Cowboy Poetry and Music and More at the BAR-D Ranch

Bette Wolf Duncan

About Bette Wolf Duncan
Books and CD
Contacting Bette Wolf Duncan

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of


Named Top Female Poet
Academy of Western Artists

About Bette Wolf Duncan

I was born during the depression, on my grandfather’s ranch in Stillwater County, Montana. Later my folks moved to Billings, where I went to grade and high school.  This is rodeo country; and a good portion of summer entertainment involved rodeo attendance.  It is also cattle country; and it was difficult not to grow up a  cowpoke of sorts by osmosis.

I worked during high school as an usherette in a movie theater.   I worked my way through college as a long distance operator; and  I graduated from Rocky Mountain College in Billings Montana in 1954. For the next 18 years I worked as a Medical Technologist, chiefly in the field of toxicology.  Among other institutions, I worked at Texas Children’s Hospital and Southwestern Medical School in Dallas,  Los Angeles County Hospital in Los Angeles and Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, California. 

In 1974, I graduated from Drake University Law School.  Subsequently, I was employed as a Prosecutor in The Polk County Attorney’s Office, Des Moines, Iowa; and as Director of the Regulatory Division and legal counsel, Iowa Department of Agriculture.  For the last eight years, prior to my retirement in 1995, I was an Administrative Law Judge (tax cases).  Since retirement, I have been so busy I wonder how in the world I ever managed before retirement.  Besides writing poetry and fooling around on the internet, I am finishing a novel, RAPIST.  (It sounds pornographic…it’s not.  Actually, much of the background for the book is the Farmer’s Holiday Movement during the Depression.)


Libraries are marvelous places. The one I go to in Pleasant Hills, Iowa  orders  any book you ask for if they don't have a copy on hand. I recently picked up three books I ordered: The Life Of Metrical and Free Verse In Twentieth Century Poetry by Jon Silken; The Origins Of Free Verse by H .T. Kirby-Smith; and The Ghost Of Meter" by Annie Finch. Much of the discourse in these books was devoted to various types of rhythm,  particularly dactylic and iambic.  As you might expect, Emily Dickinson's utilization of iambic pentameter and Walt Whitman's use of dactylics, particularly in "Leaves Of Grass" was thoroughly explored.
After Whitman wrote "Leaves Of Grass," most of the critics of that day called it "a sort of prose poetry." Charles Eliot Norton wrote that it was "a sort of excited prose broken into lines". A. C. Swinburne, in his essay ""Whitmania" said Whitman was as much a poet as was a shoe. I personally think he was a writer that possessed the soul of a poet, but chose to write beautiful prose.  He has unforgettable sparks of imagery embedded in dactylic rhythms throughout his prose, for example, "...out of the cradle endlessly rocking." Much of cowboy poetry is written in iambic pentameter,but, unlike the poetry of Emily Dickinson, most of it would be shrugged off as "doggerel" by today's critics. 

On two of my four web sites, I have expressed concern regarding advocates of free verse  because of their intolerance for any poetry other than free verse or at least poetry that adheres to post-Whitman standards. Frankly, I don't think of free verse as poetry. It is a cross  between prose and poetry and should have been advanced as a new art form, "PROSETRY."  Some of it has exciting imagery ( but most of it lacks even that.) The objection that can  justifiably be made about the advocates of "prosetry" is their rapacious and unending efforts to suppress, demean and stifle all forms of poetry other than  their "prosetry." They will listen to no objections that a reader might have regarding "prosetry's" lack of discernable music But on the other side of that coin, many of the writers of cowboy poetry, will not listen to the criticism leveled by "Proseits" about their genre, and some of it is valid. The use of iambic pentameter in lengthy cowboy poems in verse after verse after verse after verse without any variation is a "turn-off." In a long poem of somewhere over 8 or so  stanzas  it gets monotonous to the point of  ruining what otherwise might have been a good poem. The literary world  has has long held that  variation and slight metrical changes in longer poems,  particularly those written in iambic pentameter, are necessary if pleasure is to be given. "The Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Coleridge contains over 100 stanzas of iambic pentameter verse. Coleridge relieved the monotony of so much repetition of the same rhyme scheme by interjecting, here and there, a stanza with 5 lines that varied the usual four line rhyme pattern. For example:
                                   . . . . . . 
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
 . . . . . . . .
There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time ! a weary time !
How glazed each weary eye,
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

I wrote a poem, "Wanted, Dead Or Alive," about ten years back. It had some good stanzas going for it...but my ear told me that it got monotonous and dreary about half the way through.  When you silently read a poem, your ears hear it. My ears told me that there was problem...I knew it needed fixing but I lacked the drive or incentive to to do something about it. Some stanzas needed to be scratched entirely and some needed to be rewritten by altering the rhyme scheme in such a way that it helped relieve the tedious monotony of too much unvaried repetition of the same rhythm.. It took me over ten years to do it. This overdue effort transformed the dud into a verse that pleased my ears. (The verse as rewritten can be viewed with a click of the mouse:

As regards the contents of the foregoing library books, my ears liked the sound of Whitman's dactylics "...out of the cradle endlessly rocking," etc. The following poem was the result. Dactylic? I'm not sure...but  I like the sound whatever it is. (Moreover,  I think it's esoteric enough to satisfy even the most ardent "proseit.")


Blow, breath of  Venus! Fan with your blowing...
fan the pale ashes that whisper of death.
Blow, winds from Eden, till once more is growing
the sparks of  a grandeur revived by your breath.
Blow out of Eden and fan the pale ashes.
Blow till the carbon leaps higher and higher.
Blow breath of Venus until the pale remnants
are blood-red and pulsing and vibrant with fire.
Fan the pale ashes till once more there's showing
the glimpse of that Eden you've painted for men.
Fan the pale ashes till once more are glowing,
deep in the bosom, those flames once again.

  2007, Bette Wolf Duncan



Shaney Ridge
Sacrifice Cliff
A Dying Cowboy's Prayer
He'll Make a Cowboy Yet
Empty-Cradle Sad
Cattle Country Trilogy:
The Sweat Belongs t'Me
Mad Dog Mean
Tom and Me

Westward Ho, Their Wagons Rolled
My Pretty Patch of Green
Flowers for Annie
The Old Man Was a Cowboy

8 Seconds From Glory
Field of Dreams

Goin' for Broke  separate page

Makin' Do
Cowboys Don't Cry
The Men From Way Out West—A Different Breed!
The Soddy Dug Into A Hill
Just an Old Horse

Black Sunday
Cowboy Poetry and the Big "Pay Off"


Shaney Ridge

They rode into Montana
with their pockets full of poor,
their appaloosa ponies, and
the homespun clothes they wore.
What was it about Shaney Ridge
that drew the brothers there?
Clear springs of mountain water!
They glistened everywhere.
Through icy chills and six foot drifts,
through mud and sleet and mire,
across the range their claim spread out
from Shaney Ridge to Pryor.

None of it was easy --
One crisis spawned another --
but through it all good-natured George
cheered his worried brother.
Winters tortured Shaney Ridge;
but when the sixth one passed,
nature begged forgiveness
and the range thawed out at last.
Caleb's spirit blossomed out
as soon as winter died;
and that spring Caleb left the Ridge
to fetch a promised bride.
When Caleb and his bride returned,
two months had passed them by.
The parching sun was overhead.
The water holes were dry.
The cattle languished on the range;
and George was not around.
As searing as a red-hot brand...
the note that Caleb found.

One night, it seems, that George played cards
with other gambling men.
He lost his cash; his saddle;
he lost his horse.... And then,
he bet the spread at Shaney Ridge.
He lost his bet again!
George wrote that he was leaving...
that someday when he'd earn
enough to buy their holdings back,
then only, he'd return.
It took a while for all the words

to really filter through.
But when they did, the pain evoked
each curse that Caleb knew.
The dream called Shaney Ridge was gone;
and Caleb had a bride.
So Caleb started over
and hid the rage inside.
Slowly, slowly, years passed by,
as slowly as his ire;
and just as slow, he gained control
of grazing  range near Pryor.
What became of brother George?
Caleb never knew.
His bother simply vanished
like Rocky Mountain dew.
Just like the evanescent dew,
impossible to find;
yet when he viewed the Pyror spread,
George often crossed his mind.
He knew he'd chuck the lot of it...
each acre, steer and calf...
just to see George once again
and hear his brother's laugh.

1998 Bette Wolf  Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Caleb Duncan (my late husband's grandfather) and his brother George, came to the Montana Territory in the late 1800s.  The poem SHANEY RIDGE is an actual account of what happened to the two afterward.  Records indicate that they first ranched near Lewistown in the vicinity of the Judith River.  This is the same area where Charles Russell was then working as a nighthawk; and Caleb knew Russell.  Caleb subsequently ranched in what is Yellowstone, Carbon, and Big Horn Counties.   The name "Shaney Ridge" is fictional.  All other accounts in the poem are based on actual event.

Sacrifice Cliff

It was the Moon Of Heat Waves
and all the creeks were dry.
Big black birds were gliding,
riding downdrafts in the sky.
The warriors rode toward the cliff--
the children of the long-beaked bird--
in Indian tongue, the Apsaalookes;
Crow, the white man's word.

Every breeze brought whiffs of pine
and pungent scents of gray-green sage.
None of it could ease their pain,
or stem their bitter rage.
Prairie dogs and sage hens
still scrambled wildly on the range;
but piles and piles of buffalo skulls
spoke loudly of the chilling change.

No medicine could conjure back
the herds of buffalo,
that always had provided food
and clothes and shelter for the Crow.
Their hunting days were over
and the life they knew was done.
The Crow would have to start anew.
A new day had begun.

The Crows could fight the soldiers
and the bullets they possessed..
but they couldn't fight the pox-fire
the white men brought out west.
Their village had been scourged by pox
and nearly half had died.
Montana had been washed by blood.
Grief had swept the country side.
Blood had seeped into the soil
where now the sagebrush grew;
and blood had stained the memory
of every lodge they knew.

There was blood upon the prairie;
and blood upon the sun.
Tears flowed deep inside them--
but their ride was almost done.
The One Who Had Made Everything
was angry with the Crow.
The tribe owed him a sacrifice
before He'd ease their woes.
The Sun God soon would ride off west,
packing up his golden light;
but they'd be dead before the dog-star
climbed into the dusky night.

The warriors gathered on the Rims
around a rocky bluff.
Perhaps the sacrifice they'd give
that day, would be enough.
With blindfolds on their ponies
down off the cliff they plunged--
their sacrifice completed
and their tribal debt expunged.   
The long-beaked birds were clustered
near the cliff on scraggly trees--
gliding, riding downdrafts.
cutting circles in the breeze.
It was The Moon Of Heat Waves.
The grass was brown and dried.
But the grass turned black
with long-beaked birds,
the day the warriors died.

1998 Bette Wolf  Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Northwest of Pryor, bordering the town of Billings, Montana (where I grew up) rises an arid, rock-ribbed expanse called the Rims.  There was something inside the old weathered fortress that beckoned.  You'd end up spending day after day hiking on its ledges and exploring its caves.  If your eyes lacked the sight to hear the wild, racing hoofs pounding on the valley floor, they surely could hear a muscular, humpbacked buffalo or two snorting in the boulders here and there.  And if you climbed to the top ledge and listened to the howling of the wind through the pile of rocks just east of the Devil's Kitchen cave, you believed the stories were true and that Indians haunted the Rims.  Arrowheads were embedded in the earth. Indian carvings were on the rocks.  And on the eastern edge of the Rims, there rose Sacrifice Cliff, every inch of which was inhabited by ghosts of warriors past. This is a poem based on an incident that occurred on those cliffs. It won the British Columbia Poetry Association first place award.



A Dying Cowboy's Prayer

The night was sprinklin' twinklin' stars
in clusters 'cross the sky...
and down below a cowboy lay,
sick....about to die.
The sky above, the earth below...
was foggy and obscured;
 but in the cowboy's feverish dream,
a distant voice was heard,

"Heaven, maybe...hell, perhaps",
declared a distant voice.
"I've weighed the good and bad in you;
and heaven- that's my choice."
Though racked with pain and fever,
the cowboy hadn't died.
Fighting through the fog, the man,
with heavy heart, replied,
"If it's all the same with you,
I like it fine down here.
I'd like t' ride the range again
and rope some racin' steer.

"I like it fine down here, oh Lord!
It ain't for me up there.
I'd miss the crisp Dakota winds
a' combin' through my hair.
I'd miss the cowboy's laughter,
and the frequent barroom brawl;
the ridin' herd on moonlit nights
and hearin' cattle bawl.
The cowboys down at Caseys,
and the mugs a' friendly beer.....
I'd miss 'em! Lord, I'd miss 'em!
I'd like t' stay right here!

"I'd miss ole Cookie's coffee.
I'd even miss his beans.
I'd even miss my worn out boots
and dirty, beat-up jeans.
The mountain mists at mornin',
and the roarin' waterfall,
the thunder and the lightenin'
of the sudden summer squall....
I'd miss 'em!  Lord, I'd miss 'em!
I know I'd miss 'em all...
the roundups in the springtime
and the cattle drives each fall.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Pain be damned! The cowboy climbed
a mountain cliff all night;
stumblin' every now and then,
but always clutchin' tight.
When the cowboy reached the crest,
his fiery fever  broke;
and in his bedroll on the range,
at daybreak, he awoke.
Never did just wakin'-up
seem such a splendid treat...
not a gray cloud anywhere...
just blue skies, sunshine-sweet.
"Heaven, maybe...Hell, perhaps..."
still echoed in his ear;
and once again the cowboy said,
"I like it fine down here.!"

2001 Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This poem has also been titled "Like it Fine Down Here"


He'll Make a Cowboy Yet

   "You can always tell an eastern dude,"
   I used to hear them say.
   "It's not the way he looks or talks.
   He thinks a different way.
   But give the dude a couple years
   of gripping leather reins;
   and herding cattle all day long,
   across the wind-swept plains;
   of getting bucked off from the horse
   and battered, bruised and skinned--
   with mouth that's full of prairie grit,
   whipped up by flogging wind.

"Give the dude a couple years
of forty-plus below;
of struggling to feed cattle
through six-foot drifts of snow;
of praying for an early spring--
just to face some flood,
and gully washers bearing down
on cattle mired in mud.  "Give the dude a couple years
  of calloused hands and sweat.
  A couple years of all of this....
  he'll make a cowboy yet.
  He'll take the time to look around.
  He'll see a circling hawk.
  He'll take the time to listen
  and he'll hear the prairie talk.
  The same old horse
  he used to cuss,
  he'll cherish as a friend.
  He'll stoke his fire contented
  when the day draws to an end."

2001 Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Empty-Cradle Sad

She lovingly beheld her child.
so tender, pink, and sweet.
Her nine-month journey at an end,
Emma felt complete.
For years, she'd waited for him.
Every night she'd pray
that God would make her fertile.
that she'd have a child one day.
Emma thought a women's place
was in that place called home;
that without a child around her,
she'd always feel alone.

For years, though she was grateful
for the loving man she had,
deep inside, the women there
was "empty-cradle sad".
And when at last, she held her child
and clutched him to her breast,
she thought that God was good to her..
that she'd been doubly blest.
Overhead a V of geese
were winging northward bound.
Down below, with seeds and hoe,
Emma sowed the garden ground.
She placed her cradled infant
beneath a pine with care;
hoping, thus, to shield his eyes
from the sun's bright glare.
Now as she hoed her garden,

some motion caught her eye.
She saw a squaw pick up her child,
then swiftly gallop by.
A group of Crows were winding past
along the Dry Creek trail.
They turned around on hearing
Emma's anguished wail.
She flew just like the geese above,
vaulting fence and streams.
Across the range, the air was wracked
with Emma's wrenching screams.

Usually so gentle,
she was vicious...savage...wild.
She ran and caught the fleeing squaw;
then grabbed her squalling child.
Backing off, the bleeding squaw
fought off a crazed assault;
then lifted up a bloody claw
to urge her foe to halt.
Emma paused; then watched the squaw
ride away alone;
the way she came, was how she left..
without a child...alone.
Forgive the Squaw? Impossible!
She knew she never would.
but deep inside, the women there
most surely understood.

2000 Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This poem is a true account of an incident involving my late husband's grandmother.  The baby mentioned in the poem was his father.



The Sweat Belongs t'Me

The banker owns this ranch of mine...
but all the misery,
and pain and sweat that goes with it-
well, that belongs t' me.
While I might hold the title,
until it's clear and free-
the banker owns the ranch, the stock
and my machinery.
He makes it clear who owns it
when I'm late repaying loans.
While I might own the title,
the rest the banker owns.

Y' take a loan out on your place
when profit's t' be had-
but sooner, more than later,
the economy turns bad.
Recessions and Depressions
always hits the rancher first;
and farmers are the first t' pay
when the bubbles burst.
My grandpa used t' tell me,
"Avoid the mortgage trap...
Y' go t' bed with bankers,
y' end up with the clap."

" new equipment...
y ' gotta modernize..."
That's what the Big Boys had t' say.
I thought that they were wise.
And now the banker owns my ranch
and my machinery;
but all the work that goes with them,
well, that belongs t' me.
While I might hold the title,
until it's clear and free-
the banker owns this ranch of mine....
the sweat belongs t' me.

2000, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Mad Dog Mean

Mad dog mean, the times are....
and it just turned snarlin' rough.
It happened just awhile ago.
They carted off my stuff.
This ranch has been my families
for near a hundred years.
The bank's a gonna auction it.
Too bad they can't sell tears.
If only they could sell my tears,
there's be enough t' pay
back taxes and delinquent loans
and wipe this grief away.

They loaded Grandma's poster bed,
her chiffonier and such.
The chances are that none a' it
will bring too awful much.
The times are mean and ugly....
this day's a snarlin' bitch.
If only I was someone else.
If only I was rich .
The fact is, I ain't none a' that.
I'm just a rancher's wife
who's never known or wanted
another way of life.

If only I could melt away
and join the auction crowd,
and bid on Grandma's poster bed,
and walk with head unbowed.
Great Grandma gave the bed t' her
when she was just a bride.
I watched my Grandma make the bed;
then polish it with pride.
I've known a lot of hard times-
but this sure beats all I've seen.
The times have sunk their teeth in me.
It just turned mad dog mean.

2000, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Tom and Me

All I ever wanted was
t' ranch on Grandpa's place.
It's hard for me acceptin'
that with Tom, that ain't the case.
Tom, he'll be th' last one
t' bear our family name.
I never could quite understand....
he didn't feel the same.
With me and those before me,
we were fixtures on this land.
With Tom, the ranch means nothin'
but some greenbacks in our hand.
Tom, he wanted somethin' else....
a different life and place.
And Tom was filled with memories
that time did not erase.

He watched while Banion lost his ranch
and everything he owned.
It didn't bring enough t' pay
the funds th' bank had loaned.
Recession ate his equity
and left him with a debt
beyond what he could hope t' pay
with prices he could get.
And one day Banion shot himself.....
and Tom could not forget.
T' make it ranchin' nowadays
takes more than work and sweat.

Then Tom went off t' college;
and he got himself a job.
He's makin' lots a' money
and hobnobbin' with the snobs.
I used t' think I'd never sell.
My sweat's in every clod;
in every furrow on this land,
my life's plowed in the sod.

We always made a livin'-
though I can't say that we thrived.
But still, when others bellied up,
Tom and me survived.
But Tom would often urge me
t' blaze some brand new trail;
and come the next inflation,
t' list the ranch for sale.

Now lately, I have wondered;
maybe Tom is right.
This gettin' old is somethin'
that is mighty hard t' fight.
My back and joints are tellin' me
that this time I can't win.
There comes a time for givin up-
a time for givin' in.

2000, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The above trilogy was recognized in 2000 with a :

Special Mention


Westward Ho, Their Wagons Rolled

Stark and primitive, it loomed
in wild, primeval glory...
no state at all- this land they trod-
but just a territory.
They wondered in the wilderness,
assailable, alone....
a planet-breadth away
from all the world they'd ever known....
a land so rawboned... rugged....
that the states back East seemed tame.
Common sense said, "Turn around!
Go back from where y' came."

Then echoed back a sun bleached skull
that leered up from the range,
"This land's not meant for such as you...
too merciless and strange.
Just look around.....there's no place here
for fools the likes a' you.
This land'll break those hearts a'  yours
before your journey's through."
Then  from the orbits that were eyes,
there slithered out a snake.
It warned them, "Better men than you,
this land's been known t' break."

But then, beyond the coiling snake...
beyond the skulls that leered...
beyond the hoary scrags of sage...
a patch of green appeared.
A verdant stretch of meadow grass-
a tonic sip of green-
and Westward Ho...their spirits soared
and raised their sagging dream.
A waving stand of knee-high hope
on which their dream could graze.....
a vision there of things to come
on which their eyes could gaze.
Westward Ho...their wagons rolled
through terrors yet unseen,
driven by the promise of
that pretty patch of green.

2000, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

My Pretty Patch of Green

 Full of rocks, the ground around-
 with little fertile soil-
 and only random well-worn paths
 carved out of years of toil...
 with fields around choked up with weeds
 and crops, starvation lean...
 this you were to me, my love-
 my pretty patch of green.

 And all was oh so verdant
 on my pretty patch of green.
 A stream nearby hummed all day long,
 sibilant, serene.
 Birds were singing, flowers bloomed,
 as long as you were there.
 And oh, my pretty patch of green
 was all so very fair.

 But now no rain, since you've been gone,
 upon the earth's parched crust-
 and all around the dried-up scrags
 are filmed with gritty dust.
 And when the whipping, dust-filled winds
 sweep merciless and mean,
 my love, I think of you and miss
 my pretty patch of green.

  2005, Bette Wolf Duncan
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Dedicated to Bill Duncan


Flowers for Annie

They sat upon the meadow grass
and watched the dawn break through,
while soakin' up the glistenin' beads
of Rocky Mountain dew.
Annie loved this field of flowers-
and therefore, so did he
for any place that Annie went,
that's where he'd like to be.

She'd bring the picnic fixins
and Casey'd bring the beer-
but if the truth were ever told...
the thing that brought him here
was not the field of wild flowers
that Annie thought so dear,
for dearer far to Casey
was just holdin' Annie near.

Casey made a wreath of flowers
for Annie's auburn hair.
She said that when she married him
that's what she'd like to wear.
She wanted flowers- lots of flowers-
for their wedding day...
for the church and for her hair
and for her bride's bouquet.

They talked about the kids they'd have,
the life that they would share-
and Casey placed the wreath of flowers
on Annie's auburn hair.
The gypsy blossoms cast their spell
enchanting him for hours;
and Casey vowed she'd have her wish.
He'd fill the church with flowers.

* * * * * *
The church was filled with blossoms
that the folks from town had brought.
He'd told them Annie wanted flowers-
and flowers is what she got.
The church was filled with lilacs
that were everywhere in bloom.
Sweet, oh sweet the perfume was
that filled the candled room.
A tin can full of dandelions
was brought by sister Sue.
She thought that "they wuz purty"
and that Annie'd like 'em too.
There were tulips from O'Banion's yard,
and blooms from apple trees,
daffodils and other flowers
with unknown names from Lees.

* * * * * *

Flowers- the church was loaded
with flowers everywhere-
 yet, there were in all those blooms,
no flowers for Annie's hair.
So with his wedding 5 hours off,
Casey headed out.
He headed straight for Annie's field.
How well he knew the route.

God blessed this place with vibrant strokes
and Annie loved it so.
She loved to see that gypsy crowd
 a' puttin' on their show.
The hours spent here in Annie's arms-
he never would forget them.
If happier a pair there were,
for sure, he'd never met them.

So absorbed in dreaming,
he didn't hear the sound
of hoofs a' pawing on the earth,
then racing o'er the ground.
O'Banion's bull! He'd crashed the fence!
About this bull they said
he'd gored a man down Cody way
and left him nearly dead.

The bull caught Casey in the field-
and Casey had no gun-
and little time for prayin'-
and no safe place t' run.
The bull caught Casey in its  horns
and tossed him in the air;
and if poor Casey said one,
God didn't grant his prayer.

* * * * * *
The church was filled with neighbors
 and best wishes left unsaid,
for Casey wasn't married.
They buried him instead.
He died before they found him-
all bloody, on the ground;
a lying in a scarlet pool
with flowers all around.

      Back home again with Annie....
In the arms again of Annie....
Somewhere in the heavens
Casey's dreaming dreams of Annie.
In time the sun worked magic.
Flowers graced the cowboy's bed,
nurtured by the kindly earth
and tears that Annie shed.

  2005, Bette Wolf Duncan
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The Old Man Was  A Cowboy

A hawk was riding downdrafts, and was gliding near a spot
 in plain view of the couple; but the couple saw it not.
 With him in his Italian suit and her in her spike heels,
 the two a'  them were flashin' their brand new set a' wheels.
 The bird was of no interest; and neither was this town
 with boarded stores and empty streets and shacks all tumbled down.
 What mattered...they were out of gas...and here there was a pump.
 They'd fill up fast, then whiz on past this "drab, deserted dump".
 They called the lone attendant  "a wrinkled up old coot"
 with "tattered jeans," "oil-splattered hat," and "beat-up, battered boots."
 They wondered," How could anyone not deaf and dumb and blind
 settle in this wasteland and leave it all behind...
 bright city lights and culture and genteel folks...refined,
 the good life, all that mattered- just leave it all behind!
 "How could- why would" anyone just leave all that behind?"

  * * * * * * * *
 The couple's eyes were lazy...and nothing much was seen;
 some scraggly sage and here and there, a lonely patch of green...
 with cactus growing everywhere, in every vacant space-
 just sage and miles of cactus...and the old mans prickly face.
 They didn't smell the scent of sage that kissed the desert air;
 or see the blossoms that adorned a cactus here and there.
 They didn't hear the meadowlark a singin' to its mate;
 or hear the voices in the sage, their clucking tales relate.
 The old man knew they didn't see the beauty all around them...
 the golden nuggets on the ground, he knew they never found them.
 The old man saw them sightless and as deaf as they could be.
 With all their fancy clothes and car, not half as blessed as he.
 His Daddy was a cowboy and at one time so was he.
 While he no longer lived the life, the life he lived was free!

 A cowboy's one part  mustang; the other part is hawk.
 He reads what nature's written; and he hears the prairie talk.
 Clip the feathers from a hawk, and though the bird can't fly,
 the hawk will struggle unto death to reach the open sky.
 Once a cowboy, always one. He'll be one till he dies.
 The hawk in him will ever yearn to glide through Western skies.
 A cowboy's one part mustang, and it rears and bucks inside.
 The old man was a cowboy, and his mustang never died.
 It yearned to race rein around its neck...
 no pushin' pens for 40 hours to get some paltry check.
 Once a cowboy, always one. He'll be one till he's dead!
 He'll always yearn to ride the range with blue skies overhead.
 His Daddy was a wrangler; and at one time, so was he.
 While he no longer lived the life, the life he lived was free!

 The couple eyed the old man and his weather beaten clothes;
 and he in turn, studied them while toying with the hose.
 The old man could've told them... there's beauty in the sage!
 There's beauty in the cactus and old faces scarred with age!
 They speak about endurance...of surviving killer storms...
 of lasting through the Arctic blasts when freezing is the norm.
 Life's the grandest teacher; and with eyes well-schooled, he saw
 shallow roots that wouldn't last to feel the warm spring thaw.
 He didn't envy them their lot. In truth, he found it grim.
 Trade places with them? Never! He thought life favored him.
 The old man was a least he used to be.
 While he no longer lived the life, the life he lived was free!

 With no one breathin' down his neck or yellin' in his face...
 and not one minute being crammed in postage stamps for space,
 The man soaked up the slower pace and  peaceful desert hush.
 He vowed he'd nevermore endure the hectic city rush.
 He pitied city folks their lot...their mad,  non-ending grind...
 and glad he was he'd chucked it and left it far behind.
 Their city "rat race"? Not for him! He thought it sucked man's soul,
 stripped their "person," chaining them to someone's corporate goal.
 Tethered to no time cog in someone's wheel...
 his life here in the desert was vibrant, free, and real.
 The old man was a cowboy...that's what he'd always be.
 While he no longer lived the life, the life he lived was free!

   2005, Bette Wolf Duncan
  This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


8 Seconds from Glory

 He mounted the bull; and at blast-off he swore
 he wouldn't be cast off like dung anymore.
 Let Hell explode! He was bolted astride;
 and this was the day for an 8 second ride.
 Let the bull hurtle and rocket through space,
 propelled by its hate for the whole human race.
 He'd ride out each frenzied eruption and spin.
 This journey was his. It was his day to win!
 8 seconds from glory! 8 seconds from fame!
 8 seconds away from the wild crowd's acclaim!
 Just 5 seconds more...he refused to be thrown.
 Just 5 seconds more, and the buckle he'd own.
 Though his frame throbbed like jets
 from the thrust of the blast,
 he hunkered down tight
 till some three seconds passed.
 2 seconds from glory...Just 2 seconds more!
 He'd ride the full 8 or die trying, he swore!
 But glory is fleeting. It's here, then it's gone.
 One moment, it's there.... and the next- it's withdrawn.
 With 1 second more...just a second to go,
 the rocket exploded and stole the blamed show.
 Glory is fleeting. It's here, then it's gone;
 and his glory vanished like dew drops at dawn.
  2005, Bette Wolf Duncan
  This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Field of Dreams

Hard times in Montana—
that seemed to be the norm.
At least that’s all I ever knew
from the moment I was born.
But that all changed with World II;
the country needed meat-
and from Montana; beef and beans,
plus sugar beats and wheat.

All across Montana, ranchers like
John Mohr
planted crops on pasture land
they’d never cropped before.
John Mohr’s lower forty
was planted with seed beans.
Eventually, this bean field
became my “field of dreams.”

Hard times in Montana
Were harder, far, for some…
some on the dole, or WPA
and some were on the bum.
A thirteen year old hopeful,
I searched the town around.
10 cents an hour for tending kids;
that’s all I ever found.
But that all changed with John Mohr’s beans.
Mohr was hiring local teens.
50 cents an hour he paid…
and ten hours every day.
I hoed the beans in John Mohr’s field—
a dreaming all the way.

Ten hours a day of bending down,
And hoeing through a row;
attacking weeds at every step,
and brandishing my hoe.
But I was busy dreaming
about the dough I’d make;
too full of dreams to care if my
poor aching back would break.

I hoed a million weedy rows.
With every ache I swore,
“No more will I wear worn out clothes…
I’m sick of being poor.
This year I’ll wear a rich girls clothes
for all the school to see…..
for when I get my pay from Mohr,
that rich girl will be me.”

I’ve climbed a long way since those days,
but memory sees me poor.
And no check’s ever meant as much
as what I got from Mohr.
The rancher made a profit.
The soldiers got some beans.
And that year, I was duded up
Just like the high school queens.

  2000, Bette Wolf Duncan
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Bette comments: "Field Of Dreams" was the catalyst that precipitated my four web sites. You see, these web sites, which feature over 40 cowboy poets, are the currency I have used to pay back a kindness done to me some 11 or so years ago. Back in the late 1990s a very popular cowboy poetry web site was "CowPokin' Fun" hosted by Carol Tallmen Jones. She picked a cowboy poet ever couple of months or so; and featured poems of that individual on a separate web page with background and audio. I was honored beyond words when she selected "Field of Dreams" and two of my other poems to feature. I can't find the words to express how much this meant to me. I shared it with relatives and friends with immeasurable pride. My four web sites are the means I have used to pay back that kindness. I couldn't pay "CowPokin' Fun" directly, but I have tried to do so indirectly by following the example set by Carol Tallmen Jones.


Makin' Do

Momma was Depression poor;
and one thing that she knew
was prayin' hard t' God above
t' help her just "make do."

My coat was Uncle Henry’s
before Ma cut it down;
and the little kids had dresses
made from Momma’s wedding gown.

We had a lotta home-baked bread,
and lots a Momma’s stew.
We next-t'-never had a roast,
’cuz we wuz makin’ do.

Our cousins all had horses,
and we begged t’ have one too;
but we could barely feed our cow,
and we wuz makin’ do.

Momma said she "couldn't hardly
make the two ends meet";
and “we didn’t need no pony
cuz we had a pair a feet.”

She didn't heed our moans at all.
She plumb ignored our groans;
and ”makin’ do” was drilled into
the marrow of our bones.

I’m grown and things have changed a lot
from what it was before.
Back then, in depression times,
most everyone was poor.

I’m grateful now for many things,
and I give Mom her due;
I’m grateful that she taught her kids
the art of makin' do.

  2007, Bette Wolf Duncan
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Bette comments: "There’s a surplus of cowboy poems about the ponies their writers had as children. But in the ranching communities in the real West, life wasn’t always that rosy. For every kid that had a pony, there were many who would have given their eye-teeth to have one, but didn’t. Here’s one for all the Western kids who didn’t..."

Cowboys Don't Cry

When I was a kid
growin’ up in the West,
most times I wore boots
and my fringed leather vest.
When grade school was out
and summer came ‘round,
most days I’d hang out
on the rodeo ground.
With my ten gallon hat,
this kid looked right smart—
a ten year old cowboy
dressed up for the part.

I remember that year
on the fourth of July—
a cracker popped off
in my face near an eye.
A medic came out.
I remember him well.
He bandaged a face
that was hurtin’ like hell.
It burned like I’d doused it
with Momma’s strong lye;
but the white-coated medic
said, "Cowboys don’t cry!"

So I clenched my teeth;
and stood straight and tall;
‘cuz I was a cowboy
and cowboys don’t bawl.
And from that day on,
I never once cried;
not even when Caleb,
my Granddaddy died.
The World War was ragin’
when I was fifteen;
and I joined the Army
when I turned eighteen.

I was lucky in Layte,
Mendora, Luzon—
but ran out of luck
when we beached at Battaan.
With a soul that was shell-shocked,
I saw Hell explode
as a beach of God's finest,
the strafing planes mowed.
I dove from the horror
that hailed from the sky,
and I thought of the man that said,
"Cowboys don't cry!"

As I saw my buddy's blood
pool on the ground,
from his torn shreds of flesh
I could hear not a sound.
I fear the best part of me
died in that war.
The cocky, tough cowboy
I was, was no more
With eyes that were screaming
and no longer dry,
I scoffed at the man that said,
"Cowboys don't cry!"

The bullet-strafed ground was
stained dirty red;
and was littered with bodies
of buddies now dead..
Satan's mad demons,
I met them that day—
and I saw what Hell looked like.
I learned how to pray.
With fists clenched in fury,
I shook at the sky;
and I cursed the damn fool that said,
"Cowboys don't cry!"

  2007, revised 2009, Bette Wolf Duncan
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Dedicated to Lloyd William Duncan (1925 - 2002). As a soldier in U.S. Army during WWII, he was stationed in Australia, New Guinea, Layte, Mendora, Luzon, Bataan and Manila.


Bette comments: During WWII the ranching/farming communities in the West were emptied of men and older boys. The majority of the cowboys were gone. They were in the armed forces serving their country. Families placed silk banners in their windows displaying with pride blue stars for servicemen currently serving and gold stars for servicemen killed in the war. There were very few windows in the West that didn’t have a banner with at least one blue star on it. My grandparents had one with two blue stars; and until she died my Grandmother wore a gold cross given to her by the U.S. Government after her oldest son, Bert, died in the service in WWI. These men didn’t cease to be cowboys in the deepest sense of that term...they just wore different uniforms.


The Red Lodge Rodeo
(1940s - 1950s)

Forget?? I've not forgotten
those times when I was young;
and the memory of those rodeos
tastes sweet upon my tongue.
Red Lodge on July the fourth,
I'd find a way to go
to where the crowd and action was...
the home town rodeo.

I'd head on out for Red Lodge
where everyone was goin'.....
where rodeo grounds were packed with folks
and streets were over flowin.
The ruckus of the rodeo
would rock the Red Lodge crowd.
The cheers and chants and jeers and rants
would vibrate thunder-loud.

And when the chute was opened
and Bud Linderman shot out,
the home town crowd went crazy,
as the bronco spun about.
With both legs on the same side,
he'd spur the bronc's right side—
then toss across to the left,
a spurrin' as he'd ride.
The right side—then the left side—
a spurrin' all the while;
and then he'd face the hometown crowd
and flash his hometown smile.

And when it came Turk Greenough's time,
we'd marvel at his skill—
the way he'd step right off the bronc
like it was standin' still.
Standin' still? Not hardly!
It bucked! It kicked! It spun!
But Turk stepped off so casual-like
when his ride was done.

And then came destiny's fair child,
and I can see him still......
the Champion All 'Round Cowboy—
Bud's big brother, Bill.
He could ride the bulls and broncs
that came straight outta hell.
He could ride most any brute
and always he'd excel.

Rodeos...I've seen a lot...
but nothin' can compare
to the home town rodeo
when all your friends are there;
and you're all there together
a cheerin' loud; and when
the riders that you're cheerin' for
are local home town men.

  2000, Bette Wolf Duncan, All rights reserved
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Bette Wolf Duncan comments: I grew up in in Rodeo Country, southeast Montana. Red Lodge calls itself Home of Rodeo Champions. And it is that.. The three cowboys mentioned in the following poem, Bill and Bud Linderman and Turk Greenough, and Alice and Marge Greenough were world champions, all World Chanpion riders. In later years, so was Deb Greenough. All are in the Cowboy or Cowgirl Hall of Fame. A statue of Bill Linderman stands in front of the rodeo gallery, National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City, OK.

My late husband, Bill Duncan, lived close to Red Lodge; and, as a child, he used to play rodeo with Bill and Bud Linderman.



The Men From Way Out West-A Different Breed!

While growing up in Montana, I used to hear folks say, "You can always tell an Eastern dude." This wasn’t entirely a Western concept. The Eastern intelligentsia had long recognized that there was a different quality about Western men. What was it about them that made them unique? And what made them that way? In analyzing these questions, another concept comes to mind. Feed lots and cattle men in the Midwest had long prized Montana cattle. (I don’t know if they still do, but they certainly used to.*) Cattle from Montana and adjacent areas would survive where other cattle would languish or die.

Following is my answer. It is dedicated to all the hard working cowboys and ranchers that I knew. (My late husband is at the top of this list.)

The Men From Way Out West—A Different Breed!

It wasn’t their genetics
or some fabled cowboy deed:
their rock-hard, ranch existence
spawned a different breed—
a different breed...a different creed...
a different way of life;
resourceful, with uncommon zeal
for overcoming strife.

Impossible, their tasks, but they
just somehow did ‘em anyway!

Much, much different men emerged,
distinct from all the rest;
more sage and cactus in their guts,
the men from way out west.
What made the western men unique
was more than how they dressed.
They’d be unique in business suits
while on some Wall Street quest.

And it was more than how they roped,
or how the men could ride.
Their rock-hard ranch existence
had branded them inside.
So deep inside their flesh was seared,
it set the men apart:
more inner-strength and stamina;
more steely grit and heart.

They should have long ago been dead.
They lived, and tamed the West instead.

Just like Montana cattle,
livestock that survived
when other cattle languished,
or dropped somewhere and died.
It wasn’t their genetics
or some fabled cowboy deed:
their rock-hard ranch existence
spawned a different breed—
The Men From Way Out West!

  2001 (revised 2009), Bette Wolf Duncan, All rights reserved
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

*I have lived in Iowa for the past 20 plus years. For 8 years of that time, I was employed as the Director Of The Regulatory Division, Iowa Dept. of Agriculture. During this period my husband was a silent partner with a son-in-law, in a cattle operation located in southern Iowa near the Missouri border.


(Even cowboys get the blues.) 
Rainbows on the Brain

It’s only an illusion,
paintin’ colors on the rain.
It’s only self-delusion
paintin’ rainbows on the brain.

So many times I rode away
and every time I swore
I wouldn’t rainbow-ride again
like I’d done before.
But then I’d get a letter
or we’d share a kiss or two..
Enough t’ keep me rainbow-ridin’
like I’d always do.
Just rainbow ridin’ like a fool
and dreamin’ that it’s true...
that this time I would find again
the Eden we once knew.

It’s only an illusion,
paintin’ colors on the rain.
It’s only self-delusion
paintin’ rainbows on the brain.

There’s such a sparkle in the rain-
hypnotic drops of dew-
that sets the mind t’ dreamin’
that the one you love is true.
But it’s only an illusion
that the bitter winds soon rend;
and I have come to realize
that even rainbows end.
But I’m grateful now for thunder
and the blindin’ drops of rain
‘cuz they help to hide the teardrops
caused by rainbows on the brain

2001, Bette Wolf Duncan, revised 2010
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


The Soddy Dug Into A Hill

Looking down on their herd and their family’s spread
in the Red River Valley below,
they thought of their ancestral "Greats" and their "Grands,"
who lived here a century ago.
It was spoken of yet and they’d never forget
the day of their Grandfather’s birth.
He was born to this land! He was born in the land,
in a soddy dug into the earth!

Bohemian settlers! The offspring of serfs,
with transplanted roots in this Red River turf;
with hard-working hands that were well-scarred from toil,
they shoveled a home out of Red River soil.
And there in a hillside, their first child was born;
in the midst of a blizzard’s contemptuous scorn.
He was born to the land. He was born in the land—
in a soddy dug into a hill.
Though the years had rolled on and the soddy was gone,
his descendants could picture it still.

With a quilt for a window, a quilt for a door,
and a carpet of straw on a frozen earth floor.
It was cold! It was cold! And the soddy was bare.
Just a table, some chairs and a string bed was there;
with a wood-burning stove that devoured all the wood,
with a voracious greed, just as fast as it could.
It was damp! It was cold, nearly twenty below—
and the winds whipped the quilts and hurled in the snow!

Somehow, he survived and in later years, thrived
in this soddy dug into a hill.
He survived on the strength of a dream and a prayer—
and his family’s iron-tough will.
They were born to the land*. He was born in the land,
in a dug-out of tough prairie sod.
Although feverish and weak and ill as a babe,
he was blessed by a merciful God.

His descendants owed much to their "Grands" and their "Greats";
this sprawling Red River estate.
They could still see them yet; and would never forget.
They were good! They were grand! They were great!
They were born to the land and gave birth on this land
to descendants who now viewed with pride
this ranch of much worth that the offspring of serfs
transformed out of raw riverside.

2010, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Dedicated to Mathias Lorenc (1815 -1880), Great, Great Grandfather and Matej Lorenc (Lawrence) (1844-1910), Great Grandfather. Both were from Damosin, Bohemia and came to the United States in 1870. Also, Frank Lawrence, Grandfather (1874 - 1967), first baby boy born in Wahpeton, Dakota Territory.

*The term "Born To This Land" is from a poem of that name by Red Steagall. He used that phrase in a philosophical or metaphorical sense. As to Mathias and Matej Lorenc, that term has literal significance. Until 1848, the rural Czech peasants were serfs of the nobility. As such, they were bound to the land; if their feudal lord decided to sell it, they went with the land. They could not leave the land or marry someone from a different manor, without their lord’s permission. Moreover, their offspring were legally bound to the land and subject to the same restrictions.

This poem was a part of the 2010 Cowboy Poetry Week Art Spur.


The wind in the elms
spoke of rain in the sky.
Like the elm trees, I knew
that the winds sometime lie.
The corn stalks were withering.
The soil was bone dry;
and I prayed, how I prayed,
that the wind didn’t lie.

Bills were too many
and assets too few;
and I knew that the mortgage
was long overdue.
The wind in the meadow
swept o’er the dried grass:
and taunted me, whispering
the drought would soon pass.

This ranching’s a struggle.
There’s some years you win
and some years you take
many blows on the chin….
and there’s sometimes a time
when you’re knocked to the floor,
and you lay there in pain
and can’t rise anymore.

The cattle were languid.
The water holes, dried.
I prayed, how I prayed,
that the wind hadn’t lied.
The bankers were calling.
“Foreclosure!” they said;
and I faced each day
with a heart filled with dread.

Of a sudden I heard it—
the sweetest, dear sounds—
raindrops a slapping the roof, all around...
sweeter than any sounds heard before!
My mortgage payment
was rapping the door.

2010, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

Just an Old Horse

He saw his old horse, and the man saw himself.
He reckoned, “No better! No worse!
He’d just bought himself a burial plot;
and he pondered his grave with a curse.
Just an old horse who’s still hangin’ on;
that’s still got some life left to spend.
Just an old horse who’s still hangin’ on;
who’ll wrangle and romp till the end.

The man saw his horse whose sight was near gone;
whose old achin’ legs were near lame.
He looked at the horse and the man saw himself,
for his rheumatic limbs were the same.
Just an old horse who’s still hangin’ on;
who’s still got some life left to spend.
Just an old horse who’s still hangin’ on;
who’ll wrangle and romp till the end.

2012, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

Black Sunday
     April 14, 1935

Black Sunday, nineteen thirty-five...
the day turned into night;
the thick, black dust that plagued us
had blotted out the light.
It looked like some satanic hand
had poured tar from on high.
It blew and boiled above us,
and charred the raging sky.
Armageddon? Some believed it—
that an awful, evil spell
had been cast upon creation
by the anti-Christ from hell.

The prairie's crust,
gust after gust,
was blown to God knows where.
Outside the house—
Inside the house—
dust clogged the heavy air.
Black Sunday...All who saw it
could clearly understand
that crops would never grow again
upon the ravaged land.
Armageddon? Some believed it—
but the rest knew all too well.....
call it what you want to,
it was a living hell.

The cruel winds blew incessantly
and stripped the prairie bare.
The precious soil, thus swept aloft,
tarred black the heavy air.
We went outside with goggles;
and on faces, towels were hung.
Still dust filmed the eyes and nose,
and grit begrimed the tongue.
Dust filtered through the smallest cracks
and settled on the floors;
upon the stove and in the food;
and even in the drawers.
Everywhere... dust everywhere...
dirty sheets of silt,
although we dusted, swept and mopped
and battled to the hilt.

"Would this nightmare never end?,"
we asked—but knew full well,
that even when Black Sunday waned,
we'd still be facing hell.
Neighbors...some already gone—
just like the dust clouds, blown
down some dust-filled highway
to places yet unknown.
And what of us? Where would we go?
How could we leave our home...
just leave the only life we'd known...
just pack it up and roam?
Oh, the dreams- all dashed to dust...
and hopes that wind did quell;
no golden fields of wheat for us—
just bitter grains of hell!

2006, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

Find images and more about "Black Sunday" here at one of Bette Wolf Duncan's sites: The poem also appears in her award-winning book, Rodeo County.



Cowboy Poetry and the Big "Pay Off"
(June, 2012)

I have been writing cowboy western poetry as long as I can remember. I have invested far more money in pursuing this pastime that I have ever earned from pursuing it. I have not earned many ego building honors for my efforts. I have spent years producing and servicing four web sites devoted to cowboy western poetry and enduring the frustration and ulcers that goes with internet activity. I didn’t make a cent from them. So, you might wonder...wasn’t that a stupid waste of time?

Indeed one of the collateral side effects of devoting myself to writing cowboy western poetry was the interminable condescension of most of my peers. “Oh, are you a cowboy poet or are you a poet who writes about cowboys?” I get their drift. They don’t particularly like poetry in general; but they particularly don’t like cowboy poetry. Once in awhile to impress someone they will quote a line from T. S. Eliot or some other contemporary writer they studied in a compulsory college course. But to tell you the truth, they probably don’t like T.S. Eliot all that much either. (I know a few....I took the same lit classes they did...and I remember their adverse comments about Eliot. )

So why do I sing the praises of those past hours and days and years spent writing and reading cowboy poetry and enduring the ulcers that went along with those four web sites?

About a month ago, I traveled to Rochester, Minnesota, and spent a day at the Mayo Clinic. I turned 82 in May and figured it would be a smart move, given my age, to get a thorough physical examination by top-notch practitioners. I drove to Rochester by myself. No problem. I drive everywhere by myself. In short, I am very independent and determined to remain that way. I function in the same manner as I did when I was in my 40s. The medical staff commented and marveled at my physical and mental well-being. The nurse in particular asked in all seriousness, what was my secret. She even thought I looked considerably less than my age....and she really, and seriously, wanted to know why I had not suffered the ravages of age that beset the majority of folks my age. I told her I kept busy...that I had written three published books of cowboy western poetry; that I spent many hours memorizing several dozen poems for purposes of recitation at cowboy gatherings; that I was currently writing a historical novel called The Man With The Whip-Scarred Back. She wanted to know about the book; and I explained that it was the story of a Russian serf who came to the United States in 1868. I told her that in preparation for this book, I read at least a dozen books dealing with serfdom in Russia.

She told me that she had figured out the “secret” of my physical and mental well-being. It was the “pay-off” for all those years writing cowboy western poetry and historical data; and the mental stimulation involved in being a webmaster. I didn’t make much money from either endeavor...but I found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I am 82 years old and my mind is as sharp as it was when I was in my 40s. (That may not be saying much, but you play with the cards you’re dealt with.)

The mind is a muscle, the same as those in your arms, legs and body. If you don’t exercise your body, it will go to pot on you. Mine has. But I did exercise the muscles in my brain writing all those cowboy poems and historical data , and working on the book publications....and my mind hasn’t. That is the “big pay off” in studying, writing and memorizing cowboy western poetry. That’s worth more than money.

So to all you cowboy poets out there...I say, keep on writing and studying your art. There’s a big “Pay-Off” for doing it that money can’t buy!



Read Bette Wolf Duncan's

Heads or Tails, posted with other Art Spur poems


Ain't Nothin' Quite So Lonely with 2011 Christmas Art Spur poems


The Red Rider posted with Art Spur poems


After the Gatherin' posted with 2011 National Day of the Cowboy Art Spur poems


J.B.'s Song in our 2011 Cowboy Poetry Week Art Spur


Christmas Gathering in our 2010 Christmas Art Spur


"Red River Valley Early Pioneers" and the poem First Year on the Prairie in Western Memories

The Broken-Hearted House in our Art Spur project

She Talked with Horses, part of the 2010 National Day of the Cowboy Art Spur

Memories of Alvin Wolf in Picture the West (and Western Memories)

Goin' for Broke in Western Memories


The Blue Ribbon Words Of The Blue Ribbon Man, a tribute to Rod Nichols


Heading Home in our Art Spur project


Books and CD


The Prairie Poet


Better Wolf Duncan is a popular performer and a long-time proprietor of several websites. The liner notes tell:

 ...Bette Wolf Duncan was born and raised in southeastern Montana. She is the granddaughter of Montana homesteaders, and the great-granddaughter of some of the earliest settlers in North Dakota's Red River Valley. Her late husband's grandfather was one of the early ranchers in eastern Montana.

...She had been writing Western poetry for decades when, a couple of years back, she came to a realization that she would be well advised to actively participate in cowboy poetry gatherings. She did! She enjoyed it immensely, and this CD, The Prairie Poet, is the culmination of that effort.


It Cost Me Mary Lou
8 Seconds From Glory
Rancher's New Computer
The Buzzard Named Boomer
The Sweat Belongs to Me
Adrenalin High
He'll Make a Cowboy Yet
Shaney Ridge
The Broken Hearted House
Muddy Water
The Men From Way Out West
The Blank Out Blues
A Dying Cowboy's Prayer
The Gold Rush Widow
5000 Minus One
Tex Lafitte
The Bull That Brought Him Sown
Rainbows on the Brain
Out in the Out

CD available for $17 postpaid from:

Bette Wolf Duncan
1755 S.E. 108th Street
Runnells, Iowa 50237
(515) 966 2461





The Louisiana Territory, purchased for less than 5 an acre, was one of Thomas Jefferson's greatest contributions to his country. It doubled the size of the United States literally overnight, without a war or the loss of a single American life. Dakota presents a bird’s eye view of the transition of a segment of the Louisiana Purchase into the states of Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Dakota offers historical data meshed with Western poetry, with each one of the book’s twenty-three poems contributing a relevant insight. Topics covered include subjects ranging from the Civil War in Montana, to the "Big Die-Up" of 1886-1887, to the myth and reality of the American West, to the end of the homesteading era. According to the author, Dakota is more than a collection of Western verse—it is a raft with twenty-three supporting logs that has skimmed o’er the river of Western history. Dakota paints a picture of the real west and some of its magnificent people.

The author, Bette Wolf Duncan, was born and raised in southeastern Montana. She is the granddaughter of Montana homesteaders, and the great-granddaughter of some of the earliest settlers in North Dakota’s Red River Valley. Her late husband’s grandfather was one of the early ranchers in eastern Montana.

Learn Western history through vivid details meshed with poetry!

Paperback, $15, Hardcover $25, postpaid from:

Bette Wolf Duncan
1755 S.E. 108th Street
Runnells, Iowa 50237
(515) 966 2461


Rodeo Country



The author, Bette Wolf Duncan, grew up in southeastern Montana, not far from the Wyoming border. This is Rodeo Country; and she celebrates this rich western heritage with poems and photos of regional rodeo champions. She is the granddaughter of early Montana and North Dakota pioneers; and she was married to a former cowboy whose grandparents were among the earliest ranchers in southeast Montana. She can still hear with her heart the pioneers tales of relatives and other old-timers. This book is the echo of their tales and of good times remembered.

RODEO COUNTRY contains a collection of poetry and written accounts that embody much of the history and events that shaped Montana and Wyoming: the westward movement of the covered wagons; Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show; data and poem about Earl Durand; Wyoming's enactment of the Suffrage Act (the first state to do so); the Mormon handcart trek through Wyoming; Black Sunday (April 14, 1935) and the dust bowl; the Johnson County War; the Coal Mine Disaster at Bearcreek, MT; the disastrous winter of 1885-1886;the migration of the homesteaders (the Honyockers) from about 1910 to 1922, in large portions of Montana and Wyoming; and the recession that hit farms/ranches in the 1980s. And of course the book features bios, stats, photos and poetry about the rodeo champions from Montana and Wyoming.

RODEO COUNTRY received the 2007 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Publishing of Cowboy Poetry.

The book is $12.95 from:

B Bar D Publications
1755 S.E. 108th
Runnells, IA 50237
(515) 966 2461


Russell Country


Bette writes:

This collection of poems is an echo of the stories I heard as a granddaughter of early Montana and North Dakota pioneers. These poems contain memories of a time when the great buffalo herds still thundered through the valleys, when Cheyenne and Crow still camped around the Yellowstone River, when mountain men and cowboys, prospectors and miners, rustlers and vigilantes still populated Russell Country. Many of the poems are true accounts of events in the lives of Emma and Caleb Duncan (Grandparents of my late husband, Bill Duncan.)

The poem "Shaney Ridge" tells about how Caleb Duncan and his brother George, through hard work, built up a large ranch in Russell Country; and how George gambled it away. The poem "Empty Cradle Sad" tells about the abduction of Bill's father, when he was an infant, by a Crow Indian.

Bill was raised on the family ranch. As a small boy, he and his brother Pete rode bareback on bucking calves with Bud Linderman, pretending to be rodeo stars. ( Bud Linderman later became a World Champion bareback rider.) Bill was active on the family ranch. In Spring, he helped drive cattle about 50 miles from the home base, to higher leased ranges on the Crow Indian reservation. In fall, he helped drive them back. He figured he'd been on about 20 such cattle drives. Many of the poems were based on accounts in Bill's life.

The poem "Rustler's Roost" is about a band of rustlers that operated out of the Big Horn Mountains. As head of a nine member crew that surveyed the Big Horn Mountains prior to the construction of the Yellowtail Dam, Bill traveled through country that few white people have ever seen. In the five months they were there, they lived chiefly off of the abundant game to be found in the Bighorns. In a very remote section of the Big Horns, the crew came across a narrow pass into the canyon. It had a heavy chain attached to a hook in the granite wall. It was stretched across the pass, and across the adjacent river. Past the boulders, there was a pathway to a fertile plateau. It had long been rumored that there was a band of rustlers that operated out of the Big Horn Mountains; and this apparently was the place. The entire area is now under water; and is part of the Yellowtail Dam Reservoir. Bill was fortunate to have seen this bit of Montana history and to have experienced the wild west in a way that few people living today have known.

This book is $9.95.

by snail mail:
B Bar D Publications
1755 S.E. 108th
Runnells, IA 50237
(515) 966 2461
Or by e-mail:



Contacting Bette Wolf Duncan


Visit Bette Wolf Duncan's web sites:

Cowboy  Poetry of Casey's Corral 
The Cowboy Poetry of Charlie Russell's Stagecoach
The Range Writers    

Rodeo County:



You can email Bette Wolf Duncan:



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