Broncho vs. Bicycle...


Before Capt. Jack Sparrow, there was Capt. Jack Crawford. I first became familiar with the earlier Captain when I "discovered" some pieces of ephemera related to him in the archives where I worked. Most notable among those was a piece that he had penned called Broncho vs. Bicycle. John Wallace (Jack) Crawford (1847-1917) was a Civil War veteran, western calvary scout, and performer with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. He also dabbled in the art of the word, writing books and poems; it has been noted that Bob Dylan's "Only a Hobo" was inspired by Crawford's poem, "Only A Miner Killed". Crawford's fame with a pen earned him the moniker, the Poet Scout. Many of his poems were drawn from real life experiences, or relate to many of the people he knew during his lifetime, including William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody, and George Armstrong Custer; "Only a Miner Killed" was written to point out the vast contrast between the life (and death) of a person of wealth (Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt), and one of poverty (an unknown miner).


The first that we saw of the high-tone tramp
War' over thar at our Pecos camp;
He war' comin' down the Santa Fe trail
Astride of a wheel with a crooked tail,
A-skinnin' along with a merry song,
An' a-ringin' a little warnin' gong.
He looked so outlandish, strange and queer
That all of us grinned from ear to ear,
And every boy on the round-up swore
He never seed sich a hoss before.

Wal' up he rode with a sunshine smile,
A-smokin' a cigarette, an' I'll
Be kicked in the neck if I ever seen
Sich a saddle as that on his queer machine.
Why, it made us laugh, fer it wasn't half
Big enough fer the back of a suckin' calf.
He tuk our fun in a keerless way,
A-venturin' only once to say
Thar' wasn't a broncho about the place
Could down that wheel in a ten-mile race.

I'd a lightnin' broncho out in the herd
That could split the air like a flyin' bird,
An' I hinted round in an off-hand way,
That, pervidin' the enterpris'd pay,
I thought as I might jes' happen to light
On a hoss that'd leave him out o' sight.
In less'n a second we seed 'im yank
A roll o' greenbacks out of his flank,
An' he said if we wanted to bet to name
The limit, an' he would tackle the game.

Just a week before we had all been down
On a jamboree to the nearest town,
An' the whiskey joints and the faro games
An' shakin' our hoofs with the dance-house dames
Made a wholesale bust; an', pard, I'll be cussed
If a man in the outfit had any dust;
An' so I explained, but the youth replied
That he'd lay the money matter aside,
An' to show that his back didn't grow no moss,
He'd bet his machine agin my hoss.
I tuk him up, an' the bet war' closed,
An' me a-chucklin', fer I supposed
I war' playin' in ded sure winnin' luck,
In the softest snap I had ever struck,
An' the boys chipped in with a knowin' grin,
Fer they thought the fool had no chance to win.

An' so we agreed fur to run that day
To the Navajo Crossin', ten miles away,-
As han'some a track as you ever seed
Fer testin' a hoss's prettiest speed.
Apache Johnson and Texas Ned
Saddled their hosses and rode ahead
To station themselves ten miles away
To act as judges an' see fair play.
While Mexican Bart and Big Jim Hart
Stayed back for to give us an even start.

I got aboard o' my broncho bird,
An' we came to the scratch an' got the word,
An' I laughed till my mouth spread from ear to ear
To see that tenderfoot drop to the rear.

The first three miles slipped away first-rate,
Then broncho began fur to lose his gait,
But I wa'n't oneasy an' didn't mind,
With tenderfoot more'n a mile behind.
So I jogged along, with a cowboy song
Till all of a sudden I heard that gong
A'ringin' a warnin' in my ear,
Ting! Ting! Ting! Ting! too infernal near,
An' lookin' back'ards I seed the chump
Of a tenderfoot gainin' every jump!

I hit old broncho a cut with the quirt
An' once more got him to scratchin' dirt;
But his wind seemed weak, an' I tell you, boss,
I seed he wasn't no ten-mile hoss.
Still the plucky brute took another shoot,
An' pulled away from the wheel galoot,
But the animal couldn't hold his gait,
An' somehow the idea entered my pate
That if tenderfoot's legs didn't lose their grip
He'd own that hoss at the end o' the trip.

Closer and closer come tenderfoot,
An' harder the whip to the hoss I put;
But the Eastern cuss, with a smile on his face,
Ran up to my side with his easy pace -
Rode up to my side, an', durn his hide,
Remarked 'twar' a pleasant day for a ride;
Then axed, unconsarned, if I had a match,
An' on his breeches give it a scratch,
Lit a cigarette, said he wished me good day,
An', as fresh as a daisy, scooted away.
Ahead he went - that infernal gong
A-ringin' "good-bye" as he flew along;
An' the smoke from his cigarette came back
Like a vapory snicker along his track.
On an' on he sped, gittin' further ahead,
His feet keepin' up that onceaseable tread,
Till he faded away in the distance; an' when
I seed the condemned Eastern rooster again,
He war' thar' with the boys at the end of the race,
That same keerless, unconsarned smile on his face.

Now, pard, wh'n a cowboy gits beat he don't sw'ar,
Nor kick, if the beatin' be done on the squar';
So I tuck that Easterner right by the hand
An' told him that broncho awaited his brand.
Then I asked him his name, an' whar' from he came,
And how long he'd practiced that wheel-rollin' game.
Tom Stevens, he said war' his name, an' he come
From a town they call Bosting, in ol' Yankeedom.
Then he jist paralyzed us by sayin' he'd whirled
That very identical wheel round the world.
Wal', pard, that's the story o; how that smart chap
Done me up w'en I thought I had sich a soft snap;
Done me up on a race with remarkable ease,
An' lowered by pride a good many degrees.

Did I give 'im the hoss? W'y, of course I did, boss,
An' I tell you it wa'n't no diminutive loss.
He writ me a letter from back in the East,
An' said he's presented the neat little beast
To a feller named Pope, who stands at the head
O' the ranch where the cussed wheel horses ar' bred.

So, there you have it; like many of Crawford's poems this one has a basis in fact, in real people and events of the times. That "feller named Pope" for instance, refers to Colonel Albert A. Pope, who in the 1890s established a bicycle trust which controlled the bicycle patents in the United States. As a result every US manufacturer paid Pope about $10 per bicycle. His own brand, Columbia, is still around (indeed, my beater bike while in school at UCSB was a Columbia). Pope went on to found the League of American Wheelmen, which as we know was one of the first, and leading advocacy, groups for improved roads.

As for the "consarned Eastern rooster", Tom Stevens was the first person to circum-navigate the world by bicycle, doing so between 1884 and 1886. His story has been written up in numerous places, including the book, "Around the World on a Bicycle", written by himself. Fascinating stuff; in 1889 he led an expedition to East Africa in search of explorer Henry Morton Stanley of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume" fame. So, you might wonder, did Crawford ever meet Stevens? Yes, though the meeting would not have taken place until after the poem had been written. Pope, who was a friend of Crawford, requested that Capt. Jack write and read a poem before the Bicycle Club of Boston, who were to honor Stevens at a special dinner meeting. Thus "Broncho vs. Bicycle was created.

illustration of Tom Stevens from Harpers Magazine

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