Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Little Joe the Wranger Lyrics

As part of my "Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane" lyric search, I hauled out my copy of Songs of the Cowboys, compiled by N. Howard (Jack) Thorp. This is a favorite song of mine, but I learned the words long before I ever found Thorp's book, and I don't have them quite right. The song appears in many collections of "traditional" songs (usually without attribution) and with various manglings of meaning. For example, Joe is often wearing "broken shoes," rather than "brogan shoes." I assume this is from people who don't know what brogans are. Another common deviation is that Joe is beaten by his stepfather, rather than stepmother, as Thorp wrote it. To me this is a radical change of meaning--a woman would have a hard time beating a teenage boy. Thorp's Little Joe was probably a younger child. Boys as young as eight worked cattle drives at the turn of the twentieth century. This is such an unattractive fact that people have probably suprpessed it, especially when we see what happens to poor Little Joe.

The detailed description of where Thorp first wrote and performed is probably provided because so many people believed it was a traditional song based on a particular incident. Many people who never met Thorp were certain they knew the song's author and the "real" Little Joe.

Little Joe the Wrangler
by N. Howard Thorp

Written by me on trail of herd of O Cattle from Chimney Lake, New Mexico to Higgins, Texas, 1898. On trail were the following men, all from Sacramento Mountains, or Crow Flat: Pap Logan, Bill Blevens, Will Brownfield, Will Fenton, Lije Colfelt, Tom Mews, Frank Jones, and myself. It was copyrighted and appeared in my first edition of "Songs of the Cowboys," published in 1908.

Little Joe, the wrangler, will never wrangle more;
His days with the "remuda"--they are done.
T'was a year ago last April he joined the outfit here,
A little "Texas stray" and all alone.

T'was long late in the evening he rode up to the herd
On a little old brown pony he called Chow;
With his brogan shoes and overalls a harder-looking kid,
You never in your life had seen before.

His saddle 't was a Southern kack built many years ago,
An O.K. spur on one foot idly hung,
While his "hot roll" in a cotton sack was loosely tied behind
And a canteen from the saddle horn he'd slung.

He said he had to leave his home, his daddy'd married twice, 
And his new ma beat him every day or two'
So he saddled up old Chow one night and "lit a shuck" this way--
Thought he'd try and paddle now his own canoe.

Said he'd try and do the best he could if we'd only give him work,
Though he didn't know "straight" up about a cow;
So the boss he cut him out a mount and kinder put him on,
For he sorter liked the little stray somehow.

Taught him how to herd the horses and learn to know them all,
To round 'em up by daylight; if he could
To follow the chuck-wagon adn to always hitch the team
And help the "cosinero" rustle wood.

We'd driven to Red River and the weather had been fine;
We were camped down on the south side in a bend, 
When a norther commenced blowing and we doubled up our guards,
For it took all hands to hold the cattle then.

Little Joe, the wrangler, was called out with the rest,
And scarcely had the kid got to the herd,
When the cattle they stampeded; like a hailstorm, long the flew,
And all of us were riding for the lead.

'Tween the streaks of lightning we could see a horse far out ahead--
'T was little Joe, the wrangler, in the lead;
He was riding "Old Blue Rocket" with his slicker 'bove his head,
Trying to check the leaders in their speed.

At last we got them milling and kinder quieted down, 
And the extra guard back to the camp did go;
But one of them was missin', and we all knew at a glance
'T was our little Texas stray--poor Wrangler Joe.

Next morning just at sunup we found where Rocket fell,
Down in a washout twenty feet below;
Beneath his horse, mashed to a pulp, his spurs had rung the knell
For our little Texas stray--poor Wrangler Joe.


Patry Francis said...

What a wonderful story this tells. Happy to have found your fascinating site.

Rebecca Clayton said...

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