Why do cowboys sing to cattle?

Driving cattle to market was a long and arduous job. It often took six to eight months to move herds from Texas to Kansas.  It was not uncommon to lose both cattle and men along the way….from wranglers, shootings, drowning, disease.

One of the greatest dangers was a stampede. The slightest disturbance could set one off, but lightning and thunder was the most common cause. It was important to keep the cattle calm.  Once bedded down, usually two cowboys would circle the herd in opposite directions. On a clear night, one cowboy would sing one verse of a song, while the other would sing the next.  However, this did not always keep the cattle calm.  One spooked animal could easily set off the others.

One unidentified cowboy wrote in “Report on Cattle, Sheep and Swine”:

“The first symptom of alarm is snorting. Then if the guards are numerous and alert, so that the cattle cannot easily break away, they will begin ‘milling’, i.e. crowding together with their heads toward a common center, their horns clashing, and the whole body in confused rotary motion, which increases, and unless controlled, ends in a concentrated outbreak and stampede. The most effectual way of quieting the cattle is by the cowboys circling around and around the terrified herd, signing loudly and steadily, while too, the guards strive to disorder the ‘milling’ by breaking up the common movement, separating a bunch here and there from the mass and turning them off, so that the sympathy of panic shall be dispersed and their attention distracted, as it is in part, no doubt, by the singing.”

Image result for picture of a cowboy singing to cattle

Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man
Washed his face with a fryin’ pan
Combed his hair with a wagon wheel
And died with a toothache in his heel

Get out the way, Old Dan Tucker
You’re too late to get your supper
Get out the way, Old Dan Tucker
You’re too late to get your supper

Old Dan Tucker come to town
Riding a billy goat, leading a hound
The hound dog barked and billy goat jumped
And landed old Tucker on a stump

Get out the way, Old Dan Tucker
You’re too late to get your supper
Get out the way, Old Dan Tucker
You’re too late to get your supper

Old Dan Tucker got drunk an fell
In the fire and kicked up holy hell
A red-hot coal got in his shoe
An oh my Lord the ashes flew

“Texas Lullaby”

Sittin’ by myself in the summertime, when the heat is burnin’ down
Watchin’ the golden crops in the field just growin’ without a sound
I was a boy raised in the country and it’s still a part of me
And you see no matter where I go it’s a beautiful memory
Rise with sun at the break of day, lookin’ out my window
It’s the same as yesterday
Sittin’ under an old oak tree, pickin’ my guitar in the shade
That old tree spreadin’ over my head is the closest friend I made

Just me and some lonely wooden music, floatin’ through air
The grass is rustlin’ and the birds are singin’ and my heart don’t have a care
Still another day finds me in the fields, sweat is soakin’ up my ragged clothes
But I’d rather work than steal

Watchin’ the sun settle down over open Texas land, looking at the cattle
And the horses runnin’ wild as they can
Life was different in the old days, you just get a day’s work done
When you were finished workin’ in the fields, there was chores at home to be done

I was always hearin’ music, always wanna play me some
As a full-time friend or the way to ease the end of a woman that swayed me some
Hearin’ those tunes always had a way of soothin’ out my soul
When times got hard and work got slow it was music that kept me whole
Sun beatin’ down through the trees, gets so hot bring a workin’ man to his knees
Part of my heart, part of my soul, part of a melody
Hands are clappin’ and people swayin’ in simple harmony
Life was different in the old days, you just get a day’s work done
When you finished workin’ in the fields there was chores at home to be done

Late in the evenin’ on the front porch when the sun is settin’ in the west
Me and the boys pass around the bottle and sing what we like best
Sing about our wives, sing about our children, singin’ out the Delta blues
We’re simple folks and we like it that way, got nothin’ left to lose

Part of my heart, part of my soul, part of a melody
Hands are clappin’ and people swayin’ in simple harmony
Life was different in the old days, you just get a day’s work done
When you finished workin’ in the fields there was chores at home to be done
Singing a Lullaby

Although the most famous cowboys of the old west were white men like Roy Rogers and Billy the Kid, one in four of America’s cowboys were African-American. Many of the slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries were familiar with cattle herding from their homelands of West Africa. This brings historians the question of the name “Cowboy” and whether or not it was made from slave cow herders.

The life of the black cowboy was tougher than most. It was the black cowboy who broke the horses and herded the cattle across the rivers.  Though they took on the toughest jobs, it was better to be a black cowboy on the ranch than a slave on the plantation picking cotton.

The life and legacy of black cowboys is still alive through the Federation of Black Cowboys. The organization takes inner city kids off the street and teaches them life on horseback. The fundamental tools they learn at Cedar Lane give them hope for bright futures – something many of them may not have had in their crime-ridden and drug-infested surroundings. Each child learns responsibility before being given the privilege to ride. They must learn to completely care for their stables. The Federation of Black Cowboys ranch is located near Queens, New York, with only a white fence separating them from the busy city streets.

Image result for pictures of Black cowboys
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