Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

William S. Hart Recites His Poem, 'Pinto Ben'
Actor & Newhall Resident


In this earliest known recording of William S. Hart's voice, the actor (and by now, Newhall resident) recites an abbreviated version of his original poem, "Pinto Ben."

Published in a book in 1919 ("Pinto Ben and other stories" by William S. Hart and his sister, Mary Hart) — and as sheet music, and recited on this Victor record, and recited on the radio — "Pinto Ben" is the story of a pony that gives up his own life to save his master from cattle that are set to stampeding by some foolhardy city men.

This recitation was recorded Oct. 18, 1928, in Camden, New Jersey, by the Victor Talking Machine Co. (which was based in Camden). It was the "B" side of Victor record No. 9297. On the "A" side, Hart recites the poem "Lasca," written in 1882 by Frank Desprez (misspelled Depres), a onetime theatrical writer who emigrated from Bristol, England, in 1877 at age 24 and took up cowboying in Texas. "Lasca" is essentially the same story as "Pinto Ben."

According to a letter dated June 1, 1929, Hart received $267.13 in royalties from the Victor Talking Machine Company as payment in full under a contract dated October 16, 1928, based on 3,562 units sold through April 30, 1929.

Victor No. 9297 was Hart's only Victor sound recording, but he would recite "Pinto Ben" again — the full version this time — on his friend Rudy Vallee's "Fleischmann Hour" radio show on NBC on Dec. 13, 1934.

His next known voice recording was his 8-minute monologue for the 1939 re-release of his 1925 film, "Tumbleweeds."

The full text of "Pinto Ben" follows, as published in his 1919 book.

Illustration by Robert Lynn Lambdin in Bill and Mary Hart's 1919 book, "Pinto Ben — and other stories." Lambdin (1886-1981) was primarily a magazine and calendar illustrator in the 1920s and 1930s.

By William S. Hart

From the 1919 book
"Pinto Ben — and other stories"
by William S. Hart and Mary Hart

Eastern folks called it a tragedy story,
An' tragedy — it rides herd on me;
Fer I know'd Ben, that cow-pony,
An' that pink-nosed Pinto know'd me.

The beef round-up cut out a thousand head,
The craziest critters on the range,
Five years old an' beef to the hoofs,
To trail to Billings an' load on trains.

That end didn't pan hard,
We had the ponies an' the men —
Ever hear of the Chinook outfits?
That's us; Big Dry — N Bar N.

An' Ben, Ben wus boss of 'em all;
So mild an' gentle a thing;
He could beat any outlaw hellin',
Yet the pride of the wrangler's string.

Your loop might foul on a pass,
You might have brush in the way;
But Ben would always sabe
If they run on the rope all day.

Why Bill, — our boss trail foreman,
Segundo Jim, or any o' the men,
Couldn't drift in cattle quicker,
Or read a road-brand better than Ben,

Ben an' me roped fer money once'd;
The saddle-horn snapped with the cast,
But Ben weavered in, missin' every plunge,
Till to the saddle-tree I got fast.

Then he stood meek, his sides still a-heavin',
Him, apologizin' like, fer the break —
Didn't savey watches, he could only look —
With them eyes as big as a plate.

Illustration by Robert Lynn Lambdin. See above.

But I wus huggin' him in a minute,
We'd won out — tied in twenty-eight —
An' fer a little buckin' an' swellin' o' chests, —
Say son — you should seen us pullin' our freight.

You can make talk o' your solid colors;
Your bays, an' blacks — or, gray —
But a fourteen-hand Pinto fer mine,
An' Ben wus a King — work or play.

The range wus way back, a rim o' the sky;
The train a-belchin' blue smoke;
Ahead, a city o' bricks, stickin' high; —
Where we would be sure to go broke.

Segundo Jim a-worryin' a heap,
Me feelin' like a loosened cinch;
An' Ben just tremblin' with fear,
Wus what wus sent with the bunch.

We wus in a caboose an' had nose-paint,
An' could buck up now an' then;
But that freight car warn't no sun-up corral,
An' it sure wus hard on Ben.

I told Ben folks get used to them cities,
But there wusn't no home-feelin' in us pards;
Milk river seemed eight million miles
From them there Chicago stock yards.

A thousand cattle wus signed fer,
Us not knowin' where they wus to go —
Would Eastern men think less o' dollars,
If they'd watched them cattle grow?

We couldn't savey their ways, —
Didn't try to then, — by an' by,
'Long comes a clerk-feller, sayin',
"You're done — when they're in the big pen."

When I go back to that minute,
The world seems to stand right still:
We wus to drive through a chute to the biggest pen
An' the cattle wus commencin' to mill:

Horns an' hoofs wus beatin' the air,
As they bellowed their fear-ragin' cries;
While out o' that bedlam, an' cloud o' dust,
Glared them frightened an' blood-shot eyes.

Jim and me's cussed many times since,
Why didn't we tear out their throats?
They didn't know range-bred cattle,
From a herd o' mountain goats.

A locoed coyote called a man,
Trailed by a second an' third,
Commenced shoutin' an' wavin' their arms,
Right at the back o' the herd.

Crack! went Jim's forty-five from the bank,
An' I yanked my smoke-machine, —
The whole thousand head wus comin' like hell,
Straight into that chute ravine!

If I could only make a talk,
Of things as happened right then,
I could tell o' the greatest thing livin':
Just a simple cow-pony, Ben.

As I touched the saddle, he was at 'em
As though just a prairie prank —
No spur a-tearin' his belly,
Or quirt a-burnin' his flank.

He dashed an' whirled at that maddened herd,
While I fanned the old gun — but no use —
On they come crashin' — a-rippin' up earth,
Blind fury an' hell all turned loose.

When I swung his head, he know'd,
An' lengthened into that lightnin' stride,
We could only live while out in the lead,
Four lengths! — it wus sure our death ride.

God! What's that out in front?
A gate, — iron bound — rearin' high!
A screamin' neigh — an' Ben flattened —
An' I know'd he'd make it or die.

Them lean muscles tightened, an' he cleared it clean,
The scorch of them breaths wus behind,
Pardners, I'd cash in my checks 'thout a new deal,
If another look from Ben I could find.

When that sea o' cattle stopped comin',
They wus piled up a mountain high;
I sat in their blood, Ben's head in my lap,
A-listenin' to his last sigh.

He wus an ace, never whimpered once'd,
Though he know'd he wus goin' to fail
To go back to them Plains where men live an' breathe,
An' that we must soon hit the back trail.

Then the greatest light I ever see'd,
Come into that Pinto' s eyes;
He pulled up them poor broken laigs,
An' tried to stand, — an' died.

Reckon some o' that blood come out o' my heart,
This heart that Ben had won,
So long, Ben — all in a day's work!
So long — you Son of a Gun.

LW2341: Digitized 2013 by David Veal from original Victor record; record acquired circa 2006 by Leon Worden.
By William S. Hart


Recitation 1928
(Short Version, Bad Audio)


Acknowledgement of Royalties 1929


Recitation 1934
(Full Version, Good Audio)

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