On the inside back cover of Cowboy Cody; I included ‘The Cowboy’s Prayer’ as a supplemental item. The story references The Cowboy’s Prayer in the Grande Entry scene.
During rodeos, The Cowboys Prayer is often recited during the Grand Entry, after the National Anthem, just before the rodeo begins.
I have been hearing The Cowboy’s Prayer for my entire life but, honestly, I had never really considered who wrote it. When I made the decision to add it to the back of the book, I blindly assumed that the prayer was public domain and sort of just belonged… to rodeo.
One evening about two weeks before Cowboy Cody was set to go to print; it hit me that perhaps The Cowboy’s Prayer might be copyrighted? I wanted to make sure that I didn’t get myself in any ‘hot water’ legally and decided that if I didn’t know for sure by press time, The Cowboy’s Prayer was going to have to be pulled from the book. This broke my heart, because I felt strongly that it belonged in my story.
I put my Google PhD to work and researched The Cowboy’s Prayer online. I found no indication that it was copyrighted. During these online “research” sessions, it became evident that there were several different versions of The Cowboy’s Prayer out there. Now I also needed to confirm that I was using the original version. I asked around a bit, and everyone that I spoke to didn’t know who wrote it, if it was copyrighted or which one was the original version. Yikes. The overall consensus was that it must be ‘public domain’. I really wanted to agree. It has been used so extensively, by so many, for so many years.
Something was nagging at me to keep digging. I needed to find out for sure.
I messaged Monica Wilson to see if she could help. (Got a rodeo question? Ask Monica) Included in her reply was a photograph of the poem from her records. This exchange with Monica answered one very important question; her version of the poem listed an author – Clem McSpadden. Who needs Google when you have Monica!
After a quick search on the ‘United States Library of Congress’ Website, I confirmed that Clem Rogers McSpadden held the copyright of The Cowboy’s Prayer. There was my answer.
For those who don’t know who Clem McSpadden is…well, he is a legend.
Clem was known for six decades as the ‘Voice of Professional Rodeo’, and enjoyed a remarkable career in all aspects of rodeo. He was a contestant, announcer, rodeo administrator and sportscaster. Clem made his mark here in Canada as the first American to get the call to announce our world Famous Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. If all of this is not enough, McSpadden also served as a United States Congressman.
Rodeo lost a true friend when Clem passed away in 2008, but he sure left us with a treasure. Clem composed The Cowboy’s Prayer in the mid 1960’s. The prayer started a beautiful tradition of opening a rodeo with a moment to pause, and be grateful for the lives we are lucky enough to live. This tradition lives on today and is one of my favorite parts of rodeo.
So now at least I knew this. Unfortunately, I still didn’t have permission to use it in my book. Once again, I sat down at my computer trying to find someone who was connected with the estate of Clem McSpadden. I hovered on the edge of becoming a stalker. I messaged every person I could find online with the last name ‘McSpadden’, and got very little in the way of replies (What?!). Press time was quickly approaching, and I was set to throw in the towel, facing the fact that The Cowboy’s Prayer was not going to be part of my book; I would only use it if I could get permission from the estate.
My editor Dorothy was determined that the prayer needed to be included in the book. Dorothy is one of the most creative, and resourceful people I have ever known, and she certainly demonstrated these qualities in this situation.
Dorothy went to work researching Clem McSpadden online, and discovered that his funeral service was held at the First Baptist Church in Chelsea, Oklahoma in 2008. Dorothy called that church and the Pastor answered the phone. Pastor Mike warmly replied, “Yes! We knew Clem, and his widow Donna McSpadden is still a member here at the church!” The Pastor kindly walked to Mrs. McSpadden’s home to deliver Dorothy’s message.
Donna and Pastor Mike called Dorothy back to chat about the reason for her call. Donna asked Dorothy to have me call her to discuss. After that phone call, Dorothy phoned and left me a very excited message!
As soon as I finished work that day, I called Donna McSpadden. What a pleasure that was for me!
Mrs. McSpadden is a sincere, warm and incredibly quick-witted woman. I described my plans for Cowboy Cody and she was so excited and encouraging about my project. I was thrilled when she gave me permission to publish the prayer. Donna and I shared in the excitement that children would get the chance to learn The Cowboy’s Prayer, which has been a part of rodeo for so long. This was Donna’s way of reaching out to the children, knowing what a special treasure her late husband had created. Donna felt sure that Clem would have wanted her to continue to share it. As we said goodbye, Donna said, “Isn’t it fantastic that a prayer brought us together?”
I have to agree Donna, it is pretty fantastic indeed. Thank you Dorothy for helping to make it happen.
In memory of legendary cowboy, Clem McSpadden 1925-2008