Judge Lysius Gough
Sam Lanham of Fredricksburg, Texas came to us with a question that was posted in our Who Knows? feature:
Are there any books of cowboy poetry published in Texas before Lysius Gough's Western Travels and other Rhymes in 1886?
Sam wrote "... Lysius Gough... entertained his fellow 'pokes around the campfires on the trail in north Texas in the 1870's and 1880's. I have his book Western Travels and Other Rhymes, (Dallas, 1886), and his 1935 Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs, which reprints most of the earlier book. I suspect this is one of the earliest publications of Texas cowboy poetry but I haven't been able to find a history or bibliography of cowboy poetry from that period."
We consulted several sources: The Handbook of Texas has an article about Lysius Gough that includes these two items that caught our eye: Gough never swore so he was called "Parson," and "In his typewriter was his last poem, prophetically titled 'Gone.'"
We consulted the excellent book, Cowboy Poets and Cowboy Poetry, edited by David Stanley and Elaine Thatcher, in which Guy Logsdon states, on page 56 "The earliest printed collection of cowboy poetry is Western Travels and Other Rhymes by L. (Lysius) Gough, who cowboyed in Texas from 1882 to 1884 and wrote poems 'about actual life on the trail and ranch'..." The citation continues for about one page, including a few verses of Gough's "Damn Fool."
The most satisfying response came when Scott Bumgardner, President of CHAPS (Cowboy History and Performing Society) got involved, and he put Sam Lanham and us in touch with Lysius Gough's grandson, popular western entertainer Jim Gough.
Jim wrote: "Howdy...was pleased to hear from Sam Lanham that you too have discovered my Grandfather Gough. Rest assured he is and was the original cowboy poet among other notable accomplishments. He rode with Gunter and Munson's T-Anchor boys in Randall County. Drove cattle from the Palo Duro headquarters camp thru Indian Territory to Abilene and Ft. Dodge. Left home to trail herds at tender age of 15. He was one of the founders of the 'Old Time Cow-Punchers Roundup' held each year in Amarillo in the late '20's. He was a contemporary of Charlie Goodnight and the first County Judge of Castro County in Dimmitt, TX. He was the first Mayor of Hereford, Tx. and was instrumental in bringing "easterners" to the Panhandle to settle. He at one time was one of the largest land owners in that region. He also founded the Panhandle Wheat Growers Association. He spent his twilight years speaking to the school children of Texas and promoting his second book of cowboy verse...Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs. He was honored with a tribute at the opening session of the National Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock in 1991. As his grandson, I was there to read his poems. A distant cousin, Elaine Coffman, wrote a fine paper on the Judge which is published in a copy of the Catch-Pen book put out by Alvin Davis and the Symposium folks. As you can tell, I'm most proud of my heritage and have spent most of my adult life telling folks about Grandaddy Gough. You can bet we'll give you the 'whole story' on the drop of a hat!"
Below are articles, poems, and information contributed by Jim Gough.
In 2003, we were pleased to hear from Elaine Russell Coffman, who shared her excellent biography, mentioned above by Jim Gough.
Judge Lysius Gough
"The Western Travels and Rhymes of Lysius Gough" biography by Elaine Russell Coffman
"My Grandad Was a Cowboy" story by Jim Gough
The T-Anchor Ranch
The Palo Duro Canyon
The T-Anchor Boys
Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs recording
About Jim Gough
My Grandad Was a Cowboy
Where Are They Now?
Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs recording
Judge Lysius Gough
The Western Travels and Rhymes of Lysius Gough
by Elaine Russell Coffman
Come all you young boys who long the west to see,
Come listen to my story and warning take from me;
And never while in youth do you attempt to roam;
For you can never find a place like your father's home.
For when I was a youth a rambling I did go,
I rambled o'er the west, that country to and fro;
I rambled all the time both by night and day,
I was so fond of rambling, at home I could not stay.
These stanzas begin "No Place Like Home," a poem containing thirteen stanzas which was composed by a young cowboy on the fifth of February in 1883. He had spent the past five years of his life working on Texas ranches and driving cattle to the markets in Kansas. When he left Texas in August of 1883 he planned to return and continue his life as a rambling cowboy. But a conversation with the cook on the trip changed the course of his life.
In his own words the story goes:
One day on this trip I rode up to the chuck wagon and made a remark about Homespun, the horse I was riding. McVeigh, the cook, turned around and looked at me and said, "Parson, do you know you are damn fool?" I replied, "What's the big idea?" Mack, as we called him, said, "You have no school education and if you go back to the ranch you never will have. My advice to you is to go home and go to school." I quit at Ft. Reno about the last of August, 1883, and went to the Grayson County ranch and worked there with my old boss, Jim Wright, till the end of the year. I then went home and started to school in January, 1884, and was put in the same classes with children ten and twelve years of age. This was rather trying on a T-Anchor cowboy midway between twenty-one and twenty-two. I began in the fourth reader, addition table in arithmetic, "Babe" in the "Blue Back Speller" and did not know one word of grammar.
The young cowboy was born Lysius Gough on July 29, 1862, in Lamar County, Texas to Asher and Elizabeth Martin Gough. He had four sisters and five brothers. His father was a Christian minister and also operated a 160 acre farm twelve miles west of Paris. When young Lysius was eight years old some men drove a herd of cattle by his father's farm and the idea came into his head that he wanted to be a cowboy and ride the open range. (Read the rest of this interesting biography here on page 2.)
My Grandad Was a Cowboy
by Jim Gough
What could be more meaningful to a young lad than to partake of the infinite knowledge of his Grandfather. Any granddad would do, but what if he'd been a true pioneer Westerner and drove cows up the fabled Chisholm Trail during the great cattle drives of the late 1800's? You're right, it was a magical experience that has influenced by entire life. But we're getting a little ahead of our story.
Lysius Gough was born in 1861 to Asher and Elizabeth Martin Gough in a little North Texas farm community in Lamar County. Asher Gough had brought his little family to Texas from an area near Mayfield, Kentucky, to settle and farm in this fertile area. He also served as a circuit riding preacher for the Church of Christ.
While in his mid-teens, young Lysius noticed some men driving a herd of cattle down the road in front of his homeplace one day and ran after them asking for work. Jule Gunter, the foreman, liked the way the lad sat his horse and signed him to accompany the herd several hundred miles to the headquarters of Gunter and Munson's T-Anchor spread near the Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Pandhandle. For the next few years Gough made numerous cattle drives through treacherous Indian Country to the railheads at Abilene and Fort Dodge. To help while away the hours on these long and tedious trail drives, Lysius jotted down his recollections of cowboy life in stories and rhymes. His sidekicks on the trail asked him to recite these poems around the campfire at night and though it's not documented, this may very well be the first instance of a "Cowboy Poetry Gatherin'."
It is a fact that L. Gough was the first to publish a book of cowboy verse. His book titled Western Travels and Other Rhymes was published in 1886. He was only 25 at the time. I always heard that before he was 20, he'd driven cattle in every county of North and West Texas.
Grandad had left school as a youngster and though he loved the cowboy's life, he agreed with an old negro cook, Gus Lee, that he should return home and continue his schooling. He resumed his education at 21 years old in a grade school at Pilot Point, and a few short years later he was made principal of the very same school. He married one of his pupils, Ida Russell, in 1885 and soon after, he, Ida, and their first-born son Earl moved back to the little town of Dimmitt, in Castro County. Earl was my father and the oldest of five boys and five girls born to Lysius and Ida.
I'll never forget my father relating his childhood days growing up in a dug-out in the Panhandle. He rode eight miles horseback to school every day. The strenuous frontier life was too much for Ida and she died in 1904, leaving my the father the responsibility of helping raise his younger brothers and sisters. L. Gough thrived in this wild and untamed land, however. He was Dimmitt's first mayor and later the first County Judge of Castro County. L. Gough became an extensive land owner in Castro and Deaf Smith counties. He helped settle the plains country by bringing in trainloads of settlers from the Central States. He build a successful law practice and later joined C. E. Witherspoon in a Real Estate company. In 1912, he moved to Crosbyton and managed the C. B. Livestock Company's 10,000 acre spread. In later years he farmed wheat in the area near Hereford and was the first President of the Panhandle Wheat Growers Association. It was near Hereford that L. Gough was instrumental in drilling the very first deep water well that paved the way for today's intricate system of irrigation in the Plains. He brought the first steam tractor to the Panhandle.
The treacherous Dust Bowl of the early 30's literally destroyed him and hundreds of other farmers in the area. Grandad Gough spent his last years lecturing to school children throughout Texas about his early days on the frontier. He had personally known Charlie Goodnight and the famous Texas Ranger, Ira Aten, was his closest lifelong friend. In 1935 he published a second book of poems titled Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs. He passed away quietly at a friend's home in Amarillo in 1940. As he didn't come downstairs for breakfast that morning, his friend, Homer Norton, went to his room and found he'd died in his sleep. In his ever-present typewriter was the following poem, a fitting epitaph to one of Texas' most colorful cowboys and pioneer settlers.
The Old T-Anchor Ranch is gone, and with it the open range,
No more we'll ride the plains alone, there's been a mighty change.
No more we'll round the circle wide, in early Spring and Fall,
Or stamp T-Anchor on the hide and hear the yearlin's bawl.
No more we'll trail T-Anchor herds to Fort Reno and "Montan,"
or hear the drawling campfire words, nor wear the trail brown-tan.
We've seen cowboys in their prime, and the ranch in all its glory,
Now some have crossed the line and others bald and hoary.
May the T-Anchor Ranch in memory live through all the coming years,
And our deeds strong courage give to future youth and steers.
© 1940, Lysius Gough
My Grandad Was a Cowboy
My Grandad was a Cowboy from the time he was a lad...
He hitched up with a Panhandle cow-outfit and he gave it all he had...
He rode with Jule Gunter's boys on the old T-Anchor spread...
And he trailed herds through Indian Country to the Kansas railheads.
He was tall and straight and forked a horse as natural as can be...
ridin' ropin' and ranchin' chores to him just came naturally.
His daddly was a preacher, the circuit-ridin' kind...
And he was known to quote the Good Book himself, whenever he took a mind.
For this, they called him "Parson," his sidekicks on the trail...
They knew he'd stand beside them, his friendship would never fail!
The young man liked to spin a yarn or two and he started makin' rhymes.
To read around the campfire at night and help pass some trying times.
The drovers took a likin' to L. Gough's cowboy verse,
They probably never realized that he would be one of the first,
To tell about Texas Cowboy life and put it down in rhyme,
So the folks that followed later would know of another time.
A time when all our heroes wore hats so big and white,
You had no problem knowin' they stood for what was right!
When his cowboy days were over it didn't take Grandad much time,
To set some other goals and find more hills to climb.
From the straight and narrow path, L. Gough would never budge,
He studied law by candlelight so he could be appointed judge.
He championed early woman's rights and took the farmer's stand.
And he set about to make things right here in his native Texas land.
He left a mighty heritage for me and all his kin,
I've bragged about him far and wide, no matter where I've been.
I owe him a lot of credit for where I am today.
Using that old "Gough Magic" to help me make my pay.
I know the "Judge" would chuckle if he were only sittin' here,
And found me writin' jingles to sell barbeque and beer,
But Advertisin' aint no different from cowboyin' as far as I can tell,
The hours are long, the pay aint much and you got to work like Hell!
So I'll just keep on writin' ads 'til the Good Lord says it's time,
For me to help old Gabriel sell his horn with one of my little rhymes.
© 1991, Jim Gough
More Poetry by Judge Lysius Gough
The T-Anchor Ranch
I would like to see the Palo Duro
at the old T-Anchor Ranch;
and the clear, cold-water spring,
that's on the garden branch.
for on that ranch in eighty-two,
one summer I did share,
and in the cool and pleasant days,
spent happy hours there.
Then I could see the pretty valley
so level and so wide
and the wild antelope,
upon the the mountain side;
and the weeping willow grove,
that's by the old corral,
for it's the very place
I used to love so well
And in that old corral,
I used to take my stand,
while in the furnace heat the iron
and catch the calves to brand.
for this, we always did,
let it be cool or calm;
I had a noble partner,
and called him Jolly Sam.
I would then go to the falls,
to see the catfish swim,
take some bait, a hook and line,
and catch a few of them.
I would go up to the stream,
where the plums and currants grow,
among the pretty cedars,
a pleasant place I know.
Then, next upon the park
is where I would like to be;
to view across the level plains,
as far as the eye can see.
then in the shady cedar grove,
in pleasure I would play,
and see the lakes of water wave,
on a clear, bright summer day.
And when the lakes were dry,
I could see the mirage white,
and watch the wild mustang
run far out of my sight.
I could also see the stream,
and the little hills of stone,
the waving cottonwood,
and the waters rolling on.
Where long ago the Indian roamed
and chased the buffalo.
White men now have built their homes,
and plow and plant and reap and sow.
Where once we rode the trackless plain,
astride the Spanish steed,
you have the great highways,
and in purring motors speed.
Where oxen trod the dusty trail,
to reach the ranchman's goal,
now thundering engines tread the rail,
and tones of commerce roll.
O'er where the mule and buckboard sped,
the uncharted grassy way,
the aeroplanes sail the sunny skies,
a thousand miles per day.
Where we rode the darkest night,
to stop the wild stampede,
men are now guided by electric light,
and wondrous maidens lead.
Where we lay round campfires burning,
to laugh and talk and joke,
you have these famous halls of learning,
filled with gleeful college folk.
Where we cooked with twisted hay,
made by cattle from the grass,
you have the blue blaze night and day,
and bake with natural flowing gas.
Where we rode through storm and rain,
the milling herd to hold,
now combines cut the ripening grain,
and turn it into gold.
Many changes more have been,
in one life's fleeting span,
brought about by sturdy men,
who never failed to duty stand.
Historians, to thee this charge we give,
write for us three cherished words,
let them through future ages live,
cow boys, cutting horse, and herd.
Oh, say, one more request we make,
just in love, not fame,
please preserve the old ranch house,
and Dyer's and Gunter's name.
We asked Jim Gough if he knew when this poem was written, and he replied that it "probably was written during one of the first 'Old Cowpunchers' Roundup of Themselves on the T-Anchor Range' around 1922. The Judge didn't date it in the old book. The poem and a picture of him and some old sidekicks can be found on a wall of the Panhandle Plains Historical Society Museum in Canyon, Texas." The T-Anchor Ranch House has been reconstructed at the museum site, and you can find details about it here.
The Palo Duro Canyon
God with his infinite power, millions of years ago
In some important hour carved the Palo Duro.
He leveled the plains around it and capped it with a rim of stone...
Most any child can bound it, creation, that's God's own.
In the center he placed great rocks, and springs on the mountainside...
Then flowers and ferns and flox, and stately shading trees abide...
He placed meandering streamlets, flowing from side to side...
And many side canyons and inlets, controlling torrents and tide.
Vandals may attempt to destroy God's marvelous works, divine...
But oh, let future peoples enjoy, Palo Duro's wondrous design...
Was there ever before such beauty, such blending of tints and hue?
To preserve it now is man's duty...
May he to this trust be true.
The T-Anchor Boys
It was in April our spurs began to rattle, as we rode thru pasture to round up the cattle...
It was then we began our long and weary journey, everyone so full of life out on a trip so funny...
Our boss, his name was Jim Wright, he was not hard but I think very light...
He hired no drags, as other bosses did. But in his outfit he had one kid.
He had one man who was traveling for health, he herded at night, but he gained no wealth...
Wright had another man who rode very slow, he was from the state of Idaho.
There were none of us men of high passion, though there were some who lived in the "nations"...
The rest of us gentlemen did pass for we lived in the great State of Texas.
There were eight of us divided, found on a relief, And now you must know each guard had a chief...
But neither relief do I think looked very hard, one was called John's mob, the other Mulligan's guard.
Now this left three and the one that bosses, and our little Gus man who drove the horses...
For all together we numbered three and ten, and all I believe were truly gentlemen.
There were ten of us mounted on horses, five head, but I rode the Chief, his name was Narrow-head...
Five horses around would make the trip, Tho we had another, his name was Leatherlip...
We traveled through Texas to Red River Station, there we crosses over into the Chicasaw Nation.
Then on we drove with a steady nerve, Until we reached the Comanche reserve.
And there the Indians put us out, and made us go the Texas route...
Then we traveled to opposite Greer County, then crossed Red River to graze from its bounty.
We crossed the river near Doan's store, the water was rising as often before.
The foam was white the waves did swell...But we crossed the river I think very well.
We held a day at the north fork border, patiently waiting for some further order.
At noon orders came to drive out another herd, and at this bold order the cattle we stirred...
And as our pointers were riding their best, they started the cattle for the northwest...
While two noble boys worked in the swing and strung the cattle out in a great long string.
And three bold 'bullies worked round the tail, the T-Anchor Boys were the chief of the trail...
For they certainly won by shoving the drag, as they passed over the Red River swag.
To Red Hill Valley our herd did beat, to graze upon the white mesquite.
Which seems to wave like the water of the ocean, I'm satisfied it suited their notion.
As the cattle fed till they began to lie down, it was then we drove them to the bed ground.
The night was cold and the north wind played, but with the cattle the T-Anchor boys stayed.
Next morning as our journey was not done, we traveled on west toward the setting sun.
Our route was up Cottonwood branch, that was the way to the Panhandle Ranch.
Across to Salt Fork we did go, where once was the range of the buffalo.
Over hills and valleys of waving green, Twas the prettiest site I had ever seen.
In traveling over country both level and rough, None said of this, I've had quite enough,
But would whittle and sing merry as a bird, while riding around the T-Anchor herd.
We traveled both thru sand and dust, the T-Anchor boys the boss could trust.
We rode through dark and light, wind and rain, without ever hearing one complain.
It was between the hours of three and one, we drove by the town of Clarendon...
In eight miles then we reached the plains, and there the time we aimed to gain.
But water was scarce on the plains so bleak, we drove across to McClelland Creek.
It was there the water the cattle did partake, til on the plains we could find a lake.
We found out where the grass waved like clover, we drove there and one day laid over.
For everything was moving well, and we had not rested for quite a spell.
Three nights on the trip we had a stampede, our boys were all nervy, and rode for the lead...
For all of the outfits in Spring or Fall, the T-Anchor boys were the champions of all.
We rode to the Palo Duro with quirt and spurs beating, Jim Wright's boys reached the ranch as Stickley's were retreating.
We expected to find grass in bounty, on Gunter's ranch in Randall country.
But dry weather the T-Anchor boys did fool, hence we drove on to the canyon of Tule.
Now the Tule was forty miles, over level plains of western wilds...
They roamed the Kid with us to go, and gave him horses with the "loco,"
about this he almost did cry. So Terry gave him Old Good-eye.
We were two months upon the trip, as o'er the plains the cattle did skip...
We all worked by a certain rule, until we reached the canyon of Tule.
The cattle went to the water's edge to drink, but dared not venture from the bank...
As the grass was high and grew in a heap, the mud was boggy, and the waters deep.
I saw one venture from the bank, and in the deep he quickly sank.
Then to get out he was quite keen, though he looked very nice and clean.
Now the when the mud shakes, they will scare...For it will open and swallow a steer.
And keep some hands on the scout, with their ropes to pull them out.
But they will all soon quit that, for the grass is good and they'll all get fat,
and the water is cold and very clear, but from the mud they'll always scare.
Jim Gough, "The man they call Mr. Texas," has a great web site [no longer available] full of music, history, and poetry and quite a bit about all that Jim does and has done. Many recognize him as the spokesman for the Dodge campaign, "The Good Guys in White Hats." Jim is an actor, radio personality, a musician with "The Cosmopolitan Cowboys" and the "Texas Playboys," and when you visit his site [no longer available], you'll find much more.
Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs
Jim Gough has his own recording of his grandfather Judge Gough's poetry, Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs. (The tape is available for $13.95 ppd --Texas residents add 7.5% sales tax -- by check or money order from: Jim Gough Enterprises, 151 N. San Gabriel Loop, Liberty Hill, TX 78642)
Jim shared another of his own poems with us:
Where Are They Now?
What ever happened to Roy, Gene, Tex and all those guys,
The ones who rode the Silver Screen, it's hard to realize
They've given in to the current crowd with funny lookin' clothes
Hair hangin' down their back and rings in the their ears and nose.
What ever happened to Duke and Coop and Jimmy Stewart too...
Guess they got too old to ride, a lot like me and you.
There's weird things happenin' in our world, as I'm sure you will agree...
But folks today are missin' out as far as I can see...
They think too much about personal gain and talk about the bottom line...
Instead of what they can do for others
I'm sure you know the kind.
In the old days we had a code...we didn't learn in school...
We got it from the good book, it was called The Golden Rule.
We visited with our neighbors across the backyard fence...
Using fax and computers and internet just wouldn't make much sense.
We tried hard to get along in the U. S. of A...
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could do more of that today!
We didn't mind if our friends were of a different color and creed
We were proud to be Americans
And mighty proud indeed
We had respect for our elders, parents and teachers too,
We listened to what they said and we knew that it was true.
I'm sure the world's improved in many, many ways.
It's just easier to think about the simpler times we had in the good old days.
The guys we had for heroes wore hats so big and white
There wasn't any question they stood for what was right...
Let's never forget those lessons they taught us long ago,
And pass them on to kids today so they too can know...
Lots of folks have sacrificed a bunch along the way,
To preserve what our forefathers had in mind for the good old USA.
So let's salute the grand old flag and wave it high again
And stand up for what we know is right until the very end!
© 1996, Jim Gough
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