Texian Stomping Grounds Page: 78
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HONOR THE FIDDLER!
By J. Olcutt Sanders
The opening call at many a Texas square dance has been
"Honor the fiddler!" Without him a dance could hardly exist.
Since dancing seemed to fit the temper of danger-filled pioneer
Texas times better than any other diversion, its indispensable
accompaniment has for more than a century been given just
acknowledgment. In communities not blessed with a resident
fiddler the coming of an itinerant musician was often the occa-
sion for a dance regardless of the time of week. For a special
dance musicians might be brought long distances. At a mem-
orable Valentine dance at the Matador Ranch in 1895 the orches-
tra came from Childress, 65 miles away. At a dance held in
Wichita Falls on September 27, 1883, the first anniversary of the
arrival of the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad, two fiddlers
and a caller were brought from Dallas, 130 miles away; visitors
came from as far away as Waco, 200 miles distant.
At any dance all gladly paid their respects to the fiddler,
though in everyday life he might be no fine specimen. His usual
characterization as a liquor-loving ne'er-do-well is shown in such
expressions as: "lazy enough to be a good fiddler," "as thick as
fiddlers in hell," "deeper than fiddler's green, which is five miles
deeper than hell,"' and "drunk as a fiddler's clerk," or "drunk
as a fiddler's bitch." Suggesting the laziness of a fiddler he knew,
Howard Peak wrote: "If Uncle Jake ever did aught but fish
and fiddle during his life among us, I never heard of it."2 But
he leaps immediately to the positive characteristics: "He was a
Nineteenth Century Solomon, a walking almanac, and a philoso-
pher of a rare sort." O. Henry raised the fiddler to classical
dignity under the title of "The Last of the Troubadours."
Somewhat more questionable was the wisdom-at least the
Biblical knowledge-of Duff Hale of the old Banquette country,
on the Nueces River. Ella Byler Dobie related that he used to
'See Ramon F. Adams, Cowboy Lingo, Boston, 1936, 186-187
"Fiddler's Green" referred originally to a sailor's imaginary paradise, where
the fiddler never ceases to accompany untiring dancers, where there is plenty
of grog, and an abundant supply of tobacco. Word-Lore, Vol. I, p. 263 (1926).
'Howard W. Peak, A Ranger of Commeroe, San Antonio, 1929, 185-186.
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Dobie, J. Frank (James Frank), 1888-1964. Texian Stomping Grounds, book, 1941; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc67663/m1/86/: accessed June 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.