In A Sow’s Ear 4-17-10
To reflect on 15 years of the Fence Post – Plains Edition – an agricultural magazine for all seasons – is a tall order. What pithy truisms can be shouted about a publication that’s brought up-to-date news and facts useful to the business of providing food and fiber to the nation? Not to mention showcasing opinions from a potload of columnists who offer their comments straight from corrals, henhouses, apiaries, barnyards, kitchens, calving sheds, irrigation ditches, farrowing barns, swathers and pickup trucks.
Way before there was a Fence Post to chronicle country life, a man by the name of Jack Thorp rode the trails of the west. A rancher, a cowboy, a collector of songs, a traveling communicator, a rancher, a horseman, Thorp could be deemed the horseback precursor of the Fence Post. Jack acquired an excellent education in the “east”, but as a young man, he headed Out West in the 1890s. From then on, the west was his home.
He fell into the life as naturally as a fingerling dropped in a pond. Early on, he took to gathering up cowboy songs and range ballads. Systematically, he recorded bits and fragments. Jack wrote a passel of songs himself including the lyrics to Little Joe The Wrangler in 1898. The melody was written by Will Hayes in 1871, a Kentucky riverman turned vaudeville songwriter. It was called, The Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane and spawned many parodies including, Little Joe The Wrangler.
Jack tells the story in his book, Pardner of the Wind. One of a crew of eight, Jack was helping trail a herd of cattle from Chimney Lake, New Mexico to Higgins, Texas. One night, seated by the campfire, he wrote the story on an old paper bag.
“Little Joe, the horse wrangler, a Texas stray who had left home, struck out for himself because his daddy had married again and his new ma beat him. The boss ‘sorter liked the little stray somehow,’ and took him on as a hand. One night in a thunderstorm everybody turned out to check a stampede. The cattle ran a ways, but were headed, and when they were milling and kind of quieted down, one of the hands was missing – our little Texas stray. He was found next morning in a wash twenty feet deep, under his horse, Rocket.”
While there is an assortment of Little Joe versions kicking around, here’s Jack Thorp’s original:
Little Joe, the wrangler, will never wrangle more;
His days with the remuda – they are done.
‘Twas a year ago last April he joined the outfit here,
A little Texas stray and all alone.
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 they flew,
And all of us were riding for the lead.
‘Tween the streaks of lightning we could see a horse
far out ahead –
‘Twas 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
And the extra guard back to the camp did go;
But one of them was missin’ and we all knew
at a glance
‘Twas our little Texas stray – poor Wrangler Joe.
Next morning just at sunup, we found where
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
On a weekly basis, the Fence Post reflects the richness of working on and with the land by today’s ranchers and farmers. Real men and women who deal with real critters, crops, and the vagaries of weather (nowadays referred to as “climate change”) every day, including weekends and holidays.
Jack Thorp might have said “The west wasn’t won on salad – or political gas.”
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