REAL COWBOY LIFE
by Gail I. Gardner (1892-1988)
You have read these cowboy stories,
About their life so wild and free;
I expect that you could tell me
What a cowboy’s life should be.
Oh, he rescues lovely maidens
And he shoots the rustlers down;
He wears a fancy outfit,
And he paints up every town.
You can see him in the movies,
He’s a high-falutin’ swell;
A-ridin’ wring-tailed pintos,
And always raisin’ Hell.
But now let me tell you somethin’
‘Bout this cowboy life so free;
It ain’t no bed of roses,
You can take a tip from me.
Now there ain’t no handsome cowboys,
Nowhere I’ve ever been,
For a real top-notch Buckero
Is just homlier than sin.
And all cowboys have their troubles,
A few of which I’ll name,
To show you that cowpunching
Is a mighty sorry game.
When the roundup starts in April,
The first job you undertake
Is to shoe up all your horses
Till you think your back will break.
Now then you can be a center,
Or a rimmy if you will;
It don’t make any difference,
You will have your troubles still.
When you take your dally-welties
You can lose a lot of hide,
But if you fail to get ’em,
You have shorely got to ride.
Or you tie her hard and solid,
And then throw away the slack;
If your steer should hub a saplin’,
You are shore to lose the pack.
When you get a wild bunch driftin’,
Straight down for the home corral,
There will somethin’ spook the leaders,
And your whole bunch go to Hell.
You build to an orejana,
For to tie him in a rush,
But your pony turns a knocker
And he throws you in the brush.
Then your long-ear’s in the thicket,
And your dogs have plumb give out,
So the only thing that you can do
Is to cuss and cry and shout.
As you ride away and leave him,
You can hear the critter bawl,
And you know some feller’ll git him
Before the rodeer comes next fall.
When you have a real hard winter,
And your cows all try to die,
You ride out every morning,
And to lift ’em up you try.
You can git one by the handle,
And you heave and lift and strain,
With a mighty awful struggle
You can tail her up again.
Oh, you try to leave her standin’,
But she charges you in high,
Then she breaks down in the middle
So you leave her there to die.
On the range there’s not a yearlin’
That is fat enough for meat,
And you are all burnt out on bacon,
And the beans ain’t fit to eat.
When you’ve cowboyed for a lifetime,
Here is all ’twill do for you:
Some busted ribs and shoulders
And a hip knocked down or two.
You have butted into cedars
Till your hair is hard to find,
And the malapais and granites
Have you all stove up behind.
If you ever have a youngster,
And he wants to foller stock,
The best thing you can do for him
Is to brain him with a rock.
Or if rocks ain’t very handy,
You kin shove him down the well;
Do not let him be a cowboy,
For he’s better off in Hell.
You may swear you’ll never ride again,
And know you will not fail,
Till you hear a caviada
Come a-jinglin’ down the trail.
Then you pack up all your soogans,
And prepare to pull your freight,
For you know you’re just a cowboy,
And your head ain’t screwed on straight
© Gail I. Gardner, from Orejana Bull
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission
Gail Gardner was born in Prescott, Arizona. Though he was educated at Philip Exeter Academy and Dartmouth University, his true desire was to work as a cowboy, which he did. His WWI draft registration describes his profession as “ranching & cattle growing.”
Gardner wrote memorable poems, many of which have been set to music, including his best-known work, “The Sierry Petes (or Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail).” He published some of his poems in his 1935 book, Orejana Bull for Cowboys Only, which was reprinted most recently in 1987.
You can hear Gail Gardner’s own performance of “The Sierry Petes” on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Ten, a double CD of top classic and modern poetry from CowboyPoetry.com.
Arizona ranch manager, cowboy, filmmaker and songwriter Gail Steiger, Gardner’s grandson, recites “Real Cowboy Life” on his recent, well-received CD, “A Matter of Believin’.” See our previous post for Gail Steiger’s own take on “The Romance of Western Life.”
This photo of “Gail I. Gardner at the Devil’s Gate Rodeo Grounds, Skull Valley, ‘Round-up Time’ in the 1920s” is courtesy of the Gardner/Steiger family.
Find more about Gail Gardner and see many photos and more of his
poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photograph with this post but please request permission for any other uses.)