Page Six



Empty Saddles at Christmas

The junipers whiten with snow softly fallin';
Somewhere down in the draw there's an ol' cow a-bawlin'.
There ain't nothin' ails her -- we're plumb sure of that,
For grass has been good and the stock is all fat.
And yet, driftin' in on the snow-feathered breeze,
The sound brings a feelin' of wishful unease
To us old hands settin' here cozy and warm,
Snug-sheltered and safe from this Christmas Eve storm:
A strange, lonesome feelin' we can't push away,
Rememberin' tomorrow will be Christmas day;
Rememberin' it's Christmas and wonderin' when
Them two empty saddles will be rode again.

There's two pairs of spurs and two hats on their pegs,
And two pairs of chaps meant for young cowboy legs
A-hangin' unused on the old bunkhouse wall--
But the boys they belong to ain't hearin' cows bawl.
They're hearin' machine guns, the whine of a shell,
And all them strange sounds of a war that's plain hell;
The sea waves a-slappin' the side of a boat,
The ominous roar from a big bomber's throat;
The strange, alien language of little brown men--
The same sounds all over and over again,
While deep in their hearts what they're longin' to hear
Is wind in the cedars, the bawl of a steer.

Us oldsters, we set here this Christmas Eve night
A-thinkin' of cowboys that's gone off to fight.
If our thoughts could reach 'em, here's what we would say:
"We're doin' our best, boys, since you went away.
The ranch is still here and the cattle well-tended.
Your horses are fed and the fences are mended.
Looks like a white Christmas will show up at dawn.
We hope it's the last one you boys will be gone.
There's an old cow a-bawlin'--she claims her calf's missin'--
Sure wish that you boys was here with us to listen.

© 1966, S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.

"Empty Saddles at Christmas" was the winner of a 1967 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and was printed in Western Horseman magazine December, 1966, illustrated by Brummett Echohawk.


It's Sure Startin' to Feel Like Christmas.

The cattle are down from the mountain
the pastures are frozen. We've hauled the last hay.
This isn't the first day of winter,
But it's clear now, winter's set in to stay.

The calendar tacked to the wall by the stove
says Christmas will be here again soon.
There's a soul-bracing coldness crept into the air.
Snow's been fallin' since mid-afternoon.

And its sure startin' to feel like Christmas.
Snow glistens like stars in the sky
And the ice-lace that etches the window
makes me glad I'm inside, warm and dry.

And it's sure startin' to feel like Christmas.
Every evening now over in town
strands of red and green lights
and garlands and bows
deck the houses like holiday crowns.

And it's sure startin' to feel like Christmas.
When I picked up the mail today
There were three Christmas cards from folks I once knew.
Still know I guess. Though they've moved away.

Those cards do look nice, there, propped on the table
Right next to some treats the neighbors brought in.
Three kinds of cookies, and homemade fudge.
All packed up in a Santa Claus tin.

Think I'll sit here a spell and read through those cards
Have a cookie. Take me a breather.
You know, I have me some pretty good neighbors.
And they ain't such bad cookie makers, neither.

Maybe tomorrow we'd better put up the tree.
I like the smell of a good piñon pine.
Then I'll dig out the boxes of bulbs, strings of lights
and we'll get the house all decked out real fine.

They'll be singing carols in church this next Sunday
I wonder if it'd be a sin
If I darkened that door. It has been awhile.
I'll think on it. Maybe drop in.

Well, I guess I'd better quit musin' .
Still got chores to do, critters to feed.
But it's sure startin' to feel like Christmas.
And maybe Christmas is just what we need.

© 2005, Jo Lynne Kirkwood
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Our thanks to Jo Lynne Kirkwood for permission to share two of her 2005 Christmas drawings:

© 2005, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, used with permission

© 2005, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, used with permission


Read more of Jo Lynne Kirkwood's poetry here.

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


The Gate Cut

Mr. Avery said this morning we could all have Christmas off,
  In fact, knock off at noon on Christmas Eve.
That tickled all the boys with families here in Silver City,
  but there's no time for me to drive to Tennessee.
My family has gotten used to me not being 'round the tree
  and I've not been to church in twenty years,
'Cept for Billy Meecham's wedding and to bury Grandpa Tom,
  just the memory of it still brings me to tears.

So I feel a little distant from the whole religious thing
  As I put my saddle on this fleabit gray,
And if some one ask, "what's this Christmas all about?"
  I'm not sure I'd know exactly what to say.
So I decided to do some thinking while puttin' out some salt,
  'bout how the Christ Child's birthday should fit in with me,
And what I should be doin' when Christmas finally comes,
  and I'm a long way from my family's Christmas tree.

It seems the celebration should be about the Man himself,
  and the turkey and the tree are just for trim.
Cause what matters is the feeling a believer's got in his heart
  That wouldn't be there if it weren't for him.
So maybe if I get my mind right, I can still have me some Christmas
 Just by thinkin' on the things that matter most.
"bout how he was born and lived and died, and everything he said,
  About the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

If I close my eyes I can almost see my family,
  as they bow their heads to say the Christmas prayer.
And I'll bet the first out of Mama's mouth is how she's wishin'
  That her saddle tramp son could just be there.
Tonight I'll pull that Bible out she gave me, when I went off to the Army,
  And in the campfire light I'll try to read His Word,
And hope this worthless cowboy has a chance to make the Gate cut,
  When old Gabriel comes to gather in the herd.

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


Read more of Michael Henley's poetry here.

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


An Uptown Affair

I got an invite quite a while ago,
from some folks in Oregon,
To tell some poems at this shindig,
that they was putting on.

So I stuffed my war bag in the truck,
Was about all packed to go,
When the girl doing the arranging,
called up to let me know.

That the deal was in a Country club,
a real high tone affair,
"So I must warn you cowboy,
they don't allow no jeans in there."


Well, I don't want my attire,
to put them out of sorts,
So I threw in my old Bat Wing chaps,
and Santa Claus boxer shorts.

© 2005, Mike Puhallo
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Merry Christmas from Mike, Linda and the kids


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

Read more poetry by Mike Puhallo here.

You can read a fresh Meadow Muffin from Mike every week at the BCCHS Cowboy Poets' page and at



Cowboy Choir 

Stetson at his feet, replaced
by jaunty crimson Santa cap,
buzzard feather black in the band,
the old cowboy clangs his bell
in front of the bank.
Arm pumping up and down
he beams through gaps in his teeth,
points at the red kettle.
He wishes customers a happy holiday.
Over the brass tones of the bell
his rich baritone voice rises,
sings the first lines
of "Joy to the World."
Exiting the bank a rancher
trim in new jeans and leather vest
supplies the words in bass
when the Salvation Army man
sputters la la la.
Spattered with sawdust and manure
a ranch hand squeals his pickup
to a stop, jumps out, adds
his wavering tenor to the mix.
Inside three tellers roll eyes
and smile, slide their sopranos
with Christmas dollars
across the counter.

© 2005, Patricia Wellingham-Jones 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Read more of Patricia Wellingham-Jones' poetry here.



The Boy in Sheepskin Shoes

The little boy lived in a camp.
His father herded sheep.
One full moon night Boy heard a sound
that woke him from his sleep.

He pushed back his worn blanket
and he crept across the floor.
The hinges creaked at the
sliding latch on that sheep wagon door.

The bleating noise came clearly
as it cut through cold night air.
But shadows danced and evil lurked
on the snowy meadow there.

His heart beat drummed up in his throat
as he tiptoed 'cross the flat.
And he saw the shadow up ahead
of a stalking mountain cat.

Beyond lay granite boulders
scattered in a narrow draw.
Now the boy was truly frightened
at the awful scene he saw.

Ten good ewes were trapped there
and the lion's tail curled low.
The lion paused upon a rock.
It's warning tail swung slow.

So intent the lion focused
upon the victim ewes
that he failed to note his follower--
the boy in sheepskin shoes.

Suddenly a banshee yell
roared through the walls of night.
The lion was so startled
he fled quickly in his fright.

The shepherd boy set up a guard
and shivered there 'til dawn.
That's when his father returned home
and found his son was gone.

For Father wanted Christmas,
which was this special day,
to be filled with gifts and goodies,
in their modest, humble way.

He'd gone to town the day before,
not planning to be long,
but his truck broke down, no parts were found.
So many things went wrong.

He heard the plaintive bleating
and soon beheld the sight
of the captured ewes with their guardian
nearly frozen from the night.

The sheep he gave their freedom,
but his heart was filled with pride
as he said, "You were their saviour,"
and he hugged his son and cried.

They returned to their warm wagon
and the comforts therein lay.
And the Father and the Son
then celebrated Christmas Day.

© 2005, Terry Henderson 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Terry told us that this poem "... came from my time spent in a sheep wagon during calving season and from the band of sheep our neighbor's ran up in the '2nd range,' just up the valley from our cow camp.  It was pretty rugged up there."


Read about Terry Henderson here.


One Night on th' Prairie 

Three grizzled cowhands rode single file out onto the Iron Springs flat...
They was jawin' and laughin' when Willy squawked, "What th' heck is that?!
See it?...right above th' house...I never seen that on this prairie!...
It's gotta be one of them fee-nom-ee-nons folks talk about on TV!"

By light of the full moon, th' Cross J ranch house lay just up th' trail...
An' what those ol' fellers saw in th' sky near caused their hearts t' fail!
Mouths fell open, they rubbed their' amazin' light was still there...
Joe yelled, "It must be one a' them saucers visitin' us from...somewhere!"

"Not so", replied Gus, who was the oldest and wisest of the three;
"Y'all have forgot perzack'ly what day termorra's goin' t' be.
If ya watch y'll see it twinkle and shine...'at there is th' Jesus Star!
It's hangin' up thar t' remind us the kinda sinners we are!"

With tremblin' innards, thunder-struck minds an' awe displayed on each face,
They rode to the bunkhouse t' drag th' crew right straight back to that place.
'Most all the hands got saddled up, laughin' and hootin' at the three,
But when they'd loped on out t' th' spot, all of 'em had to agree...

It must be th' star of Bethlehem, jist like it was seen b'fore,
Th' word it brought to those buckaroos was purty hard to ignore.
Little sleep was got that night as the men gnawed over the event...
An' come up with a story 'bout what they thought the sign really meant.

'Ride a little straighter and truer through this rough patch we call life...
Bring more joy to the ones around ya'...cause 'em a little less strife.
Pray for peace ever' day at sun-up!... not jist on a Sunday morn...
R'member that Boy out in th' barn an' th' reason He was born.'

Next night the Cross C fam'ly an' crew rode through th' cold t' th' site...
Was it just a bit further south than it was the previous night?
No matter; the rancher, his wife and children shared that wondrous time;
An' three old 'pokes in sheep-skin coats knew they'd been touched by th' sublime.

Through all their days they believed the miracle of that magic glow...
An' lives were changed for th' better out there in th' cold an' snow.
The simple truth is a secret that won't be known anytime soon...
The 'miracle' was light on a TV antenna reflected from th' moon.

© 2005, Byrd Woodward
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Byrd Woodward's poetry here.



The Christmas Orange

Pa had long settled down, tired of a cowhand's pay-
Hung up his six-shooter; packed his jinglebobs away.
Like Leslie's long before him, he now tilled the earth-
Only excitement being a calf or baby's birth.

I was youngest of ten - redhead that made ma grieve,
Till we added three more before that cold Christmas Eve.
Pox took pa's brother and wife - left three sons alone-
Spared them for us to raise, 'cause kin sees after its own.

Things had been looking sparse for 'bout a year or two-
Most of what we ate was red beans or mulligan stew.
Pa said we'd have to get by - tighten up slack ways-
We'd share what we had till the harvest brought better days.

Our tree was a scraggly piñon found by the creek-
And by some sheer miracle, thirteen presents did peak
From beneath the sickly boughs that held candlelight,
As we all went to bed wide-eyed on that wondrous night.

There was no snow, just wind that blew like a cow's horn,
But somehow we all slept soundly till that Christmas morn.
The fire in the potbelly stove was nearly out,
But ma had fresh coffee boiled, as we began to shout:

"Here's one for Elmer! One for Roy and one for Mae!
One for Dona! One for Elsie and Denver and Ray!
Don't forget Lew or Harvey! And don't forget Wes-
Here's one for Gladys and Ed! And the last one's for Les!"

We tore open boxes in search of sweets and toys-
Found dollies for the girls and lead soldiers for the boys.
But when I unwrapped mine, just an orange appeared-
I thought this had to be the worst gift - all that I feared

Ma saw my tears and led me off by her soft touch-
"Now Les," she said, "I know that orange don't look like much.
It might seem you were slighted - true, we had to stretch
To come up with these presents that ol' Santa did fetch.
"But you're the only one that got an orange, son-
It's unique, just like you, and the store had only one.
I know with all these children sometimes you're left out,
But we try to spread our love - that's what life's all about."

As she turned and went, there were no words I could say,
Then she paused by that thin tree and briefly knelt to pray.
It was then I felt foolish, concerned with fool pride-
Recalling how so long ago someone's son had died.

Brothers and sisters laughed - so did each orphan son-
Forgetting their inner loss as that new day begun.
And as my folks gave thanks, for all that had been sown-
I held that orange close, knowing God takes care of His own.
© 2005, Glen Enloe
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Read more of Glen Enloe's poetry here.


Christmas Eve, Near Rabbit Creek


Near Rabbit Creek, a short-grass field looks on the open sky.

Happened that, on Christmas Eve, I was ridin’ by

And stopped awhile to take it in, and give Ol’ Darb a blow,

With many miles behind us and the homestretch left to go.


The stars were sure a spectacle, shinin’ extra bright,

And I began to ponder the original Christmas night:

How shepherds, in a field like that, received news of a birth,

Told to them by angels who were lauding peace on earth.


I thought about the wise men who had journeyed from afar

And praised the holy child, found by following a star.

Though their star has faded, what it stood for never will:

God’s love, the Light of Bethlehem, shines down upon us still.


© 2005, Bruce Satta
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission

Read more of Bruce Satta's poetry 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 Six



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