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Original Cowboy Singer: Carl T. "Doc" Sprague's: song lyrics When the works all done this fall

Updated on June 15, 2015

Cattle Branding


When the work's all done


“When the works all done this fall;”
the song that launched
Carl T. Sprague as the Original
Singing Cowboy.

I’ve often wondered why country singers,
whose roots are in the folk music
of the southern states, wear cowboy hats
and other clothing designating
the West. The answer is Carl T. Sprague.

He was the first performer to
wear such clothing as part of his act.

He was the first “Cowboy Singer” but he set
the style for county-western music appearance.

In August of 1925 he recorded the above song and set the image of the singing cowboy. He learned his cowboy songs from an uncle who was a cowboy in the 1880’s. Drovers who drove the cattle herds out of Texas to the rail-heads in Kansas first sang many of the songs.

Cowboys herding cattle

Rider with cattle on road. GNU free documentation
Rider with cattle on road. GNU free documentation

America became fascinated with the cowboy after the Civil War and by the 1880’s they were becoming part of show business. Buffalo Bill Cody had his “Wild West Show” In 1883 Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band, Billy McGinty’s troupe and Otto Gray and his Oklahoma band paved the way for western Bands and the addition of Jazz led to Western Swing by the 1930’s.

Cowboy poet D.J. O’Malley worked as a wrangler in Montana. O’Malley’s 1893 ballad “After the Roundup” became “When the Works All Done This Fall.” John Lomax in “ Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads collected it

In 1925 the song became a smash hit for Carl after his version in 1925 sold over 900,000 copies. Five thousand would have been successful. Although the song was known and recorded before, it was Sprague’s song that opened things up for Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Tex Ritter, among others.

Carl T. “Doc” Sprague (1895-1979) was born near Manvel Texas. He worked the family cattle business and learned many old songs from his uncles while seated around the campfires. He said he learned his songs from real cowboys.

He went to Texas A & M to study agriculture but went into the aviation division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He was stationed in France during World War I. In 1920 he went back to A&M, and then was hired as an athletic trainer. He picked up the nickname “Doc,” after that.

He formed a band called “Campus Cats” with violins, guitars, banjos, trumpet, sax and trombone. Impressed by Vernon Dalhart’s hillbilly recording of the “Prisoner’s Song” he wrote to Victor and asked to record his cowboy songs. In 1925, he recorded ten cowboy songs. The song, “When the works all done,” which was about a cowboy killed during a night stampede, became the first cowboy song hit.

The image of the singing cowboy was thereafter set in Country Music. He was the first artist to market himself in the image of the singing cowboy with chaps, hat and guitar. He was given the title of “The Original Singing Cowboy.”

He planned to make music a hobby, not a career. Popularity also came in the 1960’s and 1970’s during the folk revival. He helped establish a segment of country music and its image. Although crooners like Gene Autry have contributed to the cowboy song Sprague’s authentic sound gives listeners a taste of what it was like on the cattle drive. Many singers, such as Michael Martin Murphy, Marty Robbins and Ed McCurdy have recorded Sprague’s first cowboy hit.


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Sharyn, for the additional information.

    • profile image

      Sharyn Galvin 4 years ago

      Carl T. Sprague built a home on Greenway Dr. in Bryan, Texas (near

      Texas A&M) We are the third owners of his house, built in 1953.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Glad you like them.I am the same age as you.

    • profile image

      Bob Halk 6 years ago

      Thank you for putting these lyrics here. When I was a young boy my mother sang this song to my sister and me on evening car rides. This was about 1940. I am now 75.

      Thanks again.


    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting. I think there was more about him that I still didn't discover. I guess in the early recording days, the idea of a cowboy singer just wasn't in their thinking.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Like you, I was also unaware of Carl "Doc" Sprague but really enjoyed reading this. Thanks! The campfire songs would have been a nice ending to the hard day of herding cattle.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I'm glad you enjoyed it. The Cowboy is an icon of our culture.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 8 years ago from Texas, USA

      Good article - I grew up watching western movies with my dad; I love reading cowboy related articles. Brings back memories for me thanks.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the comments. This is a singer that I wasn't aware of until a friend asked me to write about him.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Good Hub -- John Lomax is from my little county and did a lot of his work here -- his descendants still live 12 miles away. Enjoyed this Hub immensely. Best, Sis

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I know. It's been frustrating.

    • IntimatEvolution profile image

      Julie Grimes 8 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

      You need to reformat this hub. See for yourself.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the comment. Any additional content is welcome

    • profile image

      Kinghorn 8 years ago


      He was tough, smart, had been around, and couldn't believe Vernon Dahlhart's thin-sounding success on the recordings of 1925. I read that he wouldn't take "no" from Victor.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the comment. Actually, if we ate the beef from that day we might want to be vegetarians.

    • greatAmerican profile image

      greatAmerican 8 years ago

      Boy I bet those liberal vegetarians would have little admiration for Carl T.. Before we had Western Music we had Cowboy music, more often just lyrics made up to some situation that surrounded them. Music from the heart!!

      Thanks for the hub.