TRUE GRIT, by Elizabeth Ebert (1925-2018)


by Elizabeth Ebert (1925-2018)

The crowd had all left the rodeo ground,
Just a bunch of old cowboys were hangin’ around.
Hunkered down on rheumatic haunches,
With balding pates and protruding paunches,
Drinkin’ to the old days way back when
The horses were tougher and so were the men.
And every time that the jug went ’round
The toasts got longer and more profound.
“Here’s to the world’s best buckin’ horse!”
(That was Tipperary, of course.)
“To the Pony Express that carried the mail!”
“To Old Man Chisholm and his trail!”
To ranchers and rustlers and those in between,
To the rivers they’d crossed and the mountains they’d seen.

Then old Bill said, with a hearty burp,
“Let’s drink to the lawmen—to Wyatt Earp
And Morgan, and Doc, and that OK crew,
They were real brave men, but I’m telling you,
The man I remember most of all,
He weren’t no real lawman a’tall.
But that fellow from down at the picture show,
The one that had ‘True Grit,” you know.
I was a lawman once myself.
My guns are at home on the closet shelf,
But if I could ride for the law again
I’d ride in the hoofprints of John Wayne
When he played that Rooster Cogburn fellow.
Now there’s a marshall who wasn’t yellow,
With his reins in his teeth and his guns in his hand
He rode right into that outlaw band.
He was old like me, and tired and fat.
I wish I could make one ride like that!”

Then Ed said, “By pure Providence,
There’s a horse standin’ over along the fence
With a saddle that looks like a pretty good fit
And we’re here to judge if you’ve got true grit.
If you want that ride, you can make it still.”
Old Bill stood up, “By God, I will!
But Rooster Cogburn wore a patch,
And so to make it a fairer match
I’ll stick my glasses here in my pocket,
Then the ride will be square and you can’t knock it;
But when I take them off, of course,
You’ll have to point me toward that horse.
I was a lawman as you well know,
My guns are at home and I’ve told you so
But my pickup truck holds a twenty-two
And an old twelve-gauge, and I’ll make ’em do!”
So they helped him on and he sat up proud,
Said those famous words and he said ’em loud
And they sounded just like poetry.
Said, “Fill your hands, you S.O.B.!”

Then he struck the reins into his mouth
And he kicked that horse and they took off south.
He raised up the shotgun and fired a round,
The fellows they all hit the ground
While the pellets riddled the pickup truck
And the horse went into a crow-hop buck.
Bill might have stuck on, as like as not
He might have stuck on, but he plumb forgot,
Forgot that his teeth were the store-bought kind
And he wore ’em loose so they wouldn’t bind.
They slid from his mouth, still chewin’ that rein
And Bill came down in a world of pain.

His pocket was filled with shards of glass.
His teeth were scattered across the grass.
His hat was smashed and his Sunday clothes
Were spattered with blood from his busted nose.
But he staggered up—to their vast relief.
Said, “A gritty man don’t need no teeth
No glasses neither! You know darned well
He can spot a jug by his sense of smell!”
So they passed it around and they had to admit
John Wayne never had no truer grit.

© 1997, Elizabeth Ebert, used with permission, from Crazy Quilt

South Dakota’s much-loved poet, retired ranch wife Elizabeth Ebert, delighted audiences across the West. She died March 20, 2018, leaving many friends and loving family, and a great body of work.

Read Carson Vaughan’s obituary in the New York Times, “Elizabeth Ebert, ‘Grand Dame of Cowboy Poetry,’ Dies at 93,” and find more here.

Elizabeth Ebert had a wide range, creating memorable poems both serious and humorous. Baxter Black has said of her (and referring to her serious poem, “He Talked About Montana”): “To say that I admire Elizabeth’s writing seems meager comment on her talent. She writes from inspiration with such graceful force it’s like her pen has power steering. There are so many first class pieces in her books, most contemporary cowboy poets would covet even just one so good in their armory. If her poems were mountains and the verses peaks, this would be the eagle soaring over all: ‘Before war and wife and whiskey/ Had bent him out of shape/ Now the war and wife were history/ And the whiskey was escape.'”

Find more about her Elizabeth Ebert at

After listening to the MASTERS: VOLUME ONE CD from, which includes the works of Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens, Elizabeth Ebert commented about three of the poets included, “…I sat at a book table one day with Larry and watched him draw horses and other animals on the white plastic table cloth. He was quite an artist and much too young to die. J.B. fascinated me as he reminded me of a corner post–straight, solid and unmovable. I could not believe that he never wrote down a poem until it was finished in his head, and never changed a word after it was written. And Sunny with that mean look he loved to startle people with when he was really such a sweet guy. We spent a lot of time with him and Alice at gatherings. Out at Prescott [ the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering] he asked if he could do ‘True Grit’ and it just seemed to fit him so well that I never recited it again until after he had died….He was certainly one of a kind.”

Find more about both MASTERS CDs here.

This c. 1922 photograph by the Bain News Service is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. It is described, “Cowboy riding bronco while other cowboys look on.” Find more about it here.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but for other uses, request permission. This photo is in the public domain.)