THE COWBOY’S RETURN (MAKE ME A COWBOY AGAIN FOR A DAY), authorship uncertain

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THE COWBOY’S RETURN (MAKE ME A COWBOY AGAIN FOR A DAY)
authorship uncertain

Backward, turn backward, oh, Time with your wheels,
Aeroplanes, wagons and automobiles
Dress me once more in sombrero that flaps,
Spurs, and a flannel shirt, slicker and chaps
Put a six-shooter or two in my hand.
Show me a yearling to rope and to brand
Out where the sage brush is dusty and gray,
Make me a cowboy again for a day.

Give me a broncho that knows how to dance,
Buckskin of color and wicked of glance,
New to the feeling of bridles and bits
Give me a quirt that will sting where it hits,
Strap on the poncho behind in a roll,
Pass me the lariat, dear to my soul,
Over the trail let me gallop away.
Make me a cowboy again for a day.

Thunder of hoofs on the range as you ride
Hissing of iron and the smoking of hide,
Bellow of cattle, and snort of cayuse
Shorthorns from Texas as wild as the deuce;
Midnight stampede, and the milling of herds
Yells of the cowmen too angry for words
Right in the thick of it all I would stay.
Make me a cowboy again for a day.

Under the star-studded canopy vast
Campfire and coffee and comfort at last.
(Bacon that sizzles and crisps in the pan
After the roundup smells good to a man.)
Stories of ranchers and rustlers retold
Over the pipes as the embers grow cold—
These are the tunes that old memories play,
Make me a cowboy again for a day.

…as in Leslie’s Weekly, 1910

Our great American troubadour Don Edwards includes “Make Me a Cowboy Again for a Day” in his Saddle Songs—A Cowboy Songbag, an invaluable reference book. See his version at CowboyPoetry.com.

The poem is not recited much and the song is not heard or recorded frequently these days. In Saddle Songs, Don Edwards writes, “I always used to love to hear my friend Dick Farnsworth sing this old song…Dick sang it to the tune of ‘One Morning in May.’ It is also
interchangeable with ‘Wild Rippling Water.’ Dick was a real good and cherished friend and I miss him a lot. Kind of like these old songs if folks quit singin’ ’em…they’ll be gone someday and won’t be comin’ back.” The same page in the book includes a quote from Richard Farnsworth, “I sing a little better than a crow but not as good as a canary.”

Don Edwards sings “Make Me a Cowboy Again for a Day” on his Wrangler Award-winning album, Saddle Songs II Last of the Troubadours. You can hear it here.

“Make Me a Cowboy Again for a Day” is included in Songs Texas Sings (1936), a small songbook created for the Texas centennial for schools, which has an introduction by John Lomax. No author is given.

In a search for the earliest printing of the poem or song, we found the above version in Leslie’s Weekly, the October 6, 1910 edition. The author was given as “Rorodore Theovelt,” which looks like an awkward re-arrangement of Theodore Roosevelt. Earlier in 1910, Roosevelt’s secretary, William Loeb, Jr. became a member of Leslie’s board. Perhaps
it was meant as a spoof.

In The Hell-Bound Train, Glenn Ohrlin notes that George B. German, in the 1932 Cowboy Campfire Ballads credits the song to an 1890s creation by Joe and Zack Miller of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show. Other references mention that it is similar to the popular-at-its-time “Rock Me to Sleep Mother” (written by Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen in 1866; sometimes attributed to Florence Percy, which was the pen name of Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen, and Ernest Leslie, composer) that begins “Backward, turn backward, Oh Time, in your flight, make me a child again just for tonight.”

Find more about the song and poem, including some alternate lines, at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1939 photo by Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985) is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Farm Services Administration (FSA). It is titled, “Custer Forest, Montana.”

Rothstein was a student of Roy Styker, who conceived the documentary photography project for the FSA. Find more about Arthur Rothstein at Wikipedia.

(This poem and photo are in the public domain.)

THE HELL-BOUND TRAIN, anonymous

glennohrlin.jpg

 

THE HELL-BOUND TRAIN
(anonymous)

A Texas cowboy lay down on a barroom floor,
Having drunk so much he could drink no more;
So he fell asleep with a troubled brain,
To dream that he rode on a hell-bound train.

The engine with murderous blood was damp,
And was brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp;
An imp for fuel was shoveling bones,
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans.

The boiler was filled with lager beer,
And the Devil himself was the engineer;
The passengers were a most motley crew
Church member, atheist, Gentile and Jew.

Rich men in broadcloth, beggars in rags,
Handsome young ladies, withered old hags.
Yellow and black men, red, brown and white,
All chained together — O God, what a sight!

While the train rushed on at an awful pace,
The sulfurous fumes scorched their hands and face;
Wider and wider the country grew,
As faster and faster the engine flew

Louder and louder the thunder crashed,
And brighter and brighter the lightning flashed;
Hotter and hotter the air became,
Till the clothes were burnt from each quivering frame.

And out of the distance there arose a yell,
“Ha, ha,” said the Devil, “we’re nearing hell!”
Then, oh, how the passengers shrieked with pain,
And begged the Devil to stop the train.

But he capered about and danced with glee,
And laughed and joked at their misery.
“My faithful friends, you have done the work,
And the Devil never can a payday shirk.

“You’ve bullied the weak, you’ve robbed the poor,
The starving brother you’ve turned from the door;
You’ve laid up gold where the canker rust,
And you have given free vent to your beastly lust.

“You’ve justice scorned and corruption sown,
And trampled the laws of nature down;
You have drink, rioted, cheated, plundered, and lied,
And mocked at God in your hell-born pride.

“You have paid full fare, so I’ll carry you through;
For its only right you should have your due.
Why, the laborer always expects his hire,
So I’ll land you safe in the lake of fire —

“Where your flesh will waste in the flames that roar,
And my imps torment you forever more.”
Then the cowboy awoke with an anguished cry,
His clothes wet with sweat and and his hair standing high.

Then he prayed as he’d never had prayed till that hour
To be saved from his sin and the demon’s power.
And his prayers and pleadings were not in vain;
For he never rode the hell-bound train

…Anonymous

The version of “The Hell-Bound Train” above comes from Jack Thorp’s Songs of the Cowboys, and he prefaces it with “Heard this sung at a cow-camp near Pontoon Crossing, on the Pecos River, by a puncher named Jack Moore.” See our feature about the 1921 book at cowboypoetry.com.

The Western music world lost legendary cowboy singer and historian Glenn Ohrlin (1926-2015) a few years ago. A revised edition of his important book, The Hell-Bound Train; A Cowboy Songbook, a treasury of information about cowboy songs, was released soon after his death by Texas Tech University Press.

Editor Charlie Seemann (past Executive Director of the Western Folklife Center) told us, “The original 1973 book was a landmark classic, a collection by a working cowboy and singer in the tradition of Jack Thorp. It’s been out of print for a number of years, and it’s great to have it available again, revised and updated with information about Glenn’s life
since 1973.”

In the book, Glenn Ohrlin tells he learned the title song (sometimes recited as a poem), from an aunt, and that its origin is “a minor mystery.”

A National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, Glenn Ohrlin’s career is described in a biography there, “As a boy, he heard and liked cowboy songs, and by the age of five, he was singing himself. ‘In Minnesota, where I was born,’ Ohrlin said, ‘everyone sang cowboy songs, even my aunts and uncles. My father was musical; my mother wasn’t, particularly. I used to listen to the radio a lot. When I was growing up in the 1930s, every reasonably big radio station had its own singing cowboy. In those days, it wasn’t too hard to find one. If a station wanted a cowboy singer, they’d go out and find a working cowboy who knew a few songs.'”

A standout show at the 2016 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, hosted by Charlie Seemann, celebrated the life of Glenn Ohrlin. It included Brigid and John Reedy, Andy Hedges, Don Edwards, Randy Rieman, Sourdough Slim, Mike Hurwitz, and a short film. You can watch the entire show, in which Andy Hedges recites “The Hell-Bound Train.”

This 1946 photo of Glenn Ohrlin comes from a series of articles at CowboyPoetry.com by Wyoming rodeo historian, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame honoree, and poet Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns. He is shown at a rodeo in Japan on an ox named “Double Trouble.” He commented, “It was hard to keep your rope from slipping over their withers . . . flat back. We had lots of saddle horses, borrowed broncs from local trucking companies. They had very few motor vehicles in private use. Right after the war the civilians had very little. They rode trains, street cars in larger cities and bicycles.”

(Please respect copyright. You can share this photograph with this post, but any other use requires permission. The poem/song is in the public domain.)