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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Q Lyr Req: Whose Old Cow (N. Howard Thorp) (26) RE: 19th century black cowboy rap 12 Aug 03


Guy Logsdon, in "The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing," credited Thorp with "Whose Old Cow." These notes from that book expand on the comments by Guest, Lighter.
Thorp moved to New Mexico in 1886 from his brother's ranch in Nebraska and bought horses to be sent to the east and trained as polo ponies, learning cowboying at the same time. He became a singing cowboy who carried his banjo-mandolin with him as he rode from cow camp to cow camp.
His collecting story and others were published posthumously in "Pardner of the Wind." His story, "Banjo in the Cow Camps," was previously published in the August 1940 Atlantic Monthly. He recalled: "In the nineties, with the exception of about a dozen, cowboy songs were not generally known. The only ones I could find I gathered, a verse here and a verse there, on horseback trips that lasted months and took me hundreds of miles through half a dozen cow-country states..." He started collecting in 1889 as the trail driving years were coming to a close. He jotted the words in a notebook. One of the first he collected was "Sam Bass" (supposedly written by John Denton, Gainesville, Texas, in 1879).

Thorpe also mentioned that he dry-cleaned the songs to remove unprintable words; the range version of the "Top Hand" (Waddie Cow boys," "The Top Screw") was a "scorcher." Unfortunately, these early versions have been lost.

Thorp emphasized that cowboys seldom knew what tune they were using for a song, and that the songs were sung solo, never by a group. He says songs were not sung during night herding, "I have stood my share of night watches in fifty years and I never heard any singing of that kind."


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