In the August 2012 issue, writer Gene Fowler delves into the convoluted history of the widely recorded song “Streets of Laredo,” a tune of indeterminate origin that has been recorded over the years by artists ranging from Bing Crosby to Willie Nelson. While most musicologists attribute the song’s beginnings to an 18th-century Irish ballad called “The Unfortunate Rake,” the lyrics have been modified so many times over the years that it’s impossible to state what the “true” lyrics are. Some versions—with alterations in phrasing, sometimes with additional verses—are copyrighted, such as those made popular by Arlo Guthrie and Johnny Cash, but here are some of the verses that occur regularly.
Streets of Laredo
As I walked out on the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I saw 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 cowboy.”
These words he did say as I calmly walked by.
“Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story,
I’m shot in the breast and I know I must die.”
“Once in the saddle, I used to go riding,
Once in the saddle I used to go gay.
First led to drinking and then to card-playing,
But I’m shot in the back and I’m dying today.”
“Let six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin,
As six pretty maidens to sing me a song,
Throw bunches of roses all over my coffin.
The roses will deaden the clods as they fall.”