Theodore's World: Ghost Riders In The Sky......

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May 15, 2009

Ghost Riders In The Sky......



An old cowpoke went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red-eyed cows he saw
A-plowin' through the ragged skies and up a cloudy draw

Yippee-yi-yay, yippee-yi-yo
The ghost herd in the sky...

A ghost herd in the sky? Where did that come from? From a guy called Stan Jones - and it was, as they say on the TV movies, based on a true story. Stan was born in 1914 near Douglas, in southeastern Arizona, and by the age of 12 was working at the D Hill Ranch. "I'd been sent out to do a chore," he recalled, "so I saddled up my horse and took off. After I'd finished my work, it was beginning to blow up a storm, and, not having my poncho along, I decided to take an old path up over the mountain, which was between me and the ranch house. I was hoping to beat the rain, 'course. Well, right up on top of the ridge, I met an old, old cowpuncher, sort of a weird old fellow."

This was a leathery cuss called Cap Wells, and, without even turning his head to look at young Stan, he said, "Son, look up into the sky and you'll see the red-eyed cows of the devil's herd." And the boy looked up, and, by golly, there they were:

Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel...

It was, in fact, a meteorological effect: a peculiar cloud formation caused by the collision of hot and cold air currents. The clouds darkened, and lightning flashed, and it really did look like a ghost herd pursued by ghost riders:

A bolt of fear shot through him as he looked up in the sky
For he saw the riders comin' hard and he heard their mournful cry...

And the "bolt of fear" was certainly real. The old cowboy told the 12-year old that if he wasn't careful he'd be joining the ghost riders, accursed to chase steers across the desert sky for all eternity. "I was scared," said Stan. "You never saw a horse or boy get off a mountain so fast in your life."

Jones grew up, left Douglas, worked in the copper mine in Jerome, Arizona, then as a logger in the Pacific Northwest, and eventually joined the National Park Service - which is when the ghost riders rode back into his life. "It was when I was stationed with the park rangers in Death Valley," he remembered. "I happened to look up into the sky. Well, sir, I saw that same kind of a cloud formation as I had way back the other time, and it sort of all came back to me. And I went inside and wrote the song":

An old cowpoke went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way...

"Riders In The Sky" is one of those compositions whose creation we can date precisely: June 5th 1948. It was Stan Jones' 34th birthday, and with the help of his guitar he fleshed out the scene he'd first witnessed on top of the mountain 22 years earlier - the thundering herd of hot-breathed, red-eyed cattle, pursued by the eternally damned cowboys:

Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat
They're riding hard to catch that herd but they ain't caught 'em yet
'Cause they've got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snortin' fire, as they ride on hear their cry:

Yippee-yi-yay, yippee-yi-yo
Ghost Riders In The Sky...


Wild Thing's comment..........

I have loved this song since I was a little girl. I used to sing it when I rode my bicycle, and sometimes when I rode on one of my parents horses.

Vaughn Monroe is the one singing it on this video.

....Thank you Mark for sending this to me.

3rd Mar.Div. 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment
1/9 Marines aka The Walking Dead
VN 66-67

Posted by Wild Thing at May 15, 2009 04:47 AM


Absolutely one of my favorite songs. I have heard it done by other artists like Johnny Cash and as a pure instrumental. I used to listen to it while I read one of my favorite books, Smoky the Cow Horse by Will James. This tune really represents the cowboy culture.

It also happens my brother was born on 5 Jun 1948.

Posted by: TomR at May 15, 2009 11:54 AM

Nothing like hearin' Ghost Riders in the back ground and readin' a good ole shit-kicker.

Posted by: Mark at May 15, 2009 03:05 PM

Now we're talking!!! Most excellent, thanks. Wow!!!
In my youth in Idaho, Salmon, Lemhi and Challis, I went on several fall cattle drives and several mustang roundups, logging, ranching or starving were the foremost occupations, I have absolute respect for the lifestyle. Got my first DL at 13 and I drove a team of horses long before that. I also like Marty Robins "Utah Carol" . Having been dumped from a horse once or twice myself:).
Thanks you so much for the memories WT and Mark.

Posted by: Jack at May 15, 2009 03:07 PM

Tom, yess Johnny Cash sang it great too. I
saw a video of him singing it but they had
put some weird images on it that did not
fit too great for the song.

Oh my gosh I remember " Smoky the Cow Horse".

Posted by: Wild Thing at May 15, 2009 08:06 PM

Mark, giggle yesss.

Posted by: Wild Thing at May 15, 2009 08:07 PM

Jack, thank you, I remember Marty

Posted by: Wild Thing at May 15, 2009 08:12 PM