Cowboy poet, author of “Sierry Petes, or, Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail.” Born in
Prescott, Arizona Territory, Gardner attended Dartmouth College (1911–1914), then
returned to Prescott, where he operated a small cow outfit until 1960. He served as
postmaster of Prescott from 1936 to 1957.
His first poem, “The Sierry Petes, or Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail,” was written in
1917 and set to music by fellow Prescott cowboy Bill Simon. It deals in a humorous
fashion with an incident in which Gardner and another cowboy went into Prescott for
what they later described as a “little whizzer,” and met and subdued the devil on their
way back to camp.
Gardner sang this song at an annual rodeo at Jimmy Minotto’s ranch near Prescott in
the 1920s. The next year, he came up with another original song, “The Moonshine Steer,”
concerning the difficulties a couple of cowboys had trying to work cattle after chancing upon a hidden still and sampling its contents. For the next several years, a performance of
a new poem by Gardner was an expected event at Minotto’s gathering. In 1935, tired of
writing his verses out for cowboys, Gardner published twelve of his poems in the booklet
OREJANA BULL for COWBOYS ONLY. The seventh edition, published by the Sharlot
Hall Museum of Prescott in 1987, was still in print in 1955.
Gardner always claimed to have written his poems solely to amuse cowboys. They
continue to serve this purpose. “The Sierry Petes” is the best-known cowboy song among
working cowboys, while several others of his poems have been collected from cowboy
singing and recitation tradition.
White, John I. 1975. Git Along, Little Dogies: Songs and Songmakers of the American West.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 117–125.