Posted by: Oklahoma Sun | December 31, 2009

The Cowboy Poet

The Cowboy Poet.

Harry E. Mills. The Sod House in  Heaven, 1895.


SHARP-SHOOTER JIM, a cowboy, roamed the wild, romantic West,
Ranked in his rough profession as among the very best;
Yet through his reckless nature ran a strange, poetic strain,
Which turned his thoughts to rhythm as he galloped o’er the plain.
In all the western authors he was more or less well read;
And his “divine afflatus” by this fuel had been fed
Until he took the lyre and began, himself, to write;
Though all his maiden efforts were most strictly “out of sight.”
But, when at last discovered, he was forced to own their coin,
To grant their presentation, and, in fact, himself to join
In reading from the poems he was bold enough to write;
For Jim was somewhat noted for his power to recite.
He loved to speak from Riley, Field, Sam Foss, or Eugene Ware,
Or give Nye’s autumn poem on the atmosphere and air.
And now his new departure made it everywhere the talk
That his talents were not bounded by the range assigned to stock.
One plainsman said but little, save to give the modest hint
That Jim would be gray-headed when he saw his rhymes in print.
This nettled his admirers, and they urged him to submit
His verses to some paper; they were sure to make a hit.

A little town was starting, off some twenty miles or more,
Which had a one-horse weekly, run above a one-horse store.
The editor, one morning at his desk—a dry goods box—
Sat sorting squibs of humor to be headed “Sand and Rocks,”
When in there came a cowboy, looking diffident and shy,
As though almost persuaded that he’d better turn and fly.
“Good morning,” said the editor with business in his tones;
“You wish a year’s subscription to The Weekly Skull and Bones?”
“Not that exactly,” Jim replied, his cheek a crimson tint;
“I’ve got some verses here that I would like fer you to print.”
“We seldom publish poems, and besides, sir, if we should,
We’d choose from standard authors who are recognized as good;
But, if you’ll leave your copy here, and call next week again,
I’ll probably find time to pass my judgment on it then.”
From underneath his pistol belt Jim drew a crumpled sheet,
With four unmated stanzas set to fitful rhymes and feet.
The editor reviewed them with a chafed, impatient glance,
Which prophesied their failure and rejection in advance.
“Don’t think they’ll answer,” said this rash Apollo of the pen.
“Why not?” said Jim. “Because, sir, they ‘re not poetry; and then
We’re after news, not verses. Kindly call again; good day.”
The man was plainly verdant in the common western way.

A cowboy’s wrath is symbolled by a blast of dynamite,
And if it warns explosion you are safest out of sight.
Jim’s shyness changed to anger, and his look was fierce and grim;
No lily-fingered dude should make a laughing-stock of him.
He took his slighted copy, trembling with the rage he felt,
And drew a seven-shooter from his heavy pistol belt.
He cocked the weapon, aimed it at the other fair and square.
“Now say that this aint poetry,” he shouted, “if you dare!”
“Don’t shoot! We’ll print the verses!” in affright the critic cried.
“But are they poetry?” said Jim. The editor replied:
“You bet they are; they’re forcible, impressive, and indeed
I think, sir, we shall find them just exactly what we need.”
And then, for pistol practice, and to test his faultless shot,
Jim sent a score of bullets through the ceiling in one spot.
The printers took the copy, and within an hour’s time
They had the proof corrected on that bit of ranger rhyme.
Jim’s lines appeared next morning, and behold! above his name,
A glowing introduction to the starry fields of fame.
Some larger paper saw it, and inquired if now and then
They might receive a poem from his bright and breezy pen.

To-day he might be numbered with the rhymers of renown
Had not a jealous rival deemed it best to shoot him down.
But his example lingers, and the way his course begun
Leaves room for vast conjecture as to what he might have done.
In life’s uncertain contest brass helps many men ahead;
But when it comes to poets nothing takes the place of lead.