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New Underwood, Douth Dakota
About Don Hilmer



Heading Home

     We're riding out and wondering—as light of dawn breaks through...
Why the mule-deer and the coyote hide from such a glorious view.

     Could it be they seek seclusion to give thanks for space they roam?...
As nighttime ends and day begins we see them heading home.

     As the cold gives way to Springtime's sway of branches in the breeze...
The sunshine calls for seeds to grow, and leaves spring forth on trees.

     The curlew greets the meadowlark, the robin pecks the loam...
They'd once gone south for wintertime, but now they're heading home.

     The colts are born—the calves—the lambs, all move to summer range...
Each nurtured by their mothers love,—a miracle unchanged.

     The cycle spreads from mountain slope to rolling ocean foam...
Life ventures forth, but ne'er forgets the time for heading home.

     The rancher and his faithful wife relax in rocking chairs ...
As younger generations ride across the range that's "theirs."

     They'll keep the homefires burning, and they'll never be alone...
Cause when the 'stock and fence are checked, they'll all be heading home.

     There'll never be a better place on earth for you or me...
Than riding on the open range, no greater sights to see.

     And when our day of work is done, no matter where we roam...
We'll turn and face the open space, and we'll be "Heading Home."

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



This poem is included in our Art Spur project



The "Uninterested" / "Flat Busted" Lady Banker

When I think about it—it really "gets my goat"
          To think of all that we go through to keep this ranch afloat.
It's not the long, hard hours of work that really "takes the cake"
          It's how % interested % the banker is in the little bit we make.

I'm gettin' older every year,—Dad's stroke messed up his talkin'
          And if that wasn't bad enough—my wife's got trouble walkin'.
Some gals go lame from too much dancin', but with her that's not the case
          Her knees are shot from ridin' horseback—coverin' all this space.

The livestock price was good last fall—but then we got this drouth
          The banker says "more interest" and then takes a trip down south.
When she returns all rested up—I say—"We can't pay more!''
          She lights her cigar---ette and shows us through her mirrored door.

She says "You go on home and work—for you there's no real hope''
          So we go home and train ole ZIP for pullin' on a rope.
We'll go an win some ropin's, and pay that bank note down
          She's gonna' get "uninterested," that'll make her frown.

There's things that bankers haven't learned 'bout cows and sheep and horses
          They never did "eat dollar bills," they're fed from other sources—
Like rain and sun and wind and snow, and green grass when it's growin'
          Hays and grains and plant remains, and water as it's flowin'

And those of  us who  raise that "stock"—we're different too, we know it.
          We've never had much "banker's wealth," our boots and pick-ups show it.
But we'll never be completely "broke" as long as God's around—
          Cause all the things we value most come right straight from the ground.

So we'll make it through without her "bucks'—She's got to learn her lesson
          And when we're rich—we'll still act poor—Just to keep her guessin'
We'll show her we don't need the kind of "wealth" in which she's trusted
          As she walks through her mirrored doors she'll realize she's "Flat Busted."

© 1991, Don Hilmer
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Don told us: This poem is a product of the situations that existed at that time in my life, and it seemed more fruitful to document the circumstances and peruse a game plan than to waste time on self pity.

The bankers were demanding more dollars of interest payments than we should have been paying, my Dad was trying to recover from a stroke and couldn't make a sentence with his speech, my wife was suffering from problems with her knees, and, although the cattle prices were at one of the more acceptable levels, we couldn't run many pairs because of the drought that was in progress.

The bankers only made us feel there was no real hope but never did send us home, and also never did ever become "flat busted" (they're still loaning money).

This poem told exactly what I was seeing at the time and with some "doing without" and determination (though the others mentioned have passed), the rest turned out pretty much according to my attitudes and I'm still
avoiding bankers and trying to survive another drought.


Rusty Barbed Wire

I've never liked dust in the seat of my saddle              
     So I try hard to ride some each day
I've never liked flies on my horses and cattle
     So I treat'em with dust bags or spray

I try to avoid building fence in the summer
     With that heat on my back from the sun
And the cold winter weather is really no better
     When my blood is so thick it won't run

Tho the difference is small—the spring and the fall—
     Offer reasons that kind'a make sense
With the ridin' all done—and the choice—a grease gun
     I assure you I'd rather fix fence

To be staple'n wires with some good fencin' pliers
     On a horse that was raised by my Dad
It just seems somehow that a wrench and a plow
     Makes a fencing job not seem too bad

But I'm under a curse till I ride in a hearse
     And the thought of it raises my "ire"
Though I'm blessed from above with some good fencin' gloves
     I despise that old rusty barbed wire

Now the new wire ain't bad but what makes me soo mad
     As I loop it and the rust starts to break
I'm takin' a wrap and there in my lap
     Drops that splice with the last twist I take

Now this maybe sounds sad, but I don't feel too bad
     When I've got leather gloves and good pliers
To be diggin' up sands and bruisin' my hands
     Just as long as there's no rusty wire

Well they say "Dust to Dust" and "To Rest is to Rust"
     And I like to stay busy all day
But one thing I enjoy is NOT bein' employed
     Splicin' wire in a state of decay

So we've reasoned or guessed out here in the west
     That for turnin' a cow it's OK
But I know very well—IF there's torture in Hell
     It includes Rusty Barbed Wire some way.                 

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


Don comments:  By 1907 this part of Dakota was being homesteaded and the railroads were snaking their way westward, very often following creeks and rivers toward higher plains and places like the Black Hills. where there was timber and (the more attractive) gold being discovered.

Families came mostly by covered wagons, and later, on "immigrant cars" the railroads provided, but in each instance they needed to follow the streams to have water for themselves and the stock they  had with them. Most, if not all ,of the small towns that sprung up were platted or patronized by the railroads and, because of their need for water for their steam engines, found it convenient to pick up and deliver passengers and supplies (including the barbed wire) that homesteaders needed to enable them to "prove up" (inhabit) their 160 acres which the government would "give" them to come west.

As the "dust bowl" days of the early 1930's and the "Great Depression" drove most of the homesteaders toward other professions, the "open range stockmen" and most hardy "nesters" acquired multiple homesteads (each enclosed with barbed wire) and are still (to this day) arranging those 160 plots into ranch units that are viable in today's "West."

With the need to utilize what we already have, and keep costs within budget, ranchers often make use of barbed wire that could be well over a half-century old.

The Old Snubbin' Post
He was doin' some thinkin' about bein' a kid
     And the way life was then, and the things that they did
And one of the things he remembered the most
     Was the trainin' he'd had at the old snubbin' post
His Dad knew it then and later he found
     That to be a "Good Hand" you should learn on the ground
How to time out your throw, and then dally of course
     But let some rope slide so it don't jerk your horse
For a Dad with two kids guess it made sense to be
     Tyin' half of the cow to the stump of a tree
One man on a horse could be holdin' the heels
     As the "ground work" went easy they all earned their meals
But a ten year old boy would rather not boast
     To his friends 'bout his work at the old snubbin' post
So he kept kind'a quiet and learned his job well   
     And the rope burns got less, and the post—a burned smell
He could spin on the dallys and a half-hitch in time  
     To make brandin' and dehornin' smooth like a rhyme
He could hold down the head while he took off the hoop
     And with one "back-hand" swing had the next in his loop
It began to be fun, and then just as he'd hoped
     He's told to "go horseback 'cause you're good with your rope"
He had learned from "the best" but he valued the most
     What he'd learned from his Dad and "The Old Snubbin' Post."

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

Don comments, "'The Old Snubbin' Post' came to me while remembering my 'growin' up' days, with firsthand recollections of a time when a good post in the middle of a corral, and a man with a good saddle horse and a rope were a much more common way of 'doctoring' livestock than alleys and squeeze chutes. It produced good 'hands' and good horses."



Read Don Hilmer's

Wake Up Call posted in the 2014 Christmas Art Spur


Heart in the Land, posted in our 2010 Cowboy Poetry Week Art Spur Project


 Bringing Christmas Home, posted in our 2006 Christmas Art Spur project


The One Runnered Sleigh, posted with other 2006 Christmas poems


  About Don Hilmer:

Don Hilmer of New Underwood, South Dakota spends his time ranching on the prairie just between the Black Hills (to the west) and the South Dakota Badlands (to the southeast), and views the same landscapes and horizons that filled the eyes of his parents and grandparents as much as one hundred years ago, along with the many additions (both positive and negative) that have come along since the Homestead days, which he says were pretty much the "Birth Days" of the "West of today."

Although these additions (railroads, river bridges, fences, trails, roads, highways, cities, water supplies and reservoirs, and motorized transportation) have energized tourism to the extent that the Badlands National Monument and the Black Hills (with Mt. Rushmore, Gold Mining, and Early Day Pioneering History) have made tourism this state's second largest industry, not a lot else has made this country a whole lot more usable than
it was when herds of cattle were trailed in here from the south to turned our good native grasses into healthy food for the hearty men and women who parented the survivors of that great era (who are, to this day performing the same duties with the same Spirit of the West) and have (by carrying on) become the "West of today."

He believes knowledge of this era and its people can be a positive example for all ages.



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