Last week, the Poetry Foundation published an essay I wrote about cowboy poetry.

The thing I was most excited about in the writing of this article is the discovery (thanks to the good folks at Horizon Books) of a poem from 1892 titled "Jeff and Joe. A True Incident of Creede Camp, Colorado" that was published in an 1897 collection of cowboy poems titled Jim Marshall's New Pianner and Other Western Stories by William Devere, the self-described "Tramp Poet of the West." The poem is an exceptional artifact. Devere writes of a pair of cowhands he knew at Creede Camp:

Jeff, yer see, thought well of Joe—
Knowed him thirty years or so,
Pal'd together down below.
Joe liked Jeff and Jeff liked Joe,
An' through all the changin' years,
Sheered each other's smiles and tears.

Worked together, tooth and nail,
Punchin' cattle up the trail;
Dealt the old thing; tackled bluff;
Each one blowed the other's stuff,

The cowboys enjoy a fairly open, long-term committed homosexual relationship. Joe gets sick and dies, after being assured by Jeff that he lived a good life, as a cowboy should, and that there'll be no "gospel sharks" preaching or praying at his funeral. Devere pays tribute to the grieving Jeff:

An' as for Jeff—well, I may say,
No better man exists to-day.
I don't mean good the way you do—
No, not religious—only true.
True to himself, true to his friend;
Don't quit or weaken to the end.
An' I can swear, if any can,
That Jeff will help his fellow man.
An' here I thank him—do you see?
For kindness he has shown to me.
An' This I'll say, when all is o'er,
An' Jeff has crossed to t'other shore,
I only hope that you and me
May stand as good a chance as he.

The last stanza is Devere's statement on Jeff and Joe's relationship and repudiation of all those people—especially religious people—who would dare to judge them. People who claim that homosexuality is against American traditions need to read this poem. People who claim that America has always been a conservative, religious country need to read this poem. I've published it as a Google Document webpage, and I hope you'll read it and pass it on. You can read the whole of Jim Marshall's New Pianner on Google Books or download the book for free at the Internet Archive.