THE BELLED COYOTE
by Robert Fletcher (1885-1972)
Aint no one loves a coyote
That I ever heard about.
He aint nuthin’ but a pestilence
Requirin’ stampin’ out.
A sneakin’, thievin’ rustler,—
A gray, ga’nt vagabone
Whose locoed vocal tendencies
Are lackin’ depth and tone.
Seems like he’s always hungry
And Lord, man, when he wails
It’s the concentrated sinfulness
From lost and vanished trails.
Well, there’s one of them Carusos
Hangs about the Lazy B
And makes hisself obnoxious
Most plum’ consistently.
So, one day, a cayuse dyin’
We surrounds the corpse with traps,
Where we’d cached it in a coulee
A thinkin’ that perhaps
In a moment inadvertent
That coyote will come around
And meet up with some damn tough luck,
And we will have him downed.
Sure enough, he made an error
For he let his appetite
Prevail agin his judgment
And we cinched him that same night.
He got one foot caught in a trap
And jumpin’ ’round about
Another gloms him by a laig
And sort of stretched him out.
Naw, pard, we didn’t shoot him,—
Jest aimed to give him hell,
We took and strapped around his neck
A jinglin’ little bell
And turned him loose to ramble,—
Yes,–I reckin’ it was cruel,—
Aint a cotton-tail or sage-hen
That is jest a plain damn fool
Enought to not take warnin’
When they heard that little bell,—
So he don’t get too much food nor
Company, I’m here to tell.
He’s an outlaw with his own kind
And his pickin’s pretty slim,
‘Cause ev’rywhere he goes that bell
Gives warnin’ that it’s him.
And sometimes when it’s gettin’ dusk
And ev’rything plum’ still,
I can hear that bell a tollin’
As he slips around a hill.
It kind of gets upon my nerves,—
That, and his mournful cry,
For I know the skunk is fond of livin’
Same as you or I.
One day I’m in the saddle
A twistin’ up a smoke,
When he sneaks our of a coulee,
And pard, it aint no joke,
When I see him starved and lonesome,
A lookin’ ‘most all in,—
Well, perhaps I’m chicken hearted,
But it seemed a dirty sin,
And besides, that bell, it haunts me,
Till there doesn’t seem to be
A way t’ square things but to put
Him out of misery.
So I takes my 30-30,
As he sits and gives a yell,—
I drawed a bead, and cracked away,—
And busted that damn bell!
…by Robert H. Fletcher, from “Prickly Pear Pomes,” 1920 chapbook
Montana engineer, writer and poet, Robert “Bob” Fletcher (1885-1972) wrote the poem on which Cole Porter based “Don’t Fence Me In.” That poem (“Open Range”) is in his 1934 book, Corral Dust. “The Belled Coyote” is in that book, but was originally printed in his 1920 chapbook, Prickly Pear Pomes. Fletcher worked for the Montana Department of Highways and conceived and created the text for the state’s first historical road markers.
Red Steagall does a great recitation of this poem.
Find poems and more about Fletcher at CowboyPoetry.com.
This image of a 1921 pen and ink drawing by Western artist and writer Will James (1892-1942) is from the “Cabinet of American Illustration” at the Library of Congress. It’s titled “Coyote-clown of the prairies.”
Born in Canada, James’ given name was Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault. He worked as a cowboy and served prison time for cattle theft. He’s said to have perfected his art during his incarceration and emerged reformed.
The University of Nevada, Reno – Knowledge Center has an interesting online exhibit,”Will James and the West.” It tells that Will James “… came West in 1907 at the age of fifteen, becoming a cowhand and changing his name to William Roderick James. James showed artistic talent from an early age, and gained a reputation for his sketches of life on the range long before publishing his first work.”