The Knot in the Devil's Tail

Pretty Kitty Lee recorded this song
with her rodeo rider husband "Powder River" Jack.

This is a favorite cowboy song that goes back a long way. First sighted in 1917, it was recorded by rodeo star and cowboy singer “Powder River” Jack Lee and his wife "Pretty Kitty" Lee for Victor Records in 1930. The original lyrics came from a poem by Gail Gardner. I heard it first from Cisco Houston and my version is kind of a cross between Cisco's and Jack's singing.

The song has a number of terms that you may not know, so here's a little "cowbiography" by way of explanation.

  • Running iron: an old style branding iron.
  • Dogie: A orphaned or abandoned calf. A hungry calf may develop a distended belly - thus "dough-gut"..."dogie"
  • Dally: Loop of a rope around the saddle horn. Derived from the Spanish "Dale la vuelta."
  • Riata A rope or lariat. Also derived from Spanish "La riata."
  • Swallow forked Earmark mode by notching the ear lengthwise
  • Sierry Peaks Also "Sierry Petes", The Sierra Prieta mountains just west of Prescott, Arizona.
  • Seago A grass rope,
  • Whiskey Row: Montezuma Street in Prescott, Arizona. The Kentucky Bar was the first saloon on the Row. The old Depot House on Cortez Street was the last.

Way high up in the Sierry Peaks
Where the yellow pines grow tall,
Sandy Bob and Buster Jiggs
Had a round-up camp last fall.

They took their horses and their running irons
And maybe a dog or two,
And they 'lowed they'd brand all the long-eared calves
That came within their view.

Well many a long-eared dogie
That didn't hush up by day,
Had his long ears whittled and his old hide sizzled
In a most artistic way.

Then one fine day, says Buster Jiggs,
As he throwed his seago down,
"I'm tired of cowbiography
And recon I’ll jog to town."

They saddles up, and they hits them a lope
For it weren't no sight of a ride,
And them was the days when an old cow-hand
Could oil up his old insides.

They starts her out at the Kentucky Bar,
At the head of the Whisky Row,
And they winds her up at the Depot House
Some forty drinks below.

They sets her up and turns her around
And goes her the other way,
And its Lord-forsaken truth
Them boys got drunk that day.

Well, as they was a headin' back to camp
And packin' a pretty good load
Who should they meet but the Devil himself
Come prancin' down the road?

Now the Devil he said, "You cowboy skunks
You better go hunt your hole,
'Cause I've come up from the Hell's brim rock
To gather in your souls."

Said Buster Jiggs, "Now we're just from town,"
And feelin' kinda tight;
And you ain't gonna get no cowboys' souls
Without some kind of a fight."

So he punched a hole in his old throw rope
And he slings it straight and true
And he roped the devil right around the horns
He takes his dallies true.

Old Sandy Bob was a riata man
With his gut-line coiled up neat;
But he shakes her out and he builds him a loop
And he roped the Devil's hind feet.

They threw him down on the desert ground
While the irons was-a getting hot,
They cropped and swallow-forked his ears
And branded him up a lot.

They pruned him up with a dehorning saw,
Tied knots in his tail for a joke,
Rode off and left him bellowing there
Necked up to a black-jack oak.

Well, if you ever travel in the Sierry Peaks
And you hear one awful wail,
Well you know it ain't nothin but the Devil himself
Raisin' hell about the knots in his tail.