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Judge Lysius Gough

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The Old T-Anchor Ranch is gone, 
And with it the open range,
No more we'll ride the plains alone, 
There's been a mighty change.

No more we'll round the circle wide, 
In early spring and fall,
Or stamp T-Anchor on the hide, 
And hear the yearlin's bawl.
                             
From Gone, by Lysius Gough

 

Elaine Russell Coffman of Dallas shared her well researched biography of her relation, Lysius Gough, whose 1886 book Western Travels and Other Rhymes, is recognized as the first published Cowboy Poetry book.  She writes:

I wrote the piece to give at the first Cowboy Symposium at Lubbock, Texas in 1989.  It was written to be given orally so I read more of his poetry than I have included in the bio.  I had researched his life for several years because his wife, Ida Russell, was my grandfather's sister.  I have been able to acquire a copy of his 1935 book Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs and was allowed to copy the 1886 book Western Travels and Other Rhymes at the Barker Library in Austin.  The only other known copy is at the Panhandle-Plains Museum in Canyon.

I believe it is generally agreed by most cowboy poetry historians that this little 1886 volume is the first published volume of cowboy poetry. It has always been a secret desire of mine to see it reprinted someday out of respect for Lysius Gough and his many contributions... I found it kind of sad when I visited the Hereford cemetery where Lysius and Ida and two of their children are buried to find only small and unpretentious stones for them.

Below:

By Elaine Russell Coffman:
The Western Travels and Rhymes of Lysius Gough


On Page 1

Poetry by Judge Lysius Gough:
Gone
The T-Anchor Ranch
Reminiscing
The Palo Duro Canyon
The T-Anchor Boys

About the Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs recording

By Jim Gough
My Grandad Was a Cowboy
Where Are They Now?

 

Judge Lysius Gough

 

The Western Travels and Rhymes of Lysius Gough

by Elaine Russell Coffman


        Come all you young boys who long the west to see,
        Come listen to my story and warning take from me;
        And never while in youth do you attempt to roam;
        For you can never find a place like your father's home.

        For when I was a youth a rambling I did go,
        I rambled o'er the west, that country to and fro;
        I rambled all the time both by night and day,
        I was so fond of rambling, at home I could not stay.

These stanzas begin "No Place Like Home," a poem containing thirteen stanzas which was composed by a young cowboy on the fifth of February in 1883.  He had spent the past five years of his life working on Texas ranches and driving cattle to the markets in Kansas.  When he left Texas in August of 1883 he planned to return and continue his life as a rambling cowboy.  But a conversation with the cook on the trip changed the course of his life.  In his own words the story goes:

One day on this trip I rode up to the chuck wagon and made a remark about Homespun, the horse I was riding.  McVeigh, the cook, turned around and looked at me and said, "Parson, do you know you are damn fool?"  I replied, "What's the big idea?"  Mack, as we called him, said, "You have no school education and if you go back to the ranch you never will have.  My advice to you is to go home and go to school."  I quit at Ft. Reno about the last of August, 1883, and went to the Grayson County ranch and worked there
with my old boss, Jim Wright, till the end of the year.  I then went home and started to school in January, 1884, and was put in the same classes with children ten and twelve years of age.  This was rather trying on a T-Anchor cowboy midway between twenty-one and twenty-two.  I began in the fourth reader, addition table in arithmetic, "Babe" in the "Blue Back Speller" and did not know one word of grammar.1

The young cowboy was born Lysius Gough on July 29, 1862, in Lamar County, Texas to Asher and Elizabeth Martin Gough.  He had four sisters and five brothers.  His father was a Christian minister and also operated a 160 acre farm twelve miles west of Paris.  When young Lysius was eight years old some men drove a herd of cattle by his father's farm and the idea came into his head that he wanted to be a cowboy and ride the open range. 

The wholesome influences of being raised in a Christian home and the industrious habits taught to him by working on the farm were assets to Lysius Gough throughout his life.  There were few educational advantages in his community, so when he left home at the age of fourteen because of a minor family incident he could barely read and his handwriting was not legible.

He worked the first year on a farm and at fifteen went on his first cow hunt with B. L. Murphy who grazed cattle in Hopkins and Hunt Counties.  The next five years saw the young Gough driving cattle in every county of Northwest Texas to the New Mexico border.  In addition he roamed the Chickasaw Nation through the land of the Kiowa and Comanche and delivered cattle to Ft. Reno and traveled on to Kansas. 2

One day in March of 1882 he was headed west and was about three miles west of St. Jo in Montague County.  Two men in a buggy overtook him and inquired where he was going.  When he told them he was going to Red River Station, they asked him to take one of their horses with him to the Station.  They later stopped him again and offered him a job, telling him to go to their ranch in Grayson County and accompany a herd of cattle to their ranch in the Panhandle.

Lysius Gough related this story as the beginning of his days as aT-Anchor cowboy.  It was here that he was given the nickname of "Parson," a name which stayed with him for many years.  One of the men in the buggy was Jule Gunter whose family owned the T-Anchor ranches in Grayson County twelve miles south of Sherman and in Randall County of West Texas.  Gunter later told Gough that he hired him because he liked the way he "sat his horse." 3

It was at this time that Gough began to compose rhymes for the amusement of the other cowboys.  They were begun on the trail in 1882.  "Leather Lip" was the first one composed.

Through his poems Gough portrays the everyday life of the cowboy in the 1880s.  He has captured in rhyme the experiences of the range rider and the trail driver.  He did not write them as poems for publication, but they were a natural outpouring of his creative mind to entertain his buddies around the campfire at night after a hard day's work.

It was on the trail to Ft. Reno in Indian Territory in August of 1883 that one of the ranch hands said, "Parson, I wish you would have those rhymes published.  I want a copy of them."  Gough's reply was, "Who would want to read this foolishness?"  He later related that he kept them in his mind until the fall of 1883 when he wrote them down while working on the Grayson County ranch.

After he continued his education and began to understand the historic value of his rhymes, he had a thousand copies published in 1886 by A. D. Aldredge & Co. of Dallas, Texas under the title Western Travels and Other Rhymes.  A later volume Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs, was printed in 1935 by Russell Stationery Company in Amarillo, Texas.  It contains many of the poems in the earlier volume plus some later written ones.  Most of the poems are dated and Gough has introduced many of them with rare historical data.

Some historians have referred to Gough as the poet laureate of the cowboy.  The poems are valuable today because they recorded in a simple and often humorous way the life of the cowboy, giving names of men and animals and describing the landscape and the weather.  Each poem tells vividly in narrative form some incident that occurred during Gough's years as a cowboy. "In a Snow Storm" describes an adventure while hauling cedar posts from Mulberry Canyon to Dixon Creek on the Canadian River where they were putting in a beef pasture twenty-five miles wide.  This land is now near the present city of Borger, Texas.  In "Fire on the Plains" one can almost smell the smoke and feel the norther blowing in.  Even a plum tree comes alive as a trip to the Washita River is remembered.

Gough displays his sense of humor as he relates a story on himself that happened on the Grayson County ranch.  There was to be a wedding at the Wheat home on Nubbin Ridge east of the ranch.  No one at the ranch had been invited, but Parson did not want to miss the "show."  So on Sunday after dinner he climbed on his favorite horse, Brown Dick, and made a beeline for the Wheat house and graphically preserved the occasion in "At A Marriage."

Despite his love for being a rambling cowboy the desire for more schooling was even stronger, so in the fall of 1883 the twenty-one-year-old Gough returned home to attend school with children half his age.  His eager mind caused him to progress fast in his endeavor, and by 1884 he was able to enter the Pilot Point Institute in Pilot Point, Texas, where he boarded with Dr. Eddleman.  He worked for his room and board and cleaned the school for his tuition.

Completing the high school course in four years, he became the principal of the school.  It was during this time that he fell in love with one of his pupils, Miss Ida E. Russell, the oldest daughter of James K. P. and Josephine Flow Russell.  Their lovely old home on the corner of Hill and Grove streets in Pilot Point was the scene of several of the poems written during their courtship days.  In fact, a reading of seven of these poems contained only in the 1886 volume tell vividly of their courtship and subsequent wedding in the Russell home on December 23, 1885.

Gough's love for learning continued to flourish as he took up the study of law.  Receiving a government appointment to take the census in Pilot Point and being elected justice of the peace occupied his time until he passed the bar exam and was admitted to the bar in Denton County in 1891.

The rambling cowboy days in the west never left Gough's mind, so in September of 1891 he packed up his wife and babies and moved to the rapidly developing area of the Texas Panhandle.  He taught the first public school in Castro County at Dimmitt and on December 18, 1891 he was elected the first county judge, an office which he held until November, 1898.  The Gough family made their home on a ranch four miles from town. 4

One of Gough's granddaughters writes from her Aunt Erma's memories that they lived first in a sod house.  She said that most of the families started out that way because lumber was difficult to buy in West Texas.  Gough's daughter, Irma, remembers the house as being comfortable and cool since the sod roof was good insulation.  The dirt floors were covered with rugs, and once a week the men hung them on clothes lines and beat them clean.  She said that the sod houses were more comfortable than the early frame houses but people preferred wood because of the status. 5

The year 1898 brought another move to the industrious Gough family as they traveled to Hereford on November 16 where only six houses were standing. They loaded all their belongings into wagons and moved closer to the railroad which had been completed the month before.  Gough bought a four room house on Twenty-five Mile Avenue and in December he opened a law and real estate office.  The following May he formed a partnership with Judge C. G. Witherspoon in which they helped to develop the area by bringing in immigrants on trains.  Gough became the first mayor to serve a full term. 6

Ten children were born to Lysius and Ida Russell Gough during those years since their wedding in Pilot Point in 1885, but only six lived to adulthood. Earl was born in 1888, Leron in 1890, Irma in 1892, May in 1896, Roy in 1897, and Coralee in 1899.  At the time of this writing Coralee was still living with her daughter in Solvang, California.  The years of bearing children and pioneer living took their toll on Ida and she died on July 4, 1904 leaving six children for Lysius to raise.  He later married a woman named Mattie and outlived her also.

The remaining years of Judge Gough's life were not idle ones.  He was a charter member of the First Christian Church of Hereford and was one of the founders of the Panhandle Christian College and served as a trustee and financial backer of that institution.  He was always interested in education and involved in civic matters, working with the Hereford Chamber of Commerce and serving on various boards.  In 1910 he was one of the first to drill a well for irrigation purposes.

Besides his endeavors promoting the development of the area, he became interested in experimenting with the strains of crops and seeds that would be most profitable in Crosby County farming.  In 1911 Gough moved to Crosbyton for a short time and made weekly reports on these experiments.  Copies of these reports are in the archives of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas. 7

He later moved back to Deaf Smith County and in 1914 threw most of his energies into becoming a wheat farmer.  He studied the activities of the Grain Exchange and their relation to the prices that the farmers were paid for the grain.  During this time he published a book titled Crime in which he denounced the manipulations of the speculators.  The title page states that the book is dedicated to free the American farm woman from the slavery of a gambling Hell.  Gough stated, "When strawberries grow on poison ivy and cows sit erect on cacti and sing 'Home Sweet Home' the farmer will come into his own by borrowing more money."  His humor and poetic use of words were still evident as he wrote and worked for a cause about which he had strong feelings.  He traveled and lectured to his fellow farmers, sharing his ideas. Adding to his list of firsts, he became an early champion for the rights of the American farmers. 8

He never forgot his days as a rambling cowboy.  In July of 1922 Gough met a former cowboy friend in the post office at Hereford.  They decided to see how many of the T-Anchor boys they could get together and have a reunion. The date was set for August 24, 1922 at Sulphur Park on the Tierra Blanco near Hereford.  The Negro cook, Gus Lee, made sourdough bread to accompany the barbecue for twenty-seven cowboys.  For many years the meeting became an annual affair on the fourth Thursday in August.  At these meetings Gough recited his rhymes helping all the cowboys remember the old days.

Having lived much of the history of the Panhandle he was an important influence in the development of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society and Museum.  The old log house that was the headquarters of the T-Anchor Ranch in Randall County is now located adjacent to the museum in Canyon. 

The last years of Lysius Gough's life were spent in Amarillo, Texas where he died quietly in his sleep on November 4, 1940.  He gave no indication of being ill as he played games with a friend the night before.  This last poem was found in his typewriter and is a lasting evidence of his great contribution to the art of cowboy poetry.

Gone

The Old T-Anchor Ranch is gone, 
And with it the open range,
No more we'll ride the plains alone, 
There's been a mighty change.

No more we'll round the circle wide, 
In early spring and fall,
Or stamp T-Anchor on the hide, 
And hear the yearlin's bawl.

No more we'll trail T-Anchor herds 
To Fort Reno and "Montan,"
Or hear the drawling campfire words, 
Nor wear the trail brown tan.

We've seen cowboys in the their prime, 
And the ranch in all its glory,
Now some have crossed the line,
And others bald and hoary.

May the T-Anchor in memory live,
Through all the coming years,
And our deeds strong courage give
To future youth and steers.

1940, Lysius Gough

 


1.  Lysius Gough, Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs (Amarillo, Texas:  Russell Stationery Company, 1935), 11.

2.  Boone McClure,  "Lysius Gough," Panhandle Plains Historical Review 14 (1946):  30.

3.  Gough, 7.

4.  Captain B. B. Paddock, ed., A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas, Vol. II (Chicago:  The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906), 589.

5.  Amalese Gough Herr to Elaine Russell Coffman, 20 May 1988.

6.  Bessie Patterson, A History of Deaf Smith County Featuring Pioneer Families (Hereford, Texas:  Pioneer Publishing, 1946), 49.

7.  McClure, 32.

8.  Lysius Gough, Crime (Amarillo, Texas:  Amarillo Publishing Company, 1937), 1.

 

 

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