Although absent from Hollywood portrayals of the old West, homosexuality was surely a feature of life on the frontier. “The West,” observe John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman in their history of sexuality, “provided extensive opportunities for male-male intimacy. Some men were drawn to the frontier because of their attractions to men.” Badger Clark was born in 1883 and grew up in Deadwood, South Dakota. His collection of western poems, Sun and Saddle Leather, was not published until the second decade of the 20th century. But the following verse about “The Lost Pardner” suggests a continuing—but largely forgotten—gay presence in the American West of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The Lost Pardner
I ride alone and hate the boys I meet.
Today, some way, their laughin' hurts me so.
I hate the steady sun that glares, and glares!
The bird songs make me sore.
I seem the only thing on earth that cares
Cause Al ain’t here no more!
And him so strong, and yet so quick he died,
And after year on year
When we had always trailed it side by side,
He went—and left me here!
We loved each other in the way men do
And never spoke about it, Al and me,
But we both knowed, and knowin' it so true
Was more than any woman’s kiss could be.
What is there out beyond the last divide?
Seems like that country must be cold and dim.
He’d miss this sunny range he used to ride,
And he’d miss me, the same as I do him.
It’s no use thinkin'—all I’d think or say
Could never make it clear.
Out that dim trail that only leads one way
He’s gone—and left me here!
The range is empty and the trails are blind,
And I don’t seem but half myself today.
I wait to hear him ridin' up behind
And feel his knee rub mine the good old way.
Source:Badger Clark, Sun and Saddle Leather, 3rd ed. (Boston: Richard Badger, Gorham Press, 1919). Reprinted in Jonathan Katz, ed, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A (New York: Avon Books, 1976), 769–70.