Ghost Riders in The Sky
An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw
Ghost Riders in The Sky -Stan Jones. 1948
is a beloved American country-folk song that many of us grew up with. It has been covered by dozens of recording
artists over the years and has enjoyed international fame.
But did you know that it is based on an actual folk legend from America's historical “Wild West”?
The story goes, that the tale that inspired Stan Jones to write Ghost Riders in The Sky
was told to him in 1929 by a hermit named Capp Watts.
Stan was only 12 when Capp recounted to him the tale of the 'devil's herd', and the cowboys doomed to chase the demon-cattle through the sky. It is
said that the old man told young Stan the story as they were watching a storm roll in. They were in Cochise County, Arizona, at the time.
It is believed by folklorists that the legend that was recounted to Stan Jones was a variation on a folk tale that had a basis in a real life event.
the specifics have grown a bit foggy with time, but it is now widely held that the inspiration for the song must have been The Legend of Stampede
, from 19th century, Crosby County Texas.
The Legend of Stampede Mesa
No one knows if the old man was passing through or if he was in fact a homesteader, or 'nester' as they were referred to. The old man had 40 or so
cattle and he was grazing them on a well know, highly coveted local spot that consisted of a 200 acre plateau of grass. One side leapt off in an
Later that evening, a short-handed crew of cowboys came through with a huge herd of 1500 cattle. They were headed up by a man named Sawyer, and when
he saw that plateau, he moved for it. Some say Sawyer asked the old man if he could be gone in the morning. Some say that Sawyer rode right up and
that the old mans paltry 40 cattle got tied up in the big herd of 1500.
The old man demanded that his cattle be cut out. Legend tends towards the possibility that Sawyer was tired, overwrought, short-handed and that he
cursed at the old man, telling him to vamoose. The old man grew irate and demanded that his herd be cut out or he would stampede, “The whole
mess”. Sawyer just drew his gun and drove the old nester away.
Later that night, true to his word, the old man, drove the cattle in to a stampede with a blanket and hooting and hollering, some say he was firing a
gun. The stampede went over the cliff, killing all but, it is said, 300 of Sawyers herd. In the rush to control the stampede, two of Sawyers men were
swept off the cliff to their deaths, along with the cattle.
Sawyer and his remaining men immediately tracked down the old man and brought him back to what would be henceforth known as Stampede Mesa. They tied
the old man up with a rawhide lariat, sat him on his horse, and drove him over the cliff to die on top of the slaughtered herd. Some say they set him
From then on, the plateau was never again considered a favored spot for grazing, and has ever since been called Stampede Mesa. Many have reported
seeing or hearing the ghost herd in their death struggles, and some tell a tale of having seen the phantom of an old man, tied to a horse, that is
rushing across the mesa, carrying the screaming old man to his death.
And that, ATS, is the story that likely inspired, the beloved song, Ghost Riders in The Sky
Thank you for reading.
edit on 20-2-2013 by Bybyots because: