Cowboy poets, saddle-bound bards who record life on the range in verse, have lately been the
subject of much media attention. Cowboy poets recite their verses on late-night talk shows,
and Nebraska recently hosted its first Cowboy Poetry event at Peru State College. But
Nebraska cowboys were rhyming and writing long before anyone thought to call them
“poets.” The following poem, “An Old Cowboy Writes,” in the collections of the Nebraska
State Historical Society, 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 l938–or a bit earlier. Its author signed himself simply, “Ex-
“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.”