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Great Books about New Mexico: Songs of the Cowboys

By Patricia Hewitt

Songs of the CowboysJack Thorp’s Songs of the Cowboys (Museum of New Mexico Press 2008 Centennial edition, with CD)

Cowboys and vaqueros (a term which likely gave rise to the word buckaroos) are part of an enduring tradition in New Mexico. Born in the Spanish colonial era and nurtured by the open range, the New Mexico cowboy flourished briefly in the late 19th century before the introduction of barbed wire hemmed in his world and threatened his livelihood. The 20th century brought new challenges –World Wars, the Great Depression, mechanization and urbanization. Cowboy poet and real life rancher and surveyor N. Howard (Jack) Thorp traveled New Mexico and its adjoining states for many years to collect cowboy songs and poems before they could be lost to the ever changing modern world. First published in1908 in Estancia, NM by the News Print Shop, this compilation included Thorp’s own original compositions.

His Songs of the Cowboys has been reprinted over the years, most recently in a limited edition ($350) by the historic Palace Press in 2012. The 2008 centennial edition ($24.95), published by the Museum of New Mexico Press, is still in print. With an introduction by music historian Mark Gardner, it includes a CD with performances by Gardner and Rex Rideout. Your patrons are sure to win their next Poetry Slam, or entertain friends and family at their next camp fire sing-a-long if you have this classic in your Southwest collection.  And yes, the limited edition (which won the Carl Herzog Award for Excellence in Book Design) by the Palace Press is still available for serious book collectors!

Patricia Hewitt is the librarian at the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library. She will be writing a monthly book review for The Hitchhiker featuring historical New Mexico books. 

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