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Brewster Higley

writer of Home on the Range

Brewster Higley was born in Rutland, Ohio, on November 30, 1823. He graduated from La Porte (IN) Medical College in 1849, and established his first medical practice in Pomeroy, Ohio. He briefly practiced in Indiana before retiring and moving to a farm in Smith County, Kansas, in 1871.

Brewster Higley

In 1872, Higley was relaxing on the banks of Beaver Creek when he jotted down a poem he called "Western Home." Higley never intended for his poem to be seen by anyone else, but a visitor to his cabin happened to see it and convinced him to turn it into a song. Higley got fiddler Dan Kelley to set the poem to music, and the poem/song was published as "Oh, Give Me A Home Where the Buffalo Roam" in the Smith County Pioneer in 1873. Cowboys and settlers passing through Smith County helped spread the song's popularity across the country, and before long almost every geographic location had its own variation -- "My Colorado Home, "My Arizona Home," etc.

Higley's "Home on the Range"
Brewster Higley's cabin

About 1910, folklorist John Lomax printed a version of Home on the Range that set the song's words and music as they are now commonly known, and it was only then that "home on the range" became part of the lyrics. Texas singer Vernon Dalhardt was the first to produce a commercial recording of the song, and Home on the Range was for years one of the best selling records on the market. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt was celebrating his first election as President when he heard reporters singing the song and told them it was his favorite song; within days radio stations across the country were playing the song, which by then had been recorded by dozens of singers.

Despite the popularity of Home on the Range, no one knew where or when the song had originated until after a lawsuit was filed by William and Mary Goodwin of Tempe, Arizona, in 1934. The Goodwins claimed they had written and copyrighted the song as An Arizona Home in 1905 and sought to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from radio stations, music publishers and others on the grounds of copyright infringement. A lawyer hired by one of the defendants traveled across the country to investigate every single claim of authorship he could find and eventually found conclusive proof that the song had originated with Brewster Higley. Once Kansans learned that the popular song was homegrown a movement began to have Home on the Range designated as the Official State Song; the State Legislature agreed to do so in 1947.

Brewster Higley died in Shawnee, Oklahoma, on December 9, 1911, without ever knowing just how popular the poem he jotted down during a period of relaxation would become. The cabin in which he lived has been preserved and is a minor tourist attraction; it is located about 8 miles north and 3/4 miles west of Smith Center.

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> The West >> Kansas >> History

This page was last updated on June 21, 2017.