hell in Texas fall 05

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'Hell in Texas:' Stories, Songs, and Reports of the Arid Southwest and Great Plains Ken Baake Texas Tech University Department of English

Reports and Folk Stories Offer the Same Message: 

Reports and Folk Stories Offer the Same Message A common folk theme is the crossing over into treacherous terrain and then wanting to return home, even if only after death ('Oh Bury Me Not, on the Lone Prairie'). Arid and Semi-Arid Lands are Nature at its Most Unforgiving. We Have Sinned Against That Nature. We Will Pay for Our Sins, Create Our Own Hell.

A Song with Many Variations, all Warning of Suffering: 

A Song with Many Variations, all Warning of Suffering 'Dakota Land' 'I’ve reached the land of wind and heat Where nothing grows for man to eat The wind it blows with a feverish heat Across the plains so hard to beat' (Traditional song from Brunvand, 167, also known as 'Kansas Land' and nearly all Plains States. The photograph is of a ranch house in South Dakota saved from burial by a wooden fence. Drifting material was primarily a relatively heavy clay, not sand. In: 'Soil Blowing and Dust Storms,' Charles E. Kellogg, Miscellaneous Publication No. 221, U.S. Department of Agriculture. March 1935.)

Old Drought Reports: We Pay for our Sins: 

Old Drought Reports: We Pay for our Sins


Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas. Dust bowl surveying in Texas                                                                                                Image ID: theb1365, Historic Candamp;GS Collection Location: Stratford, Texas Photo Date: April 18, 1935 Credit: NOAA George E. Marsh Album

“Hell in Texas”--1909: 

'Hell in Texas'--1909 Oh, the Devil in hell they say he was chained, And there for a thousand years he remained; He neither complained nor did he groan, But decided he'd start up a hell of his own, Where he could torment the souls of men Without being shut in a prison pen; So he asked the Lord if He had any sand Left over from making this great land… This song was said to have been collected by the proprietor of the Buckhorn Saloon in San Antonio in 1909. It was attributed to a Signal Corps worker stationed in Brownsville. Ethno-musicologists John and Alan Lomax collected it for Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads.

Crossing over to fierce lands: 

Crossing over to fierce lands

The Buffalo Skinners:: 

The Buffalo Skinners: Traditional cowboy song, 1870s, in the Texas town of Jacksboro. Depicted the savage extermination of the buffalo. This song was adapted from earlier versions where hell was the ocean that had to be crossed despite perils. Recalls Coleridge’s Rime Of the Ancient Mariner, where bad luck befalls the sailors after they shoot the albatross. The only salvation is to try to return from hell.


W. T. Hornaday, The Extermination of the American Bison (Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution, 1889)

Crossing Pease River …like crossing the River Styx: 

Crossing Pease River … like crossing the River Styx 'Twas in the town of Jacksboro, in the spring of seventy-three A man by the name of Crego came stepping up to me, Saying 'How do you do, young fellow, and how would you like to go And spend one summer pleasantly on the range of the buffalo?' It's now we've crossed Pease River, our troubles have begun, The first damned tail I went to rip, Christ! how I cut my thumb! While skinning the damned old stinkers, our lives they had no show For the Indians watched to pick us off while skinning the buffalo. Our meat it was buffalo hump and iron wedge bread And all we had to sleep on was a buffalo robe for a bed. The fleas and gray-backs worked on us, O boys, it was not slow I tell you there's no worse hell on earth than the range of the buffalo. Oh, it's now we've crossed Pease River, and homeward we are bound, No more in that hell-fired country shall ever we be found. Go home to our wives and sweethearts, tell others not to go For God's forsaken the buffalo range, and the damned old buffalo.

Get Out if You Can: 

Get Out if You Can Woody Guthrie: 'So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh' (1940) I've sung this song, but I'll sing it again, Of the place that I lived on the wild windy plains, In the month called April, county called Gray, And here's what all of the people there say: CHORUS: 'So long, it's been good to know yuh; So long, it's been good to know yuh; So long, it's been good to know yuh. This dusty old dust is a-gettin' my home, And I got to be driftin' along.' A dust storm hit, an' it hit like thunder; It dusted us over, an' it covered us under; Blocked out the traffic an' blocked out the sun, Straight for home all the people did run,

But if you can’t, then dream: 

But if you can’t, then dream 'Boxcars, Butch Hancock (1978) Well I gave all my money to the banker this month Now I got no more money to spend She smiled when she saw me comin' through that door When I left she said, 'Come back again.' I watched them lonesome boxcar wheels Turnin' down the tracks out of town And it's on that lonesome railroad track I'm gonna lay my burden down. I was raised on a farm the first years of my life Life was pretty good they say I'll probably live to be some ripe ol' age If death'll stay out of my way This world can take my money and time But it sure can't take my soul I'm goin' down to the railroad tracks Watch them lonesome boxcars roll There's some big ol' Buicks at the Baptist church Cadillac's at the Church of Christ I parked my camel by an ol' haystack I'll be lookin for that needle all night There ain't gonna be no radial tires Turnin' down the streets of gold I'm goin down to the railroad tracks And watch them lonesome boxcars roll Now if you ever heard the whistle on a fast freight train Beatin' out a beautiful tune If you ever seen the cold blue railroad tracks Shinin' by the light of the moon If you ever felt the locomotive shake the ground I know you don't have to be told Why I'm goin down to the railroad tracks And watch them lonesome boxcars roll. Yeah, I'm goin down to the railroad tracks Watch them lonesome boxcars roll

Time is the Devil’s best friend: We are making “A hell of our own.”: 

Time is the Devil’s best friend: We are making 'A hell of our own.' Pictorial view of a cone of depression. (Cunningham, William P. et. al., 'Environmental Science, 7th edition, McGraw Hill 2003.)

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