Writers of the Purple Sage

What happened to the music? The writers of the West?
The legends of the cowboys? The songs I loved the best?
The outlaws and the posse? Please tell me where they went?
The ones who shared their stories of their will and testament.

I think that Marty Robbins is stuck in old El Paso,
A ghost in the cantina, where Feleena loved him so.
“The Grandsons of the Pioneers” must be great grandpas now.
I think that they’ve forgotten the Westerns anyhow.

Gene Autry went to heaven. He got a second chance.
He got a million acres; a brand-new Melody Ranch.
I searched through Apple Valley for Gabby, Dale, and Roy,
But all their stuff was carted off to Branson by his boy.

The last I heard of Willie, he sang a song with Ray
Of Seven Spanish Angels that saw a fight one day.
And “when the battle stopped … there was thunder from the throne”
Those “Seven Spanish Angels took another angel home.”

Tex Ritter and Rex Allen, Jim Reeves, and Frankie Laine,
The singers of the Westerns I’d love to hear again.
The Yellow Rose of Texas, the Rose of San Anton
How well do I remember those memories etched in stone.

Go find a singing cowboy and find a pretty lass
And write for them some music out of our Western past.
The Western told the legends they sang upon the stage.
Where are the Western writers—Writers of the Purple Sage?



LTC Roy E. Peterson, US Army Military Intelligence and Russian Foreign Area Officer (Retired) has published more than 5,000 poems in 78 of his 101 books. He has been an Army Attaché in Moscow, Commander of INF Portal Monitoring in Votkinsk, first US Foreign Commercial Officer in Vladivostok, Russia and Regional Manager in the Russian Far East for IBM. He holds a BA, Hardin-Simmons University (Political Science); MA, University of Arizona (Political Science); MA, University of Southern California (Int. Relations) and MBA University of Phoenix. He taught at the University of Arizona, Western New Mexico University, University of Maryland, Travel University and the University of Phoenix.

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35 Responses

  1. Mike Bryant

    Really love this tribute to our Western heroes/legends. It reads beautifully. Time for some old movies now!

    • Roy Eugene Peterson

      I still love the old-time cowboys and their songs! Thank you, Mike!

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Roy, I love this nostalgic fun wrapped up in rhythm and rhyme. I feel that my appreciation is greater now that I live in the land of cowboys and country music. Thank you!

  3. Allegra Silberstein

    I grew up loving cowboys and still do…thanks for your lovely poem reminding me of them.

  4. Brian A. Yapko

    Roy, I very much enjoyed this humor-laced but obviously sincere tribute to the singers and writers (there’s a little pun there with “riders”) who put the “Western” in “Country-Western” music. Where are they indeed?

    When I lived in Los Angeles I used to enjoy visiting the Gene Autry museum in Griffith Park. Autry also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame from a fabled career as a singer and in film as a singing cowboy. This nostalgic poem brought back some great memories of him and other singing heroes — the likes of which will never be seen again. And that is everyone’s loss.

    • Roy Eugene Peterson

      I remember the Roy Rogers Museum when it was briefly in Victorville, since I had to stop and visit it. Most of the Western music has now gone away and I miss it a lot. That was great you got to visit the Gene Autry Museum. Thank you for your memories!

  5. Cheryl Corey

    You can sometimes catch Gene Autry and Roy Rogers on TV. I grew up watching Roy & Dale, so this poem brought back nice memories.

  6. Mark Stellinga

    Roy, very well penned, ya’ ornery varmint! You covered most all the best. My wife and I watch old westerns all the time. Just in case you haven’t crossed paths with one of the finest ‘cowboy poets’ to ever celebrate the era, I suggest you take a long peek at Red Steagall’s offerings. Here’s a link to one of his many charming pieces – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xElsR9VfR1Q
    Red was the Poet Laureate of Texas more than once and is the long-running master of ceremonies at the annual Ft. Worth Stockyards extravaganza. He hosts a legendary ‘cowboy poetry’ recital event in a good sized auditorium there. Young and old contribute. You can hear yourself breath when he steps to the podium – he’s a truly loved gentleman, and I’m proud to be a friend.
    Here’s his 3-day wing-ding if you’d care to check it out. https://www.redsteagallcowboygathering.com/

    I thought you and a few others might get a kick out of these 3 (of many) little tidbits I composed with Red in mind. Hope to get down to there see him again this year – Square dancing – fiddle contests – nothin’ but fun!

    “My Tribute to Red Steagall”

    Their hearts had kindred spirits, and their souls had kindred thoughts.
    For many, many years their dreams had coursed through common veins.
    They cabined on the mountains, on the prairies, far and wide.
    They settled in the valleys, ‘mongst the hills and on the plains.

    With common plights to meld them, from Laredo to Cheyenne,
    The cowboys, male and female, plied their trade to make their homes,
    And every now and then they’d pause, around a friendly fire,
    To sing a few old cowboy songs and share some favorite poems.

    Many tried their hand at rhyme, and many made the grade,
    But I can say, without a doubt, ‘mongst those alive, or dead,
    No one holds a candle to the greatest of them all.
    For me, my friend, the buckle cast in *gold*… belongs to “Red”!

    Has Anyone Seen Buck?

    Somewheres close to midnight…‘bout a week ago today…
    we’s passin’ ‘round a bottle (as we’s ventin’ off the chuck),
    When Coosie starts ta speculatin’… tryin’ to figure why,
    fer quite a while ain’t none of us seen hide-nor-hair o’ Buck!

    Badger claimed some feller said he’d seen him down in Brownsville,
    draggin’ ‘round a big ol’ cast… and lookin’ kind o’ rough.
    Dan was thinkin’ Rowdy’d said he’d seen him up in Billings…
    tradin’ pelts fer flour an’ lard, an’ jerkey…beans…an’ snuff.

    Baxter’d heard he’d hired out fer twistin’ on the 6’s.
    Kilroy said, “I heard he’s tendin’ bar in Coeur d’Alene.”
    Then Paco tried convincin’ us that we was all mistaken.
    That everything we’d heard… and that our friends had claimed they’d seen…

    Simply wasn’t possible, ‘cause… clear back in November…
    he’d been told by Colonel Slaughter’s foreman, Booger Red… (= Red’s nickname)
    Buck done caught some slicker palmin’ cards in San Francisco.
    That feller pulled a pistol from his vest an’… shot ‘im dead!

    Funny how the gossip ‘bout a feller gits around,
    an’ funny how it varies like it does from tale to tale.
    But, friend, as far as I’m concerned…until I know for sure…
    I figure me an’ Buck ‘ll meet up somewhere down the trail.

    Nothin’ Left to Chance

    Sittin’ in this tavern, lookin’ back upon my youth,
    My mind is plagued with loneliness… and doubt.
    Feelin’ pretty foolish for the way I missed the truth…
    And why it took so long to figure out.

    From Abilene to Wichita…San Angelo to Vale…
    We drove the herds across the arid plains.
    The days were long and lonely out there, ridin’ down the trail.
    We rode and slept in heavy snows and rains.

    But every tiny cow town had a place to wet your lips,
    And most – a gal or two to warm your soul.
    The pretty ones would always know who left the largest tips,
    And which of us would hold the biggest role.

    I just figured Shorty had a slightly greater thirst,
    And therefore headed out before the rest,
    But soon I came to understand why he was always first…
    You see… the first to town would get the *best*!

    I was twelve years younger, but it didn’t take me long
    To realize that Shorty’s little trick
    Always left me sorry fer the way I done it wrong.
    Yup…good ol’ Shorty always got his pick.

    Only reason I’ve sat down to write this little rhyme…
    Tellin’ ‘bout the night I played it smart…
    Is just to let you know about the one and only time
    I skipped the “chuck” to make an early start.

    I was watching Shorty drag a razor ‘cross his jaw
    And comb his curly hair when I snuck out.
    I remember feelin’ like I’d pret’ near broke the law
    When I slipped out alone an’ – rode the route.

    There were always close to half-a-dozen pretty girls
    With whom a lonely man could share a bed,
    But only one had ivory skin, fluffy auburn curls,
    And eyes of hazel green… they called her “Red.”

    I’d been savin’ jingle for this very kind o’ night…
    When I would beat old Shorty to the bar.
    Showin’ up that early, well… I thought I’d done it right,
    And everything was goin’ good… so far.

    Strollin’ up to Red I said, “Tonight, I’m extra lonely,
    And I am fixed to pay most any price.
    I’m aware that Shorty likes to be your one-and-only,
    But don’t you think *variety* is nice?”

    “Well, sure,” she said, “and you’re a very handsome lad indeed,
    And I’ll be glad to drink with you… and dance,
    But someone else will have to help you fill your special need,
    ‘Cause Shorty always pays me… *in advance*!” 🙂

    • Roy Eugene Peterson

      Mark, that is a wonderful tribute to Red with a lot of great thoughts. I thank you for sharing that with me/us! FYI: I have published two books of poetry of Texas material from true cowboy stories to humor. The titles are “Texas Stardust” and “Texas Trail Dust” with 100 poems in each. From the Million Barrel Oil Tank in McCamey to the Billy Sol Estes oil tank follies in Pecos, there is a lot here to mull over. I have written several more books on Texas material including: “From Chapultepec to Castle Gap” (The lost treasure of Emperor Maximillian when he took the entire Mexican treasury goods and its likely location), “Treating the Texas Town Too Tough to Cry: A True Texas Tale: The Life and Times of Doctor James L. Cooper,” “Legend of Texas Lawman Sammy Long” (he was killed while on patrol in West Texas, “Where the Horny Toads Play” (Vol I of a trilogy on love past 70,) “On the Edge of Night: Finding Love Again at 70” (Vol II Horny Toads Trilogy), “When Sunsets Glow: Finding Lost Love in Life’s Afterglow (Vol III Horny Toads) .
      “Pansy, The Texas Trapeze Artist” (She was a circus performer whose husband died near McCamey and she stayed at the town character), “Beyond the Back Seat: Coming of Age Nostalgic Treat” (Texas High School fun in poetry), “McCamey Memories We All Share,” and “My Memories of Hardin-Simmons University, 1961-1965.”

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Cowboy TV shows in the 1950s were specifically directed at an audience of children, so you never got a hint of the very widespread prostitution that was a part of the “Wild West.” The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Wild Bill Hickok, The Cisco Kid — all the women in those series were very straight and proper, except for a few adolescent tomboys.

      You had to wait for the coming of “Gunsmoke,” where the regular character of “Miss Kitty” was clearly a saloon gal, but there was never a hint of any impropriety there, because she was the Marshall’s girlfriend and the story line suggested that they would be married some day.

      Many years later, when “Lonesome Dove” series came along, Wild-West prostitution was openly and freely treated.

      • Roy Eugene Peterson

        Joseph, if you go back to my song, “Tucson Sunday Morning,” posted on August 22, 2023, you will find I did not neglect the western relationships. You can read it or listen to me sing:
        “Cantina of Alinda,
        Where I bedded for a while.
        Was it the fiery liquor,
        Or the senorita’s smile.
        Warm nights with soft Alinda.
        Palo Verde scented hair.
        When I awoke it was the dawn,
        And I had to travel on,
        But my dreams will still be there.”

        That is at least suggestive, as you have posited.

  7. Joshua C. Frank

    It’s sad that people have largely forgotten about cowboys and Westerns. I heard that even in 1990, when Back to the Future Part III was made, the actors hired to play the people in the 19th century had been in Westerns, but hadn’t had any opportunities to be in any Western for a very long time.

    I see the conflict in Toy Story between the cowboy toy and the astronaut toy as a metaphor for how the world has changed.

    • Roy Eugene Peterson

      Excellent sharing of the sadness of losing our Western past and the Toy Story metaphor! Thank you for that.

  8. David Hollywood

    This pulls me right back to those exciting matinees on Saturday mornings at our local cinema and occasional Sunday westerns on the TV. It’s a great genre, and you have recaptured it wonderfully Roy. Many thanks.

    • Roy Eugene Peterson

      Thank you so much, David, for sharing you went to those matinees!

  9. Margaret Coats

    Roy, your title is picturesque enough to inspire poems! I remember bits and pieces of what you’re writing about–more TV than songs, because our family was one of the last in our neighborhood to get a television, and even later to buy a record player. Our minds stayed sharp with books, and my father favored Westerns. I later had the opportunity to teach the 1902 novel “The Virginian,” which is a true classic in its treatment of all major Western themes. Happy Trails!

  10. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Great share, Margaret! My great uncle by marriage was W.F. Bragg who wrote a series of Western novels. Amazing you got to teach “The Virginian!” “Happy trails to you until we meet again. Happy trails to you, keep smiling until then!” I just had to follow up on your sign off, since it ran through my mind.

  11. James Sale

    Love it, Roy, brings back a lot of memories, especially Marty Robbins in old El Paso – that song was on the jukebox all the time in my misspent youth spent down the Earl Grey pub in Folkestone’s High Street taking on all-comers at table football! A wonderful set of singers and a great tribute too. Thanks.

    • Roy Eugene Peterson

      James, that was one of my favorite songs as a young boy. Great share on your memory of table football. My song, “Tucson Sunday Morning,” that I sang on my August 22nd post has often been compared when I have sung it at events to that Marty Robbins song. I miss those great old western songs.

  12. Jeff Eardley

    This is a great nostalgic trip for those of a certain generation. We were all child gunslingers over here, we ambushed the local coal trains, we wore Davy Crockett hats, we didn’t walk, we moseyed. Love the title by the way. I have recorded a version of “El Paso” with my friend, Carl Stuart that I will forward to you via Evan. Thanks for a great read.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Jeff, you have reminded me of those times (the 1940s and 50s). Children (both boys and girls) were frequently dressed up in cowboy togs. There was the hat, the leather boots, the decorated shirt, of course the requisite toy six-shooter and belt at your hip. The coonskin cap was particular to a certain period (1956-1959) when Disney’s film “Davy Crockett” was released, and the song of the same name became a nationwide hit.

      One other ancient memory came back to me. Part of the lyrics of that Davy Crockett song went like this:

      Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee,
      Greenest state in the land of the free…
      Raised in the woods, so he knew every tree;
      Kilt him a bar, when he was only three.

      The words “Kilt him a bar” are pioneer-dialect for “Killed himself a bear.” But since I was only eight years old and didn’t know about pioneer-speak, I assumed that the words were:

      Killed in a bar, when he was only three.

      I wondered how Crockett could have become such a big hero if he had been killed at a very young age. And in a BAR! That was a place for big, tough, working-class guys, and kids were not allowed in. My mom laughed hysterically when I brought these doubts to her, and she patiently explained to me about “pioneer-speak” in the American frontier. I was deeply relieved, as my first interpretation seemed impossibly surreal.

      • Paul A. Freeman

        Funnily enough, I was watching the remake of The Alamo last week. Well worth a watch.

  13. Paul A. Freeman

    If a new Western film comes out, I watch it without fail, Roy. I do miss a good Western. In recent years we had a film called ‘Hostiles’ which was very thought-provoking, the remake of The Magnificent 7, which is good (though totally different to the original masterpiece), and of course the series ‘Deadwood’. Not forgetting the comedy, ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’.

  14. David Whippman

    I’m a Brit but well remember classics like “The Range Rider” and “The Lone Ranger.” Likewise the music associated with that genre. So I really liked your tribute.

  15. Jeff Eardley

    “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” on Netflix is worth a watch if its still there.

    • Paul A. Freeman

      Yep, you’re right there, pardner.

      Another Western I enjoyed was News of the World, with, believe it or not, Tom Hanks.

      • Roy Eugene Peterson

        Thank you, Paul. I am not even familiar with that one.

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