“Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail” by George Phippen (1915-1966). This image should not be reproduced without permission.
THE SIERRY PETES (OR, TYING KNOTS IN THE DEVIL’S TAIL)
Gail I. Gardner (1892-1988)
Away up high in the Sierry Petes,
Where the yeller pines grows tall,
Ole Sandy Bob an’ Buster Jig,
Had a rodeer camp last fall.
Oh, they taken their hosses and runnin’ irons
And maybe a dog or two,
An’ they ‘lowed they’d brand all the long-yered calves,
That come within their view.
And any old dogie that flapped long yeres,
An’ didn’t bush up by day,
Got his long yeres whittled an’ his old hide scorched,
In a most artistic way.
Now one fine day ole Sandy Bob,
He throwed his seago down,
“I’m sick of the smell of burnin’ hair,
And I ‘lows I’m a-goin’ to town.”
So they saddles up an’ hits ’em a lope,
Fer it warnt no sight of a ride,
And them was the days when a Buckeroo
Could ile up his inside.
Oh, they starts her in at the Kaintucky Bar,
At the head of Whiskey Row,
And they winds up down by the Depot House,
Some forty drinks below.
They then sets up and turns around,
And goes her the other way,
An’ to tell you the Gawd-forsaken truth,
Them boys got stewed that day.
As they was a-ridin’ back to camp,
A-packin’ a pretty good load,
Who should they meet but the Devil himself,
A-prancin’ down the road.
Sez he, “You ornery cowboy skunks,
You’d better hunt yer holes,
Fer I’ve come up from Hell’s Rim Rock,
To gather in yer souls.”
Sez Sandy Bob, “Old Devil be damned,
We boys is kinda tight,
But you ain’t a-goin’ to gather no cowboy souls,
‘Thout you has some kind of a fight.”
So Sandy Bob punched a hole in his rope,
And he swang her straight and true,
He lapped it on to the Devil’s horns,
An’ he taken his dallies too.
Now Buster jig was a riata man,
With his gut-line coiled up neat,
So he shaken her out an’ he built him a loop,
An’ he lassed the Devil’s hind feet.
Oh, they stretched him out an’ they tailed him down,
While the irons was a-gettin hot,
They cropped and swaller-forked his yeres,
Then they branded him up a lot.
They pruned him up with a de-hornin’ saw,
An’ they knotted his tail fer a joke,
They then rid off and left him there,
Necked to a Black-Jack oak.
If you’re ever up high in the Sierry Petes,
An’ you hear one Hell of a wail,
You’ll know it’s that Devil a-bellerin’ around,
About them knots in his tail.
…by Gail I. Gardner, 1917, from Orejana Bull, reprinted with permission of the Gardner/Steiger family
Though he was educated at Philip Exeter Academy and Dartmouth University, Gail I. Gardner’s desire was to work as a cowboy, which he did. Later in life, he became the postmaster of Prescott, Arizona.
Cowboy, ranch manager, songwriter, and filmmaker Gail Steiger, who is Gail Gardner’s grandson, shared a number of great family photos of his grandfather, posted in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.
Gail Gardner’s own recitation of “The Sierry Petes” is on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Four. The cover of that collection has a picture of Gail Gardner as a child, made from a tintype.
Gardner continually battled the notion that his poem was “anonymous.” He wrote it in 1917 and it became an immediate favorite, recited and put to music by others, quickly entering the realm of “classic.”
A fine recitation of the poem by Gail Steiger is on a Western Folklife Center video from the 2012 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
Many have put the poem to music, including Michael Martin Murphy, Chris LeDoux, Rex Allen, and others. Hear the great Don Edwards’ version here.
Find more about the poem at CowboyPoetry.com.
This George Phippen (1915-1966) painting was commissioned by Gail Steiger’s parents as a birthday present for Gail I. Gardner in the early 1960s.
Gail Steiger tells that Gail Gardner used to say the painting was his most prized possession and that he would have visitors sit down in front of it and “sing” his poem (listen to the recording on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Four for a taste of that experience). Before he presented Gardner with the painting, George Phippen made several visits with Gardner to do “research on cowboys of that earlier era,” inquiring about what they wore, the kind of horses and saddles they rode, and so on. Gardner said that Phippen “got every detail just right.”
The painting is about 24″x 30.” The Gardner/Steiger family has loaned the painting to Prescott, Arizona’s Phippen Museum of Western Art.
Thanks to Gail Steiger and the Gardner/Steiger family for permissions, much shared information, and photographs.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and image with this post; please seek permission for any other uses.)