Q&A Questions and Answers:
In Louis L'Amour's book "The Rider of Lost Creek," Lance Kilkenny sings this song:
Old Joe Clark had got a cow
She was muley born
It takes a jay-bird forty-eight hours
To fly from horn to horn.
What does "muley born" mean? If it took a jay-bird forty-eight hours to fly from horn to horn, did it mean the cow was a longhorn?
First, a little background to the song Old Joe Clark: The actual Joseph Clark was born in Clay County, Kentucky on September 18, 1839. In addition to serving briefly in the Civil War, Clark was a farmer, store keeper, operater of a state-licensed still, and a notorious womanizer.
Joe Clark accumulated a large number of enemies over the years -- including one of his ex-wives and her current boyfriend. In an attempt to seize Clark's store, that boyfriend shot Joe to death on April 22, 1886.
According to researcher Lisa Clark, "there was a popular break-down tune at the time that did not have lyrics, so some of Joe's friends started making up rhymes to be sung with the tune. From this originated the ballad of 'Old Joe Clark.' Joe is said to have liked the song until some of the more fun loving souls started making up rhymes that were not very complimentary." The song eventually grew to 90 stanzas or more, most of them just silly nonsense rhymes.
Here are just a few of the silly stanzas to the ballad:
I will not go to Old Joe's house
Old Joe Clark he did take sick
Old Joe Clark was married
Old Joe Clark had a mule
I will not marry an old maid
And I wouldn't marry an old school-teacher,
A muley cow is one that is naturally hornless (or polled) and has a bump on top of its head between the ears similar to the one on a mule's head. The goofiness of the song is seen in the fact that a muley cow has NO horns for the jay-bird to fly between!
Some of the naturally polled -- or "muley" breeds are Black and Red Angus, Charolais, Limousin, and Simmental. (The cattle in the photo are Black and Red Angus with some Charolais and Simmental cross-breeding -- muley cows all.)
By the way, L'Amour is slightly in error when he calls Old Joe Clark "an old song." The action in "The Rider of Lost Creek," takes place about 1878, so the song was probably less than 15 years old at the time Kilkenny would have sung it -- and Old Joe Clark was still alive at the time.
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