Introduced by Bob Bovee

“Starving to Death on a Government Claim,” also known as Lane or Greer County Bachelor, is a traditional song from the late 19th century. It’s often sung in 6/8 time to the tune of “The Irish Washerwoman,” or sometimes in 3/4. I learned it from a 78 rpm record by Ed Crain with considerable changes to the tune, words and tempo. Growing up in Nebraska, I can identify with the life and landscape of this song, the hardships of a difficult existence.

Score for Starvin' to Death on a Government Claim
Click here for a downloadable PDF


My name it is Perkin, an old bachelor I am
You’ll find me out west on an elegant plan
You’ll find me out west in the county of fame
Starving to death on a government claim

Hurrah for Greer County, the land of the free
The home of the bedbug, grasshopper and flea
I’ll sing of its praises, I’ll tell of its fame
While starving to death on a government claim

My clothes are all ragged, my language is rough
My bread is corn dodger, my goodness how tough
Nothing to eat and nothing to wear
From nothing to nothing is the Greer County fare

My house it is built of the national soil
The walls are erected according to Hoyle
The roof has no pitch, but is level and plain
And you always get wet if it happens to rain

How happy am I when I go to bed
A rattlesnake rattles a tune at my head
A gay little centipede free from all care
Creeps out of my pillow and into my ear

Come all you claim-holders take warning by me
Don’t live with the bedbug, grasshopper and flea
I’ll travel east, I’ll marry me a wife
And quit these corndodgers the rest of my life.

Bob Bovee is a Nebraska native whose family sang and played the old-time songs. Many of the western and railroad songs he does were learned from his grandmother and uncle. Since 1971, he has been a full-time touring musician, plays banjo, guitar, harmonica, and autoharp, sings and yodels.