An Old Cowboy Writes

“So I’ll fix you greedy gluttons so you cannot feed your cows / So the crops all burned and withered; even grass it cannot grow” Cowboy poetry of the 1930s could get pretty intense.

Cowboy poets, saddle-bound bards who record life on the range in verse, have been the subject of much media attention. But Nebraska cowboys were rhyming and writing long before anyone thought to call them “poets.” The following poem, “An Old Cowboy Writes,” in the History Nebraska collections, was written, “by an old-time cowboy of Cheyenne County, to be read at the chuck wagon feed at the Potter Days celebration.” Beyond that, little is known about the poem. It may date from 1938–or a bit earlier. Its author signed himself simply, “Ex-Cowboy.”

“You can look about, Old Timer, and see a heap o’ change,
There are corn fields and there’s wheat fields where the cattle used to range,
Say, can you remember how you hated with righteous hate
The nester, when he moved in; starvation was his fate.
Well, they dried out in the ’90s; pulled out and left ‘er flat,
Was only a few ranchers between Pole creek and the Platte.
Boys, then she was a country, all the range and grass was free,
There were horses’ heads and cattle just as far as you could see.
Then a gink they called Kincaid hatched a great big homestead law.
Ye Gods, here came the farmer, such a rush you never saw;
They gobbled every quarter, they settled far and wide,
In the rough lands and the canyons, where the cattle used to hide.
Started raising corn and barley, taters, wheat and kids and beans,
You’ve seen it all, old timer, so you sure know what it means.
Well you cut the herds a plenty, with the farmers fall in line,
You plowed with old cow-horses; Ye Gods you had a time.
Then along came a man named Campbell, he hit upon a plan,
And they thought he’d saved the bacon of the high dry farmer man.
Now dame Nature says you’ve built a desert with your engines and your plows

“So I’ll fix you greedy gluttons so you cannot feed your cows.”
So the crops all burned and withered; even grass it cannot grow,
But I guess old Timer, we will stick; we have no place to go.
Now the passing of old timers is growing every day.
We always miss the ones with whom we used to work and play;
Let us hope that they are riding on that range of mystery,
And when our time comes, there will be a place for you and me.”

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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