On the bank of the West Beaver Creek in 1871 Dr. Brewster Higley wrote a poem titled "My Western Home" to describe the beauty of the site he had chosen for his Kansas Homestead. As a romantic, Dr. Higley had written this for himself and placed the writings in a book forgotten by him.
In 1873 Trube Reese of Smith Center brought a man with a gunshot wound to Dr. Higley for treatment and while waiting opened a book and the poem fell out. Mr. Reese read the poem and said to Dr. Higley something to this effect, "this is plum good, you should have it printed in the paper." The poem was printed in the Smith County Pioneer in 1873 and in the Kirwin Chief in 1874, both listing Dr. Higley as the author.
In 1873 Dr. Higley presented the poem to Dan Kelly of Gaylord, KS who set it to music then gave it to Judge John Harlan and his family who first played and sang it publicly. As they were working to finalize their material, Judge Harlan says, "it needs a refrain", hence Home, Home on the Range, etc. was added as a refrain and now to this day "My Western Home" is proudly sung as "Home on the Range".
The song was immediately popular across the land especially with the cowboys riding the long distances to drive cattle to the railroads. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is credited with making it popular around the world when he declared "Home on the Range" as his favorite song.
Question of Authorship
Over the years the song was claimed by many, some calling it "My Colorado Home" with Bill and Mary Goodwin of Arizona claiming authorship calling it "My Arizona Home". In 1934, the Goodwins sued NBC and various publishing houses for damages, stopping public play of the song. Samuel Moanfeldt, attorney for the defendant, tracing back to Smith County, proved that Dr. Brewster Higley indeed authored the words of "Home on the Range" and Dan Kelley had set them to music.
Once legal proof was established, Dr. I. E. Nickell, Senator from Smith Center, introduced in the Kansas Legislature a bill to establish the song as the official state song. The bill, with support of Hal Harlan, a descendent of the original band, was adopted on June 30, 1947.
Home on the Range Movie
In 2017, Director Ken Spurgeon and award-winning documentary film company Lone Chimney Films in association with Sperra Studios debuted the movie "Home on the Range". The movie tells the story of the authorship, preservation and legacy of the song Home on the Range and the location where this "unofficial anthem" to the west was written, in Smith County, Kansas.
The movie features the talents of some well-known actors and musicians, including Rance Howard, Buck Taylor, Darby Hinton, Skip Gorman, Mitch Holthus, Mark Mannette, the legendary rock band Kansas, Michael Martin Murphey, the Sons of the Pioneers, Jed Marum and many more. To-date the movie has won two prestigious awards: the Best Documentary at the Wild Bunch Film Festival in Willcox, Arizona, and the 2018 Western Heritage Award (Wrangler) as the best Docudrama by the National Cowboy and Western Museum in Oklahoma City.