"Root, hog, or die" is a common American catch-phrase dating from well before 1834. Coming from the early colonial practice of turning pigs loose in the woods to fend for themselves, the term is an idiomatic expression for self-reliance.
The term resulted in several songs with the same theme.
"Root Hog Or Die" (c. 1854)
Several songs of unknown authorship were published before the Civil War, including patriotic and minstrel songs. A patriotic version opens with:
I'll tell you a story that happened long ago,
When the English came to America, I s'pose you all know,
They could'nt [sic] whip the Yankees, I'll tell you the reason why,'
Uncle Sam made 'em sing Root Hog or Die.
"Root, Hog, or Die" (1856)
The most popular song of the era was a minstrel song variously titled "Root, Hog, Or Die" or "Do Jog Along", sometimes credited to George W.H. Griffin, which was first copyrighted in 1856. Many variations exist—a common first verse is:
I'm right from old Virginny wid my pocket full ob news,
I'm worth twenty shillings right square in my shoes.
It doesn't make a bit of difference to neither you nor I
Newer versions have also been recorded. June Carter Cash had a minor hit in the 1950's with her version, now available on Youtube with guitar by Chet Atkins. The first verse is as follows: When I was young and pretty With a twinkling in my eye I met a traveling man one day And I guess he told a lie
When we was a courting He called me sugar pie Now he calls me other names It's root, hog, or die
Root, hog, or die Tell you the reason why I met a traveling man one day And I guess he told a lie
^Crockett, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, p. 117-118: "We know'd that nothing more could happen to us if we went than if we staid, for it looked like it was to be starvation any way; we therefore determined to go on the old saying, root, hog or die."