THE GOOD OLD COWBOY DAYS
by Luther A. Lawhon (1861-1922)
My fancy drifts as often, through the murky, misty maze
Of the past—to other seasons—to the good old cowboy days,
When the grass wuz green an’ wavin’ an’ the skies wuz soft and blue,
And the men were brave an’ loyal, and the women fair an’ true!
The old-time cowboy—here’s to him, from hired hand to boss!
His soul wuz free from envy and his heart wuz free from dross,
An’ deep within his nature, which wuz rugged, high and bold,
There ran a vein uv metal, and the metal, men, wuz, gold!
He’d stand up—drunk or sober—’gin a thousand fer his rights;
He’d sometimes close an argument by shootin’ out the lights;
An’ when there was a killin’, by the quickest on the draw,
He wern’t disposed to quibble ’bout the majesty uv law,
But a thief—a low down villain—why, he had no use for him
An’ wuz mighty apt to leave ‘im danglin’ from a handy limb.
He wuz heeled and allers ready—quick with pistol or with knife,
But he never shirked a danger or a duty in his life!
An’ at a tale uv sorrow or uv innocence beguiled
His heart wuz just as tender as the heart uv any child.
An’ woman—aye, her honor wuz a sacred thing; and hence
He threw his arms around her—in a figurative sense.
His home wuz yours, where’er it wuz, an’ open stood the door,
Whose hinges never closed upon the needy or the poor;
An’ high or low—it mattered not—the time, if night or day,
The stranger found a welcome just as long as he would stay.
Wuz honest to the marrow, and his bond wuz in his word.
He paid for every critter that he cut into his herd;
An’ take your note because he loaned a friend a little pelf?
No, sir, indeed! He thought you wuz as worthy as himself.
An’ when you came and paid it back, as proper wuz an’ meet,
You trod upon forbidden ground to ask for a receipt.
In former case you paid the debt (there weren’t no intres’ due),
An’ in the latter—chances wuz he’d put a hole through you!
The old-time cowboy had ‘is faults; ’tis true, as has been said,
He’d look upon the licker when the licker, men, wuz red;
His language weren’t allers spoke accordin’ to the rule;
Nor wuz it sech as ye’d expect to hear at Sunday school.
But when he went to meetin’, men, he didn’t yawn or doze,
Nor set there takin’ notice of the congregation’s clothes.
He listened to the preacher with respect, an’ all o’ that,
An’ he never failed to ante when they passed aroun’ the hat!
I call to mind the tournament, an’ then the ball at night;
Of how old Porter drawed the bow and sawed with all his might;
Of how they’d dance—the boys an’ girls; an’ how that one wuz there
With rosy cheeks, an’ hazel eyes, an’ golden, curly hair;
An’ I—but here I’m techin’ on a mighty tender spot;
That boyhood love, at this late day, had better be forgot;
But still at times my heart goes back agin’ and fondly strays
Amidst those dear remembered scenes—the good old cowboy days!
The old-time cowboy wuz a man all over! Hear me, men!
I somehow kinder figger we’ll not see his like agin.
The few that’s left are older now; their hair is mostly white;
Their forms are not so active, and their eyes are not so bright
As when the grass wuz wavin’ green, the skies wuz soft an’ blue,
An’ men were brave, an’ loyal, and the women fair an’ true,
An’ the land wuz filled with plenty, an the range wuz free to graze,
An’ all rode as brothers—in the good old cowboy days.
…by Luther A. Lawhon from “The Trail Drivers of Texas”
Those fortunate enough to have have heard Oklahoma rancher and poet Jay Snider’s (jaysnider.net) recitation of “The Good Old Cowboy Days” on his CD, The Old Tried and True or at the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo or the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering or the Westernfolklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering or other events have experienced a fine performance of a little-heard poem. Jay Snider brought the poem to our attention, and he recites on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Three and it is included on Volume Ten “best-of-the-best” double CD.
Listen to Jay Snider recite the poem on YouTube.
The poem was written by Luther A. Lawhon and is included in The Trail Drivers of Texas, a book best described by its subtitle, “Interesting Sketches of Early Cowboys and Their Experiences on the Range and on the Trail during the Days that Tried Men’s Souls—True Narratives Related by Real Cowpunchers and Men Who Fathered the Cattle Industry in Texas.”
Lawhon worked in newspapers and was involved in local politics, as a congressional candidate.
The book, with over a thousand pages, was originally published by the Old Time Trail Driver’s Association, where Lawhon served as Secretary. An article by Lawhon, “The Men Who Made the Trail,” is also included in the book.
There were at least four editions of the book published before a 1925 edition that was reprinted in 1992 by the University of Texas Press and includes an introduction by B. Byron Price and a full index. The early editions of the book are rare, as are copies of Lawhon’s other collections, which include Songs and Satires (1901) and Cactus Blossoms (1905).
Read more about the University of Texas edition of The Trail Drivers of Texas, and read B. Byron Price’s introduction and view the table of contents at the university’s site.
This 1939 photo by Russell Lee 1903-1986 is titled, “Old-time trail driver in front of kitchen cabinet. Crystal City, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. Find more about it here. There are other photos of the same man, and the captions note that he lives “…alone in quarters furnished by the town. He also receives sustenance from town. He is an old-time trail driver.”
Find a feature about noted photographer Russell Lee and a gallery of photographs from the University of Texas at Austin.