March, 2004, we were pleased to announce the winner of the:
recognized for her poem, Town and Country
About LaVonne Houlton:
I am now 78 years old; wrote my first poem at age 12, and kept right on writing them - all kinds, but my favorite are the narrative western kind. I've always loved the country and horses. Raised and showed registered Morgan Horses for 35 years (Viking Morgan Ranch, Modesto, California). I'm a mother, and a grandmother. My profession was Social Work, but over the years I've written many articles on horses, some historical, some current. These appeared in The Morgan Horse Magazine, Western Horseman, Thoroughbred of California, Horse Lovers, Horseman's Courier, and California Horse Review.
In the 1960's I wrote a monthly column, "LaVonne's Line," that ran in the old Piggin' String magazine for a decade or so, and sometimes I included a poem or one of my "Peanuts Horse" cartoons.
Born a "city child," I was lucky to have had an uncle and aunt who ranched in the Dakota Badlands in the early days. Their cattle and horses grazed on land that's now a part of the National Grasslands of North Dakota -- near Bullion Butte, and along the Little Missouri River. From my uncle, I heard many tales of colorful characters - like Bill Follis, one-time boss of the 777 outfit and a veteran of many cattle drives on the old Chisholm Trail. And like Pete Pelissier, the "Buffalo Bill of the Missouri Slopes," who rounded up wild horses every year, and once ran a Wild West show of some renown. I heard of the old Hashknife outfit, of Teddy Roosevelt and the Custer Trail Ranch, of round-ups and disasters, of long gone but well remembered horses named Van Zandt and Bon Dieu.
Thanks to my uncle, this horse-loving child always had something to ride -- be it the broad back of a Belgian draft horse on the way home from the fields in the evening -- or a burro named Cecil whose aim in life was to scrape a kid off against a fig tree or the corner of a barn. There was at one time a Shetland Welsh cross mare, and I even rode the fat and congenial Hereford bull, Prince Domino, a few times. Lastly came Minnie, companion of my teen-age years, of whom I write in my poem "Cold Creek Remembered." Minnie and I covered many miles of tough, lava-strewn terrain in Northern California's Siskiyou Mountains. There were Herefords and horses, dreams to dream, and many trails to follow. And in the evenings there were the stacks of Western Livestock Journals, with poems by Bruce Kiskaddon and Cowpoke Cartoons by Ace Reid with which to while away a few hours.
We asked LaVonne why she writes Cowboy Poetry and she replied: I love to write Cowboy Poetry because there is an endless well of stories there, just waiting to be told, and after I wrote my first one ("Town and Country," in 1966) I found that I really liked to tell those stories as they came to mind. And I love to read the work of other Cowboy Poets just as much -- it's a very special world!
We asked LaVonne why she thinks Cowboy Poetry is important and she replied: Cowboy Poetry isn't about kings, tycoons or posh surroundings. It is about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people, be they set in the past or in the present. It covers an important time and aspect of American life that many people cherish, and children still dream of (when I was 7 or 8 my playmates and I would argue over whether we would be Bob Steele or Tom Mix in the fantasy of the day). I believe that poetry portrays the Cowboy and the West better even than prose can do.
You can email LaVonne Houlton.
Town and Country
Oh, a man gets mighty tired
When he's workin' on the range,
And sometimes he'd like to settle
Down in comfort for a change,
With an eight-to-five position
And a cozy little home,
With a car and boat and workshop,
And no call to ever roam.
For it's wearyin' to ride all day
In rough and rocky ground,
Just searchin' for some strayin' calf
That's bound it won't be found!
In bone deep cold or summer dust
The work goes on the same,
With steers to catch or move or brand,
And colts to feed and tame.
And by the time he hits the sack
With muscles stiff and sore,
He'd like to find a feather bed
And sleep a week or more!
But, oh, so very early,
Before the night can end,
He's up again and out again -
Two miles of fence to mend.
And after that there's stalls to clean,
And then there's feed to haul;
By half-past-noon he's gettin' mad -
He'd like to chuck it all
In favor of a place in town
Without a cow in sight,
Where a man can work a reg'lar day,
And get his sleep at night!
But even while he's thinkin' this
And longin' for a change
He's saddlin' up his horse again,
To check the summer range.
He'll take some salt up for the stock;
He'll have to stay the night,
So, bedroll - coffee - bacon - beans -
And lash that mule pack tight.
Still dreamin' of a city life,
He takes off up the hill,
And his horse is walkin' quiet,
And the air is very still.
For awhile he doesn't notice
That his soul has settled down --
That his eyes are on the pines ahead
And not turned back to town!
© LaVonne Houlton
This poem appeared in Western Horseman in the 60's
We asked LaVonne about her inspiration for this poem, and s he replied: "Town and Country" has always had a special place in my heart. I was pleased with the way it turned out when I wrote it; Then it became the first poem for which I received payment (from Western Horseman) and it was also the first of my poems to appear in a poetry anthology (The Clover Collection of Verse, Vol. VI, 1973).
I think there comes a day in the life of every person who takes care of land, livestock and horses when he or she feels just like the fellow in the poem - so much to do; so many things can go wrong; when do I get a vacation around here? and so on. Then something happens - like a new foal born in the dark of night that you can wipe down and help to stand - and you know exactly why you do what you do. And there's nothing in the world so conducive to settlin' down your soul as a quiet ride through the hills on a good horse!
You can read more poetry by LaVonne Houlton here at the BAR-D.
The Bottom Line
There's units in cow-calves, supply and demand
Emotional links that tie to the land
You build in a margin and hope for the best
Things sure are changin' out here in the west!
Where do Herefords and Angus, Bramers or cross
Fit into the puzzle of profit and loss?
Sell now to a buyer? Retain ownership?
Will the value of cows take a rise or a dip?
Is a branded program the best way to sell?
Your current break-even is one way to tell.
Crunchin' the numbers, assumption of costs
All these decisions are sure to exhaust!
How can you get the best price for a steer?
Do you need the cash now? Or hold 'till next year?
Is a liquidation of cows coming up?
How do you get the most bang for your buck?
Should you invest in a purebred bull?
Or start raising sheep for their thick fluffy wool?
Are the bloodlines you're running the best for your spread?
All of these questions stampede round your head!
Do you do work 'a horseback, or on ATV?
You realize ranching has no guarantee.
Next time this year you'll be working in town
You fear, as you survey your land with a frown.
Dust clouds hover low just off the ground
The grass - brown and cracklin' for acres around.
Thunder is rumbling up in the hills
A lightin' struck fire would add to your ills!
You're up and you're running from dawn's early light
And work like a martyr through cold, sleepless nights.
You check calvy heifers, sweet talk and cajole
Live calves on the ground is your primary goal.
Workin' the young 'uns with brands and ear tag
'Tween shoein' and fencing, you fix gates that sag.
The pump's running rough and the trucks' sounding strange
The Feds are rethinkin' your lease on the range
Your origins are humble, your workplace sublime
Your cowboy pride hangs a bit heavy at times
At the end of the cycle you're happiest when
You made enough money to do it again!
© 2003, Jody Fergerstrom
We asked Jody what inspired her poem "Bottom Line" and she told us: My inspiration for The Bottom Line came after spending a couple days working at Kapapala Ranch. My friend who runs these 29,000 acres with her Dad, family and friends, and is on the board for the Hawai'i Cattle Producers Co-op is always looking at options. I started listing them on paper and was boggled by the decisions that she considers for her family ranch and the Co-op.
Jody was born and raised on the Big Island of Hawai'i. She's had backyard horses on and off for 30 years. Lots of kids she grew up with were ranch
kids and she spent a fair amount of time on ranches and still does. Jody works as a substitute teacher and carpenter and spends summers guiding ocean kayak and backpacking trips.
She says, "Although I've always had love for a good ballad and traditional cowboy music, credit for my true start in Cowboy Poetry belongs to my Oregon buckaroo brother Mark and his pards. I joined them a few years back on a weeklong trail ride through about 170 miles of Oregon wilderness. Evenings were spent around the campfire swapping song and poems. I soon started learning some poems, then writing my own."
We asked Jody why she writes Cowboy Poetry and she said:
Part of my vision is to keep Hawai'i recognized in its place as a true part of both modern ranching, and ranching history. A good poem usually consists of taking a fond memory, an unexpected success, or a near-disaster situation and molding it into verse. They're all personal. I also I enjoy introducing people to the genre of Cowboy Poetry.
You can email Jody Fergerstrom.
You can read more of Jody Fergerstrom's poetry here at the BAR-D.
A Cowboy Till I Die
My Wrangler jeans, and faded shirt-
My bullhide, roper boots.
A dirty, silverbelly hat,
Show my West Texas roots.
Although I may be fifty-
I still have itchy feet.
And long to spread my blankets,
Where the sky and mountains meet.
I rode a lot of bad ones,
Back when I was young.
I've dug my share of post holes,
And, Lord, the wire I've strung.
I've saddled before daybreak,
Turned 'em out when moon was high.
And breathed a lot trail dust,
Underneath the western sky.
I've blistered from the branding fire,
And froze while riding fence...
And turned down better paying jobs,
I didn't have no sense.
I wouldn't trade a minute,
Of my days of punching cows,
In a lot of ways I'm wishing
It's what I was doing now.
There's just something about getting up
To greet the newborn day.
Of catchin' up the saddle stock,
And feeding grain and hay...
They say I'm living in the past,
It's true. Do you know why?
No matter how I earn my pay,
I'm a cowboy till I die.
© 2003, John R. Yaws
We asked John what inspired him to write this poem and he said: I guess what moved me to write the poem was a trip I made to West Texas. I was watching the miles go by out near Sweetwater, Texas, and the landscape reminded me vaguely of northern Arizona, out between Winslow and Flagstaff...this started memories to boiling, and the poem was the result.
John Yaws tells us: Back in the early seventies and into the early eighties, I cowboyed in California, Arizona, and Texas. My love has always been for the Southwest. Much of my poetry is based on personal experience (with a liberal dab of poetic license thrown in) and experiences of friends, and bunkhouse tales I heard. Louis L'Amour was my favorite author, and like him, I want to be a good storyteller. I want my characters to live on in the minds of the readers long after they have forgotten the name of John Yaws. 'Nuff sed.
We asked John why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he said: I love the
lifestyle, and believe that through poetry we can at least keep the ideal alive. While the cowboy may be declining in numbers, there are still a lot of the old boys that "you can't see from the road" around. I write to keep my own memories fresh, and as a salute to them.
You can email John Yaws.
You can read more poetry by John Yaws here at the BAR-D.
Eggs on the Moon
My Pa had a crazy horse called 'Moon,'
An angular black with a blaze;
She shied at any blamed thing that moved,
Couldn't stand long enough to graze.
Did I mention to you I was born with
Fine white-blond hair on my head?
Just like spun sugar, we got the stuff cut
In town by a barber named Fred.
One day, my Mama, lookin' up at Pa
Said "I got some eggs fer the store;
I'll wrap 'em an' pack that big basket..
There's prob'ly five dozen or more.
An', C.J., can you take Byrdie with you,
An' give me a chance for a bath?
It's been so sultry this summer,
I'm scrubby as Minnie's hind calf."
Pa rode Moon for his entertainment;
He saddled her up and lit out,
With me on his lap, eggs in his hand,
An' that fool mare dancin' about.
The store was only 'bout four miles away,
We did it in nothin'-flat time;
On the porch sat a bunch of lazy old men...
Pa circled old Moon on a dime.
He started to hand me down on the porch,
Moon caught sight of my flyin' hair;
She bunched up and Pa knew what was comin',
He tossed the eggs up in the air.
The mare humped her back an' sun-fished,
I ran up the steps an' sat
An' watched while my pa put on a show,
Fannin' ol' Moon with his hat!
I don't know how long th' rodeo took,
Buckin' up and down the dirt road.
I know Sam Blair caught the egg basket;
An' nary-ary a one of 'em broke.
Moon fin'lly stood with her head hangin' down,
Her sides were heavin' like bellers;
The old men were hoppin' around on the stoop,
Pa'd sure entertained them ole fellers.
Pa tied Moon up and we went on inside;
We made our best deal fer my ma;
He found a penny in his watch pocket...
That jawbreaker lasted 'til fall.
When we get home, Pa hands Ma her cash,
But neither one of us tells;
She'll go a lot easier on both of us
If she hears it from somebody else!
© Spring 1999, Byrd Woodward
We asked Byrd what inspired this poem and she told us: This is the story of an adventure my Dad and I had when I was about three or four years old. We lived on a little bitty old place in Montour, Idaho and he and my mom and I were by ourselves. Usually, we had one relative or another staying with us for one reason or another, mostly having to do with money or the lack of it. CJ (Clifford Jordan) was my biological father and I remember this as a time when he was paying a lot of attention to me. he taught me to yodel (badly) and tried to teach me to play guitar or mouth harp or something (never happened). It was almost like he and I had this tiny conspiracy going on...we did a lot of stuff we didn't want to have to explain to my mother. It was a magical time in my life; a few years after that the folks divorced and I didn't see him much after that and never again when it was just the two of us. I have some very fond memories of him at that time and while we were on the ranch in Gardena.
Byrd writes that this is "my father, Clifford Woodrow Jordan and me at eight months old. I don't think this is 'Moon'; doesn't look spooky enough."
I was born on a cow ranch in Idaho in 1937; both my parents were from pioneering stock, the Jordans, Badleys and DeMasters. Life was hard and we all had little outfits but we had nothing to compare our lifestyle to, so we made out just fine. The ranch my folks had when I was a kid is on Highway 56, one of two main north and south roads through Idaho, just a mile or so above Gardena on the Payette River. The place still looked pretty much the same when we were up there for a family reunion in June, 2000.
My husband, Woody, whom I married in 1959, was raised on a ranch above Priest River, Idaho; they ran shorthorns clear into Canada. We have three children and two grandchildren.
We never did ranch as adults but we managed to live a rural lifestyle while raising the kids and usually had horses and a cow and chickens, at least.
I've been writing poetry since I was a kid but I never read it in public until this past summer at 'open mike' during the Arizona State Gathering in Prescott. Cowboy poets who have encouraged me include Jane Morton; Rusty Calhoun; David Lee, the Poet Laureate of Utah; Ron Brinegar; 'Buckshot Dot" (Dee Strickland Johnson); Janet Moore; Mary Abbott and Carole Jarvis.
I write mostly about what I knew on the ranch as a kid, which is very personal and is still sometimes hard to get through.
I proudly carry some Indian blood through my two paternal grandparents (Cherokee and Nez Perce) and my biased feelings always show when I write about that subject. My part Nez Perce Grandma taught me my love of history by telling me the legends of her people and about Lewis and Clark.
My husband and I are both semi-retired now; I work at Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott as the weekend Visitor's Service Coordinator. We've lived in Arizona for four years; we moved from eastern Washington be close to our grandkids, who are the pride of our lives. We moved to Mayer last summer from Prescott Valley and have wonderful views of the high desert and the Bradshaw Mountains.
We asked Byrd why she writes Cowboy Poetry and she replied: I write cowboy poetry because it pours out of me. I can't not write it. Since most of the poems are about real happenings and real people, they sometimes nearly jump out of my head full blown and only need a little tweaking. I can go long spells during which nothing happens and I do know the form isn't always correct.
I think Cowboy Poetry is important for the same reasons Jane Morton does. That if we aren't fortunate enough to have tape recordings or the writings of our parents and grandparents, their lives will be lost to history unless some of us get some of it down on paper. I like to think I'll be leaving my people alive in my grandkid's minds. I wouldn't change or trade that time in my life for anything else I've ever known; my people and those experiences shaped my entire life. I guess it's called "the cowboy way."
You can email Byrd Woodward.
You can read more of Byrd Woodward's poetry here at the BAR-D.
Removed at the poet's request, September, 2010
The view is vast from the middle rim;
dismounted... he gazes across the land.
The same land more than a century before,
in settling, his family had taken a hand.
Weather's dry in a cloudless sky,
summer'll be hot, he can tell.
But the gathering, along with springtime chores,
has really gone quite well.
Three mama cows and earmarked calves
graze upon the offside ridge.
A quarter mile on, a doe and fawn
are near its upper edge.
Sister's mare with her new foal,
he watches down below,
Along with Dan, his old retired horse,
oh... it was hard to let him go.
The rim's edge... is a rugged ride,
checking for the last of the strays
But the trail is so, once starter down,
they'll pretty much find their own way.
And it's no chore, it's a welcome ride,
one he's done time and again.
When first he rode along that rim...
he'd had not yet reached ten.
The age, his kids are now far beyond,
which gives him cause to pause,
In awe... of how life's played out
and how it continues on.
Both up and down his eye are filled
with that of earth and heaven,
With wonders of life, more often then not,
only passing thoughts are given.
His horse stands quiet as stars appear,
the cowboy lingers longer.
Immersed in thought of past and present,
it's the cowboy's time to ponder.
He's got to go, he tells himself, but
suspended, gazing through time's eye,
His delay continues, even though the ranch
is still a two-hour ride.
With sounds of night, the skyline's lit,
the city's glow has sat upon,
Breaking the dark, above the ranch,
some thirty miles beyond.
In the valley there's a single, distant light...
from the ranch house his granddad built.
Humbled... knowing family is there,
far safer then their forbearers could have felt.
Thoughts are deepened, petition laid...
as if in prayer he asks to tell,
Why life, with all its blessings,
has cared for him so well?
Time holds fast the past and present
and for the cowboy... a glimpse is given,
The wonders of life that leaves him Spellbound, on a rim...
somewhere between earth and heaven.
© 2002, Mike Dunn
by Bill Anton
This poem was inspired by the poster art for the The Fifteenth Annual Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering at Prescott, Arizona in 2002. Each year at Prescott, poets are invited to write a poem about the painting used as the poster.
I'm extremely proud of my Arizona heritage; it goes back to the first settlers. In the late 1800s my Great Grand Dad had built up his own
freight company that serviced the mines and ranches in the southeastern part of the state. My Grandpa didn't care much for the freight business and in his mid-teens, took to ranching. The Rail "A" brand and much of the ranch
is still in the family today. My personal experiences center along the east
side of the Whetstone Mountains, southwest of Benson. It was there I
learned first hand what cowboy life was all about and I cherish those
memories. Much of my original poetry reflects my own experiences, and the
experiences and stories passed down.
I've not made a living as a rancher but I help out when I can. Grandpa knew the ranch wouldn't support all the kids and grand-kids and the need for higher education was becoming more evident on and off the ranch. So he pushed us to get an education and what he referred to as "a more steady life." Many of us followed his guidance but have still stayed close to the land. Horses, land and cattle have always played an important roll in our familiy's life and I'm hoping that will continue.
I enjoy sharing stories in rhythmic form. Stories dealing with the joys and dreams, as well as the more serious, sad, and heart felt realities of cowboy life. Humorous, energetic, patriotic, solemn, simple, caring, wild, sad, daring, trusting, the list goes on, and the cowboy's guilty of it all. My hope is to share a bit of that spirit in my writings and recitations. I have been known to sing a song or two, but unless you want to know what the cattle had to put up with while a cowboy stood night-guard, DON'T ask me to sing.
There is real value in the sharing of what has come to be known as "Cowboy Poetry." Value of not only entertainment but also preservation through education. What my Grandmother wrote as poetry, would be called
cowboy poetry today. Preservation is so important...
We asked Mike why Cowboy Poetry is important and he said: I do believe if this art form is to continue, then the education of those around us is what is going to be required. Bringing the poetry, song and stories from ranch porches, bunkhouses and family rooms is making a difference. When I was a kid, I don't recall hearing cowboy poetry away from those settings.
You can read more of Mike Dunn's poetry here at the BAR-D.
Under His Roof
I ain't no pure nor saintly person,
Ain't been to church, can't remember the day,
Do things different than most, I guess,
Talk to the Lord in my own way.
We visit out ridin' fences,
Baskin' under bright blue sky,
Or while watchin' a mighty thunderstorm,
Waitin' for the trail to dry.
There's lots of fancy churches,
Windows stained and painted white,
But talkin' under His own roof
Just seems to fit me right.
There's lots of time for conversin',
On a long and lonesome ride,
Sometimes feels like he's saddled up,
Ridin' by my side.
I'm just a workin' cowboy,
Known as friend by nary a few,
I'm bettin' that was the plan for me,
Since this ol' world was new.
I hear tell the Good Book says,
"Blessed are the meek"
Suits me fine, 'cause peace inside
Is all this cowboy seeks.
© 2002, Nick Kissner
We asked Nick how he came to write this poem and he told us: I wrote this poem after a friend of mine, who I ride with, mentioned he hadn't attended church as much as he maybe should. He is a great guy and has strong values which I respect. I told him I thought it was what was in a man's heart that made him Christian and not necessarily his church attendance record.
Nick Kissner told us: My wife Char and I have farmed for thirty years but enjoy the ranching end of things the most, running a cow-calf operation of commercial angus cows. We trail ride and compete at ranch rodeos when time allows. Char is also an RN, so we really value our time together. It was rewarding for both of us to serve as 4H leaders when our daughters were involved in the horse project because we have always liked working with youth and horses.
We asked Nick why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he told us: A friend of mine got me interested in poetry a few years back. I admired the way he could commit all his thoughts to memory. I can't, so I started writing them down and just kept writing. Cowboy poetry allows me to express the importance of family values, love of country and the little things people nowadays seem to have no time for.
You can email Nick Kissner.
You can read more of Nick Kissner's poetry here at the BAR-D.
Jean Mathisen Haugen
There is one thing is this western land
that I thoroughly hate, I cannot stand.
It holds me up, it makes me late--
the dreadful thing is a Wyoming Gate.
When I'm tired and worn and my temper's hot,
When I'm after a stray that's needing caught,
You can be sure, and I'm not a liar,
that that blinking gate will be tangled wire.
It tears my clothes and it burdens my brain.
And the way to open it is never the same.
At times when I'm tired and I want to climb through,
then I'm sure to get stuck and my head is bruised blue.
I hate it! I hate it! It ruins my life.
It punctures my pride when it falls for my wife.
I never can open it, yet steers knock it down
and the only good wire will be miles into town.
I kick it, I cuss it, it tears up my clothes.
That Wyoming Gate is number one of my woes.
I try to forget it, get disgusted, pull out hair.
But no matter what happens--that gate is still there.
Oh, sure as I'm breathing, if it's Heaven I rate,
the door won't be pearly, but a Wyoming Gate!
© 2002, Jean A. Mathisen
We asked Jean what inspired this poem and she told us: "Wyoming Gate" is a poem I wrote when I was 16 years old. The reason I wrote it was because we have a lot of those old wire gates around on the ranches in Wyoming and my grandmother, Mary Hornecker, laughed one time at my grandpa, John Hornecker when he was "cussing and discussing a particular wire gate" and said, "Well, John, it's just an old Wyomin' gate--what do you expect? You made it yourself!" It has always been one of my favorite poems and I titled my first cowboy poetry book Wyoming Gate after it.
I'm a native of Lander and Wyoming--my family has been here in the Lander Valley since 1869 and eight generations have been on ranches here. I have been writing poetry (much of it cowboy poetry) since I was 8 years old and have published 6 books of poetry, along with poems appearing in about 25 chapbooks. I also had poetry appear pretty steadily in the Wyoming Rural Electric News for 20 years. I have participated in Gatherings in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. I retired from the State of
Wyoming DOT in October, 2003 and am now busily pursuing my writing,
I am a member of Cowboy Poets of Idaho, have been performing cowboy poetry about 15 years and writing it a lot longer!
We asked Jean why she writes Cowboy Poetry and she said: I write cowboy poetry because it is a large part of my culture and heritage--six people that I know of in my family have written cowboy poetry. I have written it since before I was old enough to know it was cowboy poetry! I get a lot of enjoyment writing it and associating with the folks who also write it.
You can email Jean Mathisen Haugen.
You can read more of Jean Mathisen Haugen's poetry here at the BAR-D.
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