BILL’S IN TROUBLE by James Barton Adams (1843-1918)


by James Barton Adams (1843-1918)

I’ve got a letter, parson,
from my son away out West,
An’ my ol’ heart is heavy
as an anvil in my breast,
To think the boy whose future
I had once so proudly planned
Should wander from the path of right
an’ come to such an end!
I told him when he left his home,
not three short years ago,
He’d find himself a plowin’
in a mighty crooked row—
He’d miss his father’s counsel,
an’ his mother’s prayers, too;
But he said the farm was hateful,
an’ he guessed he’d have to go.

I know thar’s big temptation
for a youngster in the West,
But I believed our Billy
had the courage to resist,
An’ when he left I warned him
o’ the ever waitin’ snares
That lie like hidden sarpints
in life’s pathway everywheres.
But Bill he promised faithful
to be keerful, an’ allowed
He’d build a reputation
that’d make us mighty proud;
But it seems as how my counsel
sort o’ faded from his mind,
An’ now the boy’s in trouble
o’ the very wustest kind!

His letters came so seldom
that I somehow sort o’ knowed
That Billy was a trampling
on a mighty rocky road,
But never once imagined
he would bow my head in shame,
An’ in the dust’d waller
his ol’ daddy’s honored name.
He writes from out in Denver,
an’ the story’s mighty short;
I just can’t tell his mother,
it’ll crush her poor ol’ heart!
An’ so I reckoned, parson,
you might break the news to her—
Bill’s in the legislatur’,
but he doesn’t say what fur.

…by James Barton Adams
This poem seems to never lose its relevance.

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 late Hal Swift recited the poem on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Three.

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 photos of James Barton Adams, his great great grandfather, and Captain Jack Crawford in a 2008 Picture the West at

Find more about James Barton Adams and more of his poetry at

This 1924 photo by Harris & Ewing is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. It is described, “Tex Austin, of Las Vegas, New Mex., calls on Pres. Coolidge to ask the good offices of the Amer. gov’t officials in London for the 100 Amer. cowboys and cowgirls who go to the Brit. Empire exposition to compete in the championship contests in the Imperial Stadium for the International championship titles, Trophies, and $75,000 in purses. Tex Austin will manage the contest…”

(This poem and photo are in the public domain.)