THE RIDERS by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)


by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

He claimed he’d rode the bad’uns
plumb from Canada on south.
He’d rode ’em in the wet,
and he’d rode ’em in the drouth.
He’d rode where broncs was little,
and he’d rode where they was big,
And he wore a lot of purties
made of silver on his rig.
Of course he’d never rode before
for such a little spread,
But if they had some broncs to bust,
he’d snap a few, he said.

The Boss, he kinder blinked his eyes
toed a piece of ground.
“Of course,” he said, “us peelers here
ain’t never been around,
But if your pride can stand to ride
amongst a bunch of hicks,
I’ll hire you on, and maybe you
can learn us all some tricks.”

The stranger’s name was Buck La Rue.
He wore a fancy boot.
From all his talk you’d think
he’d learned the hoot owl how to hoot.
But Joe, the ol’ top peeler,
always kinder held his jaw;
Just rode ’em as they came
and never raised no big hurraw.

He cut La Rue some four-year-olds
and watched him snap ’em out.
This Buck could fork a bronc,
he said, there wasn’t any doubt.
But when they talked of ridin’
in the evenin’s after chow,
‘Twas Buck La Rue that never failed
to tell the others how.

He’d say: “You made a middlin’ ride
upon that gray today,
But Joe, I’ve rode ’em awful tough,
down Arizona way.
Of course you boys ain’t been around
enough to realize
That these here broncs is purty tame,
an’ kinder undersize.
I’ve forked ’em in Wyoming
and the South Dakota hills,
That you’ve got to set ’em salty
or they jolt you to the gills!”

But Joe jest went on ridin’,
never puttin’ on the show;
His spurs was never bloody
and you never heard him blow.
Then came a day when Buck La Rue
got spilled upon the ground,
Because this roan bronc hadn’t heard
how Buck had been around.

“Why damn his soul!” said Buck,
and you could see it hurt his pride,
“This two-bit ranch can’t raise a bronc
that Buck La Rue can’t ride!”
Buck screwed down on him once again.
The roan unravelled quick,
And where he throwed ol’ Buck that time,
the dust was purty thick.

The third time that he throwed him,
Buck’s tongue forgot to wag,
The ol’ Joe spoke up quiet:
“Let me try that little nag.
The chances are he’ll throw me,
for as Buck has often said,
I’m just a local rider
for a little two-bit spread.”

Joe stepped up in the saddle,
raked the roan both fore and aft,
The bronc done plenty buckin’,
but ol’ Joe set up and laughed:
“I’m just a pore ol’ country boy,
raised weak on country chuck.
Ain’t never saw the elephant
nor spun the world, like Buck!

Come on, ol’ hoss, and show me
how you lay ’em on the ground,
For, as ol’ Buck has told you,
I ain’t never been around!'”
That roan, he bucked the damndest
that a country bronco could,
But Joe stayed in the saddle,
settin’ deep down in the wood.

For once he done some spurrin’
as he gave the boys a show,
While Buck just stood a-watchin’,
with his head hung kinder low.
Joe wrung him dry of buckin’,
like a wringer wrings a shirt,
Then stepped down from the saddle,
lookin’ plenty fresh and pert.

He says to Buck: “You take him!”
And he give his hat a whirl.
“In case he’s still too tough for you,
just give him to your girl!”

The moral of this little tale,
as some of you have guessed,
Is something most all cowpokes know,
most everywhere out West
For most of them have have noticed,
that it’s generally the case:
The toughest broncs are always
those you’ve rode some other place!

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, from Rawhide Rhymes; Singing Poems of the Old West” (1968)

For an excellent recitation of this poem, tune in to the latest episode of Andy Hedges’ COWBOY CROSSROADS. He recites the poem at the top and it continues with part one of a rollicking interview with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

S. Omar Barker was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America, Inc. and many of his poems were published by Western Horseman.

Above is a later version of S. Omar Barker’s poem; an earlier one was published in Songs of the Saddlemen (1954). See both versions and find more about Barker at

This 1908 photograph by noted cowboy photographer Erwin E. Smith (1886-1937) is titled, “The LS Bronco Buster” and is described, “Photograph shows a cowboy on a bucking bronco in a corral at the LS Ranch, Texas, 1907.” It’s from The Library of Congress and you can find more about it here.

At the Amon Carter Museum, the largest holder of Smith photographs, they tell, “Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947) always wanted to be a cowboy and an artist. When he was a boy growing up in Bonham, a town in Fannin County in North Texas, the era of the great trail drives was over, and he feared that the old ways of the cowboy were disappearing. However, the legend and myth of the cowboy was just beginning. Popular literature, art by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, and the fledgling film industry promoted a romantic, yet often inaccurate, image of the cowboy. For his part, Smith resolved to honor the life of the cowboy by presenting as true a portrayal as possible.” See their on-line gallery of his works.