A COWBOY TOAST by James Barton Adams (1843-1918)


by James Barton Adams (1843-1918)

Here’s to the passing cowboy, the plowman’s pioneer;
His home, the boundless mesa, he of any man the peer;
Around his wide sombrero was stretched the rattler’s hide,
His bridle sporting conchos, his lasso at his side.
All day he roamed the prairies, at night he, with the stars,
Kept vigil o’er thousands held by neither posts nor bars;
With never a diversion in all the lonesome land,
But cattle, cattle, cattle, and the sun and sage and sand.

Sometimes the hoot-owl hailed him, when scudding through the flat;
And prairie dogs would sauce him, as at their doors they sat;
The rattler hissed its warning when near its haunts he trod
Some Texas steer pursuing o’er the pathless waste of sod.
With lasso, quirt, and ‘colter the cowboy knew his skill;
They pass with him to history and naught their place can fill;
While he, bold broncho rider, ne’er conned a lesson page,—
But cattle, cattle, cattle, and sun and sand and sage.

And oh! the long night watches, with terror in the skies!
When lightning played and mocked him till blinded were his eyes;
When raged the storm around him, and fear was in his heart
Lest panic-stricken leaders might make the whole herd start.
That meant a death for many, perhaps a wild stampede,
When none could stem the fury of the cattle in the lead;
Ah, then life seemed so little and death so very near,—
With cattle, cattle, cattle, and darkness everywhere.

Then quaff with me a bumper of water, clear and pure,
To the memory of the cowboy whose fame must e’er endure
From the Llano Estacado to Dakota’s distant sands,
Where were herded countless thousands in the days of fenceless lands.
Let us rear for him an altar in the Temple of the Brave,
And weave of Texas grasses a garland for his grave;
And offer him a guerdon for the work that he has done
With cattle, cattle, cattle, and sage and sand and sun.

….James Barton Adams


James Barton Adams worked as a cowboy on Captain Jack Crawford’s New Mexico ranch, 1890-92. He became a newspaper columnist, and wrote poems still recited (and put to music) today, including “The Cowboy’s Dance Song” (also known as “The High-Toned Dance”). It was recently determined that he was the author of “The Gol Darn Wheel.”

The poem appears in Adams’ 1899 book, Breezy Western Verse. Adams, as told in a 1968 publication of the Socorro County (New Mexico) Historical Society, “…lived and worked in the rugged San Andres mountains of central New Mexico on a ranch owned by Captain Jack Crawford, famous Indian Scout and Poet…Many of his poems were probably drawn from his life and experiences during this period in New Mexico. Adams wrote the foreword to Capt. Jack’s book, Whar the Hand O’ God is Seen, published in 1913.”

Scott E. Lusby shared this photo and others of James Barton Adams, his great great grandfather, and Captain Jack Crawford in a 2008 Picture the West at CowboyPoetry.com.

Find more about James Barton Adams and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.