1871 Poem: The Best Cow in Peril

Old Farmer B. was a stingy man.
He keeps all he gets and gets all he can;
By all his friends he is said to be
As tight as the bark on a young birch tree;
He goes to church, and he rents a pew,
But the dimes that he gives to the Lord are few;
If he gets to heaven with the good and great,
He will be let in through the smallest gate.

Now, Farmer B. besides drags and plows,
Keeps a number of very fine calves and cows;
He makes no butter, but sends by express,
The milk to the city’s thirstiness.

“What do the city folks know about milk?
They are better judges of cloth and silk;
Not a man who buys, I’ll vow can tell
If I water it not, or water it well;
If they do not know when where’s the sin!
I will put the sparkling water in”
Thus talked, to himself, old Farmer B.;
How mean he is young and old can see.

One night it was dark, oh! fearfully dark;
The watch dog never came out to bark;
Old Farmer B. in his bed did snore;
When rap, rap, rap, nearly shattered his door;
And a voice cried out with a hasty breath
“Your best cow, neighbor, is choking to death.”

Clipping off the end of a rousing snore,
Farmer B bounded out on the bed room floor;
And the midnight voice was heard no more;
He pulled on his pants he knew now how,
For his thoughts were all on the choking cow;
He flew to the yard like a frightened deer,
For his stingy soul was filled with fear;
Looking around by his lantern’s light,
He found that the cows were there all right.

“I will give a dime,” cried Farmer B.
“To knew who played this trick on me:
May the hand be stiff and the knuckle sore,
That knocked to-night on my farmhouse door.”

With a scowl on his face and a shaking head,
Farmer B. again sought his nice warm bed;
No good thoughts came, they were all o’erpowered;
The little good nature he had had soured.

When he went to water his milk next day,
The midnight voice seemed again to say,
As he pumped away with a panting breath,
“Your best cow, neighbor, is choking to death.”
The meaning of this he soon found out,
For a stone was driven in the old pump’s spout.

Old Farmer B., when he drives to town,
Now meets his neighbors with a savage frown;
They smile, and ask as they kindly bow,
“How getteth along the best cow now?”

From: The Daily Patriot, (Concord, NH) Friday, August 25, 1871. Issue 73,  col E.

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8 Responses to 1871 Poem: The Best Cow in Peril

  1. Bob Leavitt says:

    Who wrote this ? I used to know but have forgot — my dad would recite the whole thing. Certainly it ought not to be published like this without sourcing it ( beyond where it was printed ). Don’t think it’s James Whitcomb Riley, though it has a similar slant.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Thanks for commenting on the poem. I have no idea who wrote it, but we do know that it was in print by 1871. In the ensuing years it was reprinted many times, often in books on elocution, and not once did I see it attributed to an author. If you can figure it out, let me know (but I need to see the primary evidence!)

      • Bob Leavitt says:

        Thanks, Janice … I tried my Bartlett’s ( I SHOULD say, my dad’s Bartlett’s, but to my surprise, was unable to find it there. I’ll keep looking. He may have left a handwritten copy .. in which case, I’d bet it would include author ( IF he knew it ) .. will keep in touch. Bob … “[P]rinted in 1871,” you say: in a book of … ? ( Just curious )


    My mom use to recite this poem, she said she learned it as a child. She had a brain tumor and was losing her memory and I asked her to write it down before she forgot. Long story short she did, but over the years it was lost so I am so thankful that you chose to print it (without knowing who the author was). As I read it back I can hear my mothers voice.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Barbara, so glad that the poem is found again. It is quite old, and I have never been able to attribute it to a poet, only to the newspaper where it was printed. Best wishes to you. Thank you for reading my blog!

  3. Terry McDonald says:

    My father taught me this poem as a child, with slight variation. (I’m from Minnesota) Certainly when poems are handed down orally there will be changes. I memorized it so thoroughly that I can still say it nearly 60 years later. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Janice Brown says:

      Terry, back in the 1870s when this poem was published many newspapers shared stories, poems, etc, much like the Associated Press does today. So I would not be surprised if a copy was published in a Minnesota newspaper. It was fun to find such a curious poem written so long ago! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. Feel free to add a comment with the variation you know!

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