The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXVII. Oral Literature

§ 4. Historical Songs

In general, as over against sentimental, romantic, or adventure pieces, ballads dealing with historical events or important movements occupy but a small corner in American popular song. Captain Kidd has retained currency in New England and in the West, and the collector still comes at times upon ballads of the British highwayman, Dick Turpin. Some widely diffused songs, their authorship and origin now lost, which reflect emigrant and frontier life, especially the rush for gold in 1849, are Joe Bowers, Betsy from Pike, and The Days of Forty-Nine. Pretty Maumee possibly echoes relations with the Miami Indians. The Dreary Black Hills reflects the mining fever of one period of Western history; and there are other sectional satires, like Cheyenne Boys, Mississippi Girls, or humorous narratives or complaints, like Starving to Death on a Government Claim. The best-known pieces reflecting pioneer or prairie life are O Bury Me not on the Lone Prairie, and The Dying Cowboy, or The Cowboy’s Lament, both of which are adaptations. The latter especially has roamed very far as will be seen later, and exists in many varying texts, with changed localizations. These pieces have currency chiefly in the Far West and in the Central West. Nor are political campaign songs long-lived; like historical songs, songs mirroring transient phases of national life are likely to fade early.