Adventures of a Ballad Hunter. By John A. Lomax. New York
(The Macmillan Company), 1947. Pp. xi+3o2. Sketches by
Ken Chamberlain. $4.50.
The recent recognition of the American folk song as a living
reflection of our national personality might trace its beginning
to a trundle bed. In the 1870's a trundle bed was not an unfa-
miliar piece of household furniture, and as a space-saver the one
in which little John Lomax slept was particularly useful where
twelve people were crowded into the new two-room Texas home.
The bed had come with the family and goods by covered wagon
from the Black River country of Mississippi to Bosque County,
Texas, where John's father bought land near a branch of the old
Chisholm Trail. The cowboys heading their cattle toward Indian
Territory on the long drive to Montana and Wyoming often
camped on a stream that flowed past the Lomax house. One night
in 1872, four-year-old John awoke to the steady patter of rain on
the pine shingles of the roof and the staccato music of water
pouring from the eaves to the gravelly earth below. Then through
the rain he heard again the sound that had awakened him. Down
by the creek a cowboy was singing to soothe the restless cattle.
Again and again the melancholy yodel drifted to the little boy
in his trundle bed:
O, lay down dogies, like you've laid down before,
The memory of that night remained with John Lomax for
over three-quarters of a century; perhaps it started him on the
trail that he followed for half a million miles recording the voices
of the cowboys, the Negroes, and the other folk singers of Amer-
ica. Lomax was the leader and the dominant figure in the move-
ment that led the academic world to see folk music as a form of
American literature and that brought to all the people the
musical heritage formerly shared by the few.
The first part of Adventures of a Ballad Hunter is the chrono-
logical story of the author's interesting life. In the second half
of the book he sorts through his rich store of anecdotes to tell in
detail some of his experiences and to introduce a few of the
remarkable characters he met in his wide search for native music.
The life story of John Lomax is the success story of a man who
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 52, July 1948 - April, 1949. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101121/. Accessed July 13, 2014.