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JOE COBB, Part 3, The myth of the Strawberry Roan.
This edition of the story may not have anything to do with Joe Cobb at all, but perhaps it does. Once an outlaw spirit inhabits an area, its influence seems to take hold and grow.
In the little information available about Art Parsons, Joe Cobb, and the 44 Ranch, you regularly see it mentioned that the classic Western poem "The Strawberry Roan" was written on the 44 Ranch about an actual 44 bronc. Some reports state that the poet, Curly Fletcher, was a Texan employed by the ranch.
Not true. Digging out the true story is not easy, and last night I had to pose as a college instructor to get into one research database. Here are the facts: Though some disagree, it is widely accepted that the poem was written by Carmen William "Curley" Fletcher who was born in San Francisco in 1892.
Fletcher, a flamboyant showman, was a bronc twister, rodeo promoter, cowboy poet, and even briefly worked in film. His poem, "The Outlaw Broncho," appeared in print in the Arizona Record newspaper on Dec. 16, 1915, but evidently had been in print prior to this though those publications are not listed.
Fletcher later changed the title of the poem from "The Outlaw Bronco" to "The Strawberry Roan," and once set to music the story swept the country after being sung in the Broadway musical "Green Grow the Lilies." This musical, too, would endure a name change and become the award-winning spectacle, "Oklahoma."
In Fletcher's Outlaw Broncho original, the roan horse has an "X.Y.Z." stamped on its hip. (Why the periods after the letters, I have no idea.)
As the song became popular, regional performers added their local touch. A 1930 recording by Paul Hamblin has a "VD" brand on the hip. In other renditions, a "Double Square Iron" is the brand. This brand, also called "The Double Box," was an established horse brand in Nevada.
When the "44" stamped itself into the lyrics is not known, but there are two Montana connections. One was Powder River Jack Lee. Some say he claimed the poem for himself, others insisted he said The Strawberry Roan was written by Frank Chamberlain at the Laurel Leaf Ranch in South Dakota.
Another yarn has the poem written by a Montana cowboy, Mark Tracy, who was killed in a horse accident in Yarnell, Arizona.
If you beat the bushes, you find other characters tried to take credit.
Fletcher vehemently resisted any claims that he was not the author, and though he never received royalties for the song's many recordings, it is well-accepted today that he's the cowboy who wrote it. But, Fletcher never claimed it was written about a particular horse on a particular ranch.
In today's performances, poets and singers use the "44" version. How did this come to be? No one seems to know, but while Joe Cobb, Art Parsons, and the 44 Ranch are misty clouds on the western landscape, The Strawberry Roan stands as a pinnacle and landmark.
But this American cowboy classic was not written, nor did it find its inspiration, on Timber Creek in Eastern Montana. That assumption is just more of the 44 Ranch myth.
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“Your heart was warm and happy
With the lilt of Irish laughter
Every day and in every way
Now forever and ever after."