Bob Axtell and Badger Clark
Badger Clark and Bob Axtell leave for an Arizona roundup in 1909
photo by Charles Axtell
photo from Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, used with permission
Robert Hood Reeves Axtell (1887-1976), known to his friends as "Bob," arrived with his family in Arizona Territory in 1898. The Axtell's bought the JO Bar Ranch east of Tombstone in 1899. The JO Bar was and still is a cattle ranch. In 1906 a young tubercular fellow from South Dakota, Charles Badger Clark, Jr., moved on to the Kendall brothers' neighboring Cross I Quarter Circle, seven miles to the northeast.
The 18-year old Axtell and 23-year old Clark quickly became best friends. Bob tutored Charlie in the many cowboy arts he needed as caretaker for the Kendalls. They were to share in many adventures great and small and remained friends for the rest of their lives.
Axtell was among the first to appreciate the poetry Clark wrote and saw published by Pacific Monthly. Axtell would serve as model for characters found in Clark's short stories. In 1923 Badger would reference his friend Bob Axtell in a poem in Sunset:
Once we met in a cow corral
Far on the great gray plains
Kind luck dealt me a red-haired pal
With desert sun in his veins.
Over the sand of the fenceless land
We rode in a world of two,
Loping and roping and swapping lies,
Damning each other with laughing eyes
Under the western blue.
Charles Badger Clark, Jr.
Bob Axtell, writing under the pen name "Reeves Axtell" and encouraged by his friend Badger Clark, began writing poetry shortly after Clark left Arizona in 1910. By the 1920's he submitted some of his work to various western magazines and had some of his verse published. One of his better known poems, published in Sunset in 1922, is titled "Sanctuary."
"Another mile, another mile."
My pony jogs along.
The weary way a fearful trial.
Tired, stumblin' feet just slogs along
And chokin' dust just fogs along
Light as a pullet's feather.
The grass is scurse and gettin' worse,
I never seen it drier.
The rainy season's plumb perverse
The storm clouds all are in reverse
And never get no nigher.
Lord! Send a spell o' weather!
"We'll get there----get there----after while."
My saddle creaks the rune.
"We've killed another weary mile."
My horse's feet beat out the tune
While risin' dust clouds haze the moon,
"Forget the dust and weather."
It's cowmen's fate when rains are late
To hump their backs and take it.
Next spring the Lord may irrigate
These hills that look so desolate
I reckon then, we'll make it,
Rains cain't stop altogether.
"We're there! We're there! We're there!
Sing quickened hoofs apace,
The leather squeaks the joyful air
For we have reached my homing place.
The lamp-lit door, my woman's face,
Sing out, you joyful leather!
"You're late tonight, Bill. Things all right?"
She swings the gate to meet me
And takes my hand and holds it tight
In both of hers, and, smiling bright,
Lifts up her face to greet me.
What matters dust or weather!
Bob Axtell, writing as "Reeves Axtell"
Bob Axtell's poetry is the genuine article, written by a man who experienced the end of open range cattle ranching in Arizona. His words ring with the authenticity of a person who has experienced all that he has committed to verse. It is too easy to dismiss Axtell's poetry as derivative of Badger Clark's work. To be sure, many of Axtell's verses owe a great deal in theme, structure, meter and rhyme scheme to Badger's poems. But the same can be said about hundreds and hundreds of cowboy poems. Axtell, after all was there when Clark created his classics.
Ballad of a Trail-Weary Trail-Herder
The footsore dogies jam and crowd,
And poke along, and bawl and bleat,
Beneath a floatin', ashy cloud
That fogs their millin' horns and meat
And smudges up behind their feet
Till I'm half-choked and worse than blind---
Oh, gosh, the alkali I eat
A-ridin' here behind!
To swing the lead I'd shore be proud---
Sa-ay, wouldn't it be sweet
To get plumb free of this here shroud
That's all messed up with noise and heat?
Oh Misery shore grows complete
And weds itself to Fate unkind
When I'm the goat that has to beat
These drags along behind!
A week ago I would have vowed
That drivin' trail-herd was a treat;
I rode along a-singing loud
And plannin' how my gal I'd meet
In her ol' man's grape-arbor seat,
But now---the trail's just "mill and grind,"
And love songs shorely obsolete,
A-trailin' here behind.
Old horse, no fool has got me beat
For just plain softenin' of the mind---
But you kin hark to me repeat:
Trial-herdin's hell behind!
Bob Axtell, writing as "Reeves Axtell"
I would like to express my appreciation to the Axtell family, especially Charles Axtell (named for his father's friend Badger Clark) of Tolleson, Arizona for providing these wonderful poems for me and permitting me interviews, photos and letters, while researching Badger Clark.
© 2005, Greg Scott, all rights reserved
About Greg Scott
photo by Kevin-Martini Fuller, used with permission
Greg Scott is a retired, third-generation Arizona educator. Great-grandson of a pioneer rancher-farmer, Scott's roots go back to Territorial days. He is a graduate in History from the University of Arizona with advanced degrees from both Arizona and Northern Arizona University.
Scott is a member of the Speakers' Bureau of the Arizona Humanities Council and a former Traditional Music Roster Artist for the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
He has traveled throughout the state, and seven other western states, presenting programs of Cowboy Poetry and Music at museums, historical societies, libraries, and cowboy poetry events. Greg also writes regularly about Arizona cowboy music. He lives in an adobe home he designed and built himself on a small ranch in Elgin, Arizona.
Greg Scott is the editor of Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, a comprehensive collection of the works of Badger Clark, published by Cowboy Miner Productions.
The book includes all of Badger Clark's short stories; poetry, including more than two dozen previously unpublished or long out-of-print poems; essays; letters; and photos.
See our feature on that book here.
See more poetry, more information about Badger Clark's books and books about him, links, and more here.
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