Home on the Range

Words by Brewster Higley: music by Daniel E. Kelley, 1876

When would you estimate "Home on the Range" was written? What animal was no longer roaming the range by 1890?

This was a song advertising an idealized West to prospective homesteaders. How did it appear to easterners?

This became one of the earliest cowboy songs known. What role do you think singing played for cowboys? Pass time, calm herds, build teams.

What phrases paint the most vivid images? What are your favorites?

What does it mean to "romanticize" something? What phrases in this song seem more romantic than realistic? How did songs like these contribute to westward expansion?

What were some reality checks cowboys and settlers ran into that may have changed their romantic notions about the West?

What other cowboy songs have you heard? Which are work songs? Which are ballads? The cowboy heyday ended by 1890. Why did their songs live on?


"Home on the Range" performed by Roy Rogers, © 2013. Available on Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube.

This performance is by one of the most famous cowboy actors, Roy Rogers (1911–98). Known as "the King of the Cowboys," he appeared in over 100 films and numerous radio and television episodes of The Roy Rogers Show. In many of his films and television episodes, he appeared with his wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino Trigger, and his German Shepherd dog Bullet.

View the lyrics and music for "Home on the Range."

Dr. Brewster Higley
Dr. Brewster Higley, 1890, courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society, https://www.kansasmemory.org/item /207843

Though we think of "Home on the Range" as the quintessential cowboy song, it was originally written about the ranges being surveyed by the government for homesteading, not the cattle ranges. The original words of "Western Home," as it was first called, were written by Brewster Higley and published in 1876 in Kansas in the Kirwin Chief. Soon another Kansan, Daniel E. Kelley, set it to music.

William and Mary Goodwin wrote a miner's adaptation of the song in 1904. Folklorist John Lomax published the lyrics we use today in his 1910 book Cowboy Songs. These words became the best-known cowboy song in the 1930s because of Franklin D. Roosevelt's fondness for it.

In 1947 "Home on the Range" became the state song of Kansas.

 

Find paintings or photographs that illustrate the verses of "Home on the Range." Match images and lyrics to create a slide show or multimedia presentation of the landscape of the West.

Rewrite "Home on the Range" for your region, using language to paint images of your landscape.

Compare this song to:

"Old Chisholm Trail," "Old Paint," "Git Along Little Dogies" and "Red River Valley," also from this era.

"America the Beautiful" (this unit)

zephyrs: Gentle winds.

balmy: Mild, fragrant, and soothing.

curlew: A wading bird.