Saturday, September 20, 2014

Billy Bayou and the American Frontier

          The song “Billy Bayou," released in late 1958, tells the story of a nineteenth century red-haired boy born and raised in Louisiana.  During his lifetime, Billy Bayou fights the Indians at Little Big Horn (when he was merely thirteen), and tangles with Geronimo, nearly losing his life, but coming through the incident unscathed, until in 1878 he marries “a pretty girl who walks through his front gate.”  The song was written by Roger Miller and released by Jim Reeves in October 1958 and being dubbed the Number One song on Country’s Billboard Charts for 1959.  It is interesting to see the utilization of an idealized “cowboy culture” in a country song that apparently resonated with a vast majority of the listening audience.  The song had mass appeal, displaying the model of the “American Frontier,” symbolizing freedom, defeating threatening enemies, and, of course, the standard way of life.  Billy Bayou was a model citizen, defending his country and then marrying a pretty girl and, we can guess, having a family of his own, furthering the cycle of American life.  In fact, Jim Reeves dedicated his September 9, 1958 television performance of “Billy Bayou” to the Boy Scouts of America, describing the Boy Scouts as the epitome of American values:

 My guests join me in saluting the Boys Scouts of America. More than five million Boy Scouts for over fifty years of service have written splendid pages in American history and have climbed the scouting trail to dedicated adult service. The character building and citizenship training program of the Boys Scouts has been a profound influence on our American way of life, and the home, and the church, and the nation.  Character counts. Their very own slogan “Be Prepared” is indicative of their contribution to character building and citizenship training.  Join with us in this salute to the Boy Scouts by helping the scouting program in your own hometown.  Better boys make a better America.  Scouts honor.  To the Boy Scouts everywhere.  Now a favorite of mine for my favorite boys  - the Boy Scouts:  “Billy Bayou.”

          This song, and the dedication by Jim Reeves who performed the popular 1958 version, reveal how the Cold War provided for a push for pride in America and democracy as opposed to the rivalry of Communism in China and the Soviet Union.  It comes as no surprise that the cowboy culture with its model of the American Frontier was a popular method of asserting Americanism on a public primed to engulf everything “American.”


  1. Thanks for introducing me to this song! I'm also struck by the embedded masculinity and its ties to reinforcing the "norm." The notion that Billy needs to "protect" himself from a "pretty girl" who will "get you one of these days"...

    1. I also found the song to reinforce the ideas of conformity, especially within the boundaries of gender roles and expectations, true to form for the late 1950s. It really sets things up for a rebellious counterculture.