Cowboy Poetry and Music

The earliest drovers who were on the first large scale cattle drives into British Columbia learned the hard way. Often they settled the cattle down for the night and then crawled into their bedrolls, only to find that, during the night, the cattle had got up and decided to go home. They would then spend a long morning searching out the wayward cattle before the drive could be resumed. It didn’t take long for the drovers to realize they needed “night riders” to ride around the herd through the night to keep the cattle content and contained. Usually two riders circled the herd in opposite directions. But, especially in the dark, cattle tended to spook very easily, and if the drovers lit a match or made a sudden sound, the cattle were off and running. So, to keep the cattle calm and to let them know where the riders were, the rider hummed a tune or talked in a quiet voice. Songs or poetry made up by the drovers during a long night’s ride would then be shared with their fellow workers when they returned to the campfire. Most often the song or poem was about an event or character encountered on the cattle drive. And thus the fine art of cowboy poetry and music was created. The practice that originated in these early days was carried on so that one of the acceptable ways a cowboy expressed himself was through poetry or music. Many of the oldest cowboy songs found their origins in the cattle drives of the early days.

Originally there was little to distinguish cowboy music from cowboy poetry. Both were sung or recited without accompaniment, but, as songs were passed along and collected, musical instruments were used to carry the tune and many of the poems were set to music. By the 1930s, groups like the Sons of the Pioneers and movie cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers made the image of the “singing cowboy” a part of the cowboy myth. Today, cowboy poetry and music are alive and well, with dozens of gatherings happening all over Western North America. The Kamloops Cowboy Festival in March and the Historic O’Keefe Ranch Cowboy Festival in August are two British Columbia events.

Listen to Cowboy Poetry Now

Media Files

You need the Adobe Flash Player to view the following videos. You can get it by clicking here.

“Cowboys Victimized”

by James Barton Adams recited by Ken Mather

A group of cowboys try to pull a fast one on the visiting Englishman, who turns the tables on them.

A flash player with a video showing Ken Mathers reciting “Cowboys Victimized” by James Barton Adams.

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“When They’ve Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall”

by Bruce Kiskaddon recited by Ken Mather

The feelings and memories of an old cowboy returning to the home ranch after shipping cattle, the final job of the summer season.

A flash player with a video showing Ken Mathers reciting “When They’ve Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall” by Bruce Kiskaddon

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“The Man on the Moon”

written and recited by Mike Puhallo

Cowboys at the Douglas Lake Ranch and their view of the first man on the moon.

A flash player with a video showing “The Man on the Moon” written and recited by Mike Puhallo

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“Cinnamon”

written and recited by Mike Puhallo

A young girl’s horse, Cinnamon, is turned out to pasture.

A flash player with a video showing “Cinnamon” written and recited by Mike Puhallo

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“Louie LaBourdais”

written and recited by Mike Puhallo

Stagecoach driver, Louis LaBourdais, a fine teamster and a pretty fair woman’s man.

A flash player with a video showing “Louie LaBourdais” written and recited by Mike Puhallo

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“Camp Cook’s Call”

recited by Corky Williams

Typical wake-up call by a chuck wagon cook.

A flash player with a video showing “Camp Cook’s Call” recited by Corky Williams

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“The Sierry Petes”

by Gail Gardner recited by Corky Williams

Two tough old cowboys have an encounter with the Devil, who comes off the worst.

A flash player with a video showing “The Sierry Petes” by Gail Gardner recited by Corky Williams

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“Purt’ Near Perkins”

by S. Omar Barker recited by Corky Williams

This ranch character pretty near did a lot of things but Tom McGinnis wasn’t impressed, at first.

A flash player with a video showing “Purt’ Near Perkins” by S. Omar Barker recited by Corky Williams

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“How Fast”

written and recited by Dave Longworth

Two working cowboys encounter townspeople and stop a particularly obnoxious one in his tracks.

A flash player with a video showing “How Fast” written and recited by Dave Longworth

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“The Look”

written and recited by Dave Longworth

The Douglas Lake cowboys react to the sudden death of popular Cow Boss, Mike Ferguson.

A flash player with a video showing “The Look” written and recited by Dave Longworth

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“Just Our Luck”

by written and recited Dave Longworth

A short but poignant look at the life of a cowboy.

A flash player with a video showing “Just Our Luck” by written and recited Dave Longworth

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)




“Let Them Wagons Roll”

sung and played by Chris and Sharky Shauer

An ode to the day of the horse-drawn wagon.

A flash player with a video showing “Let Them Wagons Roll” sung and played by Chris and Sharky Shauer

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)