Selling buffalo hides was for a short time a very lucrative business in the western frontier and countless hunters set out to get a slice of that cake. “Hills of Mexico”(or “Buffalo Skinners”) tells the adventurous story of a hunting party and their troubles. In the end the boss wants to deny his men their pay, so they kill him and leave his “bones to bleach on the range of the buffalo”.
“Buffalo Skinners” was first published by “Jack” Thorp in his Songs of the Cowboys (1908, as “Buffalo Range”, pp. 31-33).
N. Howard “Jack” Thorp (1867-1940) was originally from New York City but as a boy he used to spend the summers on a ranch in Nebraska. Later he moved to New Mexico to become a cowboy and he began learning their songs. In fact he soon was “a singing cowboy who carried his banjo-mandolin with him as he rode from cow camp to cow camp”. He started collecting songs in 1889. “His fifteen-hundred-mile horseback journey through New Mexico and Texas in 1889-90 was the first ballad-hunting adventure in the cowboy domain”. The first edition with 23 texts was privately published and only 1000 copies were printed.
Thorp’s book was the very first collection of cowboy songs and he was a pioneer in that field. But his efforts were quickly overshadowed by John A. Lomax from Texas whose Cowboy Songs And Other Frontier Ballads was published in 1910 and became much more influential, in fact it turned out to be the first stepping-stone towards that massive empire of Folk song he and later his son Alan were to erect in the following decades.
Lomax – at that time a professor for English at Texas A & M – had been interested in “frontier songs” for quite a long time. He sent a circular to local newspapers and teachers and asked for songs. Most of what was included in Cowboy Songs was received from these kind of sources and there was not much real fieldwork. Some texts were even cribbed from Thorp’s book.
Nonetheless he managed to publish 112 songs, among them many that would become classics of that genre, for example “Home On The Range”, “Whopee-Ti-Yi-Yo, Git Along Little Dogies”, “The Old Chisholm Trail”, “Sweet Betsy From The Pike”, “Jesse James”, “The Days Of Forty-Nine”. “In canonizing cowboy songs instead of ancient ballads, Lomax changed the face of the folk, replacing the sturdy British peasant with the mythical western cowboy”