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Chris Isaacs

Chris Isaacs

About Chris Isaacs
Some Poems
Books and Recordings
Contacting Chris Isaacs


 

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About Chris Isaacs 

Waddie Mitchell's words about Chris Isaacs can't be improved upon:

Recipe for a Cowboy Poet

Start with a cowboy
Add a bucket of intelligence
A barrel of wisdom
A lifetime of experience
A lot of salt
A dash of wit
A sprinkle of irony
Mix together
Expose the heart
Add special ingredient
  (personality and philosophy)
Just water enough to bind
Knead and stretch to the limits,
Bake in the sun for at least thirty years.
Serve in large doses, or small, as required.
I know this recipe works,
'cause I got it by examining Chris Isaacs 

© Waddie Mitchell, reprinted with permission from Cowboy Miner Productions, from the book jacket of Chris Isaac's Rhymes, Reasons, and Pack Saddle Proverbs

A two-time winner of the Academy of Western Artists "Will Rogers" Award, Chris Isaacs is a poet who has lived the life that he writes about. He has seen life from a Cowboys point of view for all of his 60-plus years, and his poems and stories are alive with the heart and humor of life from a cowboy's point of view. He can usually find the funny side of any situation, and is considered by many to be one of the finest humorists in the country.

He has worked at many different aspects of the cowboy life from being a full time working cowboy, to rodeoing, to many years as a packer. In between jobs you could usually find him making a living as a horseshoer. He has a passion for good horses and mules, and has even owned a good dog or two. All of these things have given him lots of material for his poems and stories and he has had the opportunity to share these all over the country in the past few years.

Chris credits his friends with a good share of the success he has had with his poetry.  "I have been fortunate enough to have some of the best poets in the world as my friends and helpmates.  When you have folks like Buck Ramsey, Curt Brummett, Ross Knox, Waddie Mitchell and others to give you honest critique and some guidance, it helps you hone your craft.  I am also a true 'fan' of this art form, and I think that helps."

Chris has four poetry CDs: Almost Live at Elko, Most Requested, A Pair of Aces, and Both Sides. Both Sides, was voted best poetry album of the year for 1997 by the Academy of Western Artists. He also recorded a Christmas album, Merry Christmas from Our Camp to Yours, with his friends Jean Prescott, Sky Shivers, and the late Buck Ramsey. Chris has two books of poetry, Bringing it Home and his latest endeavor, Rhymes & Reasons, which received the Will Rogers Medallion Award. (Find more information about books and recordings below.)

Chis has been named a 2009 Arizona Culturekeeper (see the article below) and has received the Gail I. Gardner award and the Wickenburg Western Heritage Award.

Chris lives in the beautiful White Mountains of eastern Arizona with his wife Helen (they married in 1968) and when not off performing can usually be found pretty close to home.


Chris Isaacs named an Arizona Culturekeeper

By Jo Baeza (President of the White Mountains Roundup)

From the White Mountain Independent, November 3, 2009


photo by Don Dane; www.dondanestudio.com

EAGAR –A committee of historians notified cowboy poet Chris Isaacs this week that he is one of 10 Arizonans chosen to be a 2009 Culturekeeper. He will be inducted into the select group Dec. 20 at the Westin-Kierland Resort in Scottsdale. Every year the committee elects 10 Arizonans whom they determine have made significant lifetime contributions to the preservation of Arizona’s cultural heritage. One hundred Culturekeepers will be honored during the state’s centennial celebration Feb. 14, 2012. 

Chris Isaacs has been a working cowboy, horse shoer, rodeo cowboy, Marine, firefighter, poet, performer and packer. In fact, his packing expertise led to his moniker “Packsaddle Poet” in the cowboy poetry community.

People in the White Mountains know Chris for the poetry he performs locally, but many don’t know the extent of his reputation. Chris is well known on the cowboy poetry circuit from Nevada to Texas, from California to Tennessee, and all the way to Canada.

Cowboy Poet Larry McWhorter said, “Chris’s view of the cowboy life can be seen from so many different angles because he has lived so many aspects of it. Chris can ride the bull, drive the bull, and he can shoot the bull with the best of them.”

Chris has recorded five albums of poetry. His album “Both Sides” was the Academy of Western Artists Poetry Album of the Year in 1997. “Out With the Crew” was the AWA 2002 Album of the Year.

Two books of his work have been published: “Bringing it Home” and “Rhymes, Reasons & Packsaddle Proverbs.” The latter was the 2002 winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award from the AWA. In 2004 he received the Wickenburg Western Heritage Award, and in 2005 he was recipient of the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering Gail I. Gardner Award. In addition, his poems have been published in numerous magazines, including Western Horseman and American Cowboy.

Margo Metegrano, managing editor of the web site www.cowboypoetry.com said, “Humor is a great part of these poets’ legacy, and humor is always in good hands with Chris Isaacs.”

Writing and performing are only part of his legacy. Chris has been one of the driving forces behind the White Mountains Roundup of Cowboy Poetry, Music & Art, a nonprofit Western Heritage event that is going into its fifth year. Chris has worked diligently to bring this distinctly American folk art to northeastern Arizona every year in July to celebrate the National Day of the American Cowboy.

 Over the past four years “Chris Isaacs Presents” has featured top performers such as Vincent Craig, Carole Jarvis, Buckshot Dot, Marshall Trimble, Rolf Flake, Stampede, Eldon Housley, Jean Prescott, Dave Stamey, Kent Rollins, Yvonne Hollenbeck and Juni Fisher. Most of the performers have agreed to take a cut in fees because they are friends of Chris and believe in what he is doing.

Chris was born to the saddle. He said, “I never wanted to be anything but a cowboy.” His great-grandfather came from Utah with the Mormon pioneers and settled in the White Mountains. His father, Christopher Columbus Isaacs, came from Shamrock, Texas, to work with the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Blue River country. Chris was raised in Eagar until 1950 when his dad took a job in Mesa.

He said, “In high school I got runnin’ with some kids who rodeo’d.” He caught  the rodeo fever and rode rough stock for about 10 years. In 1964 he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was sent out in January 1967 with the first combat troops attached to the 1st Fleet . During the war, he served as an orderly to a general.

In 1968 he married his wife, Helen, and went to work for the Mesa Fire Department. On the side, he started shoeing horses with the coaching of Bob Ashcraft. Except for a brief time in Arkansas, Chris and his wife lived in Mesa where Chris got a job packing in wilderness areas in the Superstitions and Mazatzals for Mesa Ranger District.

Poetry was always on his mind. He started writing poetry in high school, and entertained his Marine Corps buddies by reciting it. He wrote about the people and places he knew, and things that happened to him.

He said, “When they had the first cowboy poetry gathering in 1985 in Elko, Nev., I wanted to go, but talked myself out of it because I didn’t think I was good enough.” He didn’t go to the largest cowboy poetry event in the country until 1994.

He said, “To be honest with you, I was surprised there were so many cowboy poets. What really surprised me was the amount of people that liked it. A couple of open sessions encouraged me. Ever since then I’ve been performing. I just was lucky with it. I started getting invitations to perform all over. The last 10 years have been really good to me.”

Cowboy poetry gives Chris an opportunity to express how he feels about his way of life. “I’m from the old school,” he said. “A lot of things that are happening now appall me. People want to come to this country, but they don’t understand it . . . I love my state. I have no desire to live anywhere else, but it’s changing.”

Earlier this fall, Chris and his son were out cutting firewood around Mexican Hay Lake. Chris stood and looked off to the east. “Now that’s beautiful,” he said.

“There’s nothing there,” his son said.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Chris told him.

The Packsaddle Poet was surprised when they told him he had been chosen as a Culturekeeper. He said, “I didn’t know what it was. I hadn’t ever heard of Culturekeepers. It was a shock. When they explained it to me, I considered it quite an honor.”

© 2009, White Mountain Independent; reprinted with permission


photo by Don Dane; www.dondanestudio.com

A Few Poems

The Cowboy Creation
The Flying Horse
Thanks, Grandpa 
The Dying Breed
The Wild Horse Race

I Never
Good Camps
A Solid Foundation
Ol' Double

Michael Bia  (separate page)

 

 

 


The Cowboy Creation

Here's to all the "real cowboys"
(May God preserve the breed)
Who make their living horseback
And still live proud and free.

Who ride the "grande pastures"
Or the feedlot alleyways.
Who fight the heat of summer
And those freezing winter days.

Who wouldn't trade their worn-out "kack"
For the trappings of a king.
Who still believe in God and Country
And the joy that family brings.

Men who still believe that freedom
Is the most important thing in life.
That you treat a lady with respect
Be she a stranger or your wife.

Who use a different way to score
The tally book of success.
Who keep company of horse and cow
And avoid the cities' urban mess.

Success they measure by the ruler
Of honesty and truth,
Though their manner may be bashful
And their style a bit uncouth.

Their ways have stood the test of time.
They wear well the cowboy pedigree.
And these reluctant heroes of the west
Have created ten million "wanna-be's."

© 2001, Chris Isaacs, reprinted with permission from Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Following this poem, Chris Isaacs writes: The American Cowboy is the only true icon that this country has ever produced.  He has become a symbol of America throughout the world.  As a packer and wrangler I have had the opportunity to deal with people from all over the world, and it has always amazed me that folks from foreign countries will still come to the west expecting to find "guntoting cowboys and Indians" here in Arizona.  They are fascinated by the west and anything "cowboy."  Hollywood has a lot to do with this phenomenon, but I think the real cowboys are still mystified by the fact that they are viewed as a "symbol." They shouldn't be surprised.  The values that most of them hold dear are the values that made this country great to begin with.  Love of family, faith in God, a strong belief in right and wrong, a love of country, a strong work ethic, a handshake worth more than a contract, these values are admirable in any society.  Not a bad type of "symbol" to be.


 

The Flying Horse

As a cowboy "making a circle"
You can see some funny things,
But the strangest one I ever saw
Was a horse that sprouted wings.

It was way up on the Hulsey Bench
When the summer grass was high;
One of those days so filled with beauty
It'd bring a tear right to your eye.

I was riding ol' Spud and leading a mule,
Packing in a load of salt,
When a bend in the trail brought to my eye
A sight that made us halt.

There in the meadow asleep like a babe
Laid a big ol' buckskin mare.
She was dreaming the dreams of the pure in heart;
She didn't have a care.

She must have filled her belly in the cool of the morn
And when the sun got high
She found her a sunny spot to sleep
And just dream of the by-and-by.

Now the thing that was odd about this scene,
That would get your attention twice,
Was off to the side stood a big black crow
Just as cool as summer ice.

The ol' crow seemed perplexed, he wasn't quite sure
If the mare was alive or dead.
So he hopped to and fro all around ol' Buck
From her tail plumb up to her head.

Now where to begin on this pleasant repast,
The ol' crow sat there and thought.
To start at one end and just work my way through,
That's the best was as likely as not.

Now if I start at the head I'll run into them bones,
And they're mighty hard on my beak.
But if I stick to the soft parts and bypass the rest
I ought to have him gone in a week.

So Mr. Crow hopped up around to the back of ol' Buck,
Just to find him a good place to start.
He looked up and down from the him and the hock
Just to find the tenderest part.

Now with ol' Buck stretched out like a stiff on a slab,
It sorta left her tail stickin' out in the air.
And right there underneath seemed a good place to begin;
Why, there wasn't even no hair.

Mr. Crow looked again and said to himself,
"Oh, my, is that a bullseye I see?
I swear, that shows me right where to start,
And the best part of all, it's plumb free!"

So, without further ado, he raired back and pecked
And hit that bullseye right there on the dot,
But his joy turned to horror when Buck's tail clamped down
And Mr. Crow realized he was caught.

Ol' Buck quit the earth like a space shuttle flight
Just leaving the launching pad.
To be woke from her dreams in just a fashion
I figure it drove her plumb mad.

She jumped, she bucked, she whirled, she kicked;
She was clearing the tops of the trees,
With that ol' crow's head clamped tight under her tail
And his wings just fanning the breeze.

Now the higher she'd buck, the harder he'd flap,
And they both had something they wanted to lose,
But the harder he'd pull, the tighter she'd clamp;
It was kinda like one of them "catch twenty-twos."

'Course from where I was sitting it was easy to see
How ol' Buck could've cured all her ills.
If she'd just lifed her tail and broke wind real hard
She'da blowed that crow plumb over the hill.

But when I seem 'em last they was tearing down trees
And clearing the brush, far and wide;
Ol' Buck trying to pinch the head off that crow,
And him just a whippin' her hide.

Like I said at the first, as a cowboy at work
You can see some peculiar things.
But the strangest thing I ever saw
Was that horse that sprouted wings.

© 2001, Chris Isaacs, reprinted with permission from Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

Thanks, Grandpa 

I think back now and then on the days of my youth,
They were happy and carefree and fun.
Some of the best of them all were spent with Grandpa
I was proud to be his grandson.

Gramps had shoed horses most of his life;
A better shoer was dang hard to find.
Sometimes he'd take me along, though I wasn't much help,
He'd say "I might get in a bind

"And I'll need a good handler to help bail me out
If some half-broke ol' horse just won't stand.
A good handler's important to a man hanging iron,
And my grandson here, he's a hand."

Oh it made me feel good to hear Grandpa brag
About his horse holder when folks were around.
To hear him say that he needed my help
To me was a beautiful sound.

I'd watch every move that Grandpa would make
Around a horse with some nervous quirk
He'd go easy, but quick, and I soon came to know
I was watching a master at work.

I'd ask questions and, Gramps, he would answer,
And though I was too young to know,
He was trying to lay a foundation
For me to build on and grow.

I asked once, "What's this horseshoe worth, Gramps?
Can't be more than a nickel or two."
He looked at the shoe, and then looked at me;
He said, "Son, that depends on you.

"If you take that old shoe and throw it back in the box
And forget that it's even around,
Why it'll tarnish at first and then turn to rust.
After a few years it just won't be found.

"Or you can take that same shoe and nail it on cold,
Without shaping or working it any.
The chances are good that you'll cripple the horse,
And that shoe would be worth not a penny.

"But if you take forge and anvil and work that shoe right,
And trim up the foot like you should,
Well, the horse may not know it, but I promise you, son,
You'll do yourself and that pony some good.

"That's the way life works, pard: the choice is all yours,
If you want you can just rust away.
Or like the cold shoe you can look mighty fine
And still not be worth your pay.

"But if you can take the heat and blows that life gives,
And bend, but never crack,
Then your value mounts up and you're a worth a whole lot.
You can face life and never look back."

Well, I don't know if I realize yet
Just how wise my grandfather was,
But I cherish the memories I have of him now,
And I'll love him forever because

Although he was just a small-town, country horseshoer;
Never had much more than just family and friends;
But he knew about "life," and the value of work,
And how to help boys become men.

© 2001, Chris Isaacs, reprinted with permission from Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

The Dying Breed

I can't call myself a cowman;
     Hell, I've never owned a cow,
But I've worked for some good ones;
     some that sure know how

To make the calf crops pay the bills
     when there wasn't enough rain,
Or hold their own with bureaucrats
     and play that never-ending game

Men whose word is binding;
     Whose handshake is their bond.
They give what is expected
     and then they go beyond.

Men who understand good horses,
     and what cow mammas tell their calf;
Who take life "rough and tumble"
     and still manage a good laugh.

Whose hands are rough and rope-burned,
     who walk with stiffened gait.
Who stick by a friend through thick and thin
     and never vacillate.

Who took good care of their land
     before that was politically correct,
Who feel endowed by their Creator
     to preserve and protect

The land they are stewards over
     and that job they took to heart
They made their life's work ranching
     and they play well their part.

So it's been my lot for many years
     to have worked for some of the best
Of these men who may be a "dying breed"
     yet have not shirked the test.

Who have not knuckled under
     or sold out to the corporate dragon.
Who've held the ranch together
     and still ride out with the wagon.

And I thank the Lord in heaven
     for giving me the chance
To know some of these good men
     who still work the "family ranch."

© 2001, Chris Isaacs, reprinted with permission from Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Following this poem, Chris Isaacs writes:  I've been in and around the cowboy lifestyle all my life.  I've been a working cowboy, a day-work cowboy, a rodeo cowboy, a packer, and horseshoer almost all of my adult life. Yet like most purists, I've been hesitant to call myself "cowboy," because I feel that title should be reserved for the folks who earn their living every day as working cowboys.  It has been my good fortune in life to have become good friends with some sure enough top-hand cowboys, and to have been included in their circle of friends. Men like B. A. Randall and his son Burt, Billy Green, and Art Lee.  In my circle of poet friends, men like Leon Autrey, Curt Brummett, Jesse Smith, Sunny Hancock, Kent Rollins, J. B. Allen, Waddie Mitchell, Larry McWhorter, Ross Knox, Rolf Flake, and others who are "cowboy," have been a great influence in my life.

I take it as a high form of praise when someone calls me "cowboy" and I never argue the point. However, I am sensitive enough about that title that when I started going to cowboy poetry gatherings, I billed myself as a "Packsaddle Poet" because that's how I was earning my living.  I've tried to "make a hand" whenever the opportunity presented itself, but I am always aware that a "Cowboy" has honed skills that I may not quite have mastered yet.

I'm starting to get preachy, so just let me say that my poem, "The Dying Breed," was written because of the great admiration that I have for the men who make their living as cowboys.  Especially those who are still trying to hold the "home place" together and fight the daily battle with not only the elements and the market, but also with folks and agencies out there who would destroy that way of life.  May God preserve them and the cowboy way of life.

 

The Wild Horse Race 

From the Bloody Basin country
     beneath the Arizona sun
Came three wild and woolly brush hands
     just to have a little fun.
They decided to expand
     their reputations don't you know,
As the greatest Wild Horse Racers
      at the All Ranch Rodeo.

Their claim to fame was elementary.
      Said they simply were the best
At the sport of Wild Horse Racing
     in the history of the west.
Why, their record was prodigious,
     every year they'd won the race
(Except for nineteen sixty-seven
     when they came in 14th place).

They earned their daily meat and beans
     riding for the Double U.
They were hairy legged, hard and fast
     brush-poppers thru and thru.
So on the mighty Colorado River
     (or at least the Arizona side),
It was known there wasn't anything
     the Two U boys couldn't ride.

Now on the rivers other shore,
     three Prune Pickers rolled their beds,
And as they slept at night
     sweet dreams of victory filled their heads.
They often dreamed of putting
     these uncouth brush-poppers in their place,
For they were disciples of the old vaqueros,
     full of dash and grace.

Where the Two U boys always used brawn
     with no sign of finesse,
The Californios simply whispered
     and their broncs would acquiesce.
They vowed to work their equine wizardry
     before the spell-bound crowd
In a way so utterly scientific
     it would make Robert Redford proud.

Now the morning of the showdown
     both teams were on the run,
Just to perform last minute rituals
     before the sounding of the gun.
The Two U's put on clean underwear,
     and then they went to Mass.
While the Prunies prayed to Buddha
     then they smoked a little grass.

The atmosphere was electrical
     as both teams strode into the arena.
The Grand Entry, then the Anthem
     sang by some diva named Salena.
The starter slowly raised his pistol,
     then fired his gun up in the air,
And was promptly run down where he stood
     (a sad start to this affair).

The Two U boys attacked in force
     while the Prunies looked serene
As they hummed and lit some incense
     they had hidden in their jeans.
One of the Arizona clan cried
     "Their cheatin' damnit, stop the watch!"
 But then his protest was interrupted
     by a hind foot to his crotch.

But his pards were there to help him,
     to his rescue now they flew,
Where one was cow kicked in the belly
     and promptly swallowed half his chew.
Then the other leaped to throw the saddle
     on that bronco's wiley hide,
But he over shot his mark
     and crashed into the chute gate, where he died.

Now the advantage went to the Prunies
     by the margin of three to two,
And these boys meant to play their hole card
     like some wiley buckaroos,
But their mystic equine voodoo
     had begun to work its magic spell;
Too much incense and their humming
     had blown their strategy to hell.

For their bronco stood there mildly
     as the boys screwed down their saddle,
Then simply turned his head and looked around
     as the rider lit astraddle.
"Good hell, this horse is stoned"
     one of the Buckaroos began to wail.
"I told you not to put our stash
     next to them damned alfalfa bales!"

By now one Arizona puncher
     had a hairy bronc ear 'tween his teeth,
And his shirt was torn and tattered
     like a dried out Christmas wreath.
For the tussle had grown horrific
     with that ol' bronco on the buck,
While them boys was turnin' cartwheels
     like a gymnast run amuck.

Then from the crowd some PETA advocates
       dashed into the fray,
To halt this ugly show of equine cruelty
      with their slogans on display.
They were here to march in civil protest
       with their banners held so proud,
But they were dispersed by two raging broncs
       who got a standing ovation from the crowd.


Then from the dust and the confusion
     came the sound of passing gas.
The kind of sound made by a jake-brake
     on a big rig rolling past.
Then the hair stood up on our necks
     as we heard a cowboy cry,
"He's all yours pard;
     I'm blinded by this horse s*** in my eyes!"

The boys from California saw
     that luck had smiled on them this time.
"We'll just whisper this here pony
     plumb across the finish line."
Now the Prunies started humming,
     and then began to chant and sway
(While their bronco started looking around
     for some more high-octane hay).

They hummed and pushed and pulled and hummed
     toward the checkered flag
But at the finish line they were mowed down
     by a bucking squealing nag.
"Foul" cried the Prunies.
     "They only had one man left by heck,
And he wasn't even in the saddle,
     he was just hanging on her neck."

"That's true" the judge replied
     as he surveyed the ghastly mess,
"But we have to check your horse for drugs.
     We'll do a urinalysis.
Well, the Prunies knew that they'd been beaten
     by an old archaic law,
They cried "This horse is sick. That was medicine.
     We'll settle for a draw!"

Well, that night, one beaten, battered cowboy
     and his pard (who now is blind),
Dug a grave next to the river bank
     and left their ol' friend there behind.
And the Prunies? Well, they left for a clinic
     to hone up on their whispering obsession.
Oh, and their poor ol' bronc?
     Well sir, he got six-months for possession.


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

 

 

I Never

I never saw the Old West
It was gone before my time,
Just the stories told by some old gray haired men.
And the memories of those tellers
Fed dreams for guys like me
Helped imagine how it must have been back then.

“Cuz I never saw the great cattle drives
Before fences cut the land.
Never saw the mighty herds of buffalo.
Didn’t see the Conestoga wagons
Nor viewed the rivers running free
Before the dams that all but stopped their flow.

The Sioux and bold Apache
Who fought to halt the tide,
Were gone to reservation ‘fore my time.
The outlaws and the bad men,
The lawmen bold and brave,
Were distant memories long before my prime.

The stage coach and freight wagons
That transported folks and goods
Were replaced by trains and airplanes in my youth.
I was still a young man when Armstrong
Took that “giant leap for mankind”
And proved that ol’ Jules Verne had told the truth.

The Old West was just a memory
When I was still a kid.
Stories told by old men who’d lived it when still young.
They made it come alive for me,
And those pictures in my mind
That they painted rolled like honey off their tongue.

But I was here to see some of the workings
Before the old ways were all gone,
Like a buckboard parked in front of a corner store
With horses standing on three legs;
Their tails swishing at the flies
While the driver visited friends there by the door.

I remember when cattle still had the right of way
And grazed all up and down the road;
When Arizona still had lots of open range.
When team roping was still tie down
And we’d never heard of goose necks
And cowboys in town didn’t seem so strange.

And I saw the glow of a brandin’ fire
Made by mesquite or pinion coals
Long before the days of the noisy butane blast.
Calf tables and Burdizzos
Were still some years away
And I thought the Tried and True would surely last.

But while I was lookin’ backwards
And tryin’ so hard to hang on
To a way of life that was changing every day,
The future over took me;
Just ran roughshod up my back
In spite of anything that I could do or say.

And, I never saw the Old West,
It was gone before my time.
Just the stories told by some old gray haired men.
Memories for the tellers,
Dreams for guys like me,
And I wish to God those times could come again.

© 2012, Chris Isaacs
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's  permission.

Chris comments: I guess now that I'm getting a little "long in the tooth" it's normal that I think about days past and I think maybe the idea for this poem came from a trip I made a year or so ago to Mesa, Arizona, the town where I grew up and went to school. When I graduated from High School in 1962 the population of Mesa was about 30,000; today it is over half a million. As I drove thru town I passed the old D&D Market building that is still there and remembered that it was not uncommon as a kid to see a buckboard parked there. Mesa was still a hub for farms and ranches back then. Anyhow it got me to thinking how much things have changed in my lifetime and how lucky I was to have seen a few things before they were all gone.

 

 

Good Camps

I love to get back off the roads
And away from man-made lights
Where at night you can clearly see
The stars just shining bright.

To set around a campfire
And swap a take or two;
Let the glowing coals sorta hypnotize
When that day's trail is through.

To see that bright Big Dipper
Point to his ol' friend North Star
Then just crawl down in your bedroll
And know that Heaven's not so far.

To wake up just as dawn breaks
And thank God for morning's birth
And for the fact that every now and then
We still find Heaven here on Earth.

© 2013, Chris Isaacs, from From the War Bag
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's  permission.


 

A Solid Foundation

It was just a small shop at the edge of our town
That most folks wouldn't notice at all
Not much about it that might catch your eye
At least nothing that I can recall

But the outsides sometimes don't tell the tale
That's a lesson that I was to find
For there on the inside of that old run down shop
Were treasures of every kind.

Saddles and bridles. Some bits and some spurs.
Ketch ropes that hung on a peg.
Navajo blankets and some cool back pads
And horse shoes there in a keg.

The smell of that shop when you walked in the door
Was of neetsfoot oil and new leather
Each of the two had a smell all their own
But somehow they sure went together.

But the thing that drew me in the front door
Was the old man there in the back
Bent over his work bench with tools in his hand
Workin' on some cowboy's kack.

Seems he always had the time to visit with me
(Though pride in his work was his duty)
And to watch him turn smooth cowhide into fine art
To me was a rare thing of beauty.

I'd watch him carve acorns, sunflowers or roses
On a fender or cantle or swell
Or to painstakingly lace two rear jockeys together;
There was pride in the work you could tell.

I would watch him for hours there at his bench
As he carefully carved or laced
Till the finished product was like a jewel in a crown
Each part secure in its place.

I asked him one time as he started a new saddle
"Why does it take you so long
To work on the hidden part there under the seat
No one will see anything if it's wrong."

He looked up from his work and took a deep breath
And said "Son, now listen real good.
It's the 'foundation' of the saddle that I'm workin on now,
And it's more than just rawhide and wood.

"The seat is dang sure important to the cowboy,
He wants a comfortable ride.
Cuz the mind can't enjoy what the butt can't endure
So build that foundation with pride.

"If I do a poor job on that part; skimp on materials and time,
Then the rest, it don't matter at all.
You can cover it up with fancy carving and such,
But you set yourself up for a fall.

"It's the same way in your life son, so remember this fact,
Your foundation in life is your 'word."
It don't matter at all how good your outsides might look
Cuz you just can't polish a turd.

"Keep your foundation solid son and then you'll be OK
Leave the 'bling' up there on the shelf
That solid foundation will give you a good start in life
And the rest will take care of it's self."

Well, the old shop is gone now, and so's my old Friend
But I remember the old man with pride
And I've tried to remember him sayin' that a "Solid foundation
Will make life a more comfortable ride."

© 2014, Chris Isaacs
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's  permission.

 

Chris comments, "I have several friends who are saddle makers and it has always intrigued me that they will spend so much time working on parts of the saddle that will never be seen but are so important to the finished product. Men like Carson Thomas, JW Beeson and others are true 'Journeymen' whose work is so basically sound. That's why their work is so in demand. I guess I must have been thinking about why foundations are so important and then thought, 'You watch folks at a trade show or some place where saddles are on display and they rave about the beauty of a beautifully hand-tooled saddle, never thinking about the important 'Unseen' things that make the piece a true work of art. I just felt that Master Saddle Makers were a good example of what I was trying to say with the poem."




 

 

Ol' Double

It's funny how memories can ambush you some,
Just come at you from out of the blue
For no reason at all they just seem to appear
And why? I just don't have a clue.

But sometimes it happens and today it sure did,
And for some reason this memory decided to stay
Of a little paint horse that I wish I still had,
And I'm missing Ol' Double today

I've had two or three that was better than him.
So it wasn't because he was the best.
He wasn't too pretty if that was your thing,
And with size he sure wasn't blessed.

He had a split ear and a white spot in one eye,
And he'd buck when the mornings were cold.
But he'd try anything that I asked him to do,
Cause he had a heart of pure gold.

No, he wasn't the best by any stretch of the mind
But I'd take a whole herd just like him any day
Cause I don't need a world beater, just a good honest horse
And I'm missing Ol' Double today

© 2015, Chris Isaacs
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's  permission.

 

Chris and Ol' Double

 

 

 

Read Chris Isaacs' poem for Larry McWhorter, The Minstrel, with other tributes.

 

On October 11, 2007, we posted news about a Louise Serpa exhibit:

  The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum will exhibit the rodeo photography of Louise Serpa, "the first woman to be allowed to enter the rodeo arena to record the exciting and unpredictable action shots on film."

The Museum comments, "At 82, with hundreds of rodeos to her credit, Serpa is a living legend. In 1992 a magazine article in The New Yorker said about Serpa's evocative black-and-white photographs, 'It's hard to believe your eyes when you first see how wild in form her pictures are—both the horses and the cowboys take on shapes so free from gravity that if you didn't know better you'd think they were made of rubber or were products of trick photography.'....Serpa holds the honor of being rodeo's best woman photographer and ranks among the top PRCA sanctioned shooters. She also was the first woman allowed on the courses of the Grand National in England, and the first to cover the Dublin Horse Show. Clem McSpadden (1989 Rodeo Hall of Fame inductee, 1998 Ben Johnson Memorial Award recipient, and 2008 Chester A. Reynolds Memorial Award recipient at the National Cowboy Museum) called Serpa the "Ansel Adams of Rodeo."

Read the official media release here, which tells, "
Louise Serpa not only broke through the barriers of a male dominated rodeo photography fraternity 30 years ago, she also shocked members in Manhattan's high society where in 1943 she revealed her "inner-cowgirl" when she rode sidesaddle down the banister of the Waldorf-Astoria and ripped the back out of her floor-length dress at her debutante ball..."

The exhibit (February 9, 2008 through May 5, 2008) will include 50 silver gelatin photographic prints; a documentary titled "When the Dust Settles"; and a 2004 interview with Serpa conducted by the Museum's research center director, Chuck Rand.

[Photo: Bill Benton, High School Finals, Douglas, AZ, 1962; Serpa's first magazine cover; photo courtesy National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum]
 

Chris commented, "Your article on Louise Serpa brought back a lot of memories from a long time ago. Louise and I were at a lot of the same rodeos in the 60's and I'm proud to say she was a friend although I haven't seen her in years. I'm glad to hear that she is being remembered and honored for her work. She's a great Lady. Here's a photo that Louise took of me in about 1963 or 1964. If you look close in the bottom right hand corner you can see her Walking S brand that she signed her photos with [see the detail below the photo]."

Chris adds, "As a side note, the photo you posted with the article was taken at the Arizona High School Finals in 1962. My dear friend Fred Eaves whom I wrote about in the poem 'Fred' in my book [Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs] was the calf roping Champion at that Rodeo so that article stirred lots of memories."

 

 

Books and Recordings 

Chris Isaac's humor and humanity come through his work, and his timeless messages make for treasures that readers and listeners will enjoy for a long time to come.

Books

From the War Bag

 

  Cowboy, packer, and popular poet and humorist Chris Isaacs collects poems, stories, drawings, and photos in his new book, From the War Bag. He writes in the introduction, "There wasn't enough of any one thing to make a meal out of, but all together they might make a decent stew."

That stew is generously seasoned throughout with one of the most important ingredients in his life: friends. Those friends are often the inspiration for the book's mostly hilarious tales that range from cowboy pranks to spectacular wrecks. Need it be said: political correctness be damned, throughout.

Fellow cowboys who are also poets figure into the yarns: Larry McWhorter, Waddie Mitchell, Jesse Smith, Sunny Hancock, Ross Knox, Rolf Flake, and others. Parodies take on Wally McRae ("Plagiarism" begins, "What is this thing called Plagiarism?"), Gail I. Gardner ("If Will Shakespeare Had Written "Sierry Petes"), and Banjo Paterson.

A section titled "Empty Saddles" pays particular tribute to friends who have passed on. Even those pieces are salted with humor and underlying them all is his rough-and-tumble and sincere affection. Top singer and songwriter Dave Stamey, in the book's foreword, comments, "...when you become Chris Isaacs' friend, you become a part of his family. That's how deep it goes."

Not surprisingly, praise for the book and the man is plentiful. Jay Snider, Jim Jones, Amy Hale Auker, and Kent Rollins lend back-cover blurbs. Waddie Mitchell has written:

In this little book, a person can get lost in the wild beauty, tickled by crazy, educated by an expert and thoroughly entertained for hours. Chris is a natural born storyteller and observer of life. No one I know can pick the good and funny out of small moments like him. I've been lucky to spend a considerable amount of time around Chris over the years and am always anxious to get more. This book is like spending comfortable time, feet up, listening to one of the best.

Get the full serving of warm, wacky, and wild poems, stories, drawings, and photos in From the War Bag from Chris Isaacs, 502 N Harless, Eagar, AZ 85925, for $20 postpaid. Or order via PayPal (tubi6@yahoo.com).


Bringing it Home

  Bringing it Home
With a foreword by Waddie Mitchell, this book includes more than 30 of Chris Isaac's most popular poems, including The Flying Horse and Mutual Respect.

Paperback, 68 pages. This book is out of print as of November, 2009; it is sometimes available through used book sources.

 


 

Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs


Click for Cowboy Miner Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs
This book, with a foreword by Larry McWhorter, is a favorite here at the BAR-D. You can get an autographed copy directly from Chris Isaacs or order from the publisher, the fine folks at Cowboy Miner

This book was awarded the AWA Will Rogers Medallion Award.

Hardcover, 216 pages, $19.95 plus poaste from Chris Isaacs 502 N Harless, Eagar AZ 85925 and from Chris Isaac's web site:

 



CDs

A Pair of Aces

  A Pair of Aces, honors the memory and celebrates the talents of Chris Isaacs' friends, Cowboy Poetry greats Sunny Hancock and Larry McWhorter. Accompanied by Rich O'Brien's exceptional background tunes, the CD features Hancock and McWhorter favorites, along with an interesting few selections of lesser known poems. 

Aside from the considerable entertainment value, there is much to be learned from these sorely-missed masters and Chris Isaacs captures that wisdom in his recitations.  Our review is here.   

Included are:

 Sunny Hancock's
"The Bear Tale
"Doggerel, Plain and Simple" 
"The High Steppin' Kind" 
"The Horse Trade
"Change on the Range
"The Difference"
"Ode to My Lady, My Wife"

and 

Larry McWhorter's 
Advice to the Traveler
The Retirement of Ashtola
Gate Session
He Rode for the Brand
The Red Cow
The Real Thing
Open Gate  
 


A Pair of Aces is available for $15.95 plus postage from Chris Isaacs, 502 N Harless, Eagar AZ 85925 and from his web site.

 


Most Requested

 

 

 


 Most Requested
This CD includes the most popular poems that Chris has written and/or performed over the past few years, including The Flying Horse, Mutual Respect, Michael Bia, and more. 

$15.95 plus postage from Chris Isaacs 502 N Harless, Eagar AZ 85925 and from his web site

 

 


Out With the Crew

 

  Out With the Crew  
This CD includes poetry performed by Chris and written by some of the best poets alive. 

The experience of this fine CD -- winner of the Will Rogers 2002 Best Cowboy Poetry Album Award from the Academy of Western Artists -- is like a gathering of top poets. Chris Isaac's great idea to record poems of the top contemporary poets (and one classic by Bruce Kiskaddon) says quite a bit about him, his respect for other poets, and for what he contributes to the world of Cowboy Poetry.

Chris, in his engaging style, recites poems by Wallace McRae, Joel Nelson, Bob Bird, R.W. Hampton & Phil Martin, Jesse Smith, Larry McWhorter, Rolf Flake, Leon Autrey, Rod McQueary, JB Allen, Sunny Hancock, Bruce Kiskaddon, and Randy Rieman, and one of his own.  There are vocals by R.W. Hampton, Lisa Isaacs, and Leon Autrey, guitar work by Leon Autrey, R.W. Hampton & Pat Dressen, and violin by JoAnn Isaacs Brookover.  

The CD includes some of the best modern poems ever written: "One More Shippin' Day" by Wallace McRae; "For Woody" by Rod McQueary; "The Horse Trade" by Sunny Hancock; "Johnny Clare" by Larry McWhorter....see what we're sayin'?

$15.95 plus postage from Chris Isaacs 502 N Harless, Eagar AZ 85925 and from his web site


Winner of the Will Rogers 2002 Best Cowboy Poetry Album Award
 


Almost Live at Elko

 

  Almost Live at Elko

Recorded live at the 2002 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko Nevada.

Chris performs favorites like "Pert Near," "The Flyin' Horse," and "When They Finish Shippin' Cattle in the Fall." He also has some political observations (Liberals Beware) and a story or two about some of his cowboy friends!

$15.95 plus postage from Chris Isaacs 502 N Harless, Eagar AZ 85925 and from his web site


Find more here at Chris Isaac's web site

Contacting Chris Isaacs 

Chris has a great web site designed by H. JoAnn Brookover at:

www.chrisisaacs.com

with his schedule, poetry, books and recordings, and more.

Chris Isaacs
502 N Harless
Eagar AZ 85925
email


 

 

 

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