Cowboy Songs & Frontier Ballads

California Stage Co in Nevada, 1866, Lawrence and Houseworth

California Stage Co in Nevada, 1866, Lawrence and Houseworth.

The California Stage Company

There’s no respect for youth or age
On board the California stage,
But pull and haul about the seats
As bed-bugs do about the sheets.


They started as a thieving line
In eighteen hundred and forty-nine;
All opposition they defy,
So the people must root hog or die.

You’re crowded in with Chinamen,
As fattening hogs are in a pen;
And what will more a man provoke
Is musty plug tobacco smoke.

The ladies are compelled to sit
With dresses in tobacco spit;
The gentlemen don’t seem to care,
But talk on politics and swear.

The dust is deep in summer time,
The mountains very hard to climb,
And drivers often stop and yell,
“Get out, all hands, and push up hill.”

The drivers, when they feel inclined,
Will have you walking on behind,
And on your shoulders lug a pole
To help them out some muddy hole.

They promise when your fare you pay,
“You’ll have to walk but half the way”;
Then add aside, with cunning laugh,
“You’ll have to push the other half.”

California Trail Map

California Trail Map

California Trail

List all you California boys
And open wide your ears,
For now we start across the plains
With a herd of mules and steers.
Now, bear in mind before you start,
That you’ll eat jerked beef, not ham,
And antelope steak, Oh cuss the stuff!
It often proves a sham.

You cannot find a stick of wood
On all this prairie wide;
Whene’er you eat you’ve got to stand
Or sit on some old bull hide.
It’s fun to cook with buffalo chips
Or mesquite, green as corn, —
If I’d once known what I know now
I’d have gone around Cape Horn.

The women have the hardest time
Who emigrate by land;
For when they cook out in the wind
They’re sure to burn their hand.
Then they scold their husbands round,
Get mad and spill the tea, —
I’d have thanked my stars if they’d not come out
Upon this bleak prairie.

Most every night we put out guards
To keep the Indians off.
When night comes round some heads will ache,
And some begin to cough.
To be deprived of help at night,
You know is mighty hard,
But every night there’s someone sick
To keep from standing guard.

Then they’re always talking of what they’ve got,
And what they’re going to do;
Some will say they’re content,
For I’ve got as much as you.
Others will say, “I’ll buy or sell,
I’m damned if I care which.”
Others will say, “Boys, buy him out,
For he doesn’t own a stitch.”

Old raw-hide shoes are hell on corns
While tramping through the sands,
And driving jackass by the tail, —
Damn the overland!
I would as leaf be on a raft at sea
And there at once be lost.
John, let’s leave the poor old mule,
We’ll never get him across!

Cowboy T-Shirt available at Legends' General Store

Cowboy T-Shirt available at Legends’ General Store

The Camp Fire Has Gone Out

Through progress of the railroads our occupation’s gone;
So we will put ideas into words, our words into a song.
First comes the cowboy, he is pointed for the west;
Of all the pioneers I claim the cowboys are the best;
You will miss him on the round-up, it’s gone, his merry shout,
The cowboy has left the country and the campfire has gone out.

There is the freighters, our companions, you’ve got to leave this land,
Can’t drag your loads for nothing through the gumbo and the sand.
The railroads are bound to beat you when you do your level best;
So give it up to the grangers and strike out for the west.
Bid them all adieu and give the merry shout,
The cowboy has left the country and the campfire has gone out.

When I think of those good old days, my eyes with tears do fill;
When I think of the tin can by the fire and the cayote on the hill.
I’ll tell you, boys, in those days old-timers stood a show,
Our pockets full of money, not a sorrow did we know.
But things have changed now, we are poorly clothed and fed.
Our wagons are all broken and our ponies most all dead.
Soon we will leave this country, you’ll hear the angels shout,
“Oh, here they come to Heaven, the campfire has gone out.”

Cole Younger After Northfield Raid

Cole Younger after having been injured during his capture after the Northfield, Minnesota raid.

Cole Younger

Am one of a band of highwaymen, Cole Younger is my name;
My crimes and depredations have brought my friends to shame;
The robbing of the Northfield Bank, the same I can’t deny,
For now I am a prisoner, in the Stillwater jail I lie.

I am a reckless highwayman, Cole Youngerr is my name,
An’ many a desperation has caused my friends much shame;
For the robbin’ of the Northfield bank, my friends, I cain’t deny,
For which I am a poor pris’ner now, In the Stillwater jail I lie.

Of all my darin’ bold robberies a story to you I’ll tell,
Of a California miner on whom my eyes befell,
I robbed him of his money an’ told him to go his way
For which I will be sorry of until my dyin’ day.

An’ then we started for Texas, where brother Bob did say,
That on fast horses we must ride in revenge of our father’s day
On them fast horses we did go to try to win the prize,
An’, we’ll fight them anti-guerillas until our dyin’ day.

An’ the next we surprised was the Union Pacific train,
The crimes we done that bloody day brings tears into my eyes,
The engineer an’ fireman killed, the conductor escaped alive,
An’ now their bodies lie moulderin’ beneath the Nebraska skies

Then again we started for Texas, that good old Lone Star state;
A-crossin’ the Nebraska prairies the James boys we did meet,
With guns an’ knives an’ revolvers we all sat down to play,
While drinkin’ a lot of bad whiskey to pass the time away.

An’ again we saddled our horses back up north for to go,
To that God-forsaken country that they call Minnesoto,
I had my eye on the Northfield Bank when brother Bob did say,
Oh Cole, if you undertake that job you sure will rue the day.

Although we stationed our pickets an’ up to the bank did go,
It was there behind the counter, boys, I struck my fatal blonv
Then hand us out your money, an’ give us no delay,
For we are the noted Younger Boys an’ have no time to play.

An’ while the cashier was ponderin’, I heard poor Jesse say,
It’s gettin’ pretty warm out here, we’d better be gettin’ away.


Jesus Rodriguez, of the Convict's Grave, courtesy Arizona Department of Library

Jesus Rodriguez, of the Convict’s Grave, courtesy Arizona Department of Library

The Convict

When slumbering In my convict cell my childhood days I see,
When I was mother’s little child and knelt at mother’s knee.
There my life was peace, I know, I knew no sorrow or pain.
Mother dear never did think, I know, I would wear a felon’s chain.

Clink, clink, clink, clink, clink,
Ah, don’t you hear the clinking of my chain?
Clink, clink, clink, clink, clink,
Ah, don’t you hear the clinking of my chain?

When I had grown to manhood and evil paths I trod,
I learned to scorn my fellow-man and even curse my God;
And in the evil course I ran for a great length of time
Till at last I ran too long and was condemned for a felon’s crime.

My prison life will soon be o’er, my life will soon be gone,

May the angels waft it heavenward to a bright and happy home.
I’ll be at rest, sweet, sweet rest, there is rest in the heavenly home;
I’ll be at rest, sweet, sweet rest, there is rest in the heavenly home.

Clink, clink, clink, clink, clink,
Ah, don’t you hear the clinking of my chain?
Clink, clink, clink, clink, clink,
Ah, don’t you hear the clinking of my chain?

Cowboys near Silver City, New Mexico

Cowboys near Silver City, New Mexico

A Cow Camp On The Range

Oh, the prairie dogs are screaming,
And the birds are on the wing,
See the heel fly chase the heifer, boys!
‘Tis the first class sign of spring.
The elm wood is budding,
The earth is turning green.
See the pretty things of nature
That make life a pleasant dream!

I’m just living through the winter
To enjoy the coming change,
For there is no place so homelike
As a cow camp on the range.
The boss is smiling radiant,
Radiant as the setting sun;
For he knows he’s stealing glories,
For he ain’t a-cussin’ none.

The cook is at the chuck-box
Whistling “Heifers in the Green,”
Making baking powder biscuits, boys,
While the pot is biling beans.
The boys untie their bedding
And unroll it on the run,
For they are in a monstrous hurry
For the supper’s almost done.

“Here’s your bloody wolf bait,”
Cried the cook’s familiar voice
As he climbed the wagon wheel
To watch the cowboys all rejoice.
Then all thoughts were turned from reverence
To a plate of beef and beans,
As we graze on beef and biscuits
Like yearlings on the range.

To the dickens with your city
Where they herd the brainless brats,
On a range so badly crowded
There ain’t room to cuss the cat.
This life is not so sumptuous,
I’m not longing for a change,
For there is no place so homelike
As a cow camp on the range.