Man with the Big Hat

Steven Fromholz

In a little bar in Alberta on a sultry summer day
A cowboy came in off the road just to pass the time away
He pulled a stool up at the bar, he pushed his hat back on his head
He ordered up Canadian Rye then he looked at me and said:
Stories, I could tell you stories about the traders on the plains
Talk about the Frank Slide and the comin’ of the trains
I could tell you stories about the buffalo that roamed
Sing you the song of settlers come out looking for a home

And the man with the big hat is buying
Drink up while the drinking is free
Drink to the cowboys dead or a-dying
Drink to my compadres and me

His shirt was brown and faded, his hat was wide and black
The pants that once were blue were grey they had a pocket gone in back
He had a finger missing from the hand that rolled the smoke
As he laughed and talked of cowboy life he knew it weren’t no joke, he said:
I rode on cattle drives from here to Saskatoon
Ten days in the saddle and weary to the bone
I rode from here to Peace River without a woman’s smile
And the campfire where I cooked my grub was the only light for miles


He rested easy at the bar with his foot upon the rail
As he talked all about the times he’d had while living on the trail
The silence never broken as the words poured from his lips
Just as quiet as the buck knife that rested on his hip, he said:
I’ve seen the day so hot that your pony could not stand
And if your water bag ran dry don’t start counting on the land
And winters, well, I’ve seen winters when your boots froze in the snow
And your only thought was leaving but you had nowhere to go


He rolled one more cigarette then he turned towards the door
I could hear the spurs a-jingling as the bootheels hit the floor
He tighted up his belt a notch he pulled his hat down on his head
As he turned to leave he turned to me and this is what the cowboy said:
The highlines chase the highways and the fences close the range
And to see a working cowboy is a sight that’s mighty strange
A cowboy’s life is lonely and his love life is not the best
But if it had not been for folks like me you would not have no West