Little Joe the Wrangler

An unknown singing cowboy.
Might be Jack Thorpe. Might not be.

'Little Joe the Wrangler' was written by Jack Thorpe in 1898 on a trail drive from Chimney Lake, New Mexico, to Higgins, Texas. The tune is the same as 'Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane' by Will Hayes, 1871.

Thorpe was a Harvard educated lad from a well-heeled Northeastern family. The father was a respected Manhattan lawyer. The family hit on hard times when Jack was nineteen and he went to New Mexico, where he assumed the life of a cowboy. Jack was a lifelong collector of cowboy songs, poetry and lore. He published a wealth of this material in his book "Songs of the Cowboys" in 1921.

"Little Joe" is widely known and there are many great recorded performances by Tex Ritter, Cisco Houston, Marty Robbins and others. There is a parody song about Joseph Stalin called 'Little Joe the Rustler' but the strangest version of all was sung by Marlene Dietrich in the movie "Destry Rides Again." The story was completely transformed: "Oh, he sure did like his liquor; And it would have got his ticker; But the sheriff got him quicker - yeeha!"

Thanks to Andy Carroll, aka Flynt Mishagin, for requesting this song. His daddy, an actual cowboy, used to sing it to him.


It was Little Joe, the wrangler, he'll wrangle never more.
His days with the remuda they are done.
'Twas a year ago last April, he joined the outfit here
Just a little Texas stray and all alone.

Well 'twas long late in the evening when he rode up to the herd
On a little brown pony he called Chaw,
With his brogan shoes and overalls, a harder lookin' kid
Well, I never in my life had seen before.

His saddle was a southern kack built many years ago,
And an O.K. spur from one foot idly hung;
While the hot roll in the cotton sack was loosely tied behind,
And a canteen from the saddle horn was slung.

He said he'd had to leave his home, his ma had married twice,
And his old man beat him every day or two,
So he saddled up old Chaw one night and "lit a shuck" this way
Thought he'd try and paddle now his own canoe.

He said if we would give him work he’d do the best he could
Though he didn't know straight up about a cow.
But the Boss he cut him out a mount and kindly put him on
'Cause he sorta liked that little kid somehow.

He learned to herd the horses and to know them all by name
And to get them in by daylight if he could;
And to follow the chuck wagon and to always hitch the team
And to help the cocinero rustle wood.

We’d driven to the Pecos and the weather bein’ fine,
We camped down on the south side in a bend,
When a norther commenced to blowin' and we doubled up the guard
Cause it took all hands to hold them cattle then.

Well, little Joe the wrangler was called out with the rest,
And hardly had that kid got to that herd,
When them devils they stampeded. Like a hail storm 'long they flew
With all of us a ridin' for the lead.

Between the streaks of lightnin' we could see a horse ahead
It was little Joe the wrangler in the lead.
He was ridin' old Blue Rocket with his slicker o’re his head
Tryin' to check them lead cows in their speed.

At last, we got ‘em millin' and kinda quieted down,
The extra guard back to the camp did go.
But one of them was missin', and we all knew at a glance
'Twas our little Texas stray, that wrangler Joe.

Next mornin', just at sunup, we found where Rocket fell
Down in a washout twenty feet below.
Beneath his horse, smashed to a pulp, his spurs had rung the knell
For our little Texas stray, poor wrangler Joe.

C standard