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A cowboy poet, be it a he or she, generally proclaims a dramatic event with livestock experienced on a ranch in wide-open spaces. However, like cowboys themselves, their poetry style or content isn't hampered or fenced in by barbed wire and other constraints. It's usually strong in meter and rhyme following the style of Robert Service, one of the great poets of all time, but it can also be free verse or anything in-between.
Cowboys honed their poetry on the cattle trail from Texas north to Kansas and beyond. When you spend many hours in the saddle with just your horse and cows for conversation your thoughts tend to flow in verse. The erythematic movement of horses and cattle probably added to the rhyme and meter in their poetry. This was the birth of American Cowboy poetry, as we know it today.
The art of that spoken verse was flavored by a blend of British, Irish, Scotch, and Welsh crossed with Mexican, African, and Native American lingo. Even more nationalities melted into the mix during the gold rush. This language mix could have influenced cowboy's unique spelling style. As in, a creek is a crick, breeching is britchen, and even my teacher mother, raised shayari images in Hindi the Dakotas and Montana, couldn't stomach calling a bronc a bronco. That name was just too flowery for a tough, ornery horse.
However, "Spanish is the Lovin' Tongue" from which we acquired much of our cow talk as pointed out in Mike Logan's poem, of the same name, explains (excerpt below).
If Spanish is the lovin' tongue
It's also "talkin' cow."
The Mexican vaqueros
Is the ones that taught us how
To work the herd and what to call
The things we didn't know.
Their words flowed north plumb natural
From down in Mexico.
There are cowboy poems of love, lies, and hilarity as well as those of wrecks and heroism. Some poets write of true events and inspiration while others figure that sticking too close to the truth will spoil a good story. Most will also have stories of favorite horses, dogs, and old friends, but all have a deep feel for livestock or at least the country way of life.
Great storytellers have emerged while others are more introverts that just write down their emotions. Today scheduled gatherings all around the country host these poem presentations with a few still spewed around the campfire like days of old. We are thankful that the history of ranch life is passed down in this custom of brotherhood so our children will have an idea of how their ancestors lived. History books just don't tell it all. They miss the where, what, and why of Cowboy Poetry.


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