Root hog, or die

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Anonymous Pre-Civil War broadside titled "Root Hog or Die".

"Root, hog, or die" is a common American catch-phrase dating from well before 1834.[1] Coming from the early colonial practice of turning pigs loose in the woods to fend for themselves, the term is an idiomatic expression for self-reliance.


The term resulted in several songs with the same theme.

"Root Hog Or Die" (c. 1854)[edit]

Several songs of unknown authorship were published before the Civil War, including patriotic and minstrel songs. A patriotic version opens with:[2]

I'll tell you a story that happened long ago,
When the English came to America, I s'pose you all know,
They could'nt [sic] whip the Yankees, I'll tell you the reason why,'
Uncle Sam made 'em sing Root Hog or Die.

"Root, Hog, or Die" (1856)[edit]

The most popular song of the era was a minstrel song variously titled "Root, Hog, Or Die" or "Do Jog Along", sometimes credited to George W.H. Griffin, which was first copyrighted in 1856.[3] Many variations exist—a common first verse is:

I'm right from old Virginny wid my pocket full ob news,
I'm worth twenty shillings right square in my shoes.
It doesn't make a bit of difference to neither you nor I
Big pig or little pig, Root, hog, or die.

"Root Hog Or Die" (1858)[edit]

For the album, see Root Hog or Die

A song from the gold field camps on the front range of the Rockies written by G.W.H. Griffin in 1858 addressed the hardships of gold miners. The first verse:[4]

Way out upon the Platte near Pike's Peak we were told
There by a little digging we could get a pile of gold,
So we bundled up our clothing, resolved at least to try
And tempt old Madam Fortune, root hog or die.

Civil War songs[edit]

Both sides in the Civil War had root, hog, or die songs. A verse from "Flight of Doodles", a Confederate song, is typical:[5]

I saw Texas go in with a smile,
But I tell you what it is, she made the Yankees bile;
Oh! it don't make a nif-a-stifference to neither you nor I,
Texas is the devil, boys; root, hog, or die.

"A Philosophical Cowboy"[edit]

A folk song collected in 1911 tells of the hard life of the cowboy. The last verse is:[6]

Sometimes it's dreadful stormy and sometimes it's pretty clear
You may work a month and you might work a year
But you can make a winning if you'll come alive and try
For the whole world over, boys, it's root hog or die.

This version, and variations of it, are still recorded.[citation needed]

Newer versions have also been recorded. June Carter Cash had a minor hit in the 1950s with her version, now available on Youtube with guitar by Chet Atkins. The first verse is as follows:

When I was young and pretty
With a twinkling in my eye
I met a traveling man one day
And I guess he told a lie
When we was a courting
He called me sugar pie
Now he calls me other names
It's root, hog, or die
Root, hog, or die
Tell you the reason why
I met a traveling man one day
And I guess he told a lie



  1. ^ Crockett, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, p. 117-118: "We know'd that nothing more could happen to us if we went than if we staid, for it looked like it was to be starvation any way; we therefore determined to go on the old saying, root, hog or die."
  2. ^ —, "Root Hog or Die" (Broadside).
  3. ^ Griffin, "Do Jog Along" (Sheet music).
  4. ^ Davidson, Poems of the Old West, pp. 16-17: "A.O. McGrew is reported to have presented the following at Denver's first Christmas celebration, in 1858."
  5. ^ Moore, Rebel Rhymes and Rhapsodies, p. 86-89,
  6. ^ Fife & Fife, Cowboy and Western Songs.
  7. ^ accessed from (March 2013)


  • —. "Root Hog or Die" (broadside). Philadelphia: J.H. Johnson (c. 1854).
  • Crockett, David. A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee. Philadelphia: E.L. Carey and A. Hart (1834).
  • Davidson, Levette Jay. Poems of the Old West: A Rocky Mountain Anthology. Manchester, NH: Ayer Company Publishers (Facsimile edition, 1951).
  • Fife, Austin E., and Alta S. Fife. Cowboy and Western Songs: A Comprehensive Anthology. New York: C. N. Potter (1969).
  • Griffin, G.W.H. "Do Jog Along" (Sheet music). New York: E.A. Daggett (1856).
  • Moore, Frank (ed.). Rebel Rhymes and Rhapsodies. New York: George P. Putnam (1864).