© words & music by Annie Wilson
from CD Clean Curve of Hill Against Sky 

Album note: This song about the ranch life of a boy around 1925 is based on memories of my father William H. Browning (1916-2012).  His vivid descriptions of early ranch & community life in the Flint  Hills west of Madison - working in the hay field, shipping to railheads, home butchering, common foods, and one-room stone schools - help paint this picture of the past.

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Little Billy was born in the year 1916
up in the grassland hills 
In a house the settlers built along
the old Norwegian Trail 
His early years were spent out on
the rolling Edgewood Ranch 
In the timber and high pastures
on the Verdigris' south branch

His dad ran steers up in the hills
on the road to Matfield Green 
And spent all day on horseback
on his gelding tall and lean 
Little Billy rode old Nellie
on the trails around their home 
And played with Mack, his dear old dog,
in a nook of old scrub oak 

     We call him Flint Hills Billy 
     Born out on the ranch    
     And in those Flint Hills, Billy 
     Grew up to love the land     

At hay time Billy brought cool water
to the tired men 
Runnin sickle bars and hay rakes
pulled behind a two-horse team 
One man atop the haystack
with a pitchfork in his hand 
Would build the tallest stack to stand up
to the rain and wind 

They'd drive the cattle in the fall
to the railheads off so far 
Cross eighteen miles of open range
to Matfield or Bazaar 
The men would punch em up the chutes
to load em on the cars 
And send 'em off to Kansas City's
famous big stockyards      


He learned to read in an old rock school
just around the bend 
Grades one through eight in one big room
with all of his best friends 
They learned together through the year
'til the last day late in May 
When all the families came to school
for a neighborhood holiday 

Their mealtimes were the finest
with tastes and smells so keen 
Navy beans and ham-hocks served
with hoe-cake and spring greens 
Fried eggs gathered up that morning
from the chicken pen 
Hot biscuits soaked in honey, homemade
butter and sweet jam 

The neighbors helped set up
beneath the trees at butcher time 
The kindling kept the fire ablaze
as they cut the meat so prime 
Sugar-cured smoked ham and bacon,
sausage, soap and lard, 
To help their families in the months
when times could get so hard 

Billy helped his dad haul cake and salt
in their old Ford Runabout 
To cowherds bunched against the cold
in pastures miles out 
At night they'd take their dog out
by the light of a winter's moon 
And listen to him bark and bay
as he chased after a coon