Back at the Ranch: Cowboy Poetry & Music / From the First Half of the 20th Century

A Cowboy's Prayer
Written and recited by Charles Badger Clark
Audio Source: University of South Dakota Archives

"Star Showers" Photo © Barbara Van Cleve. All Rights Reserved.

"Star Showers" Photo © Barbara Van Cleve. All Rights Reserved.

A COWBOY’S PRAYER, Charles Badger Clark

Oh Lord, I've never lived where churches grow.
    I love creation better as it stood
That day You finished it so long ago
    And looked upon Your work and called it good.
I know that others find You in the light
    That's sifted down through tinted window panes,
And yet I seem to feel You near tonight
    In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains.

I thank You, Lord, that I am placed so well,
    That You have made my freedom so complete;
That I'm no slave of whistle, clock or bell,
    Nor weak-eyed prisoner of wall and street.
Just let me live my life as I've begun
    And give me work that's open to the sky;
Make me a pardner of the wind and sun,
    And I won't ask a life that's soft or high.

Let me be easy on the man that's down;
    Let me be square and generous with all.
I'm careless sometimes, Lord, when I'm in town,
    But never let 'em say I'm mean or small!
Make me as big and open as the plains,
    As honest as the hawse between my knees,
Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains,
    Free as the hawk that circles down the breeze!

Forgive me, Lord, if sometimes I forget.
    You know about the reasons that are hid.
You understand the things that gall and fret;
    You know me better than my mother did.
Just keep an eye on all that's done and said
    And right me, sometimes, when I turn aside,
And guide me on the long, dim, trail ahead
    That stretches upward toward the Great Divide.

I'd Like to Be in Texas for the Roundup in the Spring
Recited by J.B. Allen
Audio Source: Buckaroo – Visions and Voices of the American Cowboy
Edited by Hal Cannon and Thomas West. Callaway / Simon & Schuster, 1993

"First Light" Photo © Adam Jahiel. All Rights Reserved.

"First Light" Photo © Adam Jahiel. All Rights Reserved.


In the lobby of a big hotel in New York town one day,
Sat a bunch of fellers spinning yarns to pass the time away.
They spoke of all the things they'd done and places that they'd seen,
Some of them praised Chicago town and other’uns New Orleans.

And in a corner in an old armchair sat a man whose hair was grey;
And he would listen eagerly to what they had to say.
They asked him where he'd like to be, and heard that old voice ring,
"I'd like to be in Texas for the roundup in the spring."

They all sat still and listened to every word he had to say,
They knew that feller settin' there had once been wild and gay.
So they asked him for a story of his life out on the plains;
And he slowly removed his hat and quietly began.

I've seen 'em stompede o'er them hills till you think they'd never stop,
I've seen them run for miles and miles till their leaders dropped;
I was foreman on a cow ranch, that's the calling of a king.
I'd like to be in Texas for the roundup in the spring.

There's a grave in sunny Texas where Josie Bridwell sleeps,
A grove of leafy cottonwoods her constant vigil keeps.
In my heart there's recollections of them carefree bygone days
When we rode the range together like two skipping kids at play.

Her gentle voice would call me in the watches of the night,
I hear her laughter freshening the dew of early light.
A fever took my darling on the day we was to wed
And left her cold and lifeless by the crossing on the Red.

I can see the cattle grazin' on the hills of early morn,
See the campfire smokin' at the breakin' of the dawn,
I hear some coyotes neighin', and I hear the night guard sing.
I'd like to be in Texas for the roundup in the spring.

Writtten by Frank Desprez. Recited by Tom Eaton
Audio Source: 1988 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering / Western Folklife Center Archives

Artwork for the 1988 Cowboy Poetry Gathering by Buckeye Blake. All Rights Reserved

Artwork for the 1988 Cowboy Poetry Gathering by Buckeye Blake. All Rights Reserved

LASCA, Frank Desprez

I want free life and I want fresh air;
And I sigh for the canter after the cattle,
The crack of the whips like shots in a battle,
The medley of horns and hoofs and heads
That wars and wrangles and scatters and spreads;
The green beneath and the blue above,
And dash and danger, and life and love --
And Lasca!

Lasca used to ride
On a mouse-gray mustang close by my side,
With blue serape and bright-belled spur;
I laughed with joy as I looked at her!
Little knew she of books or of creeds;
An Ave Maria sufficed her needs;
Little she cared, save to be by my side,
To ride with me, and ever to ride,
From San Saba's shore to LaVaca's tide.
She was as bold as the billows that beat,
She was as wild as the breezes that blow;
From her little head to her little feet
She was swayed in her suppleness to and fro
By each gust of passion; a sapling pine
That grows on the edge of a Kansas bluff
And wars with the wind when the weather is rough
Is like this Lasca, this love of mine.

She would hunger that I might eat,
Would take the bitter and leave me the sweet;
But once, when I made her jealous for fun,
At something I'd whispered, or looked, or done,
One Sunday, in San Antonio,
To a glorious girl in the Alamo,
She drew from her garter a dear little dagger,
And -- sting of a wasp! -- it made me stagger!
An inch to the left, or an inch to the right,
And I shouldn't be maundering here tonight;
But she sobbed, and, sobbing, so swiftly bound
Her torn reboso about the wound,
That I quite forgave her. Scratches don't count
In Texas, down by the Rio Grande.

Her eye was brown -- a deep, deep brown;
Her hair was darker than her eye;
And something in her smile and frown,
Curled crimson lip and instep high,
Showed that there ran in each blue vein,
Mixed with the milder Aztec strain,
The vigorous vintage of Old Spain.
She was alive in every limb
With feeling to the finger tips;
And when the sun is like a fire,
And sky one shining, soft sapphire,
One does not drink in little sips.

The air was heavy, and the night was hot,
I sat by her side, and forgot - forgot;
Forgot the herd that were taking their rest,
Forgot that the air was close opprest,
That the Texas norther comes sudden and soon,
In the dead of night or the blaze of noon;
That, once let the herd at its breath take fright,
Nothing on earth can stop the flight;
And woe to the rider, and woe to the steed,
Who falls in front of their mad stampede!

Was that thunder? I grasped the cord
Of my swift mustang without a word.
I sprang to the saddle, and she clung behind.
Away! On a hot chase down the wind!
But never was fox hunt half so hard,
And never was steed so little spared,
For we rode for our lives, You shall hear how we fared
In Texas, down by the Rio Grande.

The mustang flew, and we urged him on;
There was one chance left, and you have but one;
Halt, jump to ground, and shoot your horse;
Crouch under his carcass and take your chance;
And, if the steers in their frantic course
Don't batter you both to pieces at once,
You may thank your star; if not, goodby
To the quickening kiss and the long-drawn sigh,
And the open air and the open sky,
In Texas, down by the Rio Grande.

The cattle gained on us, and just as I felt
For my old six-shooter behind in my belt,
Down came the mustang, and down came we,
Clinging together -- and, what was the rest?
A body that spread itself on my brest,
Two arms that shielded my dizzy head,
Two lips that hard on my lips were prest;
Then came thunder in my ears,
As over us surged the sea of steers,
Blows that beat blood into my eyes,
And when I could rise--
Lasca was dead!

I gouged out a grave a few feet deep,
And there in Earth's arms I laid her to sleep;
And there she is lying, and no one knows;
And the summer shines and the winter snows;
For many a day the flowers have spread
A pall of petals over her head;
And the little gray hawk hangs aloft in the air,
And the sly coyote trots here and there,
And the black snake glides and glitters and slides
Into a rift in a cottonwood tree;
And the buzzard sails on,
And comes and is gone,
Stately and still like a ship at sea.
And I wonder why I do not care
For the things that are like the things that were.
Does half my heart lie buried there
In Texas, down by the Rio Grande?

An Old Western Town
Written by Bruce Kiskaddon. Recited by Sunny Hancock
Audio Source: Oldtime Cowboy Poetry by Sunny Hancock.

AN OLD WESTERN TOWN, Bruce Kiskaddon

An old western town lay asleep in the sun,
Of a long summer day that was then almost done.

The shadows were long and the horses stood around,
Sorta restin’ one leg with their head hangin’ down.

Two cowpunchers down at the Last Chance Saloon
Was a-tryin’ to sing, and they’s both out of tune.

At one end of the street that was dusty and narrow
Scratchin’ the dirt were some chickens and sparrows.

The dogs slept in the shade and the people all strolled
Like they felt plumb contented in body and soul.

If you looked just a little ways off to the west,
You could see the high mountains with snow on their crest.

A shadow of clouds drifted over the flat
And that sure made a right pretty picture at that.

Well, a drunken cowpuncher was ready to go
An’ he figured he’d ought to put on a big show.

So he spurred an’ he hollered an’ shot his six-gun,
He aimed to take outta there with his horse on the run.

But he didn’t remember his cinches was slack
Until after he’d got his old pony on track.

That cowhoss he started to buck and to bawl
An’ got rid of that cowpuncher, saddle an’ all.

An’ before that drunk waddie got clear of the wreck,
He was bit by two dogs (which he didn’t expect).

That horse he bucked into a long hitchin’ rack
Where a team that was hitched to a wagon rared back.

They lit out of there draggin’ that old rattletrap
And a-swingin’ the broke ends of two hitchin’ straps.

Well, a whole lot of people come from everywhere
And the sparrows and chickens they took to the air

The kids made for skull cover, the women all screamed,
And the dogs was all chasin’ that runaway team.

Well, a feller run out like some man always did,
He was yellin; and jumpin’ and wavin’ his lid.

When the horses got close, why, the man lost his nerve,
And he got out of the way-- but he made the team swerve.

They tore down the porch posts in front of the store,
An’ they busted the winder an’ several things more.

They was off of their feet when at last they got stopped
Piled up in a heap with the wagon on top.

They was fast in the harness, one horse almost strangled,
But the crowd went to work and they got ‘em untangled.

Just when they started to take ‘em away,
Why, the storekeeper come out with plenty to say.

His place had been wrecked, but what made it worse still,
The man with the team owed the store man a bill.

And he swore he’d take it all out of his hide,
An’ he sure wasn’t bluffin’, he got in an’ tried.

But most of the citizens present they reckoned
That the storekeeper come off a mighty poor second.

Well, the town marshal come with his badge and his gun
Just in time for a drink when the whole thing was done.

The sun soon went down in a few golden streaks
And the afterglow showed on the snowy old peaks.

The kerosene lamps shed a soft yellow light
Where the townfolks was cookin’ their supper that night.

It was a real western night with no fog and no haze,
And the stars hung in clusters so bright that they blazed.

Some neighbors they gathered to visit and talk,
You could hear the slow footsteps along the board walk.

There sprung up a soft gentle breeze from the west,
And one after another, the lights went to rest.

And the curtain of night settled quietly down
On the best of all places, an old western town.