This song, “Cowboy’s Lament,” had its origins in Ireland in the early 1800’s in a song called “The Unfortunate Rake.” When it made its way to the Western US, the theme, lyrics and title changed to “Cowboy’s Lament” or “Streets of Laredo,” to better fit the new locale. In 1876, a cowboy in Kansas named F.H. Maynard wrote the lyrics we know today, and the song became one of the best-known of all traditional cowboy songs.
This traditional cowboy classic became Rex Allen’s signature song in the 1950s after he made what many feel is the best recording ever made of it. He recorded it for Decca Records in October, 1955, with Victor Young directing the orchestra, and when Rex completed the song, the orchestra stood up and applauded!
Rex Allen – Streets of Laredo lyrics
As I walked out in the streets of Laredo
As I walked out in Laredo one day
I spied a poor cowboy wrapped up in white linen
All wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay
“I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy”
These words he did say as I proudly stepped by
“Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story
I’m shot in the breast and I know I must die
Let sixteen gamblers come handle my coffin,
Let sixteen cowboys come sing me a song,
Take me to the graveyard and lay the sod o’er me,
For I’m a poor cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.
‘Twas once in the saddle I used to go ridin’
Once in the saddle I used to go gay
First lead to drinkin’, and then to card-playing
Got shot in the breast and I’m dying today
Let six jolly cowboys come carry my coffin
Let six pretty gals come to carry my pall
Throw bunches of roses all over my coffin
Throw roses to deaden the clods as they fall
Oh, beat the drum slowly, and play the fife lowly
And play the dead march as you carry me along
Take me to the green valley and lay the earth o’er me
For I’m a poor cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong”
Then swing your rope slowly and rattle your spurs lowly,
And give a wild whoop as you carry me along;
And in the grave throw me and roll the sod o’er me.
For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.
Go bring me a cup, a cup of cold water.
To cool my parched lips,” the cowboy then said.
Before I returned, his soul had departed,
And gone to the round up……the cowboy was dead.
We beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly
And bitterly wept as we carried him along
For we all loved our comrade, so brave, young and handsome
We all loved our comrade although he done wrong