jimson/gypsum (weed)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 16 02:22:09 UTC 2012

Charles C Doyle wrote
> Practically my whole life I've known and loved the cowboy song (albeit a faux
> one) "Back in the Saddle Again."  I even heard Gene Autry himself sing it at
> the San Antonio Fat Stock Show when I was a youth.
> In my pre-college years, I raised a few beef calves myself, and I was
> always amused at the couplet "Where the longhorn cattle feed / On
> the lonely jimson weed"--because jimson weed is poisonous (though
> cattle generally avoid it unless it gets accidently baled into hay).

In Google Books the word "lowly" is often used instead of "lonely" in
the lyrics: "where the Longhorn cattle feed on the lowly Jimson weed."
The oddity of cattle consuming jimson weed was remarked upon in a
letter to a newspaper in 1950.

Cite: 1950 March 4, Dallas Morning News, Letters from Readers: Not
Jimson Weed, [Letter from Merritt S. Hurst , 1309 Broadway, Lamar,
Mo.], Part III, Page 4, Column 3 and 4, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)

[Begin excerpt. OCR errors are likely]
For years, I have heard Oklahoma's pride and joy, Gene Autry,
singing about the Longhorn cattle. It is his theme song and he wrote
it. The lyrics contain this phrase -"where the Longhorn cattle feed on
the lowly Jimson weed."

Now, from a Missourian to a Texan, I want to ask you this:
Have you ever seen a Longhorn or any other sort of animal, domestic
or wild, eating a Jimson weed? I was raised on a farm and have
traveled here and there over this United States and have never seen
any sort of living thing that would so much as nibble at Jimson.

Jimson, or Datura Stramonium, is one of the most rankly poisonous
weeds known and should first put to sleep and then kill any animal,
if eaten. If your ancient, shaggy and noble Longhorns do really eat
Jimson and get away with it, I should like to know about it.
[End excerpt]


Continuation of Charlie's message:
> Well, just recently I acquired a CD with an old recording of Gene Autry performing the song, and my heart was warmed:  Except, for the first time, I noticed that he sings, "Where the longhorn cattle feed / On the lonely gypsum weed."   Yes, "gypsum" is clearly the word; he sings the stanza twice!
> Well, no doubt gypsum weed, whatever it is (and however a weed can be lonely), would be safer for the cattle to feed on . . . .
> Charlie

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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