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Lariat Laureate

Neal Torrey

of Bolivar, Missouri
recognized for his poem
The Marshal and the Chicken Thieves

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

 

Neal Torrey, photo courtesy Mr. Torrey   Neal Torrey resides in Bolivar, Missouri, was born in Missouri, but the majority of his adult life was spent in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he raised AQHA and Appaloosa horses.  Neal is a member of the Missouri Cowboy Poets Association and the Oklahoma Western Heritage, Inc.  Contact Neal by email for information about his book of poetry, Sagebrush Sentiments, or a cassette tape that features Neal and eight other MCPA members.

When we asked Neal why he writes cowboy poetry, he replied:

"As to why I write cowboy poetry?  Well, take a deep seat. I grew up reading Will James and Zane Grey, in fact, I think I read all that our small library had of those two.  I tried my best to learn how to draw horses like Will James and Charlie Russell.  I spent my Saturday afternoons in the movie theatres, watching Hopalong Cassidy, the Durango Kid, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Bob Steele, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, Red Ryder and all that bunch of good, clean-cut heroes. 

Later in life, as a Special Deputy Sheriff in Teton County, in Wyoming, I rode patrol on horseback, six-gun strapped to my hip, looking for (believe it or not) cattle rustlers!   I had to pinch myself to see that I wasn't dreaming.

Our children, and perhaps a good many of our young adults need exposure to the moral code that was held by the real cowboys and ranchers.  The later Hollywood image of the anti-hero in the leading role has done a lot of damage to the true story of the West. 

As I can, I try with my cowboy poetry to show the cowboy, the rancher, the lawman, the soldier and the Native American in a good, positive light.  Sure, there were bad men in the West, but they were definitely a minority, and were quickly eliminated by the decent citizens of the West. There is much to tell of the privations, the harsh weather and primitive conditions under which the men of the old West functioned. 

If you study the hymns and the songs of the cowboy, you see that for the most part, he was a man of honor, integrity and faith.  That story is one that needs to be told, and I have taken it upon myself to tell it."

ntarcade.jpg (19110 bytes)  Read about Neal Torrey's novel The Arcade Affair, a story about a military operation against terrorism, at the publisher's site (you can read the first chapter) and at Amazon. The publisher's summary describes the book" "A Commerce Department analyst investigates a virtual reality arcade game and almost loses his life. Together with his pastor and the church secretary he uncovers a plot that threatens millions of innocent people."

Pounding Leather

Includes:

Diamondbacks Are Not a Girl's Best Friend
Cow Talk
The New Pickup
Thirsty
The Vole Patrol
The Old Cowboy's Confession
The Hoot Owl Killers
The Knights of the Round Table
My Sidekick
The Appaloosa
Putting Shorty in the Ground
Horseshoes
Riding the Grub Line

Recorded at Eli Barsi's Rockin' BAR C Studios, and she performs on "My SIdekick"

Available for $15 plus $2 postage (or two CDs for $25)

from:

Neal R. Torrey
665 N. Lemmon Ave.
Bolivar, MO 65613

Oh, Bury Me Not ...

Includes:

Oh, Bury Me Not
The Laramie Kid
The Newton General Massacre
Old Four-Eyes
The Marshall and the Chicken Thieves
The Buffalo Soldiers
Twisted History
Requiem

Recorded at Eli Barsi's Rockin' BAR C Studios, and she performs on "Oh, Bury Me Not"

Available for $15 plus $2 postage (or two CDs for $25)

from:

Neal R. Torrey
665 N. Lemmon Ave.
Bolivar, MO 65613

 

 

Following is Neal Torrey's award winning poem and his introduction to this true story.

Allen Raver (now of Jackson, Wyoming)  told me one about his grandfather, John Raver, who was a frontier marshal in South Dakota.  He still has his grandfather's model 1895 Winchester in .30-40 caliber, and it is in mint condition.  He also has his old ledger, where he wrote down the things he did as a marshal.  One of those entries was the source of this poem:

 

The Marshal and the Chicken Thieves 

His hands curled 'round his coffee cup, the old hand told a story--
Of rougher days and tougher times in Dakota Territory.
The land was like a flaming forge that tested each man's mettle,
And tempered into strongest steel those souls who dared to settle.
Wild bands of Sioux and Cheyenne rode - in forays ever bolder.
You had to watch the trail ahead - with one eye o'er your shoulder.

Still, civilization's steady march soon gained the Black Hills border,
And folks in Custer County said, "We need some law and order!"
There was one man with extra sand, and everybody knew it.
John Raver took the Marshal's badge, cause -"Someone had to do it."
He packed a six-gun on his belt where it came quick to hand,
And nestled in his saddle-boot was a lever-action grand.

The Marshal served the county well, a lawman good and true.
He kept a ledger of the things his job caused him to do.
The old hand found this story there, upon the yellowed sheaves,
Of how the Marshal went against....the gang of Chicken Thieves!

There was a pack of wolves back then who rode the Rimrock Trail.
Reckless, mean and desperate, they robbed the U.S. mail.
They slipped into the Black Hills then, 'til things were not so hot,
And quiet, Custer County seemed like just the perfect spot.
They holed up in an old line-shack, and never showed in town,
Tho one slipped in to buy their grub when few folks was around.

Hard-eyed, lean and dangerous, they numbered six in all.
Armed to the teeth, they stayed holed up through Summer into Fall.
Now, men of action can get cramped when they are kept confined,
And "cabin fever" does strange things when it tampers with the mind.
But thieves are thieves, whatever the prize, and here's where the plot thickens...
They began to use their outlaw skills -- to steal the neighbor's chickens!

Bold men, who made their living taking other people's wealth....
Now were lickin' chicken bones by practicing their stealth.
The neighbor knew some hens were gone, but had no proof for showin'
Until a fickle prairie wind brought......chicken feathers blowin'!
It wasn't hard to follow up those feathers in the air.
A short ride to the windward side brought him to the robbers' lair.

"I want those men arrested NOW!"  He slammed his big fist down!
"You're the Marshal!  Do your job and bring 'em into town!
They've had their fun, the deed is done, and I'm the one who's bested!
They laughed at me when I found them out!  I want those men ARRESTED!"

"Hold on, we're talking fightin' men.  I sure would hate to test 'em.
Why, I would need a posse's help to go out and arrest 'em."

"I'm sorry, Marshal Raver, and I hate it like the dickens,
But I've been made a laughing-stock, 'cause those men stole my chickens!"

Now, Marshal Raver didn't flinch from trouble in the least.
He wasn't known for backin' down from either man or beast.
A man, to keep his self respect, must live what he believes.
So, Marshal Raver saddled up to catch those chicken thieves.
His Winchester he shoved in the scabbard, nervously checked his sixgun twice,
Then, Raver mounted up and rode, against his friends' advice.
His eyes took in the Black Hills sweep, the antelope, the sky.
He watched them with the saddened eyes of one about to die.

His coming was of no surprise.  They always posted guard.
He stopped his horse about the time he got up to the yard.
"Hello, the house!" he shouted.  They answered from within,
But, some, he knew, where hid outside, their gunsights trained on him.
"This here is Marshal Raver, and I've come to talk with you,
'Bout stealing Perkins' chickens, and what you plan to do."
Slowly, from their hiding spots, the outlaws came to view.
"What is your meanin', Marshal, on...'what we plan to do'?"

"Well, ol' Perkins signed a paper, we call it a Complaint,
That you've been stealing chickens.  Now, do you say you ain't?
If you was to pay ol' Perkins for the hens that you've consumed,
This thing could then be settled and the peace could be resumed.
But, if you don't take my offer now, that I make you as a friend,
My duty, boys, as Marshal is.....I'll have to take you in!"

"Hah!  Look around you, Marshal.  You're much too young to die.
Do you think that you could take us all?"

"Well, I think I'd hafta try!"

They all stood tight as statues then, eyes narrowed to a squint,
And Marshal Raver, he looked back, his jaw set hard as flint.
A moment that seems hours passed, with all tensed for the draw,
Then, there slowly came a softening, like a snowfield in a thaw.
One of the outlaws smiled and said, "Ah'll tell you somethin' true...
Ah've never been arrested as a 'chicken thief', have you?"

It turned out not a one of them had ever gained that fame,
To have the label "chicken thief" tacked on behind their name.
And so they all surrendered to the charge John Raver made,
And meekly rode to town with him, where soon their fines were paid.
But before they rode away that day, the leader shook his hand.
He said, "Raver, you ain't got a lot of sense.  But, you purely do have SAND!"

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Neal Torrey was a runner up in the first Lariat Laureate contest:

 

First Lariat Laureate Runner Up

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for his poem, Western Wear

 

Western Wear

The tourist looked at the cowboy, her eyes filled with curiosity.
She had never seen such a get-up, and she wondered how it came to be.
"Mr. Cowboy, can you tell me why your choice of clothing is so strange?
Is there some reason why you dress that way to work out on the range?"
The cowboy rolled his eyes and sighed, he'd been through this before,
Yet, he answered her politely and went through it all once more.
"Ma'am, this big sombrero that I'm wearin' is a pure necessity.
It shades me from the sun and keeps the rain and snow off me.
It will fan a campfire into flame, or carry water to dowse one out.
These bonnet strings anchor it in a storm, or when I'm ridin' flat-out!
The silk kerchief around my neck is also a very necessary thing.
It's a face wipe, dust mask, sling, tourniquet, or even a piggin' string!
A coat would just encumber my arms, but this snug vest fits the bill.
It won't catch on the saddle horn, and it wards off the morning chill.
These jeans are made with the seam outside, so the saddle don't rub me raw,
And, when I really need protection, I got the best chaps you ever saw.
Not the kind you see at a rodeo, or like they wear at a big parade,
But I can ride through brush and cactus and never have to be afraid.
Now, these tall boots are lifesavers.  They protect my lower leg, you see,
'Cause my horse might brush against a fence or whack my leg against a tree.
See how the toes are kinda pointy?  That helps me pick up my stirrup quick.
And the high heels won't let my foot go through the stirrup when it's slick.
I'm not wearin' my spurs, but when I do, I have a much better hoss.
I seldom use  'em, but their jingle-jangle reminds him who's the boss.
Now, Miss Tourist, I hope you don't think it's impertinent of me,
If I turn this quiz around to you, and have you explain just what I see.
You're wearing big sunglasses, the briefest shorts, the tiniest swimsuit top,
With white stuff painted on your nose, I guess, to make your sunburn stop.
Your feet are shod with funny clogs, made from someone's old used tires.
And you're askin' me why I look strange...I think somebody crossed your wires!"

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Sometimes one poem leads to another.  After performing the above, a man asked me to explain to him what a pigging string was.  The following is the answer I sent him.

The Piggin' String

If you are not a roper, then you may not have heard a thing,
About a piece of cowboy equipment that's called a "Piggin' String."
It's a short, thin piece of braided rope that the cowboy has found
Is handy for "hawg-tyin'" critters when you get them on the ground.
You see, some animals don't always cooperate when they need a shot,
And sometimes you have to doctor them, whether they like it or not.
Tho you have the best intentions, they just may not understand.
They'll try to kick your head off, when you just want to check a brand.
Once the animal's been roped and throwed, the string comes into play
For tyin' those flyin' legs together, when there's just no other way.
And, you want to do a good tie job, so the critter can't get loose,
'Cause if they get up while they're still mad, they may not want a truce!
Now, when you watch a rodeo, there's always a calf-ropin' contest,
And you can see the cowboy rope and "hawg-tie" at his best.
It's a timed event and the calf and horseman come out like a shot.
The rope is thrown, the loop drops true, the horse stops on the spot!
When the calf hits the end of the rope, he just may be jerked down.
Then the cowboy must wait 'til he gets up ...to throw him on the ground.
The horse keeps that rope pulled tight, so the calf can't get away.
Then the cowboy grabs the legs and puts that piggin' string in play.
He pops a loop down on a leg, then adds some wraps real fast.
Then the cowboy mounts his horse again and hopes the tie will last.
If the calf can manage to kick loose, his "time" won't mean a thing.
A lot depends on just how well he ties that "piggin' string."
Now, how the "piggin' string" is carried is a subject of much debate.
You sure can't have it in your hand when you're chargin' out the gate.
Some ropers stick it in their belt and yank the string from there.
Others have it in their back pocket, either way is entirely fair.
Old-timers clinch it in their teeth, 'cause they have no time to waste.
If you want to carry it in your mouth,...well, it's just a matter of ...TASTE!

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Here's one for the outdoor types.  Most of us have been...


Thirsty

One time when I was younger, I made a foolish mistake.
You never tie a horse up with something he can break.
You see, when I tied my horse, I'd forgotten where I was.
I was squatting down, checking a track, when a rattler buzzed.
That horse yanked back and scrambled, I heard the reins go pop!
Then I stood yelling like a fool at a horse that wasn't gonna stop.
I watched that horse run outa sight, high-tailing it to the ranch.
My canteen danced on the saddle horn as I stood in that dry branch.
It's funny how your mind works when you know you've been a dink.
The first thing that I thought of --was how bad I could use a drink.
It was open, sagebrush desert.  I looked to the left and the right.
Other'n that snag where I'd tied my horse, there wasn't a tree in sight.

Discouraged, I sat down on a rock, trying to clear my head to think,
But the only thought in my thirsty brain, was cold water for a drink.
I stumbled along, looking for green that meant water underground.
My mouth got so dry that licking my lips made a raspy kind of sound.
The sun bore down, and heat waves rose that made the cactus wiggle.
I thought of tall glasses of cold lemonade.  The vision made me giggle.
I was staggerin down a dry wash, when the tracks of a cow I found.
Some day long past, a rainstorm had passed; enough to soak the ground.
The water, sand and limestone mud had hardened up like plaster,
And there in one of those cattle tracks, was the answer to my disaster.
I have sipped champagne in a fancy hotel; dark ale in an English pub.
I've enjoyed fresh-squeezed orange juice, and moonshine from a jug.
I've tasted of the finest wines to be found in the vintner's rack,
But none could compare to that green water there in that dirty old cow
track!

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Here's a true story, passed on to me by an old cowboy from Custer, S.D.


The Hoot Owl Killers 

One dry day in South Dakota, a big ol' bird landed in our tree.
Ours was the only tree out there for as far as you could see.
Me and Wink and Sis just stood at looked at that big fowl.
We asked our Grandpa what it was.  He said it was an owl.

Now, Grandpa, who was pretty old, was sitting on the stoop.
He told us kids to use some grain to get the hens in the coop.
He said that owl might be hungry for the taste of an old hen.
But that ol' owl just sat there, looking like he's all done in.

Grandpa didn't want that owl around.  He wanted him to fly.
"The Indians say, if an owl hoots close, somebody is gonna die."
Well, that was about the scariest thing us kids had ever heard.
A chill of fear went through us as we stared at that big bird!

"Do you want your thirty-forty, Gramps, to shoot that old owl dead?"
"Naw.  Shooting that owl would just be a waste of powder and lead!
Now, effen you kids were a-mind to, you could kill that big old bird.
You see, that old owl's got a weakness that is really quite absurd!

He's not too smart about how far he twists his neck, you see,
You kids could twist his head right off, by circling 'round that tree!"
Us kids had never seen an owl before, and so we didn't know,
An owl can swivel his head back so fast that it doesn't even show.

The three of us trooped around that tree below that big old bird.
His eyes stayed on us all the time.  We never doubted Grandpa's word.
'Round and 'round we circled beneath that big old Cottonwood,
Expecting that owl to fall down dead.  We really thought he would.

His big eyes never left us.  He was locked onto us tight.
We'd twist that old owl's head off, --if it took us until night!
We were tired enough to stumble, when Mom stepped outside to see
Why on earth us kids were staggering in circles 'round that tree.

Grandpa was sitting there shaking, like he was having a coughing spell.
When he explained what we were doing, our Mom got mad as hell!
"Shame on you, you rotten old man!  Now quit your laughing so!
You kids come here so Gramps can tell you something you should know!
You've worn yourselves out for nothing, and raised a cloud of dust,
Just entertaining this old geezer!  Your "owl killing" was a bust!

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Cowboying was a hazardous occupation and many never lived to be old men.
   I imagine this scene might have occurred a number of times along the trail.

 

Putting Shorty in the Ground 

We didn't find old Shorty until sometime after two,
Back-trailing from where his horse went down.
There was blood trail a-plenty, and we for certain knew
That we would find him dead upon the ground.
Gored by a wild range bull, his horse had run away,
Though it didn't make it far down the trail.
I saw buzzards circling, and put spurs to my bay,
And when I found his corpse, I gave the boys a hail.
Stepping off my pony, I walked to where he lay.
No need to hurry, 'cause his death had been quick.
I waved my hat above him to shoo the flies away.
Covering Shorty with my slicker made me sick.
His wounds were somethin' awful, and I couldn't tell
Which had been the one to bring about his death.
His empty sixgun told me he had fought like Hell,
Right up until the time he'd drawn his final breath.
Reading sign there on the ground told me the story.
The bull had hid inside that thicket there.
And up the coulee came a-riding our Ol' Shorty,
And the bull had charged before he was aware.
"Where is that bull?  I'll gut shoot that old Devil!"
A spiral of dark birds said he lay nearby.
Ol' Shorty's forty-five had laid him level.
It just took too doggone long for him to die.
The crew came up bringin' Shorty's riggin'.
The younger ones had not seen Death before.
Cookie untied his shovel and started diggin'.
In that rocky ground, it took an hour or more.
If Ol' Shorty coulda heard us, he'd have fainted,
Standing by his grave, each man had bared his head,
And we talked of him like he's in line for Sainthood,
And how sad it was that he had wound up dead.
The Ramrod said, "Get his saddle and his six-gun,
Take 'em back to the chuckwagon right away.
We'll send 'em to his family, if he's got some,
But, right now, we've got a herd to move today!"

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


The Confession

"The nurse said I could have just a minute, so's I could say, 'Goodbye.'
I'm glad your eyes are closed, Old Pard, --wouldn't want you to see me cry.
I just stepped in to say, 'so long, and I'm sure gonna miss you, Old Friend,'
And there's some things I need to apologize for - before you meet your end.
I gotta 'fess up to some things I've did - now, before you meet your fate.
I'm the one, when you wasn't looking, that dribbled sand onto your plate.
I'd nearly split when you'd cuss Ol' Cookie about the grit in your beans!
And, I'm the one, when you went swimmin', that always hid your jeans.
And that time over by Rock Springs-- that rattlesnake in your bedroll?
I slipped it in there, but it caused such a row - that I never told a soul!
Remember the time when 'somebody' tied your off stirrup to a tree?
And undid your cinch so your saddle yanked off?  Well, that was me.
Sometimes I waited a month to laugh when I pulled somethin' cute,
Like when you found that 'somebody' --poured molasses in your boot!
Remember that fight at the Trail Dust Bar when you wound up all alone?
When I slipped out, it sure looked to me like you was holdin' your own!
And, do you recall that card game, when I won your brand-new hat?
I had those aces under the tablecloth!  (Hee-Hee) 'Can't believe you fell for that!
And remember that pretty schoolteacher - that took such a shine to me?
She really liked you better, but I lied, n'said you's married, and not free!
And, remember the time you got bucked off in that patch of prickly pear?
The burr that was under your saddle?...(Hee-Hee) I'm the one that put it there!
Hey, Old Pard, your eyes are open now and I'm seeing some of that old fire!
Why, those doctors here were telling me that you were about to expire!
Maybe you shouldn't be getting up, Old Pard, why, you've been close to death.
Lissen to you hissing through your teeth - you can hardly get your breath!
What are you doing with that metal pole?  That's to hold up your I.V.!
NURSE!  NURSE!  Come help me, Nurse!  I think he's gonna KILL ME!

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This is a true story.  The rider's name was Bob Stanbrough and the Clown's name was....well, it's at the end of the poem.


Greasepaint and Guts                                             

It was Madison Square Garden, the year was Nineteen-sixty-three,
And New Yorkers learned just how rough the sport of rodeo could be.
Many people that day got their first real look at a Wild West rodeo,
And the crowd was not disappointed, 'cause they really put on a snow!

There was barrel-racing, bull-dogging, roping calves and Corriente steers,
And the baddest bunch of bucking broncs the boys had seen in years!
The crowd was cheering madly as each new event took place,
But the final offering took the smile from each and every face.

Tons and tons of ill-tempered bulls were slowly worked into the chutes,
Big bulls, mostly Brahmas; huge, hook-horned, nightmarish brutes.
Then into the area, in baggy, cut-off jeans, walked a couple of silly clowns.
Soon their silly antics and crude humor had erased those worried frowns.

Besides their garish get-ups, the ridiculous wigs and painted faces;
These men had scars and broken bones and injuries in various places.
And, hidden beneath the make-up, was a face that most would know,
Because before he was a movie star, he was well-known in rodeo.

These clowns wore cleated football shoes and protective gear, too.
The crowd didn't didn't know the serious work they had come to do.
Their qualifications were not just experience, their hearts were also brave.
It was dangerous work they came to do, like maybe a cowboy's life to save.

A cowboy I know had drawn a bull that might give him a real fight.
A very bad actor, but a potential winning ride, if he did it all just right.
He got his bull rope wrapped around him, n'pulled the slack up tight.
He wrapped it around his hand, and got his fingers pounded down right.

He scooted forward on his hand, he was just about ready to ride,
When that bull stood up inside the chute and tried to climb outside.
A cowboy on the catwalk used his hat to give the bull a smack,
The bull reared back and hit the chute's back wall with a whack!

Then the bull dived forward on his nose and knocked the rider loose!
And now he had him down in the stall where he could cook his goose!
From all across the Garden, there came a sharp intake of breath -
The crowd now feared that they would see the rider meet his death.

The bull was butting and bashing, you could hear him breaking bones!
No one in there to help him, that poor young cowboy was on his own.
Now all this only took a second or two--an hour was what it seemed.
That big, bow-legged clown was moving even before the women screamed!

The young feller who manned the gate was standing there in shock.
The clown dashed in and gave the kid a football lineman's block,
Then he swung the chute gate open, and the bull lifted his head;
The clown then kicked the big bull's nose. "How'd yew lak me, instead?"

With that he turned and broke away to lure the bull out of the chute.
It worked, and now behind the clown was the bull in hot pursuit!
The big man went up the arena fence like a squirrel runs up a tree,
Then the mad bull turned on the infield crowd and made all of them flee!

Once the bull was out, the medics rushed in to see what they could do.
Their list of the all rider's injuries was carried over onto page two!
He had a broken arm, a broken leg, also several ribs and a broken jaw,
And lots of bruises, scrapes and aches and pains that no one ever saw.

That cowboy lived to ride again, thanks to the quick action that was taken.
The clown told him in the hospital room, "Wahl, Ah reckon Ah saved yore beckon!"
All the nurses came for his autograph, it fouled things up like the dickens,
Y'see, the signature on the autographs was, "Best of Luck,  Slim Pickens."

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

This was told to me as a true story by Allen Raver, now of Jackson, Wyoming:

 

Diamondbacks Are Not a Girl's Best Friend

These two old boys from Casper had a hobby that'd give me the shakes.
In their spare time for fun and for profit, they went hunting for RATTLESNAKES!
Now, Nate, in his real business, was a florist of some renown.
And his buddy, Allen, an ex-Marine, did construction work in town.
Tho they were as different as night and day, in some ways they were the same.
Both of them loved the out-of-doors, and they both loved huntin' wild game.

Well, they felt they needed adventure, something to give their lives more spice,
And they heard that Rattlesnakes, captured alive, would bring a handsome price.
Well, they armed themselves with a snake rod, some gasoline and a sack,
And went out to the sagebrush desert, to see what they might bring back.
Ol' Nate, he handled the snake rod, 'cause he was good with his hands,
And the strong and sturdy Allen carried the sack and the gasoline cans.

Now, it's not hard to find rattlesnakes out there on the Wyoming plains,
'Cause it's always dry and dusty, 'cause we don't get many rains.
Wherever a rattler has entered a hole, there's a trail in the sandy sod.
You just pour some gasoline down that hole, and get ready with the snake rod.
The snakes don't like those gasoline fumes, and they exit the den in a hurry!
It's when several of them come out at once -- that you might have to worry!

Well, it was pretty exciting work for a while, but they finally got the knack.
Ol' Nate scooped the rattlers up with the rod, while brave Allen held the sack.
Once in a while, Nate missed the sack when dropping the rattlesnake in,
And the two of them danced a fancy jig, --'til Ol' Nate could catch it again.
There was no shortage of rattlesnakes, so they needed to exercise care,
That while they were baggin' one of the snakes --there wasn't another somewhere!

They ended their hunt when Allen's sack was too heavy to carry around.
Driving home, they wondered where they'd put all the snakes they'd found?
Nate remembered a big wooden crate that had held some ceramic bowls.
He figured that would work just fine, if they plugged up all the knot-holes.
Well, they thought they'd patched it pretty well, but a snake got out of course,
And Nate's wife said, "The snakes have to go --or, there WILL BE a divorce!"

Now they were too flushed with their success to let the snake huntin' stop.
Then, Nate remembered a big wooden barrel in the back of his flower shop.
This worked out swell, the barrel was large, with a heavy wooden lid
They'd drop in snakes 'til they reached their quota, so that is what they did.
The venom lab would pick up the snakes, when they had thirty or more,
And the rattlesnakes would be safe and sound in the back of the flower store.

Now, Nate's flower shop got real busy, preparing for Mother's Day,
They had so many orders to fill that Ol' Nate could not get away.
Tho he and his wife worked like beavers, there just weren't enough hours.
So, Nate hired a lady to help them, who was knowledgeable about flowers.
Now, it was a madhouse, the shop was packed, people were waiting for service.
They lady was trying her best to help, but the rush made her very nervous.

She needed to find the potting soil; she searched each and every shelf.
Not wanting to bother Nate or his wife, she determined to find it herself.
She went into the back of the shop.  She carried a large, heavy vase.
Trying to find the potting soil, she searched each likely place.
"Ah, the barrel!  That could be it!"  She confidently lifted the lid,
And leaned down into the barrel, to see what the darkness hid.

TWO DOZEN RATTLESNAKES rattled at once!  The sound seemed amplified!
The lid went one way, the vase went the other!  The lady was Terrified!
She ran screaming out of the shop, while pottery continued to shatter!
Nate ran into the back room to see what on Earth was the matter....
Well, the lady never came back.  It took Nate an hour to clean up the mess.
And, how long it took to get the lady cleaned up......is anybody's guess.

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Unlike most of my poems, this next one didn't really happen. But it could have....  

 

The Appaloosa

                     
I had a horse when I was young that I will never forget.
It was an Appaloosa.  I wouldn't own one now on a bet!
This horse was kinda roany, at least on his front half,
The rest was white with big, black spots.  Folks just had to laugh.
The other riders took delight in making fun of him, of course.
They'd say, "Hey, Pard, where'd you get the paint job on that horse?"

Let me tell you about Appaloosas, that is, if you don't know.
They were bred by the Nez Perce Indians, 'way up in Idaho.
They liked 'em for their markings, which were strange to say the least.
With rat tails and striped hooves, they're a peculiar-looking beast.
This horse had white around his eyes that made him look half-mad,
And that baleful look was what I hated most about the Appy that I had.

One Spring day I had "bog duty," which was pulling mired cattle out,
So I saddled that ding-bat Appy, 'cause he was hell for stout.
Draggin' cows out of the quicksand is a most unpleasant chore,
And having to ride that Appaloosa- made me hate it all the more!
Well, the heel flies had been awful, and the cows had sought relief
By wading in the bog-holes, where some got stuck beyond belief!

I had partnered up with Slim Adair, a pleasant, simple sort of dope,
And I let him dig their front legs out -- while I pulled on the rope.
Once he got that quicksand loosened, I made that Appy pull.
That mornin' we yanked five cows out, but then....we found a bull.
We both knew old "Hook-horn."  He was the meanest on the range,
And Slim allowed as how he thought it time that we should change.

Said he was plumb wore to a frazzle from the diggin' he had done,
And figured it would take someone fresh for this big son-of-a-gun.
Well, I took off my gunbelt, boots and jeans and waded into the bog.
The job of diggin' that mean bull out - I wouldn't wish on a dog!
I told Slim to rope his horns and keep that hemp stretched tight,
Just in case, when I got close, that ol' bull went "on the fight."

Well, he was mired in to his belly and could hardly move a lick,
So I got busy with the shovel in hopes I'd get him out real quick.
That quicksand's awful tricky - I had to continually watch my feet
To always keep 'em movin', 'cause that sand set like concrete!
That ol' bull didn't try to fight me, but I saw hate within his eye,
And his deep and rapid breathin' - said how bad he'd like to try.

That ol' bull had stuck himself in good.  It was an awful chore!
And I had stopped to catch my breath, when Slim tried him just once more.
He had  a strong and sturdy mount, and it was fresh, of course.
When with a slow, sucking sound, that bull moved toward his horse.
Slim urged his big ol' buckskin, and that bull came out with a bound,
And with a fast and furious charge -- knocked Slim's horse to the ground!

Poor Slim, he tried to free his leg from underneath his mount,
But the bull was now atop the horse and the leg would not come out!
The horse gave a loud and mournful groan, I knew that he was dyin',
Slim hollered for me to help him, and believe me, I was tryin',
But that quicksand was hard to move in, and I seemed unearthly slow...
Before I could clear the bog-hole, Slim was dealt a mortal blow.

That bull swapped ends and came so fast -- I had no time for fear!
I remember seein' him come at me, then things became unclear.
I was down in the bog-hole on my back with my arms across my face.
Lucky for me, that bull had seen all he wanted to of that place!
With a final slam of his crooked horns, he pushed me down in the slime,
Then he returned to Slim and his horse to gore 'em one more time.

I remember getting out of the mud feeling more dead than alive,
And slowly crawlin' to where I'd left my trusty forty-five.
On my knees, I tried to lift the gun, but the world would not hold still.
The range bull snorted and threw some dirt, ready to make his kill.
It's kinda hazy after that.  What happened I really can't say,
'Cept every time I tried to lift the gun....that Appy was in the way!

The bull was fixed on the Appy now, and I heard their bodies collide.
I heard a sound like steel-shod hooves strikin' a thick hide.
There was bellerin' and squealin', it must have been a real set-to,
But the noises quickly faded out.  It was quiet when I came to.
I painfully moved to look for the bull and found him lyin' dead.
Blood was seeping from his nose, and his eyes bugged in his head!

I tried to stand, but couldn't do it, 'cause my ribs just hurt too much.
Then, that ding-bat Appy dropped to his knees, close enough for me to touch.
Well, I thought he might be dyin', and was afraid he'd fall on me,
But he laid down beside me with a grunt, unhurt, as far as I could see.
If I could just crawl across that saddle.  Hook my gunbelt around me an' the horn,
If that Appy ever got up again, I might live to see another morn.

They say that Appy brought me back to the bunkhouse hitchin' post.
A trip into town to the sawbones was what they figured I needed most.
Others went searching along the bogs to find out what happened to Slim,
And the mud and the blood and the bodies told how it had ended for him.
Well, they buried poor Slim by the bunkhouse, under a handsome stone,
And the boss gave me that Appy....that brought me back,... all on his own.

I had a horse, when I was young, that I will never forget.
It was an Appaloosa.  I wouldn't own one now on a bet.
There's never be another horse with such an ugly speckled face...
Big baleful eyes, circled in white...no other can take his place.
Now I'm content with a sorrel or dun, a bay or buckskin, of course,
But, no other Appaloosa will ever replace....my ugly, spotted horse.

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Old Four-Eyes 

In Eighteen-eighty-three, at age twenty-five, he went West:
Fresh out of Harvard Law School, with money to invest.
He was looking for a cow ranch, of which he could be boss,
And near Medora, North Dakota, he found the Maltese Cross.
He knew nothin' of running a cow outfit, but he was game.
Tho a greenhorn, he'd give it his best shot all the same.
He was kinda sickly-lookin', and on his nose these steel frames,
So, because he wore eye-glasses, "Four-Eyes" became his name.
He seemed to have a built-in grin, that trouble couldn't erase,
No matter how tough it got, that smile stayed on his face.
The chances he took made it seem he didn't have good sense,
And with his large teeth, his smile looked like a white picket fence.
The West was pretty wild back then, still far from bein' tame,
And "Four-Eyes" favorite thing was goin' huntin' for wild game.
He learned to ride the "rough string," and an especially bad one
Bucked so hard he lost his hat, his glasses and his gun!
One night a rowdy cowboy thought this dude could be beat.
He told the whole saloon, "Boys, 'Four-Eyes' is gonna treat!"
"Four-Eyes" took it for a while, he didn't even lose his smile,
But finally sayin', "If I must, I must," he flattened him cowboy-style!
He was paid the ultimate compliment, makin' him one-of-the-guys.
His name was changed to the more affectionate, "Old Four-Eyes."
Some horse thieves thought this Eastern dude an easy mark,
Three of them rustled some horses, one night when it was dark.
"Old Four-Eyes" set out on their trail with his big Winchester rifle,
An' those thieves found out he wasn't one with whom you'd trifle!
He ran the Maltese Cross and Elkhorn ranches for 16 years,
Then he went on to bigger things that brought his country's cheers.
He called Western men who'd rode with him to form the Rough Riders.
And they followed him still, up San Juan Hill, because he was a fighter!
He became secretary of the Navy, and he served with strong intent,
And before he was done, he had become - our 26th President!
Teddy Roosevelt proved anyone can be a cowboy- if they're tough.
To smile thru adversity and danger, and never say, "Enough."
Maybe we should take a cue from this, and vow to not relent...
'Til we find another strong and true cowboy to be our President!

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Twisted History

Time has a way of corrupting the truth, a quality we once held dear.
Now, it's believe just half what you see, and none of what you hear.
I passed a road sign while driving one day, near a river called the Snake,
And I very nearly drove off the road when I did a quick double-take.
I stopped my pickup just to make sure it read what I thought it said.
A real estate firm was offering lots --in John Dodge Pioneer Homestead!

I stared at the sign for a little while, making sure its meaning was clear.
John Dodge maybe homesteaded that place, but he was certainly no pioneer!
I wasn't around back then, of course, But I've heard from ranchers who knew.
John Dodge was about as much pioneer as could be said of me or of you.
They have a term for what he was; I'll explain it to you if I can...
His folks back East paid to keep him out West; he was a "remittance man."

Those who met him soon found out why his kin had sent him out West.
He was somewhat more than a little strange.  You could call him eccentric at best!
Still, folks out West will cut you some slack, if you do act a little bit odd.
Tho they might think you're weird, they're friendly enough to still say "Howdy," or nod.
But to call John Dodge a "pioneer," well, it stretches truth beyond degree!
Just listen to some of the strange things he did, and see if you don't agree!

He chose some land near the Snake River's edge; too near the floodplain and fog,
And hired some locals to build him a house, made out of sturdy pine log.
He also had them hand-dig him a well, and they made him pay handsomely!
That hand-dug well, was wide, but not deep, as we'll learn about presently...
He had corrals built, tho he had no stock, as near as one could tell,
But he did buy a mule that he loved very much, and he named her, "Annabelle."

Well, some of the ranchers were moving their herds down to the valley floor.
They were passing by the John Dodge place, when he called to them out the door,
"Get down!  Come in!  The coffee is hot!  Sit down and rest for a spell.
I'll stir up the fire in my big cookstove and fix you some pancakes as well!"
Well, they wanted to be good neighbors, you know, and not refuse his request,
But, they'd heard that the mule was living INDOORS, and they were expecting a mess.

Annabelle couldn't come in the kitchen, so the cowboys all gathered there.
It was a tight fit for a dozen or so, but they didn't seem to care.
John Dodge didn't have enough coffee cups, so some of them drank from bowls.
He built up the fire in his cookstove, and got up a good bed of coals.
They watched as he stirred up the batter, anticipating a hot pancake feast,
But their appetites were suddenly dampened --by the arrival of a small beast.

A mouse had set up housekeeping, in the cabinet above that wood stove,
And when the heat got to be too much; right into the batter he dove!
The mouse proved to be a good swimmer, but the batter was just too thick.
He quickly expired in the mixture, and some cowboys were about to be sick.
John Dodge plucked the dead mouse out by his tail, now just a big doughy blob,
And tossed the dead rodent out of the door, with an easy, non-chalant lob.

To their great dismay, he did not throw away the batter that had been fouled.
He continued to stir, then started to pour, the batter, when one of them howled,
"You're not gonna use that batter now - where the mouse was swimming about?"
John said, "I firmly believe whatever it touched when with it when I pulled it out."
Suffice to say, no cowboy that day seemed to have a real big appetite.
Offers of "seconds" where politely declined, 'cause eating the "firsts" was a fight!

There was little chance then for John ever again to host the cowboys after that day.
The men herding cows always managed somehow to get there some other way!
I wish I could say this was the worst day to occur at the John Dodge Estate,
But time's curtain fell, and the mule Annabelle, eventually met her fate.
John's grief was great when Annabelle died.  Three days he mourned her demise.
After that length of time, she began to smell bad, her body blown up by the flies.

John Dodge hired a man who had a horse team to help pull the dead mule outside,
But the carcass had swollen to such an extent, and the doorway was not very wide.
She got stuck half-way to most of the day and all further pulling seemed vain.
John Dodge then helped him to remove the door trim, and they hooked up to pull her again.
Now, the horses wore blinders, so they couldn't see just what they were pulling on,
Yet, they were spooky because of the smell, and the light was beginning to dawn.

The next attempt seemed to make progress against their foul smelling impasse,
But the increased pressure because of the pull caused a great expelling of gas!
The passage of air through those dead vocal chords made a strange and horrible sound,
And try as he might, the teamster could not keep those horses from looking around.
That black, hairy mass the cabin door brought an instant reaction of fright!
The tugs jerked tight, the collars went pop!  Those horses leaped into full flight!

Eyes staring wide, the team hit full stride, like a bat escaping from Hell!
And there in their path, stood the frame of that - aforementioned hand-dug well.
In their mad race, they did not slacken pace, but passed one horse on each side,
And with a clatter of boards the little well house was taken along for the ride!
With all the wreckage around their legs, the horse team soon became stopped.

They had drug Annabelle out behind them, and now--into the well she dropped!
All efforts, sad to tell, to pull the mule from the well, were met with no success.
John Dodge then said, "I firmly believe - Annabelle has at last found her rest."
So they hauled in some rocks and filled up the well, and he put a marker there,
And he conducted a funeral for that old mule as good as you'd see anywhere.

Now this is not all the old-timers recall of the funny things old John Dodge did.
And, now, here's this sign, John Dodge Pioneer Homestead.  Who are they trying to kid?

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



I got the above story from the late Rod Lucas of the Box-L Ranch in Jackson, Wyoming.   The last time I was out there, his daughter, Jennifer, read this poem as said, "That's exactly what happened, and did you know that when they pulled the mule out of the cabin they also pulled almost all the logs on the front of the cabin out?"   The introduction to the poem is also true.  There was a real estate development at the junction of Highway 22 and Teton Village Road, the old homestead of John Dodge, that inspired me to write the poem.


The Newton General Massacre

There's a wild tale of old that's seldom been told;
It's known by just a few.
Of the Newton General Massacre, a gun-fight disaster;
That tale I now tell you.
Newton, Kansas, the town where it all came down,
Was a wild and reckless burg.
T'was a railhead town, and the final bed ground
For many a big Texas herd.
T'was the site of a battle, where men herding cattle
Were must cruelly shot down.
How these men met their fate, I will now relate;
From the story passed around.
It involves two men who became busom friends;
Their names were Mike and Jim.
Art Delaney (alias Mike McCluskie) met young Jim Riley;
and he befriended him.

Mike McCluskie had the repute of one who could shoot;
He was a Texas gun-fighter.
Because of his renown, as Night Marshal in town,
He soon made things much quieter.
Each day without fail, He and James walked from the jail
To the Newton City Dump;
Which they shot up much, plugging bottles and such;
From off the top of a stump.
James was a good student.  Perhaps faster than prudent;
He learned how to handle a gun.
The stage was now set for an awful blood-let;
From something that started as fun.

Bill Bailey, a Texas son, was a Special Policeman;
Hired to guard the election booth.
But he started drinking, pretty soon he was stinking;
Acting quarrelsome and uncouth.
Folks were appalled, Mike McCluskie was called;
And he took Bill Bailey in hand.
He was quickly disarmed, and nobody was harmed;
The election went on as planned.

But later that night, Bailey, spoiled for a fight,
Met Mike by the Red Front Saloon.
He told all the crowd, in a voice very loud,
That McCluskie would be treating soon.
Mike, of course, refused, then was quickly abused,
As Bill Bailey attacked like a goon.
He struck Mike in the face, in front of the place,
And in doing so he sealed his fate.
Realizing what he'd done, Bill went for his gun;
But his thought was a little too late.
Tho among the best, poor Bill failed the test,
and in doing so he met disaster.
Many folks barely saw his lightning-fast draw,
But Mike McCluskie was faster.

His aim was the best, Bill was hit in the chest,
And the local doctor, he tried;
Doing his best, but Bill went to his rest,
When at eight the next morning, he died.
Young James Riley then, ran to tell his good friend
That he would need to be riding.
Mike disappeared then to the Little Arkansas bend,
Where he would find safe hiding.

The Texas cowmen, bossed by Hugh Anderson,
Were looking to settle the score.
Bailey had been a friend, a fellow "Texican,"
And that fanned the flames even more.
Trail boss Anderson, was good with a gun,
And the cowboys wanted revenge.
They'd be in town when McCluskie came 'round,
And Bailey would be avenged!
McCluskie hid out, 'til he felt no doubt,
The whole thing had time to cool down.
On a Saturday night, not expecting a fight,
Mike McCluskie rode back into town.

In Tuttle's Dance Hall, he was having a ball,
Playing cards with a young drover;
But Bailey's friends heard, and they sent word
For Hugh Anderson to come over.
The Texas cowboys smiled, things seemed reconciled,
And Mike thought it was grand.
Then the door swung wide, and stepping inside,
Was Hugh Anderson, gun in hand.

The two men had words, a shot was heard;
Mike McCluskie was hit in the neck.
Struggling to stand, he filled his gun hand,
But all that was heard was a click.
His gun had mis-fired, poor McCluskie expired,
And slowly sank to the floor.
Anderson fired another round while McCluskie was down
Just as Riley entered the door.
Young James stopped to stare at the awful scene there;
His face turned white with shock.
With rage his heart burned; he deliberately turned,
and pushed the door bolt in the lock.

Then, turning around, his hand quickly found
The Colt pistol, a gift from his friend.
They were all locked inside, with no place to hide,
And now he'd extract his revenge.
When the shooting begun, he first shot Anderson,
Then others as they grabbed their gun.
Nothing fancy or cute, just point and shoot;
Work the hammer with the off-hand thumb.
Smoke and flame was the name of the game,
As they fell 'neath his deadly assault.
Then, in silence complete, Riley, still on his feet,
Ran out the back before being caught.

The townspeople, of course, soon got the door forced;
And came on a terrible sight.
The fight's horrible toll, was five lost souls;
One badly wounded in the fight.
Since that terrible night, when he quickly took flight,
No one has ever seen young Jim.
He was soundly blamed for those killed and maimed,
But the fight didn't start with him.
Some say Doc Middleton, a fast man with a gun,
Was the Riley who settled the score.

The people of the town all agreed to shut down
The violence that had gone before.
The next year Newton city had a law and order committee
That soon got things quieted down.
Soiled doves and gamblers, gunfighters and ramblers,
Had twelve hours to get outta town!
Their efforts were blessed, the tracks went on West,
And Newton's hey-day was over.
The rowdy element all got up and went;
No cows meant no more Texas drovers.
If you're ever in Newton, it's not high-falootin',
Just a little town progress passed by.
But there was a day, if you were out Kansas way,
When it was a good place to die!

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Neal Torrey writes, "I happen to think that the James Riley who was in the "General Massacre" was the same James Riley who later changed his name to Doc Middleton, who was a famous outlaw in Northwestern Nebraska and Southwestern South Dakota.  Harold Hutton, who wrote the book, The Luckiest Outlaw, which is the life story of Riley/Middleton, did not make this connection.  But, at the time of the "Massacre," James Riley had disappeared from Blanco County, Texas, where he had killed a man.  (Possibly his 3rd)  And, his brother (or half-brother), John D. Riley, was on a cattle drive to Fort Zarah, Kansas.  I suspect that young James joined up with his brother on the cattle drive and that placed him in Kansas at the time of the shooting.  It seems unlikely that two James Rileys were in that part of Kansas at the same time, both of whom were known killers. Anyway, I think it was the Riley who became Doc Middleton who did the shooting in Newton.



Horseshoes

Did you ever sit and ponder, have you ever stopped to wonder,
Why horseshoes seem to have all the luck?
When life pitches you a sinker, or your fire becomes a clinker,
And you find you're deeply mired in the muck...
When trouble comes to fell you, no one really needs to tell you
Life throws more at us than we can duck.
When you discover a horseshoe, and nail it up, of course you
Must invert it so the luck does not run out.
I harbor a real suspicion, that's just a silly superstition.
Horseshoes make their own luck without doubt.
The horseshoe lasts much longer, because it's made much stronger
Than the rocky ground we travel in this life.
Because it's been super-heated, it's not about to be defeated
By any heat that comes from daily strife.
A sudden plunge in icy water must certainly be a shocker,
But it gets those metal molecules aligned.
Tempered by the two extremes, however shocking that it seems,
That horseshoe will meet any test it finds.
When God puts you in the fire and the temperature goes higher,
It's done so that your gold may be refined.
When life hits you with a shocker, like a plunge in icy water,
God has put you through a special kind of test.
Each trip thru the Refiner's fire, and the tempering that transpires,
Is God's special way of bringing out your best.

Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Riding the Grub Line

"Where am I going?" (the biscuit stopped in mid-air) "Well, that's hard to say.
It's North I'm headin', can't say exactly where.  I've rode a long, long way.
Why am I travelin' ?  Well, that's a long story and I wouldn't want to bore.
You don't mind hearin' ?  Well, it's nothing gory, and I have told it before.
It's a wound to my heart, and hard to understand why all this happened to me.
I was working hard, riding for the brand, of the good ol' Double-bar-V"
Now, I'm tops at ropin', and that is pure fact.  No brag, but I can do it all.
Twenty years of working.  A good hand horseback.  Rode the roundup every Fall.
The boss one morning comes into the bunkhouse to assign each of us our work.
I was always willing, never one to grouse.  I sure never was one to shirk.
He says, "C'mon outside, I got a special job for you, n' you're certainly the best one."
I swelled up with pride, being picked from the crew.  He knows how I get things done.
He says with a grin, 'You're a man with go.  You're one with real horse sense.
We'll be keepin' a cow in, for milking, y'know, so I need you to build some fence.
When the fence is done, so the cow will stay, we'll be needing fresh milk daily.
And you'll be the one to do the milking each day, 'cause my wife is havin' a baby.'

Well, that hit me hard, right below the belt, that the boss would treat me so!
Right there in the yard, I told him how I felt!  Said it was time for me to go!
No sure-enough cowhand would stoop so low as to go to stringin' bob wire!
It was more'n I'd stand, and I told him so, in language that raised his ire!
And I told him plain, so there'd be no mistake, that I wasn't milkin' no cow!
I took a bag of grain, and saddled old Jake, and I've been riding North 'til now!"
"So you're a hard worker?" she inquired softly, "and never one to shirk?"
"Ma'am, I'm a corker!", my tone was lofty, "I've never been afraid of work!"
"Well, Mr. Jones," says she, "How good you're here!  Y'see my husband is hurt.
He's been laid up, y'see.  That mean bull, I fear, has hooked a horn in his shirt.
His ribs are badly bent, he can't do any work, and the chores are 'way behind!
Why, you're Heaven-sent!  Since that bull went berserk, I've nearly lost my mind!
As soon as you've et, I'll show you the tools, and then you'll want to get started.
And I'll just bet that you'll love the mules, 'cause they're gentle and kind-hearted.
There's wood to split, and fences to splice, and you can finish butchering that bull.
My first shot hit right between his eyes, as you'll see when you skin out his skull.
I had big plans for that Hereford bull, but he has failed to live up to his billing.
So, as it stands, with my plate so full, anything that don't work...needs killing!
Now, hitch up the team, I must go to town to get medicine for my poor man.
If you're all you seem, by the time I return, you'll have all these chores well in hand!"
He worked hard until the mules and wagon noise had diminished in his ears.
As they topped the hill, he quickly saddled his horse. Fastest he'd moved in years!
He lit a shuck, while there was plenty of day, putting old Jake on a lope up the track.
With any luck, he would be hours away--before that gun-toting woman came back!
"Boys, learn a lesson in time, from one who's rode drag, and seen a thing or two.
When riding the grub line, don't never brag--on how much work you can do!"

2002, Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The Ballad of Whispering Boone

He paused at the swingin doors and eye-balled the entire saloon.
He cast a long shadow on the floor, from the bright sunshine of Noon.
His hard eyes roved, checking us out, not a single soul was exempt.
His scornful gaze left no doubt he viewed us all with contempt.

He wore two Colts, tied down low.  We knew we were seeing a ringer.
Hat pulled low, black as a crow, the rattlesnake band said, "Gunslinger!"
He asked the bar man for gin, then sat with his back to the wall,
Over where the light was dim, where he had a good view of us all.

Our card game then resumed, with no one making any fuss.
It was probably safe to assume that he wasn't looking for us.
Then, in a voice that rang loud in that tense and quiet saloon,
The stranger asked the crowd if we knew "Whispering Boone."

Of course, we all knew the gent.  A local celebrity, you might say.
His normal voice up and went when a lynch-rope took it away.
Young Boone and Tim McMann were rivals for a rancher's daughter.
Deciding Tim couldn't have her hand, she returned the ring he bought her.

Stolen horses found on Boone's land made it seem he was a horse thief.
They'd been left there by Tim McMann, trying to bring Young Boone to grief.
Several horses had been taken lately.  It appeared Young Boone did the job.
The townspeople reacted irately.  Tim McMann turned them into a mob.

Young Boone found the stolen horses.  He hurried to town at a lope.
McMann's ranch hands incited the crowd.  One yelled, "I've got a rope!"
Boone meant to report the horses found, but was pulled down by angry men.
Suddenly he found himself on the ground, a hangman's noose under his chin.

The Sheriff arrived a few seconds late.  The mob got what they were after.
It seemed Young Boone had met his fate.  He swung from a livery barn rafter.
Some friends quickly cut him down, but his neck took an awful cinching.
Barely able to make a sound, he vowed he'd avenge his lynching.

He was lucky to still be alive, but his vocal cords had met their doom.
Of his voice, just a whisper remained. Hence the nickname, "Whispering Boone."
Daily he practiced his fast draw.  He worked hard at it like it was a job,
Becoming the quickest you ever saw.  They he went after the lynch mob.

His revenge was swift and sure.  He settled the score with hot lead.
His injury received a cure of sorts.  The lynch leaders wound up dead.
Frontier justice was hard and fast, dispensed with the roar of a gun.
But enmity will sometimes last, with new problems often begun.

Old George McMann wanted revenge.  He sent for a professional gun hand,
So his son, Tim, might be avenged.  This black-hatted feller was the man.
Just then the swinging doors opened, flashing the brightness of Noon,
And the saloon's quiet mood was broken.  At the door stood "Whispering Boone."

His eyes locked on the gunslinger, who had suddenly jumped to his feet.
Boone smiled and pointed his finger, whispering, "Meet me out in the street."
The gunslinger said, "How's this going to be?  I'm willing to do it your way."
Boone whispered, "How about I count three?" The gunfighter smirked, "That's okay."

At twenty paces they took their stand.  Suddenly the gunfighter felt fear.
Boone's lips were moving.  He flexed his gun hand. "Speak up, will you, I can't hear!"
Suddenly the gunfighter was confused.  How many times had Boone's lips moved?
Is he counting?  Was that a two?  The gunfighter, in a panic, suddenly drew.

He never knew who won that day.  He had paid the ultimate cost.
He never heard the soft whisper say, "So sorry, Mister.  You lost."

2002, Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

The Laramie Kid

The West holds many stories of the deeds that some men did.
Perhaps one of the strangest, is the tale of "The Laramie Kid."
His name was Frank T. Hopkins, the best rider the West ever saw.
His father was a cavalry scout, his mother a Lakota Sioux squaw.
He grew up at Fort Laramie.  Learned to ride with his Indian kin.
On mustangs they hunted the Buffalo before the herds met their end.
As a teenager he carried dispatches to Generals Miles and Crook.
He rode both Remounts and Mustangs and gave them a critical look.
He admired the heart of the Mustang, with his spirit so wild and free.
His bones dense, his hooves hard, from running on rocks and scree.
Fine tuned by his fight for survival, the Mustang had intelligence,
Escaping from Cougars and wolves, his speed was his best defense.
Frank Hopkins favored the Mustang, and he bred some of the best.
The Cayouse  helped him to be called, "the greatest rider in the West."
He won four hundred endurance rides.  In training, he was an expert.
Some said of his winning ways, "He always took care of his horses first."
He joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, in farcical,  play-acting glory,
To show Eastern audiences how it was, telling the Old Wild West story.
A challenge came from an Eastern Trader to ride the "Ocean of Fire."
Three-thousand miles across desert sand that could be his funeral pyre.
He would be pitted against Bedouin riders on the finest Arabian horses.
Hot desert, little water, and sandstorms made it the toughest of courses.
His choice of mount would be "Hidalgo," a Spanish term for Nobility,
An eight-year-old Mustang stallion, great-hearted and enduring was he.
It was an honor to be invited to race, but the entry money was lacking.
The Congress of Rough Riders pitched in to provide all of his backing.
He made the three-thousand miles in 68 days, beating Arabia's best.
Sandstorms, short provisions, difficult terrain, it was an awful test.
It was not a photo-finish, Hidalgo called on all his Mustang powers.
He beat the second-place competitor by a full thirty-three hours!
After all these years, Revisionist historians tell a much different story.
They love to say that Frank Hopkins lied,  wanting to steal his glory.
There is little proof surviving,. Eighteen-Ninety was a long time ago.
What convinces me...was who it was that came up with the dough.
The Congress of Rough Riders was a tough group of Western cowboys.
They knew horses, and they knew the horseman in Buffalo Bill's employ.
My money is on Frank T. Hopkins, known as "The Kid from Laramie."
If he was believed in by those cowboys, well, that's good enough for me.

2004, Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Neal told us that he wrote this poem "after seeing the movie, 'Hidalgo.'  The movie was not quite accurate, but it was close.  The historical revisionists are now saying that Frank T. Hopkins was the world's biggest liar, but my poem doesn't agree." 

 


The Sojourner
A tribute to a poet

Rarely, too rarely, from the sea of humanity, there comes one with a special gift.
Seldom, too seldom, in this world of inanity, comes one whose calling is to lift.
Observant, a servant, seeing more than others see, feeling deeper, loving more.
Tender, a spender, giving more than received, generous, and never keeping score.

Watching, and catching, things others do not see, faithfully recording each event,
Writing, and inviting us to read about these things, artfully sharing what was meant.
Baring, and sharing private thoughts and observations, penned honestly with style,
Recording, and affording us a written legacy, and making it seem better by a mile.

Poets, they know it, the magic of the written word, skillfully recounting what was seen.
Sometimes, in their rhymes, creating whole new worlds, painted in alien color schemes.
Lifting, and gifting us with carrots for the mind, leading us to think on higher planes.
Firing, and inspiring, our minds to reach and grow, stretching up to ever higher gains.

Writer, word fighter, frustrated bard and sage, it's so hard to say what's on your heart.
Better, far better, to know if you succeed, some yet unborn may marvel at your art.
Versifier, rhyme trier, if you will but do your best, you will get the proper words aligned.
Someday, in some way, your legacy may be to life...inspiring people of another time.

Rhymer, high climber, as you seek to tell the world, of the special vision that is yours,
Mounting and recounting as you ascend life's way, documenting carefully your tours.
Grieving, at leaving, with so much left unsaid, so many things not written down in time.
Better, far better, to have filled so many sheets, than to leave behind a pad with no lines.

2005, Neal Torrey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

In 2005, Neal told us: Last March we lost a cowboy poet in Claremore, Oklahoma by the name of Tim Myers. He was President of the Oklahoma Western Heritage, Inc., and one of the four cowboys who rode from the Murrah Building in OKC to the World Trade Center "Ground Zero" in New York City.  They arrived on September 11, to commemorate the terrorist attack and to indicate that the folks in Oklahoma shared in their sorrow and loss.  

Tim organized the "Ride for America" in which he and three other cowboys rode horseback from the Murrah Bldg. in Oklahoma City to "Ground Zero" in New York City.  They picked up many riders along the way, and had a good group by the time they arrived in New York City on September 11.  

As they passed through Missouri, some members of the Missouri Cowboy Poets Association joined their campfires to recite and sing for them. We also provided their "Cowboy Church" service as they passed by Springfield.  One group that joined them was a bunch of inner city kids in a group called, "Vision Quest," and they ride horses and care for them themselves.  They wear shirts reminiscent of the "Buffalo Soldiers" of the Old West, and provided traffic control for the Ride for America trip. [(See an article about the Ride For America here)]

Tim died of a sudden heart attack.  The large church was packed to the walls.  The young people, and there were a great many, were asked to stand so that older folks could sit in the pews.  He was a hero to young and old in Claremore.  

Several cowboy poets were there.  Mick Dundom, who wrote a lot of the poems Tim performed, Chuck Beggs, from Texas, Wanda Cothren, "The Kiamichi Songbird" of Claremore, who sang three beautiful songs at the funeral.

 

See Neal Torrey's Goat Christmas and Celebrating Christmas in Big Piney, Wyoming
in the collection of Holiday Poems from 2001


 

 

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