Wyoming, a Guide to Its History, Highways, and People

By Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Wyoming | Go to book overview

Music

LONG before the coming of the cowboy, the Plains Indians of the West sang of the vast prairies, their hunting grounds for centuries. Often their songs had no words but were sung with vocables set to a rhythm beaten out on tom-toms, drums, or baskets. Similarity and repetition of syllables can readily be recognized in these Arapaho words for the Ghost Dance:

Ni ni ni tu bi . , na hu -- hu
Ni ni ni tu bi . , na hu -- hu
Ba ta hi . , na . . ni hu . . hu
Ba ta hi . , na . . ni hu . , hu
Na hi na . . ni ha thi na
Na hi na . , ni ha thi na

In specific religious ceremonies great care was exercised by older men of the tribe to make certain that the words sung by an individual conformed to the ritual, else, they said, the offering would be harmful, and the worshiper would not travel a 'straight path.' Most of their songs were simple, and during the ceremonial dances the performers were sometimes so engrossed in portraying their emotions that music became incidental. In general the drum beats governed the action and movements of the body, while the song, frequently sung in different time, voiced the emotion of the appeal.

The tradition and conventions of Western music are a part of the heritage brought up along the cattle trails by Texas riders, whose professed and constantly restated melancholy and longing for the ranges 'back home' became the adopted and accepted themes of northern rangeland songs. The exact locations of 'home' varied widely, but the cowhand's desire to be 'somewhere else' was constant.

The State of Wyoming typifies the Old West, and here are found many of the original cowboy songs--the folk music of the Plains. The songs the cowboys sang while herding or at the roundup and their favorite 'lonesome' songs, which they sang around the campfire or in the bunkhouse in the evenings, form the bases of many popular

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