The Significance of Little Joe the Wrangler - Part 3 of 3
CowboySpirit.TV - "What's become of the punchers We rode with long ago?— The hundreds and hundreds of cowboys We all of us used to know? ... Those that worked on the round-up, Those of the branding-pen, Those who went out on the long trail drive And never returned again."
Above are the words of Jack Thorp in his poem, “What’s Become of the Punchers”. He’s also the author of “Little Joe the Wrangler”, the subject of this 3-part Blog Series, honoring one of the Old West’s most lasting cowboy heroes.
In case you missed them, check out Part 1, or Part 2, of the series.
The stanzas above were written by Jack Thorp and published in the same collection, titled Songs of the Cowboys, where readers first met Little Joe. The last lines of the second stanza foreshadow the end of so many tragic cowboy legends. But forgive us, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
When last we encountered Little Joe, his boss - like a century’s worth of Old West aficionados - “sorta liked that little stray somehow.” So he took a gamble and hired on a beat up young kid who “didn’t know straight up about a cow”’. Famous Cowboy Poet Baxter Black was interviewed on NPR’s Weekend Edition in 2009. The Subject? Why Little Joe, of course.
Black said the reason Little Joe is the subject material for so many western performers throughout the years is that audience members can’t get enough of the story. Almost every American boy entertains fantasies of becoming a real live cowboy. Perhaps they even live in a city and have never seen a horse outside of movies or TV. But here comes Little Joe, admitting he knows nothing about cows, or horse wrangling, and The Boss hires him anyway. Baxter states, “...any kid can identify with it...'ah! I could’ve done that!'”
Sadly, Little Joe’s cowboy fantasies are short-lived. For on a fateful night along the Red River, a brutal and unexpected storm blows in. All hands are called to prevent the cattle from stampeding, but the thunder and lightening are too much and the cattle stampede anyway. After a valiant attempt to stop them from the lead position, Little Joe disappears, “ridin’ Old Blue Rocket”.
Just at sunup the next day, Little Joe is found,
“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”.
So legions of western singers and cowboy poets have paid homage to Little Joe’s sad tale. We hope to do the same because we agree with Baxter Black. Ultimately, Thorp's poem about Little Joe Wrangler, “is a story that has a sad ending, but a legitimate hero.”
RIP Little Joe.
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