"Streets of Laredo" is a genuine American folk song. It started out as an Irish drover ballad called "Bard of Armaugh". The immigrants who settled the Appalachians brought with them a version called "The Unfortunate Rake", where the young man lies dying of mercury poisoning, brought on by 18th-Century treatment for venereal disease. The more adventurous of their descendents took it with them to Texas, where, in 1876, Francis Henry Maynard changed the lyrics to fit his cowboy circumstances.
There eventually were dozens of variations on what Maynard called "The Cowboy's Lament". The thing is, they all retained a lot of baggage from the song's days as "The Unfortunate Rake", so the narrative line was all confused and it was littered with archaisms. When I started playing it, back in 2000, I rewrote several verses to strengthen the story and update the language.
I think the lyrics make a better tale for that.
The musicians are:
(Copyright© 1879 by Francis Henry Maynard
arrangement and revised lyrics copyright© 2002
by Thom Stark - all rights reserved)
D G D A As I walked out in the streets of Laredo, D G D A As I walked out in Laredo one day, D G D A I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen. D G A D All wrapped in white linen and cold as the clay. "I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy." These words he did say, as I boldly stepped by. "Come sit here beside me and hear my sad story, For I'm shot in the heart and I surely will die." "Well, sir, once in the saddle I used to go dashing. Yes, sir, once in the saddle I was a young brave. But today I got dressed up. Today I went gambling. And today I will die and be laid in my grave. "So send six sturdy cowboys to carry my coffin, And let six lovely ladies come sing me a song. And beat the drum slowly. And play the fife lowly. For I'm a young cowboy what knows he done wrong. "My friend, could you get me a taste of cool water? For my lips they are parched and I'm terrible dry." But before I could fetch him that dipper of water, His spirit departed. That cowboy, he died. So we beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly. And we wept in our grief, as we carried him along. For we all loved that cowboy, so brave and so handsome. Yes, we loved that young cowboy, although he done wrong.
(Copyright© 2002 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)