Chittenden, William Lawrence (1862–1934)

By: Shay Bennett

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 19, 2019

William Lawrence (Larry) Chittenden, known as the poet-ranchman of Texas, son of Henry and Henrietta (Gano) Chittenden, was born on March 23, 1862, in Montclair, New Jersey, and educated in Montclair schools. As a young man he worked in his family's dry goods store and as a New York newspaper reporter. In 1883 Chittenden borrowed fifty dollars and made his way to Texas as a traveling dry goods salesman. To help pay his way he sent articles back to New York newspapers. In 1884 he visited Jones County to look over some land owned by his family and decided that ranching could be a profitable venture. Three years later he went into partnership with his uncle, former New York congressman Simeon B. Chittenden, and established a ranch at the foot of Skinout Mountain, seven miles northwest of Anson.

After his uncle's death in 1889, Chittenden bought the estate's ranch interest and further developed it. He began to write poetry and, according to legend, inspired by a comely San Angelo lass, wrote "The Odd Fellow's Ball" in 1885. His best-known poem, "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball," was first published in 1890 in the Anson Texas Western. It has been reprinted and anthologized many times since. Anson citizens staged a show called the Cowboys' Christmas Ball in 1934, and the poem has been reenacted annually since. G. P. Putnam's sons published a collection of Chittenden's Texas poems, Ranch Verses, in 1893. The book went through sixteen editions and earned the author the sobriquet "poet-ranchman." Chittenden moved from Texas to Bermuda in 1904, and, in 1909, Putnam's published Bermuda Verses. Some years later Lafferty's Letters was published. Chittenden's verse appeared in many periodicals throughout the country.

During his last years Chittenden had a home in Christmas Cove, Maine, where he began and served as sole financial supporter of a public library consisting of books autographed by their authors. He also founded the Children's League, a day nursery and fresh-air and convalescent home for underprivileged children. Chittenden never married. He died on September 24, 1934, in a New York hospital after undergoing surgery and was buried in Rosedale Cemetery, Montclair, New Jersey.

Hybernia Grace, "Larry Chittenden and West Texas," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 13 (1937). National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 16. New York Times, September 25, 1934. Jim Bob Tinsley, He Was Singin' This Song (Orlando: University Presses of Florida, 1981).

  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Poets
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Shay Bennett, “Chittenden, William Lawrence,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 19, 2019