For lack of better things to do after a hard days work on the range, cowboys of the old west would sit around the campfire in the evenin' and entertain one another with poems and tall tales, known as "windies". Many of their tales and poems are derived from real life experiences.
Cowboy poetry and story tellin' dates back to the earliest cowboys, the earliest of which were black. During slack time like after chuck, cowhands would naturally talk and brag of themselves, their exploits and work and often reminisce about back home or past times.
Story tellin', braggin' and tall tales, as a form of entertainment, developed in to an art form. (some hifalutin' folks might question that) Generally there was an element of humor or drama to their stories. Over time some of these stories were told by means of poetry, generally, the more unbelievable the tale or poem, the more enjoyable. Poetic lines could make a story more interesting and often added another dimension to the humor or drama. The unique lingo of the cowboy also makes his poetry even more colorful.
Cowboys are jokesters and pranksters and greenhorns are often their favorite target. I remember this cowboy that had a young bull on the end his rope and it was fightin' and charging to get loose. It went runnin' full speed toward this greenhorn standing by the fence, and the cowboy let the bull have the rope. That young dude thought he was dead! That is, until the old cowboy dallied and snapped that bull's head around about four feet from the kid. He left that tenderfoot with skid marks on his shorts! I can still see the old cowboy's white teeth with a big grin on his face, as he horsed that bull back and rode off. Now that's the kind of stuff that makes for good story-tellin'.
To a range cowboy, there is only one main rule of poetry. It must rhyme. If it don't rhyme Son, it ain't poetry, it's just plain 'ol story-tellin'. It may sound pretty or hifalutin' but it's jest story tellin', nevertheless. Actually most cowboy poetry is simple rhyme and meter, reminiscent of the verses of old cowboy songs.
Modern cowboy poets have snuck in some poems that don't rhyme, but they are good to listen too—even though they are jest story-tellin'. Now that you got the idea, look for a new poem every month and look for the announcement of the second edition of my book: "Cow Chip Poetry—Lies, Lingo an' Lore".
© Ed Keenan