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Songs of the Cowboys
By N. Howard (Jack) Thorp
Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.
1966
346 Pages
ISBN:  NULL

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Contains an introduction, variations, commentary, notes and a lexicon by Austin E. and Alta S. Fife; Music Editor: Naunie Gardner

In 1908, Jack Thorp published a small book of cowboy songs that he had collected. It was printed in Estancia, New Mexico, on rough stock, bound in red paper, and sold for fifty cents. This slim volume of only fifty pages and twenty-three songs became very rare soon after it was printed. It also became a landmark, for it was the first time the cowboy culture had been taken as something worth study and recording, and since then the cowboy has become virtually an industry.

In this book, the Fifes have elaborated this early collection to put the songs in their full cultural and historical perspective. Not only have the Fifes provided a facsimile of the Thorp edition, but they have given each song a general commentary and music; sources for an individual bibliography; the texts of variations; lists of commercial recordings, field recordings, and manuscripts; and places where there has been significant discussion of the song. There is also a lexicon of cowboy words and phrases, a general bibliography, and an analytical index. The result is that Thorp's famous collection is once again available, but now annotated with the most careful and complete scholarly aids.

The Fifes' interest in Western American folklore dates back to the 1930s. Vacations they were able to wedge in during graduate studies at Stanford and Harvard were spent interviewing old-timers from Arizona to Montana, Wyoming to California. Mr. Fife elicited anecdotes, tales, beliefs, sayings, proverbs, and pioneer reminiscences, while Mrs. Fife recorded them stenographically. During World War II Mr. Fife recorded the orally transmitted lore of American soldiers isolated at remote outposts in the South Seas, where he served as an Air Force historian. Later the Fifes specialized for a time on Mormon folklore, their work culminating in a book, Saints of Sage and Saddle, published by Indiana University Press in 1956. In the same year, Mr. Fife translated for Knopf The Borzol Book of French Folk Tales.

In recent years, the Fifes have directed their major efforts toward the songs, ballads, and other "primitive" poetry of the American West. Their collection, drawn from multiple sources (oral tradition, the archives of institutions, resources of other field collectors, periodicals, nearly fifty volumes, all neatly bound, paged, indexed, and cross-referenced, so that now the Fifes can say a great deal about the origin, content, melodic form, dissemination, and popularity of the hundreds of songs in the collection. It is with the insights offered by this vast collection that the Fifes have edited N. Howard Thorp's 1908 imprint.

Mr. Fife is head of the Department of Languages and Philosophy at Utah State University. He is a past vice-president of the American Folklore Society, an erstwhile fellow of the French Musee National des Arts et Traditions Populaires (1950), and of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1958). His teaching has been for the most part in the area of French language and literature, but he has also served as visiting professor of American folklore and folk song at the International Folklore Institute, Indiana University (1958), at the seminars of Western American Culture, Sonoma State College, California (1964), and at the Center for the Study of Comparative Folklore and Mythology, U.C.L.A. (1957, 1965). He has fulfilled advisory missions on modern languages and the humanities for the U.S. Office of Education, the Modern Language Association of America, and the Peace Corps. He has published articles on multiple aspects of the folklore of the American West™songs, stories, material culture, beliefs, sayings, etc.

Naunie Gardner, music editor of this volume, was born and reared in the cattle country of western Wyoming. She is a vocalist well known in the intermountain region, and a teacher of voice at Utah State University.