A Seagoing Cowboy Song and a Poem

An email “in box” often brings surprises when one is considered an expert on a topic. Usually, a request for information. However, a little over three months ago I received an email that made my day. Mennonite singer-songwriter Tim Shue wrote, “Someone gave me a poem by a Willard L. Bontrager entitled ‘An Ode to Thirty-Two Cowboys’ in hopes that I would eventually write a song about it.” Some 12 years later, the deed has been accomplished.

The song, “Cowboys at Sea,” sung by Tim, appears on the recently released CD* of the Honeytown band of which Tim is a part. Tim has generously granted me permission to share it on my website. Click here to listen to this song, inspired by Bontrager’s poem below.

Willard L. Bontrager traveled to Trieste, Italy, on the S. S. Morgantown Victory with a load of horses for Yugoslavia, departing Newport News, Virginia, December 2, 1946.

The S. S. Morgantown Victory loading in Newport News, Virginia, December 1946. Photo credit: Hartzel Schmidt.

Thirty of the thirty-two cowboys on the S. S. Morgantown Victory, December 1946. Photo courtesy of Vernon Yoder.

Cowboy foreman Willard Evans and cowboy Willard Bontrager, December 1946. Photo credit: Hartzel Schmidt.

An Ode to Thirty-Two Cowboys
By Willard Bontrager
All names are purely fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The Author.
1
Thirty-two cowboys sailed the seas;
Started out brave as ever you please
These brave cowboys hit the sack,
With nary a tho’t of turning back
2
Thirty-two cowboys got up the next morn,
Sorry that they had ever been born.
These brave cowboys lined the rail
Heaving too much for that little rail.
3
Thirty-two cowboys now morbid and weak
Went to their work very quiet and meek;
They watered their stock and pulled their hay,
Then went to work putting slings on a bay.

Morgantown Victory cowboys pulling up hay. Photo credit: Hartzel Schmidt.

4
Thirty-two cowboys sailed into the Med.
Found it not as they had read.
This inland sea–this nice smooth sea
Was lashed by wind–rough as could be.
5
Thirty-two cowboys hit the port
Acted as if they should have escort.
Most searched the town for Souvenir;
A few went to the bar for a drink of beer.
6
Thirty-two cowboys back at sea
Getting homesick as they could be,
Spent Christmas Day out in the deep,
Dreamt of home while fast asleep.
7
Thirty-two cowboys led by Gene.
His special we found was not so clean.
Roused his foremen at half past ten
To work on horses he needed men.
8
Thirty-two cowboys–two nite watch
When not sea sick, they were top notch.
They called the foremen out of bed
After the horses were nearly dead.
9
Thirty-two cowboys loved to mock
The man who called himself a doc.
In Number Four he made a bad guess,
Gave a dead horse a sling to caress.
10
Thirty-two cowboys massaging legs
Grumbling do what the doctor begs.
Pares Shreiner, our best Masseur,
Massaged the legs but couldn’t cure.
11
Thirty-two cowboys and their wild horse;
She was from the west and couldn’t have been worse.
She was in a sling for many a day,
Until found one morning full of decay.

Disposing of a dead horse from the Morgantown Victory, December 1946. Photo credit: Hartzel Schmidt.

12
Thirty-two cowboys–one was young Shantz
Just grew out of his knee-length pants.
He was our mess man’s pride and joy.
He found him a very understanding young boy.
13
Thirty-two cowboys with sleepy Paul
Who “Eggs Up” for supper did call.
He had just risen from his bunk,
And must have been feeling pretty punk.
14
Thirty-two cowboys lost 93 head
Which was not the fault of Kansas “Red”,
He was a good man with that lasso of his
And really knew that cowboy Biz.
15
Thirty-two cowboys–not one a poet
This isn’t good and don’t we know it!
But we tried to tell of our trials and woes
Of which we had plenty as each of us knows.

 

*Anyone wishing to purchase the Honeytown CD, “Good Enough,” can contact Tim Shue at 330-857-1115 or timmydshue (at) gmail (dot) com. Other songs on the album include “Strings Alive!,” “I Can’t Stand Up Alone,” “To Think Like a Tree,” etc.

3 thoughts on “A Seagoing Cowboy Song and a Poem

  1. My father,Elmer B. Steiner, was also on the S.S. Morgantown Victory which traveled to Trieste. I have a notebook, given to him by his mother, in which he copied down this poem during this trip. I have a photo of him, on the deck of the S.S. Morgantown Victory, at the ship’s wheel. This is the first I have seen the photos which you have posted on this site. Thank you. I would love to purchase a copy of the crew photo.
    Thanks for your interest and care of this piece of history.

    Like

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