Back at the Ranch: Cowboy Poetry & Music / Wild Horse Rides

Strawberry Roan
Written by Curley Fletcher. Sung by the Arizona Wranglers
Audio Source: Back in the Saddle Again / New World Records Anthology

"First Saddling," Photo © Barbara Van Cleve. All Rights Reserved.

"First Saddling," Photo © Barbara Van Cleve. All Rights Reserved.


I was laying round town just spending my time
Out of a job and not makin' a dime
When up steps a feller and he says, "I suppose
That you're a bronc rider by the looks of your clothes?"

He guesses me right. "And a good one I'll claim
Do you happen to have any bad ones to tame?"
He says he's got one that's a good one to buck
And at throwing good riders he's had lots of luck.

He says this old pony has never been rode
And the man that gets on him is bound to be throwed
I gets all excited and I ask what he pays
To ride this old pony a couple of days.

He says, "Ten dollars." I says, "I'm your man
The bronc never lived that I cannot fan
The bronc never tried nor never drew breath
That I cannot ride till he starves plumb to death."

He says, "Get your saddle.  I'll give you a chance."
We got in the buggy and went to the ranch
We waited till morning, right after chuck
I went out to see if that outlaw could buck.

Down in the corral, a-standin' alone
Was this little old caballo, a strawberry roan
He had little pin ears that touched at the tip
And a big forty-four brand was on his left hip.

He was spavined all round and he had pidgeon toes
Little pig eyes and a big Roman nose
He was U-necked and old with a long lower jaw
You could tell at a glance he was a regular outlaw.

I buckled on my spurs, I was feeling plumb fine
I pulled down my hat and I curls up my twine
I threw the loop at him, right well I knew then
Before I had rode him I'd sure earn my ten.

I got the blind on him with a terrible fight
Cinched on the saddle and girdled it tight
Then I steps up on him and pulled down the blind
And sat there in the saddle to see him unwind.

He bowed his old neck and I'll say he unwound
He seemed to quit living down there on the ground
He went up to the east and came down to the west
With me in the saddle, a-doing my best.

He sure was frog-walkin', I heaved a big sigh
He only lacked wings for to be on the fly
He turned his old belly right up to the sun
For he was a sun-fishin' son of a gun.

He was the worst bronco I've seen on the range
He could turn on a nickel and leave you some change
While he was buckin' he squalled like a shoat
I tell you that outlaw, he sure got my goat.

I tell all the people that pony could step
And I was still on him a-buildin' a rep
He came down on all fours and turned up on his side
I don't see how he kept from losing his hide.

I lost my stirrups, I lost my hat,
I was pullin' at leather as blind as a bat
With a phenomenal jump he made a high dive
And set me a-winding up there through the sky.

I turned forty flips and came down to the earth
And sit there a-cussing the day of his birth

I know there's some ponies that I cannot ride
Some of them living, they haven't all died.
But I bet all money there's no man alive
That can ride Old Strawberry when he makes that high dive.

D–2 Horse Wrangler
Written by D.J. O'Malley. Sung by Slim Critchlow
Audio Source: Back in the Saddle Again / New World Records Anthology

"Topping Off the Green Ones" Photo © Barbara Van Cleve. All Rights Reserved.

"Topping Off the Green Ones" Photo © Barbara Van Cleve. All Rights Reserved.


One day I thought I’d have some fun,
And see how punching cows was done”

So, when the roundup had begun,
I tackled a cattle king;
Says he: “My foreman is in town:
He’s at the MacQueen, his name is Brown;
Go over, and I think he’ll take you down.”
Says I: “That’s just the thing.”

We started for the ranch next day,
Brown talked to me most all the way,
He said cowpunching was only fun,
It was no work at all;
That all I had to do was ride,
It was just like drifting with the tide.
Geemany crimany, how he lied;
He surely had his gall.

He put me in charge of a cavard*
And told me not to work too hard,
That all I had to do was guard
The horses from getting away.
I had one hundred and sixty head,
And oft’ times wished that I was dead.
When one got away Brown he turned red.
Now this is the truth, I say.

Sometimes a horse would make a break,
Across the prairie he would take
As though he were running for a stake,
For him it was only play.
Sometimes I couldn’t head him at all,
And again my saddle horse would fall
And I’d speed on like a cannon ball
Till the earth came in my way.

They led me out an old gray hack
With a great big set fast on his back,
They padded him up with gunny sacks
And used my bedding all.
When I got on he left the ground
Jumped up in the air and turned around.
I busted the earth as I came down,
It was a terrible fall.

They picked me up and carried me in
And rubbed me down with a rolling pin:
“That’s the way they all begin,
You are doing well,” says Brown.
“And tomorrow morning if you don’t die,
I’ll give you another horse to try.”
“Oh! Won’t you let me walk?” says I.
“Yes,” says he. “Into town.”

I’ve traveled up and I’ve traveled down,
I’ve traveled this country all around,
I’ve lived in city, I’ve lived in town,
And I have this much to say:
Before you try it, go kiss your wife,
Get a heavy insurance on your life,
Then shoot yourself with a butcher knife,
It’s far the easiest way.

* Cavard from the Spanish cavallad, a group of saddle horses

All this Way for the Short Ride
Written and recited by Paul Zarzyski
Audio Source: Highlights of the 1997 Cowboy Poetry Gathering / Western Folklife Center

"Muddy Landing" Photo © Barbara Van Cleve. All Rights Reserved.

"Muddy Landing" Photo © Barbara Van Cleve. All Rights Reserved.


After grand entry cavalcade of flags,
Star Spangled Banner, Stagecoach figure 8’s
in a jangle of singletrees,* after trick riders
sequined in tights, clowns in loud getups,
queens sashed pink or chartreuse
in silk—after the fanfare—the domed
rodeo arena goes lights-out
black: stark silent
prayer for a cowboy crushed by a ton
of crossbred Brahma.

What went wrong—
Too much heart behind a high kick,
Both horns hooking earth, the bull vaulting
A half-somersault to its back—
Each witness recounts with the same
Gruesome not: the wife
Stunned in a bleacher seat
And pregnant with their fourth. In this dark
Behind the chutes, I strain to picture,
Through the melee of win with loss,
Details of a classic ride—body curled
Fetal to the riggin’, knees up,
Every spur stroke in perfect sync,
Chin tucked snug.  In this dark,
I rub the thick neck of my bronc, his pulse
Rampant in this sudden night
And lull.  I know the instant
That bull’s flanks tipped beyond

Return, how the child inside
Fought with his mother for air
And hope, his heart with hers
Pumping in pandemonium,--in shock,
How she maundered in the arena
To gather her husband’s bullrope and hat, bells
Clanking to the murmur of crowd
And siren’s mewl.

The child learned early
Through pain the amnion could not protect him from,
Through capillaries of the placenta, the sheer
Peril of living with a passion
That shatters all at once
From infinitesimal fractures
in time. It’s impossible,
when dust settling to the backs of large animals
makes a racket you can’t think in,
impossible to conceive that pure fear,
whether measured in degrees of cold
or heat, can both freeze
and incinerate so much
in mere seconds. When I nod
and they throw this gate open to the same
gravity, the same 8 ticks
of the clock, number 244 and I
will blow for better of worse
from this chute—flesh and destiny up
for grabs, a bride’s bouquet
pitched blind.

© Paul Zarzyski