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How often at night
When the heavens were bright
By the light of the twinkling stars,
Have I stood here amazed
And asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours.

The air is so clear,
The breeze so pure,
The zephyr so balmy and light;
I would not exchange
My home here on range
Forever in azure so bright.

                                      from "The Western Home"

In 1873, when Brewster Higley and others improved upon a poem Higley had written, a Western anthem and the makings of “Home on the Range” were born.  Higley’s partners talked him out of lines such as “Where life streams with buoyancy flow” and convinced him that “the skies are not clouded all day” needed just a bit of work. Today “Home on the Range" is the state song of Kansas, a tune recognized the world over. 

Mary (Harlan-Barr) Norris, a descendant and relative of the brothers-in-law who helped create the song (Dan Kelley, and Clarence, Eugene and Virgie Harlan were the collaborators) shared information and the earliest versions of the poem and song with us.

The Original Poem

The First Version of the Song

Lomax' Versions

Links and More

 

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of CowboyPoetry.com.

The first song version of "The Western Home" is included in The Big Roundup, an anthology of classic and contemporary poetry from CowboyPoetry.com.

 

 


The Western Home

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
  Where the deer and the antelope play;
  Where never is heard a discouraging word
     And the sky is not clouded all day.

Oh, give me the gale of the Solomon vale
  Where life streams with buoyancy flow,
  On the banks of the Beaver, where seldom if ever
     Any poisonous herbage doth grow.

Oh, give me the land where the bright diamond sand
   Throws light from the glittering stream;
   Where glideth along the graceful white swan,
      Like a maid in her heavenly dreams.

I love these wild flowers in this bright land of our;
   I love, too, the curlew's wild scream.
   The bluffs of white rocks and antelope flocks
     That graze on the hillsides so green.

How often at night, when the heavens are bright
   By the light of the glittering stars,
   Have I stood there amazed  and asked as I gazed
      If their beauty exceeds this of ours.   

The air is so pure, the breezes so light,
   The zephyrs so balmy at night,
   I would not exchange my home here to range
      Forever in azure so bright.

The original poem by Brewster Higley (With thanks to Mary (Harlan-Barr) Norris)

The Western Home

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 sky is not cloudy all day.

   A home, a home
      Where the deer and the antelope play,
   Where never is heard a discouraging word
      And the sky is not cloudy all day.

Oh, give me land the land
    There the bright diamond sand
  Throws its light on the glittering stream
     Where glideth along
  The graceful white swam
     Like a maid in her heavenly dream.

Oh, give me the gale
     Of the Solomon vale
  Where the life stream of buoyancy flows
     On the banks of the Beaver
  Where seldom, if ever
     Any poisonous herbage doth grow.

I love the wild flowers
     In this bright land of ours,
  I love, too, the wild curlew's scream
     The bluffs and white rocks
  And antelope flocks,
     That graze on the mountain so green.

   A home, a home
     Where the deer and the antelope play,
   Where never is heard
     A discouraging word,
   And the sky is not cloudy all day.

How often at night
     When the heavens were bright
  By the light of the twinkling stars,
     Have I stood here amazed
  And asked as I gazed
     If their glory exceeds that of ours.

The air is so clear,
     The breeze so pure,
  The zephyr so balmy and light;
     I would not exchange
  My home here on range
     Forever in azure so bright.

   A home, a home
     Where the deer and the antelope play;
   Where never is heard
     A discouraging word
   And the sky is not cloudy all day.


The first version of the song, written with Dan Kelley, and Clarence, Eugene and Virgie Harlan  (With thanks to Mary (Harlan-Barr) Norris)

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 the cities so bright.

The red man was pressed from this part of the West,
He's likely no more to return
To the banks of Red River where seldom if ever
Their flickering campfires burn.

How often at night when the heavens are bright
With the light of 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.

Oh, 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. 

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.

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.

 

From Cowboy Songs, 1910 by John A. Lomax.  See more details below

(Lomax Version 2)

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.

A home, 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.

Oh, give me a jail, where I can get bail,
If under the shining sun; 
I'll wake with the dawn, I'll chase the wild fawn,
I'll ride with my saddle and gun. 

 

From Cowboy Songs and other Frontier Ballads, 1938 by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax, Macmillan, New York: 1938, pp. 427-428.  The authors' note says "The second version... should be sung in an entirely different spirit."  The tempo direction for the first Lomax version "Slowly, with deep feeling"; the direction for the second version is "With a rollicking lilt." 


 

Notes and Links

 

The Home on the Range site includes stories about the song and the people connection with it, much of it by descendants.  There are many interesting links.

 

A site (no longer posted) devoted to recording technology history stated:

1908 - John Lomax, on his first trip west, recorded a black saloon keeper in San Antonio singing "Home on the Range" on an Edison cylinder and the lyrics were written down and published in the book "Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads" by Lomax in 1910 and the song became a national favorite..."

Another recording technology history site http://www.zzounds.com/edu--recordinghistory here notes:

1908 - Home on the Range is recorded and becomes a hit song.  [thanks to E.L.]

 

Cowboy Songs and other Frontier Ballads, by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax, Macmillan, New York: 1938, p. 424, which has two versions of the song (above) states:

Oscar J. Fox, San Antonio, Texas, published an arrangement of this song after it had remained unnoticed for many years in Cowboy Songs.  For a time "Home on the Range" was the most popular song on the air.  A suit for a half-million dollars was brought on copyright -- probably the largest sum ever asked for one song.  A Negro saloon keeper in San Antonio gave me the music to "Home on the Range" as herein reprinted.  The words are also identical with the version of Cowboy Songs,1910.  They were assembled from several sources and have since often been pirated.

        (See our Books page for more about this and other classic books.)

 



In Songs of the Cowboys, by N. Howard ("Jack") Thorp, with Variants, Commentary, Notes, and Lexicon by Austin E. and Alta S. Fife, Clarkson Potter, New York: 1966 (out of print), the Fifes state in a note on page 18:

"Home on the Range" became the object of a six-figure damage suit in the 1930's when, as Franklin D. Roosevelt's favorite song, it achieved world popularity.  It was ironical that none of the claimants has any valid rights to authorship since the song had floated in the public domain for sixty years!  Words were written by Brewster Higley, VI, M. D. in 1873, and first printed (without music) in the Kirwin (Kansas) Chief, February 26, 1876.  Music was added by one of the pioneer doctor's acquaintances, Daniel E. Kelley, who, typically, did not set his melody in musical notation.  For a full account see "The Story of 'Home on the Range'" by Kirke Mechem in The Kansas Historical Quarterly, XVII, 4 (November, 1949), p. 313-39.  Thorp rightly excluded it from his 1908 work, if he had encountered it by then, because it is not a cowboy song. The noun "range" as used in modern commercialized forms of the song does not appear in the Higley-Kelley version. 

 

Yet another version of the song attributed to "William and Mary Goodwin (1904)" is included with other versions at a site by Thomas J. Porter, Associate Professor of Music at Bismarck State College.

 

  There area photos and interesting details about the Brewster Higley cabin and more information at this site that includes other Kansas homestead information as well.  Our thanks to Gary and Debbie for the photo on the left.

 

 

 

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