greases squeakiest of wheels
by Delbert Trew
classic Old West tales are similar in plot but different in location.
The following tale has been told many times with the same plot but
featuring different ranches, different characters and different tunes.
The original story is probably true, but where it happened is anybody's
guess. Our version here supposedly happened on the famed XIT Ranch.
Among the varied backgrounds of early-day frontier settlers were many
gifted musicians. Their talents were much appreciated by entertainment-starved
neighbors. Another level of talent, prominent among cowboys and scattered
settlers, featured those who ordered both musical instruments and
directions of how to play from a catalog or pulp magazine advertisement.
Most of these amateur musicians were living at a remote cow camp or
prairie dugout, were very lonesome and had a lot of time to practice.
Those with natural talent did learn to play and play well. Those without
natural talent may have learned to play one or two songs at most.
Our tale involves musicians tutored by catalog directions and who
were limited in their repertoire.
seems the bachelor foreman of the ranch fell in love with the lady
hired to cook for the cowboys. The upcoming marriage naturally called
for a big party. The date was set and invitations sent with plans
to have a barbecue and dance. Food and beverages were procured for
A problem arose when the regular dance musicians were already booked
for a rodeo dance and not available. Facing disaster, three cowboys
from outlying camps were brought in to provide music for the occasion.
Everyone knew one cowboy ordered a fiddle, another a guitar and a
third purchased a banjo all from the same advertisement in a pulp
magazine. Fortunately, since all had ordered from the same company,
the tune "Red Wing" was used to teach music on each instrument. Of
some concern was the fact that "Red Wing" was the only tune the group
could play. Undaunted, the hosts merely bought another case of whiskey
to make up the difference between the two band's qualities.
After the wedding, whiskey flowed freely as the meal was served. The
dance started off with that wonderful old tune, "Red Wing." Next,
came a beautiful waltz called "The Red Wing Waltz." A caller stepped
on stage and a square dance circled up with everyone stomping to a
fast version of the "Red Wing Swing." Everyone hugged their sweeties
to a slow version of "Sweet Red Wing" rendered slightly out of tune.
The hosts stood by to take requests and hand out straight liquor to
anyone who complained. As the same tune, played over and over, began
to grate on nerves, the band's whiskey caught hold and each seemed
to play his own version of Red Wing with a little more exuberance
and volume. This gave enough variance to the sound that the reeling,
staggering revelers quit complaining.
Athough the entire night was spent dancing to the same tune played
at one speed or another, in either swing time, waltz time, polka or
square dance steps, and not altogether together most of the time,
the party became one of the most memorable ever staged in the community.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" >
July 25, 2006 Column