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by George Phippen (1915-1966); request permission for use


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

Hear about the creation of this poem and many captivating stories of the life of Gail I. Gardner in the current Cowboy Crossroads podcast from Andy Hedges. On the show, Gail Steiger, cowboy, ranch manager, songwriter, filmmaker and Gardner’s grandson tells those stories and performs the piece in the a cappella style that his grandfather preferred.

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.

Gail Steiger has shared a number of great family photos of his grandfather, posted in our feature at, along with poems and more information.

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.

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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.”

Many have put the poem to music, including Michael Martin Murphy, Chris LeDoux, Rex Allen, and others. Listen to the great Don Edwards’ version.

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. Request permission for use of this poem or image.)

ROPE MUSIC by S. Omar Barker


by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

Oh, I’ve heard a lot of music, human-made and Nature’s own,
Fiddled tunes an’ hummin’ thrummin’ melodies,
With sometimes a squealin’ clarinet or sobbin’ saxophone,
And at others just a wind-song in the trees.

Once I heard “O Sole Mio” and it kinder choked my throat—
Just the way she sorter sung it from her heart.
Crickets whirrin’ in the evenin’—runnin’ water’s quiet note—
Oh, such singin’ might ‘nigh bust your soul apart.

I can catch a drift of music in the howl of wolves at night,
In the cud-a-r-rupp of hosses on the lope,
But the song that never fails to make the world and all seem right
Is the swishin’, swingin’ singin’ of my rope!

Just the whisper-whistle hummin’ of a momentary tune
Every puncher knows the rope song of the West—
Though there may be grander music than my loopin’ lasso’s croon,
I’m a cowboy, and to me it sounds the best!

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker from “Buckaroo Ballads,” 1928

Barker’s poem also appeared in Top-Notch Magazine, March 15, 1925. S. Omar Barker was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America, Inc. and many of his poems were published by Western Horseman. Find more about S. Omar Barker at

“Rope Music” makes for a great recitation in the right hands; Arizona cowboy, ranch manager, songwriter and filmmaker Gail Steiger ( does a fine rendition, with the addition of just the perfect amount of sound effects. He recorded the poem for MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, the poetry of S. Omar Barker.

This 1905 stereograph is titled “Fancy ‘roping’ at a cowboys’ camp, Oklahoma.” It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post; any other uses require permission. The stereograph is in the public domain.)

REAL COWBOY LIFE, by Gail I. Gardner

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by Gail I. Gardner (1892-1988)

You have read these cowboy stories,
About their life so wild and free;
I expect that you could tell me
What a cowboy’s life should be.
Oh, he rescues lovely maidens
And he shoots the rustlers down;
He wears a fancy outfit,
And he paints up every town.

You can see him in the movies,
He’s a high-falutin’ swell;
A-ridin’ wring-tailed pintos,
And always raisin’ Hell.
But now let me tell you somethin’
‘Bout this cowboy life so free;
It ain’t no bed of roses,
You can take a tip from me.

Now there ain’t no handsome cowboys,
Nowhere I’ve ever been,
For a real top-notch Buckero
Is just homlier than sin.
And all cowboys have their troubles,
A few of which I’ll name,
To show you that cowpunching
Is a mighty sorry game.

When the roundup starts in April,
The first job you undertake
Is to shoe up all your horses
Till you think your back will break.
Now then you can be a center,
Or a rimmy if you will;
It don’t make any difference,
You will have your troubles still.

When you take your dally-welties
You can lose a lot of hide,
But if you fail to get ’em,
You have shorely got to ride.
Or you tie her hard and solid,
And then throw away the slack;
If your steer should hub a saplin’,
You are shore to lose the pack.

When you get a wild bunch driftin’,
Straight down for the home corral,
There will somethin’ spook the leaders,
And your whole bunch go to Hell.
You build to an orejana,
For to tie him in a rush,
But your pony turns a knocker
And he throws you in the brush.

Then your long-ear’s in the thicket,
And your dogs have plumb give out,
So the only thing that you can do
Is to cuss and cry and shout.
As you ride away and leave him,
You can hear the critter bawl,
And you know some feller’ll git him
Before the rodeer comes next fall.

When you have a real hard winter,
And your cows all try to die,
You ride out every morning,
And to lift ’em up you try.
You can git one by the handle,
And you heave and lift and strain,
With a mighty awful struggle
You can tail her up again.

Oh, you try to leave her standin’,
But she charges you in high,
Then she breaks down in the middle
So you leave her there to die.
On the range there’s not a yearlin’
That is fat enough for meat,
And you are all burnt out on bacon,
And the beans ain’t fit to eat.

When you’ve cowboyed for a lifetime,
Here is all ’twill do for you:
Some busted ribs and shoulders
And a hip knocked down or two.
You have butted into cedars
Till your hair is hard to find,
And the malapais and granites
Have you all stove up behind.

If you ever have a youngster,
And he wants to foller stock,
The best thing you can do for him
Is to brain him with a rock.
Or if rocks ain’t very handy,
You kin shove him down the well;
Do not let him be a cowboy,
For he’s better off in Hell.

You may swear you’ll never ride again,
And know you will not fail,
Till you hear a caviada
Come a-jinglin’ down the trail.
Then you pack up all your soogans,
And prepare to pull your freight,
For you know you’re just a cowboy,
And your head ain’t screwed on straight

© Gail I. Gardner, from Orejana Bull
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Gail Gardner was born in Prescott, Arizona. Though he was educated at Philip Exeter Academy and Dartmouth University, his true desire was to work as a cowboy, which he did. His WWI draft registration describes his profession as “ranching & cattle growing.”

Gardner wrote memorable poems, many of which have been set to music, including his best-known work, “The Sierry Petes (or Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail).” He published some of his poems in his 1935 book, Orejana Bull for Cowboys Only, which was reprinted most recently in 1987.

You can hear Gail Gardner’s own performance of “The Sierry Petes” on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Ten, a double CD of top classic and modern poetry from

Arizona ranch manager, cowboy, filmmaker and songwriter Gail Steiger, Gardner’s grandson, recites “Real Cowboy Life” on his recent, well-received CD, “A Matter of Believin’.” See our previous post for Gail Steiger’s own take on “The Romance of Western Life.”

This photo of “Gail I. Gardner at the Devil’s Gate Rodeo Grounds, Skull Valley, ‘Round-up Time’ in the 1920s” is courtesy of the Gardner/Steiger family.

Find more about Gail Gardner and see many photos and more of his
poetry at

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



lyrics by Gail Steiger

The old black bull
got stuck in the mud
for six hours we pushed and we pried
finally took four horses
to pull him free
and when we got our ropes untied
he looked up at the sky
then he give out a big sigh
and he laid down his head and he died

we started for town
but the truck broke down
we walked home five miles in the rain
and we’d have been glad for that
but we had hay on the ground
and the timing was kind of a shame

and the romance ain’t completely gone
to this cowboy life we’ve chose
but the bliss that I’d been counting on
well it comes and then it goes
I could have been a lawyer or something
but it’s too late for that now
cause the only thing I know anything about
is a damned old hereford cow

well the creek come up
took the watergap down
our yearlings were nowhere to be found
only taken us a week to gather em all
be easier the second time around
at least that’s what I thought
till I seen Shorty there looking blue
just before we left for town
he turned our horses out there too
(they went with the yearlings)

and the romance ain’t completely gone
but it’s wearing kind of thin
I know that there’s a lot of things
I maybe could have been
I could have been a fireman
but it’s too late for that now
cause the only thing I know anything about
is a damned old hereford cow

no the romance ain’t completely gone
to this cowboy life we’ve chose
but the bliss that I’d been counting on
well it comes and then it goes
I could have been a lot of things
and I guess I still could now
but the only thing I really care about
is a damned old hereford cow

© 1986, Gail Steiger
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Listen to Gail Steiger sing his song , which is also on his cd of the same name.

Nothing replaces experience when it comes to authenticity in writing. Gail Steiger is a songwriter, filmmaker, and cowboy who has been the foreman of the remote 50,000 acre Spider Ranch in Yavapai County, Arizona since 1995.

In a 2014 interview Gail Steiger commented on the song:

It was originally titled “A Cowboy Looks at 45 On A Real Bad Day.” And I had a brother that I do a lot of work with, and I usually play stuff for him before I embarrass myself in public.

And he said, well, you might get away with that song, but you’re going to have to lose the title. It’s just way too negative. He said if you call that song “The Romance of Western Life,” it will put a whole different spin on things. So that’s where this song came from.

He told us the song is “… is really just an updated version of ‘Real Cowboy Life,'” which was written by his grandfather, Gail I. Gardner, who was perhaps best known for writing “The Sierry Petes.” Stay tuned here for “Real Cowboy Life” on Friday.

Find more about Gail Steiger at

He joins the impressive lineup at the Western Folklife Center’s 36th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 27-February 1, 2020.

Thanks to Amy Hale Steiger for lending this photo of Gail Steiger. She works with her husband on the Spider Ranch and is also an award-winning writer and poet. Find more about her at her site,

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

RANCHMAN’S RESOLUTIONS by S. Omar Barker (1894–1985)


by S. Omar Barker (1894–1985)

Of New Year’s resolutions
I could think up quite a few.
But since I’m pretty busy,
Maybe two or three will do:
Resolved to raise still better beef,
To market when they’re fat;
To build new chutes, to buy new boots–
But wear the same old hat!

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

These resolutions may be easier to keep than most. One recent study says that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February.

Barker, as described in Cowboy Miner Productions’ collection of his work, “…was born in the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico… a rancher, high school teacher, college professor, forest ranger, soldier, outdoorsman, and legislator…” He was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America, Inc. and many of his poems were published by Western Horseman. Find more about S. Omar Barker at

Gail Steiger, Arizona ranch manager, cowboy, filmmaker, songwriter, and poet recites this poem on MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, the poems of S. Omar Barker.

The poem seemed a perfect choice for him. These hat pics are courtesy of Gail’s partner, writer and cowboy Amy Hale Auker Author.

Gail Steiger is a featured performer at the Western Folklife Center​’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 28 through February 2, 2019. Find more about the event and see the great lineup at

After Elko, find Gail at the popular Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering​ in Alpine, February 22-23, 2019. Learn all about it and see the outstanding list of performers at

Find more about Gail Steiger at


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

IT SORTA MAKES SENSE by Virginia Bennett




by Virginia Bennett

A friend of mine, (I’ll call him Pete)
was watching TV the other day.
He listened to some reporter,
believin’ all he had to say.
It was a “human interest piece”
tho’ some would call it fluff.
And, it showed a lot of fancy folks
with their poodles struttin’ stuff.

And, the reporter said, “It has long been
established as a scientific fact
that dogs look like their owners
and by data this has been backed.”
Well, Pete looked down at his old dog
lyin’ faithfully on the floor:
His tongue lolled out (the dog’s, not Pete’s)
as he laid there in full-snore.

His one good eye was swollen shut
from one of the milk-cow’s kicks.
He’d lost patches of his mangy fur
from diggin’ at his ticks.
A trophy brought home gallantly
from a coyote fight last week,
was one ear torn completely in half
and a new scar on his beak.

He had porky quills stickin’ out of his gums
he only had one dew claw…
And since the stud horse aimed just right
he drinks his toilet water through a straw!
Yes, Pete looked down, then looked at the screen
his cowboy mind in a muddled fog.
And said, “If it’s true that dogs look like their owners…
then, I gotta get a better lookin’ dog!”

©2004, Virginia Bennett, used with permission

Cowboy, horsewoman, poet, musician, writer, and editor Virginia Bennett’s respected body of work is collected in her books and in a number of anthologies. This poem is included in her most recent book, In the Company of Horses. She’s the editor of two important collections, Cowgirl Poetry and Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion.

She was often a featured poet at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and other events until she suffered a serious horse-related injury about ten years ago.

Find some selections of her poetry and more about her and her publications in our feature at

This photo is by writer, poet, and working cowboy Amy Steiger (Amy Hale Auker), who works on Arizona’s Spider ranch with ranch manager, songwriter, poet and filmmaker (and her husband) Gail Steiger, who is shown.

Amy Steiger has four acclaimed books: two novels and two essay collections. The latest collection, Ordinary Skin, was recently released (see the glowing reviews on Amazon). Find more about Amy Steiger  at

Amy and Gail Steiger appear along with Caitlyn Taussig and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott on September 9, 2017 in Napa, California at the 3rd annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on the Road in Napa Valley hosted by Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater and the Western Folklife Center. Find more about it at Facebook.