Backwoods to Border Page: 2
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2 BACKWOODS TO BORDER
"We may hunt for a harder sardonic than that," Sand-
In the late summer of 1941 M. A. Tracy of Dallas
brought John B. Freeman, his father-in-law, to talk
with me and sing me a song that he had composed sixty-
three years back and now wanted to get copyrighted and
put into circulation. He called it "The Buffalo Song,"
and as soon as he started to sing it I was convinced that
it was the original version of "The Buffalo Skinners" so
popularized by Lomax, Sandburg and others. He had,
however, never heard the popularized version, had no
idea that any form of the song had been put into print.
He told me how, when and where he composed the song.
John B. Freeman was born in Tennessee in 1857 to
a family whose fortunes were wiped out by the Civil
War. Orphaned in childhood, he had to paddle his own
canoe and by the time he was fifteen years old had saved
up enough money to come to Texas. In Dallas he met
another Tennesseean who promised him a job at Decatur;
and in the vicinity of this town, then on the frontier, he
cowboyed off and on for several years. One of his friends
was Reese Barton, who a few years ago gained national
notice as being "the oldest living cowboy." (When past
a hundred Barton was still riding near Childress.) He
taught young Freeman to sing a strange ballad he claimed
to have composed himself about "The White Captive."
In 1877 Freeman, then twenty years old, hired out in
Fort Griffin to a buffalo hunter named James Ennis-
not Crego, as in the established ballad. Ennis was a
Canadian and "a fine man." He owned a wagon, which
was filled with supplies before setting out for the buffalo
range. With him he took a cook and two skinners-
another besides Freeman. He had a large store of pow-
der, lead, patches and shells for his buffalo guns. The
outfit crossed Pease River, going northwest, but before
the expedition was over they had hunted far to the south.
Once, in what is now Runnels County, Freeman saw a
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Dobie, J. Frank (James Frank), 1888-1964. Backwoods to Border, book, 1943; Dallas, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc38306/m1/16/: accessed July 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.