Cowboys can be poets, too

Posted 11/14/22

Cowboy poetry is believed to have originated during long cattle drives. Making up songs, stories and poems...

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Cowboys can be poets, too

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Cowboy poetry is believed to have originated during long cattle drives. Making up songs, stories and poems was a way to pass the time on the trail. 

There are no rules to cowboy poetry. Most cowboy poems tell a story. Many have a humorous twist. 

Because the cowboys composed their poems while driving cattle, cowboy poetry started as an oral tradition. The author recited his poem from memory.

As technological advancements such as trains and trucks made it easier to move cattle, the days of the long cattle drives were over. Cowboy poetry became a way to memorialize the cowboy way of life, and to offset the image of the gun slinging cowboy from the movies.

One of the oldest published examples of cowboy poetry is “Western Home,” written by Brewster Higley in 1876. The poem was set to music by his friend Daniel E. Kelly and is better known as “Home on the Range.” (Although the original poem did not include that phrase.) The song quickly became popular among cowboys and others who traveled the west.

 Western Home

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and antelope play,
Where never is heard a discouraging word
And the sky is not clouded all day.
Chorus—
A home, a home where the deer and the antelope play,
Where never is heard a discouraging word
And the sky is not clouded all day.
Oh, give me the gale of the Solomon vale,
Where light streams with buoyancy flow,
On the banks of the Beaver, where seldom if ever,
Any poisonous herbage doth grow.
Chorus—
Oh, give me the land where the bright diamond sand
Throws light from its glittering stream,
Where glideth along the graceful white swan
Like a maid in her heavenly dream
Chorus—
I love these wild flowers in this bright land of ours,
I love, too, the curlew's wild scream,
The bluffs of white rocks and antelope flocks
That graze on our hillsides so green.
Chorus—
How often at night, when the heavens are bright
By the light of the glittering stars,
Have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed
If their beauty exceeds this of ours.
Chorus—
The air is so pure the breezes so light,
The zephyrs so balmy at night,
I would not exchange my home here to range
Forever in azure so bright.

Chorus—

The song was first recorded in 1908 by John Lomax.

“Songs of the Cowboys,” an anthology of cowboy poetry was published in 1908. The book is no longer in print, but digital versions are available on Kindle.

Some modern cowboy poets have found success with their writing, gaining fame and appearing on television.

There’s even a  National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Their website explains: “It all began as a time and place where western ranchers and cowboys could gather to share poems about their lives working cattle. Three decades later, the Gathering encompasses western poets, musicians, artisans, and storytellers, sharing their creativity from across cowboy country, telling their stories of hard work, heartbreak, and hilarity, and what it means to make your way in the rangeland West. The American West’s ever-changing landscapes, communities, flora, and fauna have long inspired exploration, reflection, and creative expression. We are honored to invite western poets, songwriters, artists, artisans, and land stewards to bring new and old stories to light as they endeavor to create a West that hosts healthy and hospitable landscapes and agriculture-based communities. And, as they feed community well-being by carrying traditions forward meaningfully in their contemporary lives.

In  December 2022, the Great Florida Cattle Drive will hit the trail, driving approximately 1,000 cattle from Deseret Ranch in St. Cloud, zigzagging to Kenansville.   Follow along as we celebrate the Florida cattle industry and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime on Great Florida Cattle Drive.

 For more stories see:

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Cattle ranching started in Florida ...

Cowboy, buckaroo, waddy ... what's in a name?

A cowboy needs a horse ... 

Hats off to cowboys!

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Mural depicts 1937 cattle drive

Cowboy superstitions: Fairy braids, lucky horseshoes and unmatched socks

Whips are part of Florida Cracker Cow Hunter heritage

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