Calico Introduces Washboard Music to Kids

Published on

YERMO — Calico Ghost Town celebrated its annual Calico Days, a weekend-long experience revisiting life in the Old West during the 1800s. Various festivities that took place to commemorate Calico’s mining past included folk group The Billhillyz’ lesson on the washboard — a musical instrument rooted in Black slave culture that may have been brought West during the California Gold Rush.

As early as the summer of 1849, White southerners brought Black slaves into the California mines. Slavery wasn’t popular in the mines, but there were no laws barring it in the early days of the gold rush. About 200 to 300 slaves came to work the gold fields. Black and white miners worked side by side.

black miner

This might explain the introduction of Southern folk music and instruments into European folk music of the cowboys creating a new distinct Western sound.

Many Southern folk instruments are common household items — washtubs, spoons, jugs and the washboard. These items were the only percussion instruments allowed during American slavery, as plantation owners did not allow the use of drums for fear of communicating secret codes for an uprising. 

Slaves would dance to rhythms beat out with their hands and feet until jug bands were established. These bands used jugs, spoons and washboards in lieu of instruments. The washboard is still used in Jazz, Zydeco, skiffle and old-time music today.

washboard music

It is important that various cultural practices are continued to be represented in depictions of the West. Recently, some historians have turned away from the traditional view of the West as an all-White landscape and are starting to embrace the West as a crossroads of cultures, where various groups struggled for property, profit, and cultural dominance. 


The American West 1865-1900. Retrieved from

Bennett, Herman. “Washboards.”


Latest articles

ADU grant up to $40,000 accepting applications December 11

CALIFORNIA – The California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA), announced November 27, that the Accessory...

CA awards over $140 Million in grants and tax credits – next round of applications due Jan. 2024

CALIFORNIA –  Governor Gavin Newsom announced, November 17, that California awarded more than $140...

Turf replacement program still offering up to $100,000 rebate for SoCal residents and businesses

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA – The Metropolitan Water District is providing up to $10,000 rebates to...

Elf The Musical JR coming to the Cultural Arts Center of the High Desert December 1st 

VICTORVILLE – Victorville residents will embrace their inner “elf” when Phil 413 Productions students...
Powered by

More like this

Victor Valley Museum calling for artist submissions for upcoming exhibition

APPLE VALLEY – The Victor Valley Museum, in partnership with Arts Connection, is calling...

SB County Museum awarding $100 gift cards to complete survey

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY – San Bernardino County Museum wants the community to provide input on future programming provided to the community.

Barstow High School Aztecs marching band performing at the Alamo Bowl

BARSTOW – WorldStrides, an educational travel and experiential learning company, announced that Barstow High School Aztecs marching band was selected to perform at the Alamo Bowl, December 29, in San Antonio Texas.