”The Bone Player” by William Sidney Mount, 1856
A pair of wooden musical bones
The bones are a Musical Instrument (more specifically, a folk instrument) which, at the simplest, consists of a pair of animal bones, or pieces of wood or a similar material. Sections of large rib bones and lower leg bones are the most commonly used true bones, although wooden sticks shaped like the earlier true bones are now more often used. The technique probably arrived in the U.S. via Irish and other European immigrants, and has a history stretching back to ancient China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
Beginning of the Civil War-America in 1860 is enjoying a spirited musical age..
Music is played, sung, and heard everywhere: in the theater houses, in genteel parlors, on street corners, aboard riverboats, in churches and social halls, in slave cabins deep in the heart of the plantation South, on the crooked front porches of Appalachian homesteads, in lessons chanted in rustic schoolrooms, and at the fraternity sings of college chapter houses. They are mostly amateur soldiers, trained for just a few weeks, if at all, before battle. Their average age is 18. They bring into the armies their civilian habits, their hobbies and pastimes, their baseballs and banjos.
Above all, soldiers carry with them their songs.
In North Carolina, mountain boys pick up hand-me-down fiddles or make their own, slipping the dried tail from a timber rattlesnake inside the sound box to dehumidify the precious wood during the warm, rainy months. Farm boys make cigar-box banjos or play the “bones” — a percussion instrument common in minstrel shows carved from the shinbones of oxen or of a hardwood, such as ash or maple.