Hell in Texas
If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.
Oh, the devil in hell they say he was chained,
And there for a thousand years he remained;
He neither complained nor did he groan,
But decided he’d start up a hell of his own,
Where he could torment the souls of men
Without being shut in a prison pen.
So he asked the Lord if he had any sand
Left over from making this great land.
The Lord said, “Yes, I had plenty on hand,
But I left it down on the Rio Grande;
The fact is, old boy, the stuff is so poor
I don’t think you could use it in hell any more.”
But the devil went down to look at the truck,
And said if it came as a gift he was stuck;
For after examining it carefully and well
He concluded the place was too dry for hell.
So, in order to get it off his hands,
The Lord promised the devil to water the lands;
For he had some water, or rather some dregs,
A regular cathartic that smelled like bad eggs.
Hence the deal was closed and the deed was given
And the Lord went back to his home in heaven.
And the devil then said, “I have all that is needed
To make a good hell,” and hence he succeeded.
He began to put thorns in all of the trees,
And mixed up the sand with millions of fleas;
And scattered tarantulas along al the roads;
Put thorns on the cactus and horns on the toads.
He lengthened the horns of the Texas steers,
And put an addition on the rabbit’s ears;
He put a little devil in the bronco steed,
And poisoned the feet of the centipede.
The rattlesnake bites you, the scorpion stings,
The mosquito delights you with buzzing wings;
The sand-burrs prevail and so do the ants,
And those who sit down need half-soles on their pants.
The devil then said that throughout the land
He’d managed to keep up the devil’s own brand,
And all would be mavericks unless they bore
The marks of scratches and bites and thorns by the score.
The heat in the summer is a hundred and ten,
Too hot for the devil and too hot for men.
The wild boar roams through the black chaparral—
It’s a hell of a place he has for a hell.
The red pepper grows on the banks of the brook;
The Mexicans use it in all that they cook.
Just dine with [one] and then you will shout,
“I’ve hell on the inside as well as the out!”
It is believed John R. Steele of the United States Signal Corps, stationed in Brownsville in the early frontier days of Texas, wrote these lyrics. Date unknown. So as not to give offense, I edited out a common epithet of the time for those of Hispanic descent in the next to last line in the last stanza. Quoted in Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, collected by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1959), 317–18.