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Intro

In a Nutshell

One day in 1872, homesteader Brewster Martin Higley VI—of the Ohio Brewster Martin Higleys, to be sure—sat in front of his sod house and wrote a poem about what he saw and heard. He submitted the poem to the Smith County Pioneer, and it was published under the title “Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam.” Later, Higley’s friend Daniel Kelley wrote a little tune to go along with the words, turning Higley’s poem, whose actual title was “My Western Home,” into the song we know as “Home on the Range.”

It’s a cute story, really: two Kansas homesteaders meet in the early 1870s and compose the song that eventually becomes the state song of Kansas. It makes us want to move off to some uncharted territory and start composing. Neither Higley nor Kelley was around to celebrate their honor, though, as Higley moved to Arkansas and then Oklahoma, and Kelley moved to Iowa. But that’s an important part of the story as well. Higley and Kelley came together to write one of America’s most elegant tributes to life on the frontier and then went off to explore that frontier even further. As homesteaders, they knew this life—and the hardships that went along with it—first hand. Their song, and their story, reflects both the beauties and challenges of the pioneer life.

About the Song

ArtistBrewster Martin Higley VI and Daniel E. Kelley Musician(s)
Album
Year1872
Label
Writer(s)Brewster Martin Higley VI (words), Daniel E. Kelley (music)
Producer(s)
Learn to play: http://www.harmonica.com/Home_On_the_Range_tabs.html
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Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
Brewster Higley and Daniel Kelley wrote “Home on the Range” in the early 1870s while living in Smith County, Kansas. Their collaboration was the byproduct of a number of important historical events that took place around that period.

Higley came to Kansas because of the Homestead Act. This federal legislation, passed in 1862, offered individuals title to 160 acres so long as they lived on the land and worked it for five years. The law was designed to fill America’s vast interior with hard-working farmers and ranchers. The law also sought to make America’s land distribution policies more democratic. Previously, these policies were skewed toward the wealthy; this law aimed to give common people equal access to the nation’s public domain.

Kelley came to Kansas after the Civil War. Like many other veterans, the war had introduced him to distant parts of the country that he would not have seen otherwise. Large numbers of soldiers never returned home after the war; many obviously died during the fighting, but many also settled in the regions in which they were stationed.

Together, Higley and Kelley produced a memorable tribute to the peace and beauty of frontier life. But the Kansas they described was not always so tranquil. The previous thirty years had been filled with turmoil. Initially the territory was set-aside for Native Americans. Pushed out of the East, they were promised a permanent home on the plains. But white settlers began encroaching on these territories in the 1840s, leading government officials to relocate the Indians once again.

The 1850s saw a different sort of conflict in Kansas as pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers battled over the issue in the territory. Several years before the start of the American Civil War, a mini civil war raged in Kansas. Most of this violence (now known as Bleeding Kansas) ended by 1859 after the state adopted an anti-slavery constitution, but the Civil War brought a new wave of violence. Confederate raids on towns like Lawrence took a deadly toll.

On the Charts

Many different versions of “Home on the Range” have been recorded over the years to various levels of success, but none have made a significant impact on the charts.
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