Little Joe the Wrangler
Western Music
The Lone Writer  

Western Song: Little Joe, the Wrangler

Members of The Western Writers of America included Little Joe, the Wrangler in the list of the Top 100 Western Songs of all time. This classic American cowboy song is written by Jack Thorp in 1898 while helping trail a herd from Chimney Lake, New Mexico, to Higgins, Texas.

Thorp wrote the words on an old paper bag while sitting around the campfire one night. Since he knew the wrangler, he decided to write a song about him to the tune of “Little Old Log Cabin on the Lane.” After Thorp sang the song at a salon in Weed, New Mexico, it began to circulate around the cattle camps. The song is included in Thorp’s 1908 Songs of the Cowboys, which was the first published collection of cowboy songs. It has been sung over and over in cow camps for over a century and has been recorded by many Western singers.

The song is about a solitary orphan who was taken by a group of cowboys and put to work at a man’s job. Little Joe’s horse suffers a fall during a stampede crushing him beneath, and so that is how tragic the life of Little Joe ends.

Popular Recordings

The song has been recorded by artists such as:

  • Marc Williams
  • Jules Allen
  • The Texas Drifter
  • Edward L. Crain (The Texas Cowboy)
  • Leon Chappelear
  • Cisco Houston
  • Merrick Jarrett
  • Harry Jackson
  • Tex Ritter
  • Marty Robbins
  • Lew Childre
  • Arnold Keith Storm
  • The Sons of the Pioneers
  • Nevada Slim
  • Rex Allen
  • Red Steagall and The Coleman County Cowboys
  • Don Edwards
  • Roy Rogers and Emmylou Harris
  • Lesley Schatz
  • Ranger Doug & Riders in the Sky
  • Dom Flemons
  • Chris LeDoux

Listen (Marty Robbins Version)

Little Joe, the Wrangler Lyrics

Little Joe the Wrangler will wrangle nevermore
His days with the roundup they are o'er
Was a year ago last April when he rode into our camp
Just a little Texas stray and nothing more

Was late in the evening when he rode into our camp
On the little Texas pony he called Chaw
With his brogan shoes and overalls a tougher looking kid
You never in your life before had saw

His saddle was a Texas kack built many years ago
An OK spur on one foot lightly swung
With his packroll in a cotton sack so loosely tied behind
And a canteen from his saddle horn was slung

He said he had to leave his home his pa had married twice
His new ma whipped him every day or two
So he saddled up old Chaw one night and lit a shuck his way
He said he'd try to paddle 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
So the boss he cut him out a mount and kindly put him on
He sorta liked this little kid somehow

He learned to wrangle horses and learned to know them all
And get them in at daybreakk if he could
And to trail the old chuck wagon and always hitch the team
And help to cook each evening rustle wood

We had hardly reached the Pecos the weather it was fine
We were camped down on the south side in a draw
When a northern commenced blowing and we doubled up our guards
It took every one of us to hold them in

Little Joe the Wrangler was called out with the rest
Scarcely had the little fellow reached the herd
When the cattle they stampeded like a hailstorm on they fled
And everyone was ridin' for the lead

Amid the streaks of lightnin' there was one horse up ahead
He was tryin' to check the leaders in their speed
It was little Joe the Wrangler with a slicker o'er his head
He was ridin' Old Blue Rocket in the lead

At last we got them millin' and kinda quited down
And the extra guards back to the wagon went
But there was one a missin' we could see it at a glance
Was our little Texas stray poor Wrangler Joe

Next morning just at daybreak we found where Rocket fell
Down in a washout twenty feet below
Beneath his horse his life had gone his spung had run its knell
Was our little Texas stray poor Wrangler Joe

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