Ridin' With Jim
It's been years now, and I can't tell you how,
Many times I've wanted to rewrite the end;
I fret and I ponder, and most often wonder,
If I'll ever be as good a cowboy as my friend.
Friends come and go, as does every foe,
But certain people touch your life forever;
Jim was a horseman, unlike most men,
And a better farrier I've never seen, ever!
He was old and grizzled, and his blood sizzled,
If I wasn't paying attention to his advice;
He taught me all, that he could recall,
About horses and shoein', at least twice.
But I was young, and awfully high strung,
I didn't have time to listen to his stories;
I had to ride fast, and not be the last,
To taut my accomplishments and glories.
Of coarse I wasn't one, to ever be out done,
I was so full of myself, cocky, and young;
I knew it all back then, but that was when,
My wits weren't near as sharp as my tongue.
So I did my own thing, never wondering,
What was missing in my life back then;
It wasn't 'til later, my ego would crater,
And I would become teachable again.
My oats I kept sowing, not ever knowing
God sent him to make me a better man;
So He took him away, one cold spring day,
And I was left alone to do the best I can.
I never did think, he'd die on the brink,
Of me becoming the cowboy that I should;
But now it's too late, I'd sealed my own fate,
I'd have to venture alone into manhood.
I knew that I, couldn't break down and cry,
Or let the others see how deep I was hurt;
I felt ashamed, and myself I had blamed,
For this old hand that lay cold in the dirt.
Many times he tried, before the day he died,
To share what he learned from life's travails;
But I didn't take time, my life was mine,
What could I learn from his stories and tales.
Well, now I feel cheated, for the way I treated,
Riding with that old cowboy as a chore;
And still I pray, that some how, some way,
I could gather strays with Jim once more.
Periodically I'm given, a chance while still livin',
To ride horseback once again with Jim;
When I fall in a deep, almost comatose sleep,
God allows me a brief rendezvous with him.
I know it's a dream, but to me it sure seems,
Just as real as the first day we rode together;
We don't ever talk, we simply ride and walk,
Enjoying the quakies, the sage, and each other.
We ride up fall creek, where the willows are thick,
And the untouched water cascades down,
A doe and fawn, bound effortlessly on,
We're partnered up and miles from town.
The sun peaks over, and spots this old drover,
And illuminates his face under his hat;
His peaceful look, like the cover of a book,
Shows contentment for where he is at.
He is astride Big Joe, and we all know,
That big ol' steed was his favorite mount;
With his rawhide hack, and slicker on back,
We ride while cows and blessings we count.
The dew burns off, I hear a cow cough,
And Jim sets out for the top of a draw;
I tag along side, our horses in stride,
And we surround the strays without flaw.
We ride all day, gatherin' mavericks and strays,
And I know at any moment it will end;
I hold on tight, this couldn't be more right,
But the home corral is just around the bend.
I don't want to wake, but as a new day breaks,
The stock's waiting for me in the morning light;
But first I thank God, and I give Jim a nod,
For the wonderful ride we took that night.
It don't sound like much, of a vision or such,
But it helps me 'til the next visit to be had;
And I'm proud to say, in a boastful kinda way,
That old cowboy was my mentor, and my Dad!
I took much for granted, but the seed he planted,
And now I cherish each and every ride;
My heart's still hurtin', but this I am certain,
Jim and Big Joe are waitin' on the other side.
© Andy Nelson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
Jim (James F. Walker) Nelson at the Winecup Ranch
Brothers Andy and Jim Nelson (then)
Photo by Stuart Johnson
Brothers Jim and Andy Nelson (now)
Andy Nelson shares ....
“I come by it honestly!” is my standard answer when folks ask me how I got in to writing cowboy poetry. My Dad, James (Jim) F. Walker Nelson (the “F.” because he never cared for the name “Francis”) was probably one of the biggest characters the cowboy world has ever produced. He was strict, he was authentic and he loved an embellished story followed by a hardy open mouthed laugh.
Jim was a farrier by trade and shod horses well into his sixties, thus he physically “wore out” at an early age. With knees replaced and a spine so arthritic he had trouble pulling on his boots, stories of the old days were his way of escaping the pain that comes with being a broken old cowboy. You could never tell when he was telling the truth or blowin’ a windy until he finished his tale, then the look in his eye and his mischievous grin let you know you’d been had. That is why I miss him so terribly.
Andrew G. “Little Gus” Nelson
A Few of Dad's Stories and Poems
The late Charles Young of Kimberly, formerly of Oakley, was one good blacksmith. Most any kid of the 20's and early 30's has spent some time at his blacksmith shop in Oakley (Idaho). His coal fired forge and showering of hot metal sparks would hold me spellbound by the hour when in town for any reason. My father, Gus Nelson, would Model "T" to the Pool-hall for a couple cans of Tuxedo and watch the card games. That was in the good old days when women and kids were not made welcome in man's domain. The big blacksmith was just the opposite. In his Motherly Manly way made you feel quite at home, even tho he may have some kind of mischief in mind. He would tell you what he was doing or what he was going to do to a piece of metal and then go ahead and do it. I was particularly awed by his horse shoeing. Those were precious visits to me. Dad asked me once what I was going to be when I grew up. "A blacksmith," without hesitation.
Oakley hosted a barber of cowboy vintage and between the two shops one could get a college degree in personality, each trying to outwit the other (their expression) nitwit. The Druggist at the time, had a house and store spoiled dog. The Barber and Cowboy Farmer doctored up a box of chocolates with croton oil. They were feeding them to the dog when the Smithy came by demanding a share, which was promptly made welcome to. This was even better than they anticipated. Flushwater toilets were a rare luxury and the Smithy retired to the raspberry patch. Emerging with a berry rash second to none. Imagine trying to dry-blot with green raspberry bushes.
And that's the way it was in Oakley during the 20's.
During the Dust Bowl days (How come the Footballers don't play in one of those?) there were many "Grapes of Wrath" caravans come through this part of the California and Oregon Trail country. Some of them could have put Jack and the Beanstalk tales to shame. May I relate one of the pop-corn stalk. Seems-as-tho this Missourian was cultivating a pop corn field and it was so
dry and hot the corn ears began to pop. They literally exploded. A regular hailstorm of popped corn. The mules thought it was snow and froze to death.
This sheepherder story has to do with a witty gent and a relative to many of us Twin-Cassia residents, and of the time of poor refrigeration. The sheepman's wife had a lump of butter go rancid and rather than throw it out, sent it with the camp-tender to the herder. The next trip to camp the camp-jack asked about the butter? "Oh, I would throw out to the dog while I ate and then throw it back in the camp while the dog ate."
My uncle Don was working for the old Utah Construction Co. Probably on the Boar's Nest. He disliked any kind of labor one could not get done from the saddle. It came haying time and Jimmy Zilcox put him on the lead mower to open up the rough meadows. Don knew all the beaver holes and other obstacles to be cut around. This was not to Don's liking howsomever. The horses were a
good gentle and reliable pair, but they were around a willowy bend in the creek, Don cut himself a good green willow and proceeded to give the horses a good tuning up and stepped off the mower, headed them for the corral and threw the lines at them. Of course they went right to the corral and stopped. Don came limping in after them. Jimmy met him and wondered how they got started. "Wal Jimmy, from where I sat, it looked like they waz even."
Andy Nelson, known for his sometimes "outrageous" humor, writes, "Now, you think that I give editors heartburn, this poem was written by Dad after Mom's brother 'whizzed' in the flour can and his boss's waterbag (canteen). True stories!"
Twas the night before Christmas on the Franks' house,
The only thing stirring was Mrs. Franks' spouse.
Into the bedroom he lightly tread,
The boys were asleep in their wee beds.
Johnnie shook Dallon, by the shoulder for sure,
"Go to the bathroom and close the door."
Into the kitchen Dallon ran,
Stopped to pee in the flour can.
Christmas morn all in a rush,
Some wanting toast, some mush.
Therma stopped for a scoop of flour,
What she saw and she said you could hear half a hour.
Asleep he was when he opened the flour can,
But wide awake now, and away he ran.
He ran to the neighbors in this dire hour,
"Please Mrs. Clark, can you spare us Christmas flour?"
The very next day he stopped peeing the bed,
And goes to the bathroom now instead.
Dallon was one handy with his tool,
Put it in Henry's water to cool.
Now Henry is not a chronic crank,
But took a dim view of Dallon's prank.
With a gulp and a taste -- Hank shook his head,
"Tastes like pee" -- and Dallon fled.
On the white mare he sped to the barn,
And there came Hank in a big storm.
Stopped at the front porch with a big clatter,
Johnnie asked, "What's the matter?"
"That boy of yours in my water bag,
Did a thing that would make you gag."
"If you will handle this wayward lad,
I'll go away home and be very glad."
Johnnie assured him beyond a doubt,
He would take care of this reckless sprout.
Into the woodshed John and Dal went,
When they emerged, John was well spent.
Dal came out - without a whimper,
"But boys," Dal says, "I sure was limber."
Now a big wheel in the surveying crew,
A father -- a man -- completely new.
It 'peers to me that in a boy's life,
All is not roses, there is some strife.
by James F. Walker Nelson
More about Andy Nelson ...
Photo by Stuart Johnson