Photo by Kevin Martini-Fuller

 

Tributes to Colen Sweeten are posted here.

 

About Colen Sweeten
Poems
Books and Recordings

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About Colen Sweeten:

Colen Sweeten had been called "Western America's Will Rogers," and truly deserved the compliment. He was a "been-there-done-that" poet/philosopher who was raised on a ranch in southern Idaho. Colen was writing cowboy poetry long before the genre ever became popular and known by that name. He performed at hundreds of Cowboy Poetry gatherings across the U.S. and Canada, receiving just about every honor that can be bestowed on somebody his size.

Over the last fifty years he had many short articles and poems published in various magazines and newspapers, ranging from the hometown paper to the Readers Digest. One of his later publications was a poem titled "It's Hard To Go Back To the Ranch" in Michael Martin Murphey's The American West magazine.

Colen performed as an opening act for Michael Martin Murphey's show any time it played within reasonable driving distance of his home. He has performed at the Elko, Nevada National Cowboy Poetry Gathering every year since its inception, except one, and appeared many times on local radio and was a guest on the NBC Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1991.

Colen received a Fellowship in Literature from The Idaho Commission on the Arts. He wrote four books of cowboy poetry.

Colen Sweeten died August 15, 2007, in Springville, Utah.

The American West Heritage Foundation Board of Trustees presented the American West Heritage Pioneer Skill Preservation award to Colen H. Sweeten Jr. on Saturday, July 31, 2004 during the Michael Martin Murphey concert at the 33rd Festival of the American West in Logan, Utah. The award was given in recognition and deep appreciation for his extensive years of writing, performing, and publishing cowboy poetry.

In notifying Colen Sweeten, the American West Heritage Foundation stated "Your poetry is based on personal experiences of over six decades as a cowboy and your sharing it with the general public has brought both laughter and tears to those who hear your recitation.  In the process you have helped preserve the memories of being a cowboy on a working ranch in the American West.  We gratefully acknowledge your humble and generous spirit and dedicated efforts of preserving this unique artistic skill of the American West."


Colen Sweeten was inducted into Idaho's Oneida County Hall of Fame in Malad, Idaho on May 22, 2012.

"The Oneida County Hall of Fame has been established to 'recognize individuals, groups, and teams who in the course of their lifetime have made outstanding achievements and brought great honor and recognition to themselves and the Oneida County Communities from which they came."

The announcement states, "Our county is proud to have Colen as one of its favorite sons."



Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights


Colen Sweeten was honored with the Esto Perpetua Award from the Idaho Historical Society on November 3, 2005.  Taking its name from the state motto ("let it be perpetual") the Esto Perpetua Award has been given since 1999 to honor individuals or groups for professional accomplishments, public service, volunteerism and philanthropy related to preservation of Idaho's heritage. 

1919-2007

Tributes to Colen Sweeten are posted here.

 

Poems

Grandpa's Passing

Grandpa Goes to Town

My Old Hat

Daddy's Bells

Unseen Helper

The Philosopher

This Old Barn

Elko (separate page)

Afterglow in Elko (separate page)

Elko (2)

Trickle Down

Ethie Corrigan (separate page)

The Golden Years

Flying Cowboy

Meadowlark's Song (separate page)

 

Grandpa's Passing

He wanted to die with his boots on,
He'd have been ninety one this Fall,
But his boots stood by the bootjack
And his old hat hung on the wall.

He said "Son, you don't get your choice,
In spite of what I've said;
It looks like I'm no different,
I reckon I'll die in bed.

I don't want folks to make a fuss
And don't you shed no tears,
Heaven knows I'm old enough
And my Annie's been gone for years.

"Grandpa started downhill fast
Once he'd made up his mind,
And I sat there in the leather chair
To watch his spring unwind.

He told me about his silver spurs
And about "Buck" his favorite mount,
And about all the yearlings he had sold
While I listened to him count.

He told me about my father
And Bill and uncle Dan,
And every moment I spent with him
Has helped make me a better man.

Late one night he called Grandma's name,
And I thought it was just a dream,
But when I turned the light on
His tears flowed like a stream.

Next morning he wouldn't eat,
He pushed his medicine aside,
"Son, your Grandma's just as beautiful
As she was the day she died.

She said to saddle up old Buck
And to gather up my tack,
And when I'd had myself prepared
She promised she'd come back.

I guess I'm a bit mixed up
Spendin' too much time in bed.
Somehow I had it in my head
Old Buck was long since dead!"

Then he leaned back and closed his eyes
Without a sign of fear,
And I took the leather chair once more
Knowing the end was near.

They tell me that all the strain
Might have caused my mind to stray,
But I saw Grandpa mount old Buck
And smile as he rode away.

The Doctor came right over,
And I left the room at dawn,
That's when I first noticed
Grandpa's boots and hat were gone.

© Colen H. Sweeten Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

This poem is also included in our collection of 
poems about Cowboy Dads and Granddads



Grandpa Goes to Town

This ranch of ours is so far away
From the pavement and city lights
That we have never even heard about
Protests and equal rights.

So our grandson came in his new car
To take the old folks for a ride
He said it would do us good to see
What was going on "outside."

I promised Ma I'd hold my tongue
But it was really kinda hard
When he drove up to the ranch
And started to walk across the yard.

His cuffs were bunched up on his fee
tBut there was nothing wrong,
It was just the latest style
To buy the pantlegs much too long.

His shoes were made of canvas
With rubber for the sole
And he walked with feet spread out
Sorta like a bloated bull.

Shoelaces as big as a piggin' string
And the longest he could find!
But they weren't laced up at all
They just trailed along behind.

He just moved it all along
Without much action in his legs
He walked as smooth as a hired-girl
With her apron full of eggs.

I wondered if he'd dry our road
After a summer rainy spell
Or if one trip across the back
Would mop a wet corral.

Then his girlfriend came wigglin' up
Like something wasn't right
But I could see what the trouble was,
Her clothes were just too tight.

She had those shrunken blue jeans
Stretched tight across her rump
And stove blackin' made her eyes look
Like two holes in a burned-out stump.

And I just said, "Good morning,"
`though I admit I had some doubt.
I just couldn't help but wonder
How this morning would turn out.

Well Ma and I got in the back
And he took off down the road--
That kid put more fear in me
Than any bronk I ever rode.

We went slidin' `round the corners
And on the straightaway we flew,
I just cinched up my seatbelt
And said every prayer I knew.

He explained about the freeways
But I sorta got up-tight,
When he wanted to take us to the left
He'd turn off to the right.

In the parking garage if you wanted up,
The sign said you must go down.
Boy they had my head spinnin'
Before we hardly hit the town!

We couldn't tell by lookin'
Which were girls and which were guys;
Even drove us past a beach resort,
But Ma just closed her eyes.

Now I'm tellin' you when we got through
And started back toward the sticks,
I was gettin' mighty lonesome
To see some common country hicks.

So I think I'll be an ostrich,
Stick my head down in the sand,
And spend the time that I have left
With my feet on my own land.

© Colen H. Sweeten Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

This poem is also included in our collection of 
poems about Cowboy Dads and Granddads



My Old Hat

Hey, that's my hat you're laughin' at,
So just one dog-gone minute--
That hat has been kicked and tromped half flat
Right while my head was in it.

It has kept the hot sun off my head,
Why, I've even slept in it at night,
So it has a right to show some wear
And I'm claimin' that same right.

The dehorning blood and tractor grease
And the groove across the crown
Are memories of the good old days
Before I started windin' down.

Why it's been shrunk by rain and hail
'till it wouldn't even fit,
But I just soaked it in the horse trough
And went right on wearin' it.

No, it's not a name brand hat,
And I don't recall how much it cost,
Or all the rigs that ran over it,
Or how many times it's been lost.

Sometimes in summer heat I'd weaken
And trade it for a straw,
Then I'd have to hunt it up again
When the wind took my new one down the draw.

There is no throat latch or fancy band,
That hat has never worn a feather.
It's just blood and dirt and honest sweat
That holds it all together

Oh, I have a seven X Resistol hat
That I wear when I'm in town,
But I want to be under this old one
When the chips are coming down.

My Resistol is as good as new,
But while it's been hanging on the rack,
This old beat up hat and I
Have been half way to Hell and back.

Through runaways and thunder storms
And at times when I've been lost.
That hat stuck by me, and brought me back,
No matter what the cost.

After all the years together
I guess it's no mystery.
It's my old hat you're lookin' at,
But what you see is really me.

© Colen H. Sweeten Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

Daddy's Bells

My Daddy was a freighter,
His wagons rolled across the West,
With Daddy in the driver's seat,
A silver chain across his vest.
He built a cabin on a homestead
In the edge of friendly pines,
But the only way to save the ranch
Was haulin' freight up to the mines.
I helped Mother run the ranch
The best that we knew how,
Daddy took most all the horses
But we always had a cow.

Sometimes I'd step outside the house
At night when it was late,
I'd walk down the lane to meet him
And just stand there by the gate.
The stars above would glisten
Where the road winds through the hills,
I'd hold my breath and listen
For the sound of Daddy's bells.
At last when he came rollin' in
From that long and dusty ride,
He'd step down and hand the reins to me
And hug my Mother 'till she cried.

Chorus
Daddy's bells, my heart swells
When I recall his wagons in the night,
Daddy's Bells, Daddy's bells,
The sound that told me everything was right.

© Colen H. Sweeten Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

The early wagon freighters had a short string of bells hanging on the harness of the lead team.  On mountain roads or at night the driver would stop the team at one of the wide spots in the road called "turnouts" and rest the horses while he listened for the sound of other freighter's bells. If he could hear bells he would wait until the other wagon had passed so they wouldn't have trouble trying to pass on a narrow road. In some areas it was a custom to give up your bells to the freighter who had to pull another freighter's outfit out of a bad spot or rescue him from a situation he couldn't handle without help. From this custom comes the saying, "I'll be there with bells on." This could be translated to mean," I'll be there on time and I wont need any help."  

 

This poem is also included in our collection of 
poems about Cowboy Dads and Granddads

Unseen Helper

I can feel dad's presence on this place,
Although I never see his face,
While movin' along in this uphill race,
My Dad keeps nudgin' me.

We laid him to rest ten years ago,
I've been runnin' the ranch the best I know,
But when I slow down he lets me know,
He keeps on nudgin' me.

I feel his presence at the hitchin' rack,
On a wagon load or up on the stack,
He trailed to the summer range and back,
He still keeps nudgin' me.

Early in the morning and late at night
He sends me back to do it right,
He even helped defend my water right,
He's always nudgin' me.

Don't think it weird, it's not like that,
But I can feel the shadow of his hat,
It's like a poke in the ribs where there's no fat,
The way he nudges me.

Now life at best is still too short,
And I guess my dad barely got a start
At raisin' me, but bless his heart,
I hope he keeps on nudgin' me.

© Colen H. Sweeten Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

This poem is also included in our collection of 
poems about Cowboy Dads and Granddads

 

The Philosopher
(A Tribute to Owen Barton, 1987)

They gave me a gentle old pony
Too fat and lazy to run,
And sent me out on the rangeland
To see what the drought had done.

I could see it was only a Grandpa chore
To get me out of the way,
So I filled my canteen with water
And quietly rode away.

When I reached the forks of the draw
There was no water in the ditch.
In just two hours my horse had the scours,
And I had a case of the itch.

The spot where the beaver pond once stood
Is a big dusty salt lick now,
But I can remember when late in September
There was water to drown a cow.

But the ditch rider came along one day
With five sticks of dynamite;
He drained every drop of water
And blew the dam clear out of sight.

The beavers were the best engineers
Our valley ever had,
But the Government trapper took 'em out,
He said their influence was bad.

The cowboys dug out Moonshine Spring
To get water in big supply,
And now there is a four-inch pipe,
And the whole dam thing is dry!

I sat down there on the rim-rock
With these troubles on my mind,
And then I saw a hereford bull
The cowboys had left behind.

His head was hangin' near the ground
With a tongue too dry to drip.
And a protected species magpie
Roostin' on his hip.

'Twas then I saw a flash of brown
In the shaded brush near by,
A mangy, thirsty old coyote
Just waitin' for the bull to die.

I was wishin' for a rifle
As she walked over to a hole,
But when I  saw her starvin' pups
I was ready to shoot that bull!

It's tough to get confused and old
After all the miles I've trod,
Me, a sittin' on the rim-rock
Tryin' to act like God.

While criticizin' all the dumb mistakes
I've seen some people make,
I should surely know by now
Life ain't no piece of cake.

But I've got my satisfaction
And had my biggest thrills,
Just watchin' coyotes and magpies
And thinkin' about red ant hills.

© Colen H. Sweeten Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

[Owen Barton appeared at the first National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada (the book that resulted from that gathering, Cowboy Poetry, A Gathering, includes two of Owen Barton's poems).] 

 

This Old Barn

Could this old barn but find a way
To tell the tales of yesterday!
When cows were wild and the horses rough,
And you'd rather bleed than say "enough."

Here generations now quite gray,
First got a start and had their day.
Where men were men and the days were long,
Where Dad held court when the boys did wrong.

So warm when a blizzard raged outside,
Yet cool in summer after a ride.
So far from the house Mom wouldn't yell,
Close enough to hear the dinner bell.

Now sounds of horses eating hay,
Stir echoes of a bygone day.
When boys chinned themselves on the sturdy rafter,
In the silent barn which holds their laughter.

© Colen H. Sweeten Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

This poem is also included in our collection of 
poems about Cowboy Dads and Granddads

 

Trickle Down

Ranchers say expenses
Are about as high as they can go,
And the government imports cattle
To keep beef prices low.

Grazing fees are hard to pay
But their cattle must have feed,
The forest and the BLM
Give more help than ranchers need

Our congressman called a meeting
In the Grange hall in our town
To identify the problem
And try to nail it down.

Ranch families came from miles around,
They had a lot to say
But the politician did the talkin'
Then hurried on his way.

There were sad tales told that evening
About ranchers hanging on,
We were talkin' to each other
After he had gone.

He made his report to Congress.
It spread across the nation,
He told all about his visit
Call it his grass roots investigation.

About those grass roots,
He didn't get that right
He could have seen there was no grass
If he hadn't come at night.

He says things are going fine
The President has a plan
He'll give money to the wealthy
To help the working man.

This trickle down economy
might make sense to me
If I could just be the "Tricklor"
Instead of the "Tricklee."

© 2004, Colen H. Sweeten, Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

Elko

I'm at the second go-roun'
In this last western town
And some of you may think it funny,
That Ruth stayed home
And allowed me to roam,
But someone has to make money.

As the yarns were spun
I had so much fun,
I felt guilty I'd left her behind.
And as the day rolled along
In verse and in song,
I couldn't get it out of my mind.

So along about lunch
I broke out of the bunch,
To Capriola's I went on a lope.
I'd recalled with dismay
That her birthday's today,
So I bought my wife a new rope.

She don't own a horse
And what's even worse,
She wouldn't ride one if she had.
But my rope's twisted and old
From the heat and the cold,
An' it's kinked and frazzled real bad.

When the last show was done
And we had to run,
Something was starting to bug me.
Would she be miffed
At this kind of a gift?
I wondered if she'd even hug me.

Now don't get upset,
I ain't finished yet,
And there's not going to be a divorce
It's no fun being alone
But havin' me around home,
Just might be a whole lot worse.

© 2004, Colen H. Sweeten, Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

Read two more of Colen Sweeten's poems about Elko posted in our special feature with poems about Elko here. One is also titled Elko and the other is Afterglow in Elko

 

The Golden Years

Four score and quite a few more,
The years have brought some changes,
I guess I've slowed since the days I rode
Almost forgotten ranges.

When balin' twine and duct tape
No longer did the trick,
I had to see a doctor
Whenever I got sick.

I know how folks feel who have to deal
With steel springs in their hearts
I'm cancer-free—what's left of me,
But I miss my factory parts.

I've seen a lot of doctors
In the masks and surgeons suits
Doctors I trust and love the most
Are wearin' cowboy boots.

© 2004, Colen H. Sweeten, Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

Tip Your Hat

I wore a broad-brimmed western hat,
The lady wore one too;
I went to greet her with a hug,
The way we always do.

But the big hats came together
Long before we did--
You just can't get a decent hug
While wearing that big lid.

Take your hat off for the ladies,
It's the proper thing to do.
She'll take the hint and sure enough
She'll take her hat off too.

Hers will hang on a stampede string
While you hold yours in your hand.
A big hat messing up her hair
Is one thing she can't stand.

So take your hat off for the ladies,
It would make your mother proud.
You can be a perfect gentleman,
There's one in every crowd.

When you take your hat off
You are sure to get a smile.
Let's all take off our hats.
We'll put good manners back in style.

© 2005, Colen H. Sweeten, Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.


 

Flying Cowboy

Flying looks like lots of fun
So I thought I'd take a ride,
I wanted that experience
At least once before I died.

They sent me downstairs
To get a baggage check
But the stairs were coming up at me,
I almost broke my neck!

"Do you have a picture?"
Said the man behind the desk.
That surprised me a lottle,
"A picture of what," I asked.

"A picture of you," the feller said,
"I need it for I. D."
Just take my word for it,
I know that I am me."

He said, "Cowboy, can you swear
That is your real face?
I said, "I've been swearing
Ever since I hit this place."

He waved me on to a  squeeze chute
That was half-way down the hall.
They had metal detectors
And two guards at every stall.

They said, do you have any weapons?"
I said, "What do you need?"
They frisked me, turned me around,
Then decided to proceed.

They ran us through like cattle,
I was treated like a stray,
And when I showed them my possessions
They took my pocket knife away.

I said, "Hey, that's not a weapon,
That's how I make my livin',"
He said it didn't measure up
To the guidelines he'd been given.

I told then it was a keepsake,
That I'd had for thirty years.
It had cut earmarks and waddles
And had made a lot of steers.

I tried to grab my pocket knife,
That was a big mistake;
Guards closed in on me
Like kids around a cake.

They took my boots away,
To x-ray those high hells.
And I had big holes in both my socks,
Do you know how that feels?

Handcuffed and barefooted
Six guards marched me down the aisle,
I felt like Michael Jackson
Showing up for trail.

I begged, "Give my knife back
And I'll go home to stay."
But the interrogation
Would take another day.

Well, I'm back home again
But, I didn't get my knife.
And if I ever, ever fly again,
It'll be in another life.

© 2006, Colen H. Sweeten, Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

 

 

Read Colen Sweeten's tribute to Ethie Corrigan in our feature about Boots

and

Christmas Beneath the Stars, In a Manger, and Memories of Christmas, posted with other Holiday 2002 poems

and

Famous -- Almost, posted as an answer to a question about poets who were on the "Tonight Show" in our Who Knows? feature

 

Books and Recordings

 

Pick of the Litter  (CD)
A collection of favorites

Includes:

Barnyard Ballet
Bungie
Christmas Beneath the Stars
Cow on the Fight
Cowboy Without Boots
Daddy's Bells
Dad's Old Hat
Feelin' My Oats
First Saddle
Grandpa Goes to Town
Grandpa's Passing
Hailstorm
Hey, Brother
Horse Heaven
In a Manger
It's Hard to Go Back to the Ranch
Lingering Rose
My Old Hat
Old Riding Partners
Prime Time Pigs
Seeing Red
Snubbin'
Soul of a Pioneer
Sourdough
Sundown
Taps
The Day We Branded Pigs
The Lost Chord
The Philosopher
Walk Tall
Why do Coyotes Howl at Night?

Available for $10 plus $3 postage ($1 postage for additional CDs):

 286 S. 1700 E.
Springville UT  84663
 

 

 

Writin' for the Brand  (CD)

Includes:

Disc 1

A Good Sign
Barnyard Ballet
Bringing in the Tree
Buckle Up
Bungie
Cat's Meow
City Snake
Clear as Black & White
Cowboy's Last Request
Denice
Field Thirteen
Flip Side
Goodbye Pard
Homemade Bread
He Was Frank With Me
Horse Trailer
It's a Good Life
Late Hunt
Laurie's Poem
Let Me Put it This Way
Life Goes On
Livin' in Town
Lone Tree
Loner Jim
Malad
Memories of Christmas
More Logic
My Old Hat
Old Habits
Old Horse
Old Riding Partners
Our First Squeeze Chute

 

Disc 2

Patchwork Quilt
Pick-up Man
Pruning Shears
Reverence on the Range
Roper
Runaway
Satisfied
Shoestring Potatoes
Silent Saddle
Smoky
Snubbin'
Spooky Old Horse
Step Down
Style Show
Teton Trail Ride
The Banker and Old Blue
The Lost Chord
Thrifty
Time Out
Tooth Marks on My Cheek
Tour
Unwritten Laws
When Mother Cleaned the Lamps
Where I Lay My Head
Windmill
Wise Use
Wolves
Wreck

The 2-disc CD available for $14 plus $3 postage ($1 postage for additional CDs):

 286 S. 1700 E.
Springville UT  84663
 

 

 

Colen Sweeten has four books and three tapes.  Each tape includes the poems in the book by the same name.  The following books and tapes are available for $7 each.  Please add $2 for postage for any number of books and tapes.

Hoofprints and Heartbeats  Book and Tape (1996)  Thirty poems, with an introduction by Michael Martin Murphey (and cover art by Kirby Jonas)

     

 

Back at the Ranch Book and Tape  (1992)  Fifty six poems, with an introduction by Kim Stafford.

        

 

Cowboy Poetry  Book and Tape  (1987)   Thirty five poems and illustrations by 12 artists.

      

 

Father and Son  Book (1980)  This book, a selection of poems that are tributes to Colen Sweeten's father and to his son, is $5.

 

Order from:

286 S. 1700 E.
Springville UT  84663
 

 

 

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