I heard this at scout camp in 1965, last song of the night at campfire. Even then, and recognising that this sort of song exaggerates to make a point and plays for the pathos, something didn't seem right about it. Let's look at the last lyrics more closely.
He'd-a-made it but he just couldn't leave old Dan.
Yes, they found him there on the plains
His hands froze to the reins.
He was just a hundred yards from Mary Ann's.
There is no hint here that he has made a serious miscalculation of judgement, much less a horrendous moral error. Gee, the poor guy is trying to be loyal to his horse and it somehow just sorta went wrong, y'know? But in what moral universe do you decide to leave your wife a widow out on the plains - in winter, no less - because you chose the pony instead?
I'm betting actual cowboys were smarter and better than this. Damn, I hope so.
Clearly, Scout Camp was not designed with you in mind.....
You don't know the half of it.
I'd never heard that one. It reminds me vaguely of the verse about a certain Jack and his unfortunate choice of tent location.
You've never heard it? That's one of the songs I know from memory.
Bear in mind that the setup is that it's a terrible snowstorm. He doesn't know that he's just a few yards from home, and he's not consenting to die with his horse, but yielding to the horse's need to rest. "All right Dan, perhaps it's best; if we stop a while and rest."
It's a horseman's part to know when to trust his horse, and to know when to force his horse to trust him. But he was tired, and had been exposed to the elements for hours; and after a few hours of exposure to the elements, no more than three in serious weather, you start making errors because your brain doesn't work right any more. It's no sin if it's not a matter of the will.
Maybe Michael Martin Murphy went to Scout Camp, too.
Yeah, that song started occurring to me almost immediately as well. It's a good example of the use of a term for its feeling rather than content. "Killing frost" only means one that dips below 30 or so for long enough to take out some seasonal plants. But it sounds much fiercer, and so fit poetically in the song.
Grim: The first Scout meeting I went to was a Cub Scout meeting with our eldest son.
James: That's OK. I was just surprised you'd not heard it before. One thing I enjoy about AVI's musical posts is that I often learn new songs I haven't heard before. I just thought this one was more commonly known. In addition to this one and the Boy Scouts, Johnny Cash did a version of it, as did Chris LeDoux.
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