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Examiner
  • Ted Stillwell: Home on the Range

  • My friend Ida Conroy of Eudora, Kan., always claimed that her great-great uncle, Dr. Brewster M. Higley, wrote the state song of Kansas, “Home on the Range.” Among her family heirlooms, which is as sacred to her as the family Bible, is a copy of the song as it was first published in December 1873, in the Smith County Pioneer, a newspaper, under the title of “My Western Home.”

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  • My friend Ida Conroy of Eudora, Kan., always claimed that her great-great uncle, Dr. Brewster M. Higley, wrote the state song of Kansas, “Home on the Range.” Among her family heirlooms, which is as sacred to her as the family Bible, is a copy of the song as it was first published in December 1873, in the Smith County Pioneer, a newspaper, under the title of “My Western Home.”
    “Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam, Where the Deer and the Antelope play; Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, And the sky is not cloudy all day.”
    There are many more verses to the song, but this should be enough to whet your appetite.
    Dr. Higley was a prominent physician back in Ohio, but he had a little drinking problem, so he moved to Kansas for his health in 1871. He lived in a little one room dugout along Beaver Creek about 14 miles north of SmithCenter when the very popular song developed. In 1886, after finding the weather too severe for his failing health, Dr. Higley moved to Arkansas and then later to Shawnee, Okla.
    Dr. Higley was not a musician, but he was a fairly decent poet and his good friend, Daniel Kelly, was a violin player. Kelly was a trained pharmacist and often filled Dr. Higley’s prescriptions, and he was always borrowing his books to read. In one of these books was a sheet of paper with some poems scribbled on it, which dropped to the floor. One poem in particular caught Kelly’s eye, and he asked Dr. Higley if he would mind if he wrote some music for it, and that’s how the “Anthem of the American West” came about.
    Higley’s original words are similar to those of the song we know today, but are not exactly identical. “Home on the Range” became very popular around the campfires, at dance halls, and was adopted by settlers, cowboys, and others and spread across the country in various forms. During the 20th century, it was arranged by Texas composer David W. Guion, who is sometimes credited as the composer. It was not officially adopted as the Kansas state song, however, until June 30, 1947.
    "Home on the Range" has been featured as the state slogan on Kansas vanity license plates and the arrangement is played by the University of Kansas Marching Jayhawks at the end of all home football games in Memorial Stadium. It is often performed in programs and concerts of American patriotic music, and is frequently used in screen shorts for children. Hollywood took it and ran with it in the 1948 film “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” where both Cary Grant and Myrna Loy sang the song. The Glee Club sang it in the off-Broadway musical “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” in 1967. Neil Young sang "Home on the Range" over the opening credits of the 1980 film, “Where the Buffalo Roam” and Willie Nelson sang it over the closing credits of “The Messinger” in 2009. Even Porky Pig sang it in the 1954 Looney Tunes cartoon, “Claws for Alarm.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Speaking of cartoons, Walt Disney even produced an American animated musical western comedy feature film using the famous title of “Home on the Ranger” in 2004. The feature was set in the Old West and the plot centered around a mismatched trio of dairy cows who set out to capture an infamous cattle rustler, for his bounty, in order to save their ranch from foreclosure.
    Incidentally, in contrast to the lyrics of the song, there are no actual antelope species that are native to the American West, however, the cowboys often mistakenly called the pronghorn an antelope.
    Reference: “Memories of Growing Up in the Midwest,” complied by Chester L. Larkins.
    Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.
    To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to teddystillwell@yahoo.com or call him at 816-252-9909.
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