by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)
Now Mr. Boomer Johnson was a gettin’ old in spots,
But you don’t expect a bad man to go wrastlin’ pans and pots;
But he’d done his share of killin’ and his draw was gettin’ slow,
So he quits a-punchin’ cattle and he takes to punchin’ dough.
Our foreman up and hires him, figurin’ age had rode him tame,
But a snake don’t get no sweeter just by changin’ of its name.
Well, Old Boomer knowed his business – he could cook to make you smile,
But say, he wrangled fodder in a most peculiar style.
He never used no matches – left em layin’ on the shelf,
Just some kerosene and cussin’ and the kindlin’ lit itself.
And, pardner, I’m allowin’ it would give a man a jolt
To see him stir frijoles with the barrel of his Colt.
Now killin’ folks and cookin’ ain’t so awful far apart,
That musta been why Boomer kept a-practicin’ his art;
With the front sight of his pistol he would cut a pie-lid slick,
And he’d crimp her with the muzzle for to make the edges stick.
He built his doughnuts solid, and it sure would curl your hair
To see him plug a doughnut as he tossed it in the air.
He bored the holes plum center every time his pistol spoke,
Till the can was full of doughnuts and the shack was full of smoke.
We-all was gettin’ jumpy, but he couldn’t understand
Why his shootin’ made us nervous when his cookin’ was so grand.
He kept right on performin’, and it weren’t no big surprise
When he took to markin’ tombstones on the covers of his pies.
They didn’t taste no better and they didn’t taste no worse,
But a-settin’ at the table was like ridin’ in a hearse;
You didn’t do no talkin’ and you took just what you got,
So we et till we was foundered just to keep from gettin’ shot.
When at breakfast one bright mornin’, I was feelin’ kind of low,
Old Boomer passed the doughnuts and I tells him plenty:
“No, All I takes this trip is coffee, for my stomach is a wreck.”
I could see the itch for killin’ swell the wattle on his neck.
Scorn his grub? He strings some doughnuts on the muzzle of his gun,
And he shoves her in my gizzard and he says, “You’re takin’ one!”
He was set to start a graveyard, but for once he was mistook;
Me not wantin’ any doughnuts, I just up and salts the cook.
Did they fire him? Listen, pardner, there was nothin’ left to fire,
Just a row of smilin’ faces and another cook to hire.
If he joined some other outfit and is cookin’, what I mean,
It’s where they ain’t no matches and they don’t need kerosene.
…by Henry Herbert Knibbs
It’s the 19th annual Cowboy Poetry Week, and we’re sharing the best of the best.
Henry Herbert Knibbs never worked as a cowboy, but he was a student of the West and his friendships, including one with cowboy, rancher, and writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes informed his work. His poems are still often recited today, including “Boomer Johnson” and “Where the Ponies Come to Drink,” “The Walking Man,” “Shallows of the Ford,” and “So Long, Chinook!”
Find more about Knibbs and more of his poetry at cowboypoetry.com.
This 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cook of SMS Ranch making bread in front of chuck wagon. Ranch near Spur, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Russell Lee taught photography at the University of Texas, Austin, from 1965-1973, and is best known for his FSA photos. Find more about him at Texas State University’s Russell Lee Collection.
(This poem and photo are in the public domain.)