CHAPS by Gary McMahan


by Gary McMahan

To: Mr Ralph Lauren
505 5th Ave
New York City

I seen on the TV Mr. Lauren
That you have a men’s cologne you call “Chaps”
And it’s probably a manly scent
Or you wouldn’t have called it that.

I confess I’ve never used the stuff
And this may sound a little harsh
But I suspect men use cologne to hide
The fact that they didn’t warsh

So I can’t really comment on the product
Though I’m sure it smells just fine
It’s the way you say the name “chaps”
That chaps my cowboy behind

You see the name is derived
From the Spanish word chaparro, well
It in turn got its name
from the word chaparral

Which again in Spanish means
A dense thicket of thorny brush and trees
Which all manner of cowboys
have ridden through for centuries

Thus needing protection for their legs
These chaparros were fashioned from cowhide
and are the leather leggin’s cowboys wear
That comes without a backside

Then us gringos got hold of the word
And shortened chaparro to chaps
Kinda like when we took the word
Tappaderos and condensed it to “Taps”

So that’s why “ch” is really pronounced
With an “sh” sound you see
And to an ol’ cowboy that’s worn chaps all his life
It seems a travesty

That you would use the cowboy’s manly image
To sell your fancy smell to the herd
And never even take the time
To learn how to say the word

‘Cause fact is Mr. Lauren
Even though I’d like to console ya
anyone who says “chaps” for chaps
Don’t know chit from chineola

© Gary McMahan
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

You can watch Gary McMahan, accompanied by popular musician Ernie Martinez, as they performed this poem at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The clip is included in Doug Morrione’s award-winning film, Everything in the Song is True.

(The entire film “of four iconic western characters”: Gary McMahan, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Brice Chapman, and Greg Nourse is available for streaming at Amazon.

Gary McMahan tells that this poem was inspired by a letter that former longtime Western Horseman publisher (and Gary’s father-in-law) Dick Spencer wrote to Ralph Lauren.

The bio at Gary McMahan’s web site tells:

Gary is known for his award-winning songs, captivating stories, uproarious humor, and national championship yodeling. His songs have been recorded by artists such as Garth Brooks, Ian Tyson, Chris LeDoux, Riders in the Sky, Dave Stamey, and Juni Fisher. His songs, stories, and poems embody what many believe to be the heart of the new West.

Gary comes by his cowboy heritage naturally. He was born into it and has ridden, wrangled, and roped all over the West, all the while collecting reflections on cowboy ways. Those reflections are the backbone of all his songs, stories, and poems.

Find more about Gary McMahan at and visit his site, (where there are full-length versions of all tracks on all of his albums).

This 1939 photo by Arthur Rothstein is titled, “Spurs, chaps and broad-rimmed hat, the cattleman’s distinctive features of dress. Quarter Circle ‘U’ Ranch, Montana.” It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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