Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie

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"Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie" is a cowboy folk song. Also known as "The Cowboy's Lament", "The Dying Cowboy" and "Bury Me Out on the Lone Prairie", the song is described as the most famous cowboy ballad.[1][2] Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[3] Based on a sailor's song, the song has been recorded by many artists, including Moe Bandy, Johnny Cash, Burl Ives, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers and William Elliott Whitmore.

History[edit]

Earlier Version[edit]

The ballad is an adaptation of a sea song called "The Sailor's Grave" or "The Ocean-Burial", which began "O bury me not in the deep, deep sea.",[4][5][6] The Ocean Burial was written by Edwin Hubbell Chapin, published in 1839, and put to music by George N. Allen.[7][8]

First times in print[edit]

The melody and lyrics were collected and published in Carl Sandburg's 1927 American Songbag.[9]

Originally collected with different music than that widely known today, Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie first appeared in print with the present melody in 1932, with a likely origin of North Carolina, though the speaker at that time requested—contrary to other renditions—to "bury me out on the lone prairie."[10]

The song has been a popular recording, having been released on album by Moe Bandy, Johnny Cash, Burl Ives, Tex Ritter, and Roy Rogers, among others.[11][12] Even avant-garde musicians, The Residents, have covered the song for live performances. Under the alternate title "Bury Me Out on the Lone Prairie", it has been recorded by Johnnie Ray.[13]

A version of this song was used in the popular video game Red Dead Redemption, sung by William Elliott Whitmore.

Premise[edit]

The song records the plaintive request of a dying man not to be buried on the prairie, away from civilization. In spite of his request, he is buried on the prairie. As with many folk songs, there are a number of variations of that basic theme.

Lyrics[edit]

This version of the lyrics date back to the early 19th century.

"O bury me not on the lone prairie."
These words came low and mournfully
From the pallid lips of the youth who lay
On his dying bed at the close of day.

He had wasted and pined 'til o'er his brow
Death's shades were slowly gathering now
He thought of home and loved ones nigh,
As the cowboys gathered to see him die.

"O bury me not on the lone prairie
Where coyotes howl and the wind blows free
In a narrow grave just six by three—
O bury me not on the lone prairie"

"It matters not, I've been told,
Where the body lies when the heart grows cold
Yet grant, o grant, this wish to me
O bury me not on the lone prairie."

"I've always wished to be laid when I died
In a little churchyard on the green hillside
By my father's grave, there let me be,
O bury me not on the lone prairie."

"I wish to lie where a mother's prayer
And a sister's tear will mingle there.
Where friends can come and weep o'er me.
O bury me not on the lone prairie."

"For there's another whose tears will shed.
For the one who lies in a prairie bed.
It breaks me heart to think of her now,
She has curled these locks, she has kissed this brow."

"O bury me not..." And his voice failed there.
But they took no heed to his dying prayer.
In a narrow grave, just six by three
They buried him there on the lone prairie.

And the cowboys now as they roam the plain,
For they marked the spot where his bones were lain,
Fling a handful o' roses o'er his grave
With a prayer to God his soul to save.[14]

Alternative versions[edit]

  • One version collected for publication by the Southern Pacific Company in 1912 omits the final verse and concludes with another round of the chorus, which is there rendered:

"O bury me not on the lone prairie

Where the wild coyote will howl o'er me
Where the rattlesnakes hiss and the wind blows free

O bury me not on the lone prairie.[6]
  • Another specifies that the speaker is "a trapper...at the point of death /...short his bank account, short his breath".[5]

"Oh bury me not on the lone prairie.
Where the coyotes wail and the wind blows free.
And when I die, don't bury me
'neath the western sky, on the lone prairie."

"Oh bury me not on the lone prairie."
These words came soft and painfully
from the pallid lips of a youth who lay
on his dyin' bed, at the break of day.

But we buried him there, on the lone prairie
where the rattle snakes hiss and the wind blows free.
In a shallow grave, no one to grieve
'neath the western sky, on the lone prairie.

"Oh bury me not on the lone prairie."
These words came soft and painfully
from the pallid lips of a youth who lay
on his dyin' bed, at the break of day.
On his dyin' bed, at the break of day.

Recordings[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Webb, Walter Prescott (1981). The Great Plains. U of Nebraska Press. p. 459. ISBN 0-8032-9702-5. 
  2. ^ Calverton, Victor Francis (1973). The Liberation of American Literature. Octagon Books. p. 436. ISBN 0-374-91245-9. The most famous of the cowboy songs is the one entitled The Dying Cowboy, sometimes called, O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie. 
  3. ^ Western Writers of America. "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  4. ^ Lummis, Charles Fletcher; Archaeological Institute of America Southwest Society, Sequoya League, Archaeological Institute of America (1908). Out West: A Magazine of the Old Pacific and the New 28. Land of Sunshine Pub. Co. p. 219. 
  5. ^ a b American Folklore Society (1913). The Journal of American Folk-lore. 25-26. Houghton, Mifflin, and Co. p. 278. 
  6. ^ a b Southern Pacific Company Passenger Dept, Southern Pacific Company (1912). Sunset 29. Passenger Dept., Southern Pacific Co. p. 506. 
  7. ^ The Ocian Burial
  8. ^ Online book Life Of Edwin H. Chapin, D.D., by Sumner Ellis D.D., Boston, 1883, pages 32-34
  9. ^ Sandburg, Carl (1927). The American Songbag. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company. p. 20. Archived from the original on 2005-06-23. Retrieved 2014-07-06. 
  10. ^ Studwell, William Emmett (1994). The Popular Song Reader: A Sampler of Well-known Twentieth Century-songs. Haworth Press. p. 66. ISBN 1-56024-369-4. 
  11. ^ "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-01-10. [dead link]
  12. ^ "O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-01-10. [dead link]
  13. ^ "Bury Me Out on the Lone Prairie". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-01-10. [dead link]
  14. ^ Axelrod, Steven Gould; Camille Roman; Thomas J. Travisano (2003). The New Anthology of American Poetry: Traditions and Revolutions, Beginnings to 1900. Rutgers University Press. pp. 526–527. ISBN 0-8135-3162-4.