Ramsey, Kenneth Melvin [Buck] (1938–1998)

By: Susan Kouyomjian and Laurie E. Jasinski

Type: Biography

Published: December 5, 2006

Updated: September 27, 2015

Kenneth Melvin Ramsey, cowboy poet and singer, was born on January 9, 1938, at New Home, Texas. He was the son of David Melvin and Pearl Lee (Williams) Ramsey. David Ramsey nicknamed his son Buckskin Tarbox when he was born, and he always went by the name of Buck.

As a child, Ramsey attended a two-room schoolhouse in Middlewell, Texas. He came from a musical family and grew up singing four-part harmony in the Primitive Baptist Church. He also attended shape-note singing schools. Buck was born with perfect pitch. He sang in the school choirs, and his music teachers used him as their tuning fork all through his school days. By the time he was in high school, he was singing with a band called the Sandie Swingsters. Ramsey graduated from Amarillo High School in 1956 and entered Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University). He soon left school, traveled the United States, and worked in California and New York. In 1958 he returned to Texas and entered West Texas State College (now West Texas A&M University) at Canyon. During this time he started seriously cowboying and punched cattle around the Panhandle. He continued the cowboy life until the early 1960s, when injuries sustained in a riding accident left him paralyzed from the waist down and bound to a wheelchair. In the 1960s he worked as a newspaper reporter for the Amarillo Globe–News. He made an unsuccessful bid for the state legislature in the Democratic primary in 1974.

Over the years Ramsey cultivated his talent as a poet and musician. Through his writings and music he chronicled cowboy culture and eventually garnered a national reputation for preserving the traditions and lore of the cowboy life. Ramsey began resurrecting the old ranching and trail songs, performing and recording his versions to catalog them for posterity, and critics and colleagues regarded his contemporary cowboy poetry as some of the best in that genre. His recordings of the traditional cowboy songs "Rolling Uphill from Texas" (1992) and "My Home It Was in Texas" (1994) each won Western Heritage Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. In 1993 his epic poem, As I Rode Out on the Morning, was published by Texas Tech University Press. The prologue, "Anthem," was highly acclaimed.

Ramsey's awards and achievements included a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1995, Lifetime Achievement and Best Poetry Book awards from the Academy of Western Artists in 1996, and the Golden Spur Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1997. His performances of cowboy poetry and songs were featured at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles. In the late 1990s Ramsey began recording more than 150 traditional cowboy songs in an effort to preserve them.

He died in Amarillo on January 3, 1998. He was survived by Bette Cave Ramsey, his wife of thirty-five years, and a daughter. In 2002 the Academy of Western Artists named their annual poetry book award the Buck Ramsey Award in his honor. Hittin' the Trail, a two-CD set of Ramsey's recordings, was released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 2003. This work won the 2004 Western Heritage Wrangler Award.

"Buck Ramsey Best Cowboy Poetry Book Award" (www.cowboypoetry.com/buckramseyaward.htm), accessed November 11, 2008. Featured at the Bar-D Ranch, "Buck Ramsey 1938–1998" (http://www.cowboypoetry.com/buckramsey1.htm), accessed November 11, 2008. Houston Chronicle, January 6, 1998. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Music
  • Genres (Country)

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

Susan Kouyomjian and Laurie E. Jasinski, “Ramsey, Kenneth Melvin [Buck],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ramsey-kenneth-melvin-buck.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 5, 2006
September 27, 2015

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