Cowboy Songs & Frontier Ballads

Cowboy on Horse

The Cow Boy, circa 1887, by John C. H. Grabill, Sturgis, Dakota Territory. Click for prints & products.

The Cowboy

All day long on the prairies I ride,
Not even a dog to trot by my side;
My fire I kindle with chips gathered round,
My coffee I boil without being ground.

I wash in a pool and wipe on a sack;
I carry my wardrobe all on my back;
For want of an oven I cook bread in a pot,
And sleep on the ground for want of a cot.

My ceiling is the sky, my floor is the grass,
My music is the lowing of the herds as they pass;
My books are the brooks, my sermons the stones,
My parson is a wolf on his pulpit of bones.

And then if my cooking is not very complete
You can’t blame me for wanting to eat.
But show me a man that sleeps more profound
Than the big puncher-boy who stretches himself on the ground.

My books teach me ever consistence to prize,
My sermons, that small things I should not despise;
My parson remarks from his pulpit of bones
That fortune favors those who look out for their own.

And then between me and love lies a gulf very wide.
Some lucky fellow may call her his bride.
My friends gently hint I am coming to grief,
But men must make money and women have beef.

But Cupid is always a friend to the bold,
And the best of his arrows are pointed with gold.
Society bans me so savage and dodge
That the Masons would ball me out of their lodge.

If I had hair on my chin, I might pass for the goat
That bore all the sins in the ages remote;
But why it is I can never understand,
For each of the patriarchs owned a big brand.

Abraham emigrated in search of a range,
And when water was scarce he wanted a change;
Old Isaac owned cattle in charge of Esau,
And Jacob punched cows for his father-in-law.

He started in business way down at bed rock,
And made quite a streak at handling stock;
Then David went from night-herding to using a sling;
And, winning the battle, he became a great king.
Then the shepherds, while herding the sheep on a hill,
Got a message from heaven of peace and goodwill.

Cowboy Leading Horses

Cowboy Leading Horses

The Cowboy at Work

You may call the cowboy horned and think him hard to tame,
You may heap vile epithets upon his head;
But to know him is to like him, notwithstanding his hard name,
For he will divide with you his beef and bread.

If you see him on his pony as he scampers o’er the plain,
You would think him wild and woolly, to be sure;
But his heart is warm and tender when he sees a friend in need,
Though his education is but to endure.

When the storm breaks in its fury and the lightning’s vivid flash
Makes you thank the Lord for shelter and for bed,
Then it is he mounts his pony and away you see him dash,
No protection but the hat upon his head.

Such is life upon a cow ranch, and the half was never told;
But you never find a kinder-hearted set
Than the cattleman at home, be he either young or old,
He’s a “daisy from away back,” don’t forget.

When you fail to find a pony or a cow that’s gone a-stray,
Be that cow or pony wild or be it tame,
The cowboy, like the drummer, — and the bed-bug, too, they say,
Brings him to you, for he gets there just the same.

Cowboy & Old West T-Shirts exclusively from Legends of America

Cowboy & Old West T-Shirts exclusively from Legends of America

The Cowboy’s Dream

Last night as I lay on the prairie,
And looked at the stars in the sky,
I wondered if ever a cowboy
Would drift to that sweet by and by.

Roll on, roll on;
Roll on, little dogies, roll on, roll on,
Roll on, roll on;
Roll on, little dogies, roll on.

The road to that bright, happy region
Is a dim, narrow trail, so they say;
But the broad one that leads to perdition
Is posted and blazed all the way.

They say there will be a great round-up,
And cowboys, like dogies, will stand,
To be marked by the Riders of Judgment
Who are posted and know every brand.

I know there’s many a stray cowboy
Who’ll be lost at the great, final sale,
When he might have gone in the green pastures
Had he known of the dim, narrow trail.

I wonder if ever a cowboy
Stood ready for that Judgment Day,
And could say to the Boss of the Riders,
“I’m ready, come drive me away.”

For they, like the cows that are locoed,
Stampede at the sight of a hand,
Are dragged with a rope to the round-up,
Or get marked with some crooked man’s brand.

And I’m scared that I’ll be a stray yearling, —

A maverick, unbranded on high, —

And get cut in the bunch with the “rusties”
When the Boss of the Riders goes by.

For they tell of another big owner
Whose ne’er overstocked, so they say,
But who always makes room for the sinner
Who drifts from the straight, narrow way.

They say he will never forget you,
That he knows every action and look;
So, for safety, you’d better get branded,
Have your name in the great Tally Book.

Sung to the air of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean

Cowboys at a Mess Scene, 1887

Cowboys gathered around the chuckwagon ready for “chow” on the ranch, 1887, by John C.H. Grabill in South Dakota. Click for prints & products.

The Cowboy’s Life

The bawl of a steer,
To a cowboy’s ear,
Is music of sweetest strain;
And the yelping notes
Of the gray cayotes
To him are a glad refrain.

And his jolly songs
Speed him along,
As he thinks of the little gal
With golden hair
Who is waiting there
At the bars of the home corral.

For a kingly crown
In the noisy town
His saddle he wouldn’t change;
No life so free
As the life we see
Way out on the Yaso range.

His eyes are bright
And his heart as light
As the smoke of his cigarette;
There’s never a care
For his soul to bear,
No trouble to make him fret.

The rapid beat
Of his broncho’s feet
On the sod as he speeds along,
Keeps living time
To the ringing rhyme
Of his rollicking cowboy song.

Hike it, cowboys,
For the range away
On the back of a bronc of steel,
With a careless flirt
Of the raw-hide quirt
And a dig of a roweled heel!

The winds may blow
And the thunder growl
Or the breezes may safely moan; —

A cowboy’s life
Is a royal life,
His saddle his kingly throne.

Saddle up, boys,
For the work is play
When love’s in the cowboy’s eyes, —
When his heart is light
As the clouds of white
That swim in the summer skies.

Attributed to James Barton Adams

Cowgirl 1909

Cowgirl with a gun, 1909.

The Cowgirl

My love is a rider and broncos he breaks,
But he’s given up riding and all for my sake;
For he found him a horse and it suited him so
He vowed he’d ne’er ride any other bronco.

My love has a gun, and that gun he can use,
But he’s quit his gun fighting as well as his booze;
And he’s sold him his saddle, his spurs, and his rope,
And there’s no more cow punching, and that’s what I hope.

My love has a gun that has gone to the bad,
Which makes poor old Jimmy feel pretty damn sad;
For the gun it shoots high and the gun it shoots low,
And it wobbles about like a bucking bronco.

The cook is an unfortunate son of a gun;
He has to be up e’er the rise of the sun;
His language is awful, his curses are deep, —
He is like cascarets, for he works while you sleep.