Let’s talk about good cowboy cooking

Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with the quote, “An army moves on its stomach.” 

Probably a truism in many camps, though, Napoleon’s army was required to find their own groceries! But I think you would agree with me that a well-fed group should be more productive. The American cowboy was prone to migrate toward an outfit that had a reputation for providing excellent western fare. And this was usually attributed to the orneriest most cantankerous hand on the range…the Camp Cook! 

Now our outfit was not big enough to have a hand hired just to cook, so that chore fell to my Mom…Mammy, as she came to be called when the grandkids came along. Now she was only “onery and cantankerous” when us youngsters were acting up or she was tired of putting up with my Dad’s foolishness. But, I am here to tell you she could spread that table with some of the best groceries a fellow could swallow down!  

Her biscuits would stand a challenge from the most famous of chefs…but that’s another story. Most ranchers and cowboys don’t consider it a meal unless beefsteak is served. And we were no exception. So, Mammy had developed a reputation for scorching a good steak. Now hold on, I am not talking about a thick medium rare ribeye that has been grilled to meet the discriminating cowboy’s expectations. I am talking about a slab of beefsteak straight out of a skillet! 

She would spread that meat out on the kitchen cabinet, grab a saucer that she kept for this operation and holding it by the edge, beat that beefsteak mercilessly. That folk, was a common practice to tenderize meat. Then she would put it in a plate filled with flour that had been salt and peppered so that the steak was covered on both sides with the flour mixture. 

The flour covered beefsteak was placed in her skillet where she had melted a spoonful of lard that was sizzling just right and soon had a lid clamped over it. Needless to say, it was cooked past medium rare, but when you added her mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy, red beans, and then washed it down with iced tea served in an old tin can, you were in “Hog heaven!” And us youngun’s did a right smart of squirming as those wondrous smells surrounded us while Pappy thanked the Good Lord for this bounty. And folks, Pappy was as bad or worse than a Baptist preacher when it comes to praying, but he would eventually finish and say “Amen!”  

After that meal, you barely had room for generous slab of her world-famous apple pie or, a close second, peach cobbler!  If you have “been there, done that” then you know that a nap in the shade of a tree would likely be next. 

Now, I said earlier, The American cowboy was prone to migrate toward an outfit that had a reputation for providing excellent western fare. Of course, good cowboy cookin’ always includes coffee! You must understand, that of all the things that define the American Cowboy, a decent cup of coffee ranks right at the top, whether it is at the bunk house cook shack, at the cow work chuckwagon, or just a lone cowboy at his own campfire, coffee was king! Pappy liked his “saucered an’ blowed.” Well sir, our Quarter Circle C always had drifters coming around hoping to find work and sample Mammy’s cooking or just get a cup of Pappy’s cowboy coffee.  My Ol’ Daddy would say, “Use lotsa coffee an’ damn little water!”


Cowboy Coffee

No matter where a cowboy rides,

He’s footloose an’ fancy free,

He follows the code of the west,

Like here on the Quarter Circle C.

It was spring time here in Texas,

and the round- up had just begun,

‘Mongst the fellers that had been hired, 

Was this cantankerous ol’ son,


Now his job was shore important,

‘Cuz he was to be the cook,

Oh, it takes a special critter,

Fer this job he undertook.

But he had the reputation,

That always seem to be required,

When a feller took on cookin’,

As a job that it inspired. 


Well he hotted up the coffee,

And pinched some sourdough from the jug,

He had the beans asoakin’,

So we each one grabbed a mug.

‘Cuz in a cow camp it’s shore ‘nuff known,

Coffee should be cooked strong and black,

And anything less than that,

Ol’ Cooky would shore catch flak.


And any camp cook worth his salt,

Would keep a full pot settin’ there,

‘Cuz cowpokes shore like their coffee,

Same as a preacher likes a prayer.

Oft times when a cowboy rode in,

It had been a spell since he’d ate,

He’d ride up to that ol’ corral,

An’ tie his pony to the gate.


An’ he’d look around quite longingly,

With pained an’ wrinkled brow,

Knowin’ that any ol’ grub rider,

Was always welcome to chow.

But what he craved the very most,

Was a cup of coffee strong an’ black, 

An’ when he’d up an’ drunk it,

It would shore take up his slack.


Well that’s how they up an’ tell it,

An’ it’s true to some degree, 

‘Cuz we always want a good cook,

Here on the Quarter Circle C.

© Ol’ Jim Cathey


  “Get down an’ sit, we’ll pour us a cup!”

Remember Salado Cowboy Poetry Gathering May 7th.

 God Bless you and God Bless America












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