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Dan Kelley and “Home on the Range”


Daniel E. “Dan” Kelley (February, 1843–1905) was an American musician and entertainer.  Born in Rhode Island in February, 1843, he moved to Kansas in 1872, where wrote the music for Home on the Range.  The lyrics were originally written by Dr. Brewster M. Higley of Smith County, Kansas, in a poem entitled “My Western Home” in 1872. In 1871, Higley had moved from Indiana to Smith County under the Homestead Act. He lived in a small cabin near West Beaver Creek and was so inspired by his new bucolic surroundings that he decided to create a poem in praise of the prairie. Thus, the lyrics to “Home on the Range” were originally published as a poem published in the Smith County Pioneer in 1872 under the title “My Western Home.” The music was later added around 1873 by Daniel E. Kelley, a carpenter and friend of Higley.

Higley’s original words are similar to those of the modern version of the song, but not identical; the original did not contain the words “on the range.”  Kelley married Mary E. Harlan in Kansas and they had four children. He played violin with his brothers-in-law in the Harlan Brothers Band, but was primarily a carpenter by trade. He moved to Iowa in 1889 and died there in 1905. His remains were buried in Fairview Cemetery, Waterloo, Iowa.  “Home on the Range” is a classic western folk song sometimes called the “unofficial anthem” of the American West. The song was eventually adopted by ranchers, cowboys, and other western settlers and spread across the United States in various forms.   The origin of “Home on the Range” was obscure and widely debated at the time. It was published in 1910 in Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John Lomax, who said that he learned it from a black saloonkeeper in Texas. In 1925, the song was arranged as sheet music which found some popularity by Texas composer David W. Guion (1892–1981).  He is occasionally credited as the composer.

In 1927 Vernon Dalhart recorded “Home on the Range” for Brunswick Records. California’s radio cowboys picked it up from him, and in 1930 Hollywood’s first crooning western star, Ken Maynard, recorded the song. However, the most popular version of the song was the version recorded by Bing Crosby on September 27, 1933, with Lennie Hayton and his orchestra for Brunswick Records which appeared in the various charts of the day. This turned a little-known saddle song into a most renowned western hymn. Its popularity led to a plagiarism suit that created a search for its background.  It was officially adopted as the state song of Kansas on June 30, 1947. President Franklin D. Roosevelt acknowledged “Home on the Range” as his favorite song.  In 2010, members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 western songs of all time.

The following work by Dan Kelley is contained in my collection:

Home on the Range (1873).


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