Page Two


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.


Happy Days

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
at the BAR-D.

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



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.




Merry Christmas?


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.



Page Two



 What's New | Poems

 Features | Events  

Poetry Submissions | Lariat Laureate Competition

Subscribe | Newsletter | Contact Us

  Join Us!


Authors retain copyright to their work; obtain an author's
permission before using a poem in any form. 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