Submission Guidelines

letterfromhome

 

Send one poem to: poems@cowboypoetry.com:

•     Include your poem’s title in the subject line.
•     Use plain email, no attachments
•     Do not type in all CAPS
•     Include your name with your poem

If your poem is accepted, we will reply within four weeks. After that time you are welcome to submit another poem.

Our focus is on stories about the life of rural communities and today’s real working West. We look for poems and lyrics that say something original about cowboying, ranching, or rural life, well-written poems and lyrics with strong, developed stories with themes that are uniquely Western.

We encourage poems and lyrics inspired by personal experiences.

We look for works that go beyond platitudes, seeking those that say something new, or say something in a new way about today’s real working West.

We are not looking for idealized “Old West” poems or lyrics. We do consider works with factual historical themes that relate to cowboying, ranching, or rural life.

We are not looking for poems or lyrics inspired by a “Hollywood” view of the West, worn jokes turned into poems or songs, or “bathroom humor.” We do not accept blatantly political, patriotic, religious or romantic poems or lyrics that are not original, well-developed stories about today’s working West. Our focus does not include Christian cowboy poetry.

Works should be suitable for our wide audience, which includes young readers. Works that have been published elsewhere previously are welcome.

Occasionally, poems outside of those guidelines are posted, at the invitation of the editor. Such works are usually poems of merit by poets with a body of work at CowboyPoetry.com.

All are welcome to submit poetry and lyrics. We respond to all submissions; we do not have the resources to offer critiques. Our editorial decisions are final.

Accepted poems and lyrics are posted.

We look forward to reading your work. We get many submissions, and we strive to give each one the proper attention.

If your poem is accepted, we will reply within four weeks. After that time you are welcome to submit another poem.

 

 

THE BORDER AFFAIR, by Charles Badger Clark

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THE BORDER AFFAIR
by Charles Badger Clark (1883-1957)

Spanish is the lovin’ tongue,
Soft as music, light as spray.
‘Twas a girl I learnt it from,
Livin’ down Sonora way.
I don’t look much like a lover,
Yet I say her love words over
Often when I’m all alone—
“Mi amor, mi corazon.”

Nights when she knew where I’d ride
She would listen for my spurs,
Fling the big door open wide,
Raise them laughin’ eyes of hers
And my heart would nigh stop beatin’
When I heard her tender greetin’,
Whispered soft for me alone
“Mi amor! mi corazon!”

Moonlight in the patio,
Old Señora noddin’ near,
Me and Juana talkin’ low
So the Madre couldn’t hear—
How those hours would go a-flyin;!
And too soon I’d hear her sighin’
In her little sorry tone—
“Adios, mi corazon!”

But one time I had to fly
For a foolish gamlin’ fight,
And we said a swift goodbye
In that black, unlucky night.
When I’d loosed her arms from clingin’
With her words the hoofs kep’ ringin’
As I galloped north alone—
“Adios, mi corazon”

Never seen her since that night,
I kain’t cross the Line, you know.
She was Mex and I was white;
Like as not it’s better so.
Yet I’ve always sort of missed her
Since that last wild night I kissed her,
Left her heart and lost my own—
“Adios, mi corazon!”

…Charles Badger Clark, 1907

Badger Clark’s poem has been sung by many, from Ian Tyson to Bob Dylan, best known as “Spanish is the Loving Tongue.” In Git ALong, Little Dogies (1975) John I. White tells that Prescott, Arizona cowboy singer Bill Simon put it to music in 1925, a few years after he did the same for Gail I. Gardner’s “The Sierry Petes.”

Badger Clark got his cowboying experience in Arizona. He became the Poet Laureate of South Dakota, where he was born and lived for most of his life. He wrote many lasting poems, and others that found their way into song include “The Old Cow Man,” “Ridin’,” and “To Her.”

Find much more poetry and more about Badger Clark in features at CowboyPoetry.com.

Enjoy Dave Stamey’s great rendition of “Spanish is the Loving Tongue” from a 2013 Western Folklife Center National Cowboy Poetry Gathering performance.

Michael Martin Murphey has a likewise outstanding recording.

We’re considering a future MASTERS CD of Badger Clark’s poetry. Do you have a favorite poem or favorite recitation? Do you recite a lesser known Clark poem? Email us.

This 1936 photograph by noted Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange seems to fit the mood. It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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

HORSEBACK MAN FOR HIRE lyrics by Joel Nelson

56422388_10157228903175859_8628109163269980160_nApril, 2019 photo of Randy Rieman, Joel Nelson, Sean Sexton,
and Andy Hedges, courtesy of Andy Hedges

HORSEBACK MAN FOR HIRE
lyrics by Joel Nelson

Twenty miles away the R.E.A.
Ran out of poles and wire
I earn my pay the cowboy way
I’m a horseback man for hire
Yipee-yi-yay
I’m a horseback man for hire

Where I was born every saddle horn
Had a rope tied hard and fast
All the boots were worn – all the shirts were torn
And we held on to the past
Yippee-yi-yay
We held on to the past

Now I take my turns and the mulehide burns
When I need to slip a coil
I play my gig in a double rig
I’m a grandson of the soil
Yippee-yi-yay
I’m a grandson of the soil

I’m no one’s fool – I’ve been to school
I’ve taken my degree
But the cattle bawl and the coyote’s call
Are the things that beckon me
They’re the things that call to me
So I step astride and I start my ride
While the sun is still asleep
I’m bonafide – I been certified
And my roots run mighty deep
Yippee-yi-yay
My roots run mighty deep

I don’t need to smoke your weed
To get me feelin’ right
Just a canvas bed to lay my head
When the stars come out at night
Yippee-yi-yay
With the dipper shinin’ bright

Bridge:
My thumbs ain’t flexed cause I don’t text
Your emails leave me cold
Go lick a stamp that’ll find my camp
On a letter I can hold
Yippee-yi-yay
Send a letter I can hold

I like a good book by my chair
I like hot tea by the fire
Where I can read without a care
When the wind – howls – through – the – wire
Cause I’m a horseback man for hire

Your gilded halls and shopping malls
Can’t hold me very long
So I quit the scene of fine cuisine
To be where I belong
Yippee-yi-yay
Out here’s where I belong

I got a darn good life and a darlin’ wife
She sets my heart on fire
She’s a pretty thing and she wears my ring
She’s horseback and for hire
Yippe-yi-yay
She’s a horseback girl for hire

When I cease to be you can bury me
Or build a funeral pyre
Just scatter my ash and divide my cash
With a horseback man for hire
Yippe-yi-yay
With a horseback man for hire

Bridge:

I need lots of space from the human race
I need solitude from the multitude
I need reverie on the lone prairie
These are things that – I – require
I’m a horseback man for hire
Yippee-yi-yay
I’m a horseback man for hire and
You can’t take it away
I’m a horseback man for…
Hire

© Joel Nelson, used with permission

Songster Andy Hedges’ rendition of rancher, horseman, and poet Joel Nelson’s lyrics is a standout on his new Shadow of a Cowboy album.

Western Horseman recently debuted the song and quoted Andy Hedges:

Joel Nelson wrote the lyrics to “Horseback Man for Hire,” and I heard him sing it a cappella…It stayed in my mind…I’m honored to be the first person to record it.

I believe Joel is one of the most important cowboy poets out there today. He’s a thoughtful writer, wonderful reciter, and a respected horseman and working cowboy.

Find the song and Western Horseman article by Jennifer Denison here.

Find more about Joel Nelson at cowboypoetry.com.

andyhcover

Shadow of a Cowboy is as entertaining as it is authentic. Selections draw from the deep roots of traditional country, cowboy, folk, and Western music. The tracks stretch from Teddie Blue Abbott through Pete Seeger to Tucker Zimmerman and beyond as Andy Hedges interprets the past and creates new sounds.

When asked about the overall inspiration for this CD, he comments, “This record was a bit of a hodgepodge of songs that I had collected but I think a theme began to arise in that the songs came from a variety of sources and spanned several eras. I had a vision to do an album of songs that show that the cowboy music tradition has continued from the trail driving era to the 1920s-30s to the 1950-70s to the present day…”

That earliest period is represented by “The Ogallaly Song,” a traditional piece included in the classic We Pointed Them North book by E.C. “Teddie Blue” Abbott. Abbott writes, “I never counted the verses…but you could keep on singing it all night.” Hedges captures that sense.

An unbroken thread of connections among musicians and songwriters weaves through “Shadow of a Cowboy.” The title track, a song by Tucker Zimmerman, came to Hedges when he contacted Zimmerman about another of his songs, “Oregon,” also included in this project. Andy Hedges tells that he knew “Oregon” from Derrol Adams’ recording. He says, “Derroll Adams was Ramblin’ Jack’s old banjo playing partner and they traveled to Europe together in the 1950s.” Billy Faier, known for his work with Pete Seeger, has his “Song of the Cuckoo” included, and the tag at the end is from “912 Greens” by Ramblin’ Jack.

So much is packed into the ten tracks of Shadow of a Cowboy. The varied songs flow and  invite repeated listening. As in earlier projects, inspired, ethereal harmonies of Alissa Hedges add layers of interest to a number of her husband’s tracks. Designer Dirk Fowler’s spare and evocative art reflects the soul of the project.

Other songs include “The Horsetrader’s Song” by prolific songwriter and musician Jimmy Driftwood; Carter Family member Sara Carter and her husband A.P. Carter’s “Lonesome Pine Special”; and folksinger and rodeo cowboy Peter LaFarge’s vivid tale of “Iron Mountain.”

Two other outstanding tracks are the collaborations with two additional respected cowboy poets, John Dofflemyer and Waddie Mitchell. Andy Hedges says of “Tennis Shoes,” Dofflemyer’s tribute to a friend, “…I don’t believe that I changed a single word. The music came easily for this one.”

“Long Johns On,” from words written by Waddie Mitchell and further enlivened with a melody suggested by Alissa Hedges, is unforgettable fun. Really unforgettable; it has genuine–yet delightful–ear worm qualities. Find a video performance of it from the Western Folklife Center’s 2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

That humorous gem brings to mind the work of the late, great, beloved Glenn Ohrlin, music historian, performer, friend of Andy Hedges, and one of his heroes. Earlier this month, he paid tribute to him at the Ozark Folk Center. You can’t help but wish that Glenn Ohrlin was still around to hear “Long Johns On” and this entire album.

Someone once wrote about Glenn Ohrlin that he created “…a style that is at once powerful and understated.” And that comment could serve as well as a perfect description of Andy Hedges and the impressive Shadow of a Cowboy.

Find more at andyhedges.com and while you are there, be sure to tune into his “Cowboy Crossroads” podcasts, which are valuable and entertaining visits with cowboys, poets, musicians, and other representatives of the working West.

(Please respect copyright. You can share these lyrics and this photograph with this post, but for other uses, request permission.)

I’D LIKE TO BE IN TEXAS FOR THE ROUNDUP IN THE SPRING, traditional

bluebonnets

I’D LIKE TO BE IN TEXAS FOR THE ROUNDUP IN THE SPRING
traditional

In a lobby of a big hotel in New York town one day,
Sat a bunch of fellows telling yarns to pass the time away.
They told of places where they’d been and all the sights they’d seen,
And some of them praised Chicago town and others New Orleans.

I can see the cattle grazing o’er the hills at early morn;
I can see the camp-fires smoking at the breaking of the dawn,
I can hear the broncos neighing I can hear the cowboys sing;
Oh I’d like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.

In a corner in an old arm chair sat a man whose hair was gray,
He had listened to them longingly, to what they had to say.
They asked him where he’d like to be and his clear old voice did ring:
“I’d like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.

They all sat still and listened to each word he had to say;
They knew the old man sitting there had once been young and gay.
They asked him for a story of his life out on the plains,
He slowly then removed his hat and quietly began:

“Oh, I’ve seen them stampede o’er the hills,
when you’d think they`d never stop,
I’ve seen them run for miles and miles until their leader dropped,
I was foreman on a cow ranch—that’s the calling of a king;
I’d like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.”

There’s a grave in sunny Texas where Molly Deming sleeps,
‘Mid a grove of mossy live oaks a constant vigil keeps.
In my heart’s a recollection of a long, long bygone day
When we rode the range together like truant kids astray.

Her gentle spirit calls me in the watches of the night
And I hear her laughter freshening the dew of early light.
Yes I was foreman of a cow ranch–the callin’ of a king,
And I’d like to be in Texas for the roundup in the spring.

I’d like to sleep my last long sleep with Mother Earth for bed
And my saddle for a pillow, and the bright stars overhead.
Then I could hear the last stampedes, the songs the rivers sing
Way back down in Texas when they roundup in the spring.

…authorship uncertain

The authorship of “I’d Like to Be in Texas…” is uncertain. In the late Glenn Ohrlin’s “The Hell-Bound Train,” he writes, “Vernon Dalhart recorded ‘Roundup in the Spring’ on November 1, 1926… The song was first printed in sheet music copyrighted in 1927 by Lou Fishback (Fort Worth, Tex.); Carl Copeland and Jack Williams were listed as co-writers. The following year, the Texas Folklore Society printed an article by J. Frank Dobie, who claimed it was an old song he had obtained from Andy Adams.”

The Lomax’s include information from the Dobie article, writing that “…he found two lines in an unpublished play of Mr. Andy Adams. When he requested the full version, Mr. Adams sent him two stanzas and the chorus, which he had obtained fifteen years previously from W. E. Hawks, a ranchman now living in Burlington, Vt. However, he claimed to be responsible for most of the second stanza….”

Thanks to Stanton Howe who commented when we last posted this piece, “Duane Dickinson sang the best version of this I ever heard. He included the last verse[s] which makes the song make much better sense.” The less frequently heard second- and third-to-last verses above are from “Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads” by John and Alan Lomax. The final verse is more commonly heard. As with most folk songs, there are many variations.

Cowboy and poet JB Allen (1938-2005) recorded an outstanding recitation of this work at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The recording is on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Ten.

Top cowboy balladeer Don Edwards sings it in a video here and listen to the great Buck Ramsey (1938-1998) singing the song here.

Find more about “I’d Like to Be in Texas” at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photo is by Texas poet, writer, realtor, and local historian Linda Marie Kirkpatrick, taken earlier this year at Big Bend National Park. Find more about her and her books at lindakirkpatrick.net.

(This poem/song is in the public domain. You can share this photo with this post, but for other uses, please request permission.)

THE COWBOY’S LAMENT, traditional*

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THE COWBOY’S LAMENT
Traditional*

As I walked out in the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a poor cowboy wrapped up in white linen,
Wrapped up in white linen and cold as the clay.

“Oh beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
Play the Dead March as you bear me along;
Take me to the graveyard, and lay the sod o’er me,
For I’m a young cowboy, and I know I’ve done wrong.

“I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy,”—
These words he did say as I boldly stepped by.—
“Come sit beside me and hear my sad story;
I was shot in the breast and I know I must die.

“Let sixteen gamblers come handle my coffin,
Let sixteen cowboys come sing me a song,
Take me to the graveyard and lay the sod over me,
For I’m a poor cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.

“My friends and relation they live in the Nation,
They know not where their boy has gone.
He first came to Texas and hired to a ranchman,
Oh, I’m a young cowboy, and I know I’ve done wrong.

“Go write a letter to my gray-haired mother,
And carry the same to my sister so dear;
But not a word shall you mention
When a crowd gathers round you my story to hear.

There is another more dear than a sister,
She’ll bitterly weep when she hears I am gone.
There is another who will win her affections,
For I’m a young cowboy, and they say I’ve done wrong.

“Go gather around you a crowd of young cowboys
And tell them the story of this my sad fate;
Tell one and the other before they go further
To stop their wild roving before ‘t is too late.

“Oh muffle your drums, then play your fifes merrily;
Play the Dead March as you bear me along.
And fire your guns right over my coffin;
There goes an unfortunate boy to his home.

“It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing,
It was once in the saddle I used to be gay;
First to the dram-house and then to the card-house:
Got shot in the breast , I am dying to-day.

“Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin;
Get six pretty maidens to bear up my pall;
Put bunches of roses all over my coffin,
Put roses to deaden the clods as they fall.

“Then swing your rope slowly and rattle your spurs lowly,
And give a wild whoop as you bear me along;
And in the grave throw me, and roll the sod over me,
For I’m a young cowboy, and I know I’ve done wrong.

“Go bring me a cup, a cup of cold water
To cool my parched lips,” the young cowboy said.
Before I turned, the spirit had left him
And gone to its Giver—the cowboy was dead.

We beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly,
And bitterly wept as we bore him along;
For we all loved our comrade, so brave, young, and handsome;
We all loved our comrade, although he’d done wrong.

…traditional

(From the 1921 edition of Jack Thorp’s Songs of the Cowboys, in which he writes, “Authorship credited to Troy Hale, Battle Creek, Nebraska. I first heard it sung in a bar-room at Wisner, Nebraska, about 1886.”)

*”The Cowboy’s Lament” (also known as “Streets of Laredo”) is most often cited as “traditional,” and it also has been credited to various authors. Today, most accept that Francis Henry Maynard (1853-1926) wrote an early version of the song, “The Dying Cowboy.” Find our feature about the song and Maynard and more, including links to vintage renditions at CowboyPoetry.com.

Why feature this poem for St. Patrick’s Day? The melody and story are said to have come from the 18th century Irish ballad, “The Bard of Armagh” (also known as “The Unfortunate Rake,” “Phelim Brady,” and by other titles). Find a short version of that ballad and many links (like this one to a vintage Peter LaFarge rendition of “Streets of Laredo) and more information about “The Cowboy’s Lament” and its history at CowboyPoetry.com.

Find other St. Patrick’s Day-flavored poems and lyrics there as well.

This 1909 Raphael Tuck postcard is from the New York Public Library’s digital collection. Find more about this card here.

This poem and image are in the public domain.

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU lyrics by Joel Nelson, music by Don Edwards

joelnelsonkent

photo © 1993, Kent Reeves, used with permission

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU
lyrics by Joel Nelson, music by Don Edwards

You rode the Goodnight-Loving
Went up the Chisholm too
You trailed three thousand to Kansas City
And you wintered with Teddy Blue
Here’s looking at you
Here’s looking at you

You rode with Ranger Goodnight
You helped him tame the land
You learned the Llano Estacado
Just as well as the back of your hand
When you rode for the brand
You rode for the brand

You’ve been three times to Sedalia
With a cook and six-man crew
You came dang near losing the herd and your hair
To a passel of renegade Sioux
But you saw it through
You saw it through

And you courted the dancehall beauties
‘Till they picked your pockets clean
If it happened once you let it happen twice
Up in Dodge and Abilene
And places between
Every place in between

From a heat wave in Palo Pinto
To the frostbite on Raton Pass
You looseherded cattle through a Southwestern drought
In the quest for water and grass
Alack and alas
Huntin’ water and grass

Then you trailed home the fittest survivors
When the word came of late summer rain
And you reveled in respite for weary riders
And three pounds a day in gain
The respite of rain
And three pounds of gain

You drove ‘em up to Montana
Over rivers swollen outta the bank
You started out helping the wrangler’s helper
But you rise right up through the rank
Through the dark and the dank
You rose through the rank

It was a poor way to make a living
And you threatened to quit—but then
When the herd bedded down at the shank of evenin’
You knew you’d do it over ag’in
Through the thick and the thin
You’d do it ag’in

Now a half-dozen generations
Have mourned your passin’ on
But you were just startin’ what still isn’t over
And your spirit saddles up in the dawn
For you are not gone
No you are not gone

We see you in the Steeldust
In the spark flyin’ offfa the show
Maybe we are here livin’ what you never dreamed of
But you lived what we never know
Here’s looking at you
Here’s looking at you

Here’s looking at you—Cowboy
Here’s looking at you.

© Copyright 2001, Joel Nelson, Night Horse Songs, BMI
These lyrics should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

This outstanding cowboy song (listen here) is the result of a collaboration between two of today’s most respected people in the cowboy poetry and music world: Joel Nelson and Don Edwards.

Here’s Looking at You” came from the pen of Joel Nelson, emerging as a song, not a poem. Don Edwards told of his friendly skepticism when Joel Nelson told him he had written a song that he wanted Don to hear. Don admitted he was thinking “A song? Joel’s a poet,” and before he knew it, there was another surprise: Joel pulled out his guitar. Don said at the time, “I’ve known Joel for twenty-five years, and I didn’t know he played the guitar.” His expectations weren’t high. But he went from skeptic to believer quickly.

What followed was what Don describes as a song of “marvelous purity, akin to the works of Don Hedgpeth, JB Allen, Badger Clark, Bruce Kiskaddon,” writers able to make words with “a hundred years wrapped into now.” Don said that he couldn’t get the song out of his mind, and he soon was in touch with Joel to talk about working with the song, saying that he didn’t want to do anything to take away from the near-perfect words. Don’s skillful arrangement makes it impossible to imagine any other tune working with the inspired lyrics.

“Here’s Looking at You” was recorded by Don Edwards on his Saddle Songs II, Last of the Troubadours album. You can listen to it here.  It was also featured last week on Jim and Andy Nelson’s Clear Out West (C.O.W.) radio show and is available in part 4 of the October 15, 2018 archive.

This collaboration was featured in 2008 in a column from CowboyPoetry.com, “Before the Song,” which appeared in the International Western Music Association’s magazine, The Western Way. Find much more about the song and the collaboration in the article here.

Find more about Joel Nelson at CowboyPoetry.com and visit donedwardsmusic.com for more about Don Edwards.

Joel Nelson appears at the Texas Hill Country Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Fredricksburg, Texas, November 8-10, and will be a part of the Western Folklife Center’s 35th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering January 28 – February 2, 2019. The lineup includes 3hattrio, Amy Hale Auker, Mike Beck, Geno Delafose & French Rockin Boogie, John Dofflemyer, Joshua Dugat, Maria Lisa Eastman, Mary Flitner, Jamie Fox & Alex Kusturok, Ryan & Hoss Fritz, Dick Gibford, DW Groethe, Andy Hedges, Brenn Hill, Tish Hinojosa, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Ross Knox, Ned LeDoux, Daron Little, Corb Lund, Carolyn Martin’s Swing Band, Sid Marty, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Gary McMahan, Waddie Mitchell, Michael Martin Murphey, Joel Nelson, Rodney Nelson, Diane Peavey, Shadd Piehl, Vess Quinlan. Halladay & Rob Quist, Henry Real Bird, Brigid Reedy, Randy Rieman, Jake Riley, Matt Robertson, Olivia Romo, Trinity Seely, Sean Sexton, Sourdough Slim, Dave Stamey, Gail Steiger, Colter Wall, Swift Current, and Paul Zarzyski. Find more at
http://www.nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org.

This c. 1993 photograph of Joel Nelson is by Kent Reeves, Cowboy Conservationist, from the landmark book Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West, by Anne Heath Widmark, with photographs by Kent Reeves.

Kent Reeves writes in the book’s Acknowledgments, “…I owe my work in this book to all the poets who allowed me to interrupt their lives and who took me in for a few days. I do not feel that I ‘took’ these photographs; I believe that each poet gave them to me.” In addition to Joel Nelson, the book includes chapters with Buck Ramsey, Wallace McRae, Rod McQueary, Linda Hussa, John Dofflemyer, Shadd Piehl, Paul Zarzyski, Sue Wallis, Vess Quinlan, Henry Real Bird, and Drummond Hadley.

See a gallery of photos from the book on Facebook.

Find more about Kent Reeves at CowboyPoetry.com and at cowboyconservation.com.

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

GOODBYE OLD PAINT traditional

blackcowboys

GOODBYE OLD PAINT
traditional

Good-bye, Old Paint, I’m a-leavin’ Cheyenne,
Good-bye, Old Paint, I’m a-leavin’ Cheyenne.

My foot in the stirrup, my pony won’t stand;
Good-bye, Old Paint, I’m a-leavin’ Cheyenne.

I’m a-leavin’ Cheyenne, I’m off for Montan’;
Good-bye, Old Paint, I’m a-leavin’ Cheyenne.

I’d a ridin’ Old Paint, I’m a-leadin’ Old Fan;
Good-bye, Old Paint, I’m a-leavin’ Cheyenne.

With my feet in the stirrups, my bridle in my hand;
Good-bye, Old Paint, I’m a-leavin’ Cheyenne.

Old Paint’s a good pony, he paces when he can;
Good-bye, Little Annie, I’m off for Cheyenne.

Oh hitch up your horses and feed ’em some hay,
And seat yourself by me so long as you stay.

My horses ain’t hungry, they’ll not eat your hay;
My wagon is loaded and rolling away.

My foot in the stirrup, my reins in my hand;
Good morning, young lady, my horses won’t stand.

Good-bye, Old Paint, I’m a-leavin’ Cheyenne,
Good-bye, Old Paint, I’m a-leavin’ Cheyenne.

…traditional, from Jack Thorp’s Songs of the Cowboys, 1921

Thorp noted, “Heard this sung by a puncher who had been on a spree in Pecos City. He had taken a job temporarily as a sheep-rustler for an outfit in Independence Draw, down the river, and was ashamed of the job. I won’t mention his name.”

Jess Morris popularized the song, which he credited to cowboy Charley Willis, who taught him the song when he was a boy.

Listen to a 1942 recording of Jess Morris singing “Old Paint” and playing on a fiddle made by John Lomax.

Songster Dom Flemons has a much more complex, outstanding rendition, closer to Jess Morris’s, on his recent Black Cowboys” album from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Generous liner notes in Black Cowboys tell about Jess Morris, “…raised in the Texas Panhandle region, where his father was a trail boss on the XIT ranch, an establishment known for hiring many black cowboys.” Charley Willis was one of those cowboys. Flemons quotes Willis’s great grandson on his ancestor, “He had a knack for singing. He had a gift, if you will. His voice was real soothing to the cattle, and this is why they wanted him to participate in these big cattle drives….”

Black Cowboys illuminates the history of African Americans in the West with songs and poems as diverse as “Home on the Range,” Gail I. Gardner’s “Tyin’ Knots in the Devil’s Tail,” “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” and Wallace McRae’s “Old Proc.” Dom Flemons offers a meaty introduction and notes on each track, and Jim Griffith contributes an essay, “Black Cowboys of the West.” Vintage photographs and illustrations further enhance the noteworthy project.

Dom Flemons is no stranger to cowboy poetry gatherings. He has been featured at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and will appear next month at the Texas Hill Country Cowboy Gathering in Fredericksburg, November 8-10, 2018, along with Joel Nelson, Amy Hale Auker, Cowboy Celtic, Mike Blakely, Pipp Gillette, Andy Hedges, Waddie Mitchell, Randy Rieman, and Trinity Seely.

“Black Cowboys,” with its distinctive William Matthews cover art, is also available now on vinyl. Find more at Smithsonian Folkways and listen at YouTube.  Visit Dom Flemons’ web site.

(This song is in the public domain.)