Born in Minnesota to a Swedish immigrant father and a Norwegian mother, his family moved to California when he was fourteen. Two years later, he began working with horses, then served in the U. S. Army in World War II. After the war, he went back to working with horses, then herding cattle, but came to realize that the cowboy music he knew was significant. He began to record and write on the topic; his book The Hell-Bound Train is an important cowboy collection. He was a 1985 National Heritage Fellow. He died in 2015.