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We started the Favorite Cowboy and Western Poems Project in conjunction with Cowboy Poetry Week, which we celebrate the third week of April each year, during National Poetry Month.  

We welcome your comments all year.  See Page 1 for more background information.

This is Page 5 of 5 pages of comments.  
The most recent comments are posted on this page.


Previous Page

The index of all poets and poems mentioned is on Page 1.

We invite you to tell us about your favorite classic or contemporary Western or Cowboy poem.  

Simply send an email and tell us:

  • the name of your favorite Western or Cowboy poem

  • the author's name

  • why it's a favorite

Be sure to include your name and email address. 

We're particularly interested in knowing why the poem is your favorite.

 

We welcome corrections and additions to our follow-up notes.  Email us.



The index of all poets and poems mentioned is on Page 1.

Newest:

 

Evan Hamblin commented:

"Of Horses and Men," by Jay Snider takes me home again. It takes me back 65 years and some of the good men and great horses that I have known.

 

Of Horses and Men

The inspiration for this poem came to me on December 7, 2002. I had to put down a little bay stud that we owned for near a dozen years. Cancer had invaded one of his kidneys and the vet gave him little hope. It truly was a sad day for us. I remember telling my wife and sons, "Doc sure was a good one. He's the kind you hate to lose.

That same day, I had been asked to do a poem at an old man's funeral that lived north of where we live. He was as good a cowman as ever came out of our country. After the service, his eldest son said to me, "Dad sure was a good one. He's the kind you hate to lose."

I could not get those words out of my mind. I started this poem that night; however, I could not finish it until Mach 19, 2003 when we received word that Larry McWhorter had passed away. Then it came to me what I had been trying to say all along.


Of  Horses and Men

It's been told of good horses lost
In simple words that cowboys use
He dern sure was a good one
He's the kind you hate to lose

He's the kind you could depend on
In the river and the breaks
In rough country and wild cattle
He'd be the one you'd take

His efforts weren't ruled by stature
With him you'd finish what you'd start
His limits were governed only
By the dimension of his heart

His expectations were simple
Merely fairness from a friend
But when he'd feel the need to run
It's best not to fence him in

Pure poetry in motion
As across the plains he'd fly
A tried and true compadre
In a seasoned cowboy's eye

His courage was unmatched by mortal men
From conquistadors to kings
Cowboys sing his praises
At roundups in the spring

Ain't it strange how thoughts of horses lost
Mirror those of men passed on
And though they've gone to glory
Their spirit's never gone

Sometimes simple words seem best
When final words we choose
He dern sure was a good one
He's the kind you hate to lose

             
© 2003, Jay Snider             
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


 

  • We have a feature about Jay Snider with poetry here. "Of Horses and Men" is included on his CD, Of Horses and Men, which received the Academy of Western Artists' (AWA) Will Rogers Best Cowboy Poetry Recording award in 2006.:


 


Janet Montgomery commented:

Wallace McRae's "Reincarnation" is my favorite, because it reflects the people who come and go in our lives when we may be in areas where there aren't a lot of people.  It also reflects on how you get irritated at people, and the very things that irritate you become what you miss the most about them.

 

The poem can be found in the anthology edited by Hal Cannon, Cowboy Poetry, a Gathering, which grew from the Elko gatherings (click the image for an Amazon link, which includes more description):

Click to view at Amazon.com

and the poem is also included in Wallace McRae's own book from Gibbs Smith Publishing (click the image for an Amazon link and full table of contents):


Pam Sellers commented:

I really enjoyed "The Jag" by Jim Hawkins.  It was entertaining and so descriptive.  I could feel the emotions of the poet.

  • You can read poetry by Jim Hawkins here, including "The Jag."


Bill Mecham commented:

When I was in Junior High School, our English teacher ask the class to memorize the poem " Lasca." I was the first in the class to recite this poem.  We had just received our report cards, and our teacher took mine and changed my c+ to a b+. I can still recite all of the first verse.

That poem was written by Frank Desprez. Find more information and the poem posted here.


June Faddis commented:


"The Strawberry Roan," put to music, was a song that my father (now 90 yrs. old [June 2006] and an old cowboy) sang in a high school assembly in Arco, Idaho, MANY years ago. While traveling last week, I had purchased a CD by Michael Martin Murphey, who had recorded it, and gave it to my Dad as part of a Father's Day gift. Before I could play it for him, my dad began to sing it for me....all 13-14 verses!  He never skipped a beat.  That's why this poem is my favorite.

The version below is labeled "The Original Strawberry Roan" in Curley Fletcher's Ballads of the Badlands:

 

The Strawberry Roan

I wuz hangin' 'round town just uh spendin' muh time,
I wuz out of a job an' not makin' uh dime,
When uh feller steps up an' he sez,
"I suppose you're a bronc ridin' guy from the looks uh yure clothes."

"Well yuh guesses me right, I'm a good un I claim,
Do yuh happen tuh have any bad uns tuh tame?"
An' he sez he's got one, an' uh bad un tuh buck,
An' fer throwin good riders he's had lots uh luck.

An' he sez that this pony has never been rode,
That the boys that gits on him is bound to git throwed,
Well, I gits all excited an' asks what he pays
Fer to ride that old pony uh couple uh days.

Well, he offers uh ten-spot -- Sez I, "I'm yure man,
'Cause the bronc never lived that I couldn't fan
That no hoss never lived, nor he never drew breath
That I just couldn't ride till he starved plum tuh death. 

Now I don't like tuh brag but I got this tuh say,
That I ain't been piled up fer uh many uh day;
And sez he, "Git yure saddle an' I'll give yuh uh chance,"
So I gits in his buck-board an' drifts tuh his ranch.

There I stays until mornin' an' right after chuck
Then I steps out tuh see if that outlaw kin buck,
An' I spots the corral an' uh' standin' alone
There I sees this caballo, uh strawberry roan. 

An his laigs is all spavined, he's got pigeon toes,
He's got little pig-eyes and a big Roman nose.
He's got little pin-ears an' they touch at the tip,
An' a double-square iron it was stamped on his hip.

He wuzs yew-necked an' old with uh long lower jaw,
I kin see with one eye he's uh reg'lar outlaw,
So I puts on muh spurs an' I'm sure feelin' fine
An' I turns up muh hat an' I picks up muh twine.

Now I throws the loop on him an' well I knows then
That before he gits rode I will sure earn that ten;
Then I gits my blinds on an' it sure wuz uh fight,
an' a-next comes my saddle an I screws it down tight.

Then I up an' piles on him an' raises the blind,
I am right in his middle tuh see him unwind,
An' I spots the corral an uh stand-in' alone
There I seems tuh quit livin' down here on the ground.

And he goes toward the east an' he goes toward the west,
An' tuh stay in the middle I'm doin' my best;
Now he's sure walkin' frog an' he heaves uh big sigh
And he only lacks wings fer tuh be on the fly.

Then he turns his old belly right up tuh the sun
An' he sure is a sun fishin' son uv uh gun,
He's the worst buckin' bronc that I've seen on the range,
He kin turn on a nickle and give yuh some change.

While he's buckin' he's squealin' he sounds like a shoat,
An' I tells yuh that pony has sure got muh goat;
An' I claim that, no foolin' that bronc could sure step,
An' I'm still in the saddle uh buildin' up rep;

Then he hits on all fours an' he suns up his side,
I don't see how he keeps from a sheddin' his hide.
An' I loses muh stirrups an' also muh hat
An' I'm grabbing the leather ez blind ez a bat.

With a phenomenal jump then he goes up on high,
An' I'm settin on nuthin' way up in the sky,
An' it's then I turns over an' I comes back tuh earth,
An' I lights in the tuh cussin' the day of his birth.

Then I knows that the hosses I ain't able tuh ride
Is some uv 'em livin -- they haven't all died;
But I bets all muh money thar's no man alive
That kin stay with that bronc when he makes that high dive.

by Curley Fletcher, from Ballads of the Badlands

 

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

 


Bob Munro commented:

I enjoy Paul Kern's poems.  In particular, "At Codding's Place" touches me deeply as it recognizes the tenderness, yet strength of bonds between father and son, and the passing on of a heritage that will continue to enrich generations to come, of this family.

At Codding's Place

For just a moment I thought I saw,
Our brood mare lying in the straw,
Foaling a colt in the early morn.
Now the weeds grow tall where he was born.

The tack shed with the sagging gate,
Is where I learned to sit and wait,
As my father caught his horses at dawn.
It's quiet now - the horses are gone.

For just a moment I could smell it again,
That good horse smell in the old catch pen,
Same warm smell on both young and old.
You can't go back - the horses are sold.

It was the scene of a trailer fight,
Between Dad and Slippers - oh what a sight,
The rope took off part of his thumb.
Just maybe now, I should not have come.

At Codding's place was my first ride,
My father walking close beside,
He carved out memories for me his son.
Where he kept horses now there are none.

Those boyhood horses each had a hole,
That left a mark upon my soul.
At Codding's Place was my first ride,
My father walking close beside.

In another place and another time,
On a different farm that I call mine,
We keep our horses on that place,
A paint, a pinto and a bally face.

© 2003, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

  • Paul Kern commented on his poem: "At Codding's Place" is an intensely personal piece about how my father handed down his knowledge of horses to me.  Although Codding's farm no longer has horses on it, my father now 82 years old, still keeps two head alternating between Colorado and Idaho."  See photos that accompany this poem and read more of Paul Kern's poetry here.


  Clark Crouch commented:

My favorite just has to be "The Glory Trail (High-Chin Bob)" partly because I knew Badger Clark's and especially enjoyed his personal reading of that poem. Beyond that, I believe that his poetry, in general, exemplifies what cowboy poetry should be: strong in rhyme and meter and written by one who is very knowledgeable of our western and cowboy heritage. He turned just a few years of real experience into a poetic heritage we can all appreciate and enjoy.

The Glory Trail
(High-Chin Bob)

'Way high up the Mogollons,
    Among the mountain tops,
A lion cleaned a yearlin's bones
    And licked his thankful chops,
When on the picture who should ride,
    A-trippin' down a slope,
But High-Chin Bob, with sinful pride
     And mav'rick hungry rope.

"Oh, glory be to me," says he,
    "And fame's unfadin' flowers!
All meddlin' hands are far away;
I ride my good top-hawse today
And I'm top-rope of the Lazy J

    Hi! kitty-cat, you're ours!"

That lion licked his paw so brown
    And dreamed soft dreams of veal—
And then the circlin' loop swung down
    And roped him 'round his meal.
He yowled quick fury to the world
    Till all the hills yelled back;
The top-hawse gave a snort and whirled
    And Bob caught up the slack.

"Oh, glory be to me," laughs he.
    "We hit the glory trail.
No human man as I have read
Darst loop a ragin' lion's head,
Nor ever hawse could drag one dead
    Until we told the tale."

'Way high up the Mogollons
    That top-hawse done his best,
Through whippin' brush and rattlin' stones,
    From canyon-floor to crest.
But ever when Bob turned and hoped
    A limp remains to find,
A red-eyed lion, belly roped
    But healthy, loped behind.

"Oh, glory be to me," grunts he.
    "This glory trail is rough,
Yet even till the Judgment Morn
I'll keep this dally 'round the horn,
For never any hero born
    Could stoop to holler: ''Nuff!'"

Three suns had rode their circle home
    Beyond the desert's rim,
And turned their star-herds loose to roam
    The ranges high and dim;
Yet up and down and 'round and 'cross
    Bob pounded, weak and wan,
For pride still glued him to his hawse
    And glory drove him on.

"Oh, glory be to me," sighs he.
    "He kain't be drug to death,
But now I know beyond a doubt
Them heroes I have read about
Was only fools that stuck it out
    To end of mortal breath."

'Way high up the Mogollons
    A prospect man did swear
That moon dreams melted down his bones
    And hoisted up his hair:
A ribby cow-hawse thundered by,
    A lion trailed along,
A rider, ga'nt but chin on high,
    Yelled out a crazy song.

"Oh, glory be to me!" cries he,
    "And to my noble noose!
Oh, stranger, tell my pards below
I took a rampin' dream in tow,
And if I never lay him low,
    I'll never turn him loose

by Badger Clark, from Sun and Saddle Leather, 1922 (Sixth edition)

Jim Bob Tinsley devotes two interesting pages to "High Chin Bob" in his book, He Was Singin' This Song. He tells how the poem was selected by anthologists of the time and says that folklorist John Lomax thought  the "cowboy revision" was even better than the original.  He writes that "Austin E. Fife and Alta S. Fife, noted collectors of songs, ballads, and poetry of the American West, called 'High Chin Bob' 'one of the greatest songs of the cowboy repertoire." 

We have features about Charles "Badger" Clark and some of his poetry here.


Margie Parko commented:

I loved "Lasca" as a child for all the cowboy reasons, horses for instance, but also because Lasca was an integral part of the cowboy's life. She rode with him and went where he went. For a girl growing up in the 50s, Lasca was as close as you could come to a truly liberated woman. I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to have a man love me so much that I could stab him with a dagger, and he would still love me.  And, I wanted to love someone enough to be willing to die to save his life.

I didn't grow up to ride horses, and I never stabbed anyone, but I did get love, and I have been able to live my life pretty much the way I wanted to. When I think of an ideal woman, part of that image embraces the spirit of the wild and beautiful Lasca.

That poem was written by Frank Desprez. Find more information and the poem posted here.


  Janice Chapman commented:

My favorite of the poems I have read and heard in the last few years is one that Jerry Warren does titled "The Painting."  This beautiful poem is very emotional and moving because it relates to what might have been a true life family situation and is in direct relation to the Bible in the sentence of "He who takes the son gets it all." In my opinion it will take a lot to top this poem.
                               


bwdoutwhe1.jpg (32636 bytes)  Bette Wolf Duncan commented:

As a child, back in the 1930's, my mother used to read cowboy western poetry to me and my siblings the way some mothers today read Dr. Seuss.  One year for a birthday present, she  made me a scrap book with a wooden cover (click the photo above for a larger view). She had burned on it a picture of a cowboy...and a stanza of the most widely known and acclaimed cowboy poem of the day...OUT WHERE THE WEST BEGINS. We were small kids at the time, but we knew a  stanza or two of that poem. The scrap book was filled by me with my favorite cowboy western poems....and this poem heads the list. (Today, that 68 year old scrap book remains one of my treasured possessions.)

There has been a renewed interest in cowboy western poetry in the past two decades or so with the Cowboy Poetry Gatherings...but back in those days, cowboy western poems were a part of everyday life. 
Arthur Chapman is not widely known today...but in those day he was preeminent.
                               


  Jeri Dobrowski commented:
 

My favorite cowboy poem ... I've pondered the subject for better than a year, not wanting to rush to an ill-conceived conclusion. After months of considering the options, one piece continually rises to the top - like the velvety, beige cream from Mom's favorite Jersey cow.

Written by one of cowboy poetry's best, the poem's construction is solid. The rhymes are right on and imaginative, the meter well timed. Having watched my own grandmother take her leave from this earth, the tale is all the more believable. But one reason why it nestles so snugly within the recesses of my mind, is the circumstance under which I first heard it.

Nineteen years ago, a barnstorming bard made his way to our community and played the night show at the region's first-ever cowboy poetry gathering. He plied the audience with his signature humor, doubling us over from the front row to the back. We would have followed him anywhere, gobbling up whatever he scattered.

The astute entertainer that he is, he sensed we were following easily in the wake of his Technicolor, word-picture talent. Grabbing the stick shift, he geared the show low and headed for higher ground. Prefacing the recitation, he explained that he seldom did brand-new material for such a large crowd. But, since we were a bright and appreciative audience, he'd make an exception.

At that time the gathering's night shows were held outdoors in an aging amphitheater. Those who performed there did so in front of a weathered, low-budget, Western-cowtown set. Forget plush curtains, ropes and pulleys - the North Dakota Badlands served as the larger backdrop with constellations gliding silently overhead.

It was well into performance, deep into the evening by the time Baxter Black offered up his newest work. Stars were out, set against the night a la white specks on graniteware. Four lines in, it was obvious the tone of the show had shifted; this was no laughing matter. The crowd fell positively silent. An old cow puncher was dying.

The Badlands, the cedars, the stars, the board sidewalk and hitching post, the words - they came to life as a breeze tumbled down off the ridge behind us. It ushered in the riders who were coming to take their buddy home. There were Bob and Clyde and Augustine, mounted against the moonless sky, just out of reach of the spotlight's beam. The breeze brought with it a chill that arced up and down my spine, causing my elbows to instinctively press inward. Then, they were gone. As quickly as they came, beckoned by Baxter's words, they vanished - taking the old man with 'em.

I doubt that any subsequent performance was ever half so powerful. To this day, whenever I read that piece or hear it recited, I am instantly transported back to the old Burning Hills Amphitheater in Medora, North Dakota. It was magical, spiritual and an honor to hear Baxter Black recite "Good Bye, Old Man" for the first time in May 1987. It is my favorite cowboy poem.

"Good Bye, Old Man" appears in Croutons on a Cow Pie and Croutons on a Cow Pie, Vol. II.


  Larry Gibson commented:

My absolute favorite Cowboy Poet is Wayne Nelson, from American Falls, Idaho. My favorite Wayne Nelson Poem is
"Snowville," a great story about "justice" in the American West!

Essentially, it is the story of a black Rodeo Clown who is refused service "in a place down south of here" and so he brings his favorite bull, Snowville, to pay the bar a visit that night!

Wayne is a member of the Cowboy Poets of Idaho, one of the oldest and largest Cowboy Poetry organizations in the country.  Although it started small, about 18 years ago, it has grown to over 300 members in the US and Canada.

The two main awards for the CPI are the Silver Quill award for poetry and the Golden Note award for music.  Wayne is the only member to have ever won BOTH of those awards!


  Dave P. Fisher commented:

Two of my favorite poems are from Baxter Black.  

"The Hired Man" because anyone who ever worked an outfit knows that it's often the unsung hero who holds the whole place together and Baxter put it perfectly.

My second is "Good Bye, Old Man" because if you've ever had the privilege of riding with an old timer who's been around you can feel this.  It brought a lump to my throat.


  Michelle Strickland commented:

The Coffee Shop by Richard Elloyan is one of my favorite poems.

The story could have so easily been describing my grandfather (Papa) and I. We would always go to the cafes for breakfast or coffee.  I was his shadow and our souls will be eternally linked.  Though he was called home June 27, 2001,  I will always be his little Cowgirl.


Craig Archer commented:

I like Banjo Paterson's "The Man from Snowy River."  Great Poem to make a movie about.  Still one of my favorite movies.


Charlene Schilling commented:

Charlene Schilling

"The Ghosts at the Diamond Bar" is from CLASSIC RHYMES BY BRUCE KISKADDON, compiled by Mason and Janice Coggin of Cowboy Miner Productions and dedicated "to all cowboy poets, folk singers and reciters, young and old."

Most people who grew up in a rural setting have memories of a favored old bachelor. The first reading of "The Ghosts at the Diamond Bar" put me in mind of Old John (enough of his name for this purpose). Old John migrated from Finland to Solway Township in northern Minnesota in the early 1900's where he worked as a logger for my husband's Uncle. When logging the 280 acre home, dairy, sheep, sawmill operation was finished, Old John was relocated to various logger shacks during his working years, where he cut pulp in summer and skidded it out with the horse and dray Uncle brought in when the ground was frozen and winter snows set in.

His last living quarters was a one-room tar-papered shack at Martin Siding, a railroad spur on the Cloquet River, about 20 miles north of of Duluth, which eventually was to become a major seaport. At the siding, he "retired" to experience the benefits of Social Security. The shack was typical of many of its kind, be it a one-man bunkhouse or an isolated place like Old John's, located on property owned by his benefactor. He got his water from a year-round spring that he dug out about six feet deep. During the below zero winters he chopped ice with an axe to carry water. He washed his clothes, albeit infrequently, using a ribbed washboard and a galvanized metal tub.

Twig, Minnesota, was six miles by way of State Highway 53, but he shortened it to four by using a back woods short cut, and there he bought his groceries and packed them to the shack in a canvas packsack. Salt pork, potatoes, canned pork and beans, and Carnation canned milk for his coffee was a standard diet. His quarters consisted of a barrel stove for heat; a Monarch kitchen wood stove for cooking; a bed; a table (where he played endless games of solitaire); a wash bench with a water pail and chipped porcelain wash basin; and nails and pegs for his slim wardrobe. Socks always hung over the cook stove drying for the next day's wear.

Now, Old John wasn't a drunk, per se. But as many of his contemporaries, he indulged in a binge now and then, or, you might say, he "fell off the wagon." The liquor he bought from time to time probably came from a local bootlegger on those grocery expeditions. Occasionally, a logger acquaintance came to visit and left him supplied. I was first introduced to Old John in the winter of 1948 when my soon husband-to-be took me to visit him. It was crisp and cold. The smoke was rising gently from the chimney. Bob positioned me around the corner from the door and reached around the corner to tap on the door. Bob explained that Old John really didn't like bears. If we heard Old John holler, we would leave. At some time or other, a bear had "rattled his cage" in that smelling food, the bear had rattled the door of the shack, trying to get in. (I know this is very possible, since as a child living on the Gunflint Trail out of Little Marais, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, my mother would need to shoo bears off the porch of our tar- papered lumber-mill shack). To continue, Old John finally shot the troublesome bear with a double-barreled shotgun. Of course, still an alien, he wasn't supposed to have a gun, but at one time to support his need for table meat, he was loaned a trap-door Springfield rifle, and somehow he acquired the shotgun. It must have been a traumatic experience, being stalked by this bear, for whenever Old John was in an alcoholic state, if he heard noise at the door, he would bang away at the door with the shotgun.

In "The Ghosts at the Diamond Bar, it was a winter night, and the subject of the poem was "safe and snug with a gallon jug of Death Valley Slim's moonshine." He was hallucinating, and where Old John would think a bear was trying to get in and he would kill it over and over again with the shotgun, in the poem, the drinking fellow saw ghosts "of the ones the Indians skelped" come in through the walls. Old John hallucinated one bear, where the subject of the poem saw "old miners with unshaved jaws, three Wallapi bucks, and a couple of Mohave squaws."

I have enjoyed this book of Kiskaddon poems. It is both entertaining and contains lessons in writing real cowboy poetry.

The Ghosts at the Diamond Bar

'Twas a winter night at the Diamond Bar,
The wind was blowin' cold.
The Dipper swung 'round the dim North Star
And the night was growin' old.
But I had some wood that was dry and good,
So I let the cold wind whine.
I was safe and snug with a gallon jug
Of Death Valley Slim's moonshine.

Across the stove from where I sat
Stood a figger straight and tall.
He had no coat, he had no hat,
He must have come through the wall.
He pointed away toward the rocky shelf
That was up on the side of a hill.
He was one of the bunch the Injuns skelped
When they raided the old ore mill.

I nodded and passed the gallon jug.
He needed a drink or two.
But he only shrugged and shook his head;
That was sumpthin' he could not do.
I set the jug down on the floor;
Then my eyes popped open wide.
There had been jest one; now a couple more
Was a standin' there by his side.

They would each one point with a ghostly hand
Where my old harmonica lay.
By signs they made me understand 
They wanted that I should play.
So I played 'em "The Grave on the Lone Prairie,"
And "The Dyin' Ranger," too.
And twenty odd ghosts surrounded me
Before I was halfway through.

I played 'em the old "Rye Whisky" tune
And they waltzed it 'round and 'round.
But I felt no weight on the floor of the room
And their feet made never a sound.
Then "Rosie O'Grady" and "Over the Waves,"
They waltzed with keen delight.
Them wandering spirits out of their graves
Was havin' a time that night.

They motioned that I should drink once more.
That was easy to understand.
With noiseless feet they stomped the floor
And patted their phantom hands.
When I seen 'em smile I changed my style.
I played old "Larry McGee."
They wanted something with a lilt and swing,
And they stepped it light and free.

But jest as the thing was goin' grand,
There was sumpthin' spoiled the show.
There wasn't a drop in the coal oil can
And the lamp was burnin' low.
I stopped and drunk me a hefty slug
And a thought came to my mind.
I filled the lamp from the moonshine jug
And she blazed like a neon sign.

There was battered hats on the buckaroos.
Old miners with unshaved jaws.
Three Wallapi bucks were in there too,
And a couple Mohave squaws.
The next was the old time "Chicken Reel,"
And you'd orta seen em go.
The would jig in the corners before they'd wheel
And give it the heel and toe.

I knew they wouldn't be there fer long.
It would soon be breakin' day.
And I wanted to sing 'em a good old song
Before they went on their way.
So I sung like I had never sung before,
Till the last of the crowd was gone.
And when I opened the ranch house door,
The day was beginning to dawn.

Yet the desert trails have their own weird tales
That few of us mortals know.
And I'll never forget the crowd I met
On that night so long ago.
Some time I will meet them again, maybe,
Though I don't know where they are.
But why did they come to visit me,
That night at the Diamond Bar?

by Bruce Kiskaddon, from Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems, 1947


Kyla Bishop writes:

My favorite cowboy poet of all time is definitely, Baxter Black.  My favorite poem that he wrote is called "The Oyster."  It's very funny and that's why I like it.  I first heard it when I was down at one of his shows in Dighton, Kansas.  Then I was able to visit with him at a restaurant where we went to eat.  My uncle had a book with the story in it and I never can put it down.


Bobbi Donnell writes:

All of my life, I relished the chances to hear my father recite an old cowboy poem which he had learned as a boy. As we would gather at family dinners, family reunions, picnics, or Sunday dinner at the home of an aunt and uncle, the request was often made for "Uncle Ken" to recite the cowboy poem for which he was known. If a piano was available, the poem took on the form of a song with simple chording. It was always a highlight to the day. 

Four months ago, my father passed away. At his memorial service, his brother stood up and filled the request which my father no longer could, to once again recite "the poem". A thunderous applause followed as his brother recited the poem we always referred to as "Cyrus Peak." It was a touching tribute to my Dad which brought a mixture of smiles and tears. 

A couple of weeks later, my sister began the search to find the words to the poem that my uncle could not remember. It was then that we discovered that the poem was not "Cyrus Peak", but rather, "Sierry Petes" by Gail Gardner. At this time, we learned that the poem which my father had learned from a school chum of his in Silverton, Oregon, had not only a different name, but also some revised verses, and some verses which we had never heard! 

There is no doubt that this will always be my favorite cowboy poem...recited throughout my life by my favorite cowboy, my dad, Ken Donnell....he will well be remembered for that great poem! It was certainly a wonderful tribute (with mixed smiles and tears) when his brother stood at Dad's memorial service and recited it for all!




  

Smithsonian Folkways' Cowboy Poetry Classics (2003) includes a wonderful recitation of "The Sierry Petes" by Gail Gardner's grandson, Gail Steiger.  See the cross-referenced index of poets, poems and reciters on this CD in our anthology index and read a review here. You can read more about the CD at the Smithsonian Folkways site.


Glen Enloe commented:

Probably my favorite classic cowboy poem (and the favorite of many others) is "When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall" by Bruce Kiskaddon. This poem just about says it all. It truly is a classic in every sense of the word.

A more contemporary favorite poem that I haven't seen anyone else mention is "Bullhide Chaps and Memories" by Jim Shelton. While you can see some similarities between it and the previously mentioned poem by Bruce Kiskaddon, "Bullhide Chaps and Memories" stands solidly on its own merits. I believe Shelton's poem appeals to be because of its universal coming of age theme and its sense of loss. When I first read it I was overwhelmed with its underlying sadness. The bullhide chaps in the poem become a symbol not only of a declining lifestyle, but also the emergence of the new West and the slow ravages of time and old age. The chaps are representative of rugged individualism, manhood and endurance. Yet, in another way they also stand for the frailty of human life. "Bullhide Chaps and Memories" celebrates the past era of "the jingle of nine-star rowels / on a long shank, goose-neck
spur" as well as the simple pleasures of "bed tarps and cowhide vests; / tobacco in a little rag sack." But even though the poem takes us through the end of carefree cattle drive days, on to the tough trail of working ones own ranch and the looming changes brought on by war and inevitable death itself, it always comes back to that final haunting yet simple line that encapsulates the essence of life: "the bullhide chaps you wore." If I were voting for a modern classic cowboy poem, this would surely be among the nominees.

 

  • You can read "When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall" here in our feature about Bruce Kiskaddon here.

Honored Guest Andy Hedges has a striking recitation of "When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall" on his CD, Days and Nights in the Saddle:

Honored Guest Chris Isaacs has recorded the poem on both his Both Sides tape and his Most Requested CD: 

     

Waddie Mitchell recites "When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall" on Smithsonian Folkways' Cowboy Poetry Classics (2003).  See the cross-referenced index of poets, poems and reciters on this CD in our anthology index and read a review here. You can read more about the CD at the Smithsonian Folkways site.


Frances Wolfenden wrote:

"Where the Ponies Come to Drink" by Henry Herbert Knibbs

I am a native of Wisconsin who has lived "out west" in Reno and now in Colorado for over 20 years. I can see these ponies.  I can hear them.  I find everything in the southwest of great interest, from the history of the Ancient Ones to present day peoples.  But especially the land and its animal inhabitants.  And I hear the voices of the Ancient Ones carried on the canyon winds.  I so much admire the writings of the cowboys who also also feel the vibes!

Where the Ponies Come to Drink

Up in Northern Arizona
   there's a Ranger-trail that passes
Through a mesa, like a faëry lake
   with pines upon its brink,
And across the trail a stream runs
   all but hidden in the grasses,
Till it finds an emerald hollow
   where the ponies come to drink.

Out they fling across the mesa,
   wind-blown manes and forelocks dancing,
Blacks and sorrels, bays and pintos,
   wild as eagles, eyes agleam;
From their hoofs the silver flashes,
   burning beads and arrows glancing
Through the bunch-grass and the gramma
   as they cross the little stream.

Down they swing as if pretending,
   in their orderly disorder,
That they stopped to hold a pow-wow,
   just to rally for the charge
That will take them, close to sunset,
   twenty miles across the border;
Then the leader sniffs and drinks
   with fore feet planted on the marge.

One by one each head is lowered,
   till some yearling nips another,
And the playful interruption
   starts an eddy in the band:
Snorting, squealing, plunging, wheeling,
   round they circle in a smother
Of the muddy spray, nor pause
   until they find the firmer land.

My old cow-horse he runs with 'em:
   turned him loose for good last season;
Eighteen years; hard work, his record,
   and he's earned his little rest;
And he's taking it by playing,
   acting proud, and with good reason;
Though he's starched a little forward,
   he can fan it with the best.

Once I called him--almost caught him,
   when he heard my spur-chains jingle;
Then he eyed me some reproachful,
   as if making up his mind:
Seemed to say, "Well, if I have to--
   but you know I'm living single..."
So I laughed.
   In just a minute he was pretty hard to find.

Some folks wouldn't understand it,--
   writing lines about a pony,--
For a cow-horse is a cow-horse,--
   nothing else, most people think,--
But for eighteen years your partner,
   wise and faithful, such a crony
Seems worth watching for, a spell,
   down where the ponies come to drink.

by Henry Herbert Knibbs
reprinted with permission from Classic Rhymes by Henry Herbert Knibbs, 1999, Cowboy Miner Productions


Tom Sharpe recites ""Where the Ponies Come to Drink" on Smithsonian Folkways' Cowboy Poetry Classics (2003).  See the cross-referenced index of poets, poems and reciters on this CD in our anthology index and read a review here. You can read more about the CD at the Smithsonian Folkways site.

 


Janice Coggin wrote:

Mason's favorite Knibbs was "Make Me No Grave" and one of his favorite Kiskaddon's was "The Gray Wolf."

Mason was Janice's husband and publishing partner in Cowboy Miner and a talented reciter who died in 2002.  Just a few words from an obituary in the Sierra Vista Herald draw a quick portrait of this well-loved man:  "Mason was a man who loved life and enjoyed people. He was quick on the draw with a greeting, a smile, sometimes a joke, and, most likely, a poem. If you knew him, he called you a friend, and when he did, you knew he meant it."  See more about him here.

Make Me No Grave

Make me no grave within that quiet place
   Where friends shall sadly view the grassy mound,
Politely solemn for a little space,
   As though the spirit slept beneath the ground.

For me no sorrow, nor the hopeless tear;
   No chant, no prayer, no tender eulogy:
I may be laughing with the gods--while here
   You weep alone. Then make no grave for me

But lay me where the pines, austere and tall,
   Sing in the wind that sweeps across the West:
Where night, imperious, sets her coronal
   Of silver stars upon the mountain crest.

Where dawn, rejoicing, rises from the deep,
   And Life, rejoicing, rises with the dawn:
Mark not the spot upon the sunny steep,
   For with the morning light I shall be gone.

Far trails await me; valleys vast and still,
   Vistas undreamed of, canyon-guarded streams,
Lowland and range, fair meadow, flower-girt hill,
   Forests enchanted, filled with magic dreams.

And I shall find brave comrades on the way:
   None shall be lonely in adventuring,
For each a chosen task to round the day,
   New glories to amaze, new songs to sing.

Loud swells the wind along the mountain-side,
   High burns the sun, unfettered swings the sea,
Clear gleam the trails whereon the vanished ride,
   Life calls to life: then make no grave for me!

by Henry Herbert Knibbs
reprinted with permission from Classic Rhymes by Henry Herbert Knibbs, 1999, Cowboy Miner Productions


  • Henry Herbert Knibbs was born in 1874, and once again Cowboy Poetry fans can thank Cowboy Miner Productions for having published a definitive collection for another classic poet. See our feature here and visit the Cowboy Miner site:

  • We have a feature about Bruce Kiskaddon with poetry here, made possible with the help of Cowboy Miner Productions, whose Kiskaddon book. which includes "The Gray Wolf," is now out of print. 


Brian Woodrome comments:

My favorite classic poem is "A Cattle Range At Night" by E. A. Brininstool. Why do I like it... If you've ever been out on the Texas plains at night, it is the most peaceful place on earth. This poem puts that feeling into words.

A Cattle Range at Night

The prairie zephyrs have dropped to rest,
   And the dust-clouds settle down;
The sun dips low in the golden west,
   O'er the mesa bare and brown.
The wearied riders come loping in,
   As the hills grow dim and strange,
And the songs of the insect world begin--
   'Tis a night on a cattle range.

The stars gleam out in the calm, clear sky
   Like twinkling orbs of light,
And over the range drifts the coyote's cry
   Through the star-lit summer night;
The night-hawk whirls in its ceaseless rush,
   As the evening breeze is stirred,
And the cowboy's song breaks the lonely hush,
   As he circles the bedded herd.

The campfire throws but a fitful glare,
   And the buttes, like specters, rise
Far over the deep arroyo there,
   As sentinels in the skies.
While the silent forms in their blanket beds
   Dream on, to the night wind's sigh,
As gently about their sleeping heads,
   The breeze drifts idly by.

The moon steals up o'er the dark butte's crest
   In silvery shafts, which gleam
And sparkle there on the brown earth's breast
   Like gems in a fairy dream.
The night creeps on, with its mystic charms,
   To the song of the whip-poor-will,
And drifts to Dreamland in Nature's arms,
   And the range grows hushed and still.

E. A.  Brininstool

 

  • We have a feature about E. A. Brininstool here.  The above poem is included in his book, Trail Dust of a Maverick, published in 1914.

 


Mal Hardy cited first Lariat Laureate Rod Nichols' poem, Autumn Cowboy. She commented:

I chose this poem because of its content and the ability to reach within to a time and place that we're all going to reach someday. I particularly like Rods work; he has a knack for knowing where it's at from an emotional point of view. 

Autumn Cowboy

When summer is over, and fall heads our way,
and brown, red and gold paint the leaves,
I guess that's the time that I'm feelin' my best,
just an ol' autumn cowboy, that's me.

The Lord has His reasons for each time of  year,
for each thing a time, if you please,
but I'm kinda partial to a nip in the air,
just an ol' autumn cowboy, that's me.

In spring there's the new calf and brandin' to do,
and a warm up from winter's deep freeze,
but fall ain't got summer to follow with heat,
just an ol' autumn cowboy, that's me.

The seasons that follow are like a man's life,
he's born, grows and spreads like a tree.
Then watches the branches grow withered and bare,
just an ol' autumn cowboy, that's me.

My summer is over. It's the fall of my life
and you know, it's a good age to be.
Life is now mellow and more to my taste,
just an ol' autumn cowboy, that's me.

© 2003, Rod Nichols

 

  • You can read more of Rod Nichols' work here and at his web site, where this poem is accompanied by music and illustrated.

 


 

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