There wasn’t much entertainment in the old west, or much time to enjoy it. It wasn’t as if they could come in from a hard day’s work and plop on the sofa in front of the TV. What entertainment there was had to be made. Small wonder that singing and playing any kind of musical instrument was popular.
The cost of having a spinet, let alone a full size piano, shipped from the east to the west would have been prohibitive. That’s without taking in the logistics of actually moving the piece to some of the more remote homes. Smaller instruments, such as guitars and banjos, were always popular, mainly for the same reason they are today. While they can cost a lot, less expensive models can be had, and they are extremely portable.
Some popular songs of the 1870s include Far Above Cayuga’s Waters, The Old Chisholm Trail, Forty Years On, The Language of Flowers, There’s a Song in the Air, and the much recorded, “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.”
For some fascinating reading and links to songs of the era, check out the American Popular Music Page (http://www.lonestar.edu/library/kin_music1.htm ). The page also includes links to 19th century sheet music.