Book: Coffee in the Gourd
Author: J. Frank Dobie

Coffee in the Gourd By J. Frank Dobie

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 107
Publication Date: 1923

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A selection of articles which reflect the cultural diversity of Texas, including articles on African-American, Tejano, German and Native American folklore. Also included is an interview with W.C. Handy, 'the father of the blues.' The articles vary widely from academic to amateur in tone. As usual, the original text has been transcribed verbatim. It reflects the time and place in which it was written, and includes ethnic terms and characterizations which today would be considered extremely offensive.

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Turning back to the west of some ten years ago, before the automobiles and phonographs became numerous, before the country became too thickly populated, we find an honest, hospitable people who worked with a will and played with a zest. It was then truly the land of the open door, where the stranger was always welcome and a man's word was his bond. Here people lived a simple life of contentment, untroubled by driving ambition and free from all convention. Their "gatherings" were few, and at them the individuals felt themselves under no obligation to conform. Hence, the picnics, the "meetings," the "sociables," the dances, were all highly flavored with the individuality of the locality,--but none more than the cowboy dance.

An old-time cowboy dance was not announced in any specified manner. The news was given out and scattered by means of the "grapevine telegraph." At the beginning, several weeks before the dance was to "come off," several men were deputized to "ride it up." These men made a tour of the country and invited every person they happened to meet, regardless of who it might be. The invitation usually contained the phrase, "Everybody invited and nobody slighted."

Following the invitation to the dance, there was always a noticeable bustle about the community. Even the steadiest working ranch-hands "knocked off" early, dressed in their "Sunday go-to-meeting" clothes, and rode away in a mysterious manner. A cowboy often put himself to a great deal of trouble to take his girl to a dance. Buggies were always scarce in the ranching country, and sometimes it was necessary for the "puncher" who contemplated taking his "lady friend" to a dance to hire a buggy from a livery stable at the nearest town. A typical case of the trouble a cowboy will put himself to on an occasion like this is that of Bill , who had a girl living twelve miles from the ranch where he worked. To make arrangements with the girl, he rode twenty-four miles. To procure a buggy he rode sixteen miles to town and drove the same distance coming back, making thirty-two miles. Then he drove to the girl's home, covering, the twelve miles, and thence to the dance, covering eight miles. After the dance Bill drove the eight miles back to the girl's house, the twelve miles to the ranch, and made the thirty-two mile round trip to return the buggy. In all, till covered a distance of one hundred and twenty-eight miles, in order to take his "best girl" to the dance.

Some time during the day on which the dance was to "come off," several of the neighbors "dropped in" to help prepare for it. The furniture was all moved into one room or into the yard. The home stock were fed early and turned into the "starve out," to make room for the visitors' horses in the corral. Pictures and ornaments were usually left in their places, these forming the only decorations for the rooms. The pictures for the most part were enlargements of the members of the family or of near relations; the other ornaments, decorated cards upon which were printed such maxims as "Welcome," "God bless our home," "What is a home without a mother," and "God bless mother and father."

The people began to arrive about sundown. Each group was hailed with loud and merry greetings. Gossip occupied the time until the arrival of the fiddler, but when he put in his appearance, all concern and attention were bestowed upon him. The fiddler was usually a unique character. He was in most cases a lazy, shiftless individual who never was known to refuse a drink. He had an "improvised" vocabulary, he "opined" and "calculated" and considered his own judgment as final and infallible on all subjects. For a long time he would tune his fiddle before the admiring crowd. With startling skill he would fasten his knife to the bridge of it to intensify the sound. He had a rattlesnake rattler always on the inside of his fiddle as a charm against dampness. When the fiddler started playing, all signs of his habitual laziness vanished, and he became strangely animated. He "kept time" with his head and his foot simultaneously, moving and tilting his head to the variation of his music while he patted his foot. The fiddlers all learned to play without instruction; therefore each of them had a different interpretation for the tunes they knew.

When a sufficient crowd had gathered, the dancing began. The girls were lined up on one side of the room and given chairs. If there were not enough chairs to "go round," trunks and boxes were used. When a man wished to dance with a young lady, he went over to her and said, "Pardner for the next dance?", and if she had none, he added, "May I have the next?" If she gave her consent, the bargain was closed. If a man was refused a dance by a girl he was "stung" or "stood up" by her, and should he be "stung" twice in one night he was considered "slighted" by the lady, and he customarily would not ask her for another dance.

Each man who danced made a donation to the fiddler. The dance usually started with a waltz, which was very beautiful. The cowboy held the lady's right hand in his left and put his right arm about her. He was always considerate and held a large handkerchief in his right hand to keep from soiling the lady's dress.

After the dance had been "going on" for some time, those who came from a distance began to arrive. When these late corners got close enough that they could hear the music of the fiddle, they would "pour the quirt" to their horses and ride yelling up to the very door. The men often came as far as forty miles to attend a dance, and it always seemed that the farther they came the more popular they were with the girls.