Oct 27, 2022 by Tempe Javitz

Cowboy songs are often referred to as “Western Music,” as opposed 
to Country Music.  Cowboy music celebrates the lifestyle of the 
cowboy on the open range.  It has never been limited to just cowboys, 
however, but also celebrates mountain men, the ‘49ers, immigrants, 
outlaws, lawmen, and the beauty and grandeur of the West.  Country 
music, on the other hand, is an American musical style that 
incorporates elements of folk, bluegrass, blues, and rural dance
music. Music historians trace its origins to the southern Appalachian
Mountains in the late 1920s, particularly in eastern Tennessee 
and southwest Virginia.

Cowboy songs were influenced by folk music from England, Wales, 
Scotland and Ireland.  The “Streets of Laredo” traces its lineage
to European Folk Music.  “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” (based
on a sea shanty written by Edwin Hubbell Chapin) and “Home on the
Range” were first published in 1910 in John Lomax’s “Cowboy Songs
and Other Frontier Ballads.” 
Some of the most easily recognized Western songs include: Little Joe
the Wrangler, The Old Gray Mule, The Gal I Left Behind Me, Git Along
Little Dogies, Red River Valley, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, and The Old 
Chisholm Trail.

As a child my siblings and I loved hearing Gene Autry and Roy Rogers
sing, and we followed their films.  The singing group, The Sons of 
the Pioneers, were our favorites.  Best of all was our singing cowboy
dad, Torrey Johnson, Jessamine’s fifth child.  When dad pulled out 
his guitar we sang along.  My favorite was “Ragtime Cowboy Joe.”  
Torrey also sang at local parties.  Family history states that he
sang at some of the local bars in Chicago for tuition money when he
attended the University of Chicago for two years.

My dad Torrey, his brothers Victor and Brad, and their cousin Herschel
all played the guitar and sang to the dudes at the Spear O Wigwam in 
the Bighorn Mountains outside Sheridan, Wyoming.  The Wigwam became a
popular vacation for easterners in the 30s as a less expensive trip
than going overseas.  

Hershel Elarth (cousin) and Torrey               Brad Johnson (later Spear)
  Johnson singing for the guests,                         September 1, 1943
       October, 1934.

The growing popularity of Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National 
Park brought many guests to the dude ranches in Wyoming and Montana as a
great side trip from the parks.  One of the most requested songs at the
Wigwam was “A Little Cabin in the Bighorn Mountains.”  This song’s verses
were composed by Jessamine’s sister, Elsa Spear Byron, from a country 
music tune titled “Little Cabin in the Cascade Mountains,” popularized
by the singing duo Frank Luther and Carson Robison in a 1930 recording
by the Victor label. (See what research can turn up!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short journey into Western Cowboy Songs.

Guitar:  A plucked and strummed six stringed-instrument, which 
originated in Spain in the late 15th or early 16th century.  The word
probably comes from the ancient Greek word kithara.  The early guitars
had four strings.  A fifth was added for more notes, and the sixth 
string was added in the 1700s.
Plectrum or Pick:  A flat tool, usually made of plastic, used to pluck
and strum a guitar.
Ragtime Cowboy Joe by the Sons of the Pioneers—just for fun: