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...Where lonesome, tawny prairies melt into airy streams,
While the Double Mountains slumber, in heavenly kinds of dreams;
Where the antelope is grazin' and the lonely plovers call—
It was there that I attended "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."
....


William Lawrence "Larry" Chittenden (1862-1934) is best known for his 1890 poem, "The Cowboy's Christmas Ball," which was included in his 1893 book,
Ranch Verses. The poem was inspired by a cowboy Christmas dance he attended in Anson, Texas and the event he made famous still takes place annually.

The 1913 book, Writers and Writings of Texas, by David Foute Eagleton, introduces Chittenden:

Larry Chittenden, "the Poet-Ranchman of Texas," was born in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1862, and traces his American ancestry back to 1639. From these he inherited a sound body, business ability, a love of learning, and a poetic nature.

Coming to Texas in 1883, he and his uncle, Hon. S. B. Chittenden of New York, established the Chittenden Ranch in Jones County, near Anson, in 1887. In addition to the farm and ranch in Texas, of 9,000 acres, which he now owns, Mr. Chittenden has a winter home in Bermuda, known as "Larry's Lodge." Here he lately wrote a volume of Bermuda Verses [...]

He began his literary career in 1880 with reportorial work on New York periodicals and later on Texas periodicals. His descriptions of ranch life and frontier scenes have given him place beside Bret Harte and Joaquin Miller. In 1893 he published Ranch Verses (G.P. Putnam's Sons, N.Y.), a volume of poems now in its fourteenth edition [...]

You can see (and download) the entire Ranch Verses book here (the 1921, fifteenth edition) at Google Books.

See an image of Larry Chittenden here at the Anson Cowboy Christmas Ball web site.

The Handbook of Texas Online has a biographical article here about Chittenden.

"The Cowboys' Christmas Ball," is included below, along with some of Chittenden's Texas Sketches, a windy about a stockman's visit to New York, and some other poems, including a short one that accompanies his explanation for the term "maverick."

All the poems are from his 1893 book, Ranch Verses; the book's front cover brands Larry Chittenden as the "Poet-Ranchman."  The book's dedication reads:

The verses in this little volume are offsprings of solitude—born in idle hours on a Texas ranch.

                                                  W. L. C.
Chittenden's Ranch
Anson, Texas
January, 1893


See an image of Larry Chittenden here at the Anson Cowboy Christmas Ball web site.

 

Poems

Books and More

 

Poems 

The Cowboys' Christmas Ball 
'Way out in Western Texas, where the Clear Fork's waters flow, 

Texas Types--The Cowboy
He wears a big hat and big spurs and all that...

Texas Types--The Sheriff
He's a quiet, easy fellow, with his pants tucked in his boots...

Texas Types, "The Tenderfoot."
You can tell him by his "weepons!"...

A Stockman's Adventures in New York
When I give up trail-herdin', an' thought I'd jes' vamoose....

The Ranchman's Song
Afar from the tumult and turmoil of fashion...

Texas
I crave not for her cities...

The Origin of the Term Maverick
Hence to-day all stock unbranded...

Old Fort Phantom Hill  separate page
On the breezy Texas border, on the prairies far away...

Gettin' Back to the Ranch (also known as Returning to the Ranch)
Well, fellers, I've got home agin, an' it seems sorty strange...

 

 


 

The Cowboys' Christmas Ball 
To the Ranchmen of Texas

'Way out in Western Texas, where the Clear Fork's waters flow,
Where the cattle are "a-browzin'," an' the Spanish ponies grow;
Where the Northers "come a-whistlin'" from beyond the Neutral Strip;
And the prairie dogs are sneezin', as if they had "The Grip";
Where the cayotes come a-howlin' 'round the ranches after dark,
And the mocking-birds are singin' to the lovely "medder lark";
Where the 'possum and the badger, and rattlesnakes abound,
And the monstrous stars are winkin' o'er a wilderness profound;
Where lonesome, tawny prairies melt into airy streams,
While the Double Mountains slumber, in heavenly kinds of dreams;
Where the antelope is grazin' and the lonely plovers call—
It was there that I attended "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The town was Anson City, old Jones's county seat,
Where they raised Polled Angus cattle, and waving whiskered wheat;
Where the air is soft and "bammy," an' dry an' full of health,
And the prairies is explodin' with agricultural wealth;
Where they print the Texas Western, that Hec. McCann supplies
With news and yarns and stories, uv most amazin' size;
Where Frank Smith "pulls the badger," on knowin' tenderfeet,
And Democracy's triumphant, and might hard to beat;
Where lives that good old hunter, John Milsap, from Lamar,
Who "used to be the Sheriff, back East, in Paris sah!"
'T was there, I say, at Anson with the lovely "widder Wall,"
That I went to that reception, "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The boys had left the ranches and come to town in piles;
The ladies—"kinder scatterin'"—had gathered in for miles.
And yet the place was crowded, as I remember well,
'T was got for the occasion, at "The Morning Star Hotel."
The music was a fiddle an' a lively tambourine,
And a "viol came imported," by the stage from Abilene.
The room was togged out gorgeous-with mistletoe and shawls,
And candles flickered frescoes, around the airy walls.
The "wimmin folks" looked lovely-the boys looked kinder treed,
Till their leader commenced yellin': "Whoa! fellers, let's stampede,"
And the music started sighin', an' awailin' through the hall
As a kind of introduction to "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The leader was a feller that came from Swenson's ranch,
They called him "Windy Billy," from "little Deadman's Branch."
His rig was "kinder keerless," big spurs and high-heeled boots;
He had the reputation that comes when "fellers shoots."
His voice was like a bugle upon the mountain's height;
His feet were animated an' a mighty, movin' sight,
When he commenced to holler, "Neow, fellers stake your pen!
"Lock horns ter all them heifers, an' russle 'em like men.
"Saloot yer lovely critters; neow swing an' let 'em go,
"Climb the grape vine 'round 'em—all hands do-ce-do!
"You Mavericks, jine the round-up- Jest skip her waterfall,"
Huh!  hit wuz gettin' happy, "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball!"

The boys were tolerable skittish, the ladies powerful neat,
That old bass viol's music just got there with both feet!
That wailin', frisky fiddle, I never shall forget;
And Windy kept a-singin'—I think I hear him yet—
"Oh Xes, chase yer squirrels, an' cut 'em to one side;
"Spur Treadwell to the centre, with Cross P Charley's bride;
"Doc. Hollis down the middle, an' twine the ladies' chain;
"Varn Andrews pen the fillies in big T Diamond's train.
"All pull yer freight together, neow swallow fork an' change;
"'Big Boston,' lead the trail herd, through little Pitchfork's range.
"Purr 'round yer gentle pussies, neow rope 'em! Balance all!"
Huh!  hit wuz gettin' active—"The Cowboys' Christmas Ball!"

The dust riz fast an' furious; we all jes' galloped 'round,
Till the scenery got so giddy that T Bar Dick was downed.
We buckled to our partners, an' told 'em to hold on,
Then shook our hoofs like lightning, until the early dawn.
Don't tell me 'bout cotillions, or germans. No sire 'ee!
That whirl at Anson City just takes the cake with me.
I'm sick of lazy shufflin's, of them I've had my fill,
Give me a frontier break-down, backed up by Windy Bill.
McAllister ain't nowhar: when Windy leads the show,
I've seen 'em both in harness, and so I sorter know—
Oh, Bill, I sha'n't forget yer, and I'll oftentimes recall,
That lively gaited sworray—"The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

 

Read more about the poem's history and the ball at the Handbook of Texas Online.

 

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 Texas Types -- The Cowboy

He wears a big hat and big spurs and all that,
     And leggins of fancy fringed leather;
He takes pride in his boots and the pistol he shoots
     And he's happy in all kinds of weather.

He's fond of his horse -- 't is a bronco, of course
     For, oh, he can ride like the Devil;
He is old for his years, and he always appears
     To be foremost at round-up or revel.

He can sing, he can cook, yet his eyes have the look
     Of a man that to fear is a stranger;
Yes, his cool, quiet nerve will always subserve
     In his wild life of duty and danger.

He gets little to eat and he guys tenderfeet
     And for Fashion -- oh, well, he's "not in it!"
He can rope a gay steer when gets on his ear,
     At the rate of two-forty a minute!

His saddle's the best in the wild, woolly West,
     Sometimes it will cost sixty dollars;
Ah, he knows all the tricks, when he brands "Mavericks,"
     But his learning's not gained from your scholars.

He is loyal as steel, but demands a square deal,
     And he hates and despises a coward.
Yet the cowboy you'll find unto woman is kind,
     Though he'll fight till by death overpowered.

Hence I say unto you, give the cowboy his due,
     And be kinder, my friends, to his folly;
For he's generous and brave, though he may not behave
     Like your dudes, who are so melancholy.

 

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Texas Types--The Sheriff

He's a quiet, easy fellow, with his pants tucked in his boots,
And he wears a big revolver which he seldom ever shoots;
He has served his time as ranger on the reckless Rio Grande,
and he has the reputation for great marksmanship and sand;
He has strung up several horse thieves in the rustler days gone by,
And although he seems so pleasant there's a devil in his eye.

When he goes to take a prisoner, he calls him by his name,
In that confidential manner which suggests the bunco game;
If the culprit is not willing, takes exception to the plan,
Our Sheriff gets the drop, sire, and he likewise gets his man;
Oh, it's a "powerful persuadin'," is a pistol 'neath your nose,
"Hands up, you've got to go, Sam, and Sam he ups and goes.

In the fall at "County 'lections" when the candidates appear,
The Sheriff's awful friendly, for he loves to ";lectioneer";
Then he takes the honest granger and ye stockman by the hand,
And he augers them for votes, sire, in a manner smooth and bland;
He is generous, brave, and courtly, but a dangerous man to sass,
For his manner is suggestive of that sign--"Keep off the grass!"

He may run a livery stable, or perchance he keeps hotel;
He may own a bunch of cattle, or may have some lots to sell;
He is full of go and travel, for he's paid so much per mile,
And his little bills for "extras," make County Judges smile.
"Hyars lookin' at yer," Sheriff; come, boys, lets drink her down,
To the most important man, sir! of every Texas town.

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Texas Types, "The Tenderfoot." 

You can tell him by his "weepons!"
     And his soft, confiding air,
His bran-new gorgeous outfit,
     And his high-priced aged mare.

He is primed with tales of dangers
     In the wild and woolly West,
And the bold dreams of robber rangers
     Disturb his nightly rest.

He has queer ideas of Texas;
     Thinks her people live in gore!
He seems queer to all the sexes
     For his actions make folks roar.

But he soon gets used to chaff, sir,
     For he's green as April wheat,
Yet for men to make you laugh, sir,
     I commend the Tenderfeet.

Soon he pines to be a cowboy
     And to ride a pitching horse,
Ah, then you ought to see him.
     For he's paralyzed--of course.

Then he writes some lying story
     To his family far away,
Some brave tale of border glory
     Where he figures in the play.

If he goes back where he came from,
     He assumes a Western air,
Then I tell you he is woolly!
     And his actions make folks stare.

Yes, you know I tell the truth, sir,
     Now, I never lie for pelf,
But I was -- yes! In my youth, sir,
     Was a Tenderfoot myself!!

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A Stockman's Adventures in New York
A Story of the Bunco Game.


When I give up trail-herdin', an' thought I'd jes' vamoose,
An' see my nativ' kentry in a first-class freight caboose,
I wuz called er knowin' feller, and I owned the Z Bar brand,
Fer in getherin' maverick yearlin's, I hed proved a lively hand.

I hed heerd thet New York city wuz a dandy place fer camps,
With water, grass, 'n clover--(pervided yer hed stamps).
So I riz a heap uv munney fer my pasture at "the Branch";
An' got shet uv all my cattle thet wuz on the Z Bar Ranch;
Then I bouth a new sombrero, an' an outfit thet wuz neat,
An', sez I, "Wal newow, ole feller, we'll get there with both feet."

So I red to Jersey City, an' struck the round-ups there,
An' got aboard er steamer, an' took passage fer the fair;
When at last the vessel landed I broke from her ole pen,
An' galloped 'cross a dirty trail uv teams an' cussin' men;
An' up ole Cortlandt street I rolled, er-feelin' kinder blue,
When all ter onct, a feller cum an' sez, "Why, heow de do?

I use'ter know yer in the West, yer name iz Joseph Breen?"
"Yer wrong!" sez I, "I'm Texas riz, I cum from Abilene,
An on the ole T diamond trail they calls me Jeeter Brown.
This hyar is my furst takin' in uv this hyar takin' town!"
"Oh, ah," he sez, "excuse me, sar! I'm wrong, I see-- good day."
An' then he vamoosed in the crowd, an' I hit big Broadway--

Huh! there's a canyon fer yer! with houses on each side,
An' the streams er-flowin' through hit iz a roarin' human tide;
The Clear Fork of the Brazos, hit ain't nuthin', so I say,
Ter the noisy roarin' torrints wot's a-flowin' through Broadway.
Oh, them crows jes' kep' a-comin', allers rushin', hurryin' through,
An' there wuz thousands uv 'em, but nary one I knew.

Then I felt kinder home-sick fer my dugout in the vale,
Whar the ole owls wuz a-hooin' on the ole McKenzie Trail;
Whar the cattle wuz a-browzin' on the yeller-blossomed sod,
An' the pious plains wuz sleepin' with the drowsy dreams uv God!
Oh, I longerd fer them perairies in ole Texas far away,
Fer I felt like I was smotherin' on that suffercatin' day.

Wal, az I stood there studdyin', feelin' lonesumlike and down,
A hansum feller cum an' sed, "Why how-dy! Jeeter Brown?
When did yer leave ole Texas?  Wot's the news in Abilene?
Heow iz Jim Lowden at the Bank, heow iz ole Keyrnal Deane?
I guess yer don't remember me, but I remembers you,
I've often seen yer on the Range down by the Kickapoo.
I us'ter live in Abilene, my uncle's Theo Heyck.
He's sot me up in business hyar, my name is Charles Van Slike.

"Neow, you must jes' put with me while stayin' hyar in town,
Fer I'm powerful glad ter see yer, my ole friend, Jeeter Brown."
Wal, I commenced er-swellin', kinder tickled at sech talk,
From taht hansum-lookin' feller on the Broadway uv New York;
He knew my town's best people, an' hit 'peered like he knew me,
So I wuz glad ter see him, I wuz Lonesum, don't yer see?

Wal, Van he soon suggested thet we drink an' hev a chat
About our friends in Texas an' ole times an' sech ez thet;
So we mozied up the Bowery inter one uv them saloons
Whar the gals wiz slingin' whiskey an' a band wuz slingin' chunes.
Then we drank ter Editor Hoeny, we drank ter Keyrnal Deane,
An' we drank ter Sam Lapowski of the town of Abilene.

Oh, the likker flowed like water, huh, I tell yer, we wuz gay--
Oh, Van wuz jes' a daisy, an' I won't ferget that day.
When we left thet thar The-a-ter--an went shyin' up the street,
I wuz feelin' powerful frisky--kinder skittish 'round the feet.
Soon we cum to a Museum--what they showed a hump-back horse,
An' Charley, he suggested thet we take hit in--uv course.

So we went inside sight-seein', till we met a chap who sed
He could tell us our char-ack-ters by a-feelin' ub our head;
So we had our heads examined, most particularly mine,
Fer I wuz a splendid subjeck, full uv bumps, an' traits--an' wine.

Wal, after Doc had lectured in er most delightful way,
He perlitely intermated thet he'd like to hev sum pay,
Then Charley showed a greenback, which the Doctor couldn n't change,
So, of course, I paid the charges, which appeared a little strange,
Fer the ole chap hed dun told us thet hiz lecture would be free,
But, since Van wuz in fer payin', why, so wuz I, yer see.

Right then I showed my money, the whole big chuffy pile,
Till Can commenced hiz smilin', and said that I'd struck ile;
Then he whispered confidential, sez he, "Now, Jeeter Brown,
You'd better leave thet at the Bank afore you pain this town.
The city's full uv sharpers, who are sure ter take you in,
So let's go 'round to my cashyeer and hive away yer tin."

So we stepped "around the corner" to what hiz Bank wuz at,
What we found a cashyeer writin', who wuz plezzant-like an' fat.
Then I handed him my money, and took a big receipt,
An' after drinkin' tew the Bank, we started up the street.

The 'lectric lights wuz sizzin', fer hit wuz gittin' dark,
But we took them high-up steam-kyars, ter go to Central Park;
An' we passed a beefy feller, full of New York Irish pride,
Who kep' up an awful yellin', "step lively there inside!"
But I soon lost my desires fer ter see the flyin' views,
Fer I wuz feelin' drowsy from thet Bowery Banker's Booze,
An' I never noticed Charley, may be so he wuz n't there.
Fer I fell asleep a-rockin', an' a-rushin' through the air.

But hit hain't no us'ter finish, the sequil's kinder tame,
Fer yer see, I wuz the victum uv thet little Bunco Game.
Slick Charley an' hiz pardners--the man on Cortlandt Street,
That cashyeer an' thet Doctor, hed done me up complete.
Though I got my ole six-shooter, an' caved and' charged around
A-lookin' fer my munney, them chaps could not be found.

Ah, them Bunco Boys iz artful, az all pious men agree,
If yer ever run across 'em, jes' round 'em up--fer me!
An' when yer social fellers leaves the home-range with yer chork,
Jest remember my experiunce with them sharpers in New York.

(Note: The original does not include stanza breaks.)

 

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The Ranchman's Song

Afar from the tumult and turmoil of fashion,
     Away, far away, from the throng that intrudes;
I am free from all envy and malice and passion
     For my spirit expands in the wild solitudes.

I love the broad prairie, the nother's sad sighting,
     The whispering stars, the owl's lone hoo,
The mocking-bird's song when the twilight is dying,
     The cayote's weird call as it echoes "ki-oo."

Wild nature to me is a thing that I cherish;
     I hate the dull discords that cities have shown;
For there out of tune my free spirits all perish;
     Let me dwell near to nature with my ideals alone.

Better live rich at heart on a crust in a garret,
     Than languish in mansions impoverished with strife;
There is joy in a dugout, if fancy but share it
     With hope and fond memory to brighten thy life.

There's a zest amidst hardship which some natures treasure
     A charm on the prairies that care cannot cloy;
So, avaunt! ye dull follies of fashionable pleasure,
     Give me the wild pleasures that ranchmen enjoy.

 

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Texas
To Judge A. H. Willie

I crave not for her cities
     Not towns where man hath trod,
But I love her lonely prairies,
     Her great wide skies of God.

I love her lazy rivers
     That wed the Mexique Sea
An oh, her heaven-born breezes
     Breathe rarest songs to me.

Oh, if I could but sing them,
     Could hymn pure Nature's bars,
Those songs would live forever
     And echo through the stars.

Would echo till the angels
     Attuned the free refrains,
And breathed celestial music--
     The poetry of the plains!

I love the Mesa Mountains
     That woo the Texas skies,
'Neath azure veils of beauty,
     They dream of Paradise.

I love her sweeps of distance,
     Her drowsy miraged seas,
Her choirs of singing songsters,
     Her weeping bannered trees.

And when the sunset's laces
     Befringe the couch of night
I love her royal pictures
     Of far eternal light.

Oh, if I could but paint them,
     Could hint the twilight's art,
What scenes of heavenly splendor
     Would gild each human heart.

Vain, vain such fond ambition,
     Man is but earthy sod,
His efforts are as nothing
     Besides the works of God.

Yes; you can have the city,
     Its fuss and fun and care
Give me a life of freedom,
     'Midst castles in the air!

Your operas' stifled music
     Contains no songs for me,--
I want the vibrant breezes,
     The anthems of the sea.

Give me the low of cattle,
     The cayotes lone "ki-oo!"
The sightings of the Norther,
      The  owl's "whit-tu-woo!"

I ask not for companions
     Whose presence might intrude;
My dearest friend is Nature,--
     I love the solitude.

Ah, who would then be richer?
     My wealth is all divine--
The clouds, the stars, the prairies,
     The world, the world, is mine.

 

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The Origin of the Term Maverick

Col. Geo W. Saunders, President of the Old Trail Drivers Association of Texas gives the following information with reference to the origin of the term "Maverick" in the Cattleman's Magazine.

"The Maverick family, early settlers of San Antonio, moved a large herd of cattle to this section between 1850 and 1860.  During the war the cattle had no attention and scattered all over South Texas.  Some of them several years old were not branded.  Most of the stockmen branded their cattle, and as Maverick did not and the range got full of these big, unbranded Maverick cattle, people referred to them as 'Mavericks.' Thus the term 'Maverick' was soon applied to big, unbranded calves and yearlings all over the State."

Hence to-day all stock unbranded
   Bear that early settler's name,
Which was loved by "free range Rustlers"
   Ere the wire fences came.
"Mavericks" then were "easy business"
   And the capital was small!
Just a Rope and a Branding Iron,
   And some riding--that was all!!

 

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Gettin' Back to the Ranch

Well, fellers, I've got home agin, an' it seems sorty strange
To mosey round the old corrals on this hyar lonely range.
This evenin' az the sun went down, and I cum up the trail
An' seen our little low-roofed house a-squattin' in the vale
An' when I struck the brandin' pens, heered old Pinto's barks
An' listened at the cagey Jack an' them ole medder larks,
Then when I looked at Skinout Hills a-veiled in purple air,
The twilight seemed to smile at me, an' glow a welcome there.

An' when I seen the S. B. brand, an' that ole sorghum stack,
Them saddles hangin' by the door, hit seemed like gittin' back;
But when I viewed that pided steer, and heered ye had no rain,
I knowed thet I had hit the ranch, hed shore got home again.

I've seen a heap uv pleasant things, and yet it did me good
Ter spy ole Jim in his ole jeans jest packin' in the wood!
An' thar wuz Buck an' Horseshoe Sam, an' thar upon the sill,
All smiles an' spurs an' high-heeled boots, wuz rustler Windy Bill.
Oh, Bill, they say, hez got renown, an' perhaps you may recall
How he performed one Christmas time an' led the 'Cowboys' Ball.'
Then as I crossed the littered yard an' pulled the lazy latch,
An' seen them ole termater cans, I knowed 'twas livin' batch.
An' when I ate them unblessed beans and lingered round the pork,
I thought of Casey's tabble dote an' dinner in New York;
But when I chose some soggy bread, and seen the fellers look,
I knowed thet I wuz home agin—thet Windy Bill was cook!

Well, ez we sot around the fire and heered the coyotes' cries,
And listened at the owl's hoo, I told some whoppin' lies.
Yes; while the boys chawed navy-plug, I lied an' yarned about
My travels over land an' sea until their eyes bugged out.
At last the boys rared back to talk, an' Gash Knife showed his hat,
An' then I heered uv maverick steers, an' kyort, an' sech az that.
They joked about a shootin' scrape, an' John who laid in jail,
An' then they cussed the deestrick judge fer not acceptin' bail.
At last ole Horseshoe blurted out from off his blanket bed—
"I reckon ye heered about yer yeller mare wot's-dead?
She wuz a right peert little hoss, chuck full uv grit an' pride;
But she got puny when yer left, and then she up—an' died!"

Ah! then somehow a silence cum, an' in the chimbly there,
I sorty keep' a seein' her—that little yeller mare!
I thought about them tricks an' ways, her honest, faithful eyes,
Until the moanin' midnight wind wuz jest a wailin' sighs!
I never hed a friend like her, so active, sure, an' true;
No matter what the business wuz, she'd allers pull yer through.

An' onct at night she saved my life—outran a prairie fire—
An' az fer swimmin' swollen streams, uv thet she'd never tire.
An' often on the star-lit plains, where we the night would pass,
I've heard the mare a munchin' songs out in the needle grass.
Oh! when I cross the dark divide fer pastures over there
I hope I'll find that little hoss, my dear ole Yeller Mare!

Well, all ter onct, while studyin' on, I heered ole Windy snore!
Ah! then I knowed I'd hit the ranch! I'd dun got home fer shore!

[From the 14th edition of Ranch Verses; in later editions, the poem is titled "Returning to the Ranch."]

 


 

Chittenden's Books

  • Ranch Verses, 1893, 1921, 1925 (sixteen printings in all)

  • Bermuda Verses, 1909 

  • Lafferty's Letters,  

Biography 

The Handbook of Texas Online, a joint project of The General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association has a biographical sketch of Larry Chittenden.

 

 

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