"The Coward of the County" as written by Roger Dale Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler....
Everyone considered him the coward of the county
He'd never stood one single time to prove the county wrong
His mama named him Tommy, but folks just called him yellow
Something always told me they were reading Tommy wrong

He was only ten years old when his daddy died in prison
I looked after Tommy, 'cause he was my brother's son
I still recall the final words my brother said to Tommy
"Son, my life is over, but yours has just begun"

"Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done
Walk away from trouble if you can
It won't mean you're weak if you turn the other cheek
I hope you're old enough to understand
Son, you don't have to fight to be a man"

There's someone for everyone, and Tommy's love was Becky
In her arms, he didn't have to prove he was a man
One day while he was working, the Gatlin boys came calling
They took turns at Becky, n'there was three of them

Tommy opened up the door, and saw his Becky crying
The torn dress, the shattered look was more than he could stand
He reached above the fireplace, and took down his daddy's picture
As the tears fell on his daddy's face, he heard these words again

"Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done
Walk away from trouble if you can
Now, it won't mean you're weak if you turn the other cheek
I hope you're old enough to understand
Son, you don't have to fight to be a man"

The Gatlin boys just laughed at him when he walked into the barroom
One of them got up and met him halfway 'cross the floor
When Tommy turned around they said, "hey look, old yeller's leaving"
But you could've heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door

Twenty years of crawling was bottled up inside him
He wasn't holding nothin' back, he let 'em have it all
When Tommy left the barroom, not a Gatlin boy was standing
He said, "this one's for Becky, as he watched the last one fall

(And I heard him say) "I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you've done
I walk away from trouble when I can
Now please don't think I'm weak, I didn't turn the other cheek
And papa, I sure hope you understand
Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man"

Everyone considered him the coward of the county


Lyrics submitted by lunarxeclipse

"Coward of the County" as written by Roger Dale Bowling Billy Ed Wheeler

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Coward of the County song meanings
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11 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentOops, typo... That should have read:

    ", but also to accept the assumed shame." (of being a coward)
    TehGreatMutatoon October 08, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love this song, Kenny Rogers is such a wonderful storyteller through song. How he is not in the Country Music Hall of Fame is beyond me.
    Anyways, this song has always confused me. I am not sure if Tommy fought the Gatlin boys fisticuff style or shot them down.

    Evidence for fisticuffs: 1) "Twenty years of crawlin' was bottled up inside him." 2) The chorus' specifically states fighting

    Evidence for shooting: 1) Fighting 3 at once is near impossible, especially one who has not fought his whole life. 2)At the end of the song Everyone still considered him the coward of the county 3) The fact his father died in prison measn he did something much worse than fight, which portends a similar ending for Tommy 4) OK I admit it, Wishful thinking; I want them Gatlin Boys to die
    germophobeon March 07, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSurely Tommy locked the door not looked at it?
    roverboyon April 26, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's about a boy who never knew when to stand up for himself, and when he saw his father for the last time, in prison, his last words of advice being that his son avoid the temptation to fight for your pride around every corner of life... That it takes a strong person to turn the other cheek and not only take the pain, but also to avoid the assumed "shame."

    After living for so many years by his fathers last words, one day he found out when to fight... The only way he would ever know when the right time is, is after he resists the wrong ones.

    He was never weak, physically nor mentally, and the day someone (Gatlin boys) crossed 'that line' was the day they realized that. Whether he would have won or lost that fight, the county would never see him as a coward again.

    Basically, the song is about being a real man... One who has respect, stands up for the truth and what he loves, and to know that he doesn't have to go through life puffing up his chest - Because when the time comes, you'll do just fine.

    (FWIW, I never had a father and in my younger years this song really helped me through it all... And still does.)
    TehGreatMutatoon October 08, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMy favorite part of the song is where the Gatlin Bros rape Becky in turns
    kordaon August 25, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's about a coward.
    HairyPalmJoeon October 16, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentLOL...he's too scared to frame it. He'd have to take ownership of something in his life.
    interpretationdechansonon June 22, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI was always confused by the last line of this song. Does it mean that everyone considered him the coward of the county... until then. Or does it mean that even after the fight in the bar everyone still considered him the coward of the county (maybe because he killed them in a cowardly way or something).
    Rommieon October 12, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's about a boy who was a wimp until his girlfriend was gang raped and then he figured that he sometimes has to fight to be a man.
    BigDave1967on July 12, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's about a boy who was a wimp until his girlfriend was gang raped and then he figured that he sometimes has to fight to be a man.
    BigDave1967on July 12, 2015   Link

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