11. Chisholm Trail
(traditional, arr. Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
Track 11 – Chisholm Trail (MASTER MA 29)
John A. Lomax, Alan’s father and a pioneer folk song collector in the west, first printed this epic in his 1910 Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. Lomax assembled a more of less coherent “jury text,” that is, a narrative composite of forty verses gathered from many singers – probably omitting as many bawdy verses as he included unobjectionable.
Among his sources was the pioneering 1908 collection assembled by New Mexican cowboy N. Howard “Jack” Thorp. (For a sampling of the sort of “unprintable” verses Lomax excised, see Cray, The Erotic Muse, second edition [Urbana, 1992], pp. 186-191; and Guy Logsdon, The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing [Urbana, 1989], pp. 60-73.)
The Chisholm (pronounced “Chizzum” in the Southwest) Trail ran from the Texas panhandle northeasterly first to the stockyards and railhead of Abilene, Kansas; then when the rowdy cowboys wore out their welcome, eventually to “the greatest and wickedest cow town of them all, Dodge City.” (Quoted from John I.White, Git Along, Little Dogies [Urbana, 1975], p. 41.)
Guthrie closely follows Lomax’s version, suggesting he learned it – as did so many other entertainers – from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads.
Unusually, Houston plays guitar, Guthrie only sings.