A unique event takes place in late summer in beautiful and friendly Kanab, Utah: the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, conceived and produced by our past Lariat Laureate Sam Jackson, held in conjunction with the popular Western Legends Roundup.
Beginning with a day-long writing workshop and followed by a day and a half of intense competition before standing-room-only audiences, the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo's focus and accomplishment is "excellence through competition." Nearly every participant in 2002, winners and others, came away commenting on the value of the challenge and the exceptional camaraderie among poets. Most felt they had become better poets and reciters (poet Lloyd Shelby said "I learned something from every poet there") and all had made new friends (poet Colen Sweeten quipped "I've made a lot of new friends, and I wasn't even using all my old ones.")
The accompanying Western Legends Roundup event offered days and evenings full of entertainment that included well produced evening shows, jam sessions, an outdoor fair with Western arts and craft booths, demonstrations from blacksmithing to Navajo dancing, daily free outdoor stage shows, Western movie star events, an exciting parade down Main Street (led by Paul Bliss's 100-horse remuda) and showings of Hal Cannon's award Emmy award-winning film, "Why the Cowboy Sings."
Our report starts below.
Kanab is in Kane County, Utah. which boasts easier access to more national parks and monuments "than any other place on earth." Kanab is within easy driving distance of Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, Glen Canyon, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Kanab was a thriving center for Western movies, called "Little Hollywood," the place where the first talkie, In Old Arizona, was produced. Legend tells that Zane Grey's first successful novels, written in Kanab, prompted early screen stars Tom Mix and Buck Jones to seek film locations in the area. Wallace Beery made The Bad Man of Brimstone there in 1938, and Billy the Kid starring Robert Taylor followed. The entire town became involved in the early movie making, and most extras were chosen from large albums that pictured most of the inhabitants, who were "the real deal." Old movie sets in the area remain as tourist attractions.
Many stars were housed at the Parry Lodge, where the Old Barn Playhouse is the scene of today's Cowboy Poetry Rodeo. The annual Western Legends Roundup includes many activities with opportunities to meet contemporary Western stars, and in 2002, Wagon Train's Robert Fuller was the event's Special Guest. Other movie and television Western stars included Peter Brown, Kelo Henderson, Frank Noel, William Smith, Neil Summers, Whitey Hughes, Boyd Magers, Don Collier, Ted Markland, Alex Cord, Jon Locke, Andrew Prine, and Robert Hoy.
The 2002 Cowboy Poetry Rodeo and Western Legends Roundup
The Competition Below and continued on Page 2
2002 Purse Winners Page 2
What the Competitors Say About the Event Page 2
Western Legends Roundup Events and Evening Shows Page 3
The Cowboy Rodeo and its rules to govern are protected by copyright, registered at the United States Copyright Office. For permissions to use the name or rules or for more information contact Sam Jackson, the copyright holder: 4675 E. Vermillion Ave., Kanab, UT 84741 firstname.lastname@example.org
Elsewhere at the BAR-D:
About the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo
Background and reports of other years' competitions
What is Cowboy
Poetry and How do You Write It?
articles by Sam Jackson with poetry and commentary
an essay by Sam Jackson about competition among Cowboy Poets
The Poetry Workshop
Colen Sweeten and Sam Jackson
All photos this page by Lloyd Shelby
Sam Jackson and Colen Sweeten got the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo off to a running start with a lively workshop that included much audience participation. Sam and Colen are long-time friends, and they have collaborated previously to bring Cowboy Poetry to young people through their Idaho "Dogie Wranglers" program, which was supported by the Idaho Commission on the Arts.
Colen was in charge of the the morning Cowboy Poetry workshop session, where his topics were often illustrated with his own poetry. Now 83, Colen Sweeten says he has written "a couple hundred" poems, and has over 100 committed to memory. Poems are often the center of Colen's tales or anecdotes, and every recitation was flawless. He has appeared at every The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada (except in 2002) and he has four books and three tapes of poetry, which you can read more about here.
Expounding on his first topic, "Where do ideas come from?" he explained that he writes from his experiences. He said that when impressions and inspirations come it important to do something about them: write them down.
He told how many times experiences or ideas might not become poems for quite a while. He recalled how an idea of his didn't develop into a poem until many years later, when he wrote it for the funeral of the man who inspired the idea, forty years after the event.
Colen Sweeten grew up on a remote Idaho homestead that his father started at the turn of the last century. His tales and poems -- one story of how he and his brother, with entrepreneurial inspiration, bought a 1927 Studebaker hearse, changed the seating "from horizontal to vertical" and turned it into the area school bus -- helped transmit his useful wisdom to the attentive audience.
When Colen asked if any attendees had examples of poems written from experience, Byrd Woodward read her excellent poem about an incident from her own childhood, "Eggs on the Moon" and Jane Morton followed with "Cottonwoods," her award-winning poem about the recent fires that destroyed areas of her family's ranch.
One comment gave heart to all poets present: Colen said that he hadn't even shown most of his work to anyone until he was about 65 years old, which coincided with the first Elko gathering. He recalled the comment of the late American poet William Stafford, when he was asked when he became a poet. Stafford replied to the questioner: "Everyone is born a poet. When did you stop?"
Another piece of advice was "Don't be afraid to throw it away. If it doesn't look good to you...." it won't look good to others. This subject came up again and again during the workshop as there was continual talk about editing, editing, and editing one's poetry. Colen observed that for an artist who starts outs with clay or wood, the part that gets "thrown away" is what makes a great work of art. Jane Morton said that she had to "throw away" the best two thirds of "Cottonwoods," to make it a good poem.
Colen Sweeten also spoke about the importance of getting feedback and advice from others -- and not just spouses and friends who do not usually offer true criticism.
Most good workshops, such as this one, give poets a chance to think about and talk about what may seem obvious, such as "Perform poetry with subjects that will be of interest to the particular audience." As Cowboy Poets travel to gatherings outside their own communities and appear at varied venues, the advice becomes ever more well taken. Colen recited his "I Don't Shake Hands With Cowboys" as an example of this. (The poem is in his book Hoofprints and Heartbeats.)
Colen was one of the Cowboy Poets who appeared on the Johnny Carson show in the late 80's and early 90's, and he used that experience as another example of the importance of being aware of your audience. He said the poem he read, "Feelin' My Oats," which "everyone at Elko would understand without explanation,
had at least one part: "If I ate that much wheat the soles of my feet/Would look like runners on a sleigh" that needed a bit of introduction for the millions of television viewers with no knowledge about the effect of too much wheat on horses. Colen's recitation of additional examples of poems written for special audiences or special occasions left everyone with much food (not all wheat) for thought.
Coming back to the importance of writing from experience, Colen said "Creating a word picture is one thing, but if you transfer your feeling, then you've done your job. That's why I write from experience. Tell it like it is." He said that Cowboy Jesse Smith is a poet who does just that, someone who "could push a bull off a bridge" with his poetry. And he had high praise for Baxter Black's inventive vocabulary, citing lines such as "hotter than a burning brake" and "louder than the nightmare cries of Abel's brother Cain."
Colen remarked that Charles "Badger" Clark, well-loved by Cowboy Poets, was not a cowboy but was a keen observer of Cowboy life and was able to write poetry that rang true. He ended the session with this wisdom: "If you write about experiences, it becomes a part of history. If you write fiction, it's entertainment."
Sam Jackson took the reins in the afternoon session, which was full of practical advice, poetry and audience involvement. The topics were clearly and directly stated, many of them based on the ideas put forth in the series of articles Sam has written about writing Cowboy Poetry. Those themes included:
Write about something you know, or research it thoroughly if it is not from experience
Good rhyming is essential; some people are rhyme-deaf. Use only correct rhymes and leave "near rhymes" such as "not/knots" for the song writers
Choose a rhythm pattern and stick with it through out the poem. Cadence is essential for written work
Strive for originality; trust your own vision rather than borrowing from others
Edit, edit, and edit; a poem might need more than 100 passes
All these points sparked a lively discussion about the mechanics of writing Cowboy Poetry, and Sam summed up some of his points with his own poem, Rhymin'.
An open forum followed, full of questions and commentary about subjects including the differences between poems meant to be read and those meant to be recited; rhyme and meter (Sam Jackson commented that he couldn't get interested in a poem that did not have consistent meter; "It's like changing the melody in the middle of a song"); and excellence through competition.
Poets offered their own work as examples to illustrate some of these points. Poet Roger Traweek (pictured at right) offered his "A Lesson Learned," Byrd Woodward read her "Start As You Mean to Go On."
In a light moment -- there were many -- Sam Jackson offered one his favorite well-edited poems, whose author is unknown:
Poet and songwriter Jim "Curly" Musgrave (pictured at left) -- who was featured in the evening Western Legends Roundup shows -- talked to the group about how Western singers are always seeking good poems with tight rhyme for their songs. He mentioned some of the many musicians who are "not just simple pickers" who use the works of Cowboy Poets, including Jack Hannah, Jean and Gary Prescott, Dave Stamey, and Michael Fleming. The idea of writing for musicians was new to many in the room, and there was much interest in Curly's articulate comments and suggestions.
A local teacher in the audience took Cowboy Poets to task, asking "Don't you care about grammar?" One quick comeback was "Yes, don't ever use it." But the questioner was concerned about the effect of language on young people, and a more serious discussion on the topic ensued.
Idaho poet Denise McRea (pictured at right) helped balance that discussion and segue into other important points in talking about her work with school children when she was also a part of the "Dogie Wrangler" program in the Idaho schools, along with Colen Sweeten and Sam Jackson. She talked about how they were able to teach students perfect rhyme and meter because "someone showed them how and no one told them they couldn't." (Denise's son Billy McRea has been writing and reciting poetry since he was three years old.)
The day's workshop offered much to think about, and many commented on how the ideas expressed offered positive challenges that would help them improve their work. Those attending that session came away with ideas that not only would benefit their writing and concepts but that also made them more educated, critical listeners in the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo competition that began the next morning.
Sam and his faithful sidekick Suzy in deep thought;
Suzy may be thinking of the airplanes she chases across the big sky
and high desert in her spare time
After the workshops: Sam Jackson, Byrd Woodward, Jane Morton,
Margo Metegrano, Roger Traweek, and Woody Woodward
The Cowboy Poets were up before breakfast on Friday, the first day of the competition. They arrived at the Old Barn at 6:30 AM to draw their times. The competition got under way about an hour later.
The competition has four categories: Poet/Serious, Poet/Humorous, Reciter/Serious and Reciter/Humorous. "Riders" can compete in any or all categories. There are five judges, who award 1-20 points for each performance. The highest and lowest scores are eliminated, and the remaining three are totaled for the poet's score. About half of each of the highest scorers from each group compete in the finals the next day. Poets can perform more than one poem in the time allotted.
Sam Jackson pointed out that any scores of 20 were subject to the "water test: the poet and the judge would have to walk across the swimming pool to verify "perfection."
The Big Barn was often full to capacity
The Poet/Serious group began the competition, and the competitors included Colen Sweeten of Utah, Trey Allen of Oklahoma, Mike Dunn of Arizona, Jeff Burkhart of Arizona, Al Marquis of Nevada, Phil Kennington of Utah, Byrd Woodward of Arizona, Dan Bradshaw of Utah, Sam DeLeeuw of Utah, Allen Clark of Utah, Roger Traweek of Oregon, Allan Horton of Florida, Hank Mattson of Florida, Doc Hayes of Manitoba, LeRoss Apple of Oklahoma, Lloyd Shelby of Texas, Jane Morton of Colorado and Arizona, Doug Keller of Utah, eric lee of Nevada, Hal Swift of Nevada, Ed Nesselhuf of South Dakota, Bill Brown of Texas, and Stan Tixier of Utah.
A selection of the poems recited (posted below) shows the wide range of topics represented, from Mike Dunn's moving "Mom's Kitchen Table" to Jeff Burkhart's thoughtful "Cowhand's Prayer" to Allan Horton's topical "Where the Meadowlarks Once Flew" to Byrd Woodward's poignant "Who Is This Feller?" to eric lee's touching "What a Grandson Heard":
Mom's Kitchen Table
I'd like to be at Mom's Kitchen Table again
in the surroundings as when I was a kid.
Life seemed easy, worries were few
and Mom found good in all we did.
We'd gather around the table each morning,
and again at the end of day.
Mom would make sure we's washed and clean
before bowing our heads to pray.
The table was long and a bit narrow
but it fit all us kids just fine,
Along with Dad, Mom and the hired hand,
and a border from time to time.
Made from planks of four-inch pine,
scrapes from when the barn was built.
A leg on each corner, another in the middle,
sturdier, strong, and stout.
Benches split from cottonwood,
running along each side.
Once rough, now worn smooth,
butt polished over time.
At the head of the table Dad's chair was sat,
Mom's at the other end.
But when Dad missed a meal, she'd fix him a plate
then take the bench seat next to him.
A center for family gatherings,
the Good Book might be read at night,
Where life's discussions were common place,
by the glow of a coal-oil light.
Figuring out which field to plant,
which calves to send to sale,
Horses to work, cows to cull,
which fields to cut and bail.
At the table's were quilts were sewn,
peas were peeled, peaches canned.
Where wild berries and cactus apples
were preserved, jellied, and jammed.
It's where Uncle Ben, in agony was laid,
when fighting rustlers he got shot.
Where the doctor labored into the night
to dig the bullet out.
A workbench for minding saddles,
or studies when the day was done.
There's a hole where Dad shot it,
he clamed while loading his gun.
It's where the preacher sat to visit,
when Sister was to be wed
And where the family was called to gather
t'a get the news... Grandpa was dead.
Family decisions, plans laid out,
where meat was prepared for the smoker.
Laundry was folded, gifts were wrapped,
an occasional a game of match-stick poker.
It supported Dad's arms, holding his head,
when the spring crop didn't come through.
Late frost, hot winds, or a blight of bugs,
there was little any one could do.
Where a proud man confessed
the shortcomings of his life,
To the one woman with the willing ear,
his darling, my mother, his wife.
Where Sunday meals of wild turkey or beef,
were served as a festive feast.
And music, around that table was made,
to the tapping of tired feet.
Now there's quite remembrances
and stories told with laughter and tears.
That old table's been part of it all,
spanning those decades of years.
At Mom's table, great lessons were learned
more then at school, work, or church,
Lessons of life, respect, and caring,
the lessons of a family's worth.
© 2002, Mike Dunn, reprinted with permission
A Cowhand's Prayer
One night a lonely Cowboy looked up
at all the stars a shining bright;
And remembered a little prayer he'd heard,
From a cowhand riding herd one night,
"Lord, I know don't come visit your camp that much,
But it seems you're always at mine;
Whether I'm out on a round-up
or riding an ole chuck line.
"But Lord, you know my ways are simple,
Just like this little prayer;
And I just wanted to thank you, Lord,
For dealin' my cards up fair.
"I pray there will always be good horses,
With plenty of range to roam;
With green grass of plenty,
for this is truly a Cowboy's home.
"Well Lord, I've got to get back to the herd now,
And I appreciate you listening in;
For you know a Cowboy's work is never done,
But I'm sure I'll be callin' again."
© January 1996, Jeff Burkhart, reprinted with permission
Where Meadow Larks Once Flew
A sign went up on the highway one day
"Prime land for sale" was all it did say.
And then one day the sign came down
And new cars and trucks drove by from town.
The Realtor was the first to show in his shiny SUV,
He stood upon the bumper, to see what he could see.
The land surveyors were next with their laser-guided scopes
They measured this and figured that and tallied all the slopes.
Then one day with a grinding roar,
A bulldozer walked where none had before,
Pushing trees and bushes out of the way
And turning lush, green grass into brown, dead hay.
Streets rose next from the flattened range
With names on signs both exotic and strange.
"Willow Way" read one where willows never grew,
"Eagle Lane" was another where eagles never flew.
The masons and carpenters were next to appear,
Raising walls and roofs from there to here.
And out on the highway rose walls and a gate
And a sign that said "homes going fast, don't be too late."
We watched with wonder as moving vans came
Disgorging families and furniture, all just the same
With two kids, a dog and a minivan, too,
They settled in to live where meadow larks once flew.
But soon we began to hear murmurs of trouble
As the things we were used to burst the newcomers' bubble.
They didn't like the sounds and smells, it seems, of cattle
And the smoke raised by our fires was enough to do battle.
So, to the county commission they went one night
And told tall tales that would give anyone fright.
They paid more taxes and were entitled, it seems
To new rules and concessions to guard their new dreams.
So, now on the highway there's a new sign erected
A sign of the times we should have expected
"For sale," it says, "prime growth opportunity,"
As another ranch is erased by a new Florida community.
© 2001, Allan H. Horton, reprinted with permission
Who is this Feller?
Who IS this feller my ma's brung home
An' what's he doin' out here?
Standin' in th' yard in his new Levi's
With hair stickin' outta his ears.
He shore don't look like much t' me
With his boots run down at th' heels..
If that's th' best hand she could find in town
She didn't make much of a deal.
See, he's tilted' over to th' left...
Whoa! she's haulin' him up on th' porch!
"Hayes", says she, "these here's m' kids,
There's Byrdie an' Donald, of course.
An' this little 'un here is baby Ron...
Now, Ron! don't you tune up an' cry!
(He's carried on some since his Pa's
Been gone...an' I'm durned if I know why.")
Who IS this feller my ma's brung home?
They've got theirselves married up!
If that ain't th' dad-blamedest thing I've heard
Since th' devil in hell was a pup!
Ma says he's good as she's apt t' get.
In spite of th' squint in his eye;
If he's th' best then what th' heck
Did th' ones look like she passed by?
Well, he knows how t' shoe an' sets
A good seat when he's ridin' our big bay;
I ain't seen 'im run th' colts or th' calves
An' he's up at th' first crack of day.
He don't seem to shirk th' dirty work
An' I ain't seen him showin' off much..
'Less you count grabbin' Ron on th' run
When he plumb near got hit by that truck.
He's been a-workin' hard on th' place,
Pretty much from sun-up 'til down.
He's fixed the roof an' nailed up th' shed
An' he brung a new pump out from town.
Donald an' him, their getting' along;
About as friendly as they can be..
I can tell what he's been warmin' up to
An' he best not try that on ME!
Who IS this feller my ma brung home?
He's been hangin' around now a year.
Ronnie don't cry when he picks 'im up;
Seems he shore has settled in here.
Me, I don't know what to call 'im..
Seems funny now just sayin' 'Hayes'.
Ma thinks we all ought to call 'im 'Pa'
Gram an' Gramp, that's what they both say.
That feller an' ma was talkin' tonight..
I heard 'em when I was in bed;
Ma says, "I can make her straighten up!"
"She'll likely grow into it"s all that he said.
I laid there with my heart all fisted up;
My innards felt empty an' black;
I was missin' th' man that is my Pa...
But I reckon he ain't comin' back.
Who IS this feller my ma brung home?
The ranch is shore lookin' fine.
The wood pile's stacked plumb up to th' eaves,
An' th' whole place has took on a shine.
Hayes, he don't take much credit,
Says "that Byrd, she's shore a good hand!
Yestid'y she helped me set th' new posts.
Got done quicker than I ever planned".
Who IS this feller my ma brung home?
The derndest thing's happened now.
Don left th' gate open fer the fifteenth time,
An' I got run down by a cow.
I jist couldn't keep from hollerin''..
I looked up through m' tears an' saw
That feller my ma brung home that day
...Th' one that I'd just called 'Pa'.
It's true he's gimpy on that one side,
But if you squint yer eyes it don't show;
His ears sticks out like dinner plates,
An' he keeps his hat pulled down low.
But you ask him now when we're in town
"Who's this bunch you got with you today?"
He'll grin, an' say, "Pard, this here's m' fam'ly!
I've growed into 'em, now, y' might say."
© 2001, Byrd Woodward, reprinted with permission
What a Grandson Heard
(or..."like Audie Murphy, talkin'.")
He was big as any mountain to a grandson's lovin' eyes
with a smile that seemed as wide, and bright, as Texas' summer skies,
and the stern side of this cowboy with the hard and calloused hands
made us walk the straight and narrow, and ride true and 'for the brand'.
But the side of him that stays with me, and still comes back at nights
with a memory, and a tear-drop (and not a few delights)
was the tales he told, come evenin' times when we'd be out an' walkin'
'cause his voice was just like Audie Murphy, talkin'.
Just that gentle, just that soft. Just that much like Down-Home Folk.
Just a simple southern gentleman...this ornery ol' cowpoke
who'd look life in its eye, nor ever let us slide with less
than everything inside us. He called out our very best.
I been around the ol' fence-line, and more than once or twice,
but I can't give you better than his quiet-spoke advice:
"You talk polite to strangers, and you needn't make a noise...
make sure everything you say speaks well of cowboys."
You talk of "ride like Randolph Scott," or "stand like Wyatt stood."
You mention those whose voice was loud for what was right and good.
I knew a man who stood as tall, who looked like John Wayne walkin'...
an' his voice was soft, like Audie Murphy, talkin'.
© 2002, eric lee, reprinted with permission
After so many great serious poems, the crowd was ready for the Poet/Humorous group. The poets in that group included: Hal Swift of Nevada, Doc Hayes of Manitoba, eric lee of Nevada, Stan Tixier of Utah, Hank Mattson of Florida, Perry Payne of Utah, Phil Kennington of Utah, Trey Allen of Oklahoma, LeRoss Apple of Oklahoma, Al Marquis of Nevada, Ed Nesselhuf of South Dakota, Verlin Pitt of Wyoming, Doug Keller of Utah, Andy Nelson of Wyoming, Byrd Woodward of Arizona, Colen Sweeten of Utah, Sam DeLeeuw of Utah, and Allen Clark of Utah.
Again these original poems addressed a variety of subjects, including Hal Swift's Ballad of Dogie Munroe and Verlin Pitt's Dog-Gone, posted below:
Hal Swift, and below, his wife Carol
Ballad of Dogie Munroe
Lately I've noticed that some of my friends
Aint' lookin' like cowpokes as such
Now I kept my mouth shut when ball caps come in
But sneakers is dang near too much
A fellow come in the casino last night
An' set down by Dogie Munroe
He thought that Dogie's a farmer named Dwight
An' said he thought cowpokes was slow
An' Dogie said Yeah what exactly's that mean
The dude said you know, really dumb
The best o'the cowpokes that I've ever seen
Was jist a ol' rodeo bum
The next thing y'know there's a heckuva fight
The dude, he got punched in the jaw
An' Dogie'd of stood there and fought'im all night
But the bartender called in the Law
An' when they come in they all wanted t'know
Exactly who started the brawl
The dude said, that farmer, named Dogie Munroe
It's him was the cause of it all
Ol' Dogie said, you call me farmer once more
I'll kick yer ol' rear end so hard
Yer nose'll be bleedin' all over the floor
An' maybe all over the yard
The sheriff said Dogie, as most cowboys go
Yer not one t'go start a fight
I'd like you t'tell me, an' I'd like t'know
What started the trouble tonight
Dogie said this boy said cowpokes is slow
In fact he said cowpokes is dumb
I grant you I did it, I struck the first blow
An' poked at his eye with m'thumb
The sheriff said Dude, now you tell me what's true
You really say cowpokes is slow?
I jist cain't imagine a young pup like you
Would say that t'Dogie Munroe
The dude said most farmers don't get so upset
An' who the heck's Dogie Munroe?
The sheriff said out of the cowpokes I've met
Ol' Dogie's the toughest I know
The dude said, a cowpoke? No wonder he's swearin'
I thought he's a farmer I knew
But how would I know with them sneakers he's wearin'
Now ain't that a fine howdy-do?
The sheriff said sneakers and cowpokes don't mix
It matters not who you may meet
An', Dogie your troubles some day I cain't fix
With weird things like them on yer feet
When you wear them sneakers boy, somebody rude
Is gonna mistake who you are
They're gonna think you're a visitin' dude
Jist hangin' aroun' in the bar
Then he said to Dogie, Ol' Buddy, that's it
If you don't like gettin' took down
You gotta promise me yer gonna quit
A wearin' them sneakers t'town
An' Dogie said no one kin tell me t'quit
A wearin' these shoes on m'feet
Next thing that you know there'll be somebody say
What food that a cowpoke kin eat
And so ends the ballad of Dogie Munroe
A better man never drew breath
But wearin' them sneakers wherever he'd go
Was finally the cause of his death
© 2001 Hal Swift, reprinted with permission
They bedded down without a sound and the whole bunkhouse was quiet.
Then old Charlie cut loose like a honkin' goose and durn near caused a riot.
Charlie shook the walls with his snorts and bawls, 'til every hand was awake.
They'd heard him snore many times before, but this time took the cake.
They gave him a shake tryin' to get him awake, but it didn't do no good.
Half the night was gone, but Charlie snored on like a buzz saw sawin' wood.
It was Slim McBride with his eyes open wide that got up kinda slow.
He cocked his gun and the deed was done, he shot off Charlie's toe.
Charlie sat up straight to behold his fate and saw his toe was gone.
He gave a high pitched yell straight out of hell and then the fight was on.
There stood Slim with a big ol' grin, and he held a smokin' gun.
With Slim off guard, Charlie hit him hard and ended all the fun.
Charlie did alright in this awful fight, and he bruised ol' Slim up good.
He wasn't fightin' for fun, and if he could've found a gun he'd have shot Slim where he stood.
If he'd been stronger it would've lasted longer, but he folded from the blood he lost.
He was real close to even, but the blood he was leavin' finally showed it's cost.
He went down swingin', but his ears were ringin' and his eyes were goin' crossed.
Whe he swallowed his tongue and collapsed a lung, it was certain he had lost.
Slim McBride was circlin' wide when Charlie bit the dirt.
He'd been hit hard by his four-toed pard, and that last punch really hurt.
Slim felt kinda bad about the toe Charlie once had, but he just couldn't take no more.
If a cowboy counts sheep tryin' to get some sleep, you can bet he was bothered by that snore.
When Charlie came to, what he planned to do was give ol' Slim another go,
But he passed back out when a dog that was about, went and ate his shot-off toe.
© Verlin Pitt, reprinted with permission
The Reciter/Serious group followed, with some stellar choices from Jerry Brooks of Utah, Phil Kennington of Utah, Colen Sweeten of Utah, Sam DeLeeuw of Utah, Andy Nelson of Wyoming, Dan Bradshaw of Utah, Trey Allen of Oklahoma, Allen Clark of Utah, Mike Dunn of Arizona, Gordon Thomas of Utah, Stan Tixier of Utah, Dick Morton of Colorado and Arizona, Ed Nesselhuf of South Dakota, Hank Mattson of Florida, and Ronnie Olsen of Wyoming.
Among some of the many interesting highlights were Jerry Brooks' flawless recitation of J. W. Beeson's "Rosie's Eagle," a poem she has made known throughout the intermountain West in recent years; Dick Morton's crowd pleasing "Lost Pardner" by Badger Clark; and Ed Nesselhuf's rendition of Bret Harte's The Old Camp-Fire.
Rosie was a widow
Who lived up north of town.
If you cross Wolf Creek about a mile
And circle back around,
You'd find a big ol' ranch house
Made from sandstone, rock and sweat
And Rosie raised her family there
Her grandson lives there yet.
Now, I became acquainted
With this grand ol' pioneer
When I was just a youngster,
Nearly in my fourteenth year.
I'd go out and feed her cattle
While Rosie went to stay and
Visit with her children
Who had grown and moved away.
And once, while I was feedin'
I saw a wondrous sight,
A big ol' Golden Eagle
Just soarin' like a kite.
So high above the wagon
He would circle all around
Like he was on a search for
Something down there on the ground.
I watched him for a minute,
Hangin' silent in the sky
But the silence soon was broken
By the echo of his cry,
As he screamed his disapproval
Of the place I chose to rest,
Then I spotted the remainder
Of what once had been a nest.
The nest was old and brittle,
The aftermath of age,
And it laid beside a marker
Nearly covered by the sage.
My youthful curiosity
Had grabbed me by the shirt,
I knew that I had work to do
But five minutes wouldn't hurt.
So I got down off the wagon,
Kicked the tumbleweeds away
Revealing an inscription
In a stone of granite gray.
"Return to me in Springtime with love
And dance with me upon the wind, the way
the eagles do."
I stood there kind a puzzled
Tryin' hard to figure out
Just what these words engraved in stone
Were really all about.
So, when Rose returned from visitin',
I told her what I'd seen
And how when I got near the stone
That bird would start to scream.
With eyes reflecting memories
Through the traces of a tear,
She took me by the hand and said,
"There's something you should hear.
I'll share with you a secret
That up till now's been known
By only me and God above
Of the eagle and the stone.
"The Caliche hills that weave their way
Through what once was Box-T range
Was once the home of eagles
That nested on the plains.
And the Indians had a legend
That they believe is true,
That for every man who lived out here,
An eagle lived here too.
"And if the eagles nested
When a man would take a wife
Then the spirits of the lovers
Claimed the nesting ground for life.
And when their life was over,
Their spirit would ascend
And gather with the eagles,
To dance upon the wind.
"And that was how it happened,
As if decreed by fate,
For the day that I became a wife
The eagle took a mate.
And as he made for her a nest of
Willow branch and silt,
I was borne across the threshold
Of a ranch house not yet built.
"And so we spent our wedding night
Beneath the prairie moon,
In a Studebaker wagon
In the early part of June.
As he held me in his arms
And pledged to me his love,
He said, "If we should ever part,
I swear by God above,
That in Springtime I'll return to you, as
when our love began,
And with the eagles we will go, and dance
upon the wind.
"The year my husband passed away,
The lady-bird was killed.
They're buried side by side,
Beneath the stone upon the hill.
And every year in early June,
I watch the morning sky
And listen for the sound of wings,
Like angels passin' by.
"And when I see that old eagle,
My heart begins to glow
And I think about a promise
Made so many years ago.
The words are carved in granite, our love
will never end
And my heart goes up to meet him, and we
dance upon the wind."
© 1991, J. W. Beeson, reprinted with permission
Dick and Jane Morton
The Lost Pardner
I ride alone and hate the boys I meet.
Today, some way, their laughin' hurts me so.
I hate the mockin'-birds in the mesquite--
And yet I liked 'em just a week ago.
I hate the steady sun that glares, and glares!
The bird songs make me sore.
I seem the only thing on earth that cares
'Cause Al ain't here no more!
'Twas just a stumblin' hawse, a tangled spur--
And, when I raised him up so limp and weak,
One look before his eyes began to blur
And then--the blood that wouldn't let 'im speak!
And him so strong, and yet so quick he died,
And after year on year
When we had always trailed it side by side,
He went--and left me here!
We loved each other in the way men do
And never spoke about it, Al and me,
But we both knowed, and knowin' it so true
Was more than any woman's kiss could be.
We knowed--and if the way was smooth or rough,
The weather shine or pour,
While I had him the rest seemed good enough--
But he ain't here no more!
What is there out beyond the last divide?
Seems like that country must be cold and dim.
He'd miss the sunny range he used to ride,
And he'd miss me, the same as I do him.
It's no use thinkin'--all I'd think or say
Could never make it clear.
Out tat dim trail that only leads one way
He's gone--and left me here!
The range is empty and the trails are blind,
And I don't seem but half myself today.
I wait to hear him ridin' up behind
And feel his knee rub mine the good old way
He's dead--and what that means no man kin tell.
Some call it "gone before."
Where? I don't know, but God! I know so well
That he ain't here no more!
By Badger Clark
The Old Camp-Fire
Now shift the blanket pad before your saddle back you
And draw your cinch up tighter till the sweat drops from
We've a dozen miles to cover ere we reach the next divide.
Our limbs are stiffer now than when we first set out to ride,
And worse, the horses know it, and feel the leg-grip tire,
Since in the days when, long ago, we sought the old camp-fire.
Yes, twenty years! Lord! how we'd scent its incense
down the trail,
Through balm of bay and spice and spruce, when eye and ear
And word and faint from useless quest we crept, like this,
Or, flushed with luck and youthful hope, we rode, like this,
Ay, straighen up, old friend, and let the mustang think
Through looser rein and stirrup strain, the welcome old
You know the shout that would ring our before us down
And start the blue jays like a flight of arrows through the
And sift the thin pine needles down like slanting, shining
And send the squirrels scampering back to their holes again,
Until we saw, blue-veiled and dim, or leaping like desire,
That flame of twenty years ago, which lit the old camp-
And that that rest on Nature's breast, when talk had
dropped, and slow
The night wind went from tree to tree with challenge soft
We lay on lazy elbows propped, or stood to stir the flame,
Till up the soaring redwood's shaft our shadows danced and
As if to draw us with the sparks, high o'er its unseen spire,
To the five stars that kept their ward above the old camp-
Those picket stars whose tranquil watch half soothed, half
shamed our sleep.
What recked we then what beasts or men around might
lurk or creep?
We lay and heard with listless ears the far-off panther's cry,
The near coyote's snarling snap, the grizzly's deep-drawn sigh,
The brown bear's blundering human tread, the gray wolves'
Beyond the magic circle drawn around the old camp-fire.
And then that morn! Was ever morn so filled with all
The light that fell through long brown aisles from out the
The creak and yawn of stretching boughs, the jay-bird's
The rat-tat-tat of woodpecker that waked the woodland hall,
The fainter stir of lower life in fern and brake and brier,
Till flashing leaped the torch of Day from last night's old
Well, well! we'll see it once again; we should be near it
It's scarce a mile to where the trail strikes off to skirt
And then dip to the Indian Spring, the wooded rise, and
Yet here should stand the blasted pine that marked our
And here what's this? A ragged swale of ruts and
stumps and mire!
Sure this is not the sacred grove that hid the old camp-fire?
Yet here's the "blaze" I cut myself, and there's the
With quartz "outcrop" that lay atop, now leveled to its
And mounds of moss-grown stumps beside the woodman's
And gashes in the hillside, that gape with dumb red lips.
And yet above the shattered wreck and ruin, curling higher
Ah yes! still lifts the smoke that marked the welcome
Perhaps some friend of twenty years still lingers there to
To weary hearts and tired eyes that beacon of old days,
Perhaps but stay; 't is gone! and yet once more it lifts
To meet our tardy blundering steps, and seems to move, and
Whirls by us in a rush of sound, the vanished funeral
Of hopes and fears that twenty years burned in the old
For see, beyond the prospect spreads, with chimney, spire,
Two iron bands across the trail clank to our mustang's hoof;
Above them leap two blackened threads from limb-lopped
tree to tree,
To where the whitewashed station speeds it message to the
Rein in! Rein in! the quest is o'er. The goal of our
Is but the train whose track has lain across the old camp-
By Bret Harte
Other highlights of the session were were Mike Dunn's performance of Rod McQueary's "For Woody," and Gordon Thomas's recitation of Trey Allen's "All My Heroes" (later Trey thanked Gordon for choosing his poem, noting that many fewer people would hear a poem if it was only recited by the writer himself).
Gordon Thomas Trey Allen
Emily Kirkwood and her mother, Jo Lynne Kirkwood
at the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo
The next group, Reciter/Humorous, included Gordon Thomas of Utah, Allen Clark of Utah, Hank Mattson of Florida, Phil Kennington of Utah, Colen Sweeten of Utah, Sam DeLeeuw of Utah, and Stan Tixier of Utah, Dan Bradshaw of Utah, Trey Allen of Oklahoma, Andy Nelson of Wyoming, and Jerry Brooks of Utah.
Several poets chose poems by Baxter Black, Phil Kennington recited Bill Hirschi's "The Bra," Jerry Brooks did Wallace McRae's "The Debut," and Allen Clark turned in an excellent performance of Henry Herbert Knibbs' "Boomer Johnson" (see that poem here at the Cowboy Miner site).
Scores were tallied and the riders were chosen for the finals, which started early the next morning.
Continued on Page 2
What's New | Poems
Features | Events
The BAR-D Roundup | Cowboy Poetry Week
Subscribe | Newsletter | Contact Us
Authors retain copyright to their work; obtain an author's
permission before using a poem in any form.
CowboyPoetry.com is a project of the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry, Inc., a Federal and California tax-exempt non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization.
Site copyright information