Home on the Range

Does the name Dr. Brewster Higley ring a bell?  It didn’t with me until I researched the subject of this blog.  Now I’ll never forget it.

Dr. Higley, an Indiana physician and lawyer, left his practice in 1871 to move to the Kansas prairie.  He built a cabin on some land awarded him by the Homestead Act of 1862.  It wasn’t fancy living, and Higley’s parcel of land was small.  But evidently it was a beautiful place, with a creek running through it and wild animals, like buffalo, deer and antelope, roaming the landscape.

Dr. Higley seemed contented there.  He was so contented that one day in 1872, he sat down on the banks of the creek and jotted down a bit of poetry he titled, “My Western Home.”  It started like this:

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

The poem was never intended for an audience.  But one day a friend named Trube Reese dropped by the cabin for a visit, found the poem and convinced Higley to turn it into a song.  Higley got a fiddler named Dan Kelley to help him set the poem to music.  Here are a few more of the original lines:

A home! A home!  Where the Deer and the Antelope play,

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, And the sky is not clouded all day.

Oh! give me a land where the bright diamond sand Throws its light from the glittering streams,

Where glideth along the graceful white swan,Like the maid in her heavenly dreams.

The song was an instant hit.  Before long it had taken on a life of its own.  Settlers and cowboys passing through the territory heard the song and took it with them, adapting the lyrics to each new place.  There was “My Colorado Home,” and “My Arizona Home.”  Within five or six years, hardly anyone remembered who had written the original or set it to music.

The first commercial recording of “Home on the Range” was made by a Texas singer named Vernon Dalhardt.  More recordings followed.  By 1935, the song was everywhere.  Then an Arizona couple filed suit, claiming they’d written the song 30 years earlier.  An attorney doing research for the defense came across a copy of Higley’s poem in an 1876 edition of a Kansas newspaper.  Even with the changes over the years, the poem was close enough to the lyrics to establish Brewster Higley, who’d died in 1911, as the original author.

Early in the 20th century, Texas composer David Guion did a new arrangement of the music and sometimes credited as the composer.  “Home on the Range” was adopted as the state song of Kansas in 1947 and is commonly regarded as the unofficial anthem of the American West.

Want to here it sung?  Here’s a link.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_YK7ebcZ2o

 The version I learned in grade school is closest to the one presented by folklorist John Lomax (1910).  Do you have any special memories of “Home on the Range?”  Do you think children still sing it today?

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I'm an internationally published romance author, coming up on 40 novels and novellas. Most of my stories have been Westerns for Harlequin Historicals, but I set stories in other times and places as well. I'll also be writing contemporary stories for Harlequin Desire, with the first release in January 2013. You can learn more on my web site.

23 thoughts on “Home on the Range”

  1. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for sharing this post. Interesting, I’ve never heard of Dr. Brewster.

    I remember singing Home on the Range on about every road trip growing up. We’d get out in the open ranges of Wyoming and someone would start it up and the rest of us would join in on full volume. Sometimes we would see the buffalo roaming and it was a 100% guaranteed we’d see antelope playing. :o)

    My friend taught her daughters the song and I’ve heard other little voices belting it out. It’s great the song has endured.

  2. What a great memory, Kirstin, your family singing the song on the open range with buffalo and antelope playing. I have this picture in my mind…

    As a friend of mine pointed out, the buffalo and antelope are really bison and pronghorn. But somehow the proper names don’t work with the music. Thanks so much for visiting today.
    🙂

  3. What a terrific post, Elizabeth! Of course I knew the song but had no idea about its lovely history. I could totally envision the song in my head. I agree, bison and pronghorn don’t quite cut it LOL. oxoxoxo

  4. I’ve never heard of Dr. Higley but know his song well. This is an interesting post. One thing I noticed that we do differently is we sing “cloudy all day” instead of “clouded”.

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Tanya.

    FYI, the words “home on the range” don’t appear in the original poem. Higley used “range” as a verb, as in “I would not exchange my home far to range”. Credit some unknown cowboy for the way we sing it now.
    🙂

  6. Thanks for your comment, Vickie. When you read the original poem, you’ll notice the language is more formal and flowery than in the version we have now. Again, you can thank the cowboys.
    🙂

  7. How fasinating Elizabeth.. Thanks for sharing this. I can’t say that we sing a different version, but I like knowing the history of the song..

  8. Thanks, Elizabeth. I’ll remember Dr. Higley–I hope. I live around many displaced Kansas natives, and they rarely miss an opportunity to “mention” that Home on the Range is “their song.” lol

  9. Hi! This was an interesting post. I never heard of Dr. Brewster Higley, but I do remember the song “Home on the Range”. I don’t know if children still sing it today, but I would think depending on where the children are growing up that they might just be sing it.

  10. Back with you after a break.

    It struck me too, Kathleen, that of all the people who sing that song, very few know its history. Thanks for visiting today.

    Thanks for the smile, Tracy. I can imagine people from Kansas being proud of their popular state song. (The state song where I live is so lame you’d hardly ever hear it).

    I really do hope kids still sing this song, Becky. It’s such a part of our history and heritage. And it’s just plain fun.

  11. Interesting that in 1935 or so people were trying to claim credit for something that wasn’t theirs. I guess people have always been and will ever be the same.

    Interesting post. Never really thought about the origin of the song. Just another type of thing we tend to take for granted. It has always been there. I didn’t realize that variations had been done as people took it with them.

    I can remember sining it as a kid and singing it when my children were younger. I’ll have to ask my grandson, 13, if they are still singing it, especially at camp.

  12. I remember singing this song in grade school, too, Patricia. The boys didn’t care much for some of the songs we learned, but they loved this one. They would just belt it out.
    Hope your grandson is still singing. What a loss if this song were to disappear from our culture.

  13. Oops. Spelling correction here. My line above the u tube link should read “If you want to HEAR it sung…”

    This is the kind of mistake I make all the time, and Spell Check is no help at all. Sigh.
    🙂

  14. Great post Elizabeth – always fun to learn the history around the familiar things of our childhood. And yes, I remember singing this as a child and also teaching it to my kids when they were very young

  15. Elizabeth, that song really brings back memories of my childhood. I used to sing it all the time when I little. But I haven’t heard it for years. I’m not sure if kids learn it in school anymore.

    Thanks for jogging my memory. Very interesting about Dr. Higley. I wonder if he became so enamored with his land that he quit practicing medicine.

  16. Let’s hope your kids will teach it to their children, Winnie. This song needs to be remembered.

    I wondered the same thing about Dr.Higley’s practice, Linda. You’d think he’d at least be available to treat his frontier neighbors.

    Thanks both of you for posting

  17. Elizabeth, what a fun post! Being from Texas, “Home on the Range” is just about like our state anthem. It’s one of the first songs learned as a child. I knew nothing about the history, so thanks for researching and sharing it. Wasn’t it the theme song for a TV series back in the 50’s (not that you’d know anything about the 50’s like some of us LOL)? But for the life of me I can’t remember which one, except maybe a Disney show. Again, thanks for sharing. This is a great subject. Big hugs, Phyliss

  18. Hey, sweet lady, I definitely remember the ’50’s.
    If I can’t remember the TV series, it’s only because I grew up in a mountain valley where we couldn’t get TV signals till somebody built a relay tower about 1958.
    I think Disney may have used the song, and it’s probably been in other movies. Roy Rogers??
    Thanks for your fun comment.

  19. Hmmm. Your comment sparked a dim memory, Phyliss. Can anybody remember, during the heyday of TV Westerns, a very popular medly of western show themes? It started with a few bars of “Home on the Range” and then went into the Bonanza theme. I can hear it in my head now. It’s driving me crazy. Help!!
    🙂

  20. We sang this song in grade school along with a whole bunch of other great, classic American songs. I said to a bunch of kids not that long ago, “Let’s sing America the Beautiful.”
    they had no idea what I was talking about. They hadn’t been taught any of these songs in school.
    I suppose they’re learning RAP MUSIC instead.

  21. Oh, Mary, that is so sad. Makes you wonder what else kids aren’t being taught. I suspect it’s the same all over the country.
    Maybe that’s what grandparents are for…

  22. Elizabeth,

    Great Post!! Made me think of when I was a young child. I remember hearing that song on the radio. I home school my daughter so I make sure she hears these songs.

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

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