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Three Cowboy Christmas Poems by Cowboy Poets, David Althouse, S. Omar Barker, and E. A. Brininstool

While cowboy poetry is a genuinely American genre, cowboys worldwide share the same traditions & values of living close to nature & to God.

David Althouse at Rocky Mountain National Park

David Althouse at Rocky Mountain National Park

Introduction and Text of "How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas"

The legend of Pecos Bill first appeared in 1917 when Edward O’Reilly published a collection of the tales about Bill in The Century Magazine. In 1923, the stories were reprinted in a book titled The Saga of Pecos Bill.

Like other characters from the genre "folklore" such as Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill remains a figure of controversy. According to F. E. Abernethy, "Pecos Bill seems to have been more the product of journalism than folklore."

Journalist Edward O’Reilly had claimed that the stories of Pecos Bill were told by cowboys who handed them down in the oral tradition as they expanded westward settling Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

But then O’Reilly filed a lawsuit against a plagiarizer of one of his articles featuring Pecos Bill. O’Reilly then admitted that he had invented Pecos Bill. J. Frank Dobie of the Texas Folklore Society has affirmed that Pecos Bill had not been heard of until O’Reilly’s stories began appearing in 1917.

Whether Pecos Bill is genuine "folklore" or "fakelore," his character has stolen the heart of readers since he first appeared.

A widely known version of the Pecos Bill legend is James Cloyd Bowman’s Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time, first published in 1937, winning the Newbery Honor in 1938. After remaining out of print since 1970, the book was republished in 2007 with added illustrations by Laura Bannon.

Pecos Bill and Christmas

Cowboy poet David Althouse, in his hilarious drama titled "How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas," features this controversial but still fascinating character from cowboy lore, who performs extraordinary acts and boasts a bizarre history.

For example, Pecos Bill was supposedly bounced off a wagon heading west as a newborn infant, was left behind by his unwitting parents and then raised by coyotes. That auspicious (or perhaps inauspicious) beginning sets the stage for the many fantastic events in the adventures of Pecos Bill.

Narrated in 16 riming couplets, "How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas" represents one of those bizarre, outrageous events that readers have come to expect from this unlikely hero.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas

You’ve heard the tales of Pecos Bill, a western hero bold and true—
Like his paintin’ deserts, ridin’ twisters, and marryin’ up with Slue-Foot Sue.

Atop Widow Maker, his cantankerous steed, live rattlesnake whip in tow,
Pecos swung a mighty wide loop, ‘twas a one-man Wild West show.

So it would’ve come to no surprise to those who knew him best,
Pecos once saved Christmas when it was almost cancelled way out west.

Pecos was winterin’ in Colorado at his cabin two miles high,
When he stood up to look southwesterly to the Arizona sky.

His eagle eyes could take in country most normal eyes couldn’t see,
And he spotted somethin’ white where the Grand Canyon was supposed to be.

The worst winter storm in history had filled the great chasm up with snow,
And soon he spotted reindeer antlers stickin’ up from down below.

Well, Pecos knew no such reindeer lived out in Arizona land,
So he knew St. Nick was trapped with his sleigh and reindeer band.

Great times call for great men, and such was true upon this night;
Christmas hung in the balance, and Pecos aimed to set it right.

Pecos whistled for Widow Maker, and the ornery hoss was there post haste,
And they took off like a lightening bolt with little time to waste.

In just a couple of minutes they were at the canyon rim;
Pecos looks at Widow Maker and then he says to him,

"I’m gonna gargle some nitroglycerin mixed with habaneros don’t you know,
And I’m gonna blow it through the canyon and melt down all that snow!"

Now, Pecos was a known spitter, and could prove it with his deeds,
Having practiced with tobacco juice and watermelon seeds.

He chews on the habaneros and swishes the nitroglycerin all around,
Plants his feet, pulls in some air, and then—he unwound!

This fireball of a concoction blast through the canyon—end-to-end—
Allowin’ the Christmas sleigh to elevate and fly off in the wind.

Now if you doubt this story, and think it doesn’t make much sense,
Next time you’re at the canyon just look at the evidence.

Great fire-burnt canyon rocks were left behind from Bill’s fiery spray,
Which is why they’re reddish orange even to this day.

© 2009, David Althouse
"How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas" is reprinted here with kind permission from cowboy poet, David Althouse.

David Althouse

David Althouse

Commentary on David Althouse’s "How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas"

Why are the rocks in the Grand Canyon a burnt-orange color? Find out what saving Christmas has to to with the color of canyon rocks.

First Movement: Following Tradition

You’ve heard the tales of Pecos Bill, a western hero bold and true—
Like his paintin’ deserts, ridin’ twisters, and marryin’ up with Slue-Foot Sue.

Atop Widow Maker, his cantankerous steed, live rattlesnake whip in tow,
Pecos swung a mighty wide loop, ‘twas a one-man Wild West show.

So it would’ve come to no surprise to those who knew him best,
Pecos once saved Christmas when it was almost cancelled way out west.

Pecos was winterin’ in Colorado at his cabin two miles high,
When he stood up to look southwesterly to the Arizona sky.

The first movement treats readers to some of the traditional accoutrements of Pecos Bill: he painted desserts, rode tornadoes (was said to have lassoed one), rode a horse named Widow Maker, used a live rattlesnake as whip, and married an equally outlandish character named "Slue-Foot Sue."

This movement also introduces the first element that will result in Pecos Bill’s saving Christmas. He was spending his winter in Colorado in his "two mile high" cabin, and he happened to look toward the southwest observing the "Arizona sky."

Second Movement: Farsighted

His eagle eyes could take in country most normal eyes couldn’t see,
And he spotted somethin’ white where the Grand Canyon was supposed to be.

The worst winter storm in history had filled the great chasm up with snow,
And soon he spotted reindeer antlers stickin’ up from down below.

Well, Pecos knew no such reindeer lived out in Arizona land,
So he knew St. Nick was trapped with his sleigh and reindeer band.

Great times call for great men, and such was true upon this night;
Christmas hung in the balance, and Pecos aimed to set it right.

Pecos Bill was able to see Arizona from Colorado because of his "eagle eyes," and he saw that the Grand Canyon was filled with snow from "the worst winter storm in history."

But he also saw "antlers stickin’ up" through that snow, and he knew there were no deer like that in Arizona. He figured immediately that Santa Claus had gotten trapped during that worst blizzard in history.

Third Movement: Spewing Nitro

Pecos whistled for Widow Maker, and the ornery hoss was there post haste,
And they took off like a lightening bolt with little time to waste.

In just a couple of minutes they were at the canyon rim;
Pecos looks at Widow Maker and then he says to him,

"I’m gonna gargle some nitroglycerin mixed with habaneros don’t you know,
And I’m gonna blow it through the canyon and melt down all that snow!"

Now, Pecos was a known spitter, and could prove it with his deeds,
Having practiced with tobacco juice and watermelon seeds.

So Bill whistles for Widow Maker, and they are off "like a lightning bolt." In only two minutes, they arrive on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Bill announces to Widow Maker that he is going to mix up a batch of nitroglycerin and habanero peppers in his throat and them spew that mixture through the canyon to melt the snow.

Pecos Bill had practiced spitting using "tobacco juice and watermelon seeds," and he had become quite expert in that practice. Thus, he could spew the nitro and habanero juice through the canyon to melt the snow to release Santa Claus and his hapless reindeer.

Fourth Movement: Evidence That It Happened

He chews on the habaneros and swishes the nitroglycerin all around,
Plants his feet, pulls in some air, and then—he unwound!

This fireball of a concoction blast through the canyon—end-to-end—
Allowin’ the Christmas sleigh to elevate and fly off in the wind.

Now if you doubt this story, and think it doesn’t make much sense,
Next time you’re at the canyon just look at the evidence.

Great fire-burnt canyon rocks were left behind from Bill’s fiery spray,
Which is why they’re reddish orange even to this day.

So Bill does as he said he would. He chews up some habanero peppers, the hottest of the peppers, along with some nitroglycerin. He then stands and spits it through the canyon.

The combination of nitro and hot peppers raises a "fireball of a concoction" which flashes through the canyon melting the snow and then Santa and his sleigh pulled by the reindeer could rise out of the canyon, catch the wind, and fly off to complete their task of delivering gifts to the world’s children.

The narrator then remarks that even though his readers/listeners might think the story sounds too fantastic to be true, he points out the the evidence of its veracity is the color of the canyon rocks which have remained even to the present day a color he calls "great fire-burnt" or "reddish orange."

Most important of all, however, is that Pecos Bill saved Christmas that year, and everyone can be grateful for that.

Sources

The Legend of Pecos Bill

"The Ballad of Pecos Bill" by Roy Rogers

S. Omar Barker's "A Cowboy's Prayer"

S. Omar Barker’s Christmas poem, "A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer," features a humble cowpoke, who is not accustomed to praying but is offering his heart-felt supplication at Christmas time. As he prays, he reveals the qualities and issues of his life that are most important to him.

S. Omar Barker

S. Omar Barker

Introduction and Text of S. Omar Barker's "A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer"

This Christmas prayer/poem composed by cowboy poet, S. Omar Barker, allows a humble rider-of-the-range to express his deeply held wishes as he offers a supplication to the Lord for the good of all mankind. The cowboy prayer is framed as a ballad-style narration emphasizing the simple, humble nature of the cowpoke.

The ballad-influenced piece plays out in cowboy dialect and in riming couplets. Its stanza breaks are uneven with two single-line bridges that dissect the drama at important points to emphasize the shift in theme and tone.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer

I ain’t much good at prayin’, and You may not know me, Lord —
For I ain’t much seen in churches, where they preach Thy Holy Word.
But you may have observed me out here on the lonely plains,
A-lookin’ after cattle, feelin’ thankful when it rains.

Admirin’ Thy great handiwork.

The miracle of the grass,
Aware of Thy kind Spirit, in the way it comes to pass
That hired men on horseback and the livestock that we tend
Can look up at the stars at night, and know we’ve got a Friend.

So here’s ol’ Christmas comin’ on, remindin’ us again
Of Him whose coming brought good will into the hearts of men.
A cowboy ain’t a preacher, Lord, but if You’ll hear my prayer,
I’ll ask as good as we have got for all men everywhere . . .

To read the entire poem, please visit "A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer" at The Cowboy Accountant.

Reading of "A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer"

Commentary on S. Omar Barker's "A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer "

S. Omar Barker's "A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer" dramatizes the prayer offered by a humble cowboy who is unaccustomed to praying and unacquainted with church services but who holds the blessings from the Creator very dear to his heart.

He expresses his gratitude for the simple life he lives and asks his Creator to bless others with kindness and prosperity.

First Movement: A Humble Prayer

I ain’t much good at prayin’, and You may not know me, Lord —
For I ain’t much seen in churches, where they preach Thy Holy Word.
But you may have observed me out here on the lonely plains,
A-lookin’ after cattle, feelin’ thankful when it rains.

In the first quatrain, the supplicating cowboy begins by addressing the Lord, suggesting that the Lord may not even be acquainted with the cowboy; he then gives the reasons that he feels the Lord may not know him. He has not attended church very often, and he knows that’s where they preach His "Holy Word."

However, the cowboy then suggests that perhaps the Creator has seen him out on the plains doing his work of watching "after cattle." The cowboy adds what he likely feels may be a useful introduction to the Lord Creator: he has felt thankful for the rain that keeps life supported.

Second Movement: A Single-Line Bridge

Admirin’ Thy great handiwork.

The cowboy adds another positive feature in his heretofore somewhat tentative relationship with the Almighty: he has always admired the "great handiwork" that he often observes as he rides the range in the great outdoors.

This line appears alone and emphasizes the important idea that the cowboy has always kept the Creator near to his heart by feeling enthralled by all of what He has created.

The cowboy is likely remembering the wide-open plains, the mountains, the trees, vegetation of the prairie, the night sky full of stars, and the cattle that he himself drives and protects.

This single line offers a useful bridge between the moments of prayer that supplicates, as it brings the Divine back into the cowboy’s consciousness.

Third Movement: Miracles in Creation

The miracle of the grass,
Aware of Thy kind Spirit, in the way it comes to pass
That hired men on horseback and the livestock that we tend
Can look up at the stars at night, and know we’ve got a Friend.

The next quatrain offers a few specific examples of the great Lord’s "handiwork." The cowboy first mentions the grass, which he describes as a "miracle." He then avers that even as a simply cowpoke he feels the nature of the Lord is kindness.

And through that "kind Spirit," he reports that somehow the graceful occasion exists that those hired hands who work riding horseback and tending livestock are able to observe the sky full of "stars at night."

The cowboy makes it clear that such a sight fills his heart with gratitude that he and his fellow workers "got a Friend." His relationship with the Lord has blossomed even as he admits his tentative relationship with church and prayer.

Fourth Movement: Good Will

So here’s ol’ Christmas comin’ on, remindin’ us again
Of Him whose coming brought good will into the hearts of men.
A cowboy ain’t a preacher, Lord, but if You’ll hear my prayer,
I’ll ask as good as we have got for all men everywhere.

Likely the coming of the season of Christmas has been the impetus for the cowboy to be offering this halting prayer. So he now tells the Lord that the coming of Christmas has reminded him of Jesus the Christ, Who "brought good will" into men’s hearts.

Even though he "ain’t a preacher," the cowboy expresses the hope that the Lord will still hear his prayer. He promises to supplicate for the "good" of everyone everywhere. He wishes that all men may be as blessed as he his. His gratitude keeps his own heart open to the Lord’s grace.

Fifth Movement: Prayer of a Simple Soul

In the next cinquain, the speaker offers a catalogue of blessings that he wishes to ask of the Lord. He asks that no bitterness reside in the hearts of men, as he asks that "no child be cold."

He asks the Lord comfort those who are ill and make their convalescence go smoothly. He also wish ease and comfort for those who are old and weak. He asks kind-heartedness remain a feature of the "trail we ride."

He then asks the Creator to keep humanity on His side throughout good times as well as bad times.

Sixth Movement: Praying for Others’ Welfare

Returning to the quatrain-form for the sixth movement, the speaker focuses on hunger; he has observed cows that are starving to death, and that sight weighs heavily on his heart and mind; thus, he begs the Lord to "leave no one hungry."

This deprivation is so important to him that he asks that "no man, no child, no woman" be allowed to go hungry. But he also wants the Lord to protect all animals from the fate of hunger. He then promises to help the Lord in finding food for all who are hungry.

Seventh Movement: Self-Deprecation

In the next tercet, the cowboy again engages in self-deprecation, saying he is "just a sinful cowpoke" and he does not deserve to be "prayin’." Still, he expresses the hope that the Creator will hear at least "a word or two" of his prayer.

The cowboy/speaker then begins a thought which is so important that he offers merely the opening of it, allowing its conclusion to spread over another bridge and into the final tercet. He begins by reporting that "[w]e speak of Merry Christmas, Lord—."

Eighth Movement: Agreement with His Lord

The speaker then creates a second bridge between thoughts. This time he inserts the important notion he thinks the Lord will agree with what he is about to propose.

By beginning the thought in the conclusion of the seventh movement, allowing it to marinate through the eighth bridge movement, he has created a small mystery that emphasizes the utterly vital importance of his final thought.

Ninth Movement: Freedom Is Vital

Finally, the cowboy issues his important claim before God and world that the most important possession that mankind must retain is "freedom." There can be no "Merry Christmas" unless humanity is free to enjoy it; no happiness can exists for any individual "that ain’t free!"

Thus, the cowboy’s final supplication is that the Lord "save some seeds of freedom for the future Sons of Man!" He asks his Creator to allow the love and hope of freedom to grow with mankind in all lands for all time.

E. A. Brininstool

E. A. Brininstool

E. A. Brininstool's "Christmas Week in Sagebrush"

"Christmas Week in Sagebrush" dramatizes the activities offered in the little town of Sagebrush as the cow pokes, their families, and friends do some shopping and spending.

Introduction and Text of "Christmas Week in Sagebrush"

Earl Alonzo Brininstool, (E.A.), was born in New York in 1870. He wrote and published many articles and books about the Indian Wars, including Fighting Indian Warriors, The Life and Death of Crazy Horse," and Fighting Red Cloud's Warriors. Professionally, he passed most of his life in Los Angeles, California.

Brininstool’s poem, "Christmas Week in Sagebrush," appeared in his 1914 book, Trail Dust of a Maverick: Verses of Cowboy Life, the Cattle Range and Desert. He died at his home in Hollywood, California, on July 28, 1957.

"Christmas Week in Sagebrush" plays out in five quatrains, and as many cowboy genre poems do, offers a delightful, rhythmic cadence in cowboy dialect, dramatizing the small town of Sagebrush as it fills with the cowboys and their families and friends during the week of Christmas.

The cowboy dialect gives the verse an Old West flavor. Its colorful images pop, as the speaker describes the events in perfectly riming couplets, with the traditional ballad rhythm pattern.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Christmas Week in Sagebrush

It is Christmas week in Sagebrush, and the old town's only store
Never had, sence it was opened, such a run o' trade before.
Ev'ry rancher is a-blowin' his "dinero" full and free,
Buyin' gim-cracks for the young'uns to put on the Christmas tree.

The cowboys ride in muffled in their wolf-skin coats and chaps,
And the rancher's wife is wearin' all her extry furs and wraps;
'Cuz nobody takes no chances on a norther breakin' loose,
Fer a blizzard on the prairy's purty apt to raise the deuce.

The ponies that are standin' all a-shiver at the rack,
Champ their bits, and paw and nicker for their riders to come back;
Ev'ry poker joint is runnin', and there's faro and roulette,
And the booze-joints are a-grabbin' all the punchers they can get.

The picter show is crowded full o' riders off the range
Who are watchin' actor cowboys doin' stunts that's new and strange;
Ev'ry film brings groans and hisses, 'cuz the guys upon the screen
Go through lots o' monkey bizness that a cow ranch never seen.

From the dance halls comes the echoes of a squeaky violin,
Where the painted dames are ropin' all the gay cowpunchers in;
For it's Christmas week in Sagebrush, and there won't a puncher go
Back to ride the wintry ranges when he has a cent to blow!

Commentary on "Christmas Week in Sagebrush"

The cowboys and their ken do some shopping and also enjoy some entertainment during a week that includes the sacred holiday of Christmas.

First Stanza: The Town Store

The speaker sets the stage for the events as he first first focuses on the old town's only store. The establishment is doing a booming business this week, so big that its never seen so much buying and selling since it first opened.

All the ranchers and cowboys in the vicinity have come into town to spend their "dinero." And they will not return home until they have spent every cent.

They won't forget their children on this shopping extravaganza as they are purchasing toys and trinkets—some of which are suitable for decorating the Christmas tree.

Second Stanza: Riding to Town

The speaker describes the cowboys as they ride into town; they are muffled in their wolf-skin coats and chaps. And their wives are all bundled up in "extry furs and wraps" because they don't want to get caught in a storm that might come whipping up as they make their journey into town.

Getting caught in a norther would be a devilish experience, "fer a blizzard on the prairys purty apt to raise the deuce." But traveling all wrapped up in their wintry best should protect them.

Third Stanza: As Horses Wait

As the cowboys, families, and friends do their gallivanting through town, the horses stand lined up "at the rack," and they are shivering, wishing to be on the move again: "they Champ their bits, and paw and nicker for their riders to come back."

And not only is the little general store busy, but the entertainment establishments are also full of activity. The poker joints are filled with revelers playing cards, as well as faro and roulette while the bars and saloons are welcoming as many customers as they handle, likely enjoy the booming business.

Fourth Stanza: At the Theatre

The movie theatre is full of viewers who are enjoying seeing cowboy actors perform their "stunts"—some of which strike the real cowboys as odd. The cowboy’s critical eye can detect the various deviations from reality, as they whoop it up and yell at the screen.

They think some of the maneuvers are "monkey bizness" because they are seeing stunts that the real cowboys do not experience.

Fifth Stanza: Something for Everybody

Adult entertainment is also in evidence as the dance halls emit the echoes of "squeaky violin" music and women with lots of make-up attract the happy cowboys, who are full of energy and eager to spend their money.

The town of Sagebrush during Christmas week seems to offer something for everybody, and no cow puncher will get back on his horse "to ride the wintry ranges" until he has spent every red cent.

Cowboy Poetry by E. A. Brininstool: A Reading of Two Sample Poems

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes