“The Ballad of Sam McLemore”

Sam Summers McLemore (1852-1878) lived a violent and short life as an outlaw and gunfighter in Texas.

The Ballad of Sam McLemore
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

He can’t say how it started
One day he killed a man
It was in self defense
Still they called him the devil’s hand

That one became ten
Songs were sung in saloons
He couldn’t hang up his gun
There was always something to prove

No wife no home no one that he could trust
A gunslinger can’t outrun his fame
He’s called out, draws and falls down in the dust
Shot by a boy who wants to make a name

At first it was thrilling
He was fast as the wind
Those who challenged him
Wouldn’t challenge no one again

Then he was older, they were bolder
And knew he wasn’t as fast
He was still tough but all bluff
A shadow of his past

No wife no home no one that he could trust …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Sam Summers McLemore (1852-1878)

Sam Summers McLemore (1852-1878) lived a violent and short life as an outlaw and gunfighter in Texas.  His father fought and died in the Civil War, leaving Sam at age 12 without much direction.  He occupied his time by practicing drawing and shooting the pistol that he inherited from his father.

At age 18 he was part of a cattle drive, and when some of the wranglers went into town, he was called out for cheating at cards.  He wasn’t cheating but had to defend his honor and killed his first man.  From then on, he found himself having to kill more men who challenged him (see song “The Ballad of Sam McLemore“).

Being a gunfighter was never clearly articulated in his mind, but his life took on a momentum of its own, with him being thrust in the position of defending himself from those who wished to make their own reputations.  For the better part of a decade he lived this kind of life, before taking up with a young prostitute, Sally McCune, rooming with her in the saloon/brothel in West Texas where she worked.

His last fight took place in the dusty street outside this saloon, when he was outgunned by a younger gunslinger and died on that street, age 26.  He did not know it at the time but Sally was carrying his child, Jacob Mac McLemore.

Sally would joke that since her father, a hard shell Baptist minister, was named Horace it was only natural that she took to whorin’.  But once she had the boy, she swore that she’d get out of that life and raise him up right.  And this she did, eventually owning and operating a boarding house in Fort Worth.  This is where Jacob grew up, until he turned 15 and took off for Corsicana when he heard about the oil strike there in 1894.