Cowboy Songs & Frontier Ballads

Cowboys in Nebraska, 1938

Cowboys in Nebraska, 1938.

The Horse Wrangler

I thought one spring just for fun
I’d see how cow-punching was done,
And when the round-ups had begun
I tackled the cattle-king.
Says he, “My foreman is in town,
He’s at the plaza, and his name is Brown,
If you’ll see him, he’ll take you down.”
Says I, “That’s just the thing.”

We started for the ranch next day;
Brown augured me most all the way.
He said that cow-punching was nothing but play,
That it was no work at all, —

That all you had to do was ride,
And only drifting with the tide;
The son of a gun, oh, how he lied.
Don’t you think he had his gall?

He put me in charge of a cavyard,
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,
I sometimes wished that I was dead;
When one got away, Brown’s head turned red,
And there was the devil to pay.

Sometimes one would make a break,
Across the prairie he would take,
As if running for a stake, —
It seemed to them but play;
Sometimes I could not head them at all,
Sometimes my horse would catch a fall
And I’d shoot on like a cannon ball
Till the earth came in my way.

They saddled me up an old gray hack
With two set-fasts on his back,
They padded him down with a gunny sack
And used my bedding all.
When I got on he quit the ground,
Went up in the air and turned around,
And I came down and busted the ground, —
I got one hell of a fall.

They took me up and carried me in
And rubbed me down with an old stake pin.
“That’s the way they all begin;
You’re doing well,” says Brown.
“And in the morning, if you don’t die,
I’ll give you another horse to try.”
“Oh say, can’t I walk?” says I.
Says he, “Yes, back to town.”

I’ve traveled up and I’ve traveled down,
I’ve traveled this country round and round,
I’ve lived in city and I’ve lived in town,
But I’ve got this much to say:
Before you try cow-punching, kiss your wife,
Take a heavy insurance on your life,
Then cut your throat with a barlow knife,
For it’s easier done that way.

Texas Longhorn

Texas Longhorn

I’d Like To Be In Texas

In the lobby of a big hotel, in New York town one day,
Sat a bunch of fellers tellin’ yarns to pass the time away.
They told of places they had been and different things they’d seen.
Some preferred Chicago town and others New Orleans.

In a corner, in an old arm chair, sat a man whose hair was gray.
He listened to them eagerly, to what they had to say.
They asked him where he’d like to be and his clear old voice did ring.
I’d like to be in Texas for the roundup in the spring.


I can see the cattle grazing o’er the hills at early morn;
I can see the campfire smoking at the breaking of the dawn.
I can hear the broncos neighing, I can hear the cowboys sing
I’d like to be in Texas for the roundup in the spring.

They sat and listened carefully to what he had to say
For they new the old man sitting there had been a top hand in his day.
They asked him for a story of his life out on the plains,
Slowly he removed his hat and quietly began.

“I’ve seen ’em stampede over hills till you’d think they’d never stop,
I’ve seen ’em run for miles and miles until their leader dropped,
I was Forman on a cow ranch, the callin of a king.
I’d like to be in Texas for the roundup in the spring.

Jesse James in 1864

Jesse James in 1864

Jesse James

Jesse James was a lad that killed a-many a man;
He robbed the Danville train.
But that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard
Has laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Poor Jesse had a wife to mourn for his life,
Three children, they were brave.
But that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard
Has laid poor Jesse in his grave.

It was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward,
I wonder how he does feel,
For he ate of Jesse’s bread and he slept in Jesse’s bed,
Then laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Jesse was a man, a friend to the poor,
He never would see a man suffer pain;
And with his brother Frank he robbed the Chicago bank,
And stopped the Glendale train.

It was his brother Frank that robbed the Gallatin bank,
And carried the money from the town;
It was in this very place that they had a little race,
For they shot Captain Sheets to the ground.

They went to the crossing not very far from there,
And there they did the same;
With the agent on his knees, he delivered up the keys
To the outlaws, Frank and Jesse James.

It was on Wednesday night, the moon was shining bright,
They robbed the Glendale train;
The people they did say, for many miles away,
It was robbed by Frank and Jesse James.

It was on Saturday night, Jesse was at home
Talking with his family brave,
Robert Ford came along like a thief in the night
And laid poor Jesse in his grave.

The people held their breath when they heard of Jesse’s death,
And wondered how he ever came to die.
It was one of the gang called little Robert Ford,
He shot poor Jesse on the sly.

Jesse went to his rest with his hand on his breast;
The devil will be upon his knee.
He was born one day in the county of Clay
And came from a solitary race.

This song was made by Billy Gashade,
As soon as the news did arrive;
He said there was no man with the law in his hand
Who could take Jesse James when alive.

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The Jolly Cowboy

My lover, he is a cowboy, he’s brave and kind and true,
He rides a Spanish pony, he throws a lasso, too;
And when he comes to see me our vows we do redeem,
He throws his arms around me and thus begins to sing:

“Ho, I’m a jolly cowboy, from Texas now I hail,
Give me my quirt and pony, I’m ready for the trail;
I love the rolling prairies, they’re free from care and strife,
Behind a herd of longhorns I’ll journey all my life.

“When early dawn is breaking and we are far away,
We fall into our saddles, we round-up all the day;
We rope, we brand, we ear-mark, I tell you we are smart,
And when the herd is ready, for Kansas then we start.

“Oh, I am a Texas cowboy, lighthearted, brave, and free,
To roam the wide, wide prairie, ’tis always joy to me.
My trusty little pony is my companion true,
O’er creeks and hills and rivers he’s sure to pull me through.

“When threatening clouds do gather and herded lightnings flash,
And heavy rain drops splatter, and rolling thunders crash;
What keeps the herd from running, stampeding far and wide?
The cowboy’s long, low whistle and singing by their side.

“When in Kansas City, our boss he pays us up,
We loaf around the city and take a parting cup;
We bid farewell to city life, from noisy crowds we come,
And back to dear old Texas, the cowboy’s native home.”

Oh, he is coming back to marry the only girl he loves,
He says I am his darling, I am his own true love;
Some day we two will marry and then no more he’ll roam,
But settle down with Mary in a cozy little home.

“Ho, I’m a jolly cowboy, from Texas now I hail,
Give me my bond to Mary, I’ll quit the Lone Star trail.
I love the rolling prairies, they’re free from care and strife,
But I’ll quit the herd of longhorns for the sake of my little wife.”

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The Kansas Line

Come all you jolly cowmen, don’t you want to go
Way up on the Kansas line?
Where you whoop up the cattle from morning till night
All out in the midnight rain.

The cowboy’s life is a dreadful life,
He’s driven through heat and cold;
I’m almost froze with the water on my clothes,
A-ridin’ through heat and cold.

I’ve been where the lightnin’, the lightnin’ tangled in my eyes,
The cattle I could scarcely hold;
Think I heard my boss man say:
“I want all brave-hearted men who ain’t afraid to die
To whoop up the cattle from morning till night,
Way up on the Kansas line.”

Speaking of your farms and your shanty charms,
Speaking of your silver and gold, —

Take a cowman’s advice, go and marry you a true and lovely little wife,
Never to roam, always stay at home;
That’s a cowman’s, a cowman’s advice,
Way up on the Kansas line.

Think I heard the noisy cook say,
“Wake up, boys, it’s near the break of day,” —
Way up on the Kansas line,
And slowly we will rise with the sleepy feeling eyes,
Way up on the Kansas line.

The cowboy’s life is a dreary, dreary life,
All out in the midnight rain;
I’m almost froze with the water on my clothes,
Way up on the Kansas line.