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We have separate features for most poets with work at CowboyPoetry.com, and most features about classic cowboy poets include biographies and other references. This "Strays" page includes poems, listed below, without features, or with features in development.

Elsewhere at the BAR-D you'll find indexes to many poems, including:

 

Alphabetical index of all poems

Classic cowboy poetry

Invited contemporary poets (Honored Guests)

Contemporary submited poetry

Themed collections

 

 

Find the list of poems below

 

 

 

 

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Poems

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

A Prayer  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

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

 

 

Open Range

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 Horses

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
Galloping Shoes, 1922

 

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 otherseven 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 updrunk 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 villainwhy, 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 notthe 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 from The 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 dogwell, 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."


Anonymous from Songs of Horses, 1920
 

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:

TO
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."
                                    R. F.

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 Life magazine here, in an edition that has been digitized by Google Book Search.

Thanks to Jeri Dobrowski for the book jacket image; she has a rare copy with a jacket in her collection.

 

Cattle

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
 

 

 

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 correspondence, newspaper articles, her violin, and other materials. In 1974, Elsa McFarland Turner published a biography of Nance, Berta Hart Nance, A Brand of Innocence.

"Cattle" is included Berta Hart Nance's 1935 book, Flute in the Distance, and also included in the 1940 anthology, The Road to Texas, edited by Whitney Montgomery. That book also contains her poem, "The Road to Texas," from which the book takes it title.

 

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.”

 

An 1885 Minnesota census 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. Email us.
 

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 Westernbig hat, chaps, spurs, tough rag and what have yoube 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


Eureka, Montana
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


Eureka, Montana
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.

Anonymous
 

  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.
Dead broke.
....

Katie Lee took 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 Night

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...

by Ralph Garnier Coole, from Songs of Men
 

"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":


Desert Rat

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.

Ralph Garnier Coole, June 3, 1919
 

"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
IS DEAD


James Barton Adams, Well Known Throughout Country, Had
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
                                                 Gol
                                                      darned
                                                           wheel.

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
                                                 Gol
                                                      darned
                                                           wheel.

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
                                                 Gol
                                                      darned
                                                           wheel.

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
                                                 Gol
                                                      darned
                                                           wheel.


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
                                                 Gol
                                                      darned
                                                           wheel.


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
                                                 Gol
                                                      darned
                                                           wheel.

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
                                                 Gol
                                                      darned
                                                           wheel.

...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

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."

from the Traditional Music Library On Line Tune Book

 

"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."

The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Four includes the late J.B. Allen's recitation of "I'd Like to be in Texas..."


 

The Cattle Man's Prayer

Now, O Lord, please lend Thine ear,
The prayer of the cattle man to hear;
No doubt many prayers to Thee seem strange,
But won't you bless our cattle range?
 
Bless the round-up year by year
And don't forget the growing steer;
Water the land with brooks and rills
For my cattle that roam on a thousand hills.

Now, O Lord, won't you be good
And give our stock plenty of food;
And to avert a winter's woe
Give Italian skies and little snow.
 
Prairie fires won't you please stop?
Let thunder roll and water drop;
It frightens me to see the smoke—
Unless it's stopped, I'll go dead broke.
 
As you, O Lord, my herds behold—
Which represents a sack of gold—
I think at least five cents per pound
Should be the price of beef th' year 'round.
 
One more thing and then I'm through—
Instead of one calf, give my cows two.
I may pray different than other men,
Still  I've had my say, and now, Amen!

New Mexico's Socorro Bullion, October 30, 1886
 

 

The Cowman's Prayer

Don't know the author's name. Heard it sung in a cowcamp
near Fort Sumner, on the Pecos River, New Mexico

Now, O Lord, please lend me thine ear,
The prayer of a cattleman to hear;
No doubt the prayers may seem strange,
But I want you to bless our cattle range.

Bless the round-ups year by year,
And don't forget the growing steer;
Water the lands with brooks and rills
For my cattle that roam on a thousand hills.

Prairie fires, won't you please stop?
Let thunder roll, water drop.
It frightens me to see the smoke;
Unless it's stopped, I'll go dead broke.

As you, O Lord, my herd behold,
It represents a sack of gold;
I think at least five cents a pound
Will be the price of beef the year round.

One thing more and then I'm through,
Instead of one calf, give my cows two.
I may pray different from other men,
But I've had my say, and now, Amen.

From the 1921 edition of Jack Thorp's Songs of the Cowboys

 
 

"The Cattleman's Prayer" appeared, with no author credited, on the front page of New Mexico's Socorro Bullion in 1886.

Over time, some verses changed, and sometimes it is called "The Cowman's Prayer." Differing versions are included, for example, in John Lomax's Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads (1910); Jack Thorp's Songs of the Cowboys (1921); and Jim Bob Tinsley's He Was Singin' This Song (1981).

Tinsley writes, "The old Socorro Bullion was published in Socorro, New Mexico, from 1883-1888. Each week the newspaper featured a poem of interest for its readers. Some of the poems had known authors, others did not. On October 30, 1886, the unsigned poem, 'The Cattle Man's Prayer,' appeared on the front page of the paper. Someone later picked it up, deleted a plea for Italian skies to avert winter woes, changed the name to 'The Cowman's Prayer,' and added a melody...Just when the song became popularly established in oral tradition is not a matter of record, but John Lomax included it in his first collection of cowboy songs in 1910, and Jack Thorp heard it sung in a cow camp on the Pecos River near Fort Sumner, New Mexico, before 1921."

The song has been recorded by Glenn Ohrlin on Cowboy Songs (1974); Dale Evans on Songs of the West; Carl T. Sprague on Cowtrials, Longhorns, and Tight Saddles: Cowboy Songs 1925-1929; and by others.

Popular reciter Dick Morton found the poem in Trail Boss's Cowboy Cookbook (1985), a publication of the Society for Range Management, and wrote to Who Knows? back in 2002, seeking more information. Dick Morton recites the early version on his Cowboy Classics CD. Dick Morton has a fine recitation of the early version on his recent Cowboy Classics CD.

Trailing the Cowboy: His Life and Lore as Told By Frontier Journalists (1955) by Clifford P. Westermeier includes the early version of the poem, in a chapter of poetry, "Buckaroo Rhymes." One review from 1956 describes the story-filled book, "The title of this book exactly describes it. It is a compilation of pieces from newspapers, magazines, and books, contemporary with the old-time cowboys, giving impressions and descriptions in both prose and verse." Another review claims, "It would be hard to find a better book about the trail-driving days than this one." Westermeier, who was also an accomplished artist, illustrates each chapter with his striking pen and ink drawings. The full text of the book is available at the Internet Archive and copies are available from used book sources.

Among other books, Westermeier also wrote Man, Beast, Dust: The Story of the Rodeo (1947) and Who Rush to Glory—The Cowboy Volunteers of 1898: Grisby's Cowboys, Roosevelt's Rough Riders, Torrey's Rocky Mountain Riders (1958). The Kansas City Historical Society has the full text of a 1951 article by Westermeier about "The Dodge City Cowboy Band."


Make Me a Cowboy Again for a Day

Backward turn backward oh time with your wheels
Bicycles, wagons, and automobiles
Dress me again in a big Stetson hat
Spurs, flannel shirt and slicker and chaps
Put a six-shooter or two in my hands
Show me a yearlin' to rope and to brand
Out where the sage brush is dusty and gray
Make me a cowboy again for a day.

Give me a bronc that knows how to dance
Blue roan in color and wicked of glance
New to the feeling of bridle and bit
Give me a quirt that will sting when it hits
Strap on a blanket behind in a roll
Toss me a lariat dear to my soul
Over the trail let me gallop away
Make me a cowboy again for a day.

Thunder of hoofs on the range as you ride
Hissin' of iron and the sizzlin of hide
The bellow of cattle and the snort of cayuse
Longhorns of Texas as well as the duce
Midnight stampedes and the millin' of herds
Yells of the cowboys too angry for words
Right in the midst of it all I would say
Make me a cowboy again for a day.

Under the star-studded sky so vast
Campfires and coffee and comfort at last
Bacon that sizzles and crisps in the pan
After the roundup smells good to a man
Stories of cowboys and outlaws retold
Over the pipes as the embers grow cold
These are the tunes that old memories play
Make me a cowboy again for a day

© from Don Edwards' Saddle Songs—A Cowboy Songbag; reprinted with permission

 

 

Outstanding cowboy troubadour and music historian Don Edwards includes the traditional "Make Me a Cowboy Again for a Day" in his book, Saddle Songs—A Cowboy Songbag. With his permission, the version above is from that valuable reference book:

Saddle Songs—A Cowboy Songbag is a rich collection of history, stories, references, and 72 traditional and original songs (with words and music). Find the entire contents list for Saddle Songs—A Cowboy Songbag here at Western Jubilee and find the book and all of Don's CDs and more at his Don Edwards' web site.

"Make Me a Cowboy Again for a Day" is included in Songs Texas Sings (1936), a small songbook created for the Texas centennial for schools, which has an introduction by John Lomax.

In that version, the third line has "sombrero and flaps" rather than the "big Stetson hat" above:

Backward, turn backward, O time with your wheels,
Bicycles, wagons, and automobiles,
Dress me again in sombrero and flaps,
Spurs, flannel shirt and slicker and chaps,
....

and there are a few other, minor word changes from the version above.
 


In June, 2014, inspired by the recent discovery of the author of "The Gol Darned Wheel," we searched for early appearances of this poem. A number of references pointed to Leslie's Weekly, where the poem was printed as "The Cowboy's Return" on October 6, 1910:

The Cowboy's Return

Backward, turn backward, oh, Time with your wheels,
Aeroplanes, wagons and automobiles
Dress me once more in sombrero that flaps,
Spurs, and a flannel shirt, slicker and chaps
Put a six-shooter or two in my hand.
Show me a yearling to rope and to brand
Out where the sage brush is dusty and gray,
Make me a cowboy again for a day.

Give me a broncho that knows how to dance,
Buckskin of color and wicked of glance,
New to the feeling of bridles and bits
Give me a quirt that will sting where it hits,
Strap on the poncho behind in a roll,
Pass me the lariat, dear to my soul,
Over the trail let me gallop away.
Make me a cowboy again for a day.

Thunder of hoofs on the range as you ride
Hissing of iron and the smoking of hide,
Bellow of cattle, and snort of cayuse
Shorthorns from Texas as wild as the deuce;
Midnight stampede, and the milling of herds
Yells of the cowmen too angry for words
Right in the thick of it all I would stay.
Make me a cowboy again for a day.

Under the star-studded canopy vast
Campfire and coffee and comfort at last.
(Bacon that sizzles and crisps in the pan
After the roundup smells good to a man.)
Stories of ranchers and rustlers retold
Over the pipes as the embers grow cold—
These are the tunes that old memories play,
Make me a cowboy again for a day

The author was given as "Rorodore Theovelt." Is that an awkward re-arrangement of Theodore Roosevelt? Earlier in 1910, Roosevelt's secretary, William Loeb, Jr. became a member of Leslie's board. Perhaps it was meant as a spoof.

Glenn Ohrlin notes that George B. German, in the 1932 Cowboy Campfire Ballads credits the song to an 1890s creation by Joe and Zack Miller of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show. Other references mention that it is similar to the popular-at-its-time "Rock Me to Sleep Mother" (written by Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen in 1866; sometimes attributed to Florence Percy, which was the pen name of Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen, and Ernest Leslie, composer) that begins "Backward, turn backward, Oh Time, in your flight, make me a child again just for tonight."

See one printing of the poem here. We continue to research its origins.


The song is not heard or recorded frequently these days. In Saddle Songs, Don Edwards writes, "I always used to love to hear my friend Dick Farnsworth sing this old song...Dick sang it to the tune of 'One Morning in May.' It is also interchangeable with 'Wild Rippling Water.' Dick was a real good and cherished friend and I miss him a lot. Kind of like these old songs if folks quit singin' 'em...they'll be gone someday and won't be comin' back." The same page in the book includes a quote from Richard Farnsworth, "I sing a little better than a crow but not as good as a canary."

Don Edwards sings "Make Me a Cowboy Again for a Day" on his Wrangler Award-winning album, Saddle Songs II Last of the Troubadours.

Master reciter and poet Ross Knoxwhose recitation of D.J. O'Malley's "The D2 Horse Wrangler" is included on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Three—named his recent CD Make Me a Cowboy Again for a Day.

 


From Pecos' Poems:

Pecos Higgins Writes Salute to Old Cowboys' Reunion Round-up at Lovington, New Mexico

A salute to the Old Cowboy's Reunion is contained in a poem written by Pecos Higgins, a hand on the Pink Mitchell ranch.

Higgins and Mitchell attended the recent Old Cowboys' Reunion at Henry Record and Bob Beverly ranches near Lovington, N.M., where Higgins worked about fifty years ago. Originated in Wyoming, the reunion is an annual affair with a barbecue, dance and a lot of "talking about the old days and meeting old friends." Higgins wrote the following, after he returned to Winkler County:

Friend, I am not a-dreaming,
And handing you no salve.
I went to an old-time round-up—
The kind we used to have.
It happened up near Lovington,
On land I used to know
When I helped round up cattle,
Over fifty years ago.
I saw some old cowpunchers,
And I saw some ladies, too,
That I knew once up on the Plains,
When people were very few.
Time has changed the country some,
Lovington is quite a town;
It has not changed the old-time folks
That are still hanging around.
The smiles are just the same, Sir,
And handshakes firm and strong,
Really, they are part of nature
They have been up there so long.
There was men that knew the Hat outfit,
Also—the C. A. BAR;
The only stock we worked that day,
Was the one from off the fire.
That beef it tasted natural,
Tho I could not guess the brand;
Boy it was eighteen carat,
Right in that old cowland.
Most times I have a lot to say;
That day I could not talk.
The three things that I mostly did
Was stand and look and gawk.
I have never felt so much at home,
And it thrilled me through and through
For folks to smile and shake my hand,
Instead of just "how-do-you-do."
My hat is off to the round-up
The ladies and the men;
I'll wind this up by saying,
"Let's all go back agin!"

Pecos Higgins, from Pecos' Poems, 1957

 


"Pecos" [Eugene] Higgins lived 1883-1971.

In an essay (posted here in Who Knows?) Stan Brown writes:

I first met Pecos Higgins under the Prayer Tree.  If I had known his background I would have thought that an odd place to find him.  

He was born Eugene Higgins, September 3, 1883, in Texas. He worked as a cowboy and by the age of 23 he had drifted to Arizona. The nickname “ Pecos ” had been given him after the name of the place his family had lived when he was a boy. He rode for the Chiricahua Cattle Company on the San Carlos Reservation and became well known as a roper in the Wild West shows that were popular around the turn of the 20th century

Pecos Higgins had a series of five marriages, each one failing because of his heavy drinking.  As an alcoholic he bounced between jobs in Springerville, Taylor, McNary, Show Low and New Mexico.  He went to prison for selling liquor to the Indians, and after he was released he tried to settle down on a little ranch he bought near Lakeside, called The Buckhorn.  However he lost that ranch in his next divorce and earned a living breaking mustangs.  During this time he became known as a cowboy poet, and made some money entertaining the dudes.  

So the episodes in the life of Pecos Higgins accumulated, in and out of marriages and prison, drifting, drinking, raising Cain, cattle rustling and riding the range....

C.M. Caldwell writes about Higgins in the Preface to the 1957 edition of Pecos' Poems:

Pecos Higgins was born on the Gulf Coast of Texas in 1883. His parents moved to Breckenridge, Texas when he was quite small—on to Pecos, Texas, a little later. As a small boy he worked on the ranches up and down the Pecos River, on from the head of the Pecos River into Arizona, by the time he reached his early twenties and has been living in Arizona for more than fifty years.

He had about eight months schooling. Some of his associates got him "dog drunk" when he was about six years old. He got the taste of liquor and loved it, and drank to excess for more than fifty years. In his own language, he was "tough"; a good "bronco buster"; a good "cowboy"; a good pioneer neighbor.

But when he got too much liquor (and when a fellow gets a little, he nearly always gets too much) his neighbors and associates knew to stand back or brace for the conflict. He lived this kind of life until he was seventy-one years old. Gene Pugh, a pioneer, Arizona Baptist preacher and his wife; Joe M. Evans, a Baptist layman from El Paso; and others became much interested in his future welfare; so Gene Pugh and his wife got him to go to Springerville, Arizona to church with them. The Lord always works at both ends of the way—Pecos trusted Christ and was saved February, 1955. He says, since "I crawled through the fence and got with you nice religious people, I want to make up for more than sixty years I worked for the devil."

....

Here's another selection:

The Pecos River

I've wandered back to the Texas Plains
Where the wind blows hard and it seldom rains
That once was home of the old Longhorns
And the best cowboys on earth was borned.
But the longhorn steer and the bronco steed
Are replaced now by a different breed,
And the old cowboys that shot up the town
Are plenty few, and thin on the ground.
And the Old Pecos River that mothered the spread

Looks very sick—she's almost dead.
I knew her when she was in her prime
And her banks run full 'most all the time.
Her waters flowed both far and near
For the bronco ponies and the longhorn steers;
Made plenty coffee for the cowboys too,
Tempered the beans and made the stew.

Her salt grass valleysrich and green,
Her quicksand deep and her waters mean;
She raised mosquitoes the size of a lark
They could bite right through a cowboy's tarp.
She wuz feared by men that wuz wild and rough
For the Pecos herself was plenty tough.
Her mesquite thickets for brush and thorns
Made "get away" places for wild longhorns.

Men could not touch her with the tools they had
When they "riled her up"it made her mad!
She'd wash 'em away with her strong tide
And bogged 'em down on either side.
But the years of time have made a change
She's no more needed to water the range.
The Pecos River, the Longhorns, too,
Cowboys and broncoshave done their due.

Pecos Higgins, from Pecos' Poems, 1957

Pecos' Poems (1956 and 1957) also contains photos, a colorful introduction by the co-authors, letters, stories, some religious poems, cowboy poems, and poems that have been borrowed in large part from others, including "Sirene Peaks" (a version of Gail Gardner's "The Sierry Petes"); "My Little Blue Roan" (a version of Bruce Kiskaddon's  "That Little Blue Roan ").

  The Westerners: A Roundup of Pioneer Reminiscences edited by John Myers Myers (1997) includes a chapter about Pecos Higgins, "Riding All Sorts of Trails," with a long interview from late in his life.

Find some additional information about Pecos Higgins here in Who Knows?


Pals

Charlie Russell and I were pals,
   And used the same old bed,
Alhtough we didn't sleep together—
   That's what Johnnie said.

Emmet and he were talking,
   Of the west of long ago,
When they were working bar R cattle,
   In the Judith down below.

Charlie was the night-hawk,
   For that old brand, you know,
And Johnnie he was riding circle,
   On the roundup long ago.

Those were the days of roundups,
   Also the old trail herd;
When a top hand pulled down forty per,
   It called for loyalty an' nerve.

To know how to handle range cattle,
   And avoid a big stampede,
Hell to hear those horns a rattlin'
   When a started bunch began to weave.

Then is when a loyal rider,
   Gets in and shows his nerve,
For you are riding near death's doorway,
   When you mill a racing herd.

Those days the boys were game
   To mount an outlaw hoss,
Or fight you to a showdown,
   For the rights of brand and boss.

Jack Horan, from Burnt Leather; 1937

 

C.M. Russell—Montana's Own

You all know C.M. Russell,
   I know you have heard his name,
For with his brush an' pencil,
   Charlie won his fame.

If you were not acquainted with the gent,
   You'd sure know him on sight,
From the pictures that he painted,
   You know he's got 'em right.

No tenderfoot away back east,
   Could get them just the same;
For, Charlie, he's been there himself,
   He played right in the game.

When Montana's range was ride,
   And fences, there were none,
He chased the longhorn cattle,
   That would put them on the run.

Now Charlie, he was happy,
   When he rode this rolling land,
On an ornery cayuse pony,
   That wore an old Montana brand.

Out on the rolling prairie,
   At branding, he was there,
When he started out to get one,
   You could smell the sizzling hair.

Then out on night herd riding,
   Singing songs to keep 'em still,
When the old beef herd got restless,
   And the wolf howled on the hill.

Those good old days are gone, boys,
   The west has passed away,
There's autos and there's fences,
   Where the longhorns used to stray.

Now, C.M. Russell, he has left us,
   He has crossed the great divide;
No more he'll paint us pictures,
   Of the land he used to ride.

For he painted western scenes,
   Of a west that used to be;
You can glance at all his pictures,
   And just look back and see.

He was a true Montanaian,
   He rode the rolling plains,
Studied nature as it was,
   Then painted it again.

Oh, he was our genius, Russell—
   With his paint brush in his hand,
He put frontier days on canvas,
   Any one can understand.

Montana mourns our cowboy artist,
   Now that his painting's done,
May he have a seat in Heaven,
   And paint in Kingdom come.

Jack Horan, from Burnt Leather; 1937

 

In Memory

In memory of our artist,
   Charles M. Russell, laid to rest;
Though he left us consolation,
   In his pictures of the west.

For the old west as he saw it,
   It, too, has passed away,
And the pioneers o' yesteryear,
   Are gone or turning gray.

He was a lover of the rangeland,
   And his old Montana home;
Where he could talk to friends and cronies,
   On his Monty hoss he'd roam.

With pals that rode the ranges,
   Upon their mustang steeds,
Rode circle on the roundup,
   Helped mill the old stampede.

It made it easy for him then,
   To recall the days of long ago,
And he spread it out on canvas,
   In the old log studio.

There he sat and painted pictures,
   Reality—the days of yore,
Those paintings by C.M. Russell,
   Of a west that is no more.

Jack Horan, from Burnt Leather; 1937

 


 

The prices of of old Western and cowboy poetry books continue to increase, despite what might be their "literary value."

Copies of Burnt Leather by Montanan Jack Horan are on the open market for over $200. Horan published Poems of the West, illustrated by Leo Beauleaurie (published in Great Falls in 1929) and Burnt Leather, illustrated by Forrest Hill (one of at least two editions published in Billings in 1937).

We don't know much about Horan. A 2004 article about local "characters" in Montana's Billings Gazette includes this about him:

Also visible once on downtown streets was an elderly gentleman who always dressed in black from hat to boots and spoke often of himself as being one of the last people to see cowboy artist C. M. Russell alive.

"We met as he was going home on a streetcar," said Jack Horan, "and he told me of problems he was having with his heart— which he called his ticker—and we shook hands and he went home and died. Montana visitors were often treated with stories about Russell, among which Horan's was fairly believable.

Burnt Leather includes the above poems about revered Western artist and writer C.M. "Charlie" Russell (1864—1926), and Russell is also mentioned in other poems.

You can read about the life of Charles M. Russell at the C. M. Russell Museum web site

We'd welcome more information about Jack Horan. Email us.

 


The Cowboy's Soliloquy

All day over the prairies alone I ride,
Not even a dog to run by my side;
My fire I kindle with chips gathered round
And boil my coffee without being ground.

Bread lacking leaven, I bake in a pot,
And sleep on the ground for want of a cot.
I wash in a puddle and wipe on a sack,
And carry my wardrobe all on my back.

My ceiling the sky, my carpet the grass,
My music the lowing herds as they pass.
My books are the brooks, my sermon the stones,
My parson a wolf on a pulpit of bones.

But then if my cooking ain't very complete,
Hygienists can't blame me for living to eat,
And where is the man who sleeps more profound,
Than the cowboy who stretches himself on the ground.

My books teach me constancy ever to prize,
My sermons that small things I should not despise,
And my parson remarks from his pulpit of bone,
That 'the Lord favors them who look out for their own."

Between love and me lies a gulf very wide,
And a luckier fellow may call her his bride,
But cupid is always a friend to the bold,
And the best of his arrows are pointed with gold.

Friends gently hint I am going to grief,
But men must make money and women have beef.
Society bans me, a savage and dodge,
And Masons would ball me out of their lodge.

If I'd hair on my chin, I might pass for the goat
That bore all sin in ages remote.
But why this is thusly I don't understand,
For each of the Patriarchs owned a big brand.

Abraham emigrated in search of a range,
When water got scarce he wanted a change.
Isaac had cattle in charge of Esau,
And Jacob "run cows" for his father-in-law;

He started in business clear down at bed rock,
And made quite a fortune by watering stock.
David went from night herding and using a sling,
To winning a battle and being a king.

And the shepherds when watching their flocks on the hill,
Heard the message from heaven, of peace and good will.

by Allen McCandless, 1885

 

Rarely recited today, "The Cowboy's Soliloquy", written by Allen McCandless (sometimes spelled "McCanless") in 1885, is often referred to in Western music references as one of the "most well-known" nineteenth century cowboy poems.

Click for Amazon In Cowboy Poets & Cowboy Poetry (2000), David Stanley refers to the third stanza:

My ceiling the sky, my carpet the grass,
My music the lowing herds as they pass.
My books are the brooks, my sermon the stones,
My parson a wolf on a pulpit of bones.

and writes, "The imagery is taken directly from Shakespeare's As You Like It, in which Duke Senior, living in banishment in the Forest of Arden, exclaims:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything:
I would not change it. (II, i. 15-18)

Little is recorded about McCandless. David Stanley writes he was "a working cowboy on the Crooked L Ranch in the Texas Panhandle."

Trailing the Cowboy The poem ran under McCandless' name in Trinidad, Colorado's The Daily Advertiser on April 9, 1885. It's printed in full in Trailing the Cowboy; His Life and Lore and Told by Frontier Journalists, compiled and edited by Clifford P. Westermeier (1955). It is included also in Songs of the American West, edited by Richard E. Lingenfelter and Richard A. Dwyer (1968). John Lomax' Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads (1910) includes two variations and music.

  Glenn Ohrlin performs a version of the poem as "The Cowboy," a song on a 2-CD set from the early 1990s, Back in the Saddle Again (produced by Charlie Seemann, now Executive Director of the Western Folklife Center). Find more information about the recording and sound clips here. Listen to the entire song and find a transcription here at the Western Folklife Center. Glenn Ohrlin's recording was described in a 1990 New York Times' review:

Mr. Ohrlin, a former rodeo rider turned folk singer and scholar of cowboy song literature, exudes a terse true grit in his performance of ''The Cowboy,'' a song adapted from an 1885 poem, ''The Cowboy's Soliloquy,'' by Allen McCandless. Far from glamorizing the cowboy life, the plaintive waltz lists the physical hardships of the cowboy life (sleeping on the ground, bread cooked in a pot) and pleads for understanding for a man whom polite late-19th-century society views as half-savage.

The song is included on Buck Ramsey; Hittin' the Trail, and the liner notes state, "Glenn Ohrlin considers it to be perhaps the finest of all cowboy songs."

Andy Hedges has an excellent recent rendition of the song on his Wrangler Award-winning album (with Andy Wilkinson), Welcome to the Tribe, in a version he notes is based on a 1950s recording by Ed McCurdy.

Click to view at Amazon.com  The song is also included in Hal Cannon's Old-Time Cowboy Songs, and he notes that he learned it from a Carl T. Sprague recording. The poem is in the anthology, Cowboy Poetry: A Gathering, also edited by Hal Cannon.

Johnny Kendrick recorded the song on his Western album, and comments that the song is also known as "The Biblical Cowboy."

D.J. O'Malley and Curley Fetcher each have poems named "The Cowboy's Soliloquy."

 


Cowboy Jack

An article by Greg Scott:

Certainly one of the best known and most often recorded cowboy songs is "Cowboy Jack." It was first published in 1928 by Ina Sires in her book, Songs of the Open Range. Sires had worked as a school teacher in Camp Verde, Arizona (in central Arizona, about halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff) in the 1920s. It was there she learned the song from one of her students. She shared, with Jim Bob Tinsley, that the melody was a waltz tune, well-liked in the area. Her version became the "standard" of this song. Here is her version from her 1928 book:

Cowboy Jack

He was just a lonely cowboy,
With a heart so brave and true,
And he learned to love a maiden,
With eyes of hea'n's own blue.

They had learned to love each other,
And had named their wedding day,
When trouble came between them,
And Jack he rode away.

He joined a band of cowboys,
And tried to forget her name,
But out on the lonely prairie
She waits for him the same.

One night when work was finished,
Just at the close of day
Some one said "Sing a song, Jack,
That will drive dull care away."

When Jack began his singing
His mind it wandered back
For he sang about a maiden
Who waited at home for him.

"Way out on the lonely prairie
Where the skies are always blue,
Your sweetheart waits for you, Jack,
Your sweetheart waits for you."

Jack left the camp next morning
Breathing his sweetheart's name,
"I'll go and ask forgiveness
For I know that I was to blame."

But when he reached the prairies
He found a newly-made mound
And his friends they kindly told him
They had laid his loved one down.

They said as she was dying
She breathed her sweetheart's name,
And said with her last breathing
To tell him when he came:

"Your sweetheart waits for you, Jack,
Your sweetheart waits for you;
Way out on the lonely prairie
Where the skies are always blue."

Now, that is a darn good song, set to a perfect melody. In less than a year after its publication, it was recorded. Among the many to record and perform the song was the Carter Family. Their 1934 version, nearly identical to the above, insured that folks in every corner of the country heard the song. Soon it was in the repertoire of every type of performer, not just cowboy singers. If I have a contemporary version I especially like it'd have to be by Lorraine Rawls. Regardless, Jack traveled far from his Arizona home and his story is still recorded and sung wherever people enjoy cowboy love songs.

In 1989 Dr. Guy Logsdon published his essential book, The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing. Included in the cowboy songs was a version of "Cowboy Jack" he'd collected in 1968. Logsdon collected many of the songs in his book while living in Arizona. His major informant, Riley Neal, was born in 1891 and had lived his entire life in Arizona less than 60 miles southeast of Camp Verde. He'd known "Cowboy Jack" before Sires' publication or recordings had been made and his version had a few interesting variations on the "standard" song. Logsdon figured that Neal's version was, perhaps, a bit closer to the original. Here is the Riley Neal version from Logsdon:

Cowboy Jack

He was only just a cowboy,
But his heart was kind and true;
He'd won the heart of a maiden
With eyes of heaven's own blue.

They'd learned to love each other;
They'd named their wedding day,
When trouble came between them,
And the cowboy rode away.

He joined a band of cowboys,
The forget he tried to learn;
While on the rolling prairie,
She waited for his return.

"Your sweetheart still waits for you, Jack
Your sweetheart still waits for you
Way out on the rolling prairie,
Where the skies are always blue."

It was in a lonely cow camp,
Just at the close of day,
Someone said, "Sing a song, Jim,
That will drive all sorrows away."

When Jim commenced his singing
Poor Jack's mind wandered back,
For the song told of a brave, true girl,
Who waited at home for Jack.

Poor Jack left camp next morning,
Breathing his sweetheart's name,
"I'll go and beg forgiveness,
For I know that I was to blame."

When he reached the rolling prairie,
He found a new-made mound.
The people kindly told him
They had laid his loved one down.

"In dying she spoke of you, Jack,
In dying she breathed your name.
She bade us with her last breath
To tell you when you came.

"With a heart that's breaking for you, Jack
Your sweetheart still waits for you,
Way out on the rolling prairie
Where the skies are always blue."

© 1989, Guy Logsdon, from The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing
(reprinted here with the kind permission of Guy Logsdon)

Three years ago, I was in the Bancroft Library at the University of California in Berkeley, going through the extensive archive of Western novelist, Dane Coolidge. Coolidge had written articles about cowboy songs and in many of his 40 some novels he included a character who would sing cowboy songs. Since Coolidge did so much of his research in pre-statehood Arizona, his informants represented the last of the open range cowboys. I uncovered a few copies of cowboy songs in the archive, but on the third day, I discovered a version of "Cowboy Jack" in a notebook dated 1913. This version, written down by a Chiricahua Cattle Company cowboy Charlie Rak, was very, very similar to the song which Riley Neal had sung for Logsdon. Rak had worked on the leased Apache Reservation ranges for the 3Cs about 100 miles east of Camp Verde. If nothing else, it reinforced the idea that this was/is an Arizona song.

Here's "Chiricahua Charlie" Rak's 1913 version of "Cowboy Jack":

He was only just a cowboy
But his heart beat kind and true
He won the heart of a maiden
Whose eyes were of heaven's own blue

They learned to love each other
And had named their wedding day
When trouble came between them
And the lad he rode away

He joined a band of cowboys
To forget her he tried to learn
While alone in her little cottage
She is waiting for his return

Your sweetheart still waits for you Jack
Your sweetheart still waits for you
Far out on the rolling prairie
Where the sky is always blue
Your sweetheart waits of you, Jack
Your sweetheart waits for you

One night in a lonely cowcamp
Just at the close of day
Someone says sing a song Jim
One that will drive all sorrow away

As Jim commenced singing
Jack's mind wandered back
For Jim told of a brave true girl
That was waiting at home for Jack

He thought, "O Madge my darling,"
For the tears he could not see
"I'd give all the world tonight
To know that you're waiting for me."

Jack left the cowcamp next morning
Breathing his sweetheart's name
Saying, "I'll go and ask forgiveness
For I know I was to blame."

When he reached the rolling prairie
He found a new made mound
And the people kindly told him
They had laid his sweetheart down

She died of a broken heart they said
And in dying breathed your name
And bade us please to tell you
To tell you when you came.

Chorus

Now, having an alternative, older version of a song doesn't mean that I now sing Charlie's verses. I have performed this "new" version when I've had enough time to preface the tune with a bit of background. I just seem to naturally sing the "original" Sires's version as I have for the last 50 years.

Both Jim Bob Tinsley and Logsdon conclude that "Cowboy Jack" (whatever the version) is based on an older song titled, "Your Mother Still Prays for You Jack." There is a real similarity to the choruses of the two songs, but
the story is somewhat different. In
"Your Mother Still Prays for You Jack," Jack is usually a soldier overseas. The Carter Family recorded both "Your Mother Still Prays for You Jack" and "Cowboy Jack" and they are separate tunes. There does seem to be a connection, however.

In the future I'll include a few more discoveries I made while searching through boxes of archival material in the Bancroft.

© 2009, Greg Scott


Following are some references for information mentioned above:

  • The web holds many versions of lyrics for "Cowboy Jack" as sung by the Carter Family, including here.
     
  • There are also many versions of "Your Mother Still Prays for You Jack," including here.
     
  • Google Books includes the "Cowboy Jack" chapter from Guy Logsdon's "The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing" and Other Songs Cowboys Sing, here.
     

  • Lorraine Rawls (www.lorrainerawls.com) recorded "Cowboy Jack" on her Out From the Ranch album.

  • See a related "Cowboy Jack" question here in Who Knows?


Greg Scott is the editor of Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, a comprehensive collection of the works of Badger Clark. See our feature about the book here.

As his bio here tells:

Greg Scott is a retired, third-generation Arizona educator. Great-grandson of a pioneer rancher-farmer, Scott's roots go back to Territorial days. He is a graduate in History from the University of Arizona with advanced degrees from both Arizona and Northern Arizona University....He has traveled throughout the state, and seven other western states, presenting programs of Cowboy Poetry and Music at museums, historical societies, libraries, and cowboy poetry events. Greg also writes regularly about Arizona cowboy music. He lives in an adobe home he designed and built himself on a small ranch in Elgin, Arizona.

[photo of Greg Scott by Kevin Martini-Fuller]


A Prayer

Top reciter Jerry Brooks is often a great source for information about classic poems. At an impromptu gathering of poets and friends after the 2009 National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, she offered this toast that reflected the spirit of that gathering of friends, new and old:

It is my joy in life to find
At every turn of the road,
The strong arm of comrades kind
To help me on with my load.

And since I have no gold to give,
And love alone must make amends,
My only prayer is while I live,
God make me worthy of my friends.

The toast is included in The Trail Drivers of Texas, which the late Elmer Kelton described as "...the most monumental single source on the old-time Texas trail drives north to Kansas and beyond..."

Some research helped find the author of the poem: Frank Dempster Sherman (1860-1916), who titled the poem "A Prayer." It appears in his 1904 book, Lyrics of Joy and in a 1917 collection of his poems. There are some slight differences in the original version:

It is my joy in life to find
At every turning of the road,
The strong arm of a comrade kind
To help me onward with my load.

And since I have no gold to give,
And love alone must make amends,
My only prayer is while I live,—
God make me worthy of my friends!

You can view an electronic archive copy of the 1904 book and the poem here.

 


Some Cowboy Brag Talk

I was born full growed with nine rows of jaw teeth and holes bored for more. There was spurs on my feet and a rawhide quirt in my hand, and when they opens the chute I come out a-riding a panther and a-roping the long-horned whales. I've rode everything with hair on it... and I've rode a few things that was too rough to grow any hair.

I've rode bull moose on the prod, she grizzlies and long bolts of lightning. Mountain lions are my playmates,
and when I feels cold and lonesome, I sleeps in a den of rattlesnakes 'cause they always makes me nice and warm.

To keep alive I eat stick dynamite and cactus. The Grand Canyon ain't nothin' but my bean hole. When I get thirsty I drink cyanide cut with alkali. When I go to sleep I pillow my head on the Big Horn, I lay my boots in Colorada and my hat in Montana. I can stretch out my arms clean out from the Crazy Woman Folk plumb over to the Upper Grey Bull River. My bed tarp covers half of Texas and all of old Mexico.

But there's one thing for sure and certain, and if you boys wants to know, I'll tell you that I'm still a long way short of being the daddy of 'em all...'cause he's full growed, and as any man that really knows can see—well, boys, I ain't nothing but a young 'un.

The BAR-D Roundup: Volume 5 includes a vintage recording of Harry Jackson delivering the "Some Cowboy Brag Talk" above. The recording is from a 1959 recording from Smithsonian Folkways, The Cowboy: His Songs, Ballads and Brag Talk.

Born in Chicago in 1924, Harry Jackson is said to have been first exposed to cowboy songs by a former cowboy who was working at the Chicago Stockyards. He took off for Wyoming after being thrown out of his first year of high school, and worked on ranches there and learned many cowboy songs and poems from old hands. The liner notes from The Cowboy: His Songs, Ballads and Brag Talk in this downloadable .pdf file from Smithsonian Folkways tell more about his life. He later studied art and is today recognized internationally for his paintings and bronze sculptures. He had a gallery in Cody and lived much of the year in Italy.

Harry Jackson comments about the origins of the songs he knows in the liner notes, "...There could not be a more difficult and even close to impossible question to answer. I crossed these songs under so many circumstances that I just can't unravel a lot of them. It is almost impossible to try and talk of things as obscure and long set aside as where one first heard a song which he has been singing and forgetting and remembering again for 15 or 20 years or more."  The liner notes do include references for many of the pieces included in the album.

Harry Jackson died April 25, 2011 in Sheridan, Wyoming.

An April 26, 2011 article here in the Billings Gazette tells, "Jackson rose to fame as a combat artist with the Marine Corps during World War II. His work evolved over time and now hangs in New York's Metropolitan Museum and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C...The Vatican and Queen Elizabeth II are also said to hold his work in their private collections."

Find a fascinating interview with a sometimes cantakerous Harry Jackson about his combat art and later work, his mob family, six wives, his close friend John Wayne, and a bit of cowboying in a video here at Wyoming Chronicles (at 8:13).

Harry Jackson performs Curley Fletcher's "The Pot Wrassler" in a YouTube recording here.


 

Harry Jackson
1924-2011

 



When Bob Got Throwed

That time when Bob got throwed
I thought I sure would bust.
I like to died a-laffin'
To see him chewin' dust.

He crawled on that Andy bronc
And hit him with a quirt.
The next thing that he knew
He was wallowin' in the dirt.

Yes, it might a-killed him,
I heard the old ground pop;
But to see if he was injured
You bet I didn't stop.

I just rolled on the ground
And began to kick and yell;
It like to tickled me to death
To see how hard he fell.

'Twarn't more than a week ago
That I myself got throwed,
(But 'twas from a meaner horse
Than old Bob ever rode).

D'you reckon Bob looked sad and said,
"I hope that you ain't hurt!"
Naw! He just laffed and laffed and laffed
To see me chewin' dirt.

I've been prayin' ever since
For his horse to turn his pack;
And when he done it, I'd a laffed
If it had broke his back.

So I was still a-howlin'
When Bob, he got up lame;
He seen his horse had run clean off
And so for me he came.

He first chucked sand into my eyes,
With a rock he rubbed my head,
Then he twisted both my arms,—
"Now go fetch that horse," he said.

So I went and fetched him back,
But I was feelin' good all day;
For I sure enough do love to see
A feller get throwed that way.

Ray.

Music historian, musician, and reciter Rex Rideout recites "When Bob Got Throwed," on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Five.

He notes that the poem first appears in John Lomax's 1919 book, Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cowcamp, "and the author or source is credited simply as "Ray."

In a second edition of Songs of the Cowboys, published in 1921, Jack Thorp includes the poem with the introduction, "Author unknown. Heard it sung in Arizona at Hachita by a puncher named Livingston." Rex comments, "It never again appeared in any early cowboy poetry collections or anthologies..."

John Lomax (1867-1948) was the first folklorist to record cowboy songs.

You can find complete copies of Lomax's 1919 Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cowcamp in several places, including Gutenberg.org and the hDigital Commons at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

 


Doney Gal

We're alone, Doney Gal, in the wind and hail,
Got to drive these dogies down the trail.

We'll ride the range from sun to sun,
For a cowboy's work is never done;
He's up and gone at the break of day,
Drivin' the dogies on their weary way.

It's rain or shine, sleet or snow,
Me and my Doney Gal are on the go,
Yes, rain or shine, sleet or snow,
Me and my Doney Gal are bound to go.

A cowboy's life is a weary thing,
For it's rope and brand and ride and sing;
Yes, day or night in the rain or hail.
He'll stay with his dogies out on the trail.

Rain or shine, sleet or snow,
Me and my Doney Gal are on the go;
We travel down that lonesome trail
Where a man and his horse seldom ever fail.

We whoop at the sun and yell through the hail,
But we drive the poor dogies down the trail,
And we'll laugh at the storms, the sleet and snow,
When we reach the little town of San Antonio.

Traveling up the lonesome trail
Where and man and his horse seldom ever fail;
Jogging along through fog and dew,
Wish for sunny days and you.

Over the prairies lean and brown
On through the wastes where there ain't no town;
Swimming the rivers across our way,
We fight on forward day-end on day.

Trailing the herd through mountains green,
We pen the cattle in Abilene.
Round the camp-fire's flickering glow,
We sing songs of long ago.

Refrain:

It's rain or shine, sleet or snow,
Me and my Doney Gal are on the go,
Yes, rain or shine, sleet or snow,
Me and my Doney Gal are bound to go.

We're alone, Doney Gal, in the wind and hail,
Got to drive these dogies down the trail.
Get along, little dogie, on your way.


The song has been recorded by artists including Bob Dylan, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, The Highwaymen, Due West Trio, Buck Ramsey, and Don Edwards. Find a YouTube video of Don Edwards' rendition here. The song is on his CD,
Going Back to Texas.

In Don Edwards' comprehensive book, Saddle Songs; a cowboy songbook, he tells that "doney" was a southern Appalachian word for "sweetheart." Of the song, he writes, "'Doney Gal' is one of the great night-herding songs and was very popular among cowboys who called their favorite night horses 'Doney' regardless of gender."

Find more about Don Edwards in our feature here and at his web site, www.donedwardsmusic.com.

Our version of "Doney Gal" above is from Cowboy Songs and other Frontier Ballads, by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax. That book includes a related song, "Me an' My Doney-Gal."


A Cowboy's Love Song

 Oh, the last steer has been branded
And the last beef has been shipped,
And I'm free to roam the prairies
That the round-up crew has stripped;
I'm free to think of Susie,—
Fairer than the stars above,
She's the waitress at the station
And she is my turtle dove.

Biscuit-shootin' Susie,—
She's got us roped and tied;
Sober men or woozy
Look on her with pride.
Susie's strong and able,
And not a one gits rash
When she waits on the table
And superintends the hash.

Oh, I sometimes think I'm locoed
An' jes fit fer herdin' sheep,
'Cause I only think of Susie
When I'm wakin' or I'm sleep.
I'm wearin' Cupid's hobbles,
An' I'm tied to Love's stake-pin,
And when my heart was branded
The irons sunk deep in.

Biscuit-shootin' Susie,—
She's got us roped and tied;
Sober men or woozy
Look on her with pride.
Susie's strong and able,
And not a one gits rash
When she waits on the table
And superintends the hash.

I take my saddle, Sundays,
The one with inlaid flaps,
And don my new sombrero
And my white angora chaps;
Then I take a bronc for Susie
And she leaves her pots and pans
And we figure out our future
And talk o'er our homestead plans.

Biscuit-shootin' Susie,—
She's got us roped and tied;
Sober men or woozy
Look on her with pride.
Susie's strong and able,
And not a one gits rash
When she waits on the table
And superintends the hash.

Anonymous



John A. Lomax included "A Cowboy's Love Song" in his 1919 book,
Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp. There, and elsewhere, the author is anonymous. Lomax notes that in his book, "...almost one-half of the selections have no assignable authorship."

We've found the song also in old newspapers and you can see an old postcard with the words here. Perhaps we'll uncover an author one of these days. We have been able to reunite a couple of other "traditional" poems with their rightful authors (see "Morning on the Desert" and "The Star Planters"). Email us if you have any additional information.


 

The Trusty Lariat (Cowboy Fireman)

Through the high Sierra Mountains
Came an S P passenger train
The hoboes tried to ride her
But found 'twas all in vain

The conductor he took the tickets 
And he counted every soul;
The engineer looked straight ahead
And the fireman shoveled coal.

Now, the fireman was a cowboy
But do not think that strange
He could make more money shoveling coal
Than riding on the range

So though he was a fireman
And though he had to sweat
He still remained a western guy
And he kept his lariat

The train was way behind time
When suddenly ahead
A little child strolled on the track
And filled them all with dread

Her golden hair in ringlets
Was streamin' down her back.
And she little knew of her danger grave
As she strolled along the track

"My gosh" the hog head shouted
As he slammed on all the brakes
"I'll never stop this DP train
I ain't got what it takes"

"O Heaven help that wee tot!"
He cried in accents wild.
"Can nothing stop this DP train
And save the little child?"

Up sprang that cowboy fireman 
And a gallant lad was he
"Now I will save that baby
If I wreck the whole DP"

He climbed upon the running board 
With tears his eyes were wet
And in his hand, our hero brave
Bore his trusty lariat

He dropped his loop around a pole
That stood beside the track
And tied the other end of it
Around the big smokestack

He jerked the train right off the rails
And caused an awful wreck
And our hero lay there in a ditch
With the engine on his neck

Oh we will all remember
That forty-fifth of May
For there were many gallant hearts
All filled with fear that day

They buried that poor fireman
Where the prairie wind blows wild
He killed two hundred passengers
But, Thank God, He saved the child

by Harry A. McClintock
This version from: www.traditionalmusic.co.uk

 

The song was written by Harry "Haywire Mac" McClintock (1882-1957), who also wrote "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and "Hallelujah! I'm a Bum." You can hear McClintock's own 1929 recording of "Trusty Lariat" here on YouTube.

In his book, Saddle Songs; A Cowboy Songbag, Don Edwards writes, "Although the song is pretty obscure, it's a fun song to sing and always good for a few laughs."

It's been recorded by many, including recently by Michael Martin Murphey on his Tall Grass & Cool Water CD.

Respected old-time cowboy singer Slim Critchlow (1908-1969) writes in the liner notes to his acclaimed The Crooked Trail to Holbrook recording:

This song was written by Harry McClintock, formerly of radio station KFRC in San Francisco, sometime around 1930. "Mac" had been pretty much everything in his day including cowboy, hard rock miner, railroad man, and author but he came to fame through his talent as a song writer and a performer. His songs were sung from one end of the country to the other, and if I had five dollars for every time I've sung "The Trusty Lariat" during the last thirty-five years the rocky road would be much smoother.

Katie Lee, in her landmark book, Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle; a History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story, and Verse, quotes a letter she received about the song from Slim Critchlow, part of their correspondence about the authorship of the poem. Slim Critchlow writes about someone singing the song:

For some reason I can't help but feel a bit sad that my old and faithful friend ["The Trusty Lariat"] is in the hands of the professional singers. I've head what some of them can do to a good song. The next time I see (the gent who sang it for me) I think I'll lift his hair with a dull knife. Of course, I've borrowed one of two songs in my day, and forgotten to return them, so I guess I shouldn't complain too loudly...

In a later quote, Critchlow comments:

...Well, Mac's "out there in the marble orchard where the tombstones are in bloom" as he put it, so he couldn't care less what happens to his song. But I do...treat it kindly and it'll never let you down...Mac died in 1957 in San Francisco with just a handful of folks at the service to see him on his way. Somebody should have been there to sing "The Cowboy's Lament."


Diamond Joe

There is a man you hear about, most every place you go
His holdings are in Texas, and his name is Diamond Joe
He carries all his money, in a diamond studded jaw
And he's never been much bothered by the process of the law

I hired to Diamond Joe boys, I did offer him my hand
He gave me a string of horses, so old they could not stand
I liked to die of hunger, he did mistreat me so
And I never earned a dollar, in the pay of Diamond Joe

Well his bread it was corndodger, his meat I could not chaw
And he drove me near distracted, with the wagging of his jaw
By the telling of this story, I aim to let you know
There never was a rounder, that lied like Diamond Joe

I tried three times to quit him boys, but he did argue so
That I'm still punching cattle, in the pay of Diamond Joe
When I'm called up yonder, when it is my time to go
Give my blankets to my buddies, give the fleas to Diamond Joe
 

The origins of the traditional "Diamond Joe" are not clear. One early recording is by Cisco Houston, made in the 1950s. Find his lyrics here. There is a Smithsonian Folkways album that includes the song (and a brief song clip) here.

At the Mudcat Cafe site, there are notes about the song, including: "Some have some have speculated that Cisco Houston and/or Lee Hays adapted the song from 'The State of Arkansas,' but there is no evidence." It is pointed out that there are no fewer than three songs known as "Diamond Joe," one "... also about a ranch owner...," and "This should not be confused with...a river shanty with the distinctive chorus, 'Diamond Joe, better come and get me, Diamond Joe.'"

The version about the ranch owner is included in the 1938 Cowboy Songs by John A. Lomax. It starts:

Old Diamond Joe was a rich old jay,
With lots of cowboys in his pay;
He rode the range with a cowboy band,
Andy many a mav'rick got his brand."

and there is a note, "J.D. Dillingham, Austin, Texas, who contributed this song, says that it was popular in central Texas sixty years ago. Diamond Joe wore big diamond buttons on his vest."

Ramblin' Jack Elliott has had much to do with making the first-mentioned song well known. There are two good YouTube videos of his performances, including one from the 2010 Chicago Blues Fest here. He talks about his beginnings, how he learned the song, and mentions that he taught it to Ian Tyson, who has also recorded it. The music starts at about 3:00.

There's another Ramblin' Jack Elliott recording from the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, where he is introduced by Pete Seeger, here. The video includes some great images, including a very young Bob Dylan (who has also recorded the song; find it here) and an equally young Ramblin' Jack.

Another notable, recent recording is by Andy Hedges on the Wrangler-award winning Welcome to the Tribe (with Andy Wilkinson). In the album's liner notes, Andy Hedges writes, "The verses in this arrangement are from the well known cowboy version of Diamond Joe as recorded by Cisco Houston, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and others. The chorus comes from an old blues song also called 'Diamond Joe' that I compiled from two versions, a 1920s recording of he Georgia Crackers [hear that here] and a 1937 Alan Lomax field recording of Big Charlie Butler at Parchman Penitentiary, Mississippi [hear that here]." Listen to the entire song by Andy Hedges here.

 


The Ballad of William Sycamore

My father, he was a mountaineer,
His fist was a knotty hammer;
He was quick on his feet as a running deer,
And he spoke with a Yankee stammer.
 
My mother, she was merry and brave,
And so she came to her labor,
With a tall green fir for her doctor grave
And a stream for her comforting neighbor.
 
And some are wrapped in the linen fine,
And some like a godling's scion;
But I was cradled on twigs of pine
In the skin of a mountain lion.
 
And some remember a white, starched lap
And a ewer with silver handles;
But I remember a coonskin cap
And the smell of bayberry candles.
 
The cabin logs, with the bark still rough,
And my mother who laughed at trifles,
And the tall, lank visitors, brown as snuff,
With their long, straight squirrel-rifles.
 
I can hear them dance, like a foggy song,
Through the deepest one of my slumbers,
The fiddle squeaking the boots along
And my father calling the numbers.
 
The quick feet shaking the puncheon-floor,
And the fiddle squealing and squealing,
Till the dried herbs rattled above the door
And the dust went up to the ceiling.
 
There are children lucky from dawn till dusk,
But never a child so lucky!
For I cut my teeth on "Money Musk"
In the Bloody Ground of Kentucky!
 
When I grew as tall as the Indian corn,
My father had little to lend me,
But he gave me his great, old powder-horn
And his woodsman's skill to befriend me.
 
With a leather shirt to cover my back,
And a redskin nose to unravel
Each forest sign, I carried my pack
As far as a scout could travel.
 
Till I lost my boyhood and found my wife,
A girl like a Salem clipper!
A woman straight as a hunting-knife
With eyes as bright as the Dipper!
 
We cleared our camp where the buffalo feed,
Unheard-of streams were our flagons;
And I sowed my sons like the apple-seed
On the trail of the Western wagons.
 
They were right, tight boys, never sulky or slow,
A fruitful, a goodly muster.
The eldest died at the Alamo.
The youngest fell with Custer.
 
The letter that told it burned my hand.
Yet we smiled and said, "So be it!"
But I could not live when they fenced the land,
For it broke my heart to see it.
 
I saddled a red, unbroken colt
And rode him into the day there;
And he threw me down like a thunderbolt
And rolled on me as I lay there.
 
The hunter's whistle hummed in my ear
As the city-men tried to move me,
And I died in my boots like a pioneer
With the whole wide sky above me.
 
Now I lie in the heart of the fat, black soil,
Like the seed of the prairie-thistle;
It has washed my bones with honey and oil
And picked them clean as a whistle.
 
And my youth returns, like the rains of Spring,
And my sons, like the wild-geese flying;
And I lie and hear the meadow-lark sing
And have much content in my dying.
 
Go play with the towns you have built of blocks,
The towns where you would have bound me!
I sleep in my earth like a tired fox,
And my buffalo have found me.

Stephen Vincent Benét, 1922


1919

Joel Nelson has commented that "The Ballad of William Sycamore" was one of the poems that made him "fall in love with" poetry. It's on Joel Nelson's The Breaker in the Pen recording, and that recitation is included on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Seven (2012), as is Stephen Vincent Benét's own 1940 recording of the poem.

Benét (1898–1943) is perhaps best known for "John Brown's Body," his Pulitzer Prize winning, book-length poem, written in 1928. In the introduction to Stephen Vincent Benet, Essays on His Life and Work (2002) by David Garrett Izzo and Lincoln Konkle, it is noted, "In 1922 he published the two long poems that marked the beginning of his poetic maturity: "The Ballad of William Sycamore," appearing in the New Republic, and "King David," in the Nation. These poems were a blend of style and substance that foreshadowed the landmark Civil War epic still to come."

In Stephen Vincent Benet, The Life and Times of an American Man of Letters 1898-1943 (1958), author Charles A. Fenton writes that Benét composed "The Ballad of William Sycamore" during the late summer and early fall of 1922. Magazine editors were wanting contemporary material, but the poet was drawn to America's past. Fenton writes that the poem was "an initial step in the formation of the most durable aspect of Benét's achievement and reputation." He comments, "It was poem which tempted its readers to sing it or chant it or at the least to read it aloud. It was the kind of poem which one reader wanted to share with another."

The title of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown is taken from the last line of  Benét's poem, "American Names."

 


Whoopee Ti Yo Yo, Git Along, Little Dogies

As I was a-walkin' one morning for pleasure,
I spied a cow-puncher a-ridin' along;
His hat was throwed back and his spurs was a-jinglin',
As he approached me a-singin' this song

   Whoopee-ti-yi-yo git along, little dogies
   It's your misfortune and none of my own;
   Whoopee-ti yi yo, git along, little dogies
   For you know that Wyoming will be your new home

Early in the springtime we'll round up the dogies
Slap on their brangs, and bob off their tails;
Round up our horses, load up the chuck wagon,
Then throw those the dogies upon the trail

It's whooping and yelling and driving the dogies,
Oh, how I wish you would go on;
It's whooping and punching and go on, little dogies,
For you know that Wyoming will be your new home.

Some of the boys goes up the trail for pleasure,
But that's where they git it most awfully wrong;
For you haven't any idea the trouble they give us
When we go driving then dogies along.

When the night comes on and we hold them on the bed-ground,
These little dogies that roll on so slow;
Roll up the herd and cut out the strays,
And roll the little dogies that never rolled before.

Your mother she was raised way down in Texas,
Where the jimson weed and the sand-burrs grow
Npw we'll fill you up on prickly-pear and cholla
Till you are ready for the trail to Idaho.

Oh, you'll be soup for Uncle Sam's Injuns;
"It's beff, heap beef," I hear them cry.
Git along, git along, git along, little dogies
You're going to be beef steers by and by.

(from John A. Lomax's Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, 1910)
 

Git Along Little Dogies

As I walked out one morning for pleasure,
I met a cowpuncher a-jogging along.
His hat was thrown back and his spurs was a-jingling,
And as he advanced he was singin' this song.

    Sing hooplio git along little dogies
    For Wyoming shall be your new home.
    It's hopping and yelling and cursing those dogies
    To our misfortune but none of your own.

In the Springtime we round up the dogies,
Slap on the brands and bob off their tails.
Then we cut herd and herd is inspected,
And then we throw them on the trail.

    Chorus

In the evening we round in the dogies
As they are grazing from herd all around.
You have no idea the trouble they give us
As we are holding them on the bedground.

    Chorus

In the morning we throw off the bedground,
Aiming to graze them an hour or two.
When they are full, you think you can drive them
On the trail, but be damned if you do.

    Chorus

Some fellows go on the trail for pleasure,
But they have this thing down wrong.
If it hadn't bin for these troublesome dogies,
I never would thought of writing this song.

    Chorus

(above from John I. White's Git Along Little Dogies, 1975, taken from Owen Wister Out West: His Journals and Letters, University of Chicago Press, 1958)

John I. White's 1979 book, Git Along, Little Dogies, includes a wealth of information about the song of the same name, which is also known as Whoopee Ti Yi Yo, Git Along, Little Dogies.

He tells that Owen Wister, author of The Virginian, made the first known mention of the song in an 1893 entry in his diary, commenting, "I have come upon a unique song...and I transcribe it faithfully. Only a cowboy could have produced such an effusion, It has the earmark of entire genuineness." See the Wister version above.

White notes that Andy Adams had the first printed mention in his 1903 The Log of a Cowboy, (Wister's diaries weren't printed until the 1950s). Adams refers to the song in telling of "pushing a trail herd on a forced march by moonlight, '....someone in the lead wig-wagged his lantern; it was answered by the light in the rear, and the next minute the old rear song,Ip-e-la-ago, go along little doggie/You'll make a beef steer by-and-byreached us riders in the swing, and we knew the rear guard of cattle was being pushed forward."

White discusses the dogie/doggie usage, John Lomax's part in making the song available to the public (he heard it first from "...not a cowboy but a woman—a guitar-strumming gypsy fortune-teller in Fort Worth"), and much more.

White includes this 1867 image in his chapter about the song:

Source for this image: Print from Harper's Weekly, October 19, 1867. "A Drove of Texas Cattle Crossing a Stream"; http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth7162/; University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting George Ranch Historical Park, Richmond, Texas.

 

Here are a few versions of the song on YouTube:

Marty Robbins:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgYhfVc3mjQ

Roy Rogers from the 1940 Best of the Badlands film:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2cFji4CmHE

Woody Guthrie in a 1944 recording:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQITVzERKrM
 


Appaloosie

You're the orn-yest, meanest cayuse ever born this side o' hell.
Why there's meanness just a-oozin' through your hide,
     When your temper starts to bubble
     You're a ring-tailed source o' trouble
And you sure can make a boy sit up and ride.

In the chill of early mornin', when we're saddlin' up to go
And I'm trying to make connections with my cack,
     It's a prayerful sort o' minute
     'Cause before I'm halfway in it
You bog down your head and try to break my back.

If I loosen up a minute fer to ease my tired joints
Then you grab your tail and pitch to beat the deuce
     And the cause of this sun fishin'
     Is your ingrown disposition
Oh! you wall-eyed streak o' meanness, Appaloose!

But fer all your darn fool actions, you're the top horse of my string
And I like your grit, you paint-splashed little scamp.
     Why, you'll jolt me till I'm purple
     On the long end of a circle
Then fer cussedness come pitchin' into camp.

When the herd is hard to handle and they're cuttin' forty ways
Then my other knot-head broncs hain't any use
     But let the critters come a-tearin'
     If it's you and me off bearin'
'Cause the cow hain't born can outguess Appaloose!

If the gang rides into dinner with their quirts a-swingin' free
And we race to see who'll be the first into camp
     You sure settle to your knittin'
     When you hear the old boy yippin'
And we quit 'em like a pay-car would a tramp.

When I'm called to join the roundup out across the Big Divide
I'll ride o'er that skyline trail without remorse
     But if spirits have the savvy
     I'll go through St. Peter's cavvy
Till I find my little Appaloosie horse.

Tim McCoy
 

Film star Timothy John Fitzgerald "Tim" McCoy (1891-1978) published a small  book of poems in about 1915. In the 1977 book, Tim McCoy Remembers the West: An Autobiography by Tim McCoy and Ronald McCoy, he writes:

"...I had started to write light verse back in Saginaw and planned to continue doing it out West. Later, after I had several poems completed, I had them printed up in a little paperbound book. Sometimes I would ride over to Jackson Hole and sell them for a few cents apiece to the dudes, though I found they were bought and appreciated as much or more so by the cowboys. Appaloosie [a horse] as it turned out, was the inspiration for my first Wyoming cowboy poem."

From Wikipedia here:

Born the son of an Irish Union Civil War soldier who later became police chief in Saginaw [Michigan], he became a major film star most noted for his roles in Western films. He was so popular with youngsters as a cowboy star that he appeared on the cover of Wheaties cereal boxes.

He attended St. Ignatius College in Chicago and after seeing a wild west show there, left school and found work on a ranch in Wyoming. He became an expert horseman and roper and developed a knowledge of the ways and languages of the American Indian tribes in the area. He competed in numerous rodeos, then enlisted in the
United States Army when America entered World War I

Find more about Tim McCoy here at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.


Shorty's Saloon

By the trails to the Past, on the Plains of No Care,
Stood Shorty's saloon, but now it's not there,
For Shorty moved camp and crossed the Divide
In the years long dim, and naught else besides
A deep brand on Memory brings back the old place

Its drinks and its games, and many a face
Peers out from the mists of days that are fled,
When Shorty stood back of his bar, there, and said,
       "What's yours, Pard?"

No fine drinks adorned that primitive bar,
Just "licker" was served, and that seemed by far
The properest stuff in a place, you'll agree,
Where life flowed and ebbed like the tides of a sea,
Unfettered by care, unmeasured by time,

Where Innocence formed its first friendships with Crime,
Where Bacchus' wild court held ribaldrous sway,
And Shorty, on shift, stood waiting to say,
      "What's yours, Pard?"

Great herds from the South swept by on the trails,
And stages sped Westward, top-heavy with mails
For camps far beyond, where gold was the lust,
And freighters and "bull trains" send whirlwinds of dust
That scattered and spread far out on the plain,
And men from the wild,
hard men that sin's slain
Had marked like a brand
all stopped there, you see,
And Shorty's brief welcome to each one would be,
       "What's yours, Pard?"

And up from the vast, silent stretch of the range,
From line camps and roundups, and all of the strange,
Lone places in Cow-land, men came there to play
In that drama whose artists all lived by the way;

Their sky-line of life blazed crimson and gold,
For hope gave them wealth and youth made them bold
And strong in life's strife to dare any task.
And "licker" was theirs when Shorty would ask
      "What's yours, Pard?"

They danced and they drank, and they sang that old song,
"I'm just a poor cow-boy, and know I've done wrong,"
While the click of the chips in the games that were played,
And the sob in the music the violin made
Rang out through the smoke that clouded the room,
For Joy held the top-hand and drink drowned all gloom
The future might hold for him who made gay,

And life filled with sunbeams, when Shorty would say
      "What's yours, Pard?"

Some tragedies mark those trails to the Past
Some lone, unnamed graves tell briefly the last
Of the story of those who lived ere the change
From that wild, free life of the Borderless Range,

But Memory's kind grasp holds gently the place,
Its drinks and its games-and many a face
Peers out from the mists of days that are fled,
When Shorty stood back of his bar, there, and said,
      "What's yours, Pard?"


Johnny Ritch (1868-1942) creates a vivid scene with his words. Ritch, known as  the "Poet of the Judith," was a former camp cook, prospector, state legislator, and Montana State Historian.

The poem appears in Ritch's 1940 book, Horse Feathers, with illustrations by Charlie Russell. In Charles M. Russell: The Storyteller's Art, Raphael James Cristy writes that Ritch "...had come to Russell's attention as the author of a melodramatic cowboy poem that aches with nostalgia, called 'Shorty's Saloon.' Russell responded with a long illustrated letter and the gift of six watercolor paintings illustrating the poem."  Here's one of them:

Randy Rieman recited "Shorty's Saloon" at the 2014 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and you can watch that performance here (the Thursday Member's Show #1, at about 32:00).
 



The Railroad Corral

We're up in the morning
ere breaking of day,
The chuck wagon's busy,
the flapjack's in play;
The herd is astir
over hilside and vale,
With the night riders
crowding them into the trail.

Come take up your cinches,
come shake out your reins,
Come wake your broncho
and break for the plains;
Come roust out your steers
from the long chaparral,
For the outfit is off
to the railroad corral.

The sun circles upward;
the steers as they plod
Are pounding to powder
the hot prairie sod;
It seems, as the dust
makes you dizzy and sick,
That we'll never reach noon
and the cool shady creek.

But tie up your kerchief
and ply up your nag;
Come dry up your grumbles
and try not to lag;
Come on with your steers
from the long chaparral
We are far on the road
to the railroad corral.

The afternoon shadows
are starting to lean,
When the chuck wagon sticks
in the marshy ravine;
The herds scatter farther
than vision can look,
But you can bet all true punchers
will help out the cook.

Come shake out your rawhide
and shake it up fair;
Come break your bronco
to take in his share;
Come on with your steers
in the long chapparal,
For 'tis all in the drive
to the railroad corral.

But the longest of days
must reach evening at last,
The hills all climbed,
the creeks all past;
The tired herd droops
in the yellowing light
Let them loaf if they will
for the railroad's in sight.

So flap up your holster,
and snap up your belt,
And strap up your saddle
whose lap you have felt;
Goodby to the steers
from the long chapparal,
There's a town that's a trump
by the railroad corral.

...by Joseph Mills Hanson (1876-1960)


The earliest printed version of the song is 1904.

Our version of "The Railroad Corral," originally titled "Cowboy Song," comes from Ina Sire's 1928 book,"Songs of the Open Range.


Many have recorded this song, including Don Edwards and Buck Ramsey. Here's a unique take on it from Johnny Cash: www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDyHiB7FWPg.

 

 



 

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