LITTLE JOE THE WRANGLER
lyrics by “Jack” Thorp (N. Howard Thorp, 1867-1940)
Little Joe, the wrangler,
will never wrangle more;
His days with the “remuda”
—they are done.
‘T was a year ago last April
he joined the outfit here,
A little “Texas stray”
and all alone.
‘T was long late in the evening
he rode up to the herd
On a little old brown pony
he called Chow;
With his brogan shoes and overalls
a harder-looking kid
You never in your life
had seen before.
His saddle ‘t was a southern kack
built many years ago,
An O.K. spur on one foot
While his “hot roll” in a cotton sack
was loosely tied behind
And a canteen from the saddle horn
He said he’d had to leave his home,
his daddy’d married twice
And his new ma beat him
every day or two;
So he saddled up old Chow one night
and “lit a shuck” this way—
Thought he’d try and paddle now
his own canoe.
Said he’d try and do the best he could
if we’d only give him work,
Though he did n’t know “straight” up
about a cow;
So the boss he cut him out a mount
and kinder put him on,
For he sorter liked the little stray
Taught him how to herd the horses
and to learn to know them all
To round ’em up by daylight;
if he could
To follow the chuck-wagon
and to always hitch the team
And help the “cosinero”
We’d driven to Red River
and the weather had been fine;
We were camped down on the south side
in a bend,
When a norther commenced to blowing
and we doubled up our guards,
For it took all hands
to hold the cattle then.
Little Joe, the wrangler,
was called out with the rest,
And scarcely had the kid
got to the herd,
When the cattle they stampeded;
like a hailstorm, long they flew,
And all of us were riding
for the lead.
‘Tween the streaks of lightning
we could see a horse far out ahead—
‘T was little Joe, the wrangler,
in the lead;
He was riding “Old Blue Rocket”
with his slicker ‘bove his head,
Trying to check the leaders
in their speed.
At last we got them milling
and kinder quieted down,
And the extra guard
back to the camp did go;
But one of them was missin’
and we all knew at a glance
‘Twas our little Texas stray
—poor wrangler Joe.
Next morning just at sunup
we found where Rocket fell,
Down in a washout
twenty feet below
Beneath his horse, mashed to a pulp,
his spurs had rung the knell
For our little Texas stray
—poor Wrangler Joe.
by Jack Thorp from “Songs of the Cowboys,” 1921
There’s no better introduction to “Little Joe the Wranger” than that by the great cowboy troubadour Don Edwards, in a video from the 2008 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, a part of his “The Ghost of Jack Thorp.”
Jack Thorp collected cowboy songs and poems across the west for nearly 20 years, starting in the late 1800s. He first published them in 1908, in a small book called Songs of the Cowboys. The next edition of the book, in 1921, was greatly expanded, and included over a hundred songs and poems, including 25 pieces written Thorp.
Thorp introduces the poem in the 1912 book, “Written by me on the trail of herd of O Cattle from Chimney Lake, New Mexico, to Higgins, Texas, 1898. On trail were the following men, all from Sacramento Mountains or Crow Flat: Pap Logan, Bill Blevens, Will Brownfield, Will Fenton, Lije Colfelt, Tom Mews, Frank Jones, and myself. It was copyrighted and appeared in my first editions of Songs of the Cowboys published in 1908.”
There are many fine and varied renditions, including those by Red Steagall; Roy Rogers and Emmy Lou Harris; and for something entirely different, Marlene Dietrich chimes in, in the 1939 film, Destry Rides Again.
Baxter Black has some moving memories about the song on a 2009 edition of NPR’s What’s in a Song.
Find more about Jack Thorp in features at CowboyPoetry.com.
This 1917 photo by Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) is described,”Bartrum Choate, a 12-year-old boy driving colts to town. Works for W.F. Barber, Route 3, Lawton, Okla.” It is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.