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In 1910, Katherine Fall Pettey (1874-1951) published Songs from the Sage Brush. That book includes a poem, "Morning on the Desert," which has long been printed and recited—as "Mornin' on the Desert"—with no credit to an author, sometimes said to be "found written on the door of an old cabin in the desert." It was the subject of popular postcards in the 1930s and 1940s (see some examples below).

Jerry Brooks does a fine recitation of the poem. When she was considering recording it for a future edition of The BAR-D Roundup, we set out to see if we could locate the rightful author. The list of holdings at the Fife Folkore Archives' Skaggs Cowboy Poetry Collection gave us a clue. We saw there was a book with a poem with a close title ("Morning" rather than "Mornin'"). We located a copy of the book, and there was the poem.  Below, we've included a few other poems from the book that seem to be close in style and content, and some additional poems. We'll be adding more over time.

We researched numerous sources looking for more information about her, and did not turn up a bit of biographical information for years. Her table of contents in Songs from the Sage Brush indicates that some poems are included "courtesy of" a few periodicals: Sunset, Out Door Life, and West Coast, and others (see some of these poems below). We've located one of those poems and others in other magazines, but none were accompanied by biographical information.

But, genealogical research has turned up some information about Katherine Fall Pettey. She was born in Tennessee in 1874 and died in California in 1951. Her father, William R. Fall, was a schoolteacher. He was the son of English minister Phillip Slater Fall. Her mother, Edmonia (Taylor) was a music teacher. The family lived in Kentucky.

Her brother, Albert Bacon Fall (1861-1944) was a U.S. Senator in New Mexico and served as Secretary of the Interior under President Warren Harding. According to a Wikipedia article here, he also "....defended the accused killer of former Sheriff Pat Garrett. Garrett, who had killed outlaw Billy the Kid in 1881...." Albert B. Fall was indicted in the Teapot Dome scandal, becoming the country's first serving Presidential cabinet member to be imprisoned.

Katherine Fall Pettey was committed to a mental hospital in the early 1920s. She died there in 1951. We've found newspaper articles that mention her briefly (since her brother was much in the news in the 1920s). Mark L. Gardner, author of the recent To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West, also located some articles.

We'll add any more information we uncover.

We welcome any additional information about Katherine Fall Pettey.  Email us

Below:

Poems

Songs from the Sagebrush

Poems in Periodicals

More on "Morning in the Desert"; Sam Nielsen's Research

 


 

Poems

 

Morning on the Desert
Morning on the desert and the wind is blowin' free...

Contentment
A little 'dobe casa in the Plainsland heat ...

A Song of the Plains
I am drunk with the winds of the desert...

The Women That Don't Fit In
(With apologies to Robert W. Service)

There's a race of women that don't fit in ...

The Ladies of the Canyon
In the evening, through the silence...

The Cowpunch and James Whitcomb Riley
I'm sure some weak on poetry;

more to come ....

 

 

Morning on the Desert

Morning on the desert, and the wind is blowin' free, 
And it's ours jest for the breathin', so let's fill up, you an' me.
No more stuffy cities where you have to pay to breathe— 
Where the helpless, human creatures, throng, and move, and strive and seethe.

Morning on the desert, an' the air is like a wine;
And it seems like all creation has been made for me an' mine.
No house to stop my vision save a neighbor's miles away, 
An' the little 'dobe casa that berlongs to me an' May.

Lonesome? Not a minute: Why I've got these mountains here;
That was put there jest to please me with their blush an' frown an' cheer.
They're waitin' when the summer sun gets too sizzlin' hot— 
An' we jest go campin' in 'em with a pan an' coffee pot.

Morning on the desert! I can smell the sagebrush smoke; 
An' I hate to see it burnin', but the land must sure be broke.
Ain't it jest a pity that wherever man may live, 
He tears up much that's beautiful, that the good God has to give?

"Sagebrush ain't so pretty?" Well, all eyes don't see the same;
Have you ever saw the moonlight turn it to a silv'ry flame?
An' that greasewood thicket yonder—well, it smells jest awful sweet 
When the night wind has been shakin' it; for smells it's hard to beat.

Lonesome? well, I guess not! I've been lonesome in a town.
But I sure do love the desert with its stretches wide and brown;
All day through the sagebrush here, the wind is blowin' free. 
An' it's ours jest for the breathin', so let's fill up, you and me.

by Katherine Fall Pettey, from Songs from the Sage Brush, 1910

 

This poem has long been printed and recited with no author cited. It was a popular postcard image, and most of those state it was "(Found written on the door of an old cabin in the desert)"

   

  

Here's how the poem appears in the book:

 

   Jerry Brooks recites "Morning on the Desert" on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Two.

  Singer, songwriter, and musician Gianluca Plomitallo of Milan, Italy, has recorded his musical arrangement of "Morning on the Desert." You can listen here. Gianluca records his soul, pop, and acoustic music under "The Huge" label (www.thehuge.bandcamp.com). He welcomes feedback at plomi@thehuge.it.


 

Contentment

A little 'dobe casa in the Plainsland heat—
A wife and brown-eyed baby, a guitar so sweet;
A chili patch, a burro and a goat or two

This world's a good old place to live, I think, don't you?

by Katherine Fall Pettey, from Songs from the Sage Brush, 1910

 


 

A Song of the Plains

I am drunk with the winds of the desert,
With its colors of purple and gold.
With the sparkle and fire of the sunshine,
With its nights that are silent and cold.

I exult in its glorious freedom;
I quaff its intoxicant wine;
I delight in its generous stretches;
I am glad, for its beauties are mine.

Like a gem in its setting of mountains
It flashes its yellow and green;
It flushes from rose hue to scarlet,
It softens to silvery sheen.

And at night 'neath the star-stuffed heavens,
As near to my camp fire I rest,
With the smoke from my meerschaum upcurling,
And my head on the broad desert's breast.

There are songs from the sagebrush to cheer me,
As the south wind caresses the leaves.
There are voices that whisper a welcome,
There are perfumes borne in on the breeze,

'Till my heart overflows with its gladness,
And my thoughts harbor nothing that's ill;
For a sweet benediction is whispered,
And at rest is my Plainsland so still.

by Katherine Fall Pettey, from Songs from the Sage Brush, 1910

 


 

The Women That Don't Fit In
(With apologies to Robert W. Service)

There's a race of women that don't fit in,
For they have to stay at home;
And they break their hearts, not their kith and kin
Because of this ache to roam.
They bake and sweep and they dust and sew,
When the Wander Lust is theirs;
For the Song of the Road is pleading low
Through the veins of past forbears.

And one is a woman of vacant womb
Though the fault not be her sin,
Who must dress and pose till the day of doom
For mistakes of senseless kin.
And there are the women that join a club;
And some are a little bold

And one I know loves a pimply cub,
For her husband's life is cold.

So they stay at home just because they must.
O, theirs are narrow grooves!
While the man obsessed with the Wander Lust
Breaks the hearts of kin and moves.
And these women flirt till their charms they fail,
And with age their backs are bent;
Till one day they stand, and their old hearts quail,
At the past's fool merriment.

It's better, it's better to fail like a man;
To be of the stones that roll,
Than a woman with a mission unfulfilled,
And a dried up, twisted soul.
Oh, better by far to have been the man
That was never meant to win!
Than to play the part of the restless heart,
Of the woman who won't fit in.

by Katherine Fall Pettey, from Songs from the Sage Brush, 1910

 

Robert W. Service's poem:

The Men That Don't Fit In

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
  A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
  And they roam the world at will.
 
They range the field and they rove the flood,
  And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
  And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
  They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
  And they want the strange and new.
 
They say:  "Could I find my proper groove,
  What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
  Is only a fresh mistake.
 
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
  With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
  Who win in the lifelong race.

And each forgets that his youth has fled,
  Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
  In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
  He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
  And now is the time to laugh.
 
Ha, ha!  He is one of the Legion Lost;
  He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
  He's a man who won't fit in.

by Robert W. Service, from The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses

See our feature on Robert Service

 


 

The Ladies of the Canyon

In the evening, through the silence,
When the breezes soft, are still,
Then the Ladies of the Canyon
Come a-creeping up the hill.

And these Ladies of the Canyon,
In their garments pale, of gray,
Are as silent as the night clouds
That are closing out the day.

They come creeping, gray robes trailing,
Gray veils floating 'round their hair;
On they're stealing up the canyon,
Till they reach my house up there.

Then they circle 'round and rest them,
As their garments, gray, they spread
Over flowers and my roof tree,
And the chimney's gray old head.

And I know them for no spirits
Though they have a ghostly way,
For these Ladies of the Canyon
Are but mists from off the bay.

by Katherine Fall Pettey, from Songs From the Sage Brush, 1910

This poem was printed in Sunset magazine in 1909, see the image below.


 

The Cowpunch and James Whitcomb Riley

I'm sure some weak on poetry;
I don't savvy it right well,
When it tries to rope in flowers,
And a cool and peaceful dell.

For there ain't no dells in cowland,
Just a water hole or two;
Where the mav'ricks wash their faces
In the alkali, for dew.

But there's one Jim Whitcom' Rily,
He can bust the bronco pen,
Till it's gentle as a baby--
And you wish he'd bust again.

by Katherine Fall Pettey, from Songs From the Sage Brush, 1910

 

Read a Wikipedia article about James Whitcomb Riley ((1853-1916); see two of his poems here at the BAR-D.

 

 


 

Songs from the Sage Brush

  

Songs from the Sage Brush

by Katherine Fall Pettey

Tucson:
State Consolidated Publishing Co.
1910

In Memory of my
Mother and Brother
who have
crossed the Great Divide

 

Contents:

Contentment
A Hunting Song
Happiness
Vagabonds (Reproduced by Courtesy Out Door Life)
At Guaymas (Reproduced by Courtesy Sunset Magazine)
Sahuaros
Judge Not
The Prospector's Toast
To Omar Khayam
Dolores of the Placita
A Song of the Plains
Late Flowers
Beasts of the Fields
Paths
The Secret
A Grievance of the West
Alone  (Reproduced by Courtesy West Coast Magazine)
Old Tige—My Pard (Reproduced by Courtesy Out Door Life)
Morning on the Desert
The Puncher in New York
The Embers' Requiem
The Invincible
The Exile
The Sun Worshiper
A Lover Loves All the World
Wanderers from Arcadia
The Aristocratic Orphan
Idleness
Frederick Remington (an Acrostic)
The Aztec Descendant
The Cowpunch and James Whitcomb Riley
Three Friends
Ladies of the Canyon (Reproduced by Courtesy Sunset Magazine)
The Cowpunch Converted
Modjeska and F. Marion Crawford
The Women That Don't Fit In
The Meteor's Message
The Dance of Chonita
An Interlude (Reproduced by Courtesy West Coast Magazine)
Destiny
General Porfirio Diaz (An Acrostic of Appreciation)
In New Mexico
Just a Stickin' Aroun'
The White Sea
To Have Found a Flower
A Prayer—An Answer

We welcome additional information about Katherine Fall Pettey.  Email us


Poems in Periodicals

Katherine Fall Pettey's table of contents in Songs from the Sage Brush indicates that some of the poems are included "courtesy of" a few periodicals: Sunset, Out Door Life, and West Coast:

Sunset:
     "At Guaymas"
     "Ladies of the Canyon"

Out Door Life:
     "
Vagabonds"
     "Old Tige—My Pard"

West Coast Magazine:
     "
Alone"
     "An Interlude"

We've found additional poems in Ladies Home Journal and The Delineator.

We've located thse poems by Katherine Fall Pettey in periodicals:

"Ladies of the Canyon," Sunset, 1909


The poem was illustrated by Gordon Coutts 1868-1937). See two of his California paintings here and read more about him here.

 

"Love's Benediction," Ladies Home Journal,  June, 1912

 

"Mothers," The Delineator, January, 1917

 

 

 

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