THE COWBOY’S LAMENT (traditional)

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THE COWBOY’S LAMENT
Traditional*

As I walked out in the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a poor cowboy wrapped up in white linen,
Wrapped up in white linen and cold as the clay.

“Oh beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
Play the Dead March as you bear me along;
Take me to the graveyard, and lay the sod o’er me,
For I’m a young cowboy, and I know I’ve done wrong.

“I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy,”—
These words he did say as I boldly stepped by.—
“Come sit beside me and hear my sad story;
I was shot in the breast and I know I must die.

“Let sixteen gamblers come handle my coffin,
Let sixteen cowboys come sing me a song,
Take me to the graveyard and lay the sod over me,
For I’m a poor cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.

“My friends and relation they live in the Nation,
They know not where their boy has gone.
He first came to Texas and hired to a ranchman,
Oh, I’m a young cowboy, and I know I’ve done wrong.

“Go write a letter to my gray-haired mother,
And carry the same to my sister so dear;
But not a word shall you mention
When a crowd gathers round you my story to hear.

There is another more dear than a sister,
She’ll bitterly weep when she hears I am gone.
There is another who will win her affections,
For I’m a young cowboy, and they say I’ve done wrong.

“Go gather around you a crowd of young cowboys
And tell them the story of this my sad fate;
Tell one and the other before they go further
To stop their wild roving before ‘t is too late.

“Oh muffle your drums, then play your fifes merrily;
Play the Dead March as you bear me along.
And fire your guns right over my coffin;
There goes an unfortunate boy to his home.

“It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing,
It was once in the saddle I used to be gay;
First to the dram-house and then to the card-house:
Got shot in the breast , I am dying to-day.

“Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin;
Get six pretty maidens to bear up my pall;
Put bunches of roses all over my coffin,
Put roses to deaden the clods as they fall.

“Then swing your rope slowly and rattle your spurs lowly,
And give a wild whoop as you bear me along;
And in the grave throw me, and roll the sod over me,
For I’m a young cowboy, and I know I’ve done wrong.

“Go bring me a cup, a cup of cold water
To cool my parched lips,” the young cowboy said.
Before I turned, the spirit had left him
And gone to its Giver—the cowboy was dead.

We beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly,
And bitterly wept as we bore him along;
For we all loved our comrade, so brave, young, and handsome;
We all loved our comrade, although he’d done wrong.

(From the 1921 edition of Jack Thorp’s “Songs of the Cowboys,” in which he writes, “Authorship credited to Troy Hale, Battle Creek, Nebraska. I first heard it sung in a bar-room at Wisner, Nebraska, about 1886.”)

*”The Cowboy’s Lament” (also known as “Streets of Laredo”) is most often cited as “traditional,” and it also has been credited to various authors. Today, most accept that Francis Henry Maynard (1853-1926) wrote an early version of the song, “The Dying Cowboy.” Find our feature about the song and Maynard and more, including links to vintage renditions at CowboyPoetry.com.

Why feature this poem for St. Patrick’s Day? The melody and story are said to have come from the 18th century Irish ballad, “The Bard of Armagh” (also known as “The Unfortunate Rake,” “Phelim Brady,” and by other titles). Find a short version of that ballad and many links (like this one to a vintage Peter LaFarge rendition of “Streets of Laredo”) and more information about “The Cowboy’s Lament” and its history at CowboyPoetry.com.

Find other St. Patrick’s Day flavored poems and lyrics at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1909 Raphael Tuck postcard is from the New York Public Library’s digital collection. Find more about this card here and see the entire collection of vintage St. Patrick’s Day cards here.

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