Home on the Range

I grew up with cowboy songs and while “coulee” and “draw” figure prominently in my favorite cowboy song, the word “gulch” is nowhere to be herd (ha ha ha I’m so funny). BUT the word shows up in titles to cowboy stories and songs, usually, “dry gulch” which is meant to evoke a dusty trail on the cattle drive north from Texas or maybe a bunch of outlaws hiding from the good guys, “I reckon they’re waiting down in that dry gulch. Be careful Lamont. I think they’re holding that eastern Dude hostage.”

Sadly, Lamont WASN’T careful and that explains how he became momentarily extinct back in the 19th century and Dude was dragged across the cactus flats for a good ten miles, not that good for HIM, of course. It’s an idiomatic use of “good.”(for disambiguation type “Lamont and Dude” in the search bar of this blog).

I never got all that interested in TV or movie westerns and I only read one Zane Grey novel, Wyoming, which, as it happens, has a protagonist with MY very name — Martha Ann. I thought that was pretty cool, but the story didn’t grab me. It was just a fiction dry gulch to me.

The “old west” was too close to fascinate me as a subject for fiction. At dinners of the extended family, I listened to stories of the “old west.” Maybe less old than the gold rush(es) but still pretty rough and woolly. I was interested in the settlers and REAL cowboys — like my uncles were when necessity put them out there working cattle. But other times they were working in wheat fields. Other times? I don’t even know. All work was gig work — seasonal labor. The family didn’t own any property to speak of. I’ve wondered sometimes who they might have been if it hadn’t been for WW II. WW II took one of my aunts to Washington state to work on ships. Another aunt became a nurse. Another aunt was already a teacher. It sent my mom to “normal school” and to the reservation to teach. My Aunt Martha went to DC to work for the OSS. It sent my uncles to war. Really, how DO you keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?

But… the nostalgia was passed down to me. I loved my family and I loved their stories, and, obviously, I love the Big Empty. In 2014 (as they would say) my “chips were down”, I gathered up my “winnings,” and came home to a world where men in cowboy hats drive trucks and there are more cows than people. I believe the heart carries within it images of home, and it might even be a place a person has never seen. The featured photo is one of my first photos of the Refuge. This is one of the first photos I took of the San Luis Valley near Monte Vista.


I sang this song for my 6th grade choir grade at the private school I attended in Omaha, Nebraska. My teacher, who’d been in Mitch Miller’s choir, stopped me before I could finish. “There’s more to music than cowboy songs.” Well, maybe, but it’s a beautiful song. This is a very un-fancy version.

13 thoughts on “Home on the Range

  1. I love the “other punchy songs” subtitle. I was astonished to learn that one of the Commissioners on the Colorado Naming Commission (goodbye, Chinaman’s Gulch) had no idea of the meaning of gully, gulch or mesa– as in . . . . Verde.

    • I have mixed feelings about this “renaming” thing, but I guess I’m not an interested party or group. That someone wouldn’t know (in Colorado for the love of god!) what “mesa” means? Never mind “gully” or “gulch.” Wow… The future’s going to be weird but it won’t be mine.

  2. Hehe! I bet you sang it with a sweeter voice than the recording! I think you are right about home being a place you may have never been – I’m wondering if there is such a thing as ancestral memory….

    • I believe 100% in ancestral memory. For one thing, I did an oil painting of the Refuge before I’d ever seen it. My painting gets the mountains exactly right and the sunset depicted is absolutely typical. I absolutely belong here.

      My book, Savior, has characters I “made up” and (it turned out) I’d given them (without knowing it) exactly the same names as ancestors who happened to have lived exactly where I put my “imaginary” family. I wrote the book (except the ending) before I knew anything about my ancestry. A guy in Switzerland who had read Martin of Gfenn (first novel) emailed me and said, “Maybe you have Swiss ancestry.” I did research and I do and that’s where I learned about the very people I had already written about. “There are more things in Heaven and Hell, Horatio…”

  3. I’m not a huge country and western fan, which kind of puts you on the outs where I live. Haha…Did you know Colter Wall is from Swift Current, SK?

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