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photo from Rhymes of the Range and Trail,
courtesy of Mark L. Gardner

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Oh, beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
Play the dead march as you carry me along;
Take me to the green valley, there lay the sod o'er me,
For I'm a young cowboy and I know I've done wrong.  
                                     
from "The Cowboy's Lament"

“The Cowboy’s Lament” (also known as “Streets of Laredo”) is most often cited as "traditional," and it also has been credited to various authors. Today, most accept that Francis Henry Maynard (1853-1926) wrote an early version of the song, "The Dying Cowboy."  

Jim Hoy, folklorist, native plainsman, and director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University, has published a book about Maynard: Cowboy's Lament, A Life on the Open Range (Texas Tech University Press, 2010). The book is based on the memoirs of Maynard's ten years on the open range during the 1870s. Little else has been published about Maynard.

Our thanks to Jim Hoy for the exciting biography and other poems by Maynard on this page. Thanks also to Don White, Maynard's great nephew by marriage, whose family has entrusted Jim Hoy with Maynard's previously unpublished work, and who kindly put us in touch with Jim Hoy in 2001.

Thank also to Western historian and musician Mark Gardner (www.songofthewest.com), who shared information below about F.H. Maynard's rare 1911 book, Rhymes of the Range and Trail.

 

Jim Hoy's 2010 book, Cowboy's Lament; a Life on the Open Range, an impressive product of serendipity and scholarship, offers a compelling view of the life of F.H. Maynard (1853-1926), author of an early version of the song known most commonly as "The Cowboy's Lament." Through Maynard family contacts, Jim Hoy, director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University, uncovered Maynard's memoir of his colorful life. From the publisher's description:

In 1870, sixteen-year-old Frank Maynard left his home in Iowa and arrived in Towanda, Kansas, where he soon took a job helping to trail a small herd of cattle from Missouri to Colorado. Thus began his adventures as an open-range cowboy, a ten-year career that coincided with the peak of the great trail-drive era.

Among the highlights of Maynard’s time on the range were brushes with outlaws and encounters with famous lawmen, such as Bill Tilghman and Bat and Ed Masterson (he was in Dodge City when Ed was shot). On one drive Maynard was set upon and chased by irate German homesteaders; on another he narrowly escaped being killed by a man known as Slusher while driving horses from Kansas to Texas.

But Maynard’s most enduring contribution sprang from overhearing a version of an old Irish ballad in 1876 and reworking it as “The Cowboy’s Lament,” the standard most recognize today as “The Streets of Laredo.” His role in adapting the song and his other colorful experiences on the trail have come to light with the recent discovery of his unpublished memoir. Now, alongside the frontier recollections of Charlie Siringo and Charles Colchord, Maynard’s personal account offers a rare and revealing glimpse of the true Old West.

Hoy's introduction and extensive biography of Maynard reveal the story of his research and illuminate the era in which Maynard lived and worked. The book includes Maynard's lively memoir; the complete contents of his extremely rare 1911 book of poetry, Rhymes of the Range and Trail; other poems; examples of Maynard's journalism; some of Maynard's correspondence, including a letter from Jack London with publishing advice; a glossary; a bibliography; and a generous collection of photographs and illustrations.

The book's foreword is by David Stanley, professor emeritus of English, Westminster College, and co-editor of the outstanding
Cowboy Poets and Cowboy Poetry. He sets Maynard's writing in its historical and journalistic context:

By the time Maynard began writing, the terrible winter of 1886-87, "the Great Die-Up," had made it clear that cattle could no longer be wintered on the northern ranges of the West without supplemental feed. Furthermore, the expansion of homesteads, the advent of barbed wire, and the fencing of water sources had pronounced the end of the open range, and the expansion of railroads throughout the West had made cattle drives largely unnecessary [....]The nostalgia for a place and way of life widely viewed as passing, disappearing, or already gone led to biographies, autobiographies, and reminiscent essays....

The book is handsomely designed, published by Texas Tech University Press, from the Voice in the American Series, Andy Wilkinson, series editor. Read more at the Texas Tech University Press site.

Find more about Jim Hoy here, along with two of his poems. Visit his web site.

Biography

Rhymes of the Range and Trail

Links and More

Poems 

The Dying Cowboy
As I rode down by Tom Sherman's bar-room...

On the Trail 
It was down across the Brazos...

Bill Springer's Hand 
Bill Springer, ranchman, lived south of Dodge...

The Black Cat 
I've a black cat here in camp...

A Reckless Cowboy
I am a reckless cowboy, the prairie is my home...

Farewell to the Plains
Farewell, farewell, to the western plain!...

Passing of the Old Frontier
Where are the stockmen bluff and bold...

Other versions of:

The Cowboy's Lament (Streets of Laredo) 
As I walked out in the streets of Laredo


Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of CowboyPoetry.com.


Biography


photo from Rhymes of the Range and Trail,
courtesy of Mark L. Gardner

Francis Henry "Frank" Maynard was born 16 December 1853 in Iowa City, Iowa, the second child of Horace and Georgiana Maynard.  At sixteen Maynard left home and school to look for adventure, working for three months as a freighter along the Platte River before getting his fill of the rigors of bull whacking.  In early 1870 he went to Butler County, Kansas, where he lived with his aunt, Martha Cole, near Towanda.  The rest of the family followed later that same year, also settling near Towanda.  After spending his first few months hunting, fishing, and working as a farm hand, Maynard joined his father in hauling freight from the railroad at Emporia to the newly forming city of Wichita.

In the fall of 1871 Maynard went on his first buffalo hunt, in present-day Kingman County. After enduring a couple of blizzards, in one of which five men in another hunting party were frozen to death, Maynard's group returned home safely.

In February of 1872 Maynard and two companions went to the Gypsum Hills country to trade with Indians and hunt buffalo.  After trading trinkets, groceries, and dry goods for hides and furs with a party of Osage, the three young men went through the new town of Medicine Lodge on their way to the buffalo range, where they killed enough bison to fill out their load with meat and hides before returning home after their month-long adventure.

In the spring of 1872 Maynard became a cowboy, a following he would pursue until his marriage in the spring of 1881. His first job was helping to drive a herd of horses, which had been wintered in Kansas, to Jacksboro, Texas. The next spring Maynard took a job helping to trail a small herd of cattle west from Towanda, to Granada, Colorado. The chuckwagon driver was Dave Rudebaugh, a youngster from Greenwood County who would later become a notorious outlaw, reputedly the only man of whom Billy the Kid was afraid.

continued below ...


 

The Dying Cowboy

As I rode down by Tom Sherman's bar-room,
Tom Sherman's bar-room so early one day,
There I espied a handsome young ranger
All wrapped in white linen, as cold as the clay.
"I see by your outfit that you are a ranger,"
The words that he said as I went riding by,
"Come sit down beside me, and hear my sad story,
I'm shot through the breast and I know I must die.

Chorus:
Then muffle the drums and play the dead marches;
Play the dead marches as I'm carried along;
Take me to the church-yard and lay the sod o'er me,
I'm a young ranger and I know I've done wrong.


"Go bear a message to my grey-haired mother
Go break the news to gently to my sister so dear,
But never a word of this place do you mention,
As they gather around you my story to hear.
Then there is another as dear as a sister,
Who will bitterly weep when she knows I am gone,
But another more worthy may win her affection,
For I'm a young ranger—I know I've done wrong."

Chorus

"Once in my saddle I used to be dashing;
Once in my saddle, I used to be brave;
But I first took to gambling, from that to drinking,
And now in my prime, I must go to my grave.
Go gather around you a crowd of gay rangers,
Go tell them the tale of their comrade's sad fate,
Tell each and all to take timely warning,
And leave their wild ways before it's too late."

Chorus

"Go, now, and bring me a cup of cold water,
To bathe my flushed temples," the poor fellow said.
But ere I returned, the spirit had left him,
Had gone to is Giver—the ranger was dead.
So we muffled the drums and played the dead marches,
We bitterly wept as we bore him along,
For we all loved the ranger, so brave and so handsome,
We all loved our comrade, although he'd done wrong.

by F.H. Maynard, from Rhymes of the Range and Trail, 1911

In Cowboy's Lament, A Life on the Open Range, Jim Hoy writes:

....Maynard had begun to write verses based on his decade of adventure as early as 1876, which is the year that he put words to "The Bad Girl's Lament," thus turning it into the classic "The Cowboy's Lament." ....

Jim Hoy comments on Maynard's use of the word "ranger":  "A herder working on the open range was sometimes called a range rider, which likely explains Maynard's use of the term "ranger" rather than "cowboy"..."

Hoy writes about how Maynard came to write the song, including an excerpt from a 1924 newspaper article that quotes Maynard:

During the winter of 1876 I was working for a Grimes outfit which had started north with a trail herd [from Texas]...We were wintering on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas river on the border of Kansas....

One of the favorite songs of the cowboys in those days was called "The Dying Girl's Lament," the story of a girl who had been betrayed by her lover...

I had often amused myself by trying to write verses, and one dull winter day in camp to while away the time I began writing a poem which could be sung to the tune of "The Dying Girl's Lament." I made it a dying ranger or a cowboy....

After I had finished the new words to the song I sang it to the boys in the outfit. They liked it and began singing it. It became popular with boys in other outfits ...and from that time on I heard it sung everywhere on the range and the trail.

Hoy comments, "Others besides Maynard also asserted authorship of "The Cowboy's Lament," and given the wide set of variants in the lyrics there is no reason to doubt that what folklorists call independent recreation might well have occurred."

The books contains extensive documentation and discussion about the song.

Find a version of "The Bad Girl's Lament" here.

(See more about "The Cowboy's Lament" in the biography above and the notes below.)

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On The Trail 

It was down across the Brazos
That we rounded up to start,
With about five thousand cattle
For the busy Kansas mart;
There were just a dozen cowboys
With a greasy coon for cook,
Flour, coffee, beans, and bacon
Were the chief supplies we took;
And we thrived upon this diet,
For none of us grew pale,
But our hot, red blood ran riot
Upon the Texas trail.

It was in the rainy season,
There were swollen streams to cross,
But we boldly plunged into them,
And we suffered little loss;
There were long days' drives and weary,
As we pushed the herd along;
There were long night guards and dreary,
But we passed them with a song.
When at last, we reached Red River,
There was blowing quite a gale,
But we swam its turbid waters,
Ever onward up the trail.

What cared we for wind or weather,
For our hearts were young and gay,
And we all joined in together
For a good time on the way.
Now we traveled through a country
Where they little recked of law,
Indians and rustlers plenty
Till we crossed the Washita.
Yet the outlaws they were plenty,
Men who should have been in jail,
And we kept a constant vigil,
As we pressed on up the trail.

We had reached the north Canadian,
And everything seemed well,
Till at night the Redskins charged us
With a most infernal yell:
'Twas our cattle they were after,
And away in mad stampede
Went the herd of long-horned beef steers,
While we galloped for the lead,
And our foreman hoarsely shouted:
"Stay with 'em, do not fail."
And we circled 'em and milled 'em,
Upon the Texas trail.

Then the Redskins, disappointed,
Slyly sneaked off in the night,
And we kept our eyes wide open
Until dawn of morning light.
Then our trip was uneventful,
Till one evening just at dark,
Jim and Charley had a quarrel
And their guns began to bark.
Jim was quickest on the trigger
And his nerve it did not quail,
And poor Charley lies a sleeping,
Where we laid him by the trail.

Crossing Cimarron and Bluff Creek,
Soon Dodge City loomed in view,
Dodge, the wicked western city,
Painted oft a crimson hue,
There a horde of hard-faced gamblers
Waited each with sure-thing game,
To ensnare some verdant sucker,
And not anything was tame.
There was big Tom Sherman's dance-hall,
And Bat Masterson's, more swell,
And you need not go much farther,
For to find a little--well,
The least said is the better
About some things in this tale,
For conditions they were awful,
At the ending of the trail.

Now and then some foolish puncher
Would try to play Wild Bill,
And so quickly they would plant him
On a place they called Boot Hill.
But now all this is over,
For those wild days are no more,
Where once roamed the free Vacqueros,
There are homesteads by the score,
And perchance some pretty milkmaid
Goes singing with her pail,
Where we rounded up and bedded,
Upon the Texas trail.

On Boot Hill they've built a schoolhouse
And the W.C.T.U.
Holds an annual convention,
Where once corks and stoppers flew;
There are sermons, there is singing,
Where was pistol crack and flame.
Dodge, the erstwhile wicked city,
Has built up a better name,
And the lamb now skips and gambols
Were was heard the grey wolf's wail,
The survival of the fittest,
Marks the ending of the trail.

by F.H. Maynard, from Rhymes of the Range and Trail, 1911

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Bill Springer's Hand 

Bill Springer, ranchman, lived south of Dodge,
He chose his bride from an Indian lodge.
He had a massive, athletic frame,
And a reputation for being game.

He often saddled and hit the trail,
And came up to town to get his mail,
As well as to meet some jolly pards
And enjoy a quiet game of cards.

They looked on the wine when it was red,
And drank quite deeply, so it was said.
Bill was known to have a handsome pile,
That he flung around in reckless style.

This caught the eye of a slick card shark,
Who thought he had found an easy mark;
With two of his ilk he laid a plan
To capture alive and skin their man.

They roped Bill into a game of "draw"
(Against which, in Dodge, there was no law).
 The stakes for a time were very low,
In fact, the playing was very slow.

Till at last, all seemed to hold good cards.
And the card shark winked at cunning pards.
A "cold deck" deftly was brought in play,
And a great stake on the table lay.

Ten thousand dollars were there in sight,
Before they laid down their cards that night.
What have you?  at last the card shark said,
And Bill Springer's face turned very red.

I hold four kings, he meekly replied;
I have four aces, the gambler cried,
And reached for the stakes on table spread,
But stopped dead short with a look of dread.

For a lurid light shone in Bill's eye,
He grabbed his Winchester standing by,
And, with a voice like an angry bull,
He roared, "But I've got a sixteen full;"

"You fellers can just git up and git,
You haven't robbed old Bill Springer, yit."
They looked on the stern, determined face,
And quietly slunk out from the place.

Then old Bill, gathering up his pile,
Said, "Come up now, boys, and have a smile,"
And the hangers-on came up and drank.
And then he hastened off to the bank.

With his wealth all safely put away,
He cared no longer in town to stay,
But saddled and bridled wild "Comanch"
And galloped away to Springer's ranch.

by F.H. Maynard, from Rhymes of the Range and Trail, 1911

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The Black Cat 

I've a black cat here in camp,
As black as black can be,
As bright-eyed, roguish scamp
As ever you did see.
I carried him fifteen miles or more
Upon Grey Eagle's back,
From Red Fork Ranch to our camp,
Tied in a buckskin sack.

Before I brought him into camp,
The mice ran riot o'er my head,
As I lay and dreamed of far-off home,
On my rough frontiersman's bed,
But now my slumbers are undisturbed,
For the cat a vigil keeps,
And woe to the mouse that ventures near
To where his master sleeps.

by F.H. Maynard, from Rhymes of the Range and Trail, 1911

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A Reckless Cowboy

I am a reckless cowboy, the prairie is my home,
At the early age of sixteen I first began to roam,
I drove from sunny Texas, in the year of seventy-one,
When the boys all came to Newton and kicked up lots of fun.

Next summer found me ranging on the raging Arkansaw,
Where we all grew wild and lawless, in the town of Wichita,
From thence I drifted westward, to a country wild and strange,
In the valley of the Salt Fork, I found a winter range.

The winter was so dreary, I thought 'twould never end,
And when at last 'twas springtime, we drove up to Great Bend.
Next winter found me ranging on the Medicine Lodge,
Headquarters for the last year, was the reckless town of Dodge.

There, gamblers, shrewd and tricky, are watchful as a cat,
To trap some luckless snoozer from Texas or the Platte.
Now, I am like an Indian, I never can find rest,
For settlements keep pushing farther toward the west.
So, farewell, friends and kindred and all I once held dear,
I am a reckless cowboy far out on the frontier.

by F.H. Maynard, from Rhymes of the Range and Trail, 1911

 

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Farewell to the Plains 

Farewell, farewell, to the western plain!
I tightened my cinches and gathered my rein,
Then eagerly mounted my good mustang,
While full of joy was the song that I sang;
For my good steed's head was turned toward home,
O'er the desolate waste no more to roam.

Dear ones at home so anxiously wait,
For fear that the cruel decrees of fate
Might drift the wanderer farther away,
And his absence be forever and aye,
So hasten, good steed, swift bear me along,
While I merrily sing my homeward song.

With a lasso coiled to my saddle tied,
With my trusty weapons by my side,
Once o'er the plains I love to go,
Chasing the wild horse and buffalo.
But the romance all has faded away,
So hasten, good steed, no longer delay.

There's a bright-eyed girl I long to see,
I wonder if she is waiting for me,
Or will my one bright dream vanish away,
As the bubble bursts on the storm-tossed spray?
Now hasten, good steed, I will go and see,
Farewell to our home on the prairie free.

by F.H. Maynard, from Rhymes of the Range and Trail, 1911

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Passing of the Old Frontier 

Where are the stockmen bluff and bold,
Who pitched their tents on the far frontier,
Where wealth was not in bond or gold,
But in the long-horned Texas steer?
They gazed with delight on a fertile plain
On grazing ground, immense, so vast
That they felt like lords of a great demesne,
And they fondly dreamed it would always last.
They were harried by rustlers, red and white,
The wolves of the border who roamed the plain,
With many a foray by day and night,
Then up and away with ill-gotten gain.
A million buffalo had fattened and fed
 
On the range where the cowmen now  held sway
But they melted away 'neath a hail of lead
Like balls of snow on a bright summer day.
Far away from the land they called their own
The Redskin is learning the white man's ways.
Unto the Great Spirit he makes his moan,
As the wild soul pines for the bygone days.
Where now are the boys who rode the range
In the far-off days when the west was young,
Who swore great oaths both loud and strange
And gay and wild were the songs they sung?

Where are the chums of sterling worth,
Those comrades ever so true and tried,
Where they measured a man not by size or girth
But by the way he could shoot and ride?
Many have crossed o'er the Great Divide,
Far from the scenes of border strife,
Some linger on with their hands applied
To the sober prosaic tasks of life.
Where are the girls, the painted ones
With the hollow cheek and the sunken eye,
Who would banter one with mocking tones,
And a laugh that was all a lie?

Full many are sleeping beneath the sod?
Let none their mournful fate deride;
They've pleaded their cause at the bar of God,
Those poor lost souls for whom Christ died.
The settlers came in a white-winged fleet,
And soon vast tracts of the range possessed,
And the cowmen's ruin seemed most complete,
As they pressed them farther into the west.
They now feed stock of the full white-face,
So good-by to the long-horned Texas steer;
For they now have little part or place
And gone are the days of the old frontier.

by F.H. Maynard, from Rhymes of the Range and Trail, 1911

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Biography Continued


After a brief visit home for Christmas, Maynard went to work for Peter Moore in February, 1874, driving cattle from the prairies near Hutchinson to the Gypsum Hills near Medicine Lodge, where he then remained as a herder. He quit in mid-summer and spent the remainder of the season helping other owners herd and ship range cattle near Great Bend.

During the fall of 1874, Maynard began a year-long job with a cattle owner named Dr. Simmons, herding near Wichita, then moving to winter range in the Gypsum Hills.  Following spring roundup, the cattle were fattened on summer grass closer to Wichita, then shipped during the late summer.  During this job Maynard had several adventures, including a couple of Indian scares and a couple of standoffs with cattle and horse thieves.

From the fall of 1875 through the spring of 1876, Maynard worked for W. B. Grimes in wintering cattle in the Medicine Lodge country.  Indians again caused trouble for the cowboys, and after repeated skirmishes in which the cattlemen refused to give over any beef, the Indians set fire to the prairie in an effort to burn the cattlemen out.  Those who had been wintering below the line in the Cherokee Outlet were forced to move their herds out of Indian Territory and back into Kansas.  This was the winter, by the way, during which Maynard wrote "The Cowboy's Lament."

In April, 1876, Maynard headed toward Texas to find employment as a drover.  In Indian Territory he hired on with a Millett and Mabry herd.  As they approached Ellsworth, a storm scattered the cattle and those of a trailing herd owned by Jesse Driskill.  Maynard was sent to the short-handed Driskill crew to help recover their cattle, some of which had been confiscated by German settlers for damage to crops.  In a tense standoff, trailboss Till Driskill and Maynard faced down the homesteaders and ran the cattle back to their herd.  The next day Driskill sent Maynard to Ellsworth with a letter, both of them knowing that the young cowboy would be chased by the irate settlers, whom he managed to outrun.  Maynard then returned to the Millett and Mabry herd and helped move the cattle onto summer pasture near Kanopolis, then took a job with Driskill herding cattle near Ellsworth.

After encountering more hostility from homesteaders, Maynard decided to move toward less settled country.  During the fall of that year he helped to drive a herd of cattle from Wichita to Sun City, then visited the Grimes headquarters, where he witnessed a shooting between two Mexican cowboys, before finally moving on west to the Cimarron country south of Dodge City, where he helped to winter cattle for Budd Driskill.

In 1877 Maynard joined a crew taking cattle to the Sioux at the Red Cloud Agency, but became sick just north of Ogallala, Nebraska, and had to return to Dodge City where he saw city marshal Ed Masterson get wounded in a gunfight.

After hunting stray cattle west of Dodge City for a short while in November of 1877, Maynard decided to return home to visit old friends. While there he met and fell in love with Flora Longstreth.  Flora, however, heeding warnings about wild young cowboys from what Maynard called "meddlesome old ladies," did not at once requite his feelings; in fact, it took him nearly three years to win her affections.  So in April, 1878, Maynard joined the Driskill crew for spring roundup south of Dodge City.

He quit after only a month, however, to go back to see Flora.  Again receiving small encouragement, he headed to Fort Reno, Indian Territory, in July, 1878, and got work with a hay contractor.  It was during the fall of that year that the northern Cheyenne broke out of the reservation and attempted to fight their way back to their previous home in Montana.  One of Maynard's cowboy friends, Tom Murray, was killed by the Cheyenne while herding cattle near Meade, Kansas.

After partaking of some of the cultural life among the Cheyenne and Arapaho, Maynard returned to Towanda, where he eventually overcame Flora Longstreth's reluctance.  They were married on 24 April 1881, and by 1887 had moved to Colorado Springs, where they spent the remainder of their lives.   Mechanically inclined and capable with tools, he took up carpentry, a trade he followed for the remainder of his life.  Despite his cowboy years of carefree living, Maynard adapted well to settled life in a growing city. His carpentry business prospered, and although he did not grow rich he certainly did well in his new home and profession.  He died in 1926.

It was during the Colorado Springs rodeo of 1924 that he was interviewed by a journalist and the story of how he came to write "The Cowboy's Lament" first came to light.  During the winter of 1876, while herding cattle near the Indian Territory line southwest of Medicine Lodge, Kansas, Maynard said that all the hands were singing a song about a girl gone wrong.  He rewrote the words, substituting a ranger (i.e., a cowboy) for the girl and placing him outside the door of one of Dodge City's toughest saloons (Tom Sherman's barroom). The boys liked Maynard's version, and the next spring while holding their cattle outside Wichita for shipping and visiting other chuckwagons, Maynard's song got picked up by other cowboys. Before long, Maynard told the reporter, he was hearing his song being sung everywhere up and down the trail. Some cowboys from Texas transferred the locale from Dodge City to the streets of Laredo on the Mexican border, and the rest, as they say, is history.

© Jim Hoy, All Rights Reserved


Western historian and musician Mark Gardner (www.songofthewest.com) shared this image of F.H. Maynard's rare 1911 book and a list of its contents:

Rhymes of the Range and Trail


1911
 

Includes the following poems:

On the Trail
Bil Springer's Hand
Billy, the Kid
Night Thoughts
Colorado Joy
The Call of the Wild
The Ranger's Last Ride
The Black Cat
Alone on the Border
The Dying Cowboy
A Rover's Thought
The Reckless Cowboy
The Exile
A Parody
Oklahoma, 1878
Twixt Hope and Fear
Farewell to the Plains
To My Wife
Come Home


Notes and Links

 

Jim Hoy's 2010 book, Cowboy's Lament; a Life on the Open Range, an impressive product of serendipity and scholarship, offers a compelling view of the life of F.H. Maynard (1853-1926), author of an early version of the song known most commonly as "The Cowboy's Lament." Through Maynard family contacts, Jim Hoy, director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University, uncovered Maynard's memoir of his colorful life. From the publisher's description:

In 1870, sixteen-year-old Frank Maynard left his home in Iowa and arrived in Towanda, Kansas, where he soon took a job helping to trail a small herd of cattle from Missouri to Colorado. Thus began his adventures as an open-range cowboy, a ten-year career that coincided with the peak of the great trail-drive era.

Among the highlights of Maynard’s time on the range were brushes with outlaws and encounters with famous lawmen, such as Bill Tilghman and Bat and Ed Masterson (he was in Dodge City when Ed was shot). On one drive Maynard was set upon and chased by irate German homesteaders; on another he narrowly escaped being killed by a man known as Slusher while driving horses from Kansas to Texas.

But Maynard’s most enduring contribution sprang from overhearing a version of an old Irish ballad in 1876 and reworking it as “The Cowboy’s Lament,” the standard most recognize today as “The Streets of Laredo.” His role in adapting the song and his other colorful experiences on the trail have come to light with the recent discovery of his unpublished memoir. Now, alongside the frontier recollections of Charlie Siringo and Charles Colchord, Maynard’s personal account offers a rare and revealing glimpse of the true Old West.

Hoy's introduction and extensive biography of Maynard reveal the story of his research and illuminate the era in which Maynard lived and worked. The book includes Maynard's lively memoir; the complete contents of his extremely rare 1911 book of poetry, Rhymes of the Range and Trail; other poems; examples of Maynard's journalism; some of Maynard's correspondence, including a letter from Jack London with publishing advice; a glossary; a bibliography; and a generous collection of photographs and illustrations.

The book's foreword is by David Stanley, professor emeritus of English, Westminster College, and co-editor of the outstanding
Cowboy Poets and Cowboy Poetry. He sets Maynard's writing in its historical and journalistic context:

By the time Maynard began writing, the terrible winter of 1886-87, "the Great Die-Up," had made it clear that cattle could no longer be wintered on the northern ranges of the West without supplemental feed. Furthermore, the expansion of homesteads, the advent of barbed wire, and the fencing of water sources had pronounced the end of the open range, and the expansion of railroads throughout the West had made cattle drives largely unnecessary [....]The nostalgia for a place and way of life widely viewed as passing, disappearing, or already gone led to biographies, autobiographies, and reminiscent essays....

The book is handsomely designed, published by Texas Tech University Press, from the Voice in the American Series, Andy Wilkinson, series editor. Read more at the Texas Tech University Press site.

Find more about Jim Hoy here, along with two of his poems. Visit his web site.


The Cowboy's Lament / The Bard of Armagh

Following are the versions that appear in Thorp's 1908 edition and the 1921 edition:

The Cow Boys Lament

'Twas once in my saddle I used to be happy
   'Twas once in my saddle I used to be gay
But I first took to drinking, then to gambling
   A shot from a six-shooter took my life away.

My curse let it rest, rest on the fair one
   Who drove me from friends that I loved and from home
Who told me she loved me, just to deceive me
   My curse rest upon her, wherever she roam.

Oh she was fair, Oh she was lovely
   The belle of the Viliage the fairest of all
But her heart was as cold as the snow on the mountains
   She gave me up for the glitter of gold.

I arrived in Galveston in old Texas
   Drinking and gambling I went to give o'er
But, I met with a Greaser and my life he has finished
   Home and relations I ne'er shall see more.

Send for my father, Oh send for my mother
   Send for the surgeon to look at my wounds
But I fear it is useless I feel I am dying
   I'm a young cow-boy cut down in my bloom.

Farewell my friends, farewell my relations
   My earthly career has cost me sore
The cow-boy ceased talking, they knew he was dying
  His trials on earth, forever were o'er.

Chor. Beat your drums lightly, play your fifes merrily
   Sing your dearth march as you bear me along
Take me to the grave yard, lay the sod o'er me
   I'm a young cow-boy and know I've done wrong.

(from the 1908 edition of Songs of the Cowboys, typographical errors unchanged)

 
  Songs of the Cowboys
, compiled by N. Howard Thorp ("Jack" Thorp), Estancia, New Mexico, News Print Shop, 1908 

 

The Cowboy's Lament

    Authorship credited to Troy Hale, Battle Creek, Nebraska. I first heard it sung 
    in a bar-room at Wisner, Nebraska, about 1886.
[Thorp's note]

As I walked out in the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a poor cowboy wrapped up in white linen,
Wrapped up in white linen and cold as the clay.

"Oh beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
Play the Dead March as you bear me along;
Take me to the graveyard, and lay the sod o'er me,
For I'm a young cowboy, and I know I've done wrong.

"I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy,"

These words he did say as I boldly stepped by.

"Come sit beside me and hear my sad story;
I was shot in the breast and I know I must die.

"Let sixteen gamblers come handle my coffin,
Let sixteen cowboys come sing me a song,
Take me to the graveyard and lay the sod over me,
For I'm a poor cowboy and I know I've done wrong.

"My friends and relation they live in the Nation,
They know not where their boy has gone.
He first came to Texas and hired to a ranchman,
Oh, I'm a young cowboy, and I know I've done wrong.

"Go write a letter to my gray-haired mother,
And carry the same to my sister so dear;
But not a word shall you mention
When a crowd gathers round you my story to hear.

There is another more dear than a sister,
She'll bitterly weep when she hears I am gone.
There is another who will win her affections,
For I'm a young cowboy, and they say I've done wrong.

"Go gather around you a crowd of young cowboys
And tell them the story of this my sad fate;
Tell one and the other before they go further
To stop their wild roving before 't is too late.

"Oh muffle your drums, then play your fifes merrily;
Play the Dead March as you bear me along.
And fire your guns right over my coffin;
There goes an unfortunate boy to his home.

"It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing,
It was once in the saddle I used to be gay;
First to the dram-house and then to the card-house:
Got shot in the breast , I am dying to-day.

"Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin;
Get six pretty maidens to bear up my pall;
Put bunches of roses all over my coffin,
Put roses to deaden the clods as they fall.

"Then swing your rope slowly and rattle your spurs lowly,
And give a wild whoop as you bear me along;
And in the grave throw me, and roll the sod over me,
For I'm a young cowboy, and I know I've done wrong.

"Go bring me a cup, a cup of cold water
To cool my parched lips," the young cowboy said.
Before I turned, the spirit had left him
And gone to its Giver—the cowboy was dead.

We beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly,
And bitterly wept as we bore him along;
For we all loved our comrade, so brave, young, and handsome;
We all loved our comrade, although he'd done wrong

(from the 1921 edition of Songs of the Cowboys)

   
Songs
of the Cowboys
, compiled by N. Howard Thorp ("Jack" Thorp)
 with an introduction by Alice Corbin Henderson. Boston, New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1921

See our feature and selections from this book here.


Mark L. Gardner sings and plays  "The Cow Boy's Lament" in the style it would have been heard in 1908, on a period instrument, on the CD that accompanies the 2005 Jack Thorp's Songs of the Cowboys (see our feature here). 

Information abounds on the history of "The Cowboy's Lament," and there are many versions, variations, and parodies (and titles, such as "Streets of Laredo" and "The Dying Cowboy").

In Don Edwards' Classic Cowboy Songs, he includes a version and comments, "I heard a version by James Baker, who was known as "Iron Head" by his prison mates in the Texas State Penitentiary.  His was the first African-based version I'd heard. I believe the version printed here is one of the most obscure versions known lyric-wise. I have tired to mix both the Irish and the African influences into the same song." 

The respected reference book, Git Along Little Dogies, by John I. White, includes his comment, "Owen Wister, Lin McLean (...1898)...appears to have been the first to put these famous lines between the covers of a book. Ten years later, N. Howard Thorp included six stanzas and a chorus in his pioneer anthology Songs of the Cowboys ... using the title 'Cow Boys Lament.' In their book reviewing Thorp's work....Austin and Alta Fife describe 'The Cowboy's Lament' as 'The most famous of all cowboy songs' ... and devote forty-three pages to its long and colorful history."

In the book referred to by John I. White, Songs of the Cowboys..., edited by Austin E. and Alta S. Fife (1966), they note, "For his 1921 edition, Thorp abandoned the 1908 text for [John] Lomax's longer and smoother synthetic text, which has had much more influence upon the twentieth century singing of the song than it deserves. The seven stanzas of 1908 have a stamp of authenticity and realism that Lomax's bowdlerization loses." The book includes Thorp's original text and the Fifes devote an entire chapter to the origins of "The Cowboy's Lament."  They remark on the various possible authors, including Maynard, and include history, analysis, variants, an extensive bibliography and other references. They write, "There are hundreds of texts, with variants so numerous that scholar will ever assemble and analyze them all."  They note that John Lomax "made a collation of several text for his 1910 edition, and in doing so suppressed or softened distasteful stanzas."  They quote a source, who "exaggerating somewhat, says that there were originally seventy stanzas, sixty-nine of which had to be whistled."  The book is out of print, but may be available from libraries or used book sources.

In Katie Lee's Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, she doesn't mention Maynard and she writes "I believe Jack Thorp is the only person who gave credit to someone for writing the original 'Cowboy's Lament.'"  In his Songs of the Cowboys he credits Troy Hale, Battle Creek Nebraska, and writes, 'I first heard it sung in a bar-room at Wisner, Nebraska, about 1886.'"  Katie Lee includes a popular parody, "The Dying Outfit," in her book.


YouTube offers a variety of vintage renditions:

Vernon Dalhart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc97GED-HB0

Tex Ritter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sgl4vAl9ERc&feature=related

Ken Maynard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGZeqOL7LKs

Gene Autry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoXlcax1XBE&feature=related

Peter LaFarge: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A1qlzJFHXs&feature=related

Johnny Cash:: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDHwAoBQWJA&feature=related


 

Here is one short version of the 18th century Irish ballad, "The Bard of Armagh" (also known as "The Unfortunate Rake," "Phelim Brady," and by other titles).

The Bard of Armagh

"Oh, list to the lay of a poor Irish harper,
And scorn not the strains of his old withered hand,
But remember the fingers could once move sharper
To raise the merry strains of his dear native land;
It was long before the shamrock our dear isle's loved emblem.
Was crushed in its beauty 'neath the Saxon Lion's paw
I was called by the colleens of the village and valley
Bold Phelim Brady, the bard of Armagh."

See another version, here: http://ingeb.org/songs/ohlistto.html and listen to a version of the song here.
 

There are a number of recordings that present both "The Bard of Armagh" and "The Cowboy's Lament," including those by Ken and Lynne Mikell on their Shamrocks and Horseshoes recording; Michael Martin Murphey on his Cowboy Classics Playing Favorites II CD; and by Cowboy Celtic on their Cowboy Ceilidh CD.

 

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