LEGEND OF BOASTFUL BILL
by Charles Badger Clark, Jr. (1883-1957)
At a roundup on the Gily,
One sweet mornin’ long ago,
Ten of us was throwed right freely
By a hawse from Idaho.
And we thought he’d go a-beggin’
For a man to break his pride
Till, a-hitchin’ up one leggin’,
Boastful Bill cut loose and cried —
“I’m a on’ry proposition for to hurt;
I fulfill my earthly mission with a quirt;
I kin ride the highest liver
‘Tween the Gulf and Powder River,
And I’ll break this thing as easy as I’d flirt.”
So Bill climbed the Northern Fury
And they mangled up the air
Till a native of Missouri
Would have owned his brag was fair.
Though the plunges kep’ him reelin’
And the wind it flapped his shirt,
Loud above the hawse’s squealin’
We could hear our friend assert
“I’m the one to take such rakin’s as a joke.
Someone hand me up the makin’s of a smoke!
If you think my fame needs bright’nin’
W’y I’ll rope a streak of lightnin’
And I’ll cinch ‘im up and spur ‘im till he’s broke.”
Then one caper of repulsion
Broke that hawse’s back in two.
Cinches snapped in the convulsion;
Skyward man and saddle flew.
Up he mounted, never laggin’,
While we watched him through our tears,
And his last thin bit of braggin’
Came a-droppin’ to our ears.
“If you’d ever watched my habits very close
You would know I’ve broke such rabbits by the gross.
I have kep’ my talent hidin’;
I’m too good for earthly ridin’
And I’m off to bust the lightnin’s, —
Years have gone since that ascension.
Boastful Bill ain’t never lit,
So we reckon that he’s wrenchin’
Some celestial outlaw’s bit.
When the night rain beats our slickers
And the wind is swift and stout
And the lightnin’ flares and flickers,
We kin sometimes hear him shout —
“I’m a bronco-twistin’ wonder on the fly;
I’m the ridin’ son-of-thunder of the sky.
Hi! you earthlin’s, shut your winders
While we’re rippin’ clouds to flinders.
If this blue-eyed darlin’ kicks at you, you die!”
Stardust on his chaps and saddle,
Scornful still of jar and jolt,
He’ll come back some day, astraddle
Of a bald-faced thunderbolt.
And the thin-skinned generation
Of that dim and distant day
Sure will stare with admiration
When they hear old Boastful say —
“I was first, as old rawhiders all confessed.
Now I’m last of all rough riders, and the best.
Huh, you soft and dainty floaters,
With your a’roplanes and motors —
Huh! are you the great grandchildren of the West!”
…by Badger Clark
Clark wrote the poem in 1907 and our version is from Clark’s Sun and Saddle Leather,” first published in 1915.
The late Buck Ramsey comments on the poem in an essay, “Cowboy Libraries and Lingo,” in Cowboy Poets & Cowboy Poetry, edited by David Stanley and Elaine Thatcher. He writes, “..for imaginative cowboy lingo and outlandish braggadocio, Badger Clark’s “The Legend of Boastful Bill” is hard to beat…Bill goes on one hell of a ride, but as a challenge this raging bronc is for Boastful Bill about like hairpinning Aunt Maude’s milk cow…”
“Rodeo poet”Paul Zarzyski breaks into the poem in part one of Andy Hedges’ recent COWBOY CROSSROADS interview. The iconoclastic poet is eloquent when speaking about his family, poetry, rodeo, and the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Listen to the interview (a second part was released today) here.
A favorite recitation is by Jerry Brooks, from her Shoulder to Shoulder CD (and on The BAR-D Roundup volumes Five and Ten). Other top recordings of the poem are by Randy Rieman, on his Where the “Ponies Come to Drink CD and Paul Zarzyski recites it on Cowboy Poetry Classics from Smithsonian Classics. There is a recording of Badger Clark reciting his poem, on a CD available from the Badger Clark Memorial Society. Find more at CowboyPoetry.com.
This 1888 photo by John C.H. Grabill is titled,”‘Bucking Bronco.’ Ned Coy, a famous Dakota cowboy, starts out for the cattle round-up with his pet ‘Boy Dick.'” It is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.