Texas dance 1830

Smithwick, Noah; The Evolution of a State; Gammel Book Company, Austin, Texas, 1900; pp. 38-41

The first and most important number on the program being duly carried out, the next thing in order was the wedding supper, which was the best the market afforded. That being disposed of, the floor was cleared for dancing. It mattered not that the floor was made of puncheons. When young folks danced those days, they danced ; they didn’t glide around ; they “shuffled” and “double shuffled,” “wired” and “cut the pigeon’s wing,” making the splinters fly. There were some of the boys, however, who were not provided with shoes, and moccasins were not adapted to that kind of dancing floor, and moreover they couldn’t make noise enough, but their more fortunate brethren were not at all selfish or disposed to put on airs, so, when they had danced a turn, they generously exchanged foot-gear with the moccasined contingent and gave them the ring, and we just literally kicked every splinter off that floor before morning. The fiddle, manipulated by Jesse Thompson’s man Mose, being rather too weak to make itself heard above the din of clattering feet, we had in another fellow with a clevis and pin to strengthen the orchestra, and we had a most enjoyable time.

Another dancing party in which I participated was at Martin Varner’s, near Columbia. When we were all assembled and ready to begin business it was found that Mose, the only fiddler around, had failed to come to time, so we called in an old darky belonging to Colonel Zeno Philips, who performed on a clevis as an accompaniment to his singing, while another negro scraped on a cotton hoe with a case knife. The favorite chorus was : “O git up gals in de mawnin’, O git up gals in de mawnin’, O git up gals in de mawnin’, Jes at de break ob day,” at the conclusion of which the performer gave an extra blow to the clevis while the dancers responded with a series of dexterous rat-tat-tats with heel and toe.

New Mexico dance 1881

Poe, Sophie A.; Buckboard Days; Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho; 1936; pp. 143, 152-156.

Ms. Poe came to New Mexico in 1881 and participated in this dance a few weeks later. Roswell, just after the fall cattle roundup.

“Then Bill – the drawler – addressed his remarks to me:

“Miss Sophie, I’m certainly going to make your feet tingle, first dance that comes along. I’m the dag-gonedest fiddler in the whole Pecos country, if I do say it myself. Now Buck, there -” and he pointed to a rather handsome young man, who colored perceptibly at the introduction, “- he reckons he’s some musicianeer. But you just want to hear me play Hell Over the Fence, or Turkey in the Straw, or a few more.”

“We’ll give Miss Sophie a chance to hear you, Bill, as soon as the roundup is over,” Mrs. Lea said….

p. 152

I heard much about the dances, and wondered when there would be one. It was a few weeks later that Captain and Mrs. Lea fulfilled the promise that after the roundup they would give a dance. After supper, on the evening it was to be held, the furniture was all removed from the dining room, and the dirt floor well sprinkled to lay the dust.

“Now they can dance all they want to with the ‘nickel-plate lady,'” Captain Lea said laughingly. For that title had been settled on me by the cowboys, although Winchell had tried to give vogue to “Lily of the West” as being more “poetic.”

“They won’t be able to get enough girls to go around, on such short notice,” said Mrs. Lea, dubiously. “Oh, that’s dead easy,” replied the Captain. “Barney Mason likes to tie a handkerchief around his arm and play girl. That will make another, and we can scrape up a few others here and there.”

It was my first experience at a cowboy dance. The musicians were “Buffalo Bill” (not the celebrated showman) and Buck Wise.

Winchell was the first to claim a dance with me. As we stepped out on the floor, Buffalo Bill shouted:

“I’ll play Lauderbach in honor of the ‘nickel-plate lady,’ because I’ve just been hankering for the time when I could show her how this little music box can hum.”

Then he settled back in his chair in the far corner of the room and scraped his bow back and forth over the strings of his fiddle, his whole body swaying rhythmically.

Dalton Cable claimed the next dance. It was a square dance, and the “prompter,” Mack Hennessey, bent his body over at an angle of about forty-five degrees, beating time with his foot and calling out: “Swing that girl, that purty little girl, the girl you left behind you.” Dalton left nothing undone in the way of activity. He almost swung me off my feet as we kept time to the music. Backward and forward we went, to the tune of The Girl I Left Behind Me.”

there’s more…..

Kentucky dance 1800

Finley, Rev. James B.; Autobiography of Rev. James B. Finley or, Pioneer Life in the West; Cranston and Curts, Cincinnati, 1853; pp. 71-72

in Chapter 3, called Life in the Backwoods, Finley is describing people and what they did in Kentucky when it was still being settled. A backwoods wedding:

“….the dance commences, and, if there is no room in the cabin, the company repair to or near one of the log-fires; there they dance till night, and then they mostly return home; yet many of the young people stay, and perhaps dance all night on a rough puncheon floor, till the moccasins are worn through. The next day is the infair: the same scenes are again enacted, when the newly-married pair single off to a cabin built for themselves….”

read it here:


Kentucky dance 1813

Webber, C. W.; Wild Scenes and Song Birds; G. P Putnam & Co., New York, 1853; p. 134-135

“Then there was the bran dance, which – commencing with the barbacued feast – wound up with a grand dance upon the rolled earth, sprinkled with bran beneath the arbors and in which everybody, high or low, participated with a reckless abandon of jollity. The confused jumble of all classes in this rude festival, made it more an occasion for roystering fun than refined enjoyment, and although forty years ago they were participated in by our ladies, and I remember well hearing my aunt and mother tell, many times, of dancing with the young Harry Clay at the bran dance, yet they gradually fell into disuse by the more refined.

By the way, I shall never forget the first picture of Mr. Clay at one of these dances….”

Read the rest here:


New Jersey dance 1820

Frances Wright, Views of Society and Manners in America in a series of letters from that country to a friend in England during the years 1818, 1819, and 1820, published in New York, 1821.

p. 331 – April 1820, New Jersey
The winter; — those whom it likes, may like it. The season has its beauty and its pleasures, skies shining down upon sparkling snows, over which the light sleighs, peopled with the young and the gay, bound along to the chime of bells which the horses seem to bear well pleased. In country and city, this is the time of amusement; the young people will run twenty miles, through the biting air, to the house of a friend; where all in a moment is set astir; carpets up, music playing, and youths and maidens, laughing and mingling in the mazy dance, the happiest creatures beneath the moon.

Indiana dance 1892

Garland, Hamlin; Old Daddy Deering; 1892

Here is a fictional account Hamlin Garland wrote in 1892. It is set in Indiana. Clearly Daddy Deering is based on the real Daddy Fairbanks whom Garland had seen as a boy. 


Like Scotland’s harper, 
Or Irish piper, with his droning lays, 
Before the spread of modern life and light 
The country fiddler slowly disappears. 

part 3

But pitching grain and hog-killing were on the lower levels of his art, for above all else Daddy loved to be called upon to play the fiddle for dances. He “officiated” for-the first time at a dance given by one of the younger McTurgs. They were all fiddlers themselves — had been for three generations — but they seized the opportunity of helping Daddy and at the same time of relieving themselves of the trouble of furnishing the music while the rest danced.

Milton attended this dance, and saw Daddy for the first time earning his money pleasantly. From that time on the associations around his personality were less severe, and they came to like him better. He came early, with his old fiddle in a time-worn white-pine box. His hair was neatly combed to the top of his long, narrow head, and his face was very clean. The boys all greeted him with great pleasure, and asked him where he would sit.

“Right on that table, sir; put a chair up there.”

He took his chair on the kitchen-table as if it were a throne. He wore huge moccasins of moosehide on his feet, and for special occasions like this added a paper collar to his red woolen shirt. He took off his coat and laid it across his chair for a cushion. It was all very funny to the young people, but they obeyed him laughingly, and while they “formed on,” he sawed his violin and coaxed it up to concert pitch, and twanged it and banged it into proper tunefulness.

“A-a-a-11-ready there !” he rasped out, with prodigious force. “Everybody git into his place!”

Then, lifting one huge foot, he put the fiddle under his chin, and, raising his bow till his knuckles touched the strings, he yelled, “Already, G’lang!” and brought his foot down with a startling bang on the first note. Rye doodle doo, doodle doo.

As he went on and the dancers fell into rhythm, the clatter of heavy boots seemed to thrill him with old-time memories, and he kept boisterous time with his foot while his high, rasping nasal rang high above the confusion of tongues and heels and swaying forms.

Ladies’ gran’ change! Four hands round! Bal-ance all! Elly-man left! Back to play-cis.”

His eyes closed in a sort of intoxication of pleasure, but he saw all that went on in some miraculous way.

First lady lead to the right — toodle rum rum! Gent foller after (step along thar)! Pour hands round”

The boys were immensely pleased with him. They delighted in his antics rather than in his tunes, which were exceedingly. few and simple. They seemed never to be able to get enough of one tune which he called “Honest John,” and which he played in his own way, accompanied by a chant which he meant, without doubt, to be musical.

“Hon-ers tew your pardners — tee teedle deedle dee dee dee dee! Stand up straight an’ put on your style! Right an’ left four”

The hat was passed by the floor-manager during the evening, and Daddy got nearly three dollars, which delighted Milton very much.

At supper he insisted on his prerogative, which was to take the prettiest girl out to supper.

“Look-a-here, Daddy, ain’t that crowdin’ the mourners?” objected the others.

“What do you mean by that, sir? No, sir! Always done it, in Michigan and Yark State both; yes, sir.”

He put on his coat ceremoniously, while the tittering girls stood about the room waiting. He did not delay. His keen eyes had made selection long before, and, approaching Rose Watson with old-fashioned, elaborate gallantry, he said: “May I have the pleasure ?” and marched out triumphantly, amidst shouts of laughter.

His shrill laugh rang high above the rest at the table, as he said: “I’m the youngest man in this crowd, sir! Demmit, I bet a hat I c’n dance down any man in this crowd; yes, sir. The old man can do it yet.”

They all took sides in order to please him.

“I’ll bet he can,” said Hugh McTurg; “I’ll bet a dollar on Daddy.”

“I’ll take the bet,” said Joe Randall, and with great noise the match was arranged to come the first thing after supper.

All right, sir; any time, sir. I’ll let you know the old man is on earth yet.”

While the girls were putting away the supper dishes, the young man lured Daddy out into the yard for a wrestling-match, but some of the others objected.

“Oh, now, that won’t do! If Daddy was a young man”

“What do you mean, sir? I am young enough for you, sir. Just let me get ahold o’you, sir, and I’ll show yon, you young rascal ! you dem jackanapes!” he ended, almost shrieking with rage, as he shook his fist in the face of his grinning tormentors.

The others held him back with much apparent alarm, and ordered the other fellows away.

“There, there, Daddy, I wouldn’t mind him! I wouldn’t dirty my hands on him; he ain’t worth it. Just come inside, and we’ll have that dancingmatch now.”

Daddy reluctantly returned to the house, and, having surrendered his violin to Hugh McTurg, was ready for the contest. As he stepped into the middle of the room he was not altogether ludicrous. His rusty trousers were bagged at the knee, and his red woolen stockings showed between the tops of his moccasins and his pantaloon-legs; and his coat, utterly characterless as to color and cut, added to the stoop in his shoulders, and yet there was a rude sort of grace and a certain dignity about his bearing which kept down laughter. They were to have a square dance of the old-fashioned sort.

Farrm on,” he cried, and the fiddler struck out the first note of the Virginia Reel. Daddy led out Rose, and the dance began. He straightened up till his tall form towered above the rest of the boys like a weather-beaten pine-tree, as he balanced and swung and led and called off the changes with a voice full of imperious command.

The fiddler took a malicious delight toward the last in quickening the time of the good old dance, and that put the old man on his mettle.

“Go it, ye young rascal!” he yelled. He danced like a boy and yelled like a demon, catching a laggard here and there, and hurling them into place like tops, while he kicked and stamped, wound in and out and waved his hands in the air with a gesture which must have dated back to the days of Washington. At last, flushed, breathless, but triumphant, he danced a final break-down to the tune of “Leather Breeches,” to show he was unsubdued.

Illinois dance 1888

This account is from the book Mr. Eagle’s U.S.A.: as seen in a buggy ride of 1,400 miles from Illinois to Boston (1898) by John Livingston Wright and Abbie Scates Ames. In the middle of this account Mr. Wright recollects an earlier dance he witnessed in Illinois.


The tune suddenly changed. What its exact title was, if it ever had any title, I do not know, but the instant I heard it my thoughts reverted to scenes that used to take place at regular periods, out in far-away Illinois. There was a “fiddler and caller” from off the Lacon “bottoms” who was a lover, yea, a downright worshiper of this identical ”tune.” He would play it hour after hour, and he had the habit of “calling”‘ in verses. As near as I can recollect them, they ran something like this:

“S’lute yer ladies all tergether, Ladies opposite the same;

Hit ther lumber with yer leather! Balance all an’ swing yer dame.

Bunch ther ladies in ther middle! Circle lads an’ do-se-do—

Pay attention to ther fiddle! Swing her ‘roun’ an’ off we go!

First four forward! Back to places! Second feller! Shuffle back!

Now you’ve got it down to cases! Swing ’em ’till their trotters crack!

Gents all right a heel an’ toein! Swing ’em ; kiss ’em ef you kin!

On to nex’, an’ keep a goin’ ‘Till yo hit your pards agin!

Gents to center ; ladies ’round ’em, Form a basket; balance all!

Whirl yer gals to where yer found ’em! Promenade around ther hall!

Balance to yer pards an’ trot ’em ‘Round the circle double quick!

Grab an’ kiss ’em while you’ve got ’em! Hold ’em to it if they kick!

Ladies’ lef hand to yer sonnies! Alaman! Gran’ right an’ left!

Balance all an’ swing yer honnies, Pick ’em up an’ feel their heft!

Promenade like skeery cattle! Balance all, an’ swing yer sweets!

Shake yer spurs an’ make ’em rattle! Keno! Promenade ter seats.”

Florida dance 1859

Bradford, J. S.; Crackers (article); Lippincott’s Magazine, November 1870; p. 465

“He is, above all things, fond of a dance. Let him get a nigger fiddler and plenty of baldface whisky, and give forth the news that he expects his friends, and men and girls will come from a circuit of twenty miles. And how he dances! I can give no idea of it unless some of my readers have seen a fisherman’s hop on the coast of Maine. In that case they will be able to form some conception of the style and character of a Cracker dance. Such shuffling and double shuffling, such pigeon wings, such tortuous and devious windings as are there executed, truly entitle the favorite measures to the Swivellerian appellation of “the mazy.” In my opinion a man must get drunk in order to bear himself properly through such a performance. No sober man could master it.”

Florida dance 1887

Denison, Mary Andrews; Cracker Joe; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1887; pp. 101-102

The dancers were called together just then by the master of ceremonies, who said, —

“Our good friend Mr. Carew has just requested us to give a dance with what he calls a cracker band, — the music, in fact, which they have when there is no other kind to be had for love or money, and the plantation hands play after the old Florida fashion.”

As they all stood expectant, a line of negroes filed in, some with bread-pans, others carrying heavy sticks, one or two armed with shovel and tongs, others who depended upon their tongues, teeth, and finger-joints. These latter whistled and sang. One rattled a string of silvery sounding bells, two or three beat the tin pans, an improvised drum added to the. clang and clatter, and the dance was called.

With much laughter and merriment the sets were formed.

“They want me to lead this dance,” said Cracker Joe, turning to Stella, “and if Miss Ainsley will honor me by dancing with an old Florida cracker, I will.”

“With pleasure,” she said; and they led the dance to the singing, whistling, drumming, and clapping of the grinning darkies, who evidently enjoyed their own music.

Stella enjoyed the figures, though her partner’s agility was more vehement than graceful; still, in his manner toward her he was delicacy itself, notwithstanding he cut old-fashioned pigeon-wings and used old-fashioned phrases.

Denison, Mary Andrews; Cracker Joe; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1887; pp. 101-102