CowboyPoetry.com    Cowboy Poetry and Music and More at the BAR-D Ranch

DANIEL BYBEE
Reno, Nevada
About Daniel Bybee

 

Recognized as one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
for his poem, "Old Jiggs"

 

 

Old Jiggs

By the time I knew him he had seen his better days
and he'd gotten sorta cranky and was tricky in the ways
of a horse who'd seen it all and knew all a ranchers tricks
when it came to handlin' horses while avoidin' their swift kicks
 
The Jiggs I knew would come a runnin' for a flake of hay
and he'd run you over every time if you got in his way
An apple or a sugar cube could coax him through the gate
and when my uncle saddled him he'd just stand there and wait
 
But put a kid like me up in the saddle on that hoss
and he sure would come untracked just to show me who was boss
Jiggs would buck and bow his neck to see if I would stick
and turn around and try to bite and maybe throw a kick
 
My uncle got old Jiggs from a neighbor rancher's wife
and he never could have dreamt that horse would live such a long life
and outlive so many horses born since he had been acquired
and keep on livin' years and years since he had been retired
 
But back in younger days these two had covered lots of ground
when they both had fewer aches and their knees were firm and sound
and they brought the cattle in for the shippin' in the fall
after gatherin' em from manzanita thickets ten feet tall
 
They rode the brushy canyons of my uncle's foothill spread
and crossed the Fresno river where he gave ol' Jiggs his head
as he picked his way across between the rocks covered with moss
and then vaulted up the bank like a fancy jumpin' hoss
 
Almost forty years had passed since Jiggs first learned to walk
when my uncle took him packin' where majestic granite rock
forms Sierra peaks and valleys holding crystal clear blue lakes
where snow hangs on thru June and the mighty aspen quakes
 
My uncle thought it fittin' that his trusty aging steed
should graze his final pastures up where red fir drops its seed
and where grass is growing next to lakes kept full by icy streams
in a tranquil mountain setting that was worthy of his dreams
 
I was on that trip and Jiggs was packed with all our gear
and we had a line of horses with Jiggs bringin' up the rear
and we watched for that old horse to give us some kind of a sign
that he might be on his last legs near the end of his long line
 
But ten days later after many miles on dusty trails
and climbin' over passes watchin' other horses tails
Jiggs was still a goin' to the surprise of uncle Clyde
and I think three more years passed 'fore good old Jiggs then finally died
 
He died back on the home ranch in a pasture 'neath a willow
where he lay down in the shade with the tall grass for a pillow
and he drifted off to sleep cooled by a gentle summer breeze
as the sun set on old Jiggs with twilight filtered through the trees

© 2008, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Daniel told us about the inspiration for his poem: My uncle had many horses over the years, but the most memorable one was named Jiggs. By the time I was old enough to help out on the ranch, Jiggs was already old and ornery and spent most of his time down on my uncle’s ranch outside of Fresno. My cousin and I were told to stay away from him, but we saddled him up in the corral and both got on and he commenced to try and buck us off. We both stayed on somehow. One other time I was in the corral with Jiggs and he put his ears back and came after me. I managed to get behind a big stack of fence boards before he caught me. After that, I left him alone. Jiggs lived to be over 40 years old and we even took him on one of our high mountain pack trips a few years before he died. Many years later, I heard stories from my aunt about how he was a good cow horse back in his younger years. Last year those stories and my memories of my experiences with Jiggs came together in this poem. I hope you enjoy it.



 

We asked Daniel why he writes Cowboy Poetry and why he thinks it is important, and he commented: 

I started writing cowboy poetry in order to tell the stories of growing up working and playing on my uncle’s cattle ranch in Coarsegold, California. I was lucky enough grow up on a farm only a few miles from my uncle’s valley farm, and he used to stop and pick me up on the way to his mountain ranch. We would haul up a load of hay, unload it into the old barn, doctor cows and calves, and ride around in the jeep feeding the cows and shooting squirrels. Then we might saddle up the horses for a ride out to check fences and reservoirs. I had so many memories of those wonderful years and I always thought I would write them down some day. After going to Elko for the first time in 2001, I learned how I could tell my stories to other people. I wanted to record that portion of my uncle’s life that he shared with me while I was growing up. He was such an incredible man who lived life with such a passion that few people ever experience. I want other people to be able to experience through my poems the man I knew and the life he lived. My uncle, Clyde Pitts, taught me the cowboy code through how he lived his life and I am forever grateful to him for how I live my life today.
 

You can email Daniel Bybee:  danbybee@hotmail.com

 


 

The Rodeo Clown

The gate swings open to reveal the beast
   And the rider - one hand in the air
He straddles a one-ton Brahma bull
   As he quickly recites a prayer

Everyone else stands up on the fence
   Away from the imminent harm
Except for the man who's the rodeo clown
   He's the bull rider's lucky charm

That man who stands in front of the gate
   That athlete who knows no fear
Is ready to put his life on the line
   He's picked a dangerous career

The bull comes out like a runaway truck
   Then leaps in the air like a deer
The beast then starts to spin to the left
   The crowd cheers - does the cowboy hear?

The cowboy is hanging on for dear life
   Tryin' to put money in the bank
Snot is flying in every direction
   It's obvious this bull is rank

The bull kicks high and drops his head
   He switches and spins to the right
The cowboy is sliding to the inside
   It looks like he's losing this fight

All of a sudden he falls in the well
   His hand hung in the suicide wrap
This bull spins like a Texas twister
   The boy's in a dangerous trap

In the blink of an eye the clown is there
   Grabbin' rope and joinin' the spin
If the cowboy's hand ain't freed up soon
   He may never ride bulls again

The bull is tryin' with all his might
   To gore both cowboy and clown
The clown hangs on - he won't give up
   As the bull spins round and round

Another clown jumps in front of the bull
   To try and slow down the spin
The first clown gets the trapped hand free
   As he draws on strength from within

The cowboy lands hard in front of the beast
   The bull stops and eyes his prey
He drops his head and starts to charge
   A clown jumps right in his way

Other bull riders now rush in to help
   They quickly pick up their brother
One clown leaps to avoid the horns
   The bull turns to chase the other

They take turns running in front of the bull
   Until the cowboy is moved
These rodeo clowns are brothers-in-arms
   And today their courage was proved

The crowd is standing and cheering out loud
   To honor those risking their lives
The cowboy comes over to shake their hands
   Without them he might not have survived

The rodeo clowns have been put to the test
   For them just another day
The rodeo life is the life they love
   They'd do this without any pay

The bull riders know the clowns will be there
   To help them after they've wrecked
Next weekend they'll be in another town
   They've earned each others' respect

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


Daniel told us, "I went to the Reno rodeo this year.  Watching the bull riding and rodeo clowns got my mind working on a poem about rodeo clowns.  My uncle took me to lots of rodeos when I was growing up and I always loved the bull riding and the clowns.  I always thought they were the bravest people in the world."

 

 

An Old Western Cabin

An old western cabin sat back in the shade
of a giant oak tree with light startin' to fade
as the sun started settin' over hills to the west
while night birds got ready to fly from their nests

The tin roof was dented and patched everywhere
and the porch sorta sagged and held one rockin' chair
that was old as the hills but it'd held up real well
and it invited ya to just come an' sit for a spell

Oakwood was split and stacked high in neat rows
under old canvas tarps weathered from winter snows
The wood had been cut from dead trees on near hills
and was ready to burn to ward off the night chills

This old western cabin had no indoor bath
which explained the existence of a well worn foot path
leadin' into the woods to an old wooden shack
Yes, the old western outhouse was down there in back

The kerosene lamps were soon sendin' out light
through windows and wall cracks into the dark night
The yellow light flickered and lit up our faces
but left lots of shadows and dark hidiin' places

For mice who lived there and for others as well
who found this old cabin a nice rodent motel
They didn't eat much and they stayed out of sight
till we crawled into bed and we blew out the lights

Then they scurried around finding crumbs on the floor
while we lie awake listening to our uncle's loud snore
and local coyotes sang sad lonely songs
while crickets would chirp and serenade all night long

Most mornin's the cabin was filled with the sounds
and smells of fried bacon and boiled coffee grounds
and eggs cooked in grease and biscuits so sweet
all cooked on a stove with oak coals makin' heat

This old western cabin had stood there for years
and had heard all the stories and felt all the tears
that fell to the floor when we laughed 'til we cried
at tall tales from our uncles, Pascal and Clyde

Other uncles and aunts had sat there as well
while card games were played with stories to tell
around that old pot bellied stove burnin' oak
while outside the night closed around like a cloak

That place had a spirit and my memories are clear
and I see it at night like it was just last year
I see us around that old stove just a gabbin'
in the dim lantern light of that old western cabin

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


Daniel told us:  "My uncles' cattle ranch was a huge part of my life growing up. I wrote this poem about the old cabin at that ranch. I spent many nights there with my cousins and uncles and aunts after long days of both work and play. My favorite memories are of card games by lantern light and getting warmed up around the old pot bellied stove."

 

 

 

Propane Tank Cowboys

Pictures in a scrapbook bring back memories of youth
Back then things were much simpler - we thought we knew the truth
I recognize myself and my cousins and my brother
I guess these pictures must have been ones taken by my mother

These farm boys were all dressed up in their best western attire
and they straddled a propane tank - guns drawn, ready to fire
They look to be about the age when make-believe was king
and you could make a gun or rifle out of almost anything.

Just like these worn old photos we saw things in black and white
and the good guys beat the bad guys and wrong always lost to right
The propane tank was on our farm and acted as our steed
That steel horse never tired -  it carried us at breakneck speed

Our heros were the cowboys who rode Palomino horses
and our dream was that there'd be a day they'd ask us to join forces
and we'd ride along side Hop-a-long while chasin' evil guys
or join forces with Roy Rogers under wide Montana skies

Our outfits weren't as fancy as those worn by Roy or Gene
but we did the best we could to match those on the silver screen
The hats were kinda big and the boots were kinda worn
and our shirts and patched up pants were a little old and torn

We didn't know it then but the way that we were dressed
was closer to the real clothes that they wore in the old west
The faces in the pictures show the innocence and wonder
of young boys who never thought of death -  of being six feet under

So we rode that horse of steel and we dreamed the dreams of boys
'till we grew a little older and we put away our toys
Then we struggled with the fact that the world's not black and white
and we learned with sadness real good guys don't always win the fight

But our heros of the silver screen taught us to persevere
and to stand up for the principles and people we hold dear
So even though it seems the bad guys sometimes win a round
We should stick to our guns like Roy and see that truth is found

© 2007, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Daniel to us, "My brother and I were going through an old photo scrapbook with my mom a couple of years ago and came across some pictures taken on our farm in the 1950's.  I found these pictures of us playing cowboy and using our old propane tank as our horse.  Whenever our cousins would come over, we would usually end up playing cowboys.  Our uncle was a cowboy and a rancher and we all wanted to grow up to be like him.  Those were the magical memories that inspired the poem."

 

 

 

The Outfit He Wore

The way he looked then is etched in my mind
   on horseback lookin' over his spread
His hat was protection in both sun and rain
   and it fit like a glove on his head
 
He had it shaped just the way that he liked
   with his trademark brim and its crease
This hat was worn by a working cowboy
   and was darkened with sweat stains and grease
 
The shirt that he wore had seen better days
   The pearl snaps strained to stay closed
Little burn holes were scattered about
   from the smokes that he rolled I supposed
 
The Bull Durham sack was stuffed in one pocket
   The string and the tab hung outside
Rollin' a smoke while atop of his mount
   That's my memory of my uncle Clyde
 
His belt had a big silver buckle in front
   though it hid underneath his large girth
His old leather gloves were under his belt
   and were worn and had proven their worth
 
His wranglers were stained with manure and sweat
   and they rode really low on his frame
He was always pulling 'em up when he walked
   His small butt was partially to blame
 
The shotgun leather chaps that covered his legs
   were stained dark from years of hard use
The scratches and cuts from barbed wire and brush
   showed they saved his bowed legs from abuse
 
The Tony Lama's that he wore on his feet
   had been resoled a time or two
A couple of spots gave hint of their color
   through the dirt where the leather peeked through
 
My aunt always tried to keep some good clothes
   in his closet for goin' to town
But he'd wear his new shirts and pants out to work
   and they'd come back torn, stained, burned and brown
 
This man on the horse was an old time cowboy
   and a bull rider back in his day
The outfit he wore from his head to his toes
   showed he lived life the cowboy way

© 2009, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Daniel told us that this picture inspired the poem above about his uncle. He comments, "He didn't always have the chaps on, but everything else was always the same. I have a picture of him at the beach in California. His daughters are wearing swimming suits and my Uncle Clyde is standing there in the sand in his jeans, shirt and cowboy hat!

 


Pascal and Clyde Pitts

 

The Cottonwood Branding

The call went out when it turned spring
to come and lend a hand and bring
a horse and rope and saddle and tack
and a good cow dog and a good strong back
 
They gathered cows with three different brands
and sortin' was done by real top hands
The calves were soon bein' roped and dragged
and tied and cut and branded and tagged
 
The ground crew knew their jobs real well
and loved the work it was easy to tell
The shots went in and the horns came off
and the burnin' hair rarely caused a cough

The cowboys' throats were full of dust
but they still laughed and joked and cussed
each time a calf kicked someone's shin
when hot iron burned a new brand in
 
Calf fries cooked on the brandin' flame
were greeted by all with great acclaim
While ropin' skills that were on display
for us to see really made our day
 
Just like their ancestors who tamed the West
They cowboy'd up and did their best
They branded close to a hundred head
and they'd all be drunk 'fore goin' to bed
 
The sun was soon low in the sky
and cowboys' throats weren't no more dry
The steaks were rare and beer was cold
as the stories of the day got told
 
Round a fire that was blazin' high
sendin' sparks into the dark night sky
The smoke was driftin' on changin' breeze
and shadows danced on Live Oak trees
 
The boys got drunk and tales got tall
and each one had a real close call
They talked of good ones that they'd rode
as night got dark and beer still flowed
 
Then one by one they staggered off drunk
lookin' for a spot to make a bunk
In darkness some would trip and fall
till the last ones left could only crawl

The sunrise came too soon for most
They woke to smells of eggs and toast
and venison sausage and taters fried up
and strong black coffee in a steamin' cup
 
The yard had horse trailers scattered around
with cowboys in 'em and on the ground
and some bedrolls in dirty truck beds
with cow dogs sleepin' by cowboys' heads
 
One by one they started to stir
while rubbin' eyes tryin' to clear the blur
of last nights drinkin' and yesterday's sweat
on legs not ready for walkin' yet
 
Each cowboy filled his coffee cup
and got his horses loaded up
Two hours later they'd cleared their heads
and headed off to their own home spreads

© 2010, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Daniel comments: This poem has been a work in progress for about five years. During that time I have been to Cottonwood, California, for this branding three times. After each branding I have come home and revised this poem. This year I after I got home, it all seemed to come together because we had some new people and some new experiences. A day of hard work followed by an evening of celebration. Family, friends and neighbors getting together to help brand spring calves is a classic tradition in ranching. I don't think it's importance to the ranching way of live can be over emphasized.

Daniel Bybee shared an account of the branding and
additional photos in Picture the West.


photo by Mary Wegener


The Spirit of Clyde

That ranch in Coarsegold, back when no one felt old
   Was the place where we boys became men
We jumped on calves' necks, not afraid of bad wrecks
   And we lived every minute back then
 
We watched and we learned, tryin' not to get burned
   When Uncle Clyde slapped his brand on a steer
And he taught us to be more than just what you see
   "When the goin' gets tough, persevere"
 
Well, I'm now fifty eight, but was still feelin' great
   When Mark called to say that they were branding
At a ranch near Red Bluff and did I still have enough
   To cowboy all day and then still be standing?
 
I said "I'll be there for sure" knowing I could endure
   And without a discouraging word
I saddled up at three, on a horse named MC
   And rode out to help round up the herd
 
The next morning I rose, dressed in cowboy work clothes
   And watched calves bein' roped and then tied
I rushed in with a smile, cause it'd been quite a while
   Since I'd been that close to a cow hide
 
The cows milled around and the herd made a sound
   And the memories came in a flood
From the smells in the air and the smoke from the hair
   To the ears that were cut and dripped blood
 
The spirit of Clyde was right by my side
   As I knelt and put all of my weight
On a 300 lb calf, and I let out a laugh
   I was dirty and bloody—feelin' great
 
With syringe in my hand, this was just what I'd planned
   As I drove in from Reno that day
To be one of the boys, and experience the joys
   Of a branding, and not get in the way
 
My fear had been that, with my clean cowboy hat
   And my spurs and my chaps lookin' grand
I'd not get a chance to join in this big dance
   And to show that I'd make a good hand
 
But I think they could sense I would not ride the fence
   That I wanted to be in the action
And with the spirit of Clyde as my buckaroo guide
   I performed well and got great satisfaction
 
I kept up the pace which was sometimes a race
   With the ropers bringin' calves in succession
I was living my dream to the very extreme
   And a smile was my frozen expression

© 2010, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Daniel comments: This poem is a companion piece to my poem, "The Cottonwood Branding." It's about this year's branding and was written about a week after the previously-mentioned poem was finished. I was thinking about my uncle's ranch and the brandings we used to go to every spring as kids. Unlike the other poem, which was a five year effort, this one was written in one evening, with the re-writes and finishing touches added over the next several weeks. In addition to helping me at the branding, I think my Uncle's spirit was also helping me write this poem. It was one of those times that most writers have experienced when the poem seemed to write itself.


 

 

After the Storm

Filtered daylight crept into our remote alpine camp
Water dripped from trees, our tarps and bedrolls all were damp
Last night the lightning lit the sky and thunder shook our bones
Rain had come in buckets, wind had showered us with cones

I poked my head out from beneath my shelter from the storm
And saw my breath in morning light as cold air met the warm
A glance toward the picket line confirmed my waking dread
Sometime last night the horses had broke loose and they had fled

Our camp was at the timber line outside Yosemite Park
Where trees are gnarled and stunted and thick moss grows on their bark
Our pack horses had brought us here by slow and steady pace
We marveled at the grandeur, it put smiles on every face

We fished the icy lakes in search of brown and golden trout
And hiked the rocky hills with wild flowers scattered all about
Till ominous dark clouds had formed, sky went from blue to black
We gathered under canvas tarps to brave nature's attack

As boys, we were excited with the lightning and the thunder
But our uncles knew the dangers from the trees that we were under
So we strung our tarps between some giant slabs of granite rock
And we hunkered down in bedrolls bracing for each booming shock

The fierce storm lasted most the night and kept us all awake
It put out last night's fire and left us no coals to bake
Our biscuts that we'd counted on to get our mornin' goin'
I sat there in the silence with a trace of sunlight showin'

I noticed Uncle Merle was gone and so was Uncle Clyde
Prob'ly lookin' for our horses that were scattered far and wide
I quietly pulled my boots on, walkin' soft so's not to wake
The others who were sleeping and I headed for the lake

A fog was on the water and the sunlight was still dim
When I spotted Uncle Merle with his Roan horse next to him
Walkin' slowly with a halter towards Sally our pack mare
She was grazing in the grass beside the lake without a care

When suddenly along the shore appearin' through the haze
Came a grizzled horseback rider closely trailin' two big Bays
I watched him gather horses to him like moths to a flame
We all knew him as Clyde but surely "Cowboy" was his name

We led the horses back to our camp in a grove of trees
And we listened to the wind-song from their branches in the breeze
Tim had a fire goin', and we all gathered to get warm
And talked about the power that was unleashed by that storm

We stood around and talked about the lightning and the rain
While we fixed some eggs and bacon and we fed the horses grain
We talked about the world below, how things were simpler here
Sayin' how we'd like to come back to this same place every year

The mountain air was crisp and clear, snow glistened on the peaks
The runoff from the rainstorm kinda muddied up the creeks
But the storm had washed the earth and air up here at timberline
This glacial valley was our church, the mountains were our shrine


© 2010, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Daniel comments, "For three summers in a row, during the 1960s, I went with my brother and some cousins on a 10 day pack trip into the high Sierras. These trips were led by our uncles who had a cattle ranch and owned all of the riding and pack stock. We packed into the same area each summer and set up base camp at a couple of different lakes, one being above 10,000 ft. It was very remote and we'd only occasionally pass a commercial pack string coming from or going into the back country. We were teenagers and we'd hike and fish and explore from sun up to sun down. One year, we got hit by a string of thunder storms. One night during an intense storm, all of our pack and riding stock broke loose and our uncles had to gather them up the next day. This poem is about that trip."

This is a 40-year-old picture from that trip:

 

 

A Long Walk Home

The year was 1960 on my Uncle’s foothill spread
     As we rode along in his old jeep he turned to me and said
“If you promise not to tell your Aunt I’ll tell you a true tale
     Of a horseback ride from years ago along the plateau trail”

A story from my Uncle was what I looked forward to most
     So I promised not to tell and listened totally engrossed
As he stopped the jeep along the river ‘neath a big oak tree
     And pointed to the ridge above while telling this to me

The mornin’ started off with just a slight chill in the air
     As he saddled up his horse for the last time unaware
Of the dark cloud hanging over him that sunny cloudless morn.
     He stepped into the stirrup and grabbed hold the saddle horn.

He swung into the saddle like a thousand times before
     With his mountain horse beneath him and the Colt he always wore
On his hip snug in the holster that he’d bought in Mexico
     He was ready for the day and headed for the south plateau

He didn’t know it then but he was headed towards disaster
     If he’d known what lay ahead he would’ve rode a little faster
Maybe got up to that rocky ridge before the air got warm
     Before the rocks got heated to create the perfect storm

The black cloud followed him as he rode up that rocky hill
     He couldn’t see it up there but he thought he felt a chill
And as he topped the crest and felt the sunshine on his face
     He thought the chill had left him as his horse picked up the pace

He had two miles of fence to check and fix before the sun
     Started setting in the west to signal that his day was done
So he rode along the ridge above the canyon down below
     His mind filled with thoughts of things that only cowboys know

When suddenly before him on a rock out in the sun
     Was a five-foot coiled up rattler—my uncle drew his gun
His horse reared up and started spinning scared out of its wits
     When you’re sittin’ on a horse this is as scary as it gets

He held the reins tight in one hand and tried to draw a bead
     On the rattler coiled ready to strike his twirling rearing steed
He finally got the snake lined up—the Colt jerked in his hand
     The echo of the shot he fired spread out across the land

Well - the bullet never reached the snake—my uncle filled with dread
     Just as he pulled the trigger his scared horse had swung its head
His horse’s legs began to buckle, falling towards the ground
     My uncle knew he’d shot his horse—he knew that sickening sound

His horse fell over on its side and rolled toward the ledge
     As it kicked and struggled getting ever closer to the edge
Somehow he managed to jump off and pulled his rifle free
     Then watched his horse roll down the hill and wedge against a tree

He took his Colt and shot the snake and smashed it with a rock
     His horse was still alive and he was in a state of shock
One more shot—his horse was dead—he loudly cursed his luck
     He had a six mile walk back to the barn to get his truck

He told my Aunt when he got home he’d sold that mountain horse
     To a rancher at the auction and he was filled with deep remorse
He’d have to go confess his sins now in the Church of Rome
     No way my uncle’d tell my aunt about his long walk home

© 2010, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Daniel comments, "When I was about nine or ten, my uncle Clyde Pitts told me about the time he was riding the bluff above the river canyon on his ranch and came upon a big rattlesnake. He took a shot at it from horseback with his revolver that he always carried. He accidently shot his horse instead and managed to get clear before it rolled down a steep hill. He told me he had never told this story to anyone else and made me promise to never tell. Years after he had passed away, I told my brother about this tale from our Uncle. My brother got a big grin on his face and said Uncle Clyde had told him the same story and also made him promise to never tell! I took the story he told us and imagined the details from that fateful day to create this poem."

 

We Brought 'Em In
(The 2011 Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive)

Mt Rose stood out against the sky some 30 miles away
While we rode through that high desert makin' 18 miles that day
The yellow of the wildflowers and the bright blue sky above
Framed the cattle in that picture of the life and land I love

We'd come up through a draw with sage brush rubbin' on our boots
I was thinkin' 'bout my family and my deep down western roots
My uncle and great uncle both were cowboys in their years
And that day I realized a dream and had to fight back tears

I'd always dreamt of movin' cattle 'cross the western range
So I sought out people just like me who didn't think it strange
We all had the same goal to see what life was like back then
And test ourselves to find out just how good we could've been

I signed on to this outfit drivin' steers 'cross north Nevada
With some other would-be cowhands and soon wished that I had'a
Signed on many years ago to have more years to carry round
In my heart and mind the sights and smells and feelin's that I found

The late rains in the spring had kept the grass and sagebrush green
And the dust from the small herd was not the worst that we had seen
A nice breeze kept the sun's rays from a heatin' up our skin
As we drifted down towards Reno where tomorrow we'd bring 'em in

We'd moved this herd for three days in the wind and sun and dust
Passin' rattlers in the sage and doin' what all drovers must
While we kept the cattle movin' settin' on our trusty mounts
In a world where ridin' for the brand and keepin' your word counts

The cattle were strung out and draggin' 'cross this high plateau
With the riders back on drag pushin' hard to make 'em go
Team Teal was ridin' swing along the right side of the herd
When a trail boss and a wrangler did what we thought was absurd

Whoopin' and hollerin' from way up in the front
They came ridin' through the herd like wild wolves on the hunt
And the steers went runnin' left and right and scattered 'cross the plains
With a bunch of third day cowhands takin' tight hold of their reins

The hands reacted quickly and we rode off after strays
And I got my horse to gallop through the sagebrush for a ways
The teamwork was amazing as we brought the herd in line
And we all had great big smiles as we were feelin' mighty fine

On a trail drive, you depend upon your horse to get you through
So you treat him like a partner, he's a member of your crew
And you have to work together - always have each other's back
Makin' sure to pull your weight and always pickin' up the slack

We slept out in the sagebrush and we slept on dry lake bed
The camp crew hauled our bed rolls and the cooks all kept us fed
The wranglers fed our horses and the trail boss lined us out
On the desert trail to Reno, we learned what this life's all about

We got the herd to town after four days on the trail
And we moved 'em through the streets like they were ridin' on a rail
The wranglers and the bosses taught us how to move the steers
And we came to town as cowboys and will remember through the years:

The trusty mount that carried us across brush covered hills
The lifelong friends we made and the many horseback thrills
The men and women charged with getting us safely to town
And the times we met the challenge when we said "We won't back down"

© 2011, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Daniel comments, "This cattle drive was something I dreamed about doing for most of my life. The poem is a distillation of the sights, sounds, emotions, and experiences that occurred over the four days of the drive. I tried to convey the majesty of the Nevada desert and mountains, the camaraderie of the participants, and the skill and leadership of the men and women who guided us on this trail drive. For a kid who idolized John Wayne and grew up watching Red River and later on The Cowboys, it was a dream come true."


photo by Kevin Bell
Daniel Bybee on the drive

See more photos and commentary from Daniel Bybee about the drive here in Picture the West.

Find more about the Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive at www.renorodeo.com.
 


 

These Cowboys Were Always My Heroes

I guess that I took it for granted, the ranch those two brothers had built
While thinking about it I'm wistful, like looking at great-grandma's quilt
My brother and I were still children while our uncles made good on their dreams
They worked from sun up to sundown, building roads and damming up streams
Building the ponds for the cattle, and putting up fences and barns
By day they were pulling out stumps, and by night they were telling us yarns
 
It sat in the oak covered foothills, and a long winding river ran through it
We drove on some rutted dirt roads, over old cattle guards to get to it
The cattle they raised there were Herefords, with bulls named Moe, Larry, and Curly
They kept them in alternate pastures 'cause sometimes they got mean and surly
They hauled up the hay in the summer with an old flat bed Ford in low gear
And stacked it up high in the old barn for use later on in the year
 
We hunted and fished on that Camelot, if my memory serves me correct
And helped with the feeding and branding and that place had a lasting effect
On the way that we both do our work, on the lives that we went on to live
We watched as our uncles gave everything until, they had nothing left to give
That ranch was the place where we blossomed, where we grew up beyond our young years
Where we did things our friends only dreamed of, and sometimes confronted our fears
 
Our uncles expected much from us, and they treated us like we were men
They showed us a job needed doin', then stood back and watched us jump in
They expected that we could do anything, and always assumed we'd succeed
Whether feeding or sorting or shooting, we built confidence we'd always need
And we learned that a clock's not important when a job really has to be done
Sometimes we'd just keep on a workin', with the moonlight in place of the sun
 
I wanted to grow up a cowboy and I wanted to be one for life
In my daydreams I straddled a bay horse as I rode in at dusk to my wife
I'd see the smoke leaving the stovepipe on the roof swirling into the sky
That was dim with the rays of last sunlight on a warm summer night in July
I'd hear the faint gurgle of water running over smooth moss covered rocks
In the river just down from the cabin where we'd go on our long evenings walks
 
My dreams had me daily on horseback as I moved cattle in from the hills
To corrals where we doctored and sorted and loaded to ship to pay bills
I saw myself wearing a slicker, head down riding through blowing snow
With a new calf in front of my saddle, and the wind chill at 15 below
Mama was following us closely as we made our way back through the storm
To the barn where the calf, cow and horse, and myself could get dried out and warm
 
That ranch is now just in my memory, sub-divided and paved long ago
My uncles both passed on to heaven, but left us with things we still know
We know there's a code that you live by, that you're only as good as your word
The difference between right and wrong
it's that line that you don't let get blurred
I never became a real cowboy, like I hoped and I dreamed that I would
But I'll always live life as they taught me, they were cowboys and damn they were good
 
© 2011, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


Daniel comments:

Dave Stamey’s song “Montana” has the lines: “My father gave me Montana. No matter where I go, it carries me, when I look inside I seeMontana.”

Those lines could be used to describe the 4P ranch in Coarsegold, California. Clyde and Pascal and Vera and Edna Pitts (the cowboy heroes and their wives) gave me, my brother, and some twenty five other nephews and nieces a chance to experience a working cattle ranch in the 1950s and 1960s. The days and nights we spent on that ranch are imbedded in my heart and soul. The things we learned and experienced there are in my subconscious and guide my every day decisions. I am forever grateful and this poem is my tribute to them.

 

 

The Old Black Stallion

Slowly the herd grazed the shoulder
And drainage ditch of the Toll Road
Geiger Grade rose up above it
Casting shadows before the sun showed
It's orange face through thin wispy clouds
Over steep rocky hills to the east
These mustangs roamed dry barren desert
In search of a moist morning feast

The mare in the lead was a large paint
With colt trailing closely behind
Young fillies and colts acted playful
Herd rules kept them closely confined
I smiled as they found trees and bushes
Near the road which were suitable to eat
The herd started ripping and tearing
And munching ten feet from the street

One at a time they left cover
Emerging from behind the trees
A large sorrel stallion was with them
Long mane blowing wild in the breeze
One horse lagged behind in the shadows
And when he came into full view
I saw a thin wobbly old stallion
Whose lead stallion days were all through

His black as coal coat was still shiny
But covered with old battle scars
His bones pushed his coat out in places
He limped from some old equine wars
He struggled to keep with the others
As the herd moved on up the road
I grimaced each time that he stumbled
With the burden of a heavy load

Those burdens I imagined he carried
Were memories of all the years past
When he was the fiercest lead mustang
With teeth and sharp hooves lighting fast
Does he still remember the old days
When he won all fierce battles fought
When he sired all colts and all fillies
When he never ever could be caught

He must've been something to see then
Ruling his kingdom, so big and strong
And the ground shook when he galloped
And his loyal herd followed along
I picture him then, the Black Stallion
From my favorite childhood stories
When he roamed the Nevada deserts
In the heyday of all his glories

This horse that now limps before me
Is a shadow of his former youth
Each step he takes looks so painful
And I wonder if he knows the truth
The truth that he's now on his last legs
Being hobbled by the strain of years
And I pray that he has a swift death
As I wipe away unexpected tears

© 2014, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


Daniel comments:

I board my horse with some friends who have a place in a rural area south of Reno, NV. There are a couple of herds of wild horses who come by on a regular basis. This one morning in August, I was feeding the horses before dawn when a large herd (a herd of 15-20 we call the Paint herd) came up the road and started grazing in the trees and bushes on the side of the road in front of the corrals. I stood and watched them graze for a while and when I thought they all had left, an old black stallion came out from behind some bushes. I was startled by him and watched him as he slowly trailed 50 to 100 yards behind the rest of the herd. I couldn't get him out of my mind and started writing this poem at work during lunch that same day.

 


Chasing Ghosts of Cowboys Past

I used to think that maybe in a former life of mine
That I lived about a hundred years ago
I must ‘a been a cowboy driftin’ cross the open range
Ridin’ for the brand and singin’ bout “Wrangler Joe”

Mom’s brother was a rancher and I loved to be with him
He was bigger, he was braver, he was bolder
They never told me much about their family history
And I put off searching till I got much older

At ninety five mom’s uncle Fred sat down and was recorded
Reminiscing ‘bout the old days of his youth
For thirty years the tapes lie hidden in a plastic bag
Till I listened to them, searching for the truth

Fred Pitts had told these stories in the year before his death
Bout his dad and uncles —cowboys through and through
He talked about New Mexico, his sorrows and his joys
And these tapes revealed history I never knew

His grand-parents sailed from France and headed west to Kansas
Where his mom was born with the North and South at war
In ’83 they moved west to the high New Mexico mountains
Where two uncles entered old New Mexico lore

Fred was born in ’85 on a homestead in the pines
In Luna that was near Apache Creek
His step-dad was a cowboy and his uncles all were too
He was horseback just as soon as he could speak

His real dad left the family and had headed back to Kansas
He was just a man that Fred had never known
A Texas cowboy rode in, swept great grandma off her feet
And raised my grandpa Leo and Fred as his own

The oldest of Fred’s uncles had been killed two years before
He was murdered by a rancher’s hired hands
The rancher ran the county and a witness was found hung
And the killers were released on his demands

Fred’s grandma had to bury him, his bones remain there still
And he wasn’t the last son she’d have to mourn
Her daughter’s honor sullied, one brash son rushed to a fight
And was killed just five years after Fred was born.

Fred remembered that his father had rushed home that fateful day
That his horse was dripping wet and foamy white
That he ran and hugged Fred’s ma and she let out a long wail
When she heard her brother had died in a fight

His challenge at a cow camp met —three young men now lie dead
from a gunfight with two men who’d been his friends
She had to tell her mother that a second son was gone
And they both lived life with pain that never ends

In 1896 great grand-pa Jesse moved his family
Cross the Texas panhandle to the Sooner State
Fred and grandpa Leo helped their father drive the herd
When they got there a harsh winter laid in wait

They’d gone 900 miles in 90 days with a hundred head
Crossed the Rio Grande and Pecos on that trip
Great grandma drove the covered wagon with three younger boys
And their night time fires were fueled with dried cow chips

An old abandoned sod house was their shelter that cold winter
With a canvas wall to keep out wind and snow
Fred thought that they would die before the Spring sun warmed the earth
And with them stories that the world would never know.

They left as boys but when they brought the herd in they were men
They’d been tested and they’d learned the cowboy way
The more I learned about them it became real clear to me
That my blood contains some cowboy DNA

The tapes started me searching for more clues to who I was
A tattered diary twelve decades old showed life was hard
French cowboys and their families, men and women tough as nails
Scratching life out from a land so dry and scarred

I feel like all my life I’ve been chasing ghosts of cowboys
And my dreams were filled with horses, cows, and guns
I loved my uncle’s ranch and I knew the cowboy code
But never knew how deep that cowboy bloodline runs

© 2014, Daniel Bybee
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 

Daniel Bybee shares stories and photos of his family's lively history in a February 10, 2015 Picture the West.

 

Read Daniel Bybee's

It's Understood in our Art Spur project


 

  About Daniel Bybee:

I grew up on a farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California. I had a large extended family with 13 sets of aunts and uncles and 37 first cousins. Most of us were farmers and ranchers. Two of my mom’s brothers owned a cattle ranch up in the Sierra Nevada foothills near the town of Coarsegold. I used to go with my Uncle Clyde up to the ranch every chance I could to help out with the chores, ride horses, ride in the jeep and shoot squirrels. He had been a bull rider in his younger days and a good friend of Slim Pickens. He always had great stories to tell while we were riding to and from the ranch. He and my Uncle Pascal took me, my brother and some cousins on a horse pack trip every summer into the high Sierras to an area outside of Yosemite National Park. We would spend 10 days hiking and fishing and learning about taking care of the horses on our trips. Those were magical times and the memories of those trips and of my years at that ranch have provided me with a treasure chest of ideas for my poems.

I’ve been going to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering every year since 2001, and I have been learning from the best writers and reciters in the country. I recently moved to Reno, Nevada, and look forward to new adventures that will eventually be subject matter for new poems. I plan to keep writing as long as ideas keep coming.


 

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