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Brewster Higley

Poet and doctor. Born: 1823. Died: 1909.

Brewster Higley moved from Ohio to Kansas after his first three wives died and the fourth marriage appeared to be headed for divorce. He homesteaded in Smith County in 1871. In 1873 he wrote a poem titled "My Western Home," which had six verses and a chorus. The poem was apparently printed in the Smith County Pioneer in 1873 and a year later in the Kirwin Chief in neighboring Phillips County. About that time Higley's neighbor, Daniel Kelly, set it to music.

The song, which we now know as "Home on the Range," eventually became the Kansas state song and became known nationally as a standard. John Lomax, a Texas college professor, published the song in 1910 thinking it was an anonymous cowboy song. By that time Higley and Kelly had died.

In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt said the song was a favorite of his and this attention caused the song to be widely played and become popular. William and Mary Goodwin, a married couple from Arizona, then claimed to be the authors and demanded a large amount of money from various businesses and individuals for the use of "their" song.

Samuel Moanfeldt, a New York attorney, was hired to investigate. The Goodwin song, "An Arizona Home," was similar but significantly different from "My Western Home."  Moanfeldt's detective work and help from interested people lead him to evidence supporting the authorship claim for Higley and Kelly. The Goodwins dropped their suit.

In 1947 the Kansas Legislature proclaimed "Home On The Range" to be  the official state song. Higley probably wrote the song in his home on Beaver Creek where, at some time at least, the deer and the antelope did play.

Entry: Higley, Brewster

Author: G. Joseph Pierron

Author information: Judge Pierron serves on the Kansas Court of Appeals and has an interest in Kansas history.

Date Created: November 2012

Date Modified: February 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.