The Long Horn Speaks (poem)
Concernin' Bill (story)
for the City Dweller ~ The Old Night Hawk
The Old Night Hawk (poem)
About The Educated Fellers
Old-time cowboy music by Bill Siems and Ted Hensold
Open Range; Collected Poems of Bruce Kiskaddon (2007) separate page
From Shorty's Yarns, reproduced from Western Livestock Journal, November 24, 1932
The Long Horn Speaks
The old long horn looked at the prize winning steer,
And he grumbled, "What sort of a thing is this here?
He ain't got no laigs and his body is big,
I sort of suspicion he's crossed with a pig.
Now me! I can run, I can gore, I can kick,
But that feller's too clumsy for all of them tricks.
They're breedin' such critters and callin' em Steers!
Why the horns that he's got ain't as long as my ears.
I cain't figger what he'd have done in my day.
They wouldn't have stuffed me with grain and with hay;
Nor have polished my horns and have fixed up my hoofs,
And slept me on beddin' in under the roofs.
Who'd have curried his hide and have fuzzed up his tail?
Not none of them riders that drove the long trail.
They'd have found mighty quick jest how fur her could jump
When they jerked a few doubles of rope off his rump.
And to me it occurs he would not look so slick
With his tail full of burrs and his hide full of ticks.
I wonder jest what that fat feller would think,
If he lived on short grass and went miles fer a drink.
And wintered outdoors in the sleet and the snow.
He wouldn't look much like he does at the show.
I wouldn't be like him; no, not if I could.
I caint figger out why they think he's so good.
His little short laigs and his white baby face—
I could finish him off in a fight or a race.
They've his whole fam'ly hist'ry in writin', and still,
He ain't fit fer nothin' exceptin' to kill.
And all of them judges that thinks they're so wise,
They look at that critter and give him first prize."
reprinted from Shorty's Yarns - Western Stories and Poems of Bruce Kiskaddon, Utah State University Press
Introduction ~ An Uncommon Waddy
by Bill Siems, excerpted from Shorty's Yarns
Writing of his life on the range, Bruce Kiskaddon always presented himself as a common waddy, a hired man on horseback. But to the readers of his poems and stories in the Western Livestock Journal during the 1930s and '40s he was a star— "the best cowboy poet that ever wrote a cowboy poem." On a monthly schedule he cast nuggets of experience into meter and rhyme and spun loosely autobiographical yarns with the dry, understated humor so valued in cowboy culture. His settings were the arid Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona locales he knew and loved. The time was his young manhood, the two decades on either side of 1900 when barbed wire took the last of the open range, often told from a 1930s present to frame an old man's reminiscences or to speak of the survival or demise of old ways. His Depression-wracked readers were ranching at a time when scientific breeding, feedlots, and corporate organization were on the rise. Modern agribusiness was crowding out both the tough range cattle that had fed on whatever they could find and the tough but inefficient extended families of owners, cow bosses, and waddies that had been the social and economic fabric of the West. Nostalgia ran high as ranchers struggled to adapt old knowledge and values to the accelerating pace of change. Through the 1930s the Western Livestock Journal served the needs of its audience well, with a solid diet of practical market, feeding, and breeding information, leavened with reminiscences and gossip appealing to the old-timers. Kiskaddon was their most compelling reminiscent writer, for his voice spoke directly to the hearts of his readers through the medium of shared experience.
That's why I'm giving you warning — there's something I could not tell:
The joys as clear as the morning — the tortures akin to hell.
They never will reach outsiders, who were raised in the town's confines;
But they're here for the hard old riders, who can read them between the lines.
(From "Between the Lines")
He spoke with an amused detachment from ambition, with a wry, uncomplaining tolerance for the foibles of humans and animals, and with a worker's willingness to do whatever needed to be done.
He looked upon life as a sort of a joke.
He didn't want money, but he never was broke.
But when things got in earnest he shore could talk sense,
And he could shoe hosses, mend wagons and fence.
(From "The Drifter")
Most importantly for his rural readers struggling through the Depression, Kiskaddon spoke up for the lowly, and had a survivor's resolve to face the future squarely, even though gripped by sorrow for a loved, unrecoverable past.
I liked the way that we used to do, when cattle was plenty and folks was few...
The waddy that came on a company hoss was treated the same as the owner and boss...
Them good old days is past and gone. The time and the world and the change goes on,
And you cain't do things like you used to do when cattle was plenty and folks was few.
(From "The Old Time Christmas")
Fifty years after his death, Kiskaddon's poetry remains alive in new anthologies and oral tradition, but his prose has been virtually forgotten. This is unfortunate, for his stories are worth saving. Less polished and more broadly humorous than the poems, filled with spectacular misspellings to mimic western ranch speech, the stories are a loosely tied string of old-timers' yarns, in which Kiskaddon himself appears as the character "Shorty." As a common waddy with a small man's feistiness and a young man's mischief, Shorty encounters the wicked world with a succession of companions: Bill, high-headed and a bit of an outlaw; Rildy Briggs, untamable and unstoppable young cowgirl; and Ike, an old-fashioned dandy and "a very fortunate person." More or less in the background is "the Boss"—actually a series of bosses—generally affectionately respected as long as he remains democratic in his dealings with the waddies. Buffoonery is provided by a succession of pompous characters, from townspeople who look down their noses on wild, unwashed waddies to professors from the East who have read books on how ranches should be run. Although the actors at first seem straight from stock, they often have realistically quirky human behavior. Many otherwise predictably funny stories have unexpected turns of events where love, death and other serious matters suddenly crop up. Aside from a few adaptations of familiar rangeland jokes, the stories have the feeling of actual events presented through composite characters assembled from real remembered people whose names have been changed simply to "protect the innocent." From the right sort of old-timer, such tales are irresistible:
Well, it wasn't so excitin', Like a buckin' hoss or fightin', Or a rattle snake a bitin',
But when all was said and done;
All your life you never tire, Of the yarns told by some liar, That you really did admire,
As he set there in the sun.
Kiskaddon's stories are not well known, so perhaps I should relate how they came to light. Searching for Kiskaddon poems in a library volume of the Western Livestock Journal, I was delighted by a chance encounter with "The Fortune Teller Sends Ike Fishing," an amusing tale of Ike and Shorty which clearly had a precursor and promised a sequel. The existence of stories by Kiskaddon had been totally unknown to me, and I began to search for more. My excitement grew as additional stories turned up, but my greatest surprise was finding the autobiographical sketch comprising chapter 1 of this volume, accompanied by the grainy halftone photograph of a hat-shaded Kiskaddon in spectacles that appears on the title page. It then became my purpose to discover as many stories as possible by combing through all the volumes I could find of Western Livestock Journal. Eventually the search covered issues from 1924 through Kiskaddon's death in December 1950 and beyond, and turned up sixty-four articles published from August 1932 through October 1939.
One of the reasons that Kiskaddon's poems have been remembered when the stories have not, why they were clipped from the Western Livestock Journal and pasted in ranch family albums or saved from the monthly calendars published by the Los Angeles Union Stockyards, is that many of the poems are beautifully illustrated with line drawings created in ink by Katherine Field. Field was a New Mexico rancher with little more formal training for her art than Kiskaddon had for his. Although the poems were usually created first and sent to Field to be illustrated, these collaborations often fit together so well that it is remarkable the results were obtained without face to face communication. However it was done, Field and Kiskaddon were sufficiently attuned to produce a truly collaborative result, with poem and drawing so intertwined that the removal of one diminishes the other. Field's drawings are sometimes mistaken for the work of Will James, by whom she was clearly influenced, but she surpasses him in her ability to create a real sense of place and weather with a few well-chosen strokes. Her renditions of horses and horse behavior are especially fine. The search through library archives for Kiskaddon's stories also turned up Katherine Field drawings which are not well known and which have become separated from the poems they originally illustrated. To show some of these rejoined pairs, this volume uses illustrated poems to introduce each of the chapter divisions of the stories. To my knowledge only the illustrations for "After the Fall Roundup," "Thinkin'," and "All Dressed Up" have previously been reprinted with their poems since their original publication in the Western Livestock Journal or the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendars.
The high regard for Kiskaddon and Field in the ranching world, coupled with fragmentary knowledge of their personal and artistic lives, has surrounded them with an aura on its way to becoming legend. But knowledge is preferable to romance, and I am grateful to have had communications with members of the families of Kiskaddon and Field, who have shared their memories and stories. Based on discussions in the spring and summer of 2003 with Katherine Field's daughter, Dorothy Chapin, and with Bruce Kiskaddon's granddaughter, Lynn Held, plus a brief examination of Held's extensive collection of Kiskaddon memorabilia, I have been able to add some detail to the sketches of the lives of Kiskaddon and Field. These biographical sketches are only a starting point, with more to be gained from the Kiskaddon memorabilia and deeper interviews with Held and Chapin. The family memories and artifacts of Kiskaddon and Field should be preserved in a public repository, and I hope that publication of this collection will help catalyze that preservation.
Those who enjoy the poems and stories of Bruce Kiskaddon and the drawings of Katherine Field are indebted to three men, without whose backing much of their work would never have been created. Kiskaddon and Field were working people with other jobs throughout their creative lives. Like other unsalaried artists with day jobs, they needed sufficient financial reward to justify pouring extra time and energy into creative work, no matter how much they loved it. Nelson R. Crow was the founder, editor, and publisher of the Western Livestock Journal and one of Kiskaddon's earliest promoters. John A. McNaughton was general manager and vice president of the Los Angeles Union Stockyards and the initiator of a long-running series of monthly advertising calendars that published even more of the illustrated poems than did the Western Livestock Journal. Frank M. King was the associate editor of the Western Livestock Journal who controlled the Longhorn and Mavericks sections in which nearly all the Kiskaddon material appeared. King knew Katherine Field's family, looked upon her as his protégée, and almost certainly brought her into the publishing projects.
Finally, there would probably be nothing at all to read without the intervention of Kiskaddon's friend and former boss, Tap Duncan:
During the summer of 1922 I was working for G. T. (Tap) Duncan in northwestern Arizona. Sometimes I would parody songs to suit local happenings or write verses and different jingles about what took place on the work. Duncan insisted that I try writing some Western Verse. "Just what really happens," he said. I have done so and there has been an ever increasing demand for them.
(From Kiskaddon’s Introduction to Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems )
Kiskaddon's implication that he first wrote poetry in 1922 is at least misleading, for there is strong evidence that he started earlier. The Held collection contains newspaper clippings which clearly suggest that he wrote poetry long before 1922, and a 1919 letter in the collection, from Kiskaddon to his mother, contains a well-crafted poem. John Lomax's 1919 book Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp contains a close version of "When You're Throwed," a poem that appeared in Kiskaddon's first book in 1924, but which must have been composed before 1919 and had probably appeared in a newspaper, perhaps after entering oral tradition. It may be that Kiskaddon first formed the serious intention to write poetry in 1922, and discounted his earlier efforts. This leaves open the possibility that Duncan's encouragement occurred during an earlier period of association, perhaps around 1915.
© 2004, Bill Siems
Excerpted with permission from Shorty's Yarns - Western Stories and Poems of Bruce Kiskaddon, Utah State University Press
Shorty's Yarns includes detailed notes, comments, and bibliographic references for this introduction and subsequent chapters.
The above introduction is continued in Shorty's Yarns with many pages of compelling biographical information.
photo courtesy Utah State University Press
Kiskaddon's portrait from the title page of the editor's copy of Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems
Kiskaddon's portrait from the title page of Shorty's Yarns
photo courtesy Utah State University Press
by Bruce Kiskaddon, excerpted from Shorty's Yarns
Speakin' of Bill, the first I ever see him is at a little mountain town up in Colorado when we was both a heap younger than what we are now.
I was lookin' into a mirror, which same don't give no favorable opinion of myself, so I takes to lookin' at a large pitcher on the wall. It was a large lady in Mae West clothes and she is settin' by a table and holdin' up a big glass of beer.
There was the pitcher of a goat mixed up in the affair but things was sorter hazy at the time and time ain't improved things none as regards the goat. I hears argyment at the other end of the bar and a feller is sayin' that this here country is so mountainous that there ain't no room to do nothin'.
Then I hears Bill say, "You're shore wrong there, this country is stood up on end like, and you got four sides and the top to use whuras in a level country you got only the top. As fer it bein' rough I mostly been able to git what I went after around here." "Yeh," sez the other feller, "and leave most of youre clothes and a lot of youre hide on the bresh." "Clothes don't make the man," sez Bill. "No but they go a long ways toward keepin' him frum freezin' to death in the winters they've got up in these parts," sez the other feller.
Well I goes out and forks my hoss and starts up to where I am workin' and who ketches up with me but Bill and we git right friendly. About three miles up the creek we find a hand that has been throwed and kicked in the head and his brains is oozin' out. We finds his hoss and there is a big spur track across the saddle so we figger it is an accident. We goes back to town and gits a buckboard and the doctor. When the doctor gits there he looks at the feller and sez, "That's his brains." "Shore is," I sez. "Can you two fellers swear that this man was a cow puncher?" asks the doctor. Bill sez he can and I remarks that he was in a work I was on about two weeks ago. The doctor takes our names and high tails it fer town and don't wait fer nothin'.
About two months later Bill and me is in town and we meet this doctor and he won't have nothin' to do with us, so after a few drinks we goes up to him and tells him to name what he's sore about. "Well," sez he, "you mind that feller you found up on the south fork of the crick with his brains knocked out? Well I went and reported to the medical world that I had made the amazin' discovery that a cow puncher had brains, and I give you two rannies fer witnesses. They wrote to some of the natives here and them natives wrote back that you two fellers was the biggest liars in these parts and so my amazin' discovery won't go down in history."
There's a heap more I can tell you about Bill but we ain't got room here on account of paper only havin' two sides.
Western Livestock Journal, May 31, 1938
Reprinted with permission from Shorty's Yarns - Western Stories and Poems of Bruce Kiskaddon, Utah State University Press
Additional Excerpts from Shorty's Yarns
selections from some of the included stories, prepared by editor Bill Siems
Duncan’s Diamond Bar, 1922 -1924, ] was my last job with a cow outfit. My eyes were bothering me and I was getting gray. In short I found out I wasn’t young any more. Punching cattle in a rough country is not an old man’s job. That is if he really gets in and makes a hand. As you get older a bucking horse can outguess you mighty quick. You are not so active if you get a horse jerked down, or if one falls with you it stoves you up a heap worse than it did years ago. And you don’t go down a rope to many big calves before you get that all gone feeling, especially if you are about five feet five.
But I still like the smell of a camp fire and like to hear the creak of saddle leather and the rattle of spurs. And I like the smell of cows. Yes even if I can tell there have been cows in the drinking water, it don’t bother me much if the mixture ain’t too strong. From “Autobiography”
A rough hand is a heap of help pervidin he has sence with it. No boss wants a feller that is allus tryin’ to make a good hoss buck and holdin’ up the crowd in the mornin’ to see him put on a wild ridin’ exhibition, and most owners would a heap ruther hear a waddy talk about how to shoe and how to keep a hoss in shape and learn him the work than about how high he can kick him in the shoulder when he’s buckin’... Lots of boys that is top hands is settin’ on the fence some wheres or hangin’ around town or [mebbyso] chuck ridin’ and don’t know why they caint work twicet fer the same outfit. But if they would take a couple of drinks to sorter give ‘em a broad view of things and generally speakin’ set down and git wise to theirselves they could figger out why some awkward hands that caint ride fer sour apples or throw a rope into the crick is allus workin’ and they aint. From “Rough Hands”
The worst snake scare I got was when I was a kid. I went out to fix some paster fence and run out of wire. I had an old ax along and I went to cut down a few buck horn [cactus] and drag into the break till next day and jest as I hit one cactus a rattler whizzed and a piece of cactus flew off and hit me in the laig. I dropped the ax and fell back on the seat of my overalls to die right now but when I grabbed fer the bit place I found there was a cactus pod there and I revived. From “Reptiles”
We drove back to Kingman [(in April 1939)] through a real Arizona night. The jack rabbits jumpin’ across the road and the stars so bright they blazed in the clear sky. But them that has ever been in
Arizonaknows and them that ain’t, well, I can’t tell ‘em anyway. The next day we went out to the Diamond Bar ranch with Mr. and Mrs. G. T. (Tap) Duncan. I used to work for them, and we had a grand visit and stayed till the next day. They got a picture of Tap and me standin’ side by each. The first trial the kodak seemed to soter balk, but the second shot they made it. Our wives said we was enough to make any kodak miss fire. We didn’t know what they meant, but we took it to mean we was plenty handsome. From “Bruce Kiskaddon Visits Old Friends in Arizona”
Bill Bascomb –
Me and Bill is makin’ a little trip to town between works…When we gits to town the train is jest pulled in and a lot of towerists is out on the platform to git some see and fresh air. Bill and me rides over to the deppo to do a little lookin’ our self, and there is a good lookin’ feller with a big moustache and a tailor made suit a tellin’ the folks all about it. This feller has on the finest pair of cowboy boots I ever see and they are all shined up and you can tell they ain’t never had no wear from spurs and stirrups; but what takes our eye is his hat. He has a big beaver Stetson, as big as a side show tent and I bet it cost twenty-five bucks if it cost a dime. He is so busy wearin’ an’ a wavin’ this here hat while he is explainin’ all the whys and whereases to the towerists that it is all he can do to find time to twist his moustache.
We are shore puzzled as to what sort of hombre he is fer he ain’t no cow man. He is all pink and white and hain’t had no more weather and hard work and bad water than a canary bird in a city home. Bill sez, “Shorty,” he sez, “I need a hat. Back my play.” The train don’t stop long and Bill has to work fast and he does. He walks over to the stranger with his old brush battered hat in his hand and smiles real pleasant like and sez, “Some hat you got there, stranger. Jest look at the difference ‘tween your hat and mine.” And he grabs that there handsome hat and hands the feller his, and before you know it Bill has put the hat on and is climbin’ onto his hoss. I does my play right now. I hollers at Bill to give the man his hat and calls him a thief and takes after him on old Jug, but he outruns me on Chunky. I gallops right back to the deppo and tells the man that I know this here waddy and that I also know the town marshal and to give me his address and I’ll see he gits his hat or that this here thievin’ cuss goes to jail, fer western folks is honest and don’t aim to be disgraced. That gent he hands me a card with his name and address all printed out on it a purpose jest fer him individual, which is a right smart idee seein’ mebby he caint write good and that it shore saves time. The train pulls out and he boards it and leaves Bill’s old hat layin’ on the platform. I takes the hat and goes over to the livery barn and in about five minutes in comes Bill.
We puts our hosses away and then we express Bill’s old hat to the stranger’s address C.O.D. Also we send him a telegram on the train that his hat has been sent, so he won’t worry no more till he gits Bill’s old hat. From “Bill Has Luck”
Bill rolled up a smoke and then he looked at me soter beat like and sez: “Shorty, do you reckon there’s them that’s so crooked that they cain’t be beat nohow.” “Meanin’ who?” I asks. “That there medicine man,” sez Bill. What’s he done now besides sell fake medicine and steal hawgs in his younger days? I asks. “Well,” Bill sez, “you see it was like this. He wanted fifty dollars fer his formerly.” His what? “His formerly,” sez Bill. “You see when folks builds medicine they have to have a formerly to go by so they git the right amount of the right stuff in the medicine and the Medicine Man reckons that fer fifty dollars he’ll sell me his formerly and then I’ll be as good a medicine man as anybody. I thinks it over but I steals out a little of his medicine and gives it to the doctor to have it assayed on the quiet, and the dock he tells me a couple days later that it ain’t nothin’ much and costs about two bits a gallon to make and won’t cure nothin’. … Well seein’ he ain’t honest I aims to learn him a lesson and I beats him down till he sez that … he’ll take fifteen dollars. I writes up a bill of sale and he reads it, but I won’t let him sign it fer a while and on the quiet I writes myself a bill of sale fer that big diamond he wears in his shirt front which he sez was the eye of a heathen idol in India. I reckon it was worth a couple thousand any way. So jest before we are ready to go I gits a chance to steal this diamond and pin it inside my pants laig. He asks me about the formerly agin and I hands him the bill of sale fer the diamond soter folded up so he will think it is the bill of sale fer the formerly and lays fifteen dollars on the old board table …. Well sir I hope to drop dead if he didn’t reach into his vest pocket and take out a leather case with five more diamonds as big as the one I stoled and put one in his shirt and shake hands good bye. I goes down to the joolry store and asts Abe Minsk what this here idol eye is worth and he l[a]ffs and sez that suckers has been knowed to pay as high as a dollar fer a hunk of glass that size. Tricky folks is tricky folks and you caint make nothin’ else out of ‘em,” sez Bill. On the way back to the ranch I tries to figger how Bill aims to win out agin family fights and buckin’ hosses, not to mention fake formerlys and diamonds. Bill shore leads a busy life. From “Bill Adjusts Matrimonial Affairs”
[In November 1936] I goes into a bar room and takes a beer to soter clear my throat, then I asks him if he knows a feller by the name of Bill Bascomb. “Shore, him and Eph Lathrop is up at the jail now,” he sez. That was enough. I goes right up to the sheriff’s office. There is a right purty young lady there at the desk. Is Eph Lathrop and Bill Bascomb here? I asks. She sez they are. What’s the charges and what’s the chance of gettin’ ‘em out? I wants to know.
She smiles and a sassy dimple comes in her cheek and she sez. “Well, there ain’t much chance. Mr. Bascomb has just been elected sheriff fer his third term and as long as he is in office Mr. Lathrop will be his chief deputy.” From “Shorty Goes Home for Armistice Day”
Rildy Briggs –
Well when we got to the school house the folks was pretty well gathered fer meetin’ and the preacher wasn’t there yet, but we soon see him a comin’ and Rildy was in the buggy and she was drivin’. Her kid brother and sister was a ridin’ along behind on a pair of old willer tailed ponies. When they gets close Rildy starts showin’ off and whips up the team and holds ‘em in to make ‘em step high. Jest then her kid brother jumps an old mare that’s runnin’ loose around there and throws a loop around her rump to spook her. The loop snaps off her rump all right but her tail is full of burrs and the rope ketches and holds. Boy Howdy! That button has his rope tied fast and the way the old mare jerks his dinky makeshift saddle off aint no ways slow. The kid lets a yell out of him and the old mare cuts apast the Preacher’s team with that saddle a flyin around on the end of the rope and the team leaves frum there right now. Before the preacher can grab the lines they’ve left the road and jumped a little arroyo. That is the team jumped it and the buggy stayed right there and Rildy and the preacher dove right over the dashboard head first and lands out on the other side. From “The Preacher Loses His Team”
I have jest turned my horse out and laid down on my bunk when up drives Rildy and her mother. We all goes out to meet ‘em and they was both a laffin’ fit to bust. They was leadin’ Bill’s hoss and Rildy sez, “Sumpthin’ must ‘a happened to pore Bill. We found this hoss with his saddle on and I reckon these is his clothes and hat that we found a layin’ up there by the ditch bridge.” “Law sakes,” sez Rildy’s mother. “I told this here youngun to let that hoss and them there clothes alone for she knowed as well as I did that pore Bill was onder that bridge a workin’ to get them weeds out before they backed the water up and busted the ditch.” But all the same the old lady was havin’ her share of the joke. She had a new pipe and her bonnet was fresh starched. The Boss’s wife looked at her right admirin’ cause she ‘peared to be as full of life and ginger as Rildy did. The boss tells me to take Bill his hoss and his clothes, so I goes and gits the old wrangle hoss and saddles him up. …
I am jest a goin’ to step onto the hoss when we hears Shep and Shag, the two dogs, a makin’ a turrible fuss around behind the barn a little ways down in the hoss paster. We runs around the barn to see what it is and fer a minute we caint really tell what is up. It ‘pears they are after some soter livin’ critter and a lot of willer bresh. And then we makes out what it is. It’s Bill and he has made hisself a screen out of two big bunches of willer bresh he’s a carryin’. The two dogs is a doin’ some team work and Bill is tryin’ to keep the bresh between him and them two dogs. I reckon he was a doin’ what in these here modern times would be called a soter fan dance. We was all so surprised that we even forgot to call the dogs off. The dogs was workin’ plum purficient and Bill’s performance was perfect. Fust he’s a wavin’ one bunch of bresh between him and the dog in front and then he’s sweepin’ the other one around behind him to purtect his laigs like a houn dog tuckin’ his tail onder him, and next thing he is squatted down and draggin’ his bresh around him in circles like an old turkey gobbler a scrapin’ his wings on the ground. The rest of us might have been struck plum silent but the language Bill is usin’ is plum loud and plenty turrible.
About then Rildy goes into action. She bounces onto that old wrangle hoss and makes fer the scrimmage or dance or what ever you want to call it, on the high lope. Them was the days when it was a argyment if it was modest fer a woman to ride straddle with a divided skirt, but Rildy’s skirts wasn’t botherin’ her none fer they was a flyin’ high, and her voice carried like a coyote’s. She had jerked down my rope and the way she flogged them dogs out frum there with a long loop was a caution to snakes. Then she takes my slicker frum behind the saddle and throws it to Bill. From “Bill Does a Fan Dance"
I lay awake and try to figger why [Rildy] wants Zeb to lick the new feller. It’s the fust time I been mad at Rildy but all the same I caint help thinkin’ what if she had been throwed and dog bit. But all the same I wish I wasn’t no runt and then mebby her or some other woman would pick me to do sumpthin’. ‘Stead of that she jest keeps on usin’ my stuff and givin’ me a shove or a slap on the ear and bossin’ me around like I was a kid, when she knows it don’t set none too good, but she keeps right on a doin’ it and seems to think it’s a heap of fun. From “Rildy and Zeb Have a Date”
The Professors –
[The Professor] pokes about fer a spell and then he looks at old Spike the off mule. Spike is standin’ all hipped over like he allus does. “Why does that animal favor his leg?” he wants to know. Mebby he aint favorin’ it I sez. Mebby he’s savin’ it fer sumpthin’. Look out! I hollers but it is too late fer he has grabbed Spike’s hint laig and Spike has kicked his pins from onder him right now. His laig aint broke but I can see it is goin’ to be sore fer a spell. He manages to git back in the wagon where he belongs and he asks, “What do you use that animal fer?” Well, I sez, [s]o fur we been a usin’ him fer a mule and have got tollable results. “He’s vicious and dangerous,” he sez. No I augers. He had on a closed bridle and when you took him by the laig he jest didn’t savvy and he kicked fust and thought afterwards. Ann Elizer he looks at me and durn if he didn’t grin ag’in. “You have no way of provin’ wheather he thought aytall either before or after he kicked,” he sez. “And regardless of what the animal’s intentions were the result was disasterous to myself.” From “Introducing the Professor”
The day follerin’ I goes up to the mountain paster to git some saddle and work hosses and I takes the perfessor along, hopin’ it will keep him and Zeb soter seperated till things blows over. There has been a big rain up above and when we git to Brushy Creek it is up bad. I tells him we had better wait till the creek runs down which won’t be over a couple of hours at most. He laffs at me and wants to know what I’m skeerd of. He sez that there little creek aint over fifty feet wide right now and that a feller can jump acrost it most times. I allows him that p’int but I tells him that a man is crazy to ride sech water.
Then he told me that he has swum as much as three mile at a time in the ocean and that I am tryin’ to pick a load into him. It wasn’t no use to argy with him so I jest gits off and loosens my cinch to let my hoss rest till the water run down; likewise the perfessor. I hears him start and looks and he is ridin’ right in. I yells at him but it aint no use. Boy! Howdy! Old Chunky rolled plum over but he got his front feet on the bank and scrambled out. A rope aint no use in that brush water so I runs to where the current swirls in ag’in the bank and grabs a stout brush to keep me from bein’ pulled in. The perfessor is rollin’ like a tumble weed only he is out of sight most of the time but luck is with us, and jest as he washes in ag’in the bank he happens to come up wrong end to. But them puffy ridin’ pants is what saves him. I grabs him by the seat of the britches. All the pants that he wasn’t occupyin’ was full of water and they shore did go squersh when I takes a holt. But they was made of good stuff and stands the drag till I gits him swung around to where I land him. From “Shorty Rescues the Second Perfessor”
Ike Fenner –
Well one day there was a little circus come to the town and the boss allows me and Ike can go to the show and then bring some stuff to the ranch the next day. We takes the wagon and goes to town and that evenin’ in rides the boss horseback. When we gits ready to go home Ike is purty drunk and he is all stirred up about a snake charmer he has seen in one of the side shows. The boss aint much of a saddle man so he tells Ike to ride his hoss and he will go in the wagon with me. Ike is shore drunk and he musta had a small bottle on him fer it looked like mebby he’d ride all the way, and then ag’in it looked like mebby he mightn’t. We was about half way when Ike slides off his hoss and gits down on his haunches and waddles around like a walkin’ toad. He is makin’ his arms wave. We was loaded heavy and the team couldn’t run up hill. Take the lines quick! I hollers to the boss and grabs the whip and starts a runnin’ fer Ike fer I knowed he was a doin’ the snake charmer act and I knowed by the way the hoss was a actin’ that he was a foolin’ with a shore ‘nough rattle snake. Ike was so drunk that when he balanced to make the forrud bow he lost his balance and set down backwards. That give me some time but before I could make it he was up ag’in on his knees and he raises his hands and fetches ‘em down in the magic slam. That there snake strikes and I hear him hit. I runs up and kills the snake with the whip and Ike has started to squeal high and mournful like the snake charmer music. “Don’t hurt my snake. I’m a charmin’ him.” he sez. By that time the boss has jumped out of the wagon and has run to help. “Is he bit?” he asks. The snake hit him, I sez. I heered it thump. Look at his hands and arms. He was a tryin’ to do the snake charm act. We looks and there on his leather cuffs was the mark. The fangs had hit one on a bright rivet and one on the leather. It was most up to the elbow and with any common leather cuff he would have been bit, but them big fool cuffs saved his life.
The boss laughs and sez, “Those things are foolish and exaggerated but they saved his life. … Yes, Isaac is an extremely fortunate person.” He’s a fool fer luck if that’s what you mean, I sez. From “Shorty Meets a Fool for Luck”
One night at supper [Mollie] busts out. “Say Ike, what is a sub normal?” The school marm sez, “Mollie you’re excused frum the table.” But the Boss sez friendly like, “You stay right here Mollie and finish your supper, and what was it you wanted Isaac to tell you?” The school marm froze to her chair and turned forty colors if there is that many. “About what a sub normal is,” sez Mollie. The Boss has the face he wears in a poker game and I see Ike is wakin’ up like he knows he is in a corner. “Jest how was that word used, Mollie?” Ike asks. Little Mollie blushes and chokes but she is game. “Well Ike, the teacher told us today that some of us was associatin’ too much with cow boys and that it was bad fer us because cow boys was a onder paid sub normal lot of men.”
“Well we can soon clear that up,” sez Ike. “Cow boys is onder paid because they are so val’able that nobody could pay them what they are really wuth. It couldn’t be done and make a profit. Now this here sub normal affair is like this. Normal folks is folks that is all right in the head jest like folks ort to be. Well now you know there is a normal school kep by the state. It is kep fer folks that aint normal. They have to go there till they git normal ag’in. Take school teachers, fer instance. Most of ‘em has to go there fer a spell every year till they gits their mental balance so to speak. Now cow hands doesn’t haf to do that. All they haf to do is what you might call a sub normal. That means, generally speakin’, they don’t haf to go to school no more but jest git set right on a idee now and then by lookin’ in the catalogue or readin’ a news paper.”
Well, that was sure a hard one to beat, and the school marm she don’t even try to come back but runs out and leaves Ike with it. The Boss he don’t say nothin’ but them English cut whiskers of hisen is sure curled a little and his eyes is jest a poppin’. And he lent over and give Mollie a second helpin’ of desert. From “Shorty Hears Ike Analyze Words”
By that time we had come out of the canyon and was headin’ out across the flat to Cedar Corrals. Right ahead of us is another rider. First I thought it was a slim boy but when we git closer I see it is a woman in a divided skirt. She is ridin’ a big rangy bay that is a good run walker and drivin’ a couple of pack mules. Out ahead a little jennette is trottin’ along with a bell on. She slows up and lets us ketch her. She shore is some purty woman. Her big hat is tied down on a mop of dark curly hair and her eyes are green as jade. She grins when she speaks and her teeth are so white they flash. But you could see the very lurkin’ devil in her sassy face, but yet you had to like her anyhow. Her stock was good fer fifty mile any time and her ridin’ outfit was no plaything. Her little shop-made boots was brush scarred, so was her stirrups. The brass bindin’ on ‘em was all jagged.
“From up in the hill country?” Ike asks. “Yes,” she sez, “I’m Jessie Burke. I’m goin’ over to Cedar Corrals to see Johnny. I stayed at Mr. and Mrs. Dorman’s last night and come on from there.” Ike looks worried. … I see Ike is lookin’ at her with his mouth an eyes wide open. Don’t bite the lady, Ike, I sez. “Whaddaya mean?” Ike growls. Well, I sez, I see you ridin’ up close to her with yore mouth wide open and that there’s what you might call a bad sign.
“You’re like all little fellers. You need somebody to ear you down once in a while,” she tells me. I bet you was like that before you growed so big, I sez. We all three laffs and when she laffed I tell you it seemed to make even the mules happy. From “Ike Meets a Romance”
I asks Ike why he fetches Squint here and he looks at me and grins. “Well,” he sez, “fer one thing I lacked jest a little of bein’ even with the cook. And I shore fetched him some onhappy moments when I got Squint here. Besides before I gits acquainted with him I hears him talkin’ to some other fellers. He is the biggest liar I ever listened to. Shorty, he is even a bigger liar than you, and you know that is sayin’ a lot.” And then Ike walks off a chucklin’ to hisself. That shore does git onder my skin. No feller likes to be called a liar even by his best friend. But the funny part of it is that no feller likes to be told that another jasper is a bigger liar than he is. That is right peculiar but it is a line backed truth jest the same.
He is one of the kind that you want to kill a dozen times a day if you see him that often, and he always runs true to form. If one of the ranch hands wants to start a team he has to wait till Squint gits outen the road fer he is bound to be walkin’ right in front of them about that time. When we are handlin’ stock in the corrals and we open a gate to put ‘em through we have to wait till he gits out of the way fer jest that shore he is bound to come a walkin’ through frum the other corral and makes us wait till he is out of the way. If the boys drives in with hay to fill the feed racks he is bound to be doin’ sumpthin’ right at the first empty place they want to drive to. You have all seen that kind of fellers, but he is the worst I have seen. He was bad enough out of doors but inside the house he shore starts the cook to studyin’ murder. From “Squint Comes and Goes”
Afterword for the City Dweller ~ The Old Nighthawk
by Bill Siems, excerpted from Shorty's Yarns
I am not a cowboy, or even a want-to-be any more — the work is too hard, and the pay is too low. I am well beyond the age for it anyway, which puts me safely in the never-was category. But like many city dwellers who love the West, I admire ranch people as a general rule. Besides feeding us, they are the stewards of our land and keepers of our connection with the natural world. They have come closest, after the Native Americans, to harmony with a landscape that is both beautiful and harsh. This harmony is a significant and difficult achievement, essentially in opposition to our romantic notions that are driven by need but not grounded in reality. It is one thing to love the land from a climate-controlled vehicle, but it is another to love it in the wind and sleet on horseback. Cattle as a backdrop for western entertainment are a world apart from cattle as living creatures that must be cared for and slaughtered. Standing with honesty and humility on such bedrock facts of life gives a person authority, however gently it may be asserted. Those of us in the cities could benefit by listening more closely to the stories and songs of authoritative voices from the ranges, and we can also hope that the ranchers in their struggles may be able to see us not as encroaching outsiders but as supplicants needing more from them than food.
Now I see, almost twenty years after encountering his words, that is was Kiskaddon's authority, cushioned though it is by his humor and tolerance, that grabbed my attention and has held it ever since. The stories in this book are largely lighthearted and humorous, but they show signs of the deep currents that ran in this cowboy who became a city dweller, a bellhop, and a poet. Because Kiskaddon addressed his words so specifically to the ranching world, an urban reader must learn a new lingo to follow him, but he is worth the effort. Finishing up with "The Old Night Hawk" closes a long circle for me, for this is the poem that first caught me up in Bruce Kiskaddon's words and that is still my favorite. I hope you like it too.
Spokane, October 2003
© 2004, Bill Siems
Excerpted with permission from Shorty's Yarns - Western Stories and Poems of Bruce Kiskaddon, Utah State University Press
The Old Night Hawk
I am up tonight in the pinnacles bold
Where the rim towers high.
Where the air is clear and the wind blows cold,
And there's only the horses and I.
The valley swims like a silver sea
In the light of the big full moon,
And strong and clear there comes to me
The lilt of the first guard's tune.
The fire at camp is burning bright,
Cook's got more wood than he needs.
They''ll be telling some windy tales tonight
Of races and big stampedes.
I'm gettin' too old fer that line of talk:
The desperaders they've knowed,
Their wonderful methods of handling stock
And the fellers they've seen get throwed.
I guess I'm a dog that's had his day,
Though I still am quick and strong.
My hair and my beard have both turned gray,
And I reckon I've lived too long.
None of 'em know me but that old cook, Ed,
And never a word he'll say.
My story will stick in his old gray head
Till the break of the Judgment Day.
What's that I see a walkin' fast?
It's a hoss a' slippin' through.
He was tryin' to make it out through the pass;
Come mighty near doin' it too.
Get back there! What are you tryin' to do?
You hadn't a chance to bolt.
Old boy I was wranglin' a bunch like you
Before you was even a colt.
It's later now. The guard has changed.
One voice is clear and strong.
He's singin' a tune of the old time range —
I always did like that song.
It takes me back to when I was young
And the memories come through my head,
Of the times I have heard that old song sung
By voices now long since dead.
I have traveled better than half my trail.
I am well down the further slope.
I have seen my dreams and ambitions fail,
And memory replaces hope.
It must be true, fer I've heard it said,
That only the good die young.
The tough old cusses like me and Ed
Must stay still the last dog's hung.
I used to shrink when I thought of the past
And some of the things I have known.
I took to drink, but now at last,
I'd far rather be alone.
It's strange how quick that a night goes by,
Fir I live in the days of old.
Up here were there's only the hosses and I;
Up in the pinnacles bold.
The two short years that I ceased to roam,
And I led a contented life.
Then trouble came and I left my home,
And I never have heard of my wife.
The years that I spent in a prison cell
When I went by another name;
For life is a mixture of Heaven and Hell
To a feller that plays the game.
They'd better lay off that wrangler kid.
They've give him about enough.
He looks like a pardner of mine once did.
He's the kind that a man can't bluff.
They'll find that they are making a big mistake
If they once get him overhet;
And they'll give him as good as an even break,
Or I'm takin' a hand, you bet.
Look, there in the East is the Mornin' Star.
It shines with a firy glow,
Till it looks like the end of a big cigar,
But it hasn't got far to go.
Just like the people that make a flash.
They don't stand much of a run.
Come bustin' in with a sweep and a dash
When most of the work is done.
I can see the East is gettin' gray.
I'll gather the hosses soon;
And faint from the valley far away
Comes the drone of the last guard's tune.
Yes, life is just like the night-herd's song,
As the long years come and go.
You start with a swing that is free and strong,
And finish up tired and slow.
I reckon the hosses all are here.
I can see that T-bar blue,
And the buckskin hoss with the one split ear;
I've got 'em all. Ninety two.
Just listen to how they roll the rocks —
These sure are rough old trails.
But then, if they can't slide down on their hocks,
They can coast along on their tails.
The Wrangler Kid is out with his rope,
He seldom misses a throw.
Will he make a cow hand? Well I hope,
If they give him half a show.
They are throwin' the rope corral around,
The hosses crowd in like sheep.
I reckon I'll swaller my breakfast down
And try to furgit and sleep.
Yes, I've lived my life and I've took a chance,
Regardless of law or vow.
I've played the game and I've had my dance,
And I'm payin' the fiddler now.
reprinted from Shorty's Yarns - Western Stories and Poems of Bruce Kiskaddon, Utah State University Press
Table of Contents
Bill's Joke Goes Wrong
List of Illustrations and Poems
Introduction ~ An Uncommon Waddy
A Note on the Text
CHAPTER 1, AUTOBIOGRAPHY
CHAPTER 2, STARTIN' OUT
Old Time Country School Days
The Traveling School Master
It Was a Draw!
CHAPTER 3, INTRODUCING BILL .
Bill's Injun Trouble
Bill Meets a Funeral
Bill Doctors the Chimleys
City Folks Go Bear Huntin'
Bill Plays Ghost
CHAPTER 4, BILL AND RILDY BRIGGS
Bill Has Luck
Bill Goes to Turkey Creek Dance
Bill Takes the Mules to Preachin'
The Preacher Loses His Team
Bill Leaves for the High Country
Shorty Is Bill's Secretary
CHAPTER 5, BILL SAYS GOODBYE
Bill Turns Pugilist
Bill Does a Fan Dance
Bill Buys Some Medicine
Bill Visits a Married Friend
The Rock Creek Dance
Bill and the Medicine Man Get Quarantined
Bill Adjusts Matrimonial Affairs
Bill Has Trouble
Bill Says Goodbye
CHAPTER 6, SHORTY AND THE PROFESSORS
Introducing the Professor
Rildy Brings the Portfolio
The Second Perfessor Arrives
Zeb Loses a Trick
Rildy and Zeb Have a Date
Shorty Rescues the Second Perfessor
The Perfessor Buys a Horse...and a Dog
Eph and the Perfessor Says Good Bye
Shorty Turns Diplomat
Shorty's Boss Buys a Mule Team
CHAPTER 7, SHORTY GOES HOME
Shorty Goes Home for Armistice Day
Shorty Finishes His Visit
CHAPTER 8, INTRODUCING IKE
Shorty Meets Some Missourians
Shorty Meets a Fool for Luck
Shorty Hears Ike Analyse Words
The Boss Buys a Mare
He Was After a Road Runner
Shorty and Ike Meet the Boss's Nephews
CHAPTER 9, RUSTLERS AND ROMANCE
Shorty Corrects a Mistake
The Fortune Teller Sends Ike Fishing
Ike Has Trouble With His Hat
Ike Meets a Romance
Cap'n Beasley Goes in for Cattle
Stockings and Watches
CHAPTER 10, HELL AMONG THE YEARLIN'S
Ricky Comes and Goes
Cap Takes to Mules
Squint Comes and Goes
Cap and Morton Each Tell One
Stickin' to One Idee
Hell Among the Yearlin's
Ike Gets a New Job
CHAPTER 11, LAST STORIES
Shorty's Boss Buys Purebred Bulls
Bruce Kiskaddon Visits Old Friends in Arizona
Afterword for the City Dweller ~ The Old Night Hawk
Poems in Shorty's Yarns
After the Fall Roundup
All Dressed Up
The Cow Boy's Shirt Tail
Going to Summer Camp
The Long Horn Speaks
The Old Night Hawk
The Old Timers
The Other Feller's Beef
About the Editor, Bill Siems
Bill Siems is a member of the chemistry faculty at Washington State University, a performer of old-time music, including cowboy songs, and a longtime admirer of Bruce Kiskaddon's poetry. His historical introduction to Shorty's Yarns benefits from interviews with members of the Kiskaddon and Field families and other new information.
In 2007, Bill Siems and Old Night Hawk Press released Open Range; Collected Poems of Bruce Kiskaddon.
Surely the most important contemporary cowboy poetry book publication in recent times, this monumental 600-page work includes Bruce Kiskaddon's entire poetic output (481 poems); extensive illustrations (including 323 line drawings by Katherine Field, Amber Dunkerley, and others); biographical and historical introductions; prefaces by Hal Cannon, Waddie Mitchell, and Lynn Held; rare photographs, and more.
Open Range was produced in a numbered, limited edition of 300 copies. There was also a limited edition of 26 leather bound books. Read more about Open Range, view excerpts and the table of contents. As of March 2012, Open Range is out of print, no longer available from the publisher.
See our feature about Open
Bill Siems is also a performer of old-time music, including cowboy songs, and a reciter of classic cowboy poetry. In 2007, a CD, The Educated Fellers, featuring Bill Siems and Ted Hensold was released.
The title comes from the
traditional poem and song, "The
Zebra Dun," which was first
published as "Educated Feller" in Jack Thorp's 1908
of the Cowboys. "The Zebra Dun" is among the CD's 16
generous tracks of poetry and song (see the entire track list
along with Badger Clark's
"The Glory Trail";
Gail Gardner's "The
Sierra Petes"; Curley Fletcher's
"The Strawberry Roan"
(recited by Bill Siems; included on The BAR-D Roundup:
Volume Three); "The Man on the Fence," and others by
some set to music; the traditional
Old Paint," and other
traditional gems, including several obscure, interesting pieces.
One of the top cuts, "Dry and Dusty/Railroad Corral," with its spirited harmonica and guitar music, exemplifies the quality of the entire project. The liner notes for each track are informative, and will send anyone seriously interested in Western history, poetry, and music, on happy tangents to follow up on all that is included. Bill Siems' notes for "Dry and Dusty/Railroad Corral" are no exception: "I found the words and music for this trail driving story in Songs of the Open Range, by Ina Sires (Boston, 1928). Later I learned from John White's book, Git Along Little Dogies (Chicago, 1975) that the verses were written by Joseph Mills Hanson of South Dakota in 1904. The dusty cattle drive described in the song suggested the fiddle tune we start off with."
Bill Siems quips that he wanted to add to the notes, "'For best results, play in a moving truck' but I thought of it too late." The CD is available for $14.99 plus postage from Bill Siems, 2521 S Hatch Street, Spokane, WA 99203, 509-868-8402.
The Educated Fellows includes:
"John Garner's Trail Herd/Robinson County" traditional
"Santa Fe Trail" traditional
"Just Set and Let Your Feet Hang Down" Bruce Kiskaddon
"The Glory Trail" Badger Clark
"Alkali Ike's Zippers" (poem) Bruce Kiskaddon
"The Strawberry Roan" (poem) Curley Fletcher
"I'd Like to be In Texas/Sally Ann Johnson" traditional
"The Zebra Dunn" traditional
"Ways of the World/Chisholm Trail/Grey Eagle" traditional
"Dry and Dusty/Railroad Corral" traditional/Joseph Mills Hanson
"The Man on the Fence" (poem) Bruce Kiskaddon
"When Bob Got Throwed" (poem) traditional
"Goodbye Old Paint" traditional
"The Sierry Petes" Gail Gardner
"Saddle Old Paint/The Cowboy" Allen McCandless
"D-2 Horse Wrangler/Garryowen" D. J. O'Malley/traditional
Complete Ordering Information
Shorty's Yarns - Western Stories and Poems of Bruce Kiskaddon
Illustrations by Katherine Field
Edited by Bill Siems
Utah State University Press, 2004, 193 pages, 6 x 9
"Bruce Kiskaddon's classic poetry is widely known and loved, and it is a delight to discover this collection of his autobiographical stories, originally published in the Western Livestock Journal in the 1930s. Readers who enjoy the unvarnished realism and wry humor of Kiskaddon's poems will find the same voice in Shorty, who narrates most of these tales of southwestern cowboy life in the 1890-1910 era. A bonus for Kiskaddon fans is the book's Introduction, which contains biographical details not widely known. The book is well-designed and attractive, and uses a dozen of Kiskaddon's shorter, Katherine Field-illustrated poems as chapter introductions."
Available from Bill Siems, 2521 S Hatch Street, Spokane, WA 99203, 509-868-8402.
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