Remembering The Old Songs:


by Lyle Lofgren

(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, July 2004)

Outlaw ballads are a staple of traditional American song, but we haven't covered very many of them. Perhaps that's because I, for one, have avoided Jesse James. Maybe someday we'll write about his ballad, but in the meantime we'll look at a song about a Jesse admirer.

Internet research is wonderful. I found out that Harvey Logan was definitely born in Rowan County, Kentucky in 1865 and 1875; in Tama County, Iowa in 1867; and in Missouri at an unknown date. Everyone agrees he was raised in Missouri, where, according to one source, he met Jesse James (d. 1882), who gave him some dime novels which he read in order to learn how to be a badman. He and his brother went west to wrangle cows and also rustle some of them. After working his way north from New Mexico to Montana, Harvey got in trouble when he killed a sheriff in a gunfight. On the run, he hooked up with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Wyoming, where he took the nom de proscrit of Kid Curry. He developed a reputation as a quick draw and a cold-blooded killer.

After several exciting bank and train robberies, murders and jailbreaks, he took his share of the loot to Knoxville TN, and became "railroad man" William Wilson. He planned to marry, settle down, and farm until the money was all gone. Instead, on the night of December 13,1901 he went to Ike Jones's pool hall and drank apricot brandy (nice specific touches, after all the vagueness about his birth). He played pool with a local named Luther Brady and got mad when Brady's game greatly improved after a big bet. He started to strangle Brady. Brady's partner tried to interfere, so Harvey shot him. The police came, and one of them broke his billy club over Logan's head. Harvey shot two policemen and escaped, but was arrested two days later. Evidently, none of these people died--the brandy must have spoiled his aim. Pinkerton detectives ID'd him as Harvey Logan. When word spread about a real western outlaw, thousands of people showed up at the Knoxville jail to get a glimpse of him. The sheriff allowed some to walk by his cell so they could touch his hand. The court, ignoring his popularity, convicted him for a Montana train robbery and sentenced him to 20 years.

While awaiting transfer to a penitentiary, he broke jail, perhaps with some help, and took the sheriff's horse. He either settled down peacefully in Waxhaw NC or went to Colorado, took the name Tap Duncan, and robbed a train. Cornered by a posse on June 9, 1904 (or 1903), he killed himself rather than surrender.

No—that couldn't be. According to Logan's "grandson," a genuine Tap Duncan died in Colorado. Logan escaped to Argentina and started a cattle ranch, married a señorita and had eight children, succumbing to old age in 1941. I can believe that. One of the few newspapers my father saved was an article from the 1930s that said the real Jesse James was still alive, an old man living a quiet life. There was a photograph to prove it. Robert Ford had really shot someone else.

This version was sung by Jimmy Morris of Hazard KY in 1937, recorded by Alan & Elizabeth Lomax and is now in the Library of Congress (1548A2). My guess is that it was composed shortly after the jailbreak to take local advantage of Logan's fame. A complete ballad of his exploits would be very long. What's described here is barely a footnote to the life of one of the frontier's baddest badmen.


Complete Lyrics:
1. On one Saturday evening, just around the hour of two,
Harvey Logan and his partner was playing a game of pool,
Oh my babe, my honey babe.

2. They was playing for the money, and the money wouldn't go right,
That's when old Harvey Logan got into a fight,
Oh my babe, my honey babe.

3. Police heard the racket and the billies they did break,
Harvey Logan give 'em contest with a smoking thirty-eight,
Oh my babe, my honey babe.

4. They took him down to Knoxville and they locked him in the jail,
Because he was a stranger, no one would go his bail,
Oh my babe, my honey babe.

5. Put the guard before him and he marched him down the stairs,
Says, "All I want in this wide world is the jailor's big fat mare,"
Oh my babe, my honey babe.

6. "Harvey, now Harvey, you know you're doing me wrong."
(He) said, "Hush up your crying, boy, and put that saddle on,"
Oh my babe, my honey babe.

7. He rode across the bridge, and he rode down through the gate,
He said, "I'd better be making time, the night is growing late,"
Oh my babe, my honey babe.

8. He rode across the bridge, and he looked up at the sky,
He said, "I'd better be making time, the night is drawing nigh,"
Oh my babe, my honey babe.

9. He rode through the lane, and he rode down through the gate,
He said, "Goodbye, old Tennessee, I'm heading for another state,"
Oh my babe, my honey babe.

Note added 10/15/2012: Mark T. Smokov has published an exhaustive (98 pages of references!) study of the life and times of Harvey Logan, titled He Rode With Butch And Sundance: The Story of Harvey "Kid Curry" Logan (University of North Texas Press, 2012). Since I doubt anyone else will ever undertake such a complete study, I'll tell you his conclusions: Logan was born in 1867 in Richland Township, Tama County, Iowa (he got this from census records), and the family moved to Gentry County, Missouri, a short time after 1872. He spent most of his youth in Montana, specializing in train robberies. So did a lot of cowboys at the time, and the story should have been filmed by Cecil B. DeMille: it seems to contain a cast of thousands (including a lot of prostitutes), although most of the characters seem to exist because of a proliferation of false names and confused eyewitnesses. Because of his fame, he was often suspected of committing two robberies at the same time at far-flung locations. Smokov makes the convincing argument that Logan, cornered, killed himself on June 9, 1904, and is buried in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and that the South American stories are false. After reading his book, I don't have the energy to argue, so I'll accept his version.

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