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 drunk, 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



The above version of “The Hell-Bound Train” 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 here.

Listen to the late, great legendary cowboy singer and historian Glenn Ohrlin (1926-2015) sing “The Hell-Bound Train.” His landmark book, The Hell-Bound Train; A Cowboy Songbook, is a treasury of information about cowboy songs. In his book, he tells he learned the piece from an aunt, and that its origin is “a minor mystery.”

Andy Hedges has an excellent rendition on his Cowboy Recitations album.

This 1907 photograph by Ed. Tangen, Boulder, Colorado, from a stereo card, is titled “The Thirsty Cowpuncher.” Find more about it at The Library of Congress.


LITTLE JOE THE WRANGLER lyrics by “Jack” Thorp (N. Howard Thorp, 1867-1940)



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
idly hung,
While his “hot roll” in a cotton sack
was loosely tied behind
And a canteen from the saddle horn
he’d slung.

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”
rustle wood.

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.

You can view Jack Thorp’s entire book on line in many places, including and on Google Books.

Find more about Jack Thorp in features at

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.


CHOPO by “Jack” Thorp 1867-1940


by “Jack” Thorp 1867-1940

Through rocky arroyos so dark and so deep;
Down the sides of the mountains so slippery and steep;
You’ve good judgment, sure footed, wherever you go
You’re a safety conveyance my little Chopo.

Whether single or double, or in the lead of a team,
Over highways or byways or crossing a stream,
You’re always in fix and willing to go
Whenever you’re called on, my Chico Chopo.

You’re a good roping horse; you were never jerked down;
When tied to a steer, you will circle him around;
Let him once cross the string, and over he’ll go.
You sabe the business, my cow horse Chopo.

One day on the Llano, a hail storm began;
The herds were stampeded, the horses all ran;
The lightning it glittered, a cyclone did blow;
But you faced the sweet music my little Chopo.

Chopo my pony; Chopo, my pride;
Chopo my amigo; Chopo I will ride
From Mexico’s border ‘cross Texas Llanos;
To the salt Pecos River, I ride you Chopo.

…by Jack Thorp from Songs of the Cowboys, 1921

Listen to Andy Hedges’ latest COWBOY CROSSROADS and you will appreciate an unbroken line of music and history passed on from Jack Thorp to Don Edwards to Andy Hedges. In a far-ranging and deeply interesting interview, Andy engages our great American troubabour, Don Edwards, who talks about his lifelong interest in music and his investigation of and respect for the roots of cowboy music. Robert Johnson, Hank Snow, Maybelle Carter, Dylan, Gene Autry, Eric Clapton, the Blues, and more comes up in the conversation.

Don Edwards speaks of the kinship he feels for “Jack” Thorp (N. Howard Thorp), the first collector of cowboy music. Thorp gathered 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 (and shown above), was greatly expanded and included over a hundred songs and poems, including 25 pieces written Thorp.

Thorp commented that “Chopo” was “Written in Devil’s River, Texas, 1901 at Jeneaw, or Juno, Lake, when in camp with Frank Wilson. This little horse I got from Antelope George at Sierra Blanca, was branded O. I rode him from Sierra Blanca to Paris, Texas. This song was in my first publication, copyrighted in 1908.”

In his biographical book, Pardner of the Wind, written with Neil M. Clark, Thorp describes Chopo, “…the best night horse I ever had. Coal-black and branded O, he was one of those horses that made a good hand anywhere…Chopo’s daddy was a Morgan stud shipped out from the East, and his mammy a sure-enough mustang Arabian, one of the old Spanish stock that ran pretty much all over the Southwest. He first proved himself on the trail drive when Little Joe, the wrangler was killed—not in the same stampede, however.”

Find more about Thorp in features at

Andy Hedges is doing important (and entertaining) work in presenting and preserving the authentic stories, poems, and music of the cowboy West. Those who care about this heritage are fortunate and are greatly indebted to people like Andy and Don Edwards who keep lit the torch for this small but vital genre.

It is easy to listen to the treasures that COWBOY CROSSROADS is collecting. And if you value the show, do what you can to help support it and spread the word. Find listening options and more here.