Texas Heritage, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1985

COWBOY

POETRY

by: James McNutt

Three years later a University of Texas
student named John Lomax testified to
the vigor of Chittenden's poem: "Read
his Cowboy's Christmas Ball to a group
of those worthies, and before you are
done they will be dancing furiously."2
For Lomax, the idea that cowboys
should have poets was exciting, something
that lifted drovers and trail herders
closer to the realm of Shakespeare
and Browning and brought literature to
the cow camp. As Lomax was just beginning
to discover, no one needed to
bring literature to the cow camp. It had
been there all along and it is still there
today.

Melvin Whipple at home in Hereford, Texas. Born on the Arizona strip where his parents homesteaded
a section of government ground, he eventually moved to Texas after having cowboyed all over
Arizona, Utah and Colorado. He writes highly descriptive poems about the old days on the open
range and personal experiences in rhyme. Photo by James McNutt, courtesy of the Institute of Texan
Cultures.

In 1883 a New Jersey-born newspaper
reporter named William Lawrence
Chittenden came to Texas and began
ranching with an uncle near Anson. He
also began writing and publishing
poems about ranching and cowboy
life, the best known of which is "The
Cowboys' Christmas Ball" commemorating
a certain frolic:

The dust rose fast and furious and
we all just galloped round,
Till the scenery got so giddy, that
Z Bar Dick went down.
We buckled to our partners and told
them to hold on,
Then shook our hoofs like lightning
until the early dawn.'

Now meet Melvin L. Whipple, a working
cowboy who lives in the Texas
Panhandle.
I was born in Utah, many long years
have come and gone
since Dad loaded up the wagon and
we left that border town.
I don't quite remember, but I've
heard my Mother say,
We left sometime in April, or maybe
it was May.
Whipple began cowboying as early as
he can remember, and had his first job
riding rough string-busting broncsat
age 16. Now nearing retirement, he
remains in the saddle, working six
days a week for a feedlot operation.
He has been making poems about
twenty-five years, since the time he
pulled out of his family homestead
in the Arizona Strip and moved to
Colorado.
My Dad, he built a cabin and 'twas
there they settled down,
they had come to make a fortune on
a section of government ground.
Time has brought a lot of changes,
in that golden land of dreams
since they settled in the 20s with
their saddle horse and team.
A thick ring binder contains most of
Whipple's finished work, which he
types out and frequently illustrates
with pen and ink drawings. Most of the
poems run a page or more in length.
They are "full" in a manner which in

8

Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth46809/. Accessed August 23, 2014.