Page Two




Three Wise Men

Back in the days when cattle range was prairies wide and lone,
Three Bar Z hands was winter-camped upon the Cimarrón.
Their callin' names was Booger Bill and Pinto Pete and Tug,
And though their little dugout camp was plenty warm and snug,
They got plumb discontented, for with Christmas drawin' near,
They couldn't see no prospects of no kind of Christmas cheer.

Pete spoke about the bailes he'd be missin' up at Taos.
Tug said he'd give his gizzard just to see a human house
Alight with Christmas candles; and ol' Booger Bill avowed
He's shoot the next galoot who spoke of Christmas cheer out loud.
They sure did have the lonesomes, but the the first of Christmas week,
A wagonload of immigrants made camp off down the creek.

They'd come out from Missouri and was headin' farther west,
But had to stop a little while and give their team a rest.
They seemed to be pore nester folks, with maybe six or eight
As hungry lookin', barefoot kids as ever licked a plate.
"We've just got beans to offer you," the wagon woman smiled,
"But if you boys will join us, I will have a big pot b'iled
On Christmas day for dinner, and we'll do the best we kin
To make it seem like Christmas time, although our plates are tin!"

Them cowboys sort of stammered, but they promised her they'd come,
Then loped back to their dugout camp, and things begun to hum.
They whittled with their pocketknives, they sewed with rawhide threads,
They hammered and they braided and they raveled rope to shreds.
They butchered out a yearlin', and they baked a big ol' roast.
They scratched their heads to figger out what kids would like the most,
Till when they went on Christmas day to share the nesters' chuck,
They had a packhorse loaded with their homemade Christmas truck:

Bandanna dolls for little gals, with raveled rope for hair;
Some whittled wooden guns for boys, and for each kind a pair
Of rough-made rawhide moccasins.  You should have seen the look
Upon that nester woman's face when from their pack they took
A batch of pies plumb full of prunes, some taffy made of lick,
And a pan of sourdough biscuits right around four inches thick.

That ain't the total tally, but it sort of gives a view
Of what three lonesome cowboys figgered out to try and do
To cure the Christmas lonesomes on the Cimarrón, amid
The wild coyotes and cattle—and they found it sure 'nough did.

© 1954, S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.


Read more of S. Omar Barker's poetry here.



Christmas Serenade

It's 15 below on the prairie
   the wind chill's down near 42
and I'm watchin' a Texas blue norther blow in
   and I'm not sure what I'm gonna do.

'Cause the tanks are froze pretty near solid
   and the handle broke off my best ax
and the feed's gettin' wet from a hole in the roof
   where it's leakin' all over the sacks

And I'm feedin' more hay than I planned on
   'cause the snow covered up all the grass
the tractor's broke down and the pickup won't start
   and it's cold as a well digger's...shovel

It's the 24th day of December
   and the sagebrush is covered with ice
and I think that a hot cup of coffee
   or a good shot of rye would be nice

'Cause my feet are so cold I can't feel 'em
   and my fingers are purty near froze
and there's icicles hung off my moustache
   from the drip drippin' off of my nose

I was hopin' I'd get to quit early
   and be back at the house Christmas Eve
but these baldies are cryin' and hungry
   and there's no one to feed if I leave

And there's one little motley-faced heifer
   who somehow got in with the bull
and she's just too little to leave by herself
   'cause the calf's gonna have to be pulled

And there's one other thing I might mention
   a fact that is painfully clear
I'm so broke that I can't pay attention
   so I guess I'll spend Christmas out here

But it's pretty out here on the prairie
   where the stars light the cold winter sky
and though I can't remember when things were much worse
   I guess I'm still a right lucky guy

'Cause I've got a good woman who'll love me
   no matter what time I come home
and my young 'un is happy and healthy
   though I wish he weren't quite near so grown

And I've got that new 3-year-old filly
   who's better than I even dreamed
and my old spotted gelding as good as they come
   so things ain't all as bad as they seem

I've got no cause for being ungrateful
   and to gripe and complain isn't good
'cause there's people all over this country
   who'd trade places with me if they could

So I know that I'll have a good Christmas
   in spite of my problems somehow
I'll just watch as this Texas blue norther blows in
   and sing "O Holy Night" to the cows.

© 1996, J. W. Beeson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

This poem appeared in Western Horseman in December, 1996

Read more poetry by J. W. Beeson here



The Christmas Tree

They've been to get their Christmas tree, they hadn't far to go.
They live in that high country where young timber starts to grow.
The day is cold the snow is new, there's not so many tracks.
The dad has got the Christmas tree, the kid he has the ax.

You  notice by the chimney that the fire place is wide.
They have their house built strong and low, it's plenty warm inside.
They've got a good set of good corrals besides a stable too;
They are fixed up pretty handy fer a place to winter through.

And when they put the candles on it's easy to believe
How that tree will look by fire light this comin' Christmas eve.
There won't be any carols sung, there won't no organ play
But they'll have a happy Christmas in them hills so far away.

I'll bet the old man's thinkin' back to when he was a kid.
How folks would spend their Christmas and the things he got and did.
Of course the kid, he looks ahead, he don't think of the past,
But he'll soon have Christmas memories that he'll keep until the last.

Bruce Kiskaddon


Read more classic poetry from Bruce Kiskaddon here.

Happy holidays folks!


The Cowboys' Christmas Ball 
To the Ranchmen of Texas

'Way out in Western Texas, where the Clear Fork's waters flow,
Where the cattle are "a-browzin'," an' the Spanish ponies grow;
Where the Northers "come a-whistlin'" from beyond the Neutral Strip;
And the prairie dogs are sneezin', as if they had "The Grip";
Where the cayotes come a-howlin' 'round the ranches after dark,
And the mocking-birds are singin' to the lovely "medder lark";
Where the 'possum and the badger, and rattlesnakes abound,
And the monstrous stars are winkin' o'er a wilderness profound;
Where lonesome, tawny prairies melt into airy streams,
While the Double Mountains slumber, in heavenly kinds of dreams;
Where the antelope is grazin' and the lonely plovers call

It was there that I attended "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The town was Anson City, old Jones's county seat,
Where they raised Polled Angus cattle, and waving whiskered wheat;
Where the air is soft and "bammy," an' dry an' full of health,
And the prairies is explodin' with agricultural wealth;
Where they print the Texas Western, that Hec. McCann supplies
With news and yarns and stories, uv most amazin' size;
Where Frank Smith "pulls the badger," on knowin' tenderfeet,
And Democracy's triumphant, and might hard to beat;
Where lives that good old hunter, John Milsap, from Lamar,
Who "used to be the Sheriff, back East, in Paris sah!"
'T was there, I say, at Anson with the lovely "widder Wall,"
That I went to that reception, "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The boys had left the ranches and come to town in piles;
The ladies
"kinder scatterin'" had gathered in for miles.
And yet the place was crowded, as I remember well,
'T was got for the occasion, at "The Morning Star Hotel."
The music was a fiddle an' a lively tambourine,
And a "viol came imported," by the stage from Abilene.
The room was togged out gorgeous-with mistletoe and shawls,
And candles flickered frescoes, around the airy walls.
The "wimmin folks" looked lovely-the boys looked kinder treed,
Till their leader commenced yellin': "Whoa! fellers, let's stampede,"
And the music started sighin', an' awailin' through the hall
As a kind of introduction to "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The leader was a feller that came from Swenson's ranch,
They called him "Windy Billy," from "little Deadman's Branch."
His rig was "kinder keerless," big spurs and high-heeled boots;
He had the reputation that comes when "fellers shoots."
His voice was like a bugle upon the mountain's height;
His feet were animated an' a mighty, movin' sight,
When he commenced to holler, "Neow, fellers stake your pen!
"Lock horns ter all them heifers, an' russle 'em like men.
"Saloot yer lovely critters; neow swing an' let 'em go,
"Climb the grape vine 'round 'em
all hands do-ce-do!
"You Mavericks, jine the round-up- Jest skip her waterfall,"
Huh!  hit wuz gettin' happy, "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball!"

The boys were tolerable skittish, the ladies powerful neat,
That old bass viol's music just got there with both feet!
That wailin', frisky fiddle, I never shall forget;
And Windy kept a-singin'
I think I hear him yet
"Oh Xes, chase yer squirrels, an' cut 'em to one side;
"Spur Treadwell to the centre, with Cross P Charley's bride;
"Doc. Hollis down the middle, an' twine the ladies' chain;
"Varn Andrews pen the fillies in big T Diamond's train.
"All pull yer freight together, neow swallow fork an' change;
"'Big Boston,' lead the trail herd, through little Pitchfork's range.
"Purr 'round yer gentle pussies, neow rope 'em! Balance all!"
Huh!  hit wuz gettin' active
"The Cowboys' Christmas Ball!"

The dust riz fast an' furious; we all jes' galloped 'round,
Till the scenery got so giddy that T Bar Dick was downed.
We buckled to our partners, an' told 'em to hold on,
Then shook our hoofs like lightning, until the early dawn.
Don't tell me 'bout cotillions, or germans. No sire 'ee!
That whirl at Anson City just takes the cake with me.
I'm sick of lazy shufflin's, of them I've had my fill,
Give me a frontier break-down, backed up by Windy Bill.
McAllister ain't nowhar: when Windy leads the show,
I've seen 'em both in harness, and so I sorter know

Oh, Bill, I sha'n't forget yer, and I'll oftentimes recall,
That lively gaited sworray
"The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

Larry Chittenden, from Ranch Verses, 1893 


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Christmas in the County

There is a silence that comes with winter
when you live eleven miles from town,
fence posts and sage turning ghostly
and the glitter of snow on the ground,

That you'll just never see in the city.
Not with streetlights, busy walks, silver bells.
The snowdrifts here soften the landscape,
And time, and the wind, all stand still.

In the city snowy streets turn rotten,
A cancerous phlegm, corrupted by cars.
Across my pasture phantom deer come to visit
through the orchard, back-lighted by stars.

In early morning the first tracks are my son's,
 from the house to the horses' corral.
Though we've had breakfast guests at the haystack,
The native livestock is faring quite well.

I know women who plan expeditions
to the big stores up north every year.
Battle traffic, icy highways, ornery shoppers.
To purchase their holiday cheer.

But me, I'll bake cookies, send out home-made cards
Eleven miles from town, all alone
with my family, the snow and these critters.
Out here on this place we call home.

© 2006, Jo Lynne Kirkwood
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

© 2006, Jo Lynne Kirkwood


Read more of Jo Lynne Kirkwood's poetry here.

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Busted Cowboy's Christmas

I am a busted cowboy
   And I work upon the range,
In summertime I get some work,
   But one thing which seems strange,
As soon as fall work's over
   I get it in the neck
I get a Christmas present
   Of a neatly written check.

I come to town to rusticate,
   I've no place else to stay
When winter winds are howling hard
   Because I don't eat hay.
A puncher's life's a picnic?
   It is one continual joke.
But there's none more anxious to see spring
   Than the cowboy who is broke.

The wages that a cowhand earns
   In summer goes like smoke,
And when the snow begins to drift 
   You bet your neck he's broke.
You may talk about your holidays,
   Your Christmas cheer and joy,
They're all the same to me, my friend.
   Cash gone, I'm a broke cowboy.

My saddle and my gun in soak,
   My spurs I've long since sold,
My rawhide and my quirt are gone,
   My chaps, no. They're too old.
My outfit's gone, I can't e'en bum
  A cigarette to smoke.
For no one cares what happens 
  To a cowboy who is broke.

Just where I'll eat my dinner
   This Christmas, I don't know,
But you can bet your life I'll have one
   If I get but half a show.
This Christmas holds no charms for me,
   On good things I'll not choke,
Unless I get a big handout
   I'm a cowboy who is broke.

D. J. O'Malley, 1893
reprinted with permission from Cowboy Miner Productions'
Cowboy Poetry: Classic Rhymes and Prose by D. J. O'Malley, The N Bar N Kid White.   

Cowboy Miner Productions published a definitive book of D. J. O'Malley's stories and poems, and you can read more about him and the book at their site here.  See our feature about the book here, with poems and prose, created with with the kind cooperation of Cowboy Miner. 

Click for Cowboy Miner



Jim Quarternight's Gift

Ride on, ride on, Jim Quarternight, another lonely ride.
Stars shine bright in the cloudless night, and Time is a pleasant blur.
It's Christmas Eve, and family and feast await at the fireside
To crown the year with love and cheer and the welcome warmth of her.

Age-won wisdom whispers dark and melancholy songs
Of a time when Fortune's promise lured your willing heart astray,
And the romance of the ranges led you knowingly along
As a temptress or mirage that flirts, then gently fades away.

Does your Stetson cover memories of a gay and reckless youth,
Or simply serve to shelter silver hair from snow and cold?
Does the wistful want and longing in your eyes bespeak the truth
Of a quiet resignation at the deal the dice have rolled?

Lord knows you've seen the elephant; the Prodigal's your kin,
Though a fatted calf won't mark the mortal ending of your ride.
But Fate can be capricious, and She throws a whimsic spin,
Why, picture old Jim Quarternight with Hannah by his side!

Hers a world of joy and love, who knows not care nor worry;
His the weight of fifty years, but tall he rides tonight.
And his pulse begins to quicken, and his horse's hoofbeats hurry
'Til he reins up at the homestead in the lantern's welcome light.

A bait of grain and Christmas apple saved for Dancy's feast,
A blanket and a sheltered stall to pass the night in style.
Solemnly Jim tips his hat toward the starlit East,
Then steps into the cabin, wreathed in finest Christmas smile.

A hearty cheer and handshake for his younger brother Paul,
While laughter, hugs and kisses come as gifts from Sue to Jim.
But gala airs can't hide the knowing glances in the hall,
Or the sheer delight that fills his soul when she runs out to him.

So young, so young, so soon they learn to snare an old man's heart,
With innocence and faith and trust that swell a man inside.
And he knows it's not forever, and he knows they'll someday part,
But soft she nestles in his arms, and glad he made the ride.

And I've often heard her speak of him with tender tones and tears,
How he smelled of burnished leather, of campfire smoke and sage;
With no regret for beauty lost beyond the veil of years,
Of long-loved scents of plug tobacco, homemade soap and age.

Gifts are given, gifts received, but none so rare as this.
Jim Quarternight holds Hannah tight, and memories weave and wend
To that Christmas Eve when fear and anguish stole away the bliss,
And his brother's wife screamed out and prayed the fearsome pain might end.

A freighting trip took Paul away to pay the banker's due,
His hopes and dreams entrusted to a brother's faithful care.
But Sue broke early, body wracked by spasms through and through,
And placed her life in calloused hands and desperate, whispered prayers.

A midwife's ministrations couldn't be more true nor kind.
"Why, it's just like pullin' calves," said Jim, and blushed upon the saying.
With her precious maiden's modesty relieved and thus defined,
She laughed at his embarrassment, but never ceased her praying.

And they named the baby Hannah, who was given gifts by God
And taught that gifts received may be returned.
They give the most that have the least and know not Wealth's facade;
This lesson shall redeem them yet, if nothing else they've learned.

For one there was who gave His all, though He had naught to give
But His life to save us from our earthly sin.
And Hannah, darlin' Hannah, in the four short years she'd lived
Redeemed a lonely cowboy's soul and found the love within.

Jim's anxious fingers fumbled through his tattered saddlebags,
Past shirt and soap and sundries cast aside to claim the prize.
A silken wild rag worn behind a thousand dusty drags
Held the treasure he had made for her
a doll with emerald eyes.

I've heard it told so often I believe that I was there;
How he cut up Cookie's apron made from flour sacks he'd saved.
How Dancy's sorrel mane was gleaned for softest, shining hair,
And why he swapped his six-gun to an old Shoshone brave

For a soft and supple buckskin cured with all the ancient skills,
To fashion dress and moccasins with fringe and beads of blue.
How his patient fingers stitched and stuffed with cotton from his quilts,
And how she gazed in wonder at those eyes of emerald hue.

Those eyes, those eyes; swift recognition flashed across Paul's face,
Recalling how a ring adorned the finger of his mother,
Who lived with quiet dignity and died in solemn grace.
No greater love could Jim bequeath the daughter of his brother.

And in the reaches of the night Jim woke to reminisce
And ponder how he might have lived his life another way.
Memory's taste is bittersweet for chances known and missed,
But profit comes not from regret for chances thrown away.

His bed he'd spread beside the hearth and Hannah's downy pad
And smiled to see her clutch the doll with honest love and pride.
Too late he knew the loss of wife and child he'd never had.
"God bless you, girl," he whispered low, then turned his head and cried.

She told me how he spoke to her of life upon the range,
How he loved her true, but loved it, too, and time had come to part.
His salty tears as he held her near seemed not so very strange,
For nothing else but truest love can break a great, good heart.

Jim Quarternight was killed next spring at a round-up on the Red,
When a fool green kid tied hard and fast to the outlaw bull at dawn.
Death rode hard, but Jim rode harder; he took the horns instead.
Ropes sailed true and six-guns crashed too late
old Jim was gone.

She remembers him now in his boots and spurs and hat placed upon his breast;
So proud, so strong, so peaceful, and yet
how could the story be told otherwise?
As they lowered the lid on the old cowboy and sang to his final rest,
Clutched in his good right hand was her gift
the doll with the emerald eyes.

©  1991, Dennis Gaines
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more poetry by Dennis Gaines here.

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



Christmas Beneath the Stars

The cattle were bedded down on the hill,
It was a peaceful sight that I saw.
The winter moon hung high in the sky
Casting shadows on the side of the draw.

The Christmas lights on the ranch house below
Sparked a thought of a night gone by.
When shepherds, watching over their flocks
Heard the message from the sky.

I stopped and looked at the stars above
And listened where all was quiet,
Then into my heart came the message
The angels delivered that night.

I stepped from the saddle, whispering aloud,
"Shepherds watching over their flocks."
My mount rubbed his head on my shoulder
As he shifted his feet on the rocks.

The horse held his breath while we listened,
I could almost hear the heavenly choir.
Then the spirit bore witness once again
And burned in my heart like a fire.

Yes, the ranchers, herders and cowboys
Who work beneath the wide open sky,
Can understand how the shepherds felt
When they heard the voice from on high.

Let the rich and the powerful pity me,
Let the city folk think I am strange;
My silent prayer shall continue to be,
"Lord, thanks for my home on the range."

© 1996, Colen H. Sweeten Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Colen Sweeten's poetry here.


Even on Christmas Day

The golden glow of a lamp turned low
Mellowed the bunkhouse walls;
Through frosty air outside somewhere
Came clear coyotee calls.

The cowboys' talk of a horse had balked
Paused while the choir sang
Of peace on earth, or maybe its dirth,
In lives of guile and fang.

That haunting tune 'neath a full bright moon
Seemed wrong for Christmas Eve;
Didn't fit it seemed, while children dreamed
Of gifts that Santa'd leave.

No word was spoke when the spell was broke
And hush restored again;
These men immured to the song they'd heard,
To strife, and loss, and pain.

Their ancient pledge was to life's raw edge,
They'd kept it from the start;
They'd hides grown tough, and some ways looked rough,
But not one callused heart.

Some hid it well, but the Boss could tell
Real saints from wannabees;
He knew who'd care for His critters there,
His grass, and even trees.

The lamp's out now, but the injured cow
Waits not too far away;
Knows they'll be along, to fix what's wrong,
Even on Christmas Day.

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

Read more of Alf Bilton's poetry here.



Christmas Hayride

I've been reminiscing 'bout things that I've done
in the cold winter month of December.
And I recall a story about a special hayride,
and a night that I'll always remember.

If you've ever gone out on a real hayride,
you'll know what I'm talkin' about.
And this story's about a Christmas hayride
that brought the whole family out.

Now plannin' a hayride ain't that hard,
there's not a whole lot to do.
Y'fill a wagon with hay, and hitch up a horse,
and throw in a blanket or two.

Moms and dads, and grandparents come,
all wrapped up good and warm.
The young men and women all kinda pair off,
and you hope that it doesn't storm.

Oh, stormin's all right before the event,
but you don't want too much snow.
A snowfall makes things look real nice,
if there's only a foot or so.

Well, this time, we get just enough,
and put snow runners on the rig.
This makes the wagon like a comfortable sled.
'Course you'll never see a sled that big.

Uncle Harmon's barnyard is where we meet
to begin this happy event.
I'm hopin' to set with a girl named Carol,
who says she thinks I'm a gent.

When the lady shows up, I swaller real hard
and I says, "May I set with you?"
She smiles a smile that melts my heart,
and says, "Don't mind if you do."

Uncle Harmon sets in the drivers seat,
and the rest of us set in the back.
We all settle down, Unk shouts, "Giddyap!"
And he gives the old plowhorse a whack.

The wagon jerks to a start and we all cheer,
and the hayride gets underway.
It's Christmas Eve, so we start singin' carols,
and we're all snug and warm in the hay.

We ride through the woods, and across a field,
on our way to the Walmsley's place.
It seems like minutes, but it takes an hour,
'cause we maintain a leisurely pace.

The barn is aglow with Christmas lights,
and there's lanterns along the fence.
When the wagon stops, we go into the barn,
and that's when the fiddles commence.

There's dancin', of course, and plenty of food
and naturally, cider galore.
The dancin' couples are laughin' and talkin'
and glidin' around the floor.

The young lady, Carol, and me share us a cider,
sippin' it through two straws.
And I almost manage to sneak me a kiss,
but we're bein' watched by our maws.

So... Carol and me, we go back to dancin',
'till somebody hollers out, "Snow!"
Uncle Harmon says, "It's comin' down hard,
I think we'd all better go!"

Well, Carol and her folks stay at Walmsley's place,
and me and my folks go home.
But I had me somethin' to remember her by,
'cause she gave me her pocket comb.

I carried that comb 'till the day we were married,
my gift from that night in December.
I still carry the joy of that Christmas hayride

and it's something I'll always remember.

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


halswift.jpg (5888 bytes)

Read more poetry by Hal Swift here.


Happy holidays folks!

Virginia, I Believe

Yes, Virginia, I believe there is a Santa Claus;
but I don't think he is a man...the reason is because

all the men I've ever met have never liked to shop;
and would never watch commercials to find out what is hot.

He'd have the lists of children's wants all over the darned house,
jotted down on envelopes, then be angry with his spouse

for moving them or losing them, and he could never find
half of all the presents...and they'd get left behind.

He'd have to ask directions so he'd not lose his way,
or have the Missus go along to back-seat drive his sleigh.

(Why, even Lewis & Clark, who we honor yet today,
had to get a woman to guide them on their way.)

And did you ever meet a man who'd wear a suit of red
trimmed in fur all fluffy, with that hat upon his head?
Virginia, please don't take me wrong, he's been real good to me;
but I'm convinced he's not a man...that Santa is a she!

© 2003, Yvonne Hollenbeck
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

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See a complete list of all the holiday poems posted since 2000 here.

See the links here for holiday news and more.




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