COWBOY, by J.B. Allen


by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)

A’settin a’horseback at the first rays of the sun,
on a cool late spring mornin’, ‘fore the brandin’ is done
is payment in full, for chores done and forgotten
through a winter of feedin’ and calves misbegotten.

The pay ain’t the reason for the work that we do.
It’s a feel for the land and the stock, that comes through
in the lives that we lead, and the character shown,
by the doin’ of jobs that will never be known,
except by ourselves, and the creature attended,
and the feelin’ that comes, when seein’ it mended.

I’ve known some ol’ boys, that were just downright mean,
but out on a roundup they surely were keen
to be on the spot, when the cattle were leavin’,
or up to their waists in the sand and a’heavin’
on a cow that had blundered out into a bog,
and then take their time to drag up a log,
to the keep the wood comin’ for the cook of the crew,
then watch the young heifers, till the calvin’ was through.

It’s easy to throw the word “cowboy” around,
but a real one is almighty hard to be found.

© 1990, J.B. Allen, from Water Gap Wisdom, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Texan J.B. Allen was a widely respected working cowboy for over three decades. He was a frequent performer at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and also at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Nara Visa, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings.

Allen, J.B. #551-'03-5x5
J.B. Allen photo by Kevin Martini-Fuller

His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998. The late Buck Ramsey, in his introduction to the book, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and stated, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”


J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in a CD from, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs) with an introduction by  Jay Snider.

Find more about J.B. Allen at

We are pleased to debut the 19th annual Cowboy Poetry Week poster, with its striking art, “Ranch Water,” by Teal Blake). Find more about him and more of his work at and follow him at

The 19th annual Cowboy Poetry Week is celebrated April 19-25, 2020. The Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry inaugurated Cowboy Poetry Week in 2002 with initiatives to promote cowboy poetry and associated Western arts, to strengthen the community of poets and artists, and to make cowboy poetry more accessible to a wide audience.

Get your schools, libraries, and community involved! Perform your poetry, donate a book, share your knowledge during Cowboy Poetry Week.  In recent years, poets and others have created special social media posts and events for Cowboy Poetry Week. Share the poster!

Each year the Center produces a Western art poster and a compilation CD project, both of which are offered to hundreds of rural libraries through Cowboy Poetry Week’s Rural Library Program.

This year’s double CD, MASTERS: VOLUME FOUR, the poetry and song of Charles Badger Clark, Jr., will be released in June. It will include recitations by today’s poets; poems in Clark’s own voice; and, for the first time in one of these projects, songs that were created from Badger Clark’s poems. A full announcement is forthcoming.

(Posters are never sold. They are sent to libraries and given, along with the year’s CD, to donors of $50 or more. Join us! You’ll be supporting the Center and its programs and receive these gifts. There’s info here.)

Find more about Cowboy Poetry Week here and stay tuned for much more to come about the celebration.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but for other uses, request permission.)