THE ZEBRA DUN
We were camped on the plains at the head of the Cimmaron
When along came a stranger and stopped to arger some.
He looked so very very foolish that we began to look around,
We thought he was a greenhorn that had just ‘scaped from town.
We asked him if he had he been to breakfast; he had n’t had a smear;
So we opened up the chuck-box and bade him have his share.
He took a cup of coffee and some biscuits and some beans,
And then began to talk and tell about foreign kings and queens,
About the Spanish War and fighting on on the seas
With guns as big as steers and ramrods big as trees,–
And about old Paul Jones, a mean-fighting son of a gun,
Who was the grittiest cuss that ever pulled a gun.
Such an educated feller, his thoughts just came in herds,
He astonished all them cowboys with them jaw-breaking words.
He just kept on talking till he made the boys all sick
And they began to look around just how to play a trick.
He said he had lost his job upon the Santa Fe
And was going across the plains to strike the 7-D.
He did n’t say how come it, some trouble with the boss,
But said he’d like to borrow a nice fat saddle horse.
This tickled all the boys to death; they laughed ‘way down in their sleeves–
“We will lend you a horse just as fresh and fat as you please.”
Shorty grabbed a lariat and roped the Zebra Dun
And turned him over to the stranger and waited for the fun.
Old Dunny was a rocky outlaw that had grown so awful wild
That he could paw the white out of the moon every jump for a mile.
Old Dunny stood right still–as if he didn’t know–
Until he was saddled and ready for to go.
When the stranger hit the saddle, old Dunny quit the earth,
And traveled right straight up for all that he was worth.
A-pitching and a-squealing, a-having wall-eyed fits,
His hind feet perpendicular, his front ones in the bits.
We could see the tops of mountains under Dunny every jump,
But the stranger he was growed there just like the camel’s hump;
The stranger sat upon him and curled his black moustache,
Just like a summer boarder waiting for his hash.
He thumped him in the shoulders and spurred him when he whirled,
To show them flunky punchers that he was the wolf of the world.
When the stranger had dismounted once more upon the ground,
We knew he was a thoroughbred and not a gent from town;
The boss, who was standing round watching of the show,
Walked right up to the stranger and told him he need n’t go–
“If you can use a lasso like you rode old Zebra Dun,
You are the man I’ve been looking for ever since the year one.”
Oh he could twirl the lariat and he did n’t didn’t do it slow;
He could catch them fore feet nine out of ten for any kind of dough,
There’s one thing and a shore thing I’ve learned since I’ve been born,
That every educated feller ain’t a plumb greenhorn.
One of the oldest cowboy songs, “The Zebra Dun” is sometimes known as “The Educated Fellow.” The author is unknown. When Jack Thorp collected the song, he noted that he “first heard the song sung by Randolph Reynolds, Carizozo Flats, in 1890.”
Cowboy and singer Jules Verne Allen (1883-1945) recorded “Zebra Dun” in 1928, the first known commercial recording. Listen to a great version by Cisco Houston (1918-1961) here from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
Many others have recorded “Zebra Dun,” and Don Edwards has an outstanding version on his “Saddle Songs” album that you can listen to here.
Find more in our feature about Jack Thorp’s 1912 Songs of the Cowboys.
This 1940 photo of a cowboy at the Quemado, New Mexico rodeo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.