Wednesday, January 30, 2013

POETRY BREAK #13: "Canned Termaters" by S. Omar Barker

Albie's noteHollywood westerns have really dropped the ball in presenting the presence -- and preference -- of canned goods on the American Frontier and 19th century Cattle RangesAndy Adams, in one of his books, remarks that Camp cooks with true fully stocked Chuck Wagons were actually a luxury of only the richest outfits, and most trail hands practically lived on canned goods-- Peaches, Tomatoes and fish like Sardines being particular favorites. That's interesting, isn't it? Somehow we never saw Rowdy Yates or Trampas or Hoss Cartwright open a tin of smelly Kippered Herring... but I think it would have been a cool image somehow.

Richard W. Slatta's The Cowboy Encyclopedia comments, "On the trail, canned tomatoes helped to quench thirst. Philip Ashton Rollins notes that acidic tomato juice counteracted the ill effects of alkali dust inhaled by men on the trail. Even the greenest cook could whip up a batch of 'pooch,' stewed tomatoes mixed with bread and sugar."  The Culinary Arts Museum site notes, "Canned foods were sometimes carried on chuck wagons during cattle drives. On fancier wagons, canned tomatoes were considered the 'greatest prize of all.' Sometimes, cowboys carried cans of tomatoes while on the range to cut their thirst. It can be argued that tomato juice certainly tasted better than water from wagon barrels that often was alkaline and 'wiggling with wildlife.'"

Well, S. Omar Barker, all-time king of the cowboy poets, was NOT silent on the matter. Here, from his 1954 collection "Songs Of The Saddlemen," is a poetic tribute to:

Canned Termaters

by Squire Omar Barker

Them old time western cowboys mostly ate what they could git,

And drank what turned up handy, but I've heard them all admit

They sometimes got so tired of beans, of beef and even 'taters,

They'd purt near swap their saddles for a bait of canned termaters.

About the only stuff in cans them days was pork and beans,

Terrmaters, Eagle milk, and corn, and maybe some sardines;

And none of these was plentiful out where the cow trails ran,

For grub come mighty costly when you bought it in the can.

But sometimes in the wagon bed of big ranch operators

You'd find maybe a case or two of stuff called canned termaters.

Them old time cowhands never heard of vitamins an' such;

They never craved no fancy foods--at least not very much--

But, comin' in from cow-work where the dust was thick and hot,

Them juicy, cool termaters--well, they sure did hit the sport.

You even liked them better than you did dried apply pie,

And, when your outfit furnished them, you sure was livin' high.

Why, even when you et in town, you shocked them restrunt waiters

By turnin' fancy vittles down and eatin' canned termaters!

A-batchin' in the boars-nest, as the line camps then was called,

You often tired of cookin', and your appetite got stalled,

But if up there upon the shelf some canned termaters stood,

You'd "cut a can" for supper, and it sure did savor good.

Some days inside your slicker you would pack a can or two

Tied on behind your saddle. If the water holes was few

You'd "cut a can" and drink it as you jogged along the road,

And swear that canned termaters was the best fruit ever growed.

In town, the morning after you had helped the owl to hoot,

Your tongue would taste like leather from the top of some old boot,

Until you found a grocer that would trust you for a can,

And when you'd cut and drunk it, you was sure a diff'rent man.

That's how them oldsters tell it of the days when life was rough,

When ridin' men was rawhide men, and nothin' else but tough;

When men with hides and stummicks like on ol' bull alligator's,

Was still like kids for candy--when it come to canned termaters.
Mr. and Mrs. Omar Barker (circa the 1950s)



Oscar said...

Nice poetizing. Nothing beats one of 'em canned termaters on a hot summer day.

Neil Waring’s –Western Ramblings said...

Loved the poem. I blogged about foods including canned stuff over on my cooking blog not too long ago. I like your point about never seeing the cowboy stars open a can and eat.
Good stuff!

Albie The Good said...


Thanks for commentin', brothers!

David C Brown said...

Would you believe it!

Albie The Good said...

DAVID: Thanks for commenting. brother.

I gotta say... not long after I posted this, I saw an old western called ALONG CAME JONES with Gary Cooper.

In the first 5 minutes-- no lie-- Coop was seen eating canned tomatoes with a knife!

So... I stand corrected that Hollywood never showed us cowboys with canned goods!