Jake Copass – Cowboy Poet

Jake Copass — cowboy, comic, ranch-hand, and poet — was born in
1920 on the flatlands of central Texas. With his parents and seven
siblings, he grew up during the Great Depression, but did not let
hard times dampen his spirits. “The times I thought were the
hardest and most abusive were actually the most valuable of my
life,” he recalled.

The rural outlook of the country provided a perfect classroom
for horsemanship, and with his parents’ encouragement Copass chose
to be a cowboy. But at the age of 20, World War II called him away
from his homeland and landed him in New Guinea, where for two years
he applied veterinary care to 1,600 Army mules. Upon returning to
American pastures in 1945, he found work as a wrangler at the
Alisal Guest Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, where he still works
today. “It’s tough,” explained Copass. “A wrangler’s got to
understand something about both horses and people. We have to get
30 to 60 horses ready by 6:30 a.m.; then we take these people out
riding, who know nothing about horses, and get them back to the
ranch in one piece.”

In 1992, Copass published a collection of cowboy poems in a book
titled It Don’t Hurt to Laugh. His second, published in 1997, is a
memoir called I’ll Be Satisfied. As an author, Copass pokes fun at
city slickers who visit the ranch country, brag of their
horsemanship, and wind up on their behinds in the dust. Copass also
writes about cowboys and their own silly quirks, such as the
five-gallon hat. “It’s his prize possession,” mused Copass. “A
cowboy wants his hat nice. He wants it clean and always creased
just right. Cowboys are crazy.” Yet he enjoys the rigorous cowboy
life that has sustained him in the Santa Ynez Valley since the
1940s. “It was all wide open then,” he recalled. “It was about 1960
when the grapes began coming in, but we all agree that we’d rather
see grapes than houses, anyway.”

Like a proper California cowboy, Copass enjoys a slug of wine on
occasion. In fact, some of his friends make wine to supplement
their cattle endeavors. Copass, however, abandoned his own cattle
business in 1985, and, ever since, has worked full-time at Alisal
Guest Ranch, where city folk come to admire the hills, whack golf
balls, fish the lake, and bumble across the property on

When Copass isn’t tending to clients’ fancies and keeping them
from harm’s way, he may be found writing in his journal at the side
of a country road or reading his work to an audience. He often
reads at schools, where he strives to deliver to children some of
the values he picked up from his elders more than seven decades
ago. Copass also takes gigs at taverns, churches, and social
functions — wherever he is invited. “If you work for nothing,” he
advised, “you’ll always have a job.”


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