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Gail Gardner, cowboy poet and songwriter, was born in Prescott, Arizona. He lived in the same house where he was born for much of his life. He stood about 5'7" tall.
Gardner's father was a successful merchant. So he sent his young son off to Dartmouth College. The boy majored in math and received a Bachelor of Sciences degree. He returned to Prescott and worked in his father's store for awhile. But he soon had his fill of that and hired on as a cowboy in Skull Valley. Some years later he became a postmaster. He often said that the only requirement for being a good postmaster was to get a cowboy and punch his brains out.
His trademark poem was "Sierry Petes," written in 1917. It is also known as "Tying Knotts in the Devil's Tail".
The tall tale was based on a time when he and his saddle partner Bob Heckle were returning from a night on the town. They were riding horseback to their line came on the Dearing Ranch near Thumb Butte, Arizona. One of the drunkened men joked that the Devil would surely get anyone who had been doing what they had been doing back there in town. And the other said that if the Devil tried to get them, they'd rope him and tie him to a black-jack oak tree, just like they did a steer.
The inspiration for the poem came as he was traveling by train from Arizona headed back east to serve in the military during World War I. As the train sped through Kansas, he looked out the window and saw a large herd of fat cattle grazing in a large, green pasture. It was a stark contrast to the half-starved boney-backed cattle that he was used to chasing through the cactus-lined canyons back home. He whipped out a pen and, recalling his experience with Bob Heckle, he composed the famous poem in the club car of the Santa Fe Limited train.
Here's how he wrote it:
by Gail I. Gardner
Away up high in the Sierry Petes,*
Oh, they taken their hosses and runnin' irons
And any old doggie that flapped long yeres,
Now one fine day ole Sandy Bob,
So they saddles up an' hits 'em a lope,
Oh, they starts her in at the Kaintucky Bar,
They then sets up and turns around,
As they was a-ridin' back to camp,
Sez he, "You ornery cowboy skunks,
Sez Sandy Bob, "Old Devil be damned,
So Sandy Bob punched a hole in his rope,
Now Buster jig was a riata man,
Oh, they stretched him out an' they tailed him
They pruned him up with a de-hornin' saw,
If you're ever up high in the Sierry Petes,
Gail Gardner returned to Prescott when World War I ended in 1919. A cowboy friend, Bill Simon, put some music behind the song and began performing it at cow camps and rodeos and such. In 1929 a "singing cowboy" on a radio station in Yankton, S.D. published his song in a songbook, but he had "bitched up the words". Soon there were many versions of it going around, though Gardner tried to stop them.
In 1931 a gent named Powder River Jack Lee took the poem, along with Curley Fletcher's "Strawberry Roan," and published them under his own name in a songbook.
In 1935 Gardner published the poem in Orejana Bull for Cowboys Only, a collection of his own poems ( Library of Congress copyright, entry Class AA, No. 192120).
Sometime in the 1950's he had to have his left eye removed due to cancer, and he wore a black patch over the socket for many years. Then he converted to a pair of eye glasses with a darkened lense on the left.
The home folks seem to have appreciated this old cowboy. They even named a street after him. "Gail Gardner Way."
Gardner's wife, Delia Gist Gardner, also wrote poetry.
CLICK HERE to read a fine article about Gail I. Gardner by fellow Arizona legend Katie Lee. It is based on an interview that she did with him him at his home in Prescott in 1960.
Visit another very interesting page about Katie Lee
I wish to thank author Katie Lee and also the Director of Publishing of the Arizona Historical Society, Bruce Dinges for permission to present this electronic version of Gail Gardner and the Siree Petes and the excerpt from chapter five of Katie Lee's Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle: A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story and Verse.