One of the most popular cowboy songs of its era was "Little Joe the Wrangler". The lyrics were written by Jack Thorp in 1898. The melody was written by Will Hayes in 1871, He was a Kentucky riverman turned vaudeville songwriter. It was called, "The Little Old Log Cabin In The lane"; but it later spawned many parodies including, "Little Joe, The Wrangler" and "Little Joe The Wrangler" (2 different versions of the famous poem). The melody with various versions of the original lyrics by Jack Thorpe became very popular.
"Stampede" by Frederick Remington
Little Joe the Wrangler
N. Howard "Jack" Thorp (1908)
Little Joe, the wrangler, will never wrangle more;
His days with the remuda- they are done.
'Twas a year ago last April, he joined the outfit here,
A little Texas stray and all alone.
'Twas long late in the evening he rode up to the herd
On a little old brown pony he called Chow;
With his brogan shoes and overalls, a harder- lookin' kid,
You never in our life had seen before.
His saddle "t was a southern kack built many years ago,
An O.K. spur on one foot idly hung,
While the "hot roll" in a cotton sack was loosely tied behind,
And a canteen from the saddle horn h'ed slung.
He said he'd had to leave home, his daddy'd married twice,
And his new ma beat him every day or two,
So he saddled up old Chow one night and "lit a shuck" this way-
Thought he'd try and paddle now his own canoe.
Said he'd try and do the best he could if we'd only give him work
Though he didn't know straight up about a cow;
So the Boss he cut him out a mount and kinder put him on,
For he sorta liked that little stray somehow.
Taught him how to herd the horses and learn to know them all,
To round 'em up by daylight if he could;
To follow the chuck-wagon and to always hitch the team
And help the "cosinero" rustle wood.
We'd driven to Red River and the weather had been fine,
We were camped down on the south side in a bend,
When a norther commenced blowin' and we all doubled up our guards,
For it took all hands to hold the cattle then.
Little Joe, the wrangler, was called out with the rest,
And scarcely had the kid got to that herd,
When the cattle they stampeded; like a hailstorm, long they flew,
And all of us were riding for the lead.
'Tween the streaks of lightnin' we could see that horse far out ahead-
"T was little Joe, the wrangler, in the lead;
He was ridin' "Old Blue Rocket" with his slicker 'bove his head,
Trying to check the leaders in their speed.
At last we got them milling and kinder quieted down,
And the extra guard back to the camp did go;
But one of them was missin', and we all knew at a glance
'T was our little Texas stray, poor Wrangler Joe.
Next morning just at sunup we found where Rocket fell,
Down in a washout twenty feet below;
Beneath his horse, mashed to a pulp, his spurs had rung the knell
For our little Texas stray, poor Wrangler Joe.
In his book "Songs Of The Cowboys", Jack Thorp says this: "Written by me on trail of herd of O cattle from Chimney Lake, New Mexico, to Higgins, Texas, 1898. On trail were the following men, all from Sacramento Mountains, or Crow Flat: Pap Logan, Bill Blevins, Will Brownfield, Will Fenton, Lije Colfelt, Tom Mews, Frank Jones, and myself. It was copyrighted and appeared in my first edition of "Songs Of The Cowboys", published in 1908."
His poem, Little Joe, The Wrangler was one of the most famous cowboy songs in history. It was released on widely distributed recordings throughout the 1920s and 1930s as if it were an old traditional song unprotected by copyright laws. Thorp retained lawyers to sue for just compensation; but after three years of legal wrangling, he dropped his suit. Apparently, Thorp never received any royalties for the poem.
Thorpe was not a simple, uneducated range cowhand. Like many of the cowboy poets and cowboys of his era, quite the opposite is true. He was born in 1867 into a family headed by a well-to-do New York City lawyer and real estate investor who also had a house in Newport Rhode Island. Thorp was educated in exclusive prep schools; and he attended Harvard for three years. He was a polo player; and he trained ponies for use in polo games. At the age of nineteen, when his father sustained severe financial losses, Thorp worked for a ranch in New Mexico as a cowboy. For a short time after that, he worked in New Mexico as a civil engineer. He spent the next 50 years as a cowboy, and as a collector and writer of cowboy songs.
N. Howard "Jack" Thorp is considered to be the foremost collector and preserver of cowboy songs and poetry. His book, "Songs Of The Cowboys" contains an authentic and rich collection of old cowboy songs. It was published in 1921; and copies can be obtained for their readers by public libraries.