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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Brokeback Mountain: The Prequel

Posted by on Tue, Apr 13, 2010 at 11:51 AM

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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.

 

Comments (39) RSS

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Rotten666 1
Can't two dudes love each other without being gay?
Posted by Rotten666 on April 13, 2010 at 12:07 PM · Report this
john t 2
Did you read the poem?
Posted by john t on April 13, 2010 at 12:10 PM · Report this
You Look Like I Need A Drink! 3
"Joe liked Jeff and Jeff liked Joe"
"Pal'd together down below"
"Each one blowed the other's stuff"

Well that's just dirty talk!
Posted by You Look Like I Need A Drink! on April 13, 2010 at 12:13 PM · Report this
Mary P. Traverse 4
Thanks for finding this, Paul.
Posted by Mary P. Traverse http://dinosaurnews.tumblr.com on April 13, 2010 at 12:15 PM · Report this
5
Well, two homosexual cowboys certainly PROVE that America is not, and never has been, a conservative religious country.
Obviously we need to outlaw religion and outlaw conservatism and make everybody get a gay marriage.
Yippy Yi Yo!!!
Posted by Congratulations! You Win!! on April 13, 2010 at 12:20 PM · Report this
6
have you ever read "Gay New York" by George Chauncey?
Posted by drivel on April 13, 2010 at 12:20 PM · Report this
Frau Blucher 7
Paul - though I will agree with you, that those claiming America has always been a conservative, religious country should read this, it would matter not. Like anything else "gay," they simply ignore facts and still believe there's something not right with gays. Stubborn and ignorance. An ugly human condition for so many.

Btw - great poem, all the same. Thanks for sharing.
Posted by Frau Blucher on April 13, 2010 at 12:42 PM · Report this
8
7
no no fraulein-
we're convinced!
halejujah!
we've seen The Light!
in fact,
in the interest of historical accuracy
we demand that the nation be renamed:
the "HomoLiberal Qunited States of Gaymerica"
Posted by not a conservative, religious country on April 13, 2010 at 12:51 PM · Report this
You Look Like I Need A Drink! 9
The anencephalic leotard @ #5

Bitter a bit? The point is that gay/homos/lesbians have been there as long as humans have existed and they will continue to exist long after you have become a moldering pile of ashes. All the "conservative and religious" will never be able to eradicate teh gaes.

In the pre-European cultures of the Americas the 'gay' members were considered healers and visionaries and rather than referred to in a derogatory way they were called dreamwalkers, because they believed that they were able to see into the future and bring back what they learned into the present.

Why do you think most fashion designers and trend-setters are men?

Oh, and fuQk you...
Posted by You Look Like I Need A Drink! on April 13, 2010 at 12:55 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 10
This proves America has always been a religious, conservative country. This also proves there have also been accepting, liberal, artists.

Where's the news?

Other than that, an interesting find. Yay!
Posted by TheMisanthrope on April 13, 2010 at 12:58 PM · Report this
boxofbirds 11
Thanks, Paul!
Posted by boxofbirds on April 13, 2010 at 12:58 PM · Report this
12
We need to get pollsters up to date.
Gallup must be forbidden
from asking Americans if they are Conservatives-
(this is not a conservative country, after all)
The 40% of Americans who self identify as Conservative
in the future will have to choose between
Liberal
More Liberal or
HomoLiberal...
Posted by Margin of Error on April 13, 2010 at 1:18 PM · Report this
13
9

Yeah, teh gey has been around at least as long as Sodom (speaking of moldering pile of ashes....)-

bitter?!
Moi?!?
au contraire, mon frere-
we are very impressed.

we thought Nothing could top the cowboy story
but the visionary fashion designer thing has our head swimming.....
Posted by Religious Conservatives Anonymous on April 13, 2010 at 1:29 PM · Report this
You Look Like I Need A Drink! 14
@ 5,8,12 and 13 (all the same bible molesting troll- not fooling anyone douchebag)

You bible thumpers clearly take things too literally.

Need to take a lesson in sarcasm...
Lesson # 1 "Why do you think most fashion designers and trend-setters are men?' = SARCASM.

Yes S&G existed archeologically, but can you PROVE that GOD destroyed it because of the gays?
And if they were gay, why did Lot offer his virgin daughters to the men of S&G for sex?
And after said destruction of S&G why did Lot get drunk and impregnate both his daughters?

This, the most god-like family of S&G...

Posted by You Look Like I Need A Drink! on April 13, 2010 at 1:45 PM · Report this
McGee 15
Sodom? Sodom is no more real than the Bottle City of Kandor.
Posted by McGee on April 13, 2010 at 1:46 PM · Report this
starsandgarters 16
Aw, yay! Thanks Paul!
Posted by starsandgarters on April 13, 2010 at 1:59 PM · Report this
17
15

not any more, it's not ;)
Posted by fireandbrimstone on April 13, 2010 at 2:02 PM · Report this
18
14

the point is not to fool, my good man-
it is to enlighten...

You tight ass homos clearly take things too literally.

(and need to take a lesson in sarcasm...)
Posted by Lot was a bad bad man..... on April 13, 2010 at 2:08 PM · Report this
rob! 19
This reminds me yet again of the circa-Brokeback Mountain cartoon by George Booth in the New Yorker.

Two ancient cowboys are rocking on a front porch. The one asks the other: "Were we gay?"
Posted by rob! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZBdUceCL5U on April 13, 2010 at 2:09 PM · Report this
20
Paul found some verse of the Old West
And quoted one that he liked best.
From this he made a timely point
An' put some noses out of joint.
There's them's that just don't want to hear
A challenge to beliefs held dear
Not logic, fact, nor truth applies
They prefer their cherished lies.
Posted by thatsnotright on April 13, 2010 at 2:17 PM · Report this
You Look Like I Need A Drink! 21
@14

"(and need to take a lesson in sarcasm...)"

I think you have confused the word sarcasm in your post with word stupidity or ignorance...

And what's all this racket you're makin' bout' "tight ass homos"?

Yes, and thank you!

Posted by You Look Like I Need A Drink! on April 13, 2010 at 2:40 PM · Report this
Irena 22
1892. Amazing. What else is in that book?
Posted by Irena on April 13, 2010 at 3:00 PM · Report this
23
21 you're being too hard on yourself....
Posted by and/or on April 13, 2010 at 3:05 PM · Report this
Sloggy McGee 24
am I the only one that actually reads that as two straight male friends who loved each other? I don't get any overt homosexuality from it. Am I just missing it or are you reading way too much into it? Either way, I like the poem.
Posted by Sloggy McGee on April 13, 2010 at 3:12 PM · Report this
You Look Like I Need A Drink! 25
@18

"(and need to take a lesson in sarcasm...)"

I think you have confused the word sarcasm in your post with word stupidity or ignorance...

And what's all this racket you're makin' bout' "tight ass homos"?

Yes, and thank you!
Posted by You Look Like I Need A Drink! on April 13, 2010 at 3:23 PM · Report this
Chris in Vancouver WA 26
@ 24 - Could go either way.
Posted by Chris in Vancouver WA on April 13, 2010 at 3:55 PM · Report this
McGee 27
@17 Nor was it ever. Sodom only existed in the same place as Zenn-La, Bedrock, Middle-Earth, and Sesame Street.
Posted by McGee on April 13, 2010 at 4:03 PM · Report this
Posted by You Look Like I Need A Drink! on April 13, 2010 at 4:26 PM · Report this
McGee 29
@28 *Two thumbs down and a raspberry*
Posted by McGee on April 13, 2010 at 4:48 PM · Report this
LogopolisMike 30
Wow. This blows my mind.

And yes #6, I've read George Chauncey's book. In fact, I've met him and fucked at least one of the guys thanked in it.

But still.... wow. Thanks, Paul. This poem still kinda blows my mind.
Posted by LogopolisMike http://logopolis.typepad.com on April 13, 2010 at 5:51 PM · Report this
Rotten666 31
@24 I agree. There is nothing in the poem to suggest that these guys are gay.
Posted by Rotten666 on April 13, 2010 at 7:19 PM · Report this
32
"Joe liked Jeff and Jeff liked Joe"
"Pal'd together down below"
"Each one blowed the other's stuff"

If we had 100% certainty that these phrases carried the sexual connotation in 1892 as they do over 110 years later (which I find highly doubtful), then you might have something.

Until then, I think you're reading a bit much into it. I'm almost 100% certain the last line doesn't mean what everyone here thinks it does.

That would be like hearing the last line of the Flintstones cartoon opening sequence ("we'll have a gay old time!") and thinking that Hannah Barbara was trying to indoctrinate homosexual culture in our youth or some nonsense.

Posted by Prattle In Seattle on April 14, 2010 at 10:34 AM · Report this
33
@20

Paul found a verse of the Old West
And quoted one that he liked best.
He then injected his own meaning,
Since scarcely was there one for gleaning,
Except that dated, cowboy talk
Might start folk thinkin' they loved the cock.
That ain't to say that it t'weren't so,
but that we'll surely never know.
The Stranger's readers ought scrutinize,
Before they hungrily swallow lies.
Posted by Prattle In Seattle on April 14, 2010 at 10:49 AM · Report this
dlauri 34
@32: Okay, I'll bite. What do you think people in 1892 meant when they said one man "blowed the other's stuff"? I'm seriously asking. What do you think?
Posted by dlauri http://www.davidlauri.com on April 14, 2010 at 7:14 PM · Report this
35
@34

That's exactly my point. We don't know, and so all we can do is speculate.
Posted by Prattle In Seattle on April 15, 2010 at 11:07 AM · Report this
36
It may be just two straight guys, but - although we are not sure what lines like "blowed each other's stuff" mean, given the last part of the poem (repudiation by the religious, etc), chances are that the poem does indeed refer to two gay cowboys.

If this was not two gay guys, then it would almost be as if the poet didn't want anyone to understand the poem, which seems kinda crazy. I mean, you wouldn't make a poem cryptic to the point where the majority of people infer a meaning different from what you intended. Regardless of what cowboys back in 1892 thought of "homosexuality" it would be naive to assume they didn't know the existence of the phenomenon.
Posted by TVS on April 18, 2010 at 12:43 PM · Report this
37
I do feel it necessary to add some historical context, in that this poem was written about two famous outlaws, Jeff "Soapy" smith and Joe Simon, longtime friend. I think this is more refuting the many many journalists and politicians at the time who decried Jeff smith as a public menace, when his main reputation was for fixed gambling and other confidence schemes in mining towns across the Rocky mountain mining camps and in Denver. Considering Jeff was very much in love with his wife, renowned for his defense of her, I think this poem was meant more as a celebration of the "Robin-hood"-esque role Smith really played in towns where most decried him as a gang lord opposed to all that is American lawful morality. I only know this though because my thesis happens to center around this historical figure.....I hope I don't come off as a know-it-all, just had to throw that out there....Either way, this poem is still so touching, no matter how you look at it.
Posted by So deep in research on March 14, 2011 at 11:58 PM · Report this
38
I am a great grandson of "Jeff," Jefferson Randolph Smith II, alias "Soapy" Smith, the infamous confidence man and crime boss. I also wrote Jeff's biography, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel. Lol, no, Jeff and Joe were not gay. They were best of friends and crime associates in Denver and Creede. In fact, they weren't even cowboys. William DeVere knew both men in Denver and Creede and was taking literary license. For more on "Soapy" Smith and Joe Simmons you might enjoy going to my sites.

Jeff Smith
http://www.soapysmith.net
http://www.soapysmiths.blogspot.com
Posted by Soapy Smith on April 6, 2011 at 2:32 PM · Report this
39
Oh! Soapy Smith (Jeff Smith) here again. For those in Seattle, go take a closer look at "Sylvester" the petrified man in the Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe. In 1892 it originally belong to "Jeff" of the poem, Jeff and Joe. The story is in my book, as well as the story and details around the poem. You can find the book at the Magic Shop in the MarketPlace. Tell them Jeff sent you...

Jeff Smith
Posted by Soapy Smith on April 6, 2011 at 7:58 PM · Report this

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