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Cowboy Jam Session: Getting the old-time cowboy story right

For the September 24, 2011 edition of Tri-State Livestock News.

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In a few weeks, a friend from Leakey, TX, will arrive in Montana. A writer and historian, she wants to see where John Leakey lived. (The town of Leakey was named for his grandfather.) The younger Leakey came north, trailing longhorns and stayed. Corresponding from opposite ends of the now-defunct beef corridor, we’ve planned an itinerary that includes museums, libraries, a bookstore, and two ranches where Leakey resided.

Before running his own ranch in western North Dakota, Leakey was foreman of Pierre Wibaux’s W Bar Ranch headquartered in eastern Montana. Born into a family of French textile industrialists, Wibaux was a contemporary of Theodore Roosevelt and fellow French cattle baron, the Marquis de Mores. A savvy businessman, Wibaux bought up cattle that survived the winter of 1886-87, which killed up to 70 percent of the stock in the region. As such, he was in an advantageous position when prices and demand subsequently peaked. An article in Montana, the Magazine of Western History states that in the 1890s, Wibaux owned 65,000 head of cattle, making his one of the largest cattle herds in the world.

Leakey was a strapping fella who stood 6 foot, 6 inches. A top cowhand, he also broke horses. He was among the founders of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, serving as the organization’s president from 1929-1939. When he died in 1959, Leakey left behind two books detailing life in the Old West: Grandad and I: A Story of a Grand Old Man and Other Pioneers in Texas and the Dakotas, as told to Florence Fenley (John Leakey Publisher, 1951), and The West That Was, from Texas to Montana, as told to Nellie Snyder Yost (Southern Methodist University Press, 1958).



My pal wants to see the countryside Leakey described in his first-person accounts. She also has questions that aren’t answered by either book. I am more than happy to help her toward those goals.

As I considered her desire to get the story straight, I thought of Ramon F. Adams. Born in Moscow, TX, in 1889, Adams was a trained violinist who, after breaking his arm and wrist, ran a wholesale candy company. He authored at least 20 books on cowboys and the American West. His research as a folklorist is regarded as exemplary, appealing to both serious scholars and casual readers. Adams’ stories tell what really happened on the frontier in an engaging style.



A web entry posted by the University of Texas says Adams’ literary production was so great and his books so highly regarded, that one Western author opined, “Except for O. Henry, Webb and Dobie, [Adams] is the most quoted author Texas ever had.”

I keep a copy of Adam’s Western Words: A Dictionary of the American West (University of Oklahoma Press, 1944) near my desk. A collection of 5,000 words in the cowboy language, it serves not only as a dictionary but a thesaurus. It’s been reprinted and is readily available as a paperback.

Also close by is The Old-Time Cowhand (The Macmillan Company, 1961) with its grand Nick Eggenhofer illustration on the cover. Akin to an encyclopedia, it explores the cowboy in detail. As noted on the dust jacket: “Here is everything about the real, ungilded, old-time cowhand, what he did, wore, thought. His horse, guns, rope, clothing, sleeping bag; his eating and drinking habits; his attitude toward God, women, bosses, saloons, rodeos; his unwritten code of conduct – everything about this rare and fascinating breed is told with an absorbing authenticity.”

I adore Adams’ treatment of the chuck wagon in Come And Get It (University of Oklahoma Press, 1952). It’s not a cookbook – although there are directions for basics such as coffee and sourdough biscuits. Rather, it’s a study of the cooks and mobile kitchens that have fed cowboys for nearly 150 years.

There are several Adams’ books on my wish list:

• Cowboy Lingo (Houghton Mifflin, 1936), with cowboy saying and euphemisms by categories including equipment, roundups, brands and earmarks, and rustlers. Reprinted in 2000; available in paperback.

• The Best of the American Cowboy (1957), an anthology of passages from books Adams considered to be the best about the cowboy.

• Burs Under the Saddle: A Second Look at Books and Histories of the West (1964), an evaluation of inaccuracies regarding outlaws in 400-plus books. More Burs Under the Saddle (1979) is a revised version.

• From the Pecos to the Powder (1965), cowboy Bob Kennon’s firsthand account of ranch life in the desert Southwest, as told to Adams.

In a few weeks, a friend from Leakey, TX, will arrive in Montana. A writer and historian, she wants to see where John Leakey lived. (The town of Leakey was named for his grandfather.) The younger Leakey came north, trailing longhorns and stayed. Corresponding from opposite ends of the now-defunct beef corridor, we’ve planned an itinerary that includes museums, libraries, a bookstore, and two ranches where Leakey resided.

Before running his own ranch in western North Dakota, Leakey was foreman of Pierre Wibaux’s W Bar Ranch headquartered in eastern Montana. Born into a family of French textile industrialists, Wibaux was a contemporary of Theodore Roosevelt and fellow French cattle baron, the Marquis de Mores. A savvy businessman, Wibaux bought up cattle that survived the winter of 1886-87, which killed up to 70 percent of the stock in the region. As such, he was in an advantageous position when prices and demand subsequently peaked. An article in Montana, the Magazine of Western History states that in the 1890s, Wibaux owned 65,000 head of cattle, making his one of the largest cattle herds in the world.

Leakey was a strapping fella who stood 6 foot, 6 inches. A top cowhand, he also broke horses. He was among the founders of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, serving as the organization’s president from 1929-1939. When he died in 1959, Leakey left behind two books detailing life in the Old West: Grandad and I: A Story of a Grand Old Man and Other Pioneers in Texas and the Dakotas, as told to Florence Fenley (John Leakey Publisher, 1951), and The West That Was, from Texas to Montana, as told to Nellie Snyder Yost (Southern Methodist University Press, 1958).

My pal wants to see the countryside Leakey described in his first-person accounts. She also has questions that aren’t answered by either book. I am more than happy to help her toward those goals.

As I considered her desire to get the story straight, I thought of Ramon F. Adams. Born in Moscow, TX, in 1889, Adams was a trained violinist who, after breaking his arm and wrist, ran a wholesale candy company. He authored at least 20 books on cowboys and the American West. His research as a folklorist is regarded as exemplary, appealing to both serious scholars and casual readers. Adams’ stories tell what really happened on the frontier in an engaging style.

A web entry posted by the University of Texas says Adams’ literary production was so great and his books so highly regarded, that one Western author opined, “Except for O. Henry, Webb and Dobie, [Adams] is the most quoted author Texas ever had.”

I keep a copy of Adam’s Western Words: A Dictionary of the American West (University of Oklahoma Press, 1944) near my desk. A collection of 5,000 words in the cowboy language, it serves not only as a dictionary but a thesaurus. It’s been reprinted and is readily available as a paperback.

Also close by is The Old-Time Cowhand (The Macmillan Company, 1961) with its grand Nick Eggenhofer illustration on the cover. Akin to an encyclopedia, it explores the cowboy in detail. As noted on the dust jacket: “Here is everything about the real, ungilded, old-time cowhand, what he did, wore, thought. His horse, guns, rope, clothing, sleeping bag; his eating and drinking habits; his attitude toward God, women, bosses, saloons, rodeos; his unwritten code of conduct – everything about this rare and fascinating breed is told with an absorbing authenticity.”

I adore Adams’ treatment of the chuck wagon in Come And Get It (University of Oklahoma Press, 1952). It’s not a cookbook – although there are directions for basics such as coffee and sourdough biscuits. Rather, it’s a study of the cooks and mobile kitchens that have fed cowboys for nearly 150 years.

There are several Adams’ books on my wish list:

• Cowboy Lingo (Houghton Mifflin, 1936), with cowboy saying and euphemisms by categories including equipment, roundups, brands and earmarks, and rustlers. Reprinted in 2000; available in paperback.

• The Best of the American Cowboy (1957), an anthology of passages from books Adams considered to be the best about the cowboy.

• Burs Under the Saddle: A Second Look at Books and Histories of the West (1964), an evaluation of inaccuracies regarding outlaws in 400-plus books. More Burs Under the Saddle (1979) is a revised version.

• From the Pecos to the Powder (1965), cowboy Bob Kennon’s firsthand account of ranch life in the desert Southwest, as told to Adams.

In a few weeks, a friend from Leakey, TX, will arrive in Montana. A writer and historian, she wants to see where John Leakey lived. (The town of Leakey was named for his grandfather.) The younger Leakey came north, trailing longhorns and stayed. Corresponding from opposite ends of the now-defunct beef corridor, we’ve planned an itinerary that includes museums, libraries, a bookstore, and two ranches where Leakey resided.

Before running his own ranch in western North Dakota, Leakey was foreman of Pierre Wibaux’s W Bar Ranch headquartered in eastern Montana. Born into a family of French textile industrialists, Wibaux was a contemporary of Theodore Roosevelt and fellow French cattle baron, the Marquis de Mores. A savvy businessman, Wibaux bought up cattle that survived the winter of 1886-87, which killed up to 70 percent of the stock in the region. As such, he was in an advantageous position when prices and demand subsequently peaked. An article in Montana, the Magazine of Western History states that in the 1890s, Wibaux owned 65,000 head of cattle, making his one of the largest cattle herds in the world.

Leakey was a strapping fella who stood 6 foot, 6 inches. A top cowhand, he also broke horses. He was among the founders of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, serving as the organization’s president from 1929-1939. When he died in 1959, Leakey left behind two books detailing life in the Old West: Grandad and I: A Story of a Grand Old Man and Other Pioneers in Texas and the Dakotas, as told to Florence Fenley (John Leakey Publisher, 1951), and The West That Was, from Texas to Montana, as told to Nellie Snyder Yost (Southern Methodist University Press, 1958).

My pal wants to see the countryside Leakey described in his first-person accounts. She also has questions that aren’t answered by either book. I am more than happy to help her toward those goals.

As I considered her desire to get the story straight, I thought of Ramon F. Adams. Born in Moscow, TX, in 1889, Adams was a trained violinist who, after breaking his arm and wrist, ran a wholesale candy company. He authored at least 20 books on cowboys and the American West. His research as a folklorist is regarded as exemplary, appealing to both serious scholars and casual readers. Adams’ stories tell what really happened on the frontier in an engaging style.

A web entry posted by the University of Texas says Adams’ literary production was so great and his books so highly regarded, that one Western author opined, “Except for O. Henry, Webb and Dobie, [Adams] is the most quoted author Texas ever had.”

I keep a copy of Adam’s Western Words: A Dictionary of the American West (University of Oklahoma Press, 1944) near my desk. A collection of 5,000 words in the cowboy language, it serves not only as a dictionary but a thesaurus. It’s been reprinted and is readily available as a paperback.

Also close by is The Old-Time Cowhand (The Macmillan Company, 1961) with its grand Nick Eggenhofer illustration on the cover. Akin to an encyclopedia, it explores the cowboy in detail. As noted on the dust jacket: “Here is everything about the real, ungilded, old-time cowhand, what he did, wore, thought. His horse, guns, rope, clothing, sleeping bag; his eating and drinking habits; his attitude toward God, women, bosses, saloons, rodeos; his unwritten code of conduct – everything about this rare and fascinating breed is told with an absorbing authenticity.”

I adore Adams’ treatment of the chuck wagon in Come And Get It (University of Oklahoma Press, 1952). It’s not a cookbook – although there are directions for basics such as coffee and sourdough biscuits. Rather, it’s a study of the cooks and mobile kitchens that have fed cowboys for nearly 150 years.

There are several Adams’ books on my wish list:

• Cowboy Lingo (Houghton Mifflin, 1936), with cowboy saying and euphemisms by categories including equipment, roundups, brands and earmarks, and rustlers. Reprinted in 2000; available in paperback.

• The Best of the American Cowboy (1957), an anthology of passages from books Adams considered to be the best about the cowboy.

• Burs Under the Saddle: A Second Look at Books and Histories of the West (1964), an evaluation of inaccuracies regarding outlaws in 400-plus books. More Burs Under the Saddle (1979) is a revised version.

• From the Pecos to the Powder (1965), cowboy Bob Kennon’s firsthand account of ranch life in the desert Southwest, as told to Adams.


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