Featured at the Bar-D Ranch

Lariat Laureate

of Modesto, California

recognized for her poem, Town and Country

1925-2009

 

 

 

Fall, 2015

In creating The LaVonne Houlton Compendium: Ponies, Poetry and Prose, Janet Gingold delved deeply into research and into friendship to bring forth an outstanding book about award-winning California poet, writer and noted Morgan Horse breeder and historian LaVonne Houlton (1925-2009). The book is of a quality and depth that would please LaVonne, the epitome of both values in her work and her life.

LaVonne Houlton was a poet since childhood, and she raised and showed registered Morgan Horses for 35 years. She wrote articles for many magazines and wrote a regular column for
Piggin’ String magazine, which sometimes included her cartoons.

Her ranching relatives in the Dakotas helped develop her love of horses, cattle, and the characters of the West. Her biography here at CowboyPoetry.com, where she was a valued contributor, tells that during her teenage years, “There were Herefords and horses, dreams to dream, and many trails to follow. And in the evenings there were the stacks of
Western Livestock Journals, with poems by Bruce Kiskaddon and ‘Cowpoke Cartoons’ by Ace Reid with which to while away a few hours.” The reader finds all of those influences in her writing.

Gingold worked with Houlton to collect her writings and continued with the project after Houlton’s death. The book’s acknowledgments and bibliography show the great breadth of research on which the book stands. The lavishly illustrated volume, years in the making, is an impressive tribute to a woman and a way of life.

As noted in its subtitle, the book is divided into three sections: “Ponies: Historic Horse Articles”; “Poetry: Cowboy Poetry”; and “Prose: A Heritage in Prose.” The historical horse articles collect a history of the Western Working Morgan Horse in Houlton’s engaging pieces that span decades. The prose section focuses on her writing about family and friends. In many ways, it is the heart of the book, a look into the places and people who greatly influenced her. LaVonne Houlton’s words always draw the reader into her worlds and you find yourself walking and riding alongside her. These first and last rich sections are generously illustrated with over 75 photographs. Those photographs are also included on an accompanying CD.

The poetry—some sensitive, some humorous, all thoughtful
comes with its own indelible images of people, dogs, horses, time, and place. As in her prose, she offers a universe of experiences to her fortunate readers.

Janet Gingold has done an impressive job of preservation, created in the generous spirit of her subject.

Visit the book’s Facebook page, facebook.com/lavonnehoultoncompendium.

The LaVonne Houlton Compendium (and accompanying CD of archival Morgan Horse photos) is available for $33 postpaid via PayPal from jgingold46@gmail.com.

 


 

From Jan Gingold, 2009:

In Memoriam

 

LaVonne Houlton

July 24, 1925 - June 11, 2009

 

Morgan Horse Breeder, Historian and Poet

 

It is with deep sadness that I write to inform you of the passing of LaVonne Houlton. The Morgan world has lost a real treasure and she will be missed by many.

 

LaVonne was a meticulous researcher who wrote extensively over the years about the western Morgan's history. She referred to this unique horse as the Sellman/Hill/Hearst Morgan. LaVonne wrote, "Their history began with California's Gold Rush, when men of great wealth and social prominence chose Morgans imported from New England, and prized them highly. Late in that century, Morgan blood was crossed on Standardbred stock, to add stamina to the speed of trotters and pacers. The first two decades of the 20th century contain no ongoing California Morgan history. Then, in the early 1920s, Roland Hill, Reginald Parsons and F. A. Fickert brought fine Sellman Morgans from Texas to California. They were the men who sold Morgans to Dr. C. C. Reed, Sheldon Potter, William Randolph Hearst and others. Today, breeders of Western Working Morgans cherish any portion of those old bloodlines that can be found."

 

LaVonne was a renowned cowboy poet and many of her poems and prose have been published on the Cowboy Poetry website www.cowboypoetry.com, which honored LaVonne as a Lariat Laureate for her poem "Town and Country", and 8 Seconds awards for "Ern Pedler" and "Ace." She has received Golden Poet, Silver Poet and Who's Who in Poetry awards from the World of Poetry.

 

In 1999 AMHA recognized LaVonne with a Master's Certificate for her many historic articles published in The Morgan Horse, Western Horseman, Horse Lovers, Horseman's Courier, Piggin String and California Horse Review.

 

It has been my privilege to know and work with LaVonne for the past six years on a compendium of her life's work, which will be published posthumously.

 


 

About LaVonne Houlton:

I wrote my first poem at age 12, and kept right on writing them—all kinds, but my favorite are the narrative western kind. I've always loved the country and horses. Raised and showed registered Morgan Horses for 35 years (Viking Morgan Ranch, Modesto, California). I'm a mother, and a grandmother. My profession was Social Work, but over the years I've written many articles on horses, some historical, some current. These appeared in The Morgan Horse Magazine, Western Horseman, Thoroughbred of California, Horse Lovers, Horseman's Courier, and California Horse Review.

In the 1960's I wrote a monthly column, "LaVonne's Line," that ran in the old Piggin' String magazine for a decade or so, and sometimes I included a poem or one of my "Peanuts Horse" cartoons.

Born a "city child," I was lucky to have had an uncle and aunt who ranched in the Dakota Badlands in the early days. Their cattle and horses grazed on land that's now a part of the National Grasslands of North Dakota—near Bullion Butte, and along the Little Missouri River. From my uncle, I heard many tales of colorful characters—like Bill Follis, one-time boss of the 777 outfit and a veteran of many cattle drives on the old Chisholm Trail. And like Pete Pelissier, the "Buffalo Bill of the Missouri Slopes," who rounded up wild horses every year, and once ran a Wild West show of some renown. I heard of the old Hashknife outfit, of Teddy Roosevelt and the Custer Trail Ranch, of round-ups and disasters, of long gone but well remembered horses named Van Zandt and Bon Dieu.

Thanks to my uncle, this horse-loving child always had something to ride—be it the broad back of a Belgian draft horse on the way home from the fields in the evening—or a burro named Cecil whose aim in life was to scrape a kid off against a fig tree or the corner of a barn.  There was at one time a Shetland Welsh cross mare, and I even rode the fat and congenial Hereford bull, Prince Domino, a few times.  Lastly came Minnie, companion of my teen-age years, of whom I write in my poem "Cold Creek Remembered." Minnie and I covered many miles of tough, lava-strewn terrain in Northern California's Siskiyou Mountains. There were Herefords and horses, dreams to dream, and many trails to follow. And in the evenings there were the stacks of Western Livestock Journals, with poems by Bruce Kiskaddon and Cowpoke Cartoons by Ace Reid with which to while away a few hours.

 

We asked LaVonne why she writes Cowboy Poetry and she replied: I love to write Cowboy Poetry because there is an endless well of stories there, just waiting to be told, and after I wrote my first one ("Town and Country," in 1966) I found that I really liked to tell those stories as they came to mind. And I love to read the work of other Cowboy Poets just as much—it's a very special world!

We asked LaVonne why she thinks Cowboy Poetry is important and she replied:  Cowboy Poetry isn't about kings, tycoons or posh surroundings.  It is about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people, be they set in the past or in the present.  It covers an important time and aspect of American life that many people cherish, and children still dream of (when I was 7 or 8 my playmates and I would argue over whether we would be Bob Steele or Tom Mix in the fantasy of the day). I believe that poetry portrays the Cowboy and the West better even than prose can do.

 

Town and Country  

Oh, a man gets mighty tired
When he's workin' on the range,
And sometimes he'd like to settle
Down in comfort for a change,
With an eight-to-five position
And a cozy little home,
With a car and boat and workshop,
And no call to ever roam.

For it's wearyin' to ride all day
In rough and rocky ground,
Just searchin' for some strayin' calf
That's bound it won't be found!
In bone deep cold or summer dust
The work goes on the same,
With steers to catch or move or brand,
And colts to feed and tame.

And by the time he hits the sack
With muscles stiff and sore,
He'd like to find a feather bed
And sleep a week or more!
But, oh, so very early,
Before the night can end,
He's up again and out again—
Two miles of fence to mend.

And after that there's stalls to clean,
And then there's feed to haul;
By half-past-noon he's gettin' mad—
He'd like to chuck it all
In favor of a place in town
Without a cow in sight,
Where a man can work a reg'lar day,
And get his sleep at night!

But even while he's thinkin' this
And longin' for a change
He's saddlin' up his horse again,
To check the summer range.
He'll take some salt up for the stock;
He'll have to stay the night,
So, bedroll—coffee—bacon—beans—
And lash that mule pack tight.

Still dreamin' of a city life,
He takes off up the hill,
And his horse is walkin' quiet,
And the air is very still.
For awhile he doesn't notice
That his soul has settled down—
That his eyes are on the pines ahead
And not turned back to town!

© LaVonne Houlton
This poem appeared in Western Horseman in the 60's

 

We asked LaVonne about her inspiration for this poem, and she replied: "Town and Country" has always had a special place in my heart. I was pleased with the way it turned out when I wrote it; then it became the first poem for which I received payment (from Western Horseman) and it was also the first of my poems to appear in a poetry anthology (The Clover Collection of Verse, Vol. VI, 1973).

I think there comes a day in the life of every person who takes care of land, livestock and horses when he or she feels just like the fellow in the poem —so much to do; so many things can go wrong; when do I get a vacation around here? and so on. Then something happens—like a new foal born in the dark of night that you can wipe down and help to stand—and you know exactly why you do what you do. And there's nothing in the world so conducive to settlin' down your soul as a quiet ride through the hills on a good horse!

 

Previously, LaVonne Houlton was named

one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for her poem, Ern Pedler

 

Ern Pedler
          
  (1914-1989)

Out of the shadows a lone man rode;
'Twas a Morgan Horse that the man bestrode,
Chestnut coat and a gleaming hide,
A prancing step and a look of pride.

A stallion he was, with spirit strong,
To carry a man where the miles were long,
To cross the gullies of rolling stone,
And to suit a man who would ride alone.

Then out of the dim a brightness grew,
Over endless vistas and mountains blue,
And the trail led up to a distant height
Where mustangs grazed in a meadow bright.

And the man turned his horse through the chaparral
Into pinon trees, past an old corral,
Breathing air as sweet as man ever knew,
Over grass that sparkled with morning dew.

While up ahead the mustangs twirled,
And ran away, leaving dust that whirled.
Then the man snaked his rope and laughed with glee—
"This is the Heaven for one like me!"

And late that night to a tall pine stand
By a campfire bright came an angel band,
To hear the tale of a lonely horse,
And of mustangers who had run their course.

While the stars winked down and coyotes cried,
'Til the night grew pale and the fire died.
Then the man saddled up his chestnut friend,
To ride the trails that would never end

© 1989, LaVonne Houlton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked LaVonne what inspired her to write "Ern Pedler" and she explained: 

You may be familiar with Ern Pedler, the author of The Big Lonely Horse, And Other Stories.  Ern was a family man, yet he still loved to go off into the back country of Utah, with only his Morgan stallion for company, and track mustangs—not to harm or capture, but mostly for the sheer exhilaration of the chase. His stories were first published in The Morgan Horse Magazine, and were much admired.

In 1989, already ill, scant months before he died, a group got together for a last cattle drive, in which Ern participated, and during which time he read from his wonderful stories, as the video cameras rolled. The rare footage that was shot back in '89 still sits 'in the can,' but there is hope yet of raising the funds to produce the film at last.

I wrote this poem the night I learned that Ern Pedler had passed away.

See Lynne Pedler Boren's story and photos about her father, Ern Pedler, in Picture the West.

 

LaVonne Houlton was previously named 

one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for her poem, Ace

 

Ace

He was just a skinny stud colt,
All leggy, scared and black,
And I won him in a card game,
On aces, back to back.

All the fellers sorta chuckled
When I brought him home that night,
And I felt a bit embarrassed,
For he surely was a sight.

Why, his tail was full of stickers,
And his mane was half rubbed out;
His coat was dull and dusty,
And his ribs was stickin' out.

He didn't show no promise,
So the bunkhouse boys all said,
And they laughed and poked so much fun
That I started seein' red!

Though he wasn't much to look at,
He was all the horse I had,
And if I was any judge of colts,
He wasn't all that bad!

He had bone beneath that rough coat,
And a real determined eye,
And a breedy look about him,
That would make him worth a try.

So I started in to braggin',
And my tongue began to race,
And I said he'd make a fortune,
And I said I'd name him Ace.

Oh, I told the boys at supper,
And at noon and breakfast too
About the many wondrous things
That black was gonna do!

He would be the greatest stud horse
That the west had ever seen;
He would be the fastest horse on earth,
And sweep the racetracks clean!

He'd have the most cow-savvy,
And the biggest bag of tricks;
He'd be well-known in the cities,
And as well-known in the sticks.

Yep, I did a lot of boastin',
And I had a lot of brass;
I had staked my reputation
On the hope that colt had class!

So, I fed him oats all winter,
And the finest kind of hay;
He got groomed and had his exercise,
And looked better every day.

Then I turned him out on green grass,
With lots of runnin' room,
And he started buildin' muscle,
And he started showin' bloom.

In the fall I brought him up again,
To the old bunkhouse corral.
Soon the way he took to saddle work
Was the talk of Chaparral.

Why, he never did go buckin',
And he never knew to balk;
He moved square and bold and easy,
And he had a good flat walk.

Yep, he took right off to reinin',
And his figure-eights were neat;
He was catty, quick and willin',
And to ride him was a treat.

All through the snowy winter,
I worked him in the barn;
And at night beside the fire
I'd spin my boastful yarn

Of all the many great things
That Ace was gonna do;
How he'd earn for me my own spread.
And my own remuda too.

Well, the boys got kind of tired,
Of all that talk from me,
But Ace was sure a lot of horse;
On that they did agree.

Come spring, he won the stallion class
Down at the county fair.
Then I took my winter's savings
And I bought a nice brown mare.

On that I sure drew lucky --
Them horses nicked just right.
You should have seen the filly
That came one April night!

She was black as ink and fawn-legged.
With the biggest pair of eyes;
She was fresh as paint, and sweet as sin,
And I named her Ace's Prize.

I took the stud and filly
On the horse show rounds next spring,
And they seemed to come out wearin' blue
Every time they hit the ring.

I'd been keepin' something secret,
About my stallion Ace;
But the folks found out that autumn
That my horse could win a race.

I took all of Ace's winnings,
And his stud fees from the spring,
And I bought a half-a-dozen mares --
I was buildin' quite a string!

In fact, my boss was gettin' mad,
At all the space they took.
He said he'd have to charge me rent!
That got me kind of shook.

It was gonna take me longer,
To realize my dream;
But old Ace kept right on winning,
And our milk turned into cream!

Now it's fifteen long years later,
And the brag has all come true.
This here eighty lonesome acres
All belong to you know who.

And that handsome band of horses
You see roamin' on the place
Are mostly the descendants
Of my old black stallion Ace.

And that's him, standin' on the hill,
Still strong and proud and grand,
With the "look of eagles" showin',
Like a king on his own land.

Well, it's been a long old story,
But I've one more thing to say,
That comes from deep down in my heart,
As I look at him today.

You can know a lot of horses,
And be proud of many too,
But the one who's just part of your life,
That kind is mighty few.

He's one horse in a lifetime,
And there's none can take his place.
And I wouldn't trade the world right now
For my old black stallion Ace.

© 1968, LaVonne Houlton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
This poem appeared in Western Horseman in the 60's

We asked LaVonne about her inspiration for "Ace" and she replied:

"Ace" began with a phrase that just popped into my mind, that I had to write down and follow to see myself how it would end.  For me, writing that kind of narrative poem, that just seems to spring to life all by itself, is the fun of being a poet. 

I like my poems to have a cadence that just flows along when read aloud.  I like to create a character who is understandably human— probably that's why my Western poems are written in the first person.  I don't think it's possible to say just how or why a poem was written, at least not for me. With "Ace," once the first couple of lines popped into my head, it was just a natural progression of what I would do if  I'd become the unlikely winner of such a colt.  I had no idea how it would end until I got there .... and that's exactly why I love to write poetry!

 

What Grandma Told Me

"There's a big old pine on yonder hill,
That stands out black when the moon is yeller,
And there, long ago, when nights was still,
I'd go for to meet my blue-eyed feller.
Me, ridin up on my small bay mare,
Feelin the pine-breeze blow through my hair,
Countin' the stars that was twinklin' bright,
...Just like a queen ridin' through the night.
 
More like than not I would get there first;
Happy inside, 'cause my heart was dancin',
Bangin' away like it shore would burst...
Til 'long came my love, with his white horse prancin'.
Lord, what a horse!  Though he'd travelled far,
Bearin' my man and his big guitar,
Snortin' and prancin'  he'd top the hill.
Nothin' on earth ever held him still.
 
They was alike in a lot of ways ...
Big and bold, and proud of bearin',
Nothin' beat them in all their days.
The horse was wild, and the man was darin';
But gentle too, when it came to love,
That I know, sure as God's above!
The horse loved Keith, that we all  could see,
And Keith, he loved someone ... and that was me!
 
We heard lots of sounds in the quiet air,
With, down below us, the cattle bawlin',
And Keith's stud whickerin' to my mare,
And off on the ridge some coyotes callin',
And the soft wind-whisper in the pine ...
Well, you have your mem'ries, and I have mine,
And mine are a pine and a darkened hill,
A starry sky, and a world all still.
 
Sometimes he'd strum on his ole guitar,
And I'd be listenin' and sort of dreamin',
Or maybe I'd wish on the evenin' star,
For the marryin' thoughts that my mind was schemin',
And he'd hold my hand, or he'd sing a song
While we sat on the hill 'neath this pine so strong,
And we'd plan ahead how our life would be
When we' d be together, just him and me.
 
Now, maybe you think 'cause we met alone
That there was some secret we two was hidin',
But the reason's simple, and not high-blown
That led to all this here evenin' ridin',
"Cause down at the ranch there was always noise,
With the gigglin' girls and the teasin' boys,
And Ma always told him to "set a spell".
And Pa always had one more tale to tell.
 
Well, that's how it was in them early days,
It was awful hard when a man came courtin' -
The whole dang family was there always;
Each one must say what he thought importan',
And if ever they wanted just each other,
Without Pa and Granny, the kids and Mother,
They'd head for a hill and an old pine tree ...
'Least that's how it was with my love and me ...
 
My land, when I think how the years have passed!
With its fun and laughter and sometimes sorrow,
And I'm here on the hill with the stars at last,
And our Golden Weddin' due tomorrow.
I can still hear coyotes and cattle call,
And time doesn't seem to have passed at all.
...Now you run along, an' be very still,
"Cause your Gran'pa's near to the top of the hill..."
 
 
© LaVonne Houlton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
This poem was first published in Piggin' String Magazine
 

(Posted also in the collection of poems about
Cowboy Moms and Grandmoms)
 
 

 

The Wreck of Buckboard Number Nine

I was making a hand at the old T-Bar-C
In the autumn of nineteen-o-nine,
Just a kid from the city, and one mighty green,
But so sure I could make it just fine.
 
I had milked me a cow, and I'd rode me a horse,
And I thought I was learning the score,
But I didn't know nothin', as I soon found out,
When the boss sent me off to the store.
 
Now, the store was in town, and the town was due West,
Just about twenty miles either way -
A real long, dusty ride on a broken-down road,
But a trip you could make in a day.
 
"Jed, we're out of supplies," said the foreman to me,
"We need grub and we need kerosene.
With the men up at line camp, I've got to send you,
Even though you're so gosh-awful green."
 
Well!  I drew myself up to a scrawny six feet,
And I looked the boss straight in the eye -
Just the picture of insult - "There's nothing to that!
I can do it without half a try!"
 
Then the boss got a mighty odd gleam in his eye,
But he only said "Well, that's just fine.
You take Muley and Bawly, the new blue-roan team,
And the buckboard we call Number Nine."
 
Well, my heart kinda sank when I heard him say that,
For that buckboard was battered and old;
Nearly heavy as iron, but nowhere as strong,
And the thought of that team turned me cold.
 
The new roans were a beautiful matched pair of blues,
With small stars and white socks and black tails,
But that Muley was stubborn, and Bawly was mean,
And together they both could spit nails.
 
Well, it took us an hour to get them hitched up,
And already I felt pretty sore
From a bite on the shoulder, a kick in the shin,
And my temper was starting to soar.
 
I was half in the seat, and just gath'ring my lines
When the team started off with a bolt,
And we rattled and clanged down the pockety road
While old Number Nine groaned with each jolt.
 
But I clung to my seat, and I clung to my reins,
Til the team started working just fine,
As the miles sped away to the tune of their hooves
And the creakings of old Number Nine.
 
Long before you'd imagine, we wheeled into town,
By which time I was feeling real proud,
We had come without mishap - I surely could drive!
And I strutted a bit for the crowd.
 
But pride comes just before a sad fall, so they say,
And I found that to be all too true.
We'd gone only a mile out of town when my team
Just became an explosion of blue.
 
Bawly pulled to the left, and then Muley jerked right,
And next Bawly proceeded to buck.
And that was the minute (you might as well know)
When this greenhorn ran clear out of luck.
 
Muley now was determined she just had to run,
While old Bawly tried hard to sit down.
But that Muley kept dragging the buckboard and her
Til we got two more miles out from town.
 
Such a kicking and squealing and rearing around
I still hate to recall to this day!
That old buckboard was bouncing and jouncing along
And then landing just any old way.
 
Now the roans took their bits, and I lost both my lines,
Trying just to hang onto the seat ...
I'm a passenger now, not a driver at all ...
And I had to admit I was beat.
 
Then old Number Nine started to spit out the grub;
Beans, sacks and cans flew left and right
As the spring seat collapsed and I hit the rough floor,
Leaving only my feet up in sight.
 
And a flour sack split when I landed so hard -
I was covered with white, head to waist.
Then the team hit the creek and went splashing on through,
While this passenger turned into paste.
 
About then I was thinking I ought to bail out,
But I came to the thought a bit late;
One front wheel hit a boulder and flew on alone,
While I clung there and pondered my fate.
 
So we plowed on along for a dozen yards more,
Then old Number Nine gave up the game.
She flopped on her side and then threw up her wheels,
And me -- I was doing the same.
 
Then old Bawly and Muley they hoofed on alone,
While I picked up as much as I could.
Poor old Nine looked like kindling, and I left her there,
A sad carcass of straps and split wood.
 
The boss was out feeding those miserable roans
Just as I staggered in late that night;
And the one thing he said to this paste-covered fool
Was "Don't brag til you know you are right."
 
© 2002, LaVonne Houlton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Cold Creek Remembered 

One summer day, in my sixteenth year,
I called my horse and gathered my gear,
And stood by the pasture gate to see
The little bay gallop up to me.
Her tail flowed out like a silken banner,
And her head flung up in a carefree manner,
While her friendly whicker let me know
That she, like I, was eager to go.
 
That little mare that I loved so well
Had Morgan blood, as you could tell.
Her lines were typical of the breed;
Her action was very smooth, indeed.
The gentle, large eyes, spaced wide apart,
Bespoke of courage, and plenty of heart.
I thought her the best little horse on earth,
And I kissed her neck as I fixed the girth.
 
I paused for a moment, and looked about
At the beautiful land, to plan my route.
We stood in a country of scenic views;
About us towered the Siskiyous,
And off to the south, Mount Shasta gleamed -
- A land made like Heaven, or so it seemed.
The ranch was my kingdom, that day long gone,
For I had two sections to ride upon.
 
Away to the east the long meadow lay,
With its waving grass that would soon be hay,
And through it wandered the Cold Creek stream,
Well-stocked with trout, a fisherman's dream.
Beyond the valley were tree-clad hills,
Where the stream fell down in sparkling rills,
Tumbling wildly down its rocky course,
From the heights, and the hidden spring, its source.
 
But then, if instead I looked to the west,
The journey was different from the rest,
For across the road, beyond the corral,
Were dry, yellow hills and chaparral;
And beyond them waved vast fields of grain
That led back up to the hills again.
Beyond the last hill was a sudden drop -
That hill had a lookout post on the top.
 
But we chose the meadow of grass and flowers,
And we rode content through the sunlit hours.
The grass by the creek was as soft as lawn,
And there, in the brush, we startled a fawn.
For a moment its soft brown eyes held me,
Then it tottered away, behind a tree.
And later, a coyote, with shaggy locks,
Slunk out of sight in the tumbled rocks.
 
We mounted the crest, where the burn had been,
And I tethered my horse and surveyed the scene.
I thought of the bountiful hand of Him,
Who formed this valley, these hills, that rim
And when I looked up the sun had gone,
And the cumulonimbus were rolling on,
As the wind came on with a sudden gust,
Raising the leaves and swirling the dust.
 
Then the rain beat down and the thunder crashed,
While all about us the lightning flashed;
And I held up my arms to the pelting spray,
For I loved the sky to behave that way.
The black thunderheads kept rolling on,
And, quick as it came, the storm was gone!
The humped-up Herefords came out of their daze,
Fanned out in the field, and began to graze.
 
With my heart high up as a heart can go
I leaped in the saddle and headed below.
My sure-footed horse picked her way with care,
While I sent a song on the new-born air.
Then, out on the flat she danced with glee,
And leaped o'er the creek and a fallen tree;
She flew 'cross the meadow on fleet, sure feet,
And cleared the fence in a bound so neat.
 
The years have sped by, since that glorious day,
And Minnie now feeds on celestial hay;
But my heart comes back to it, o'er and o'er,
That magical, mystical day of yore,
When my life was unfettered, and free and grand,
And my heart was touched by a Heavenly Hand.
And my hope for Heaven includes a day
When I ride once again on my beautiful bay!
 
©  LaVonne Houlton 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


LaVonne and Minnie

 

Grown Old

The saddle gathers dust these days,
The bridle's on the wall,
The barn has lost the scent of hay,
There's no horse in the stall.

My boots have truly lost their shine,
My chaps have gotten stiff,
And so have I, if truth be told,
And all hangs on "What If?" --

What If some decades fell away,
And I was young again,
To ride the mountains and the hills
And never feel a pain?

What If the Herefords grazed again
On long-remembered land,
And when the time for round-up came
I still could make a hand?

What If again those days of old
Became my present time,
When I could do once more those things
That I did in my prime?

What If that backward turn of time
Could truly come to be,
Would I relinquish my today
To be a former me?

What If I'd rather  stow the thought
With boots and chaps and youth,
And with perspective keep the dream
As memory, not as truth?

I've kept my store of younger times
Bright-shining in my mind;
I may not ride a trail again,
But dreams are there to find.

© 2002, LaVonne Houlton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

LaVonne writes: 

From the time I was old enough to hang on to a carousel pony with the help of my Daddy, I've loved horses and riding. Even when I closed down my horse ranch and sold the last Morgans a few years back, I kept my chaps, my boots, my favorite braided reins and other essential tack, in case I decided to get myself another horse one day.  Then I developed a health condition that turned me from a very active person, independent as the proverbial hog on ice, into one who moved slowly and carefully, and was next thing to housebound, and needed to be waited upon.

One night last January I got to remembering my long love affair with horses, thinking especially about the wonderful summers at Cold Creek Ranch - owned
by Uncle Ed and Aunt Margit Titus, the ones who homesteaded in North Dakota years ago.  There, I helped with haying (we still used Belgian teams, as it
was during WW II), gathered and moved cattle, fished, swam, and rode for endless hours on my lovely, little sure-footed mare.  Somehow, all that
turned into the poem I called "Grown Old."

 

The Best Laid Plans

I never intended to be an old cowpoke.
I planned to be richer than Midas by far.
I meant to start out with a few head of cattle.
I truly believed I could lasso a star!

But all of my plans seemed to soon come a-cropper.
I can't figure out why it had to be so.
No matter what venue I tried to succeed with,
I watched them all come, and I watched them all go.

I cobbled together a small herd of Herefords,
And set them to graze on Dakota's spring green.
I built a good barn and a little sod shanty,
And planted some willows to spruce up the scene.

But wouldn't you know, we had drought for three seasons,
And next came a winter of blizzards and freeze.
What stock I had left I just sold for a pittance.
Then all I had left was the land and dead trees.

My place went for taxes, and I left Dakota
With only my horse, tack and bedroll to show
For three years of work and a fistful of wishes,
And knowing that now I had no place to go.

I headed south-west, taking jobs when I found them,
Until I reached Texas and talk of "black gold'.
"Ah ha!" said the dream that still lurked in my memory;
An oil strike might bring me those riches untold!

I found a good partner, and we went wild-catting,
But hit only dust on ten tries that we made.
then Number Eleven came in like a winner,
And we thought we sure had it made in the shade!

I bought a fine Stetson, new boots and a Chevy.
My partner and I kept on drilling in vain,
Which ate up the cash from the well still producing,
As we slogged and drilled on through mud and through rain.

A man could grow old and worn out on that venture,
So we divvied up, and then went on our way.
He headed for Kansas, I thought I'd go westward.
I'd heard California was sunny all day.

The Chevy blew up when I hit Arizona,
And left me there, stranded and down on my luck,
Smack-dab in a desert without any shade -- I'd
Have sold the whole state for a smoke and a buck.

A man in a big car soon pulled up beside me.
He said he was headed out west to "L.A.".
He eyeballed my Stetson and boots, and then told me
He made western movies out Hollywood way.

Said he'd need a stunt man for difficult film scenes,
When stars couldn't cut it, but someone must try.
My looks weren't half bad, he said;  if I knew horses,
And had any interest I'd be the right guy.

With nothing to lose, and still dreaming of stardom,
I shook the chap's hand and thus settled my fate.
With too little thought of what surely must follow,
I took on a job I would soon come to hate.

Back then, too few cared if a horse took a tumble,
Or how a man hurt if he wasn't the star.
I banked lots of checks in ten years of B movies,
And dreamed of a ranch I'd call "Triangle Bar",

But luck never lasted, just smiled and then left me.
I sure did remember that quirk one sad day.
The scene called for racing between train and stagecoach.
The stage was to win -- it was timed out that way.

We lost; and I broke lots of bones when I landed,
All tangled with wreckage and floundering team.
The medical bills that I garnered that season
Stamped out the last wisp of my poor, fading dream.

I hobbled around Tinsel Town through that winter,
But no one could use a poor stove-up stunt man,
Until a Badlander who'd heard of my troubles,
Said he could use my help - "Come home if you can."

I caught the first train heading back to Dakota,
A shade of the man I had been in my prime.
I ride an old nag, checking fences for hours,
Draw minimum wages, and put in my time.

And that's how I came to just be an old cowpoke,
As far from a Midas as any can get.
I wonder what Fate still has plans to throw at me --
I know it's a corker, on that you can bet.

© 3/26/2003, LaVonne Houlton                              
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


LaVonne wrote:  

I'll parody "The Best Laid Plans" with this:


I never intended to be an old lady.
I meant to be young to the end of my days.
I planned to go dancing on my hundredth birthday,
And ride in the mountains, if just for a ways.

But something called 'osteo' brought me a-cropper,
Afraid I'd break something if I merely sneezed;
So that was the  end of my dancing and riding,
And doing whatever I doggone well pleased.

I had to adapt, then, to less of a lifestyle
Than that I had followed so nimbly before.
And that isn't easy when you're used to 'doing',
But there's one still open for every closed door.

The thing I've been able to keep right on working
Does make up a bit for the loss of the rest --
I still can coin phrases, and keep up a rhythm,
And making up stories is what I like best!

 

 

Doby

I braided a strip of his soft, white mane,
Then tenderly put it away;
And I found, as many have done before,
That "Goodbye" is so hard to say.

His body was weak, and his eyes were dim,
But I didn't picture him so;
For awhile last evening I saw him as
He had looked, once long, long ago.

I saw him again on a warm, spring day --
We'd loped a good  mile just for fun --
He was twenty then, but you'd never know
By the all-out way he had run.

I looked farther back, and I saw him now
With two little girls on his back,
Looking strong, yet gentle, and handsome too,
In his coat of white and of black.

I saw in my mind a kaleidoscope
Of happy and wonderful years --
Those two girls and me, and a Pinto horse --
Then I saw no more for my tears.

For so many years he had given us
The best that a horse has to share,
All the trust and friendship and gentleness,
And long rides through sun-sparkled air.

But now he was old, and could not get up
When he tried to lay down and rest,
And my mind knew well what we had to do,
Though my heart rebelled at the test.

I patted his neck in the quiet stall,
He busily munched at his grain.
Then he turned to nuzzle me one last time,
And I ran out into the rain.

We owned him with pride and we loved him well,
And that time cannot take away.
But our world is less than it was before,
For our old friend died today.

© LaVonne Houlton                              
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Doby died November 4. 1970, with my daughter and the vet at his side.  Doby was 30 and a bit more.


 

No Home on the Range 

Well, I spent the whole day Sunday
Out a-lookin' for the range,
But I couldn't seem to find it,
For there's been a lot of change.

Where we used to pen the cattle
There's a string of new motels,
And just a bit beyond them
Stands a forest of oil wells.

Where I used to ride through sagebrush
From lunch time up to dark,
Now there's fenced-off land with signposts
Saying 'Recreation Park'.

There's a freeway near the river
Where the cattle used to graze,
And the blue sky of the prairie
Has been dimmed by smog and haze.

And I couldn't help but marvel
At this thing we call "progress",
That can change a land of beauty
To a populated mess!

© LaVonne Houlton                              
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

The Fifth of July

The fireworks are over,
Flags furled and put away.
The picnic spots are empty,
It's just another day.

The bows are out of horse tails,
Show saddles on the rack,
Good Stetsons boxed til Sunday,
We're back on normal track.

The Veterans' march has ended,
The floats are stowed once more;
No marching bands to cheer us -
Life goes on as before,

But, Oh, we should remember -
The pride that stirred the heart
So strong, and truly, in us
Must not so soon depart!

Let's not be "summer soldiers",
Flag-wavers for a day.
God bless our precious Country
All year, in every way!

© 7/05/04, LaVonne Houlton                              
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

The Down-and-Outer

My Dad was full of platitudes.
He flung them out like jewels.
It took me years to realize
They were his teaching tools.

"The watched pot never boils", he'd say
When I just couldn't wait.
"Slow and steady wins the race"
Was one I came to hate!

"Birds in the bush" were gambles;
But "one in hand" was sure.
To "save the nine" that "stitch in time"
Was certainly the cure.

I never listened as I should,
But chased those bush-perched birds,
And squandered time on luke-warm pots
Despite all Daddy's words!

Those "pennies" I forgot to save
Could help no rainy day,
And "good turns" that I didn't do
No one could then repay.

I tilted windmills left and right,
And then felt like a dope
As in my mind I heard Dad say:
"You just can't push a rope."

It took me long to understand
The truth I wouldn't see.
The thing about it all is this:
The "rope" Dad meant was me.

© 2004, LaVonne Houlton                              
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

A Journey Into Yesterday

I felt it when I reached the hill -
The tug of bygone days -
Forsooth, my heart remembers still
Its long-lost childhood ways.
My eyes rejoice to see once more
This earth of rich, red hue;
I know it as I did before -
'Twas worth returning to.

The manzanita bushes stand;
Their brick-red trunks I know;
I thought them gaunt against the land,
But pretty in the snow.
These rocks I do remember well -
They crumble at the touch.
See, as before, the pieces fell;
Oh, I remember much!

Now, down the hill and into town!
That well-remembered street,
Where time on time, and up and down,
I skipped on dancing feet.
Here was the store my Father had;
- I 'most can see his face!
I do recall, when snows were bad
They banked and hid the place.

Now up the street, and to the left,
My music teacher's place;
Dear, sweet old house, long since bereft
Of her most gentle grace.
This maiden lady I loved so
Was old when I was small;
Her copper hair was turning snow,
Her life was at the Fall.

To teach me scales, she had the means
To make me practice well -
Each perfect try brought jelly beans.
(I hesitate to tell
How I thought more of granted sweets
In those days than I should);
But still I'm sure those precious treats
Came more than I was good.

When this dear lady touched the keys,
And played a certain song,
A grip of sadness all would seize
And tears would fall ere long.
She played about a Perfect Day,
When it was at its end;
Her heart in all her music lay,
And music was her friend.

If I have spoken long and much
Of this one person's ways
'Tis only that her gentle touch
Has colored all my days.
Because of her, I feel the swell
Of music in my soul -
I feel the Heaven and the Hell
In the melodic whole.

Now here's the church, where once I went
Each week to Sunday School;
In these old walls my mind was bent
To live the Golden Rule.
It does not seem to me, somehow,
This place has aged at all.
I almost hear (let me dream now)
My Mother's footstep fall.

My Mother - she is everywhere
In this antique old town;
I hear her lovely laughter here,
And there I saw her frown -
Just down the street, the day she heard
I'd walked the ancient flume;
(She banished me without a word,
To ponder in my room).

Here stands the Church of Saint Canice,
A block away from home.
The Father, in his priestly peace,
Spoke often of 'dear Rome'.
He sometimes let me ring the bell -
I loved its somber sound.
And in his garden - strange to tell -
Bright colored birds were found.

And here I spy the old stone wall
We used to play upon.
I still can hear the owner call
"Please do stay off the lawn!"
'Twas here we played our cowboy dreams
Of 'Bob Steele' and 'Tom Mix' -
How many, many years it seems,
Since I was only six!

Now, turn the corner, 'round we go,
And up the steepest slope,
And at the top should be, I know,
 -It's standing still, I hope -
A white house and a gardened hill.
Yes, there it still does stand!
Hello, Dear House!  I'll look my fill -
I thought you once so grand!

The ivy grows along the ground
The way it used to lay.
Has time stood still, or have I found
The gate to yesterday?
If I could peek inside your door,
Dear House, would I still find
My skate marks on your hardwood floor -
The clock I used to wind?

And on my walls would I still see
Red roses all in bloom -
Those roses chosen just for me,
To decorate my room?
I do recall a lilac bush,
And snowball trees as well,
And purple flags and evening hush ,
And rose petals that fell.

And here were our bonfires lit,
To roast things in the Fall;
Like chestnuts - let me think a bit -
Now well do I recall
Marshmallows soft, and apples red,
We pushed into the blaze.
Such simple, carefree lives we led -
Such pleasures filled our days.

In winter they closed off the street,
And children owned this hill
To sled upon - Oh, what a treat!
And what a lovely thrill
It was to whiz down from the top
And be the first to mark
The fresh new snow, from start to stop!
Alas, for childhood's lark.

So many things about this place
Do I recall full well.
My years spent here were years of grace,
Lived in the gentle spell
Of home and family, friends and those
Who taught life's truest ways;
And in my mem'ry I suppose,
They've gained a golden haze.

And they do say that we may  not
Go back from whence we came -
That never can it be our lot
To find the past the same
As when we lived it in our youth.
But I am not so sure;
Our past contains our present truth,
And mem'ry holds it pure.



                   Written at Nevada City, California
                   February 23, 1962, when I was snow-bound there.

© 1962, LaVonne Houlton                              
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

LaVonne told us: From the Summer of 1932 to the Summer of 1934 we lived in Nevada City, California, one of the earliest of the California Gold Rush towns, full of wonderful old houses and with history oozing out everywhere you looked. When I went back in 1962, got snowbound and wrote this poem, Nevada City had hardly changed at all, except that many of the old stores now held antique shops.  Today, it still looks much the same, but it's not the safe, leisurely little town that occupied a golden part of my childhood, alas."

 

Cowpoke Philosophy

Well, I read the evening paper,
And it scared me near in two,
Wih its columns-long palaver
About the world to-do.

Seems there's little wars all over,
And crimes and violence -
And you know, I got to thinkin'
That it surely don't make sense.

Why should neighbor shoot at neighbor,
And countries rattle swords?
I'm right sure they've all forgotten
That this whole big world's the Lord's.

Why, He made the sun to warm us,
And the evenings, just for rest;
And mountains filled with grandeur,
And mankind filled with zest.

And he made a horse to ride on,
And hills to ride him through;
A star-filled night to dream on,
And a wealth of things to do!

Well, I'd like to tell the gen'rals,
And presidents and such
If they'd just cut out the hagglin',
And get back into touch

With the things that God intended --
Like the beauty of the day,
Or the murmur of a forest,
Or the smell of new-mown hay,

If they'd just look at the wonder
Of nature all around,
Then perhaps they'd stop their feudin',
And we'd all have peaceful ground.

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

 

The Wanderer

The prairie stretched before him, just
As endless as the sea.
The waving grass was stirrup-high,
No hint of shrub or tree.
A quest it was, that sent him West,
To lands not seen before.
But somewhere, he knew one for him
Held promises in store.

He'd traveled many lonesome miles,
And forded many streams,
But nowhere he had seen so far
Came knee-high to his dreams.
Perhaps he sought a Shangri-La,
Forever out of sight,
But somewhere in the West, he felt,
His place still shimmered bright.

His pack horse and his Pinto stud
Stepped deep through shifting sand,
And wild sage scented every breeze
That swept the barren land.
Strange rock formations speared the sky,
And then were seen no more,
While purple hills and silvered peaks
Loomed high not far before.

The climb was hard, and harder still.
Dismounted, he climbed too,
To save his horses, best he could,
For they seemed nearly through.
A valley high and mountain lake
Gave respite for the three.
A prayer of thanks flew Heaven-ward,
And sleep came easily.

Two days from then, they traveled on,
Through crags and drifted snow,
But still no glimpse of change ahead -
Just mountains more to go.
He found a pass, by luck it seemed,
A trail snaked down ahead,
And breaks between the peaks appeared,
As daylight went to bed.

Next morning, he tacked up and left.
The trail looked mighty steep.
A glitter showed up far ahead.
His heart began to leap.
A glimpse of green appeared below
When they stopped on a hill.
It spread before him, far and wide
And held him, rapt and still.

Between the shining mountains and
The sparkling river's flow
A silent valley sweetly lay,
And set his heart aglow.
The long and lonely miles behind,
the dream that made him roam,
Were truly worth the time, for they
Had led the wanderer home.

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

 

No Sale

Well!  I got so mad this mornin'
That it almost spoilt my day!
I rode down to see my neighbor
About buyin' up his hay;
But when I got to his corral
I saw an ugly sight:
He was "breakin' in" a bronco,
And he had him snubbed down tight.

The hard, hemp rope was bitin' deep,
And cuttin' off his air.
The poor cayuse was dark with sweat,
And blood-drops flecked his hair.
His knees were skinned, his eyes were wild,
With terror and with pain,
And my neighbor grabbed a twist of ear,
And mounted him again.

I turned away, and tried to spit;
My mouth was dry as dust.
I heard the horse's whistlin' breath,
As though his lungs would bust.
And soon he stood as still as death,
His head a-hangin' low,
With no more spirit than a cow,
And no more pride to show.

My neighbor dusted off his pants,
And lit a cigarette.
"The hoss that I can't handle,"
He said, "Ain't been born yet."

What do you think I told him,
Before I rode away?
"I just came by to tell you
That I sure don't want your hay!"

© LaVonne Houlton                              
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Warm Thoughts of Cold Creek

I was young back in the 'forty's,
Just a kid, if truth were told,
So it only stands to reason
That by now I'm growing old.

But I haven't lost a memory
Of the many I built then
On the ranch I loved so dearly
In those days of "way back when."

Yes, I still remember clearly
How I loved that countryside,
With its Herefords out a-grazing
And my little mare to ride.

We would start out very early,
In the dawn's first pearly glow,
And go gather up the milk cows,
Though they didn't want to go.

We'd let them get far out ahead,
My horse just walking easy,
The grass all sparkling-wet with dew,
The air so sweet and breezy.

My horse would prance and toss her head,
Impatiently she waited,
And when I gave the cue to go
She never hesitated.

She'd take off at a full-out run,
So swift and freely striding,
While my heart fairly burst with glee
Because I was out riding.

If you had laid that ranch out flat
It would have made a county,
But it had hills and valleys too,
All rich with nature's bounty.

The creek was full of rainbow trout,
To catch if you weren't hasty;
Wild apple trees and choke cherries
And wild plums, oh so tasty.

Sometimes I'd take a bucket out,
And hang it from my saddle,
And gather up an old lasso,
And then I'd just skedaddle.

I'd ride up to an old fruit tree,
Rope high as I was able,
And dally to the saddle horn—
Fresh fruit would grace our table.

I loved to ride up through the hills,
And hear my saddle creaking,
When everything was peaceful-still
And not a soul was speaking.

I liked the silence in the woods,
The beauty spread below me,
Of meadow, trees, and grazing cows,
And my horse walking slowly.

Sometimes we'd startle up a deer,
Or spy an old coyote,
Or quail would whir up from the brush,
Or eagles high would note me.

The day the Western Livestock came
I'd head quickly for the  lawn,
To read the latest, wondrous poem
By the great Bruce Kiskaddon.

He knew the West as it was lived,
By cowboys, harsh or gaily,
He spoke of simple, honest things
That happened to them daily.

I could relate to rain-wet boots,
Trail dust, or days all stormy;
His poems brought chuckles, or a tear,
And none could ever bore me.

Yes, I remember Cold Creek well,
Though it is gone now truly,
Gone as my childhood too has gone,
So quick, and so unduly.

In my mind still I roam those hills;
On Minnie I'm still riding.
I'm hooking pants on chaparral,
'Cause from Aunt Marg I'm hiding.

She'd rather have me doing chores,
Like dusting off the glassware,
But I'm off riding by the creek—
She'll call, but I won't be there.

In country flat I live my age,
This place I'm not forsaking;
But in my heart I roam the hills—
That dream's still mine for taking!

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

 

Last Word

T'was a night to be forgotten,
But few there were who could.
For sometimes nothing turns out
The way you think it should.
 
Now, I know you won't believe me,,
'Though what I say is truth.
It happened many moons ago,
When I was in my youth.
 
Just a local, country bull ride,
To welcome in the Fall,
One round, and one round only,
With winner taking all.
 
All the bulls were rank and ready,
The men were set to ride—
Each hoping for the buckle
And cash to set aside.
 
I am glad I was too young then,
To risk my bones that night.
I never saw such critters,
So eager for a fight!
 
Each rider clamped his hat tight,
Gripped hard and with a nod
Rode in upon a whirlwind,
And then plowed up the sod.
 
There are  long tales, also short ones,
And mostly there's a hero,
But seldom do they end so sad
As:  "Bulls fourteen—Cowboys—zero."

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

 
LaVonne comments, "I was watching the Rodeo Finals on tv one night, climaxed by the final round of the bull riding. Now, of course, this was not 'one round and one round only.' But it had the most unique ending that I could remember for such an important final event - it was "Bulls Thirteen, Cowboys One." That just cracked me up, and I kept trying to think of someway to dress it up a bit for a poem. This is how it turned out.

 

 

A Brighter Day

She fell asleep one quiet dawn,
And awoke to a brighter day,
In The Land of Fresh Beginnings,
With the pain all swept away.

And her eyes went wide with wonder
As her understanding grew,
For she stood in God's own meadow,
Green and fresh, and wet with dew.

And her ears pricked quickly forward,
As a voice spoke soft and low,
Saying "Welcome to my stable.
I have called you here, you know."

"For I saw that you were weary,
And I sought to end your fear,
So I brought you to my meadow.
There is nothing frightening here."

You may roam across my pastures,
You may run, or you may rest,
And old friends wait here to greet you,
Down the meadow to the west."

Then the mare's head went up gaily,
And she nickered eagerly,
as though calling someone to her,
And she pranced excitedly.

And the golden sun's reflection
Gave her coat a copper hue,
As she paused for just a moment
By a pool so clear and blue.

Then the mare who used to tremble
Felt a calmness fill her soul,
As she started down the meadow;
—And beside her walked a foal.

© 1969, LaVonne Houlton                              
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Written in memory of Kane's Miss Universe 09790 (1957-1969) and her unborn foal by Viking Justin.

 

Read about LaVonne Houlton's grandparents in Roots...in the Morgan World in our Western Memories collection, and other pieces in that section, Cousin Don Landes, Mr. Miley's Palomino, The Christmases of My Childhood (1930's), and Uncle Ed Titus.


Joseph is in our Christmas 2006 collection

and

The Christmases of My Childhood (1930's) is also in our Christmas 2005 collection

and

the poem, The Christmas Miracle, is in our Christmas 2004 collection

and

Spring Love is posted in our "cowboy love poem" collection

 

 

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