Did cowboy poets perform in the Old West?

David Hieller
Wickenburg, Arizona

Yep, they sure did. Most of the early-day cowboys wrote poems based on a true incident and recited them a capella.

Guitar-strumming cowboy singers were as rare as horseflies in December. You can imagine how long a guitar would survive out in the elements. Musical instruments on the roundups and trail drives might consist of a harmonica or mouth harp. Harmonicas became popular during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln carried one in his pocket. They surely would have gone west in the post-war years. It’s claimed Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid also played the harmonica.

I have old photographs of cowboys playing guitars, fiddles and banjos in the bunkhouse. None of these instruments would have been practical outdoors.

Incidentally, many of the classic cowboy songs, such as “Git Along, Little Dogies” and “Streets of Laredo,” were derived from Irish ballads brought west by immigrants-turned-cowboys.

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