Where was the Home on the Range?

Brief by Central Staff

Musical History – September 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

Sitting two miles above sea level next to the two highest mountains in Colorado, Leadville isn’t exactly a “Home on the Range.” But the “Junk Lane Hotel” in or near the Cloud City in 1885 is part of the song’s long history, and a Colorado musician is trying to find out just where that “hotel” — a miners’ cabin — stood.

The musician is Rex Rideout, who plays real “old-time music” with a trio called the Zebulon Pike Ensemble. In July, they performed locally with the Alpine Orchestra in Buena Vista and Salida.

Back to “Home on the Range.” In the winter of 1884- 85, four Leadville prospectors shared a cabin they called the Junk Lane Hotel. Rather than carouse at night, they created and performed music. They were Crawford O. “Bob” Schwartz, Bill McCabe, Bingham Graves, and Jim Fouts, and they had a fiddle and banjo band.

They came up with words and a tune for what they called “Colorado Home,” and the song began “Oh give me a home, Where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play.”

Bob kept a notebook of their songs, and on Feb. 15, 1885, wrote to his parents about it. “We have originated a new song, music and all,” and he included the lyrics. Some of the verses were quite different from the modern “Home on the Range” , as with:

“Oh give me a hill, and the ring of the drill, In the rich silver ore on the ground,” as compared to “How often at night, when the heavens are bright, with the light of the glittering stars.”

When the weather warmed up in 1885, the Junk Lane group scattered, with Swartz returning to his native Pennsylvania. Years later, Swartz heard the song, with the modern words, on the radio. He died on March 12, 1932, sure that his version was the original of “Home on the Range.”

His sister believed he deserved recognition and recompense, and she wrote to the song’s publisher, Paull-Pioneer Music Co. The company responded by issuing Swartz’s “Colorado Home” and crediting the Junk Lane Hotel crew as authors.

Then came a copyright suit in 1935 from William and Mary Goodwin of Tempe, Ariz., who claimed that their “An Arizona Home” was the true original. A long and thorough investigation came up with a version first published in a Kansas newspaper, the Smith County Register, in 1873 as “Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam.” Perhaps fittingly, that version is the official state song of Kansas.

It’s likely that Swartz or one of his roommates had heard the song before arriving in Leadville, and subconsciously remembered it.

So it appears that “Home on the Range” wasn’t born in Leadville. Even so, Rex Rideout wants to know where the Junk Lane Hotel was (a picture of it was published with the 1935 “Colorado Home” ). If you know, or have any suggestions, let us know at Colorado Central (cozine@cozine.com), and we’ll pass it along to Rideout.

In a recollection published years after he left Leadville, Swartz described an inside scene from the Junk Lane Hotel: “I can still see the whole gang sitting around on soap boxes & on the bed, all trying to make the lines rhyme so they sounded like poetry. Then when they got a verse so it sounded good, I would play the tune & Bill McCabe with the banjo & his nice tenor voice would lead in singing.” But he did not write of its location.

Colorado Home

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,

And the deer and the antelope play;

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,

And the sky is not cloudy all day.

Oh, give me the hill and the ring of the drill,

In the rich silver ore on the ground;

And give me the gulch, where the miners can sluice,

And the bright yellow gold can be found.

Oh give me the gleam of the swift mountain stream,

And the place where no hurricanes blow;

And give me the park with the prairie-dog bark,

And the mountains all covered with snow.

Oh, give me the mines where the prospector finds

The gold in its own native land;

With the hot springs below, where the sick people go,

And camp on the banks of the Grand.

Oh, show me the camp where the prospectors tramp,

And business is always alive,

Where dance halls come first and faro banks burst,

And every saloon is a dive.

Chorus

A home, a home, Where the deer and the antelope play;

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,

And the sky is not cloudy all day.