Mean Poets and Calm Cattle

jack thorpcattle calls

If you got to talking to most cowboys, they’d admit they write ’em. I think some of the meanest, toughest sons of bitches around write poetry.” — Ross Knox

In 1908, a local rancher walked into the Estancia, New Mexico newspaper office, and inquired about printing a small book of cowboy songs he had been working on. For almost twenty years, Jack Thorp gathered cowboy ballads and poems from across the west. The finished volume was printed for just six cents a copy, and was the first book exclusively devoted to cowboy songs. Not only that, but Thorp is recognized as the first person to preserve the ballads sung by ranchers to calm cattle on the range. Western historian Mark Gardner has written a wonderful essay to accompany this new edition of Jack Thorp’s Songs of the Cowboys, which includes a CD selection from the songs Thorp has kept alive.

also pictured above: Cowboy Songs, Ballads, and Cattle Calls from Texas, a Library of Congress CD, featuring field recordings made by John A. Lomax.

And, to put a Western twist on National Poetry Month, here’s a few more books & CD’s from the Land Library’s Western Folklore collection:

elkocowboy poets and cowcowboy classics
Elko! A Cowboy Gathering (a CD from the 20th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada), Cowboy Poets & Cowboy Poetry, edited by David Stanley & Elaine Thatcher, Cowboy Poetry Classics (a CD of a Smithsonian Folkways recording)

the reunionlomaxgraining the mare
Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion, edited by Virginia Bennett, Home on the Range: John A. Lomax & his Cowboy Songs by Deborah Hopkinson & S.D. Schindler (from our Waterton Canyon Kids Library), Graining the Mare: The Poetry of Ranch Women, edited by Teresa Jordan

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