry: A Descriptive Study and Bibliographical Syllabus, revised edition (Philadelphia: American Folklore Society, 1964). In Laws' system, ballads are classified thematically by narrative content and/or by the ethnic or occupational group in which the ballad is thought to have originated or had currency in tradition. The identifying letter and number indicate the class or category (letter) and the individual ballad types (number). For example, the "B" section is devoted to "Ballads of Cowboys and Pioneers". B17 refers to "Tying a Knot in the Devil's Tail."

7 White, Git Along Little Dogies, 117-25. Harlan Daniel (in Ohrlin, The Hell-Bound Train, 261) cites sixteen commercial recordings of "Tying a Knot in the Devil's Tail" made between 1930 and the early 1970s.

8 Hal Cannon, "Fame Price, Mormon Cowboy," unpublished paper read at the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society, Nashville, Tennessee (October 1983).

9 Ohrlin, The Hell-Bound Train, 158-51.

10 See, for example, "One More Ride" on the LP record The Sons of the Pioneers (JEMF 102).

11 The tapes were made on 2 August 1958, and 17 August 1958, respectively. It is interesting to note that there are slight but real differences between the texts.

12 FAC 188 and FAC II 112 in the Folklore Archives of Utah State University.

13 Barre Toelken, personal communication, November 28, 1983. On file at the Southwest Folklore Center of the University of Arizona Library (83-26/18).

14 Folksongs and Ballads of Kansas, Sung by Joan O'Bryant (Folkways LP 2134), and American Ballads and Folksongs (Folkways LP 2338). "The Mormon Cowboy" does not appear on either album's list of titles.

15 Transcribed from a tape by Barre Toelken, November, 1983. The tape is now in the Southwest Folklore Center of the University of Arizona Library (83-26/C-18).

16 RCA Victor LPV- 522.

17 Carl T. Sprague, Cowboy Songs from Texas (Bear Family Records LP, BF 15006). Recorded August, 1974, in Bryan, Texas. Deseret String Band (Okehdokee Records cassette, no number, 1981, also available on The Deseret String Band (Shanachie Records.)

18 The information in this paragraph comes from a tape-recorded interview with Blanche Hill, Tucson, Arizona, on file at the Southwest Folklore Center (80-5/R-1).

19 Ross Santee, Lost Pony Tracks (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972), 179-201.

20 Blanche Hill interview.

21 Santee (1972): 200-201; Coyote Wolfe, comp., Words for 30 Old Songs, photocopy of a 34-page mimeographed booklet, n.d., in the Southwest Folklore Center of the University of Arizona Library.

22 The preceding material is quoted from correspondence and notes on file at the Southwest Folklore Center. This is the source for all Gila County information not otherwise credited. (83-26/6 through 83-26/17; 82-27/C-1).

23 Wolfe, Words for 30 Old Songs.

24 Cliff Edwards interview, 10 May 1984, J. S. Griffith field notes.

25 Blanche Hill interview; other identifications come from correspondence on file at the Southwest Folklore Center.

26 Notes to a telephone conversation with Mrs. Loretta Shepherd, 8 May 1982, on file at the Southwest Folklore Center (83-26/13).

27 The material in these two paragraphs comes from correspondence on file at the Southwest Folklore Center (83-26/C-17; 82-27/C1).

28 Michael Korn, personal communication, January, 1984.

29 Thomas E. Cheney, Mormon Songs from the Rocky Mountains (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1981): #166, 144 ("None Can Preach the Gospel"); #38, 94 ("Echo Canyon"). Lester A. Hubbard, Ballads and Songs from Utah (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1961): #209, 399 ("The Handcart Song"). Cheney gives an excellent discussion of Mormon folksong in his "Introduction to Mormon Folksong," pages 3-22.

30 Hal Cannon, personal communication, June 1984.

31 In his novelette, "Hit the Line Hard," Eugene Manlove Rhodes has one of his characters describe what is apparently "The Old Chisholm Trail" as ". . . a saddle song. That goes to a trotting horse." I am aware that other scholars hold other views on this matter; my interpretation is that some cowboys adapted their songs to horses' gaits and others didn't. Rhodes, who wrangled horses and cowboyed in southern New Mexico in the 1880s, apparently did. See Eugene Manlove Rhodes, The Best Novels and Stories of Eugene Manlove Rhodes(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949): 371. See also Logsdon, Whorehouse Bells.

32 Thomas S. Johnson, "That Ain't Country: The Distinctiveness of Commercial Western Music," JEMF Quarterly 17 (Summer 1981): 75-84.

33 For the original text to "The Glory Trail," see Badger Clark, Sun and Saddle Leather (Tucson: Westerners International, 1983), 6972. (Although Clark's full name was Charles Badger Clark, he signed his books "Badger Clark) The poem also exists in oral tradition in different versions. Alternate traditional titles are "High Chin Bob" and "Way Up High in the Mokiones."

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