We've collected some classic poems about chuckwagons, coffee, grub, and such.
We started this collection during Cowboy Poetry Week, 2005. Kent Rollins, Oklahoma cowboy, rancher, award-winning storyteller, poet, photographer, and noted chuckwagon cook, took the photo featured in our 2005 Cowboy Poetry Week poster. In tribute to him, we highlighted a classic Cowboy poem about chuckwagon cooking each day during our celebration. Below are those poems and additional selections.
Robert V. Carr*
The Chuck Wagon
The Pot Wrassler
Now Mr. Boomer Johnson was a gettin' old in spots,
But you don't expect a bad man to go wrastlin' pans and pots;
But he'd done his share of killin' and his draw was gettin' slow,
So he quits a-punchin' cattle and he takes to punchin' dough.
Our foreman up and hires him, figurin' age had rode him tame,
But a snake don't get no sweeter just by changin' of its name.
Well, Old Boomer knowed his business - he could cook to make you smile,
But say, he wrangled fodder in a most peculiar style.
He never used no matches - left em layin' on the shelf,
Just some kerosene and cussin' and the kindlin' lit itself.
And, pardner, I'm allowin' it would give a man a jolt
To see him stir frijoles with the barrel of his Colt.
Now killin' folks and cookin' ain't so awful far apart,
That musta been why Boomer kept a-practicin' his art;
With the front sight of his pistol he would cut a pie-lid slick,
And he'd crimp her with the muzzle for to make the edges stick.
He built his doughnuts solid, and it sure would curl your hair
To see him plug a doughnut as he tossed it in the air.
He bored the holes plum center every time his pistol spoke,
Till the can was full of doughnuts and the shack was full of smoke.
We-all was gettin' jumpy, but he couldn't understand
Why his shootin' made us nervous when his cookin' was so grand.
He kept right on performin', and it weren't no big surprise
When he took to markin' tombstones on the covers of his pies.
They didn't taste no better and they didn't taste no worse,
But a-settin' at the table was like ridin' in a hearse;
You didn't do no talkin' and you took just what you got,
So we et till we was foundered just to keep from gettin' shot.
When at breakfast one bright mornin', I was feelin' kind of low,
Old Boomer passed the doughnuts and I tells him plenty:
"No, All I takes this trip is coffee, for my stomach is a wreck."
I could see the itch for killin' swell the wattle on his neck.
Scorn his grub? He strings some doughnuts on the muzzle of his gun,
And he shoves her in my gizzard and he says, "You're takin' one!"
He was set to start a graveyard, but for once he was mistook;
Me not wantin' any doughnuts, I just up and salts the cook.
Did they fire him? Listen, pardner, there was nothin' left to fire,
Just a row of smilin' faces and another cook to hire.
If he joined some other outfit and is cookin', what I mean,
It's where they ain't no matches and they don't need kerosene.
by Henry Herbert Knibbs
reprinted with permission from Classic Rhymes by Henry Herbert Knibbs, 1999, Cowboy Miner Productions
Come, all you young waddies, I'll sing you a song,
Stand back from the wagon--stay where you belong:
I've heard you observin' I'm fussy and slow
While you're punchin' cattle and I'm punchin' dough.
Now I reckon your stomach would grow to your back
If it wa'n't for the cook that keeps fillin' the slack:
With the beans in the box and pork in the tub,
I'm a-wonderin' now, who would fill you with grub?
You think you're right handy with gun and with rope,
But I've noticed you're bashful when usin' the soap:
When you're rollin' your Bull for your brown cigarette
I' been rollin' the dough for them biscuits you et.
When you're cuttin' stock, then I'm cuttin' a steak:
When you're wranglin' hosses, I'm wranglin' a cake:
When you're hazin' the dogies, and battin' your eyes,
I'm hazin' dried apples that aim to be pies.
You brag about shootin' up windows and lights,
But try shootin' biscuits for twelve appetites:
When you crawl from your roll and the ground it is froze
Then who biles the coffee that thaws out your nose?
In the old days the punchers just took what they got:
It was sow-belly, beans, and the old coffee-pot;
But now you come howlin' for pie and for cake,
Then cuss at the cook for a good bellyache.
You say that I'm old, with my feet on the skids
Well, I'm tellin' you now that you're nothin' but kids:
If you reckon your mounts are some snaky and raw,
Just try ridin' herd on a stove that won't draw.
When you look at my apron, you're readin' my brand,
Four-X, which is the sign for the best in the land:
On bottle or sack it sure stands for good luck,
So line up, you waddies, and wrangle your chuck.
No use of your snortin' and fightin' your head;
If you like it with chilli, just eat what I said:
For I aim to be boss of this end of the show
While you're punchin' cattle, and I'm punchin' dough.
by Henry Herbert Knibbs, from Saddle Songs and Other Verse, 1922
See our feature about Henry Herbert Knibbs
The Chuck Wagon
She ain't what she was in the days of her glory.
Fer years she has stood in the cotton wood shade.
But if she could talk, she could tell you some story,
Of her days on the range, and the part that she played.
The old mess box built in her back, is still standin'.
But the canvas is gone that we put on her bows.
Each year she went out fer the round up and brandin',
And came back from the beef hunt along with the snows.
When we got on the camp ground I sure did admire,
How the cook and the wrangler would unhitch the team.
Then they throwed the old dutch oven into the fire--
Them biscuits he baked I can taste in my dreams.
With the boys sleepin' 'round her she looked sort of lonely,
Like a small country church in a little grave yard.
But she looked plenty good when you slid off your pony,
When you came into camp fer to wake the next guard.
But the wagon was home and we gathered around her'
Chuck riders came in when the pickin's was short;
Some of 'em would eat till they'd mighty nigh founder--
It was there in the night we held kangaroo court.
I liked them old hands with their gaze cool and level.
They furnished the subject fer many a tale.
It was little they feared either man, beast or devil,
Them riders that follered the chuck wagon's trail.
But the time I liked best, as I clearly remember;
Is one every cow puncher likes to recall.
When the work was all finished along in November,
And he follered the chuck wagon home in the fall.
by Bruce Kiskasddon
The Dutch Oven
You mind that old oven so greasy and black,
That we hauled in a wagon or put in a pack.
The biscuits she baked wasn't bad by no means,
And she had the world cheated fer cookin' up beans.
If the oven was there you could always git by,
You could bake, you could boil, you could stew, you could fry.
When the fire was built she was throwed in to heat
While they peeled the potaters and cut down the meat.
Then the cook put some fire down into a hole.
Next, he set in the oven and put on some coals.
I allus remember the way the cook did
When he took the old "Goncho" and lifted the lid.
He really was graceful at doin' the trick.
The old greasy sackers they just used a stick.
Boy Howdy! We all made a gen'l attack.
If the hoss with the dutch oven scattered his pack.
You mind how you lifted your hoss to a lope
And built a long loop in the end of your rope.
You bet them old waddies knowed what to expect.
No biscuits no more if that oven got wrecked.
We didn't know much about prayin' or lovin'
But I reckon we worshipped that greasy old oven.
And the old cowboy smiles when his memory drifts back
To the oven that rode in the wagon or pack.
by Bruce Kiskasddon
The Veiled Rider
It was down at the home ranch, a bunch of cow pokes
Got in an old hoss that was only half broke.
They saddled him up and they hazed him around,
But none of them rode him. They stayed on the ground.
The cook he laffed at 'em and laffed mighty hard.
Then the boys they allowed that the cook wasn't barred.
But it shore did amaze 'em to see the cook crawl
Right up in the saddle, yes apron and all.
The hoss took to buckin' all over the place.
The cook's apron flew up and covered his face.
His stirrups was long and he had to pull leather,
But the cook was on top when they finished together.
One waddy he grins and remarked to the boss,
"Seems they blindfold the rider now, 'stead of the hoss."
The cook looked at the boss soter mournful and said;
"This whole crew aint wuth seven dollars a head.
I buried my face in my apron all right,
But I done it to shut out the pitiful sight.
Them pore rannies hoppin' and yappin' around
Like a bunch of fresh toad frogs that been rained down.
I will own up right now, I'm a cranky old cook,
But there's sights where really upsets me to look.
And an outfit like that would disgust any man
That had been out and cooked for a bunch of real hands."
See our features about Bruce Kiskaddon
The Grub-Pile Call
There's lots o' songs the puncher sang in roundin' up his herds;
The music wasn't very grand, an' neither was the words.
No op'ry air he chanted, when at night he circled 'round
A bunch of restless longhorns that was throwed on their bed-ground;
But any song the cowboy on his lonely beat would bawl,
Wa'n't half as sweet as when the cook would start the grub-pile call.
I've heard 'em warble "Ol' Sam Bass" for hours at a time;
I've listened to the "Dogie Song," that well-known puncher rhyme;
"The Dyin' Cowboy" made me sad, an' "Mustang Gray" brung tears,
While "Little Joe the Wrangler" yet is ringin' in my ears.
But of the songs the puncher sang, I loved the best of all,
That grand ol' chorus when the cook would start the grub-pile call.
There wasn't any sound so sweet in all the wide range land;
There wa'n't a song the puncher was so quick to understand.
No music that he ever heard so filled him with delight
As when he saw the ol' chuck-wagon top a-gleamin' white;
An' like a benediction on his tired ears would fall
The sweetest music ever heard--the welcome grub-pile call.
I've laid at night an' listened to the lowin' of the steers;
I've heard the coyote's melancholy wail ring in my ears.
The croonin' of the night-wind as it swept across the range
Was mournful-like an' dreary, an' it sounded grim an' strange.
But when the break o' day was near, an' from our tarps we'd crawl,
The mornin' song that charmed us was that welcome grub-pile call.
by E. A. Brininstool, from Trail Dust of a Maverick, 1914
The Range Cook's "Holler"
They sing of the puncher--that knight of the range who rounds up the bellerin' steer;
Who rides at the head of the midnight stampede with nary a symptom of fear.
They tell of his skill with the six-gun and rope, but nobody mentions the dub
Who trails the chuck-wagon through desert and plain and never yet failed with the grub!.
The weather may find us in rain or in mud; may bake us or sizzle us down;
The treacherous quicksands may mire us deep, and the leaders and wheelers may drown;
The blizzards may howl and the hurricane blow, or injuns may camp on our trail,
But nary excuse will the foreman accept for havin' the chuck-wagon fail.
For off on the range is the puncher who rides through the buck-brush and sage and mesquite,
With an appetite fierce for the bacon we fry, and the slapjacks we bake him to eat.
And we must be waitin' with grub smokin' hot when he comes a-clatterin' in,
No matter what troubles we've bucked up agin, or what our delays may have been.
So in singin' yer songs of the men of the plains who trail it through desert and pine,
Who rough it from Idaho's borders clear down to the edge of the Mexican line,
Don't give all the due to the puncher of steers, but chip in some dope of the dub
Who trails the chuck-wagon in sun or in storm, and never yet failed with the grub!
by E. A. Brininstool, from Trail Dust of a Maverick, 1914
See our feature about E. A. Brininstool
The Pot Wrassler
How are you there cowboy, I hope you are well,
Jest light from your saddle and rest fer a spell.
Here are the makin's, so roll you a smoke,
Yure jest out uh town and I bet you are broke.
Yuh looks like old hunger was a ridin' yuh hard,
So sit down and eat--you are welcome old pard.
I put a lot uh years at a ridin' the range,
But now I am wrasslin' pots fer a change.
Now I ain't no chef like that Del-mon-a-co,
But I sabes the mixin' of old sour dough.
I sorts all the big rocks out uh the beans,
And I don't wipe the fryin' pans off on my jeans.
Muh chuck is all right, and the wagon kept neat;
If yuh don't like the cookin', yuh don't haf tuh eat.
Oh, I'm a pot wrassler, but I ain't no dub,
Fer I'm close to my bed, and I'm close to the grub.
I'm a leetle bit old, and I don't want no truck
With horn hookin' cattle, ner horses that buck.
I've rode a long time and my laigs is all bowed;
I've got to the age thet I'm easily throwed.
I got the rheumatics and my hands is all burned,
My joints is all stiff and my belly's all churned.
Now I'm a pot wrassler, yure a-hearin' me shout,
So come on and get it, 'fore I throws it out.
You fellers rope steers to down 'em and tie 'em,
Then I comes along to skin 'em and fry 'em.
I got forty a month, and the cookin' to do,
So I'm all through bein' a cow buckeroo.
When you punchers is out in the blizzard and storm,
I'm close to the fire, where I keeps myself warm.
So do yure old ridin', you wild galoots,
And I'll wrassle pots, you can just bet yure boots.
by Curley Fletcher
See our feature about Curly Fletcher
The Chuck Wagon
It is that-o-way,
An' we strike it kerslam 'bout three times
When the cook yells, "Come get it!"
He don't have to please,
"Hi yip! all you logies, come gather your feed."
*from Robert V. Carr's Cowboy Lyrics, 1908
See our feature about Robert V. Carr
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