“The Old Gray Mare (I) (The Old Gray Horse; The Little Black Bull)”


Concerning an old gray mare (old gray horse, little black bull) that came out of the wilderness (down the meadow, etc.) in Alabam/Arkansas/A long time ago/On to Galilee. Other animals may also be involved. May be used as a playparty


The 1858 sheet music credits this to "J. Warner," but no information about Warner has been recovered, and there are indications that the song was in the Black traditional repertoire before the 1850s.

A common bit of folklore claims that this is based on the exploits (?) of an animal that took fright during the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862. The date of the sheet music, of course, proves this false. - RBW

Sam Hinton traces this to an African-American spiritual, "I Wait Upon the Lord" ("If you want to get to heaven go in the wilderness... and wait upon the Lord"). - PJS [See now the Index entry for "Go Into the Wilderness." - RBW]

Are you sure this is the same ballad as "Little black bull come down the meadow/Hoosen Johnny, Hoosen Johnny"? I think they're part of the same family, but maybe we should split them. By the way, there's a great bawdy version of "Hoosen Johnny" called "Houston, Sam Houston", with sound effects. - PJS

It's another case of the extremes being different but the intermediate versions being too mixed to clearly distinguish. Easier to lump the whole family here. If we don't, we *will* mess up. Or, at least, I will. The versions of this song are so diverse that it gets to the point of parodying itself.... - RBW

Same tune

  • Old Abe Lincoln Came Out of the Wilderness (File: San168)
  • Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts (File: PHCFS133)
  • Flaotin' Down the Delaware (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 157)
  • I Don't Give a Darn for the Whole State of Iowa (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 251)
  • I Ain't A-Scared of Your Jail (on PeteSeeger35)
  • Aren't You Glad You Joined the Republicans? (Republican campaign song, c. 1860; cf. e.g. Allan Nevins, _The Emergence of Lincoln: Prologue to Civil War 1859-1861_ [volume IV of _The Ordeal of the Union_] (Scribners, 1950, p. 315))

Cross references


  • Gene Autry, "The Old Grey Mare" (Conqueror 8686, 1936)
  • Al Bernard, "The Old Grey Mare" (Vocalion 15643, 1927)
  • Milton Brown & his Brownies, "The Old Grey Mare" (Decca 5260, 1936)
  • Fiddlin' John Carson & Moonshine Kate, "The Old Gray Horse Ain't What He Used to Be" (OKeh 45471, 1930)
  • Lew Childre, "The Old Grey Mare" (Champion 16093, 1930)
  • [Arthur] Collins & [Byron] Harlan "Old Grey Mare" (Victor 18387, 1917) (Emerson 7298, c. 1917) (Columbia A2382, 1917) (Little Wonder 780, 1918)
  • Vernon Dalhart, "The Old Grey Mare" (Perfect 12421/Conqueror 7071, 1928) (Banner 2180/Jewel 5187/Perfect 12421/Regal 8469/Conqueror 7071/Conqueror 7169, 1928; rec. 1927)
  • Earl Fuller's Famous Jazz Band, "The Old Grey Mare" (Victor 18369, 1917)
  • Earl Johnson & his Dixie Entertainers[/Clodhoppers], "Old Gray Mare Kicking Out of the Wilderness" (OKeh 45183, 1928; rec. 1927)
  • Jimmy Johnson's String Band, "Old Blind Dog" (Champion 16541 [possibly issued as by Andy Palmer], 1932; on KMM)
  • [Billy] Jones & [Ernest] Hare, "The Old Grey Mare" (Edison 51618, 1925)
  • Elmo Newcomer, "Old Grey Mare" CroMart 101, n.d. but prob. late 1940s - early 1950s)
  • Land Norris, "Old Grey Mare" (OKeh 45047, 1926)
  • Obed Pickard, "The Old Gray Horse" (Columbia 15246-D, 1928; rec. 1927)
  • Gid Tanner & his Skillet Lickers, "The Old Gray Mare" (Columbia 15170-D, 1927)
  • University Quartet, "The Old Gray Mare" (Pathe 20267, 1917)


  1. Randolph 271, "The Old Gray Horse" (1 text plus 2 fragments, 1 tune); 559, "Out of the Wilderness" (1 short text, 1 tune); also possibly 429, "John the Boy, Hello!" (1 text, 1 tune, so short that one cannot tell whether it is the same piece or a different one)
  2. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 231-232, "The Old Gray Horse" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 271A)
  3. BrownIII 174, "The Old Grey Horse Came Tearing Through the Wilderness" (3 short texts; "A" adds an unusual chorus, "Roll, Riley, roll (x3), Oh, Lord, I'm bound to go")
  4. Scarborough-NegroFS, pp. 13-14, "Old Gray Horse Come Tearin' Out o' De Wilderness" (1 text plus bits of others, 1 tune); p. 183, (no title) (1 short text)
  5. Sandburg, pp. 102-103, "Old Gray Mare"; 164-165, "Hoosen Johnny" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  6. RJackson-19CPop, pp. 65-68, "Down in Alabam' or Ain't I Glad I Got Out de Wilderness"" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Lomax-FSNA 45, "In the Wilderness" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 336-338, "Tearin' Out-a Wilderness" (2 texts plus a fragment, 2 tunes)
  9. Silber-FSWB, p. 397, "Hoosen Johnny"; p. 398, "The Old Gray Mare" (2 texts)
  10. Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 63, "The Old Grey Mare" (1 text, tune referenced)
  11. Fuld-WFM, pp. 408-409, "The Old Gray Mare -- (Get Out of the Wilderness)"
  12. Roud #751
  13. BI, R271


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1858 (sheet music)
Keywords: horse animal nonballad
Found in: US(SE,So)