By Janice Dunnahoo
Special to the Daily Record
Can you believe another year has passed and we’re getting ready to celebrate the beginning of another new decade? How fast time goes.
In light of the approaching new year, I would like to share with you a poem written about a cowboy’s New Year’s dance, by N. Howard “Jack” Thorp, which was published in a book called “Songs of the Cowboys” in 1908. This dance took place right here in Roswell. It is fun to imagine what life was truly like in those days through his prose.
First, I will share the poem, then some history about it, written by the late Elvis Fleming, in a Roswell Daily Record column dated Monday, Dec. 14, 1987 and finally, some more information about N. Howard “Jack” Thorp, through my own research.
The Cowboys New Year’s Dance
We were sitting round the ranch house, some twenty hands or more;
Most of us Americans, but a few from Arkansas;
One Dutchman from the fatherland, one Johnny Bull from Leeds.
A Cornishman from Cornwall, all man of different creeds.
They were sittin’ an a arguin’.
Busy as a hill of ants.
How they’d get rid of the money,
They had buried in their pants.
That they’d made by hard cow punching. Working all the year around.
From sun up until sundown,
An’ a sleepin’ on the ground.
Where at night the polecat saunters,
‘round the truck box after grub.
And in passing by your hot roll
Gives your head a friendly rub.
Where the rattlesnake lays dormant,
His fangs are like a lance.
‘Twas with them that I attended
The Cowboys’ New Year’s Dance.
The town was Roswell City,
Old Chaves County seat.
Where they raise fine shorthorn cattle.
That are mighty hard to beat.
Where they send the frail consumptive,
In search of instant health.
And The Hills is just a bustin’
With their pent up mineral wealth,
Where the wells are all artesian,
And flow fish and water too,
Lest so says the Roswell people,
So I sorta guess it’s true;
Where Laughin’ Joe …
Bust up Mulky’s show one day.
By laughin’ at a prayer meetin’;
And Old Abe he went away.
Charles Perry, he was a sheriff
And G. Curry county clerk
Where they caught Bill Cook the outlaw.
And sent him off to work;
Where the Moonbeams on the Pecos
Seem to glitter and to glance.
I received an invitation
To the Cowboys’ New Year’s Dance.
The boys have been invited
And they just come in droves;
The ladies, more numerous.
Had flocked to town like birds;
Old Roswell was just crowded.
There was horses everywhere.
Looked like some long procession,
Headed for a county fair.
Where everything was orderly.
As I remember well.
Invitations were extended
To the Roswell Stone Hotel.
The music was a fiddle, a guitar and a banjo;
And the way those three boys played ‘em.
It was fully half the show.
The women folks sat together
All the boys stood at the door,
‘till the caller commenced yellin’
For just one couple more.
And the music started windin’
And a wailin’ like some hants,
That had come to cast their hoodoo
On the Cowboys’ New Year’s Dance.
The caller was a feller
One of Atkinson’s men.
Who had the reputation of
Once being in the pen;
His outfit sort of gaudy.
Big spurs and conchas bright.
Fringed leggin’s and gold buttons,
Six feet about his height.
He was tall and angular,
An’ a bronco buster right,
An’ at callin’ out the dances
He was simply out of sight.
Soon he commenced to beller.
“Now fellers, all begin;
“Grab your lovely partners
“An’ everyone jine in.“
“First bow to your partners,
“Now four hands cross and change,
“An’ chase those pretty footies
“Once around the range.
“Join once again your partners
“Around the circles prance.”
It was getting interesting.
The Cowboys New Year’s Dance.
“Next dance will be the Lancers,
“Round up your ladies, boys.
“Cut them all to the center
“And never mind the noise.
“Chase your lovely critters
“All into the branding pen,
“Everybody swing everybody else’s girl,
“And swing them once again.
“Dash your line on the nearest filly
“And drag her from the herd.
“Resume your former places,
“And swing her like a bird.
“Now Brownfield strike out in the lead,
“All grand right and left.
“Swing each one when half way round.
“Never mind their hat.
“Now ladies to the center, all hands do se do,
“Right hand in, left hand out,
“Swing and let her go;
“Trail block Jack to your setees,
“For that winds up the lance”
My but it was getting furious,
The Cowboy New Years Dance.
The refreshments come round often,
‘till all hands had their fill.
Past round unceremonious
Like by Bronco Buster Bill.
Though his gait was quite uncertain.
He never lost his feet.
And at complementing ladies,
He was mighty hard to beat.
To close up the nights proceedings
We ragged ‘Turkey in the Straw.’
‘till we wore out musicians
And they could play no more.
We were served with soda water.
Red eye and Pilsner beer,
And the conversation never lagged,
‘‘twas most penetrating clear.
‘en those who never danced before
Would dance with all their might.
‘en the most peaceably inclined citizens,
Went hunting for a fight.
So we saddled up our horses,
Drifted homeward to the ranch.
With a happy recollection,
Of the Cowboy New Years Dance.
To be continued.
Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.