A BUSTED COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS by D.J. O’Malley 1868-1884


by D.J. O’Malley 1868-1884

I am a busted cowboy
And I work upon the range,
In summertime I get some work,
But one thing which seems strange,
As soon as fall work’s over
I get it in the neck
I get a Christmas present
Of a neatly written check.

I come to town to rusticate,
I’ve no place else to stay
When winter winds are howling hard
Because I don’t eat hay.
A puncher’s life’s a picnic?
It is one continual joke.
But there’s none more anxious to see spring
Than the cowboy who is broke.

The wages that a cowhand earns
In summer goes like smoke,
And when the snow begins to drift
You bet your neck he’s broke.
You may talk about your holidays,
Your Christmas cheer and joy,
They’re all the same to me, my friend.
Cash gone, I’m a broke cowboy.

My saddle and my gun in soak,
My spurs I’ve long since sold,
My rawhide and my quirt are gone,
My chaps, no. They’re too old.
My outfit’s gone, I can’t e’en bum
A cigarette to smoke.
For no one cares what happens
To a cowboy who is broke.

Just where I’ll eat my dinner
This Christmas, I don’t know,
But you can bet your life I’ll have one
If I get but half a show.
This Christmas holds no charms for me,
On good things I’ll not choke,
Unless I get a big handout
I’m a cowboy who is broke.

…D. J. O’Malley, 1893

D.J. O’Malley was born in San Angelo, Texas, in 1868. He worked on the open range for nearly 20 years, starting in Montana in 1884.

The University of Arizona’s Cowboy Songs and Singers: of Lifeways and Legend site comments on this poem: “This was written on a winter night after Mr. O’Malley had been parted from $2 by a fellow with a long spiel. He says that at that time there were many ‘summer hands’ or ‘mail order cowboys.’ They were only good enough to fill in as herders or extras during roundup time, but when they told it around the stove in winter they were all ‘top hands.’ The poem appeared in the Stock Growers’ Journal on December 23,
1893. It was signed Iyam B. Usted.”

See their collection of poems about D.J. O’Malley and commentary about him by John I. White here.

Find more about the poem and about D.J. O’Malley at CowboyPoetry.com in our feature that includes selections of his poetry and prose.

This photograph of D.J. O’Malley is from the Montana Historical Society, used with permission. Credit: Montana Historical Society Research Center Photograph Archives, Helena, MT: 944-212 D.J. O’Malley (Kid White) taken in Forsyth, Montana 1897, photographer unknown. Catalog # 944-212

(Please respect copyright. Permission is required from the Montana Historical Society for this image. The poem is in the public domain.)