Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cowboy Poetry

A friend and shirt-tail relative circulated an email copy of a poem known variously as Better Keep in Touch or simply Jake, the Rancher. I Googled it to see if I could find the author but no luck. Chalk one more up to that prolific writer “Anonymous”.

Cowboy poetry as the genre is known has been around for as long as men and women have worked cattle in North America but usually refers to poems written since Texas independence. For those not familiar with the genre I offer this definition which I like but if you check the website you will find some willing to argue:

“Cowboy poetry is rhymed, metered verse written by someone who has lived a significant portion of his or her life in Western North American cattle culture. The verse reflects an intimate knowledge of that way of life, and the community from which it maintains itself in tradition. Cowboy poetry may or may not in fact be anonymous in authorship but must have qualities, content, and style that permit it to be accepted into the repertoire of the cultural community as reflecting that community's aesthetics in style, form, and content. The structural style of cowboy poetry has its antecedents in the ballad style of England and the Appalachian South. It is similar to popular works of authors such as Robert W. Service and Rudyard Kipling."

I like cowboy poetry and don’t have any books here with me, so I followed Google until I found this Cowboy Poetry site and thought it worth passing on to other lovers of poetry.

Modern cowboy poets like Baxter Black have made Cowboy Poetry popular outside of cowboy circles but there were a lot of good poems written in the late 19th and early 20th century. One of my favourite poets is S. Omar Barker whose Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer is likely his best known and made him more money than any other poem.

The following is an example of real Cowboy Poetry and since it is in the public domain, I am not breaking copyright.

The Veiled Rider by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)
It was down at the home ranch, a bunch of cow pokes
Got in an old hoss that was only half broke.
They saddled him up and they hazed him around,
But none of them rode him. They stayed on the ground.
The cook he laffed at 'em and laffed mighty hard.
Then the boys they allowed that the cook wasn't barred.

But it shore did amaze 'em to see the cook crawl
Right up in the saddle, yes apron and all.
The hoss took to buckin' all over the place.
The cook's apron flew up and covered his face.
His stirrups was long and he had to pull leather,
But the cook was on top when they finished together.

One waddy he grins and remarked to the boss,
"Seems they blindfold the rider now, 'stead of the hoss."
The cook looked at the boss soter mournful and said;
"This whole crew aint wuth seven dollars a head.
I buried my face in my apron all right,
But I done it to shut out the pitiful sight.

Them pore rannies hoppin' and yappin' around
Like a bunch of fresh toad frogs that been rained down.
I will own up right now, I'm a cranky old cook,
But there's sights where really upsets me to look.
And an outfit like that would disgust any man
That had been out and cooked for a bunch of real hands."


  1. Remember the Baxter Black book you helped me acquire?!

  2. If you can believe it, I quoted Baxter Black at work last Friday.

  3. The book, if I recall was "Hey Cowboy, want to get lucky?"

    What were you quoting of his? He had an expression for just about every occasion.

  4. As soon as I saw the title "cowboy Poetry," I said to myself, "Hey, whatever happened to Baxter Black"?

    So now I know. He was funny. And thoughtful. And still is. Used to read him all the time. But my memory is so holey that I can't remember if it was in The Western Producer or GrainNews.


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