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Western Song: Strawberry Roan

The Strawberry Roan is a classic American cowboy song first published as a poem and written by California cowboy Curley Fletcher. It was published in the Arizona Record in December 1915 and later published as part of a collection in 1917, 1926, and 1931.

In the early 1930s, the song became famous and in 1931, a cowboy sang it in the Broadway play Green Grow the Lilacs. Members of Western Writers of America have included the song in the top 100 Western Songs of all time.

The song is about the story of a bragging horse-breaker who meets his match in a charming strawberry roan.

Story Behind The Strawberry Roan

Curly Fletcher was a showman and early proponent of western styles of performance- the early herald of modern rodeos. But his passion is poetry and that is how he often refers to himself- as a poet. His work and his passion have taken him all over the country and he is often in Globe. Fletcher and his brother, were in fact, the first promoters of the Gila Valley Winter Stampede. He would perform his poems at performance events and the poem that became a popular song was originally titled The Outlaw Broncho.

The poem that tells about an outlaw horse that no cowboy could ride, hit a cord of audiences and took it to the Broadway musical production, Green Grow the Lilacs, in 1931 that gave it wider distribution. The musical is known by its later title, the award-winning production of Oklahoma. In 1970, John White made a piece for the Arizona Record (Miami’s Newspaper) wherein he outlines the origins of the song. Even though he states that the music itself was worked out by an unknown balladeer, White tracks it to Curly Fletcher and Globe.

However, there was only one person who could give The Roan its tune, and that man was “Tamale Joe”, aka Edward William Hargatt. He was the one who first performed the song at an arena in Globe Arizona.

Popular Recordings

Some of the cover versions of the song are recorded by the following artists:

  • Tamale Joe
  • Marty Robbins
  • The Sons of the Pioneers
  • The Ames Brothers
  • Paul Hamblin
  • The Beverly Hill Billies
  • Wilf Carter

Listen (Marty Robbins Version)

The Strawberry Roan Lyrics

I was hangin' 'round town, just spendin' my time
Out of a job, not earnin' a dime
A feller steps up and he said, "I suppose
You're a bronc fighter from looks of your clothes"
"you figures me right, I'm a good one" I claim
"do you happen to have any bad ones to tame?"
Said "he's got one, a bad one to buck
At throwin' good riders, he's had lots of luck"

I gets all het up and I ask what he pays
To ride this old nag for a couple of days
He offered me ten; I said, "I'm your man
A bronc never lived that I couldn't span"
He said: "get your saddle, I'll give you a chance"
In his buckboard we hopped and he drives to the ranch
I stayed 'til mornin' and right after chuck
I stepped out to see if this outlaw can buck

Down in the horse corral standin' alone
Is an old caballo, a strawberry roan
His legs are all spavined, he's got pigeon toes
Little pig eyes and a big roman nose
Little pin ears that touched at the tip
A big 44 brand was on his left hip
U-necked and old, with a long, lower jaw
I could see with one eye, he's a regular outlaw

I gets the blinds on 'im and it sure is a fright
Next comes the saddle and I screws it down tight
Then I steps on 'im and I raises the blinds
Get outta the way boys, he's gonna unwind
He sure is a frog-walker, he heaves a big sigh
He only lacks wings, for to be on the fly
He turns his old belly right up to the sun
He sure is a sun-fishin', son-of-a-gun

He's about the worst bucker I've seen on the range
He'll turn on a nickel and give you some change
He hits on all fours and goes up on high
Leaves me a spinnin' up there in the sky
I turns over twice and I comes back to earth
I lights in a cussin' the day of his birth
I know there are ponies that I cannot ride
There's some of them left, they haven't all died

I'll bet all my money, the man ain't alive
That'll stay with old strawberry
When he makes his high dive

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