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Badger Clark and the "Poet Lariat," commentary by Greg Scott

South Dakota State Historical Society / Badger Clark Memorial Society

A Visit to the Badger Hole

More information and links

On Page 1:

More about Badger Clark
A selection of Badger Clark's poetry
Badger Clark's books
Books about Badger Clark

On additional pages:

Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose
by Badger Clark, edited by Greg Scott

See our feature based on this book, with selections of the prose and poetry and the book's table of contents, here.

Also see Greg Scott's article about Bob Axtell, Clark's "best Arizona friend and fellow poet" here.

Badger and Bob
photo by Charles Axtell


Badger Clark and the "Poet Lariat" by Greg Scott

Greg Scott, historian and author of Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, offered some comment on the historic use of the term, "Poet Lariat."

In 1937, Leslie Jensen, the Governor of South Dakota, named Badger Clark the first Poet Laureate of that state. Clark responded to Jensen with gratitude and signed the letter "...your poet lariat, Badger Clark."  Much has been made of Badger's humorous take on his title. While researching Clarks' life and writing, I came across a beautiful poem he wrote in 1908 while living in Arizona Territory in honor of a neighbor's birthday, he composed a poem for Rita Langley. In it he suggests:

But what good is all this dreaming
    We thus have our kingdom yet
    King and Queen are John and Rita
     I'm the "poet lariat"

I have been curious if this might have been one of the earliest uses of the term "poet lariit," and over the years have looked for earlier references. It was not until I reread Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad that I found what might be the earliest use of the term. In 1867 Twain and many others embarked on a five month trip to the Middle East and Holy Land. Twain went as a correspondent for a couple of newspapers. He later summarized the entire trip in the above mentioned book.

One of Twain's fellow passengers was a man from Long Island named Bloodgood Haviland Cutter (1817-1906), who Twain described: "He dresses in homespun, and is a simple minded, honest, old fashioned farmer with a strange proclivity for writing rhymes. He writes them on all possible subjects and gets them printed on slips of paper with his portrait at the head. These he will give to any man that comes along, whether he has anything against him or not." In the book, Twain calls him the "Poet Lariat" and mentions him frequently as he tells of their travels. 

Fortunately for anyone wishing to learn more, The Innocents Abroad and many other of Twain's books have been studied and written about. There are plenty of websites and critical essays to be found. A Google search will yield dozens of references to those who declare themselves "poet lariats." I remember that the first person I heard described as "poet lariat" was Gail Gardner. Nonetheless, for a poetry site that is always looking for Lariat Laureates, I thought you might enjoy this bit of "important" research.

2005, Greg Scott, all rights reserved


The entire text of The Innocents Abroad is available on line at Project Gutenberg

The current CowboyPoetry.com Lariat Laureate is profiled here.

Read more about Greg Scott here, read excerpts here from his book Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, and read his article about poet Bob Axtell here.

South Dakota State Historical Society / Badger Clark Memorial Society


   In 2015, the Badger Clark Memorial Society merged its operations into the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation and the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre now houses the papers of Charles Badger Clark, Jr. and offers his books and more.

The web site reports, "The foundation will oversee the reprinting and distribution of Clark's five volumes of work as well as other materials about Clark. In addition, the foundation will continue the Badger Clark Memorial Society's work of partnering with Custer State Park officials to manage Clark's home, known as the Badger Hole. The Badger Hole is located in Custer State Park..."

Find Badger Clark's books and more  here at the South Dakota Historical Society site.


The Badger Clark Memorial Society in Custer, South Dakota, had comprehensive information, biographical writings, poetry, books, merchandise, links to other sites, and more.


A Visit to the Badger Clark Hole

In August, 2005, poet Yvonne Hollenbeck, journalist and photographer Jeri Dobrowski (Cowboy Jam Session), and CowboyPoetry.com editor Margo Metegrano had the pleasure of meeting with Jessie Sundstrom of the The Badger Clark Memorial Society in Custer, South Dakota:

Jeri Dobrowski, Margo Metegrano, Jessie Sundstrom, and Yvonne Hollenbeck
Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights

and later visiting Badger Clark's cabin, the "Badger Hole" in Custer State Park

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights

The sign at the foot of the road to the Badger Hole reads: 

Home of Charles Badger Clark (1863-1957). Poet-Laureate,  Author, Lecturer and one of South Dakota's best known and beloved citizens.  For approximately thirty years Badger lived alone and write in the cabin built with his own hands.  Thousands of friends, particularly school children, beat a path to "The Badger Hole" to meet and visit with this friendly and understanding man.  His poems reflect his love for the West, especially for the majesty and beauty of the Black Hills.  "Sun and Saddle Leather" and "Sky Lines and Wood Smoke" are his best-known volumes.  "The Cowboy's Prayer," used in many school books and reprinted often in magazines, probably is his most popular poem. "The Cowboy's Lullaby" was set to music and used in motion pictures.  He rated "The Job" his best.  Our Badger is gone but his works and good deeds live on.

Erected 1958 by Millard C. Scott, his friend, and the State Highway Commission.

You can read "The Job" at the Badger Clark Memorial Society web site, here.

The interior of the cabin has been preserved as it was during Clark's lifetime.

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski
obtain permission for reproduction rights

Among the highlights of Badger Clark's cabin were his books, where The Decameron, Thoreau, Steinbeck, and Carr's Cowboy Lyrics stand together in his wide and varied collection.

Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights

Read more about the Badger Hole at the Badger Clark Memorial Society web site.  All proceeds of Badger Clark items sold by the Badger Clark Memorial Society are used for the maintenance of The Badger Hole and for the re-publication of Badger Clark's books.

Other links



  •   Singer-songwriter Barry Hertz' 2007 CD, A Cowboy's Prayer includes his lyrics from Badger Clark's Sun and Saddle Leather. The 11 tracks are: "Jeff Hart," "The Trails a Lane (The Passing of the Trail)," "My Own (Plains Born)," "The Song of the Leather," "A Cowboy's Prayer," "Red's Saloon (The Piano at Red's)," "The Bunkhouse Orchestra," "To Her," "The Wind is Blowin'," "Ridin'," and "A Roundup Lullaby." You can listen to track samples here at CD Baby.

  •   Badger Clark Ballads, published by Westerners International in 1982, tells it is "....the first collection of musical Clarkiana ever published." It includes 22 songs, with scores composed and hand-lettered by J.E. "Aim" Morhardt; an introduction by Leland D. Case, and "An Appreciation of Badger Clark" by Travis Edmondson. The songs included are:

A Border Affair
A Bad Half Hour
The Trail O' Love
The Old Cow Man
The Westerner
The Legend of Boastful Bill
The Long Way
Latigo Town
A Cowboy's Prayer
From Town
The Christmas Trail
To Her
The Outlaw
On Boot Hill
The Plainsmen
The Wind is Blowin'
Bunk-house Orchestra
A Roundup Lullaby
The Tied Maverick

  • There's an interesting 1915 article about Badger Clark's father from History of Dakota Territory that includes a poem he wrote. There's a shorter article about Badger Clark from the same book, written soon after he published Sun and Saddle Leather.  
  • A web site with information about Bob Dylan's recording of A Border Affair (Spanish is a Lovin' Tongue) includes some additional interesting information.

A Remembrance

Ashley Thornburg shared his personal remembrances of Badger Clark from when he was a young man in Hot Springs, South Dakota:

During the 1930's my parents operated the greenhouse in Hot Springs and were friends of Badger's parents.  We visited them occasionally at the South Dakota State Soldiers Home.  The first time I met Badger was when he was visiting his folks, probably 1934 or 1935.

We often saw Badger on the streets of Hot Springs, and were always in awe.  He sported an ample mustache, a two or three inch goatee, wore a western hat and boots, all of a greenish brown color, and I am not sure of this but it seems like a leather string or narrow tie.  He was always dignified and pleasant and was respected by everyone.  I saw him also when fishing on Legion Creek below his cabin.  He was always walking or
riding a horse, but he must have owned a car as he gave many talks in the Black Hills.  He was the commencement speaker at my high school graduation in  June 1940.  My wife, before we were married, was Home Demonstration Agent for Custer and Fall River Counties from 1944-1947 and recalls that he spoke to 4-H club groups, often reciting his
poetry.  He was the South Dakota Poet Laureate for many years.

The last time I recall seeing Badger was May 1, 1944.  Three of my buddies and I were home from the service at the same time and we went fishing on Legion Creek.  Badger walked down to where we were fishing and visited with for at least a half hour.  He was interested in our experiences in the service.  Although a loner and a quiet man, he was
easy to visit with.  My wife and I agree that he always seemed to be dressed the same.

After returning from the service in June of 1945 I was fortunate to buy a copy of his "Sun and Saddle Leather," which was autographed "I love my fellow man the best when he is scattered some." (see above)

My wife and I have visited his cabin (the Badger Hole) which is one of the Custer State Park attractions.  The people showing it were so pleased to visit with us since we had known him in person.

Later Ashley added:

I have been reading an early history of Hot Springs, South Dakota, published in 1983 by the Hot Springs Star Publications, and ran across the following:

Son of Chaplain Clark Visits  --  Sept. 4, 1908.  Charles B. Clark, Jr., of Tombstone, Ariz., son of Chaplain Clark of the Battle Mountain Sanitarium, arrived early in the week for a few weeks' visit with his parents.  Mr. Clark went to Arizona two years ago for his health and is now engaged in the ranching business, the climate of that region agreeing with him.  He is also one of the valued contributors to the Pacific Monthly of Portland, Ore.

Charles Badger Clark Returns --  (1910)  Charles Badger Clark, son of chaplain and Mrs. Clark, returned to Hot Springs to make his home with his parents, at least temporarily.

Badger Clark Walks to Rapid in 17 hr.  --  Nov. 16, 1917:  Charles B. Clark, Jr., (Badger Clark)  started to walk to Rapid City last Friday morning, leaving here at five o'clock that morning.  He covered the 62 miles in 17 hours, which seems to be a record for this country.

Ashley and Nelda Thornburg

We asked Ashley Thornburg to tell us something more about himself and he wrote:

I was born in North Platte, Nebraska in 1922 and was raised in the Black Hills of South Dakota, I graduated from the U. of Colorado in 1948 after a few years in the Army Air Corps as a navigator.  I spent a year in a German P.O.W. camp after being shot down.  My career was spent as a Plant Materials Specialist developing conservation plants for the U.S.D.A.

We spent the 1950's in Texas at Victoria and San Antonio, then were in Montana for 7 or 8 years, Nebraska for 4 years, and Arizona for about 17 years before we decided to move back to Texas which was always our favorite place and still is.




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