Howard Parker
The Cowboy Poet

Pat Richardson
The Evaluation

Darrell Arnold
Cowboy Poultry Gatherin'

Virginia Bennett
We Are the Poets

Alf Bilton
Wounded or On Writing Cowboy Poetry

Deanna Dickinson McCall
Feral Words

Bob Schild
Poetic Horses

The Rustler

Kip Sorlie
The Rhyme Survives

Slim McNaught
This Cowboy Thing

Andy Nelson
Cowboy Poet

Don Tidwell
Poetic Competition (Cowboy Style)

Jay Snider
A Real Cowboy Poet

Charlie Camden
What is a Cowboy Poet?

Paul Bliss
Cowboy Poetry in Motion

Tex Tumbleweed
A Boot Scootin' Verse
Cowboy Poet of Yore
Cowboy Poetry
Cowboy Sonneteer

 Jim John ("Kansas Jim")
Whether Fact or Fiction



Page One of Seven




The Cowboy Poet

Oh, just to be a cowboy poet,
it seemed a dream come true;
to travel 'round the countryside
entertainin' folks like you.

To stand out there upon the stage
and know you've passed the test
with Wally, Buck and Baxter,
Waddie, Don and all the rest.

Just a-pickin' and a-grinnin'
with the likes of Tom and John,
swappin' songs with Jack and Gary
and to sing with Liz and Sean.

But I get a sinking feeling
as I pretend that I'm a star
while Jean's home moving cattle
'cause there's no water where they are.

Or like we're headed for Medora
on a bright and sunny day,
when we see some Cross L steers
as we pass by on our way

gathered 'round a giant cottonwood
and beneath it's leafy bowers,
but the grass they are a-grazin' on
didn't happen to be ours!

I live in terror that a blizzard
will strike some fateful day
while I'm whoopin' it up in Elko
a thousand miles away.

Oh, I still love the gatherings
and go to all that time allows,
but it's hard to be a cowboy poet
if you actually own cows.

© 1987, Howard Parker, reprinted with  permission 
    from Poetry and Prose from Horsethief Crossing
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.


Read more of Howard Parker's poetry here.



The Evaluation

"I'd rather be lost in the desert
with a case of spectacular scours,
I'd rather be staked to an anthill
and left there for twenty-four hours."

"I'd rather be gut-shot and beaten,
I'd rather go stark raving blind;
I'd rather be snake-bit and poisoned,
than read your poem one more time."

"I can't tell you how much that I hate it,
the first word I think of is 'stunned';
and I sure wouldn't tell it in public
unless I was wearing a gun."

I weighed his conclusions a moment.
I re-read my poem, and said:
"You suppose it'd be any better
if I made it a roan horse instead?"

© 2004, Pat Richardson, from Pat Richardson, Unhobbled
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written

Read more of Pat Richardson's poetry here.



Cowboy Poultry Gatherin'

I learned about this gatherin'
When a neighbor passed the word,
And it struck me as the dumbest thing
That I had ever heard.

He said a bunch of cowboys
Had been comin' here for years
For a great big poultry gatherin'.
I could not believe my ears.

Now, gatherin' cows is somethin'
That I know they always do,
And some will even gather sheep
Believe me folks, it's true.

I know they gather horses
Off the wild Nevada range,
But this gatherin' all these chickens
Really sounded kinda strange.

I imagined some ol' cowpoke
Jobbin' spurs into his steed,
Chasin' chickens through the sagebrush,
Colonel Sanders in the lead.

Just how do you rope a chicken?
On that I wasn't clear,
Or brand four sixes on his hide
Or swaller-fork his ear?

And when you've got 'em gathered,
Do you bed 'em down at night?
Do you cut out those bull chickens
If they're mean and on the fight?

I could hear the trail boss holler,
"Get 'em up, Boys, move along,
Take these hens to Ogallala."
Well it sure did seem all wrong.

So I came here to Elko
'Cause I had to check it out
And find out what this poultry stuff
Was really all about.

Well, now I feel foolish.
It's not poultry after all.
It's po-et-ry, with rhymin' words
And other folderol.

A bunch of tongue-tied punchers
With manure stuck to their heels
Are tellin' rhymin' stories 'bout
The way a cowboy feels.

But callin' this stuff poetry
Would make ol' Shakespeare howl.
I b'lieve it's poultry after all,
'Cause most of it is fowl!

© 1993,  Darrell Arnold, from Cowboy Poultry Gatherin'
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

Read more of Darrell Arnold's poetry here.



We Are the Poets
For the Western Folklife Center and the Gathering audiences

Can you see us bent oe'r kitchen tables
        and our pencils' worn erasers
           as we pour our hearts in liquid words upon the lowly page?
Can you see us stopped in parking lots
        searchin' for scraps among the floorboards
           then, with pen to note, we scratch words to show a life, a love, an age?

We, who fight with nature
        never slacking, always believing,
            We strive 'gainst cold, heat and drought to keep the wolf from door...
But these battles seem wan in comparison
        to the war with words we wage
            as we seek to convey a thought, a poem to last and live forevermore.

Why, we were fine and fancy...
        no cares beyond the ranch gate
            our only worries keepin' calves alive and shippin' 'em eight months later.
'Til we tasted immortality
        on a stage or 'round a campfire
            And you, who came back to hear our words, became the instigator.

So, we take it all in and write it down
         in between the endless chores
           Amazed and honored that there are people who listen and seem to are.
We try to make you laugh or cry
         in portrayin' all we really savvy
           And somehow make it all of value and somethin' worthy to share.

Most give little thought to such an act,
        this tryin' to capture in ink a sunset,
           when an artist or photographer can hardly succeed at such a task.
Without paint or film or music
        armed with only our imaginations
           we connect the dots and record our lives, our futures and our past.

Thus, we dance with you as partners
         in this waltz of verse and lingo
            As long as you continue to listen, we'll try to get it right.
With words that bind us close together,
         transcending times and borders
            We are the poets, and you the reason that we write.

© 2003, Virginia Bennett, reprinted with permission
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

See more about this poem in our Poems About Elko. Read more of Virginia Bennett's poetry here.


Wounded or On Writing Cowboy Poetry

Spurring for safety, I flee to the past.
As I cross the summit, I see her at last—
A valley sun-tanning beneath the stern gaze
Of rugged old peaks peering down from the haze.

Four ravens are chasing an eagle aloft,
But what noise they're making is distant and soft
As breezes that kiss me when I reach the crest.
Again I am welcomed, again I can rest.

Tomorrow I'll go back to that harsher world
Where all of the best things are coming unfurled;
Where mischief and money conspire to undo
The magic of living where skies are still blue.

I've outrun their gutters, their grime, and their walls:
Those forces can't follow when this valley calls.
This mem'ry protects me, it's both sword and shield
Whenever, soul-wounded, I've need flee the field.

© 2009, Alf Bilton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Alf Bilton's poetry here.

Feral Words

     Feral words that demand freedom
Strain against the trap of my heart
     Wild eyed and stomping
They quiver, whirl and falsely start.
     They struggle in their confinement
Jostling, circling, they seek escape
     Round the perimeters
They somehow find form and shape.
     Feral words that demand freedom
Have charged and broken down the gate
     Bucking and snorting
They run blindly into their fate.
     A great abyss swallows them whole
They run through the bit and its pull
     Never to be seen again
Words escaped from a heart too full.

© 2007, Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.


Read more about Deanna Dickinson McCall and more of her poetry here.



Poetic Horses

I'll guess Charley's age near seventy...what hit me like a rock—
            He lugged a battered saddle styled of early twenties stock.
I had doubts, more than a fraction... with his worn and weathered kack—
            He aimed to cinch his rigging on a wild-eyed gelding's back.

His bowed and skinny legs matched rusty buggy-harness hames...
            To cross a creek on mossy rocks his stride would stay the same.
He was rounded in the withers as a brahma through the hump;
            His breeches failed to camouflage a dried-up, shriveled rump.

"Rein up and ear this knot-head down," My old friend Charlie pled,
            "Approach him slow and softly speak when reaching for his head.
Now, he may rear and strike at you, he's always in the mood—
            But I have trouble mounting while he's gaining altitude!"

"Yes, I'll get you straddle of that snorting, trembling brute,
            But Charlie, don't you do it without a parachute;
I'd hate to see the two of you that far up in the sky—
            If you descend too rapidly, why Charlie you could die!

"Tell me, man to man, old pard, Why tolerate that steed?
            You can buy one for a whisper who won't burn near the feed:
First count the saddle-marks, my friend, look for a single brand...
            Buy one quiet as a dude-horse but too good for being canned."

Said Charlie, "Son, I dabble at creating cowboy verse.
            Sure it won't stop the cravings of my always hungry purse.
No gentle, smooth-mouthed horses fit the underside of me.
            It takes a hair-brained renegade to cede my poetry"

© 2006, Bob Schild
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The Rustler

 There are wistful tales from yesteryear,
           When a cowboy’s life was filled with cheer,
But, often did full-wages fail
            To meet the cost of his Lager Pale…
Then the lustful nights of dance and song—
He’d compensate with a rope that’s long. 

If a cowboy pirates a neighbor’s cow—
            He’s earned the worst that the laws allow.
He’s squandered life in a search for bliss,
            His departure marked by a sweetheart’s kiss.
A jury trial is his last hope…
            His dance won’t end on a hang-mans rope.

Now, the very depth of a poet’s soul
            Are his words in rhyme and lines that roll,
And the one who steals these lines, by heck,
            Should die in a fall, of a broken neck!
He’d never rustle his neighbor’s cow,
            But he’ll steal his words, for he knows not how….

© 2006, Bob Schild
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Read more about Bob Schild and more of his poetry in our feature here.


The Rhyme Survives

They rhymed their words
While pushing herds
     Or riding watch at night.
Most verse was wrought,
With words not bought,
     By those who could not write.
Sometimes at night,
Beneath starlight,
     On ground that served as bed,
They'd close their eyes
And memorize
     Words that were lived, not read.
The words they said
Were often spread
     At round-ups, fall and spring,
Then, spread again
By other men,
     In poems that some might sing.
A rhyming string
Of words could ring
     And echo far and clear.
In words quite plain
That entertain
     They'd calm both man and steer.
Now, from the rear,
Rhymes reappear,
     Retrieved from long ago.
They tell us tales
Of riding trails
     That cowboys, old, still know.
The ropes they'd throw
Still cast a glow
     And span the test of time.
Those cowboys knew
Just what to do!
     They put their lives to rhyme!

© 2010, Kip Sorlie
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Kip comments: This particular poem was written for my daughter. She took on the task of researching the origins of cowboy music and how it evolved, for a senior paper in college. John Lomax, Badger Clark and Jack Thorp provided an almost endless supply of references and information. Don Edwards consented to a long interview, over the phone, providing her with some insight and direction. Her paper received an A+. Her dad could not have been prouder.

Read more about Kip Sorlie and more of his poetry in our feature here.




This Cowboy Thing

Well, I guess it's time
to speak my mind,
I've listened long enough,
to whether a tome
is a cowboy poem
or a poem about cowboy stuff.

Now, after years
of listenin' here
I think I figured it out
how to explain
this cowboy thing
that folks keep askin' about.

Now, two kinds of folks
write cowboy poems
and I really enjoy 'em all
'cause this range has some
of the best that's done
whose verse can leave you in awe.

But the way it appears
from where I was reared
it's the source of the story that tells
and if you've not had
the rope burned hands
you can't describe how it feels.

If you've never grasped
an unborn calf
in a cow up past your elbow
and carried the bruises
from her strainin' and movin'
it's a feelin' you never will know.

If you've never felt
that feelin' you're dealt
when your horse sticks both feet in a hole
while runnin' all out
turnin' a cow about
and the fall leaves you knocked out cold.

If your eyes have not strained
in the dark until pained
findin' a trail to follow
when  badland spires
all seem to get higher
and your stomach is gettin' plumb hollow.

If you've not had aholt
of the head of a colt
while he died from problems at birthin'
and felt the heart break
as death overtakes
knowin' that you can do nothin'.

If you've not rode in awe
from ridge down to draw
in evenin' when the sun's almost down
and felt the warm air
turn to cool down there
as breeze from the canyon flows 'round.

If you've never stepped on
your horse before dawn
and got home a way after dark
with the temps below zero
and a cold wind to freeze ya
and so stiff you can hardly walk.

If you've never spent days
in the mud and the haze
when them cows are bent on calvin'
and your slicker leaks,
soaks your saddle seat,
to lay down and sleep would be heaven.

If you've never fought
a prairie fire in drought
with wet gunny sacks and a spade
tryin' to save grass
and make the range last
out there in the sun with no shade.

Then you'd be hard pressed
to explain to the rest
the feelin's that a cowboy knows
and without the pain
there's no way to explain
how he feels, 'tho it never shows.

Now, I've got friends
who have never been
on a range workin' cattle and horses
but the verses they pen
can be beat by no man,
they listened and learned from real sources.

Folks who don't know
how the joy and pain goes
can't write down those things with feelin'
but that shouldn't stop 'em
from rhymin' and jottin'
to show how the cowboy is dealin'.

'Cause lots of folks
never were that close
to actually feelin' the hardships
but they'd a been cowboys,
back in them old days,
it shows in their verse and their quips.

© 2005, Slim McNaught
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Slim McNaught's poetry here.


Cowboy Poet

A Cowboy Poet is a different sod
Some might even think him odd,
He loves to battle, with words and cattle,
And converses frequently with God.
He'd rather write than read,
A difficult and rare sort of breed,
He rode the range, fabled and strange,
And his first love is always his steed.
He paints murals with words,
Of life with family and herds,
His poetic prose, don't bloom like a rose,
Nor take flight with winged birds.
He writes of the cowboy way,
Fading, but always here to stay,
As tradition dwindles, his poetry kindles,
The flame in a new generation's day.
Sometimes dying but never dead,
Old cowboys still live in his head,
With paper and pen, keeps alive the men,
Their folklore and what has been said.

© 2005, Andy Nelson, All rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Andy Nelson's poetry here.


Poetic Competition
(Cowboy Style)

A colorful contender
for the Cowboy Poet crown,
attracted great attention
when he ambled into town.

He came across as vivid
with a multi-hued onslaught--
His cowboy hat was purple,
and his shirt gold polka-dot.

He wore a pair of yellow cuffs
with inserts done in plaid,
and boasted of a wardrobe
like no other poet had.

There was a red bandanna wrapped
around his scrawny neck,
and his moustache, combed and waxed
was long enough to cause a wreck.

His costly Tony Llamas
were a loud and glaring pink;
His wooly orange sheepskin chaps
would make your eyelids blink!

They called on him to do his thing
and when he took the stage,
his lip began to tremble,
then he flew into a rage !!
He calmed, and said
"I'm sorry folks--
I gotta go back home;
It took so long to git dressed up
I plumb forgot my poem!!"

© Don Tidwell, All rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Don Tidwell's poetry here.



A Real Cowboy Poet

This cowboy poetry phenomenon
Can sometimes be the pits
You write and write and mostly erase
It causes uncontrollable fits

The words come out all tangled
Ya stutter and stammer a lot
And about the time ya get on stage
Your ol' tongue'll tie up in a knot 

Your knees get weak and start to knock
And the crowd begins to shout
Your lungs have collapsed; ya ain't got no air
And the words just won't come out

Ya calm a bit and catch your wind
But still you feel so lost
Looks like now there's twice the crowd
Cause your ol' eyes have done gone crossed

Now you've got it, regained your cool
Your tongue now ain't so thick
Ya stand up straight and give your BEST
DEAD SILENCE: they ain't clappin' a lick

Ain't got a clue what you're gonna do next
Ya wish now you'd gone and got ripped
Ya peer at the crowd ; by the look on their faces
Your zipper must have come unzipped

So ya swoller hard and mop your brow
Reach way down deep and wail
But halfway though your most touchin' prose
Your ol' memory begins to fail

Praise the Lord, you've stumbled through
Only lost ten or twelve pounds or so
From out in the crowd, ya hear the clappin'
Grandma's givin' you a standin' O

With  a tip of my hat I'll ease off stage
Cause the crowd's begin to doze
Fact is ya see, I wouldn't make a pimple
On a REAL cowboy poet's nose

© Jay Snider, All rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Jay Snider's poetry here.



What is a Cowboy Poet?

 What is a Cowboy Poet?
 that's a question I hear almost every day.
 but to provide an exact description,
 that's not exactly easy to say.

 There's no two alike when they approach the mike,
 Tho' big hats and like moustache's they may share,
 He's big, she's small, he's short, and she's tall,
 some are rowdy, and others quite debonair.

 But all cowboy poets are dreamers,
 and some may seem totally out of place,
 One may appear, young, pretty, and demure,
 and the next has grey stubble on his face.

 But a real Cowboy Poet is a keeper of the Spirit,
 of a time we will never see again.
 when empires were built by cattle barons,
 and railroad towns were Boomin'
 When shouts of GOLD! echoed from the west,
 My God man! Destiny was loomin'

 A cowboy poet has heard all of this,
 and dreams of these times long ago,
 and can plainly see what a hero he could be,
 In a novel by Louis L'Amour.

 Why, just yesterday he rode with the rangers,
 chasin outlaws on the hot dusty plains,
 He drove for Wells Fargo one mornin' last week
 then scouted right o' way for west bound trains.
 Today for awhile, he was Jesse James,
 smellin' gunsmoke, holdin' tight to the reins.

 He hung some rustlers back in "86,
 runnin' irons still hot in their hands.
 fought rustlers, range fires, killer storms,
 that's the job when you ride for the brand.

 He's rode night guard on herds
 on the blackest of nights.
 dealt cards in a dim smoke filled room,
 and he's a definite favorite of all the ladies,
 that live above the Long Branch Saloon.

 A cowboy poet could be anyone,
 who rides wild stallions in their dreams,
 who can draw fast, shoot straight, never tell a lie,
 and foil a scoundrel's schemes.

 Cowboy poets are young at heart
 for them, it's a fascination.
 to speak the words, that paint the scenes,
 that they see in their imaginations.

© 2002, Charlie Camden
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Charlie Camden's poetry and prose in his regular column here at the BAR-D, Just Beyond the Ridge



Trailin'  100 head horses up over the Beaver Mountains, down into the Bryce Canyon area I wrote this poem.

Cowboy Poetry In Motion

Well, The mornin' starts at four am, the coosie rings the bell,
     Come-on, get up ya cowboys, comes a loud persistent yell!

Come-on, shake out the coffees hot, don't lay their in yor soogans,
      Get'em up, roll'em tight, all bed rolls to the wagon!

Ya can smell the breakfast cookin' , un that chill that's in the air,
      As ya gather round that chuck box, with un emotionless stare:

Ya grab biscuits drowned in gravy, un thank the God above,
      For givin' ya the piece of mind, to do the things ya love.

The cook calls out for seconds, better get it while its hot,
      While the hoodie loads the bed rolls up, pulls the tarp, down ties the

The jingler brings yer horses in, while the night hawk grabs some chuck,
      Und ya ponder bout the last few weeks, how ya'll got by on luck;

The Mountains that ya trailed across, the rivers, streams, un swells,
      The thunder storm's, the dust, un sweat, some days it felt like hell;

Und yer muscles, sore, un tender, from a colt that bucked ya down.
      Und knowin' to day is the last day, und yu'll arrive in town.

Two hundred un ninety miles, wranglin' horses all the way.
      There's un emotion that can't be denied, when ya call position's for
the day.

The team is almost harnessed up, the leaders start to paw,
      Make a circle boys, start'em slow, head'em up that draw!

In the East the stars they disappear, un blue gray takes its place,
      Un the pink cliffs now er standin' out where before there wuz no

The heard bust's, un thunders towards the draw, ears alert, un noses flared,
      Un cowboys racin' for the pass, with hard determined stares;

They glide through rock un timbers, with a ballerina's grace,
      Over logs, un brush, un ledges, like a royal steeple chase.

The dust it starts to foggin' up, ya smell leather, horse, un sweat,
      Un horses crashin' through the brush, but steal there's no regret;

Mane's un tails a flyin', spurs a ringin' out a tune,
      Its un elusion watchin' horse un man race to wards a fadin' moon.

Down through the pines un cedars, where the scrub oak slaps yer chaps,
      Ya memorize this picture boys, for time has seamed to lapse.

With cowboys in position, the herd's now in control,
      Un ya watch the horses all line out as single file they go.

The sun it tops a ragged ridge, un the rays come bustin' through,
      Un ya watch the herd snake down the trail, in solemn over view.

It's a picture that can't be described by anybody's notion,
      'Cause pardner it's a feelin', "Cowboy Poetry In Motion."

© Paul Bliss
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Paul Bliss' poetry here.


A Boot Scootin' Verse

Now gimme a rime jest any ol' time
'stead of modern free form verse.
'cause any new thang does tax my brain;
modern verse seems to make it worse.

I wanna good time when readin' a rime,
don't wanna feel defeat.
I'll cotton to and stay with you,
if you gimme a steady beat.

Some thoughts too deep put me to sleep;
I still live in the past.
But gimme a rime jest any ol' time;
you'll git my attention fast.

Jest hum a bar or strum guitar,
or recite me a rimin' po'm;
I do declare, I kin sit right here
'til all the cows come home.

I'll tap my toe if'n words kin flow
with a real good steady beat.
Gives me a thrill, and I can't still
my boot-scootin' tappin' feet.

Now if'n you like boot-scootin' too,
let's make our po'try ring;
and we kin meet and move our feet
at the Cowboy Gathering.

© Tex Tumbleweed
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Tex Tumbleweed's poetry here.



Cowboy Poet of Yore

Heard cowboy po'try wuz on a rebound;
Never knowd of a time when it wern't around.
They found it in the old saloon halls,
And some of it wuz rote on the privvy walls.
But cowboys today are a whole new breed;
they're goin' to college to learn to read!
To rules and forms, they now kowtow;
I figger they ain't got talent nohow.
Now you take waddies that kin make a rime,
They're my kind of poets, jest any ol' time.
A book of free verse will lay on my shelf;
Sounds like they're talkin' to their own self.
They ain't nothin' like it used to be;
Like ridin' the plains so happy and free.
They ride the range in a pick-up truck,
Where we depended on a horse and good luck.
Jest don't savvy po'try with meters and feet,
I lean toward somethin' with a real good beat.
Guess old-timers join the longhorn herd,
To become extinct, like the Dodo bird.

© Tex Tumbleweed
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Tex Tumbleweed's poetry here.


Cowboy Poetry

About cowboy poetry;
there ain't nothin' new in that.
Most cowpokes kin make a real good rime
at the drop of a Stetson hat.

You take ol' Slim at the Lazy R;
can't have but one thought at a time.
But he beats all I ever seen
when it comes to makin' a rime.

He makes up po'ms that go on and on
about the life we lead
On the trail we can't carry many books,
so Slim is all we need.

He makes up po'ms 'bout the dusty trail,
and clouds up in the sky.
I've asked him to make one up for me,
just in case that I should die.

Sometimes he puts his po'ms to music,
and they turn out real good.
He sings 'em to the cattle at night
while they lay chewin' their cud.

Ol' Slim just might git famous some day
and his po'ms begin to catch on;
but I'll bet my saddle and spurs it'll be
'way after he's dead and gone!

© Tex Tumbleweed
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Read more of Tex Tumbleweed's poetry here.



Cowboy Sonneteer

I found a book of fancy poetry;
this Shakespeare feller wrote a lot of stuff.
It seems to be a name in history,
that rittin' cowboy po'try ain't enough.

So I decided to change my style a bit,
and see if I could get a little class.
The cowboys didn't like this worth a whit,
and they gave me some jeers and lots of sass.

Didn't let their loud whoo-rawin' bother me

I decided to copy them so-called poetic founders.
Them cowboys don't know beans 'bout poetry—
they'll live and die a bunch of ignert rounders.

But when I got this bee up in my bonnet,
I dang sure showed 'em I could rite a sonnet!

© 2006, Tex Tumbleweed
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Tex Tumbleweed's poetry here.



Whether Fact or Fiction

"Historical accuracy's" the phrase that they use
To strip out both the myth and mystique.
To them a cowhand is some plain working stiff
Herding cows 'cross an old, muddy creek.

They're weathered and battered, bedraggled and worn
By the wind and the sun and the dust.
Their saddles are splitting, their boots all have holes
Their lariats are frayed and their spurs mostly rust.

The cattle are mangy and smelly and mean.
There's blizzards and hail storms and worse.
"To be a cowboy is no blessing,"  sez they.
"It's more like some nightmare-ish curse."

They are just hired hands only caring 'bout pay.
There ain't no Cowboy Code. No honor. No pride.
It was just getting by. No more than a job
That required someone who could rope and could ride.

They laugh at the silver screen cowboys
And their duds and their guns and white hat.
"It's all a big joke! They've got it all wrong!
Those screen writers don't know where it's at."

Now these folks who call themselves "debunkers"
Got the facts, but they miss all the best.
It's the legend that grows, not what everyone knows
That makes cowboys the Knights of the West.

And they think that unless you've worked cattle
A "cowboy poet's" something you'll never be.
Cause it's only the grime and the grind that's real.
There ain't no way that you'll ever see.

Here's some plain facts if you want to know them,
The cowboy and the old west is long dead.
What lives in our hearts and our souls and our minds
Is those tales still afloat in our head.

Like the stories of the knights of King Arthur,
It's the myth that lives on throughout time.
And it lifts us up and inspires our young folks
With it's moral so clear yet sublime.

There's a place here for all the historians
That separate the myth from the fact.
Still, after they're gone, the legend lives on
Helping everyone to know how to act.

© 2001, James H. John, Unpublished work
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

"Kansas Jim" sent along these thoughts with the above poem, and we thought they were so interestin' that we asked his permission to include 'em here for you to ponder:

From time to time I come across sites that assert that we need to be historically accurate. That we should ignore the legend and the myth and just concentrate on the cowboy of the 1830's thru 1880's as they really were.

And there are sites that assert that if you don't own a ranch or work as a cowhand that you just don't really have a clue. Unfortunately the assumption is that without such credentials, you just don't have anything to say worth hearing.

As logical as that seems to be, it takes away a vital aspect of the impact of the cowboy on America. It skips the myth.

Now myth isn't a bad word. It's technical meaning is that it is a story or a tale that attempts to explain how things came to be as they are. It doesn't mean just a tall tale.

And I think that the legend of the cowboy was another attempt, like Arthur and Camelot and the knights of the roundtable to explain why there are those who live their lives by a moral code that makes the world a better place for us all.

I think that it is a singular honor that a "common man" (the cowboy) was a place where this myth could flourish and I think that we all can benefit from those 19th Century legends on their great stallions and their white hats as they stand against the crooked bankers and politicians and horse thieves and cattle rustlers.

Finally, I own no ranch. I live in an overgrown cowtown of old, Wichita. But, Shakespeare didn't live in Denmark or ancient Rome. Yet, he sought the meaning of life there.

I don't compare myself to Shakespeare. But I do believe that cowboy poets, both old and new, like Shakespeare and Hemingway and many others try through their words and their wit and, hopefully, sometimes their insight to show that life has meaning and joy and hope as well as pain and fear and drudgery. It's not important how we find it. Just that we do.


Read more of Jim John's poetry here.




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