Shepherds of the Range
The lights shone gay that Christmas Eve. The dance had just begun,
With cowboys come from miles around, all fixed to have some fun.
The fiddler's foot was pattin' fast, the caller's voice sung out:
"Now swing your pardners, skin the coon and turn him wrong side out!"
'Twas music and 'twas laughter in the schoolhouse on the hill.
When from the bitter night outside a wailing shout rose shrill.
Quick stepped a cowboy to the door and swung it open wide.
In ragged clothing, white with snow, a chico stepped inside--
A Spanish kid with frightened face, his eyebrows rimmed with frost.
"May God have mercy, friends!" he cried. "My Tío Juan is lost
On Malpai Mesa with his sheep--the blizzard made them stray.
The cliffs along the rim are steep!" They let him have his say,
And though he spoke in Spanish, there were some that understood:
The kid had come to beg their help, yet feared 'twould do no good.
"Sheepherder lost?" One cowboy shrugged. "That don't spell me no woe!
On with the dance! It's Christmas Eve!" But another said: "Let's go!"
They rode aslant the driving storm with quip and joke and jest,
To where a craggy mesa loomed some five miles to the west.
Some damned the whole sheepherder tribe with many a hard-cussed name.
Some claimed 'twould be good riddance--but they rode on just the same.
They rode out in the bitter night, the warm lights left behind.
'Twas midnight when, with freezing feet, at last they made their find.
They found old Tío Juan alive and packed him in to thaw.
They rounded up what sheep they could to shelter in a draw.
"Well, damn sheepherders, anyhow! He spoilt our Christmas Eve!
We'll git back to the baile, boys, just when it's time to leave!"
Thus grumbled one young cowhand, but the fiddler cut him short:
"I'll fiddle plumb to daylight if the women think I ort.
And as for cussin' shepherds, son, if I remember right,
Seems like it's in the Bible how they watched their flocks at night,
And when the Star of Bethlehem brung Christmas long ago,
The fellers first to see it--they was herdin' sheep, y'know!"
© 1954, S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.
The bells in town are ringing,
'Tis Christmas time, we know;
But not a sound of the bells we hear
Out across the shifting snow.
Across the wind-swept prairie,
Where the wild chinook winds blow.
'Tis Christmas night, and we're far away
From all we love and know,
But faces are bright, and hearts are light;
Outside is the drifting snow.
And we talk, and laugh, and sing with joy,
Out where the chinooks blow.
It's Christmas night, and they drink a toast
To the loved one, far away;
One to the boys from the sunny South,
And one for the old range ways;
But the one we all love best of all
When they call out "Happy Days."
'Tis Christmas night on the old wild range,
And the Northern Lights aglow,
Dance o'er the grim grey cut-banks,
And down on the drifting snow.
And the coyote sneaks by the frozen creeks,
And the wolf calls long and low,
But the toast on the range is "Happy Days,"
Far out where the riders go.
by Rhoda Sivell, from Voices from the Range, 1912
Read more classic poetry from Rhoda Sivell
here at the BAR-D.
The Christmas Celebration of Helen Dutton
Christmas had come as quick as it went,
Cold was breezin' through the hot air vent.
Us rowdy kids didn't much give a care,
For what the teacher was sayin' there.
It was cold outside and the snow was high,
It squeaked underfoot as you walked by.
Your breath would freeze inside your throat,
Arctic wind nipped at your old winter coat.
Like colts in the mornin' of an early snow,
We were buckin' up and wouldn't let go.
And then she did it without makin' a fuss -
She asked what we'd all got - for Christmas.
Well, Mike he got a new pair of chaps,
A Stetson, new boots and a pistol with caps.
And Butch by golly got a bunch of new shirts,
Some games and a monster toy called Lurch.
Lanona, the quiet girl, if I correctly recall,
Got a blue gingham dress and a Barbie doll.
And Rayelle the redhead got somethin' too,
A three-speed bike that was fancy and new.
From kid to kid the teacher went round,
We listened good to what the others had found,
Under the Christmas tree - when all of a sudden,
She turned and asked that little Helen Dutton.
The Dutton's lived in a tarpaper shack,
On a ramshackle farm they rented out back,
And well out of sight on a rutted dirt road.
No one should ever go there - or so we'd been told.
Well, Helen brightened up just a speck,
And we did too, hey what the heck -
Maybe she'd had a celebration too -
Good, that's what families normally do.
Helen Dutton hadn't washed in a while,
But when she broke into this great big smile,
Could it be she was ready to tell us all -
About some new clothes, new shoes or a doll?
Or maybe about a holiday feast with her Dad,
With turkey and ham when he wasn't all mad.
Or maybe a box of oranges and treats and candy,
Or the party they'd had - that'd sure be dandy!
Now it was time for Helen to take the floor,
There'd been none of what was said before.
But she smiled softly as she began to talk -
She'd got a colorin' book and two pieces of chalk.
That's it? That's all? What about the toys?
And sugar plums for good girls and boys?
Not there. Just a crooked smile and tangled hair.
Helen had a few more words to share.
This girl with threadbare clothes and a dirty face,
Would teach us somethin' 'bout dignity and grace.
Little Helen Dutton went on to say -.
"Toys don't count much - 'least not on Christmas day.
"Mamma was home and the fire was warm,
And Daddy'd came in from working the farm,
He put up a sagebrush for our Christmas tree,
And we all got excited my sisters and me!"
After a meal of oatmeal and a horehound stick,
Helen reached under the sagebrush and went to pick,
The present with the colorin' book and chalk.
Then Mamma picked her up and gave her a rock.
She whispered somethin' as she cradled her tight,
Like Mary musta' done that first Christmas night.
Those quiet words of Helen Dutton just won't go away -
"Toys don't count much - 'least not on Christmas day."
© 2005, Paul Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
Paul told us: This poem recounts an episode from my Sunday School class on the western edge of Idaho Falls when I was eleven years old. Some kids came from well- heeled ranch families and prosperous potato farms. Others came from families whose fathers were scientists working at the National Reactor Testing Station, located near Arco and commonly known as "the site." Some others were the children of families who ran small businesses. And then there were those that lived on the poor side of town - actually there were two - one called Happyville and the other Duttonville. Many of these families had no visible means of support. What do you get when you put a bunch of kids together coming from such different backgrounds? Something
like this . . .
Read more of Paul Kern's poetry here.
It was ice cold and the wind blew hard
As Old Jim saddled the chestnut mare.
To the south pasture he had to ride
His face was set and his hands were bare.
Winter’d come too damn early this year
And the grass and feed was sparse
He’d neither time nor gave a care
For no Merry Christmas farce.
It’d been a rough and tumble year,
He knew no one would cast him blame,
So on his own he had decided
To skip the whole Merry Christmas game.
A bunch a calves, last spring, had died,
Cattle prices fell hard in the fall,
So there was no money and he’d no time
To make Merry Christmas for all.
He didn’t feel nice and he didn’t feel warm
Angry and mean felt he.
He hadn’t the time and he hadn’t the mind
To decorate no Merry Christmas tree.
He rode to the south in snow belly deep
He had to check the herd.
Silent and surly he’d become
And of Merry Christmas nary a word.
As he found the herd on the leeward side
In valley out of the wind,
He sat in the saddle at the top of the rise
With thoughts of Merry Christmases dimmed.
Then something seemed to speak to his heart
He was sure it was a voice soft and low
“Because of Me you’ve been richly blest.
Merry Christmas” came the words sweet and slow.
“I’ve asked nothing of you ‘cept yer faith.”
“Will ya turn aside when yer luck turns down?”
“My folks had bad luck and in a stable gave birth
that I might wear the first Merry Christmas crown.”
“The gifts you give whether they be small or large
should be in remembrance of me,
For My gift was the greatest that ever was
When, Merry Christmas, I hung from a tree.”
Old Jim was moved to tears somehow
As he turned and headed back to the barn
His thoughts turned from dark to bright
He would have Merry Christmas by darn.
He pulled the mare to a sudden stop
And reached for and grabbed his axe.
He cut a small and lonely pine
“There!” and Merry Christmas tied to his kack
He got to the ranch, unsaddled and fed the mare
Threw the chickens and geese some feed
He now realized that what was in his heart
Was all the Merry Christmas he’d need.
He rushed on to the house and through the door
And yelled for his kids and wife.
They came to him just a little bit scared
Hoping there’d be no Merry Christmas strife.
He shared with them the love he felt
And hoped his faults they’d forgive.
He shared the thoughts that had come to him
And they knew Merry Christmas would live.
By the warm and friendly fire they sat,
Jim began to read to them all
Of that first holy and wondrous event
Merry Christmas in a stable small.
They retired to bed in thoughts of peace
The first Jim had had in a while.
When sleep was done and from bed he arose
His face held a Merry Christmas smile.
So remember this when your feeling low
And you feel that life’s not fair
Search your heart and then the skies
And at that Merry Christmas Star stare.
The peace will come to your heart I know
Cause I’m old Jim ya see,
I know that the Savior surely was born
To assure Merry Christmas for you and for me.
© 2005, Van A. Criddle
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
Read more poetry by Van Criddle here.
Visit our Art Spur project for a growing collection of poems inspired by
"A Christmas Tale" by Mick Harrison.
See a complete list of all the holiday poems from 2000-2004 here.
See the links here for holiday news and more.
What's New | Poems
Features | Events
Poetry Submissions | Lariat Laureate Competition
Subscribe | Newsletter | Contact Us
Authors retain copyright to
their work; obtain an author's
permission before using a poem in any form.
CowboyPoetry.com is a project of the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry, Inc., a Federal and California tax-exempt non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization.
Site copyright information