Find the list of poems below
Open Range, by Robert H. Fletcher
The Belled Coyote by Robert H. Fletcher
That Li'l Baldy Hoss by Robert H. Fletcher
Hoofs of the Horses by Will Ogilvie
The Good Old Cowboy Days by Luther A. Lawhon
No Rest for the Horse anonymous
Cattle by Berta Hart Nance
The Road to Texas by Berta Hart Nance
Death Rode a Pinto Pony by Whitney Montgomery
Who's Riding Old Harlequin Now? by Harry "Breaker" Morant
Ain't it the Truth? by James W. Whilt
"Ten Thousand Cattle Straying" anonymous
Riding at Night by Ralph Garnier Coole
Desert Rat by Ralph Garnier Coole
The Ranch up Yonder by Ralph Garnier Coole
Bill's in Trouble by James Barton Adams
The Cowboy and the Wheel (The Gol Darned Wheel) by James Barton Adams
The Land Where the Cowboy Grows by A. V. Hudson
I'd Like to be in Texas for the Roundup in the Spring traditional
The Cattle Man's Prayer/The Cowman's Prayer anonymous
Make Me a Cowboy Again for a Day / The Cowboy's Return traditional
...Old Cowboy's Reunion.... Pecos Higgins
The Pecos River Pecos Higgins
Pals Jack Horan
C.M. Russell—Montana's Own Jack Horan
In Memory Jack Horan
The Cowboy's Soliloquy Allen McCandless
Lasca Frank Desprez (moved to its own page here)
Cowboy Jack anonymous
Frank Dempster Sherman
Frank Dempster Sherman
Some Cowboy Brag Talk anonymous
When Bob Got Throwed anonymous
Doney Gal traditional
The Cowboy's Love Song anonymous
The Trusty Lariat (The Cowboy Fireman) Harry McClintock
Diamond Joe traditional
The Ballad of William Sycamore
Stephen Vincent Benét
Stephen Vincent Benét
Git Along Little Dogies / Whoopee Ti Yo Yo, Git Along, Little Dogies traditional
Appaloosie by Tim McCoy
Shorty's Saloon by Johnny Ritch
The Railroad Corral by Joseph Mills Hanson
Western land was made for those
Who like land wild and free,
For cattle, deer, and buffalo,
For antelope and me;
For those who like a land the way
That it was made by God
Before men thought they could improve
By plowing up the sod.
I want the rivers running clean,
I want a clear, blue sky,
A place to draw a good, deep breath
And live, before I die.
I want the sage, I want the grass,
I want the curlew's call,
And I don't want just half a loaf,—
I've got to have it all.
These cities seem to ear me down
And I can't stand their roar,
They make me have the itching foot
To get back West once more.
I hate the milling herds in town
With all their soot and grime,
I wouldn't trade a western trail
For Broadway any time.
Just give me country big and wide
With benchland, hills and breaks,
With coulees, cactus, buttes and range,
With creeks, and mountain lakes,
Until I cross the Great Divide,
Then, God, forgive each sin
And turn me loose on my cayuse
But please don't fence me in.
by Robert H. Fletcher, from Corral Dust, 1936 edition
Stan Howe pointed out that "ear" in the line "These cities seem to ear me down" is correct. He writes, "To 'ear' an animal down is to grab him by the ear and either pull him down or twist his ear until he goes down on his knees and can be pulled over on his side. It works better with cows than horses but can be done with horses, too. Bob knew exactly what he was writing. In cowboy parlance if something is earing you down, it is wearing on you and will finally get you down. That is what is happening in the poem, the city is earing him down."
"Open Range" inspired the popular song written in the 1930s, "Don't Fence Me In." Composer Cole Porter created that song with Montana engineer, writer and poet, Robert "Bob" Fletcher (1885-1972).
The poem is included in Fletcher's 1934 book, Corral Dust. He also wrote Free Grass to Fences: The Montana Cattle Range Story, published in 1960. A review of the book by Lola M. Homsher in a 1961 edition of the Mississippi Valley Historical Review states:
Free Grass to Fences is the history of Montana in relation to the livestock industry and the Montana Stockgrowers Association. The author's own family has played a part in that history, and Mr. Fletcher has known intimately in his lifetime many of its active participants. The book encompasses the entire Montana story from the era of the fur trade down to the atomic age...
The western cattle industry is too often misunderstood and cattlemen have too often been branded as exploiters of the public domain...Here in the western cattle states can be still be found some of our most rugged individualists...
...The book is well illustrated with numerous sketches from the collection of the Montana Historical Society by one of the West's finest artists, Charles M. Russell, and by a number of excellent photographs...
Fletcher worked for the Montana Department of Highways and conceived and created the text for the state's first historical road markers. The text of those markers was published in a 1938 book, Montana's Historical Highway Markers, which has since been reprinted and updated several times. He wrote other books and pamphlets, including American Adventure: Story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1945).
Many of Fletcher's publications, including Corral Dust, Montana's Historical Highway Markers, and American Adventure were illustrated by by Irvin "Shorty" Shope (1900-1997). You can read about Shope at the Cowboy Artists of America site, which includes information about Charlie Russell's assessment of his art, and the advice he gave Shope about studying "back East," which was, “Don’t do it. The men, horses, and country you love and want to study are out here, not back there.”
Biographies of Cole Porter tell that he purchased Fletcher's poem in 1934 for $250, as the basis of a song for a musical ("Adios Argentina") that was never produced. Ten years later, it was sung by The Andrews Sisters & Bing Crosby and the following year, by Roy Rogers in the film "Hollywood Canteen." The Bing Crosby recording sold over a million copies. Initially, Cole Porter's music publishers did not credit Fletcher as a co-writer, but through legal action, Fletcher's name was eventually added.
Robert Kimball writes in his 1983 book, The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter: "A story in the January 22, 1945, issue of Newsweek implied that Fletcher's contribution ("nothing but the title and a couple of words remained at the finish") was minor indeed. This impression has been reiterated by virtually every Porter biographer and almost every article that has appeared about the song. The story was further confused by the rash statements of Fletcher's friends. One of them, a Montana newspaper publisher, printed an editorial accusing Porter of stealing Fletcher's song. Walter Winchell picked up the item, and his version led to people calling Fletcher an "antediluvian cowboy" trying to cash in on Porter's good fortune. Fletcher, of course, had sold the song to Porter outright and had no further claim to it. Nevertheless, Fletcher was quite justified in his disappointment over not receiving credit in the published copies of the song. Porter later made amends for the oversight of his publishers by signing over a portion of the royalties on the song to Fletcher even though he didn't have to." (Thanks to Stan Howe for the excerpt).
The Belled Coyote
Aint no one loves a coyote
That I ever heard about.
He aint nuthin' but a pestilence
Requirin' stampin' out.
A sneakin', thievin' rustler,—
A gray, ga'nt vagabone
Whose locoed vocal tendencies
Are lackin' depth and tone.
Seems like he's always hungry
And Lord, man, when he wails
It's the concentrated sinfulness
From lost and vanished trails.
Well, there's one of them Carusos
Hangs about the Lazy B
And makes hisself obnoxious
Most plum' consistently.
So, one day, a cayuse dyin'
We surrounds the corpse with traps,
Where we'd cached it in a coulee
A thinkin' that perhaps
In a moment inadvertent
That coyote will come around
And meet up with some damn tough luck,
And we will have him downed.
Sure enough, he made an error
For he let his appetite
Prevail agin his judgment
And we cinched him that same night.
He got one foot caught in a trap
And jumpin' 'round about
Another gloms him by a laig
And sort of stretched him out.
Naw, pard, we didn't shoot him,—
Jest aimed to give him hell,
We took and strapped around his neck
A jinglin' little bell
And turned him loose to ramble,—
Yes,--I reckin' it was cruel,—
Aint a cotton-tail or sage-hen
That is jest a plain damn fool
Enought to not take warnin'
When they heard that little bell,—
So he don't get too much food nor
Company, I'm here to tell.
He's an outlaw with his own kind
And his pickin's pretty slim,
'Cause ev'rywhere he goes that bell
Gives warnin' that it's him.
And sometimes when it's gettin' dusk
And ev'rything plum' still,
I can hear that bell a tollin'
As he slips around a hill.
It kind of gets upon my nerves,—
That, and his mournful cry,
For I know the skunk is fond of livin'
Same as you or I.
One day I'm in the saddle
A twistin' up a smoke,
When he sneaks our of a coulee,
And pard, it aint no joke,
When I see him starved and lonesome,
A lookin' 'most all in,—
Well, perhaps I'm chicken hearted,
But it seemed a dirty sin,
And besides, that bell, it haunts me,
Till there doesn't seem to be
A way t' square things but to put
Him out of misery.
So I takes my 30-30,
As he sits and gives a yell,—
I drawed a bead, and cracked away,—
And busted that damn bell!
by Robert H. Fletcher, from Prickly Pear Pomes, 1920 chapbook
That Li'l Baldy Hoss
You see that li'l baldy hoss
A standin' over there,
His eyes half shut, his head drooped
With a plum' dejected air?
Looks to you worth 'bout twobits
An' not a speck of use
But I wouldn't take a million
For that li'l ol' cayuse!
That brand upon his shoulder?
Sure! That's a "Lazy B"
Which signifies my pilgrim friend,
That he belongs to me.
An' we've been pals together,
Fifteen years gone by last spring,
Which is longer than most men agrees.
An' that's a dead sure thing.
An' he has packed me miles an' miles.
Along the western trails.
From Montana down to Texas;
He could tell you many tales
'Bout the night herds, an' the roundup,
Valley, mountain, tableland,
Chinook an' northern blizzard,
An' the desert's burning sand.
Say he's tougher than the devil,
Ain't so doggone long on looks,
But he knows a powerful lot of things
That ain't wrote down in books.
He knows the quiet coolees,
He knows the hills an' brakes;
The alkali an' sage brush,
An' the stagnant prairie lakes.
He has seen the dogies milling,
By the crooked lightning flash
Five thousand longhorns waiting
For that hell-bent thunder crash
That seems to set 'em locoed,
An' starts the big stampede,
While the air is full of terror,
Like the souls of Hell were freed.
He sure knows 'bout the rangeland,
Cattle, ropes an' branding fire,
And he savvys what I'm talkin' 'bout
Right now or I'm a liar.
For see him cock his ears up
An' sorter bat his eyes?
He's got hoot owls by the tree full
Skun to death for being wise.
An' when I point away to find
The Happy Hunting Ground
He'll be waiting there to pack me,
An' to kinder show me 'round.
Course he's no thoroughbred, but then
I'm here to tell you, Boss,
That I wouldn't take a million
For that li'l baldy hoss.
by Robert H. Fletcher, from Prickly Pear Pomes, 1920 chapbook
Robert Fletcher's 1920 chapbook, Prickly Pear Pomes, includes 34 pages of poems, with illustrations that are not credited. Text on the title page reads, "Written by BOB FLETCHER, Poet Lariat."
Hoofs of the HorsesGalloping Shoes, 1922
The hoofs of the horses!—Oh! witching and sweet
Is the music earth steals from the iron-shod feet;
No whisper of lover, no trilling of bird
Can stir me as hoofs of the horses have stirred.
They spurn disappointment and trample despair,
And drown with their drum-beats the challenge of care;
With scarlet and silk for their banners above,
They are swifter then Fortune and sweeter than Love.
On the wings of the morning they gather and fly,
In the hush of the night-time I hear them go by—
The horses of memory thundering through
With flashing white fetlocks all wet with the dew.
When you lay me to slumber no spot can you choose
But will ring to the rhythm of galloping shoes,
And under the daisies no grave be so deep
But the hoofs of the horses shall sound in my sleep
by Will Ogilvie from
Scotsman Will Ogilvie (1869-1963) lived in Australia for a dozen years, where he became a top station hand, drover, and horse breaker. His poems Hooves of the Horses and The Pearl of Them All are perhaps his works heard most often at gatherings in North America.
"Hooves of the Horses" appears as "Hoofs of the Horses" in Ogilvie's 1922 book, Galloping Shoes (see that version above).
Wylie Gustafson set the poem to music, and the song appears on Wylie & the Wild West's Hooves of the Horses CD. Top reciter Randy Rieman includes the poem on his Where the Ponies Come to Drink CD and his recitation appears on the compilation, Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering. California poet Susan Parker recites the poem on her 2007 CD, She Rode a Wild Horse.
Ogilvie was a popular writer who contributed to the Bulletin—the paper that published poets and writers including Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, Harry "Breaker" Morant (Ogilvie's close friend), and others—even after his return to Scotland.
Ogilvie published a number of collections of his poetry. His best-selling Fair Girls and Gray Horses, with other verses, was reviewed in the Scotsman newspaper, with the comment, "Its verses draw their natural inspiration from the camp, the cattle trail, and the bush; and their most characteristic and compelling rhythms from the clatter of horses' hoofs." He also wrote often about dogs and hunting. Other poetry collections include Saddle for a Throne, The Australian and other verses, Scattered Scarlet, Over the Grass, Hearts of Gold, and other verses; and the books Life in the Open, and Kelpies.
Ogilvie's son, George, wrote about his father in Balladist of Borders & Bush, and John Meredith wrote a book about Ogilvie, Breaker's mate: Will Ogilvie in Australia.
Read Ogilvie's The Pearl of Them All in our Who Knows? feature.
The Good Old Cowboy Days
My fancy drifts as often, through the murky, misty maze
Of the past—to other seasons—to the good old cowboy days,
When the grass wuz green an' wavin' an' the skies wuz soft and blue,
And the men were brave an' loyal, and the women fair an' true!
The old-time cowboy—here's to him, from hired hand to boss!
His soul wuz free from envy and his heart wuz free from dross,
An' deep within his nature, which wuz rugged, high and bold,
There ran a vein uv metal, and the metal, men, wuz, gold!
He'd stand up—drunk or sober—'gin a thousand fer his rights;
He'd sometimes close an argument by shootin' out the lights;
An' when there was a killin', by the quickest on the draw,
He wern't disposed to quibble 'bout the majesty uv law,
But a thief—a low down villain—why, he had no use for him
An' wuz mighty apt to leave 'im danglin' from a handy limb.
He wuz heeled and allers ready—quick with pistol or with knife,
But he never shirked a danger or a duty in his life!
An' at a tale uv sorrow or uv innocence beguiled
His heart wuz just as tender as the heart uv any child.
An' woman—aye, her honor wuz a sacred thing; and hence
He threw his arms around her—in a figurative sense.
His home wuz yours, where'er it wuz, an' open stood the door,
Whose hinges never closed upon the needy or the poor;
An' high or low—it mattered not—the time, if night or day,
The stranger found a welcome just as long as he would stay.
Wuz honest to the marrow, and his bond wuz in his word.
He paid for every critter that he cut into his herd;
An' take your note because he loaned a friend a little pelf?
No, sir, indeed! He thought you wuz as worthy as himself.
An' when you came and paid it back, as proper wuz an' meet,
You trod upon forbidden ground to ask for a receipt.
In former case you paid the debt (there weren't no intres' due),
An' in the latter—chances wuz he'd put a hole through you!
The old-time cowboy had 'is faults; 'tis true, as has been said,
He'd look upon the licker when the licker, men, wuz red;
His language weren't allers spoke accordin' to the rule;
Nor wuz it sech as ye'd expect to hear at Sunday school.
But when he went to meetin', men, he didn't yawn or doze,
Nor set there takin' notice of the congregation's clothes.
He listened to the preacher with respect, an' all o' that,
An' he never failed to ante when they passed aroun' the hat!
I call to mind the tournament, an' then the ball at night;
Of how old Porter drawed the bow and sawed with all his might;
Of how they'd dance—the boys an' girls; an' how that one wuz there
With rosy cheeks, an' hazel eyes, an' golden, curly hair;
An' I—but here I'm techin' on a mighty tender spot;
That boyhood love, at this late day, had better be forgot;
But still at times my heart goes back agin' and fondly strays
Amidst those dear remembered scenes—the good old cowboy days!
The old-time cowboy wuz a man all over! Hear me, men!
I somehow kinder figger we'll not see his like agin.
The few that's left are older now; their hair is mostly white;
Their forms are not so active, and their eyes are not so bright
As when the grass wuz wavin' green, the skies wuz soft an' blue,
An' men were brave, an' loyal, and the women fair an' true,
An' the land wuz filled with plenty, an the range wuz free to graze,
An' all rode as brothers—in the good old cowboy days.
by Luther A. Lawhon fromThe Trail Drivers of Texas
Those fortunate enough to have have heard Oklahoma rancher and poet Jay Snider's recitation of "The Good Old Cowboy Days" at the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo or the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, have experienced a fine performance of a little-heard poem. Jay Snider brought the poem to our attention, and he recites on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Three.
The poem was written by Luther A. Lawhon (1861-1922) and is included in The Trail Drivers of Texas, a book best described by its subtitle, "Interesting Sketches of Early Cowboys and Their Experiences on the Range and on the Trail during the Days that Tried Men's Souls—True Narratives Related by Real Cowpunchers and Men Who Fathered the Cattle Industry in Texas."
The book, with over a thousand pages, was originally published by the Old Time Trail Driver's Association, where Lawhon served as Secretary. An article by Lawhon, "The Men Who Made the Trail," is also included in the book.
There were at least four editions of the book published before a 1925 edition that was reprinted in 1992 by the University of Texas Press and includes an introduction by B. Byron Price and a full index. The early editions of the book are rare, as are copies of Lawhon's other collections, which include Songs and Satires (1901) and Cactus Blossoms (1905).
Read more about the University of Texas edition of The Trail Drivers of Texas, and read B. Byron Price's introduction and view the table of contents at the university's site here. The book is also available from Amazon and other booksellers.
"The Good Old Cowboy Days" is also posted on the White Mountains Roundup web site. Our thanks to gathering organizer Jo Baeza, who helped research the copyright status of the poem (it is in the public domain).
No Rest for the Horse
There's a union for teamster and waiter,
There's a union for cabman and cook,
There's a union for hobo and preacher,
And one for detective and crook.
There's a union for blacksmith and painter,
There is one for the printer, of course;
But where would you go in this realm of woe,
To discover a guild for the horse?
He can't make a murmur in protest,
Though they strain him both up and down hill,
Or force him to work twenty hours
At the whim of some drunken brute's will.
Look back at our struggle for freedom—
Trace our present day's strength to its source,
And you'll find that man's pathway to glory,
Is strewn with the bones of the horse.
The mule is a fool under fire;
The horse, although frightened, stands true,
And he'd charge into hell without flinching
'Twixt the knees of the trooper he knew.
When the troopers grow old they are pensioned,
Or a berth or a home for them found;
When a horse is worn out they condemn him,
And sell him for nothing a pound.
Just think, the old pet of some trooper
Once curried and rubbed twice a day,
Now drags some damned ragpicker's wagon,
With curses and blows for his pay.
I once knew a grand king of racers,
The best of a cup-wining strain;
They ruined his knees on a hurdle,
For his rider's hat covered no brain.
I met him again, four years later,
On his side at the foot of a hill,
With two savages kicking his ribs,
And doing their work with a will.
I stroked the once velvety muzzle,
I murmured the old name again,
He once filled my purse with gold dollars;
And this day I bought him for ten.
His present address is "Sweet Pastures,"
He has nothing to do but eat,
Or loaf in the shade on the green, velvet grass,
And dream of the horses he beat.
Now, a dog—well, a dog has a limit;
After standing for all that's his due,
He'll pack up his duds some dark evening,
And shine out for scenes which are new.
But a horse, once he's used to his leather,
Is much like the old-fashioned wife;
He may not be proud of his bargain,
But still he'll be faithful through life.
And I envy the merciful teamster
Who can stand at the bar and say:
"Kind Lord, with the justice I dealt my horse,
Judge Thou my soul today."
Life magazine here, in an edition that has been digitized by Google Book Search.
We receive a number of requests to find poems, and Pat wrote to us, looking for the poem that "references unions in the first part of the poem, and ends with the fact that you can judge a man by the way he treats his horses." We found that the poem was "No Rest for the Horse." Pat had told us she heard Randy Rieman recite the poem she was seeking at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2006. (It is included on Randy's CD, Where the Ponies Come to Drink.) The author is anonymous.
Randy's source for the poem was Songs of Horses, an anthology edited by Robert Frothingham (1865-1937) in 1920 (Find links to digitized versions of the book here. The book is dedicated to Henry Herbert Knibbs:
HENRY HERBERT KNIBBS
Rider of the high trails,
equally at ease astride
Pegasus or the Roan Cayuse.
"Since we deserve the name of friends,
and thine effect so lives in me,
A part of mine may live in thee
And move thee on to noble ends."
Henry Herbert Knibbs dedicated his 1918 novel, Jim Waring of Sonora, to Frothingham. Frothingham also edited other anthologies, including Songs of Men (1918) in which he acknowledges the assistance of Knibbs and Eugene Manlove Rhodes, Songs of Dogs (1920), Songs of Challenge (1922), Songs of the Sea and Sailors' Chanteys (1924), and Songs of Adventure (1926). He wrote other books, including Around the World (1925) and Trails Through the Golden West (1932).
We found the same "No Rest for the Horse" poem under a different title, "To a Quiet But Useful Class," in a 1902 edition of Life magazine. There is no author attributed in that instance, either. You can see the poem in that
Thanks to Jeri Dobrowski for the book jacket image; she has a rare copy with a jacket in her collection.
Other states were carved or born
Texas grew from hide and horn.
Other states are long and wide,
Texas is a shaggy hide.
Dripping blood and crumpled hair;
Some fat giant flung it there,
Laid the head where valleys drain,
Stretched its rump along the plain.
Other soil is full of stones,
Texans plow up cattle-bones.
Herds are buried on the trail,
Underneath the powdered shale;
Herds that stiffened like the snow,
Where the icy northers go.
Other states have built their halls,
Humming tunes along the walls.
Texans watched the mortar stirred,
While they kept the lowing herd.
Stamped on Texan wall and roof
Gleams the sharp and crescent hoof.
High above the hum and stir
Jingle bridle rein and spur.
Other states were made or born,
Texas grew from hide and horn.
Berta Hart Nance from The Road to Texas, 1940
The Road to Texas
Beside the Road to Texas
My father's mother lies,
With dust upon her bosom,
And dust upon her eyes.
O cruel road to Texas,
How many hearts you broke
Before you gave to Texas
The rugged strength of oak!
Berta Hart Nance from The Road to Texas, 1940
dence, newspaper articles, her violin, and other materials. In 1974, Elsa McFarland Turner published a biography of Nance, Berta Hart Nance, A Brand of Innocence.
In his 1941 book, The Longhorns, J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964) writes, "The map of Texas looks somewhat like a roughly skinned cowhide spread out on the ground, the tail represented by the tapering peninsula at the mouth of the Rio Grande, the broad head by the Panhandle. But 'Cattle,' by Berta Hart Nance, goes deeper than the map."
Berta Hart Nance (1883-1958) was the daughter of a rancher, who was also a Confederate veteran, Indian fighter, and cousin of Jefferson Davis," according to the Texas Almanac, which includes more about her life and writings. In 1926, her book-length poem about Texas was published, The Round-Up. She had two other books of poetry published, and her work was included in many anthologies.
Berta Hart Nance was also an accomplished singer and violinist, and the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, Texas, near her birthplace, includes correspon
Death Rode a Pinto Pony
Death rode a pinto pony
Along the Rio Grande,
Beside the trail his shadow
Was riding on the sand.
The look upon his youthful face
Was sinister and dark,
And the pistol in his scabbard
Had never missed its mark.
The moonlight on the river
Was bright as molten ore
The ripples broke in whispers
Along the sandy shore.
The breath of prairie flowers
Had made the night-wind sweet,
And a mockingbird made merry
In a lacy-leafed mesquite.
Death looked toward the river,
He looked toward the land
He took his broad sombrero off
And held it in his hand,
And death felt something touch him
He could not understand.
The lights at Madden's ranch-house
Were brighter than the moon,
The girls came tripping in like deer,
The fiddles were in tune,
And death saw through the window
The man he came to kill,
And he that did not hesitate
Sat hesitating still
A cloud came over the moon,
The moon came out and smiled,
A coyote howled upon the hill,
The mockingbird went wild.
Death drew his hand across his brow,
As if to move a stain,
Then slowly turned his pinto horse
And rode away again.
Whitney Montgomery from The Road to Texas, 1940
The Road to Texas is an anthology edited by Whitney Montgomery, a hard-to-find book that includes poems about Texas. We came upon the book because of a request for Whitney Montgomery's poem, "Death Rode a Pinto Pony."
The poem is also included in Southwest Writers Anthology, edited by Martin Shockley (1967). A 1971 review of that book by C. Dwight Dorough in the South Central Bulletin singles out the poem, "'Death Rode a Pinto Pony' by Whitney Montgomery merits attention as a Romantic ballad which depicts death not as the traditional 'grim reaper' but as a gunman, who, though out to get his man, is so touched by the beauty of the moonlight on the river, prairie flowers, a mockingbird in a "lacy-leafed mesquite" that he lets his man off for the time."
The poem is also included in the anthology, Best Loved Poems of the American West, selected by John J. and Barbara T. Gregg (1980).
Montgomery (1877-1966) was a farmer, stockman and poet. When he was fifty, he married poet Vaida Stewart Boyd and they settled in Dallas. They established a publishing house, issued a monthly magazine (first called Kaleidoscope, then Kaleidograph), and published more than 500 books of poetry. There's more information about him in the Handbook of Texas Online.
Who's Riding Old Harlequin Now?
They are mustering cattle on Brigalow Vale
Where the stock-horses whinny and stamp,
And where long Andy Ferguson, you may go bail,
Is yet boss on a cutting-out camp.
Half the doffers I meet would not know a fat steer
From a blessed old Alderney cow;
Whilst they're mustering there I am wondering here—
Who is riding brown Harlequin now?
Are the pikers as wild and the scrubs just as dense
In the brigalow country as when
There was never a homestead and never a fence
Between Brigalow Vale and The Glen?
Do they yard the big micks 'neath the light of the moon?
Do the yard-wings re-echo the row
Of stockwhips and hoofbeats? And what sort of coon
Is there riding old Harlequin now?
There was buckjumping blood in the brown gelding's veins,
But, lean-headed, with iron-like pins,
Of Pyrrhus and Panic he'd plentiful strains,
All their virtues, and some of their sins.
'Twas pity, some said, that so shapely a colt
Fate should with such temper endow;
He would kick and would strike, he would buck and would bolt—
Ah! who's riding brown Harlequin now?
A demon to handle! A devil to ride!
Small wonder the surcingle burst;
You'd have thought that he'd buck himself out of his hide
On the morning we saddled him first.
I can mind how he cow-kicked the spur on my boot,
And though that's long ago, still I vow
If they're wheeling a piker, no new-chum galoot
Is a-riding old Harlequin now!
I remember the boss—how he chuckled and laughed
When they yarded the brown colt for me:
"He'll be steady enough when we finish the graft
And have cleaned up the scrubs of Glen Leigh!"
I am wondering today if the brown horse yet live,
For the fellow who broke him, I trow,
A long lease of soul-ease would willingly give
To be riding brown Harlequin now!
"Do you think you can hold him?" old Ferguson said—
He was mounted on Hornet, the grey;
I think Harlequin heard him—he shook his lean head,
And he needed no holding that day.
Not a prick from a spur, nor a sting from a whip
As he raced among deadwood and bough,
While I sat fairly quiet and just let him rip—
But who's riding old Harlequin now?
I could hear 'em a-crashing the gidgee in front
As the Bryan colt streaked to the lead,
Whilst the boss and the riggers were out of the hunt,
For their horses lacked Harlequin's speed;
The pikers were yarded and skies growing dim
When old Fergie was fain to allow:
"The colt's track through the scrub was a knocker" to him—
But who's riding brown Harlequin now?
From starlight to starlight-all day in between
The foam-flakes might fly from his bit,
But whatever the pace of the day's work had been
The brown gelding was eager and fit.
On the pack-horse's back they are fixing a load
Where the path climbs the hill's gloomy brow;
They are mustering bullocks to send on the road,
But—who's riding old Harlequin now?
Harry "Breaker" Morant, 1897
Harry "Breaker" Morant (1864-1902) had his poetry published Australia's first national literary magazine, The Bulletin, as did his friends "Banjo" Paterson, Will Ogilvie, and Henry Lawson. Morant worked as a drover and earned his nickname for his skill with horses. You can read more of his poetry at an Australian site here.
Reciter Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks is recognized for her impressive rendition of "Who's Riding Old Harlequin Now."
Morant was executed in 1902 for alleged war crimes in the Second Boer War. The 1980 film, Breaker Morant, brought his story to a wide audience. There are a number of books about him, and about his war experiences, including Scapegoats of the Empire: The True Story of Breaker Morant's Bushveldt Carbineers, by Lieutenant George Witton, which is available for reading on-line from Project Gutenberg Australia.
Ain't it the Truth?
I have seen them ride the ponies
In the sage-brush and the bad land;
I have seen them buck and beller
And turn almost inside out,
While the rider sat the saddle
And watched each snaky motion,
While the others yelled "Stay with him"
As loud as they could shout.
And often on the round-up
I have watched the cayuse antics,
When the devil got the upper-hand—
And I know he crawled inside,
And when you hit the saddle
You had just one thought before you:
To hook your spurs into the cinch
And settle down and ride.
But the wildest, meanest horses
That ever have been ridden
Or ever have been saddled,
Either here or anywhere,
As they rode and scratched them
They never once pulled leather;
They just quirted and hollered
And never once turned hair.
But this wildest riding
Was not done in the open
'Way out on the prairies,
Or in bad lands far away,
It was done right in the bunk-house
When the cigarettes were lighted,
And the Sibley stove was glowing
And life was sweet and gay.
Or when they hit the village
And lined up at old Pete's place,
With their foot upon the bar-rail
And a couple drinks inside,
They would loosen up their chatter
And climb upon those bronchos—
Those wild and wooly cowboys;
My God, how they would ride.
'Twas then they'd ride and quirt them
And rake them in the shoulders;
They'd fan them with their big hat
'Till you could hear them bawl.
But when you needed riders
And was out upon the circle,
They were a bunch of bone-heads
And could not ride at all.
But while sitting in my saddle,
Where I could see those riders
A-riding down the trail of life,
'Twas just as plain as day
That the ones who rode the bad ones
And drew the biggest wages
Were the ones who seemed the meekest
And had the least to say.
James W. Whilt, from Mountain Memories, 1925
James W. "Jim" Whilt (1878-1967?) worked at Glacier National Park as a dude wrangler, where he recited his poetry for tourists, and he lived on a ranch in Eureka, Montana.
Among his works are Rhymes of the Rockies (1922); Mountain Memories (1925); a children's book, Our Animal Friends of The Wild (1927), Giggles from Glacier Guides (1935), and Mountain Echoes (1951).
Kessinger Books has a reprint edition of Mountain Memories.
The photo above is from Rhymes of the Rockies and is also in Giggles from Glacier Guides. There is an earlier photo of Whilt posted on a site here.
Minnesota rancher and poet Diane Tribitt, who introduced us to Whilt's poetry, sent along a 1925 clipping that was included in her copy of Mountain Memories:
JAMES WHILT SHOT ACCIDENTALLY BUT WILL RECOVER
James Whilt, trapper, guide and cowboy poet had a close call yesterday, when he accidentally shot himself in the abdomen with a 22 rifle while attempting to remove the gun from his saddle.
The accident happened on the Betts ranch, where Whilt was engaged in trapping for the government. Doctors Houston, Cockrell and Conway were notified, and Dr. Conway at once started for the ranch. Meantime, a car from the Betts ranch started for Kalispell with the wounded man, and was met by Dr. Conway at Lakeview. The patient was transferred to Dr. Conway’s car and brought to the city where an operation was performed at 10 o’clock last evening.
It was found that the bullet, a 22 long, had perforated the liver, passed through the stomach and lodged in the back. The patient stood the operation well, and Dr. Houston states today that there is every indication of a rapid recovery.
It is said that Whilt placed the gun on his saddle when he started out to make the rounds of his traps, and in attempting to remove it the gun was discharged. This is accounted for by the fact that the safety catch had become worn and frequently failed to work.”
shows a James W. Whilt, age 8.
James W Whilt The Montana Death Index shows a James W. Whilt,
born about 1878, died March 10, 1967 in Flathead County, age 89. We'd welcome more biographical information about Whilt.
Whilt's preface to Giggles from Glacier Guides (1935):
In submitting this little booklet to the public I am doing so for the simple reason that every season when I arrive in the park my suitcase had not stopped rocking before some dude asked me why I did not put some of the park vocabulary into print so they could take back home some of the western phrases so they could show their friends to just what extent the English language has been roped, abused hog-tied and even murdered. So my pen started leaking and this is what leaked out.
The book begins:
There are two versions of a dude wrangler. One is that no man can wrangle dudes without going wrong in his bean. The other is, he has to be squirrel food for at least that long before he will even attempt the job of dude wrangler. But the last ruling in the park has helped the guide to a very great extent, viz: a guide is now allowed to tell the truth if he wants to.
So, with the last gleam of intelligence left in this weak but overworked brain of mine, I am going to set down a few facts about wrangling dudes, before my candle sputters out into utter darkness. First of all, a guide must dress Western—big hat, chaps, spurs, tough rag and what have you—be mannerly, courteous and, in fact, he should show a glint of human intelligence even though he is not housebroke. In the case of manners, that never bothered me individually as mine were as good as new, never having used them. As to looks, which has been a great help to me, for when a dude looked at me he or she could never exactly tell just whether I was laughing or crying. Being a beautiful child at birth, I was the envy of the whole countryside. In fact, the neighbors used to borrow me when they went visiting, locking their own offspring in the cellar.
But at the age of four a large wart appeared on my face. My parents sent for a remedy, but after using two bottles my face disappeared but to my sorrow the wart stayed. Being the son of western pioneers, I just grew up. Sometimes the grazing was powerful short and they painted my legs green and I was roamed all over the ponds and marshes, taken care of by snipes. The other children, younger than myself, were cared for in a different manner. Red rags were tied on their heads and they were set up on fence posts and were fed by the woodpeckers. So growing up thusly fitted me for my present occupation.
And these are excerpts:
One time Diamond Dick was taking a party around the Devil's Elbow where there is a sheer drop of about eight hundred feet. One dude asked him if people fell off there very often. "Only once," Dick said. There was a time when they used long horses in the park, three saddles to a horse, but the park trail-makers put in the switchbacks on the trails and the long horses could not get their hind legs around the corners, so the horse company had to get shorter horses.
Speaking of sheep, we have the usual bighorn. Some old rams have horns so large they are unable to carry them them naturally. They have conceived the idea of putting two small wheels under their chins so as to support the weight of their horns. In winter they substitute runners in place of the wheels. We have two kinds of sheep. Every spring we have to round up the latter and shear them, for it is the iron sheep that furnishes the steel wool.
Whilt's preface to Rhymes of the Rockies (1922):
Having spent the major part of my life in the Rocky Mountains as timber cruiser, packer, trapper and guide, I have learned to love their beauty and grandeur; enjoy their solitude and feel that they are a part of me.
It is there one can breathe the air of the Great Out Doors and gaze on mountains and glaciers whose never ending chain stretches into space and to listen to the waterfall's laughter. Where the denizens of the wild roam unmolested as they did for ages past, when man first came to this Virgin Paradise. Where camp-fires still glow at eventide,—their smoke wreaths adding incense to the freshness of air.
While my words cannot express even in one detail the beauty as I see it, I truly and sincerely hope these few humble rhymes will paint in your mind a mental picture that time itself may impair but not erase.
With these thoughts ever vividly before me, I dedicate this book to the Rocky Mountains and their "wonder child"—the Glacier National Park.
James W. Whilt
May 25, 1922
The book includes 32 poems.
Whilt's preface to Mountain Memories (1925):
In submitting these rhymes to the public I do so with the most sincere effort to be true to the surroundings which have prompted my thoughts. Living in the mountains I love them, because here where the roads end and the trails commence life is most real. No matter what we may appear in our daily walks of life—no matter what cloak of indifference or hypocrisy may be forced on us thru associations, conventions, necessities or otherwise, here in the mountains and on the trails—the great out-of-door cathedrals where Nature reigns supreme—we realize the insignificance of man and man-made things and become just our plain selves.
I am dedicating this book of humble verse to the Great Majestic Mountains, the ROCKIES. I call them great for somehow they hold the mysteries that to me seem most sacred. Likewise I dedicate it to those men and women who have the strength and sincerity to at least periodically lift off the man-made mask of civilization and conventionalities to enjoy the beauties of Nature and look into their own souls as they would gaze into the shimmering waters of the deep pools and be just plain men and women as God intended.
Fully realizing the insufficiency of my ability to do justice to subjects covered herein, yet I hope some thought or verse may in future years cause you to recall some scene or pleasure when you were associated with these or other mountains. In such event our pleasure will indeed by mutual.
Yours very truly,
James W. Whilt
May 25, 1925
The book includes 48 poems and illustrations by F. M. Harrow.
"Ten Thousand Cattle Straying"
Ten thousand cattle straying,
As rangers sang of old;
The warm chinook's delaying,
The aspen shake with cold.
Ten thousand herds are passing,
So pass the golden years;
Behind us clouds are massing,
Like the last of the old frontiers.
Owen Wister wrote a song in 1888 called "Ten Thousand Cattle Straying (Dead Broke)." The song was written for a stage production of The Virginian. It became well known, and often was not attributed Wister. Read more in our feature here. One sheet music version begins:
Ten thousand cattle straying,
They quit my range and travell'd away,
And it's "sons-of-guns" is what I say,
I am dead broke, dead broke this day.
Katie Leetook the title of her well known book from the song.
Colorado poet Jane Morton was impressed by verse she found that starts with a line identical to the title of Wister's song, but which has completely different words and a different tone:
Ten thousand cattle straying,
As rangers sang of old;
The warm chinook's delaying,
The aspen shake with cold.
Jane Morton read the lines in a 1956 book by rancher Leon V. Almirall (1884-1964), From College to Cow Country. The author ends the book with the poem, and notes the source as "unknown." Almirall wrote at least two other books, Coyote Coursing, in 1926 (J. Frank Dobie calls Almirall "a constant hunter of coyotes in the Northwest" in his 1949 book, The Voice of the Coyote); and Canines and Coyotes in 1948, about crossing the Great Plains in the 1920s and 1930s.
A 1957 review of From College to Cow Country tells that Almirall was born in the East and headed West in 1922 to work as a cowboy. With thanks to the Western History and Genealogy Department at the Denver Public Library, we obtained Leon V. Almirall's obituary, which states, "He worked on ranches near Denver and Colorado Springs and in New Mexico, before running his own outfits in Grand and Douglas Counties."
The poem is also included in Charles Wellington Furlong's 1921 book, Let 'er buck, a story of the passing of the old West, about the Pendleton Roundup and the rodeo circuit. Let 'er buck also gives no source for the poem. Furlong lived 1874-1967.
Furlong's papers are archived at Dartmouth, and a biography here tells he was the first American and the second white man to explore the interior of Tierra del Fuego. There's a photo of Furlong and more about his other works here, where he is described as a "famous adventurer, world traveller, author, artist, photographer of Americana and of the West." You can view Let 'er Buck here at Google books. Let 'er Buck was reissued by The Overlook Press in 2007.
Neither Furlong nor Almirall were known as poets; the words were possibly familiar to many. We welcome any information. Email us.
Riding at Nightby Ralph Garnier Coole, from Songs of Men
On and on through the silent night,
Under the sky with its tranquil light
Of stars that are smiling and blinking bright—
Riding...just riding along ...
Up the hill and over the rise;
Can't see the trail but my horse is wise;
He knows where the hidden hill-trail lies;
Riding...just riding along...
A flicker of fire from his steel-shod feet,
As the hoof-beats ring and the rocks repeat—
Easy, boy! Easy! Now keep your feet;
Riding...just riding along...
Out of the stillness, faint and small,
The lean, gray hunters of midnight call,
And the querulous echoes rise and fall;
Riding...just riding along...
The trail of a meteor streaks the sky,
And drops in the void of the dusk to die,
And I gaze as I wonder, "Where—and Why?"
Riding...just riding along...
The jingle of rein-chains seems to be
Singing a song of peace to me;
A song of the range where a man is free...
Riding...just riding along...
And the white moon rising above the gap,
Smiles on the world in its quiet nap,
Dreaming away in old Nature's lap;
Riding...just riding along...
Then the crest of the range is a rose-lit height,
As the dawn leaps after the fading night,
And we're back in camp with the morning light;
Riding...just riding along...
"Riding at Night," is included in Songs of Men, a 1918 anthology edited by Robert Frothingham (1865-1937):
Editor Frothingham acknowledges the assistance of Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945) and Eugene Manlove Rhodes in another anthology he edited in 1920, Songs of Horses, and Frothingham dedicated that book to Henry Herbert Knibbs (you can read the dedication above, along with more about Frothingham). Knibbs dedicated his 1918 novel, Jim Waring of Sonora, to Frothingham.
Henry Herbert Knibbs dedicated his poetry collection, Songs of the Trail (1920) to Ralph Garnier Coole.
We've uncovered little more about Coole. He wrote a poem called "Desert Rat," which was found in the poetry archives of the Nevada Historical Society, dated 1919, "source unknown":
Ralph Garnier Coole, June 3, 1919
Tonopah's some lively, son,
Boomin' shore enough.
Strikin' pay dirt every day,
Durn good lookin' stuff.
Camp's plumb full o' tenderfeet;
Plenty sourdough's, too;
Some with pokes cram full o' dust,
Some without a sou.
Dancin' girls with dreamy eyes;
Makes my heart grow young.
Heard one sing a song tonight;
One I ain't heard sung
Since I hit these diggin's
Years an' years ago—
Heard the music sobbin' like—
Sobbin' soft and low.
I was just a youngster then,
Careless, wild an' free;
Might a been a millionaire—
But—spent it! That was me.
She had hair just like the gold,
Shinin' fair an' long—
Funny how it all came back,
Listenin' to that song!
Life was young an' so was I—
Then—there came a day!
He was sleek an' handsome—
An'—well, she went away!
Many, many moons, son,
Since I heard that song—
Got a prospect in the hills—
Guess I'll move along.
"Desert Rat" is mentioned in C. W. Bayers' book, The Miner's Farewell (1977), where the author writes:
A poem from Tonopah, 1919, echoes the timeless relationship between money, women, power, and the miner. The desert rat was the old prospector, the fading breed of men who had dreamed the pure dream of the West. Like his mule, the aged Indian, the cactus and isolation in general, the desert rat became a stock figure in the lyric of the high desert, Los Angeles, and the southwest during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.
"Where most poems about the desert rat would be homilies devoid of plot, Ralph Coole's "The Desert Rat" contains a poignant synopsis of the miner's plight. It echoes Joe Bowers. It is perhaps one of the last narrative lyrics contrasting the dream that had brought young men West during 1849 and the hard reality. At the same time, it foreshadows the formulaic approach to working class misery of later country western song. The dislocation of miners that resulted from strife between the workers and bosses was increasingly equating the restless hobo with American aspirations for undiluted freedom.
That year, 1919, in Tonopah the bosses broke the back of the socialist effort in the mining West. Across the nation, citing the need to protect the nation from foreign enemies, the federal government broke the socialist effort in general....in terms of imagery, during 1919, the large scale romantic dream of the solitary miner came to an end.
"Desert Rat" appears also as a song on Bayers' The Miner's Farewell CD.
The Ranch up Yonder
Did you ever set astraddle, slouchin' easy in the saddle,
In the sagebrush, after night had gathered roun';
When the moon above the mountain really seemed to be a countin'
All the million little stars a lookin' down?
Did you ever stop an' ponder that among that bunch up yonder,
Not a star was ever known to jump the fence?
Well, the thought it got me goin' an' the idee kep' a grow' in,
An' I've felt a little diff'rent ever sence.
That there foreman way up yonder, he must shorely be a wonder
For to keep 'em from stampedin' far away.
But any night you're gazin' you can see 'em all a grazin'
In the same old place in jess the same old way.
An' somehow I caint help thinkin' as I watch 'em all a blinkin',
That a guy that thinks he's wise an' some to spare,
May be hep to punchin' cattle, but he'd fight a sorry battle
With that foreman that's a runnin' things up there.
Ralph Garnier Coole, 1916
published by the Ye Colonial Art Shop, Pasadena
copy courtesy of the UCLA Library
Census records find a likely Coole born about 1872 in Illinois, and living in 1920 in Fresno, California.
Ken Cook includes "The Ranch Up Yonder" on his CD, Cowboys are Like That.
If you have more information about Coole, please email us.
Bill's in Trouble
I've got a letter, parson, from my son away out West,
An' my ol' heart is heavy as an anvil in my breast,
To think the boy whose future I had once so proudly planned
Should wander from the path of right an' come to such an end!
I told him when he left his home, not three short years ago,
He'd find himself a plowin' in a mighty crooked row—
He'd miss his father's counsel, an' his mother's prayers, too;
But he said the farm was hateful, an' he guessed he'd have to go.
I know thar's big temptation for a youngster in the West,
But I believed our Billy had the courage to resist,
An' when he left I warned him o' the ever waitin' snares
That lie like hidden sarpints in life's pathway everywheres.
But Bill he promised faithful to be keerful, an' allowed
He'd build a reputation that'd make us mighty proud;
But it seems as how my counsel sort o' faded from his mind,
An' now the boy's in trouble o' the very wustest kind!
His letters came so seldom that I somehow sort o' knowed
That Billy was a trampling on a mighty rocky road,
But never once imagined he would bow my head in shame,
An' in the dust'd waller his ol' daddy's honored name.
He writes from out in Denver, an' the story's mighty short;
I just can't tell his mother, it'll crush her poor ol' heart!
An' so I reckoned, parson, you might break the news to her—
Bill's in the legislatur', but he doesn't say what fur.
by James Barton Adams (1843-1918), from Breezy Western Verse, 1899
Hal Swift recites "Bill's in Trouble" on The BAR-D Roundup, Volume 3.
The editor's introduction to a 1968 publication of the Socorro County (New Mexico) Historical Society, "Some Letters and Writings of James Barton Adams" comments:
The letters of James Barton Adams (alias Jim Carlin) are here published for the first time...For several years he lived and worked in the rugged San Andres mountains of central New Mexico on a ranch owned by Captain Jack Crawford, famous Indian Scout and Poet. The land was harsh, the climate equal in its intensity and variety to the harshness of the land, and human companionship was only an occasional experience. Adams, educated and having an unusual way with words, was able to capture in his letters the spirit of this one small segment of the American Frontier.
A biographical sketch adds:
Adams was employed by Capt. Jack Crawford at his Dripping Springs, N. M. ranch from 1890-1892, and for reason or reasons unknown used an alias during this time. He chose to be called James "Jim" Carlin, and it is doubted that it was a pen name. Many of his poems were probably drawn from his life and experiences during this period in New Mexico. Adams wrote the foreword to Capt. Jack's book Whar the Hand O' God is Seen, published in 1913.
A biography in The Mecca, February 3, 1900, tells that Adams was born in Ohio and moved with his family to Iowa, "...when that state was 'way out West.' He enlisted at the first call for troops in 1861." The Socorro County biographical sketch tells that at age 75, during World War I, he volunteered his telegraphic services and "was probably the oldest telegraph operator working the key in the U. S...."
Adams became a newspaper columnist, and wrote poems still recited (and put to music) today. Read some of his other works, including A Cowboy Toast, The Cowboy's Dance Song" ("The High-Toned Dance"), and A Song of the Range here at the BAR-D.
The following obituary appeared on page 3 of the Denver Times on April 23, 1918
FORMER DENVER HUMORIST AND POET
James Barton Adams, Well Known Throughout
Been Giving War Services to Nation
Loyalty to his country and a desire to do his part in spite of his advanced years were the direct cause of the death of James Barton Adams, one of the earliest and best known newspaper men Denver has known and a Western poet whose work has been read from coast to coast, who died in Vancouver, Wash., last night. Mr. Adams celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday on April 17. A widow and a son survive.
At the beginning of the present war Mr. Adams, who was a veteran of the Civil war, offered his services as a telegrapher to the government. He was assigned to an army post at Vancouver, where he served for nearly a year, having been relieved from this duty a short time ago when a member of the signal corps was substituted. The strain of the work proved too great and, following a cold, pneumonia developed.
Altho Mr. Adams had written many verses which had won many admirers, a complete volume of his works had not been published. Arrangements to bring out such a book made by the Oregon Historical society were abandoned because of lack of funds.
Among the best known of his verses is "A Cowboy Dance," which has been published often in newspapers and magazines and not infrequently credited to other writers. Another well-known poem is "Bill's in the Legislature, but He Doesn't Know What For," humorous lines that have had a wide appeal.
Mr. Adams was one of the early newspaper men of Denver. His entrance into the newspaper field was brought about thru his contributions of verse to Western newspapers while he was working as a telegraph operator in in Wyoming. He was on the staff of the Denver Post, the Denver Times and the Rocky Mountain News, and his columns of snappy verse were read daily by thousands and were liberally quoted by other newspapers.
During the last few months while employed as a telegraph operator he contributed verses for several newspapers. His last poem, one of stirring patriotism, appeared in a Portland paper yesterday. He had been a contributor to Puck, Judge and Life during his newspaper career.
Mr. Adams was a member of the Denver lodge of the B. P. O. W. He joined the lodge in 190 and had kept in close touch with the secretary and members since his removal from the city two years ago to take up his residence on the Pacific coast. Funeral services will be held in Vancouver Thursday, following which the body will be cremated and the ashes sent tot his city for burial by the Elks.
Altho Mr. Adams was at an advanced age he had maintained a lively interest in the things about him and always kept track of the happenings in Denver thru the daily newspapers. "Am in fairly good health and frisky on my feet" he wrote recently in a letter to William Wheadon, secretary of the local lodge of Elks, and went on to tell of his plans for a war garden which he thought would occupy most of his time during the coming summer.
The following obituary appeared on page 5 of The Denver Post on April 23, 1918:
POET OF THE WEST, J. B. ADAMS, DIES
IN U. S. SERVICE
Veteran Writer for the Post Taken at the Age of 75.
Aiding Army Work
Aged Telegrapher Active at Vancouver
Station When Death Calls
(By GENE FOWLER.)
James Barton Adams, poet of the West, is dead. He has "gone into the West." To his friends, who were with him during the last moments, he smiled and said: "My eyes are closing in a little sleep, good pards." But his songs of the Great West, of which he wrote for so many years and to such a wide audience, will never sleep. For James Barton Adams has "done his bit," and a big "Bit" it was.
He died in the service of his country at the age of 75 years. He passed on as a volunteer on civilian war service. His loyalty to his country cost him his life. The poet was serving as an army post telegrapher at the Vancouver, Washington, barracks. But the spirit of true poetry gripped him with such an intense clasp that he penned verses while not busy at the telegraph key of the barracks.
His last patriotic poem was not yet cold on the press when death brought the message of rest to the aged singer of songs. Pneumonia, developing from exposure and a weakened constitution while serving as an army volunteer telegrapher, was the cause of death.
For Many Years on Post Staff
Adams worked for many years on the staff of The Denver Post. He was one of the most widely copied newspaper poets and paragraphers in America. Probably no other "column conduction," with the exception of Frank Stanton, had a wider circle of readers and friends. Two years ago he went to the Pacific coast, resting and writing for various papers and periodicals. For the last eight months Adams worked daily at his telegrapher's instrument. A few days ago he was confined to his bed. He died late yesterday.
He was a volunteer during the Civil war and served with honor, both as a soldier and a telegrapher. He was born at Jefferson county, Ohio, on April 17, 1843. He enlisted in May, 1861 with the Sixth Iowa infantry. He served in the Indian wars, from 1873 to 1887, in western Nebraska, Kansas, and Wyoming as a scout and officer. He came to Colorado in the early '90s and was married in 1898 to Miss Lydia Louise Troub. He was then a member of The Post staff and published a volume of Western poetry, "Breezy Western Verse." His column in The Post, "Postscripts," drew nation-wide attention.
His Verses Show Optimistic Spirit
For many years James Barton Adams played a conspicuous part in the development of the West. His restless, energetic spirit worked ceaselessly. He was of an optimistic, cheerful frame of mind, which is shown in the stanza from his famous "Stop Your Frettin':"
When things don't come along your way.
Can't hurry 'em up by frettin''
If clouds o' care obscure your day,
Can't chase 'em off by frettin'.
Your tears just irrigate your woe
An' freshen' up and help it grow--
Don't wash it out o' sight, an' so
There ain't no use in frettin'"
James Barton Adams was a pal of Captain Jack Crawford, a brother poet and Westerner.
[Thanks to Jeffrey Barton Adams, great-great grandson of James Barton Adams and to the Denver Public Library for some of the above information.]
In 2008, Scott E. Lusby shared photos of James Barton Adams, who was his great great grandfather, in Picture the West. The photos also include Adams' friend, Captain Jack Crawford. See those photos here.
Some recent scholarship has established that James Barton Adams (1843-1918) was the author of the poem, The Gol-Darn Wheel, which he called "The Cowboy and the Wheel":
Gary Stanton, Chair of the Department of Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia tells about his research in a February, 2014 blog post. He writes, in part, "... Using the "Chronicling Historic America" site, searching thousands of newspapers across the United States, looking for hits on "Cowboy" and "Wheel" brought up the front page of the St. Johns' Herald 14 March 1896, printing the stanzas to "The Cowboy and the Wheel." But the tag line was "Gol Darned Wheel." Just below the title was a bracketed source "[Recreation]" but no author. Well, Recreation, was the name of a sporting magazine published by G. O. Shields, as the publication of the American Canoeist's Association in 1896, in the February 1896 issue he published, "The Cowboy and the Wheel," by James B Adams. James B. Adams, better known as a poet and "paragrapher" for the Denver Post under his full name, James Barton Adams, is one of the well-known scribbler's of Cowboy poetry and contributed a number of evergreens, particularly the "High-Toned Dance."
[Thanks to David Stanley for pointing us to this information]
Here is the original poem; see the original publication with illustrations here.
The Cowboy and the Wheel
I kin take the toughest bronco in the wild an' woolly West;
An' kin back him an' kin ride him, let him do his level best;
I kin handle any critter ever wore a coat o' hair,
An' I've had a lively tussle with a 'tarnal grizzly bear.
I kin rope an' throw a long-horn o' the wildest Texas brand,
An' in Injun disagreements I kin play a leadin' hand;
But at last I met my master, an' I shorely had to squeal
When the boys got me a-straddle of a
It was at the Eagle rancho, on the Brazos whar' I fust
Ran across the durn contrivance 'at upset me in the dust—
Natrally up an' throwed me, stood me on my cussed head,
"Trumped my ace in lightnin' order," so old Ike, the foreman, said.
'Twas a tenderfoot 'at brought it; he was wheelin' all the way
From the sunrise end o' freedom out to San Francisco Bay.
An' he tied up at the rancho fur to get outside a meal,
Never thinkin' we would monkey with his
Arizony Jim begun it, when he said to Jack McGill,
There was fellows fo'ced the limit braggin' o' their ridin' skill;
An' he ventured the admission the same feller as he meant
Was a purty handy critter, fur as ridin' bronchos went,
But he's find he was a buckin' 'ginst a dif'ent sort o' deal
Ef he'd throw his leather leggin's 'crost that
Such a slur upon my talent made me hotter 'n a mink,
An' I told him I could back it fur amusement or fur chink;
That 'twas nothin' but a plaything for the kids, an' that he mout
Have his idees sort o' shattered if he'd trot the critter out.
Then they helt it while I mounted, an' I give the word to go,
An' the shove they give to start me wa'n't unreasonably slow.
But I never split a cuss-word, never made a bit o' squeal—
I was buildin' reputation on that
Holy Moses and the prophets, how we split the Texas air,
The breezes made whip crackers o' my somewhat lengthy hair,
An' I sort o' comprehended as adown the hill we went,
Them cowpunchers kep' a yellin', "Stay right with her, Uncle Bill!'
"Hit 'er with the spurs, you sucker!" "Turn her muzzle up the hill!"
But I never made a answer; I jest let the cusses squeal—
My attention was all focussed on that
The grade was mighty slopin' from the rancho to the creek,
An' we went a gallyflutin', like a crazy lightnin' streak-
Went a whizzin' an' a-dartin' fust to this side, then to that,
The contrivance sort o' wabblin' like the flyin' of a bat.
I kep pullin' on the handles, but I couldn't check it up,
Yanked an' sawed an' jerked an' hollered, but the darned thing wouldn't stop.
An' a sort o' sneakin' idee through my braid begun to steal,
That the devil helt a mortgage on that
I've asort o' dim an' hazy recollection o' the stop-
O' the airth a spinnin' 'round me and' the stars alll tangled up;
Then there come a intermission, which extended till I found
I was layin' at the rancho, with the boys all gethered 'round.
An' a medico was sewin' on my skin whar' it was ripped,
An' ol' Arizony whispered, "Wal, ol' boy, I guess yer whipped."
An' I told him I war busted from sombrero cl'ar to heel
Then he grinned an' said, "You ought to see the
...by James Barton Adams, February 1896
The Land Where the Cowboy Grows
The sun-kissed West
In romance dressed,
The home of the summer snows,
Where the wily camp-bird builds its nest,
Is the land where the cowboy grows.
The rope keeps time
To the hoof-beats’ rhyme,
And the tanning breeze that blows.
From youth to age man’s at his prime
In the land where the cowboy grows.
There circles race
And fall to place,
As the lariat he throws
Across the blue flit clouds of lace
In the land where the cowboy grows.
He’s blithe and brown,
He fears no town,
And laughs where’er he goes.
It’s there they help the man that’s down—
In the land where the cowboy grows.
They sing by rote
And swear by note,
In the home of the sun’s repose;
But it’s ladies first, when they go to vote
In the land where the cowboy grows.
by A. V. Hudson, from The Land Where the Cowboy Grows, 1915
California poet and writer Susan Parker is "intrigued by the 'vanishing voices' of poetry," and is working on a book and recording of selected works written by pioneering women during the late 1800s and early 1900s that focus on life in the early West. One interesting poet who will be included in her project is Colorado poet A. V. Hudson (1873-1949). Addie Viola Cropsey Hudson lived in Huerfano County with her husband Timothy M. Hudson (1870-1963), on a ranch near Gardner, where they raised Herefords.
In the foreword to her 1915 book, The Land Where the Cowboy Grows, she writes about the inspiration for some of her poems:
"Billy" has long been a visitor of mine who did considerable "pestering 'round" in the spring of the year. There would be stretches of time when the "Circle A.H. Ranch" wasn't bothered with him, then some morning he would arrive—horse, dog and entire paraphernalia.
When he was gone, I would pick up the bits of verse he had left lying about. At last these became so numerous it was decided to put a few of them into book form, and for that reason the following "round-up" was made....
A woman of her time, several of her poems allude to the suffragette movement, including the title poem, above. (A. V. Hudson's husband was also a state senator.)
Her work was also collected in anthologies, including Evenings with Colorado Poets (1926) and The Sea Anthology (1924). An expanded feature about A. V. Hudson is forthcoming. Any information about her is welcome. Email us.
Susan Parker recites A. V. Hudson's "The Homemade Cigarette" on The BAR-D Roundup, Volume 3.
I'd Like to be in Texas for the Roundup in the Spring
from the Traditional Music Library On Line Tune Book
In a lobby of a big hotel in New York town one day,
Sat a bunch of fellows telling yarns to pass the time away.
They told of places where they'd been and all the sights they'd seen,
And some of them praised Chicago town and others New Orleans.
I can see the cattle grazing o'er the hills at early morn;
I can see the camp-fires smoking at the breaking of the dawn,
I can hear the broncos neighing I can hear the cowboys sing;
Oh I'd like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.
In a corner in an old arm chair sat a man whose hair was gray,
He had listened to them longingly, to what they had to say.
They asked him where he'd like to be and his clear old voice did ring:
"I'd like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.
They all sat still and listened to each word he had to say;
They knew the old man sitting there had once been young and gay.
They asked him for a story of his life out on the plains,
He slowly then removed his hat and quietly began:
"Oh, I've seen them stampede o'er the hills,
when you'd think they`d never stop,
I've seen them run for miles and miles until their leader dropped,
I was foreman on a cowranch—that's the calling of a king;
I'd like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring."
"I'd Like to be in Texas for the Roundup in the Spring" has been sung by many of the greats, including Buck Ramsey, Don Edwards, and Red Steagall.
Dennis Gaines sings the song, a cappella on his award-winning CD, Son-of-a-Gun Stew: A Texas Cowboy's Gather.
The late J.B. Allen recorded an impressive recitation, which you can listen to here at the Western Folklife Center web site. The words are also posted. That recording is from the CD that accompanies the book Buckaroo—Visions and Voices of the American Cowboy, edited by Hal Cannon and Thomas West.
We have a royalty-free version of the song above. There are many richer texts, not in the public domain, including those in Hal Cannon's Old-Time Cowboy Songs and Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax.
Like many "traditional" works, its authorship is uncertain. In Glenn Ohrlin's The Hell-Bound Train, he writes, "Vernon Dalhart recorded 'Roundup in the Spring' on November 1, 1926. My copy of this record gives composer credit to Copeland, although it is possible this was added at a later pressing. The song was first printed in sheet music copyrighted in 1927 by Lou Fishback (Fort Worth, Tex.); Carl Copeland and Jack Williams were listed as co-writers. The following year, the Texas Folklore Society printed an article by J. Frank Dobie, who claimed it was an old song he had obtained from Andy Adams."
The Lomax's include information from the 1927 article by J. Frank Dobie, writing that "...he found two lines in an unpublished play of Mr. Andy Adams. When he requested the full version, Mr. Adams sent him two stanzas and the chorus, which he had obtained fifteen years previously from W. E. Hawks, a ranchman now living in Burlington, Vt. However, he claimed to be responsible for most of the second stanza. Later Mr. Dobie obtained from Lon Fishback, who was singing and selling the song in a Fort Worth hotel lobby, a printed copy of two stanzas and chorus. The third stanza is the one composed by Mr. Adams."