Chuckwagon cook most important on the trail
I discussed the chuckwagon cook in an earlier article, and I want to expand on that information a bit.
Stories we have read, or movies and TV shows about the cattle drives usually depict the chuck wagon cook as a gruff and cantankerous sort. He was second in command to the trail boss and demanded the respect of the men. Even the trail boss was careful not to rile him.
The cook was the most important member of the crew and as a result, he was paid more than the others. The men on the cattle drive crew depended on the cook to provide their meals, but he was also the doctor, dentist, banker, barber, as well as mediator for settling dispute among the crew. Also, he was expected to make coffee so strong that it would float a horseshoe.
The crew knew they’d best not get crossways with the cook if they planned to eat well!
The camp cook was normally called “Cookie” or sometimes “Coosie” which was short for the Mexican term Cocinera. His duties included setting up and breaking down camp. He would start the cookfire and have a meal prepared when the trail crew reached camp. His last chore before turning in for the night was to point the wagon tongue north which was used as a reference for directing the herd next morning.
His first job of the day was to rise early enough to have coffee, strong and hot, and breakfast started as the crew rolled out of their bedrolls before dawn. Cookie insisted on certain behaviors in his domain at the chuck wagon.
One did not ride up wind of the wagon because that could stir up dust that would get into the food. There would be no scuffling in the vicinity of the chuck wagon for obvious reasons. No one ate until Cookie sang out “Come an’ get it!”
No one took the last serving unless they were the last one to eat and when you finished your meal, you scraped your plate and put it in the “wreck pan.”
If you got up to refill your coffee cup and someone yells, “Man at the pot!” it fell your duty to refill everyone’s cup. Cowboys went out of their way to stay on the chuckwagon camp cook’s good side because they depended on him in so many ways.
Come an’ Get It
The glow of the moonlight invaded the dark,
While the stars glistened above,
The light breeze stirred cookfire ashes into a spark,
As the ol’ camp cook gave his dreams a shove.
He was older than dirt and a cranky sort,
But he was king of his domain,
You did not mess with him ‘cuz his temper was short,
An’ you weren’t certain he was sane!
He kicked off the covers of an early morn,
Feet complainin’ of the cold an’ more,
But he ignored the discomfort with scorn,
And prepared for his daily chore.
A practiced ear picked out the nightguard’s sad tune,
A song that soothed the milling herd,
Knowing that the long dusty trail would beckon soon,
Awaiting the trail boss’s word.
So, he stoked the fire and got the coffee ready,
The pot held water from the creek,
Put in a fistful of Arbuckle beans slow an’ steady,
Kept that brew from bein’ weak.
The strong hot brew that cowboys were soon to crave,
Put the salt pork on to fry,
Get the beans an’ peppers hot enough for the brave,
As the stars winked out in the sky.
He waited until the sourdough biscuits was done,
“Come an’ Get it,” he’d loudly yell.
They faced a hard day, so they came on the run,
Yes, they came to that salt pork smell.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
Especially on the drover’s trail,
This is the meal that kept them going, come what may,
An’ they pitched in without fail.
He broke camp an’ headed out for new ground,
To set up his camp again,
Then he started the meal at this campsite he found,
Waited for the hands to come in.
After the meal, he’d washed up an’ gathered fire wood,
Then pointed the wagon tongue north,
Crawled in his bedroll to rest as best he could,
Allowin’ his dreams to come forth.
Now, without the effort made by the ol’ camp cook,
Them cowboys would have come up dry,
Most all of them know the trouble he took,
An’ to his skill they’d testify!
The camp cook keeps a feller goin’ strong,
So raise your cup in fond salute,
As the nightguard raises his voice in mournful song,
We thank the Lord for that ol’ coot!
Ol’ Jim Cathey
Thank you Lord for bringing some rain!
Join us at First Baptist Marlin at 11 a.m. Sunday morning.
God bless each of you and God Bless America!