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The current Lariat Laureate award is here.
In November, 2004, we were pleased to announce
the Eleventh Lariat Laureate:

Lariat Laureate

of Australia
recognized for his poem

Looking Back

 

and

8 Seconds

(alphabetically by poem title):

At Codding's Place
Paul Kern
Utah

Autumn Harvest

Ed Nesselhuf
South Dakota

Bugger Red
Stan Tixier
Utah

Coming of Age

Joyce Johnson
Washington

The Flint Hills

Jim John
Kansas

His Last Chore
Michael Henley
Arkansas

I Knew That

Janice Gilbertson
California

Songs of a Cowboy Heart
eric lee
Arizona


Below you'll find the poems and more information about the winners.

You can also view separate pages for each winner with the links below or through Folks' Poems and the Index of poems.

There are pages for previous Lariat Laureate and 8 Seconds' winners listed on the current winners' page, here.

You can enter the next Lariat Laureate Competition.

 


 

Lariat Laureate

recognized for his poem, Looking Back


 

About Jack Sammon:

I was born and raised on cattle stations in the north of Australia and as soon as I was old enough to leave school, which I did as correspondence as we lived one sixty miles from the nearest town, I went to work as a stockman (cowboy) working on stations and droving all over the north. This life is what the poem After The Wet is about.

After a few years knocking about I started as a boss drover (trail boss) as I contracted to move cattle from place to place on the hoof, at times doing droving trips (trail drives) of up to a thousand miles, just as they did in the U.S. in the days of the wild west.

The trouble was that the twentieth century was catching up to us, as roads were being built so that trucks could get out to the stations and pick up cattle.

The trips that would take us months to cover the trucks could now do in a day or two, so as a result drovers like myself were out of work, so I had to give up the life and get a job in town in 1979, as a miner working underground, an era was over. This is what the poem Rusty Spurs is about.

 

When we asked Jack why he writes Cowboy Poetry, he replied:

Most Australian Ringers (Cowboys) had a love for what we call Bush Poetry. We used to recite poems around camp fires at night and when we rode around the cattle on night watch, so naturally I began to write some myself about the life we lived.

I think that cowboy poetry is important to keep our culture alive and it is a traditional way of explaining our life as cowboys. The lifestyle of the Australian cowboy was so similar to the American cowboy in my mind, even though the words we use my be different the cowboy is a cowboy the world over.  If it is not kept up future generations will lose a culture and history.

You can email Jack Sammon.

Visit Jack Sammon's web site.

 

Looking Back

You’ve traveled down life’s busy highway,
As you followed a varied career,
And met with the good times and hardships,
Now the end of the road’s drawing near.
But you notice; as you get older,
When your thoughts take you back in the past,    
Those years that you worked as a stockman,
Just seem to hold memories that last.
 

When you think of times in a stock camp,
At the start of another new day,
The leaves in the trees gently stirring,
As the sky in the east turned to grey,
When high in the heavens above you,
The stars slowly blinked out of sight,
And Butcher birds started a chorus, 
As they welcomed the growing daylight.

Those mornings when horses were saddled,
As the sun climbed up over the rise,
And showed the vast plains in the distance, 
That were met by the vacant blue skies.
Or shone on those rugged red rangers,
To show you the scenery below,
Where rivers cut through the deep gorges, 
And the Carbean and Snappy Gum grow.

Remember the creak of the leather,
When you pulled up the slack of the girth,
The chime of the spur rowel and snaffle, 
And the scent of the fresh trodden earth. 
The days that you spent in the saddle.
With your hand lightly clutching the rein,
The sound of shod hooves striking gravel,
And the clink of a losoe hobble chain.

The feel of a horse underneath you,
On the face of a cutting out camp,
Or bronco horse straining the collar,
When you pulled up a calf to the ramp.
The thrill when you galloped through mulga,
Where you swung the wild cattle around,
The rush of adrenaline flowing,
When you pulled a scrub bull to the ground.

The times that you mustered up cattle,
From those Georgina channels out west.
The taste of the Cooper’s grey water,
Where the black swan and pelican nest.
The sound of young calves calling mothers,
In a stock yard when branding is done,
Or riding a weary horse homeward, 
‘Neath the rays of the red setting sun.

Or those friends you once worked with, 
You’ve not seen since the parting of ways,
In your mind you still see their faces,
In the dim light of a campfire’s blaze,
Where you all sat round telling stories,
When the evening shadows had fled,
With smoke from the camp fire curling,
Through the Coolabah boughs overhead.

And now, as you sit on the v’randa
Looking back to what life had once been,
The setbacks and triumphs it brought you,
The people and the places you’ve seen.
There are times you’ll always remember,
There are times that you’d like to forget,
But the time you spent in stock camp,
Was a time that you will never regret.

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

We asked Jack about his inspiration for this poem and he replied: I got the idea for this poem one day when I saw a old stockman (cowboy) sitting on the veranda of his unit. He was staring out into space and I seemed to know that in his mind he was back in a stock camp (cow camp) again where he worked as a young man. I realised that here could be a old cowboy somewhere in the west of the U.S.A. or a old gaucho from the Pampas of Argentina. No matter where cowboys come from, they all have a love of the life they lived and no doubt that there is a little of myself in this poem. 

You can read more poetry by Jack Sammon here at the BAR-D.

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

 

8 Seconds

Paul Kern

 

At Codding's Place

For just a moment I thought I saw,
Our brood mare lying in the straw,
Foaling a colt in the early morn.
Now the weeds grow tall where he was born.

The tack shed with the sagging gate,
Is where I learned to sit and wait,
As my father caught his horses at dawn.
It's quiet now - the horses are gone.

For just a moment I could smell it again,
That good horse smell in the old catch pen,
Same warm smell on both young and old.
You can't go back - the horses are sold.

It was the scene of a trailer fight,
Between Dad and Slippers - oh what a sight,
The rope took off part of his thumb.
Just maybe now, I should not have come.

At Codding's place was my first ride,
My father walking close beside,
He carved out memories for me his son.
Where he kept horses now there are none.

Those boyhood horses each had a hole,
That left a mark upon my soul.
At Codding's Place was my first ride,
My father walking close beside.

In another place and another time,
On a different farm that I call mine,
We keep our horses on that place,
A paint, a pinto and a bally face.

© 2003, Paul R. Kern
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked Paul how he came to write this poem and he told us: "At Codding's Place" is an intensely personal piece about how my father handed down his knowledge of horses to me.  Although Codding's farm no longer has horses on it, my father now 82 years old, still keeps two head alternating between Colorado and Idaho.


Reese Kern on the trail,  October 2004

  My family came west to what became Idaho and Utah five generations ago. My Swiss great grandfather homesteaded near Ashton and Preston, Idaho.  My Danish great grandfathers farmed in the area around Spanish Fork and Salem, Utah.  My mother was raised on the family dairy farm in the Salt Lake Valley.  I grew up on the western edge of Idaho Falls, where I worked on local farms and ranches for many of my formative years.

I inherited a love of the west and all that includes from my parents.  Some of my earliest memories are of pack trips into the Tetons with our horses and other good friends - many of the human variety.  Much of the material for my poems comes from the impressions of those early experiences, which I now have the luxury of reliving, retelling and repainting with a more romantic hue than what I know was actually the case.

Some of my poetry is based on experiences I have had with my three sons and daughter as we have worked together on our horse farm in Utah and our small ranch in Island Park, Idaho.

The influence of my family is a significant factor in my poetry.  Even now in their eighties, Dad still enjoys back country horse trips and working cattle and is a much sought after hand on the ranches in Island Park, Idaho. Mom will still go out on a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the winter with us.  I learned the importance of good livestock from my mother, how to shoe horses from my father and how to live and love from my wife Kathie and our children.


We asked Paul why he writes Cowboy Poetry and why he thinks it is important and he told us: Cowboy poetry is one of the most significant literary and oral traditions in the English language today.  It captures time and space in a vernacular that is uniquely fitted to the task.  When our dialect is allowed to describe traditional western life in unbridled and unhobbled language, the result can be either humorous or sentimental but will always have a twist that is
unique to the culture of the raw-boned west.   My poetry is an attempt to reflect this rich Western heritage and to pass it on to my children and someday to my children's children.

You can email Paul Kern.

You can read more of Paul Kern's poetry and see more photographs here at the BAR-D.

 

Ed Nesselhuf

 

Autumn Harvest

Oak leaves golden, shrubs of crimson, against ponderosa green
Open prairies, cured up grasses, autumn beauty, like a dream.

Sky of azure, fringed with fluffy, lacey clouds of white
Drifting gently 'cross earth's ceiling, shards of shining morning light.

On the edges of my vision, a shaggy carpet moves in view
Changing weather starts migration, the herd now moves south on cue.

Walking, grazing, stopping, lazing, as the sun climbs in the sky
Moving to fate's destination, Mother Earth whispers a sigh.

"Tatonka", life blood of the people, moving now to fill its role
An age-old drama taking shape, satisfying nature's soul.

The herd moves out onto a flat, tucked in between two hills.
A thousand hidden eyes watch from ambush.  Tension builds.

With the hunted in position, the chief of hunters sees
Now is the time to spring the trap!  "Hoka Hey" rings from the trees.

Up ravines and out of gulleys come the hunters on their steeds
Driving ponies to their limits, who will dare the bravest deeds?

The shaggy carpet lurches forward to avoid this new-found foe
Hides & humps & hooves & horns moving in one giant flow.

Thunder rumbling, thunder rolling, from hooves pounding on the ground
Running, jumping, bumping, grunting, a stampeding earthquake sound.

Clouds of dust begin to billow, til it blocks out half the sun
Hooves are plowing up the prairies, all of life is on the run!

Above the roar, the primal, piercing screams cut through the air
This harvest deadly serious to provide their winter fare.

Painted faces, painted ponies, feathers tied to hair and mane
Rapid riders, riding reckless, moving close for surer aim.

Having sweated, prayed, and fasted, so they might be purified
They're throwing caution to the wind.  My lord, how they can ride!

Running, chasing, dashing, feinting, pulling alongside shaggy beast
Arrow notched, bowstring straightens, gathering meat in for the feast.

Sharpened lance pierces a rib cage.  Carcass rolls across the earth
Pony lunges for the next one, horses caught up in the mirth!

With the herd now in a panic, leaders dropping to and fro
Bodies scatter 'cross the prairie with each twanging of a bow.

Thunder fades into the distance as the hunt draws to a close.
The mop-up is done swiftly, because every hunter knows

That game must be respected with no unnecessary waste
Prayers are said now 'oer the hunted, like a pilgrim saying grace.

And there's feasting, smoking, dancing as the daylight turns to night
Heroic stories told and re-told around campfires burning bright.

So, the working, feasting, bragging goes on for 'oer a week
Hides are being brain-tanned and meat is dried to keep

There is the gathering of berries to be pounded with the meat
Tons of wasna are the product when the harvest is complete.

And now the camp is packed and moving, travois poles sag beneath the weight
Winter camp must be established as the season's growing late.

But there's contentment in the labor, for the winter packs are full
Dogs and ponies are encouraged as they work and strain to pull.

This store assures the people of sufficient food supply
For the winter months when snows drift deep and storms block out the sky.

And seasons come and seasons go, fulfilled as life intended
A brief respite in history, when change has been suspended.

Before the cold wind blew across the prairie and the land was filled with food.
When the buffalo were plentiful and for the people...life was good!

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

 

We asked Ed how he came to write this poem and he told us: The Sioux chief, Sitting Bull, spoke of a time, "...when a cold wind blew across the prairie."  He was referring to those 2 or 3 years in the 1870's when the hide hunters and the cavalry took the buffalo herds to almost extinction, eliminating the Indians' food supply.  This poem describes what a buffalo hunt might have looked like prior to 1870. 

I got much of my "vision" for this poem while attending the buffalo roundup in Custer State Park in early October, 2002.  It was a "drop-dead" gorgeous fall day on the eastern edge of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

 

  Ed Nesselhuf is a baby-boomer born and raised on the prairies of southeast Colorado.  He has been a Lutheran pastor for 30 years and is Executive Director of Prison Congregations of America (PCA).  He travels considerably and began writing cowboy poetry because of his love of the West and of rural America and because he is terrible at crossword puzzles!  He performs his poetry as a way or promoting PCA.  He calls himself the Prairie Pastor/Poet.

He competes annually at the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo in Kanab, Utah as a means of honing his skills as a performer. (In 2004, he won a silver buckle as the top Serious Reciter.)

He and his partner-for-life, Diane live on an acreage in rural Burbank, South Dakota.  They have 5 children, 3 horses, 2 dogs, and assorted cats.

 

We asked Ed why he thinks Cowboy Poetry is important and he replied: Cowboy Poetry is a way to link modern generations to a culture and way of life that gets beyond the romanticism of the "Western movies."

You can email Ed Nesselhuff.

You can read more of Ed Nesselhuff's poetry here at the BAR-D.

 


Stan Tixier

 

Bugger Red

Oh, there's tales of fame and glory,
And I'll tell you folks a story
   Of a buckin' horse that had a special knack
For dislodgin' skillful riders,
Downright rough and tough rawhiders,
   That assumed a set position on his back.
He was kinda' lean and wiry,
With a temper mean and fiery,
   He was wild from birth, an outlaw born and bred,
But an average lookin' pony,
Light haired sorrel, sorta' roany,
   He was known throughout the west as Bugger Red.

Bugger Red, the name struck terror
For the ordinary wearer
   Of the high healed, high top boot with pointy toe,
And the twisters, those that knew him
Would regret the day they drew him
   In a contest that they call a Rodeo.

He was fifteen hands but rangy,
Long tailed, cockleburred and mangy,
   When they found him in Montana on the range,
Though a few had tried to ride him,
When the contract rider tried him
   It was certain that his life was gonna' change,
'Cause he had instinctive movement
And with practice came improvement,
   But at six years old he never had been fed,
He put on a couple hundred
And they scratched their head and wondered
   If he'd make a saddle bronc, this Bugger Red.

Well, he got his start in Boise,
With a large-sized crowd and noisy,
   And a salty rider got a big surprise,
When that red horse left him hangin'
And his pumpkin head went bangin'
   As the sand came up and smacked him 'tween the eyes.
So he went from there to Baker,
Like a mover and a shaker
   He dispatched a twister quicker than a flash,
Poor guy landed in a rubble,
Shoulda' never took the trouble,
   'Cause he never stood a chance to with the cash.

Then in Pendleton, by golly,
When a rider took a fall, he
   Said he never saw it comin', never did,
He was stickin' for a few jumps,
Suddenly he had some new lumps,
   And ole Bugger showed that he would not be rid.
That performance was repeated
Many times, and undefeated
   Was this buckin' horse no one could ride, instead
Every hopeful bronco buster,
All the luck that they could muster
   Weren't enough to stay aboard that Bugger Red.

Bugger made his reputation
With an awesome combination
   Of just brutal force along with speed unique,
He could jar you 'til you rattle
Then rotate a slippery saddle
   With a most effective buckin' horse technique,
He was ornery as the devil
As he started straight and level
   For a jump or two and then he'd bog his head,
With a swift and twistin' motion
Like a rowboat in the ocean,
   Some poor cowboy would depart from Bugger Red.

So, for season after season,
It was obvious the reason
   Bugger Red, you see, still never had been rode,
Lotsa' top hands came and tried him,
Not a one could stay astride him,
   Each and every sad contestant would be throwed.
Well, his fame was quickly spreadin',
It was likely he was headin'
   For a special class wherein it can be said
Ain't no buckin' horse that's tougher,
Born to make a cowboy suffer,
   Than the toughest of them all, old Bugger Red.

But alas, it's truly spoken
Every record must be broken,
   And the very best there is will one day fail,
One spring evening down in Reno,
And it's true for all that we know
   Well, he wrote a final chapter to this tale,
There a rider drawn at random,
With some luck and skill in tandem,
   Proved there's never been a horse alive or dead,
That at last could not be ridden,
Every move was to his bidin',
   And he scored a winnin' ride on Bugger Red.

Oh, there's legend and there's fable,
Cowboys sit around a table
   And imbibe a bit and tell each other lies,
Now and then amongst  them fellers
There's authentic history tellers,
   And you find your mouth drops open in surprise,
For when saddle broncs are spoken
Of, there isn't any jokin',
   'Cause for every rank cayuse that's spurred and bled,
Just forget them other suckers,
When they name the greatest buckers
   There's a horse that's mentioned first, it's Bugger Red.

Bugger Red, the name struck terror
For the ordinary wearer
   Of the high heeled, high top boot with pointy toe,
And the twisters, those that knew him
Would regret the day they drew him
   In a contest that they call a Rodeo!

© 1993, Stan Tixier
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

We asked Stan how he came to write this poem and he told us: I wish I could tell you some wild story about how this was some real buckin' horse that I tried to ride once and got throwed off in the dust, but alas,
it ain't so.  Sometimes my poems are from real stories I've heard or read about, sometimes old jokes or things I know about first hand, but this one, like a lot of others for me, I just dreamed up.

 

   Stan Tixier has been writing and reciting cowboy poetry since 1991. 

Stan has recited to audiences throughout the West - in Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. He has won competition in "Cowboy Poetry Rodeos" in Cedar City and Kanab, Utah, with some of the best cowboy poets anywhere competing. 

A graduate of the University of Arizona with degrees in range management, Stan also served in the US Navy and spent several years as a working cowboy on the Money registered Hereford Ranch in southern Colorado. After a career with the US Forest Service (retired as regional forester of the Intermountain Region), he was president of the Society for Range Management, a professional society of 5,000+ members. 

Stan and his wife, Jan, live in Eden, Utah, where they raise, train, and occasionally sell fox-trotting horses.  They have 3 married children and 11 grandchildren.

Stan says: I have always enjoyed cowboy poetry.  S. Omar Barker was poet laureate in New Mexico when I was growing up there many years ago, and I thought he was wonderful (he was!)  After I retired and had a little free time, I thought I'd try and see if I could do it and it just mushroomed from there. I went to the open mike session at the Ogden Pioneer Days Cowboy Poets gathering and was invited on the main stage the next year and the next for about 8 years straight. The "competition" in Cedar City and Kanab, produced by Sam Jackson, turned out to be some of the most fun I'd ever had. (Some folks like that sort of thing and some don't; I think it's a hoot!) I have about 100 or more poems in my "memory bank," mostly mine, some by other poets.

Getting a poem ("You Get the Gate!") published in Western Horseman in November, 2002 was a highlight.

 

We asked Stan why he thinks Cowboy Poetry is important and he replied:  

Cowboy Poetry is important because it perpetuates a unique art form that has its roots in our Western heritage. It is unlike other, more highly cultured poetry (that usually doesn't even rhyme anymore), in that it uses the cowboy vernacular and it usually tells authentic stories, whether humorous or serious, in a highly entertaining way.

You can email Stan Tixier.

You can read more of Stan Tixier's poetry here at the BAR-D.

 

Joyce Johnson

 

Coming of Age

My eldest brother, nine years old,
Thought he could break a horse.
Our mother strictly forbade him;
A mother's right of course.
Her young son mustered all his wiles,
Hoping he could sway her;
Unwilling to be defeated,
Vowed to disobey her.

He gathered a rope and bridle,
Went to the big corral.
He was there to break a wild colt,
With brothers there to yell.
My youngest brother, four years old,
Yelled,  "I'll tell Ma on you,
Unless you take me up there
And give me a ride too."

In his eagerness to hush him,
The young rider agreed
And lifted him to the bare back
Of that big, trembling steed.
Our father came in nick of time
To salvage little brother;
Then watched as his son rode that colt.
No one told our mother.

© 2003, Joyce Johnson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

We asked Joyce how she came to write this poem and she told us: The story of this poem "Coming of Age" was an oft repeated family tale. My oldest brother was driving a team and doing a man's job at 8 years of age, I am told.  I am sure he saw no reason why he could not take on the task of breaking a horse.  He had probably been tending to it since the day it was born.  These horses had been gentled by comradeship with my young brothers who loved them and perhaps it was not the tough task it sounds for the young boy who rode it for the first time. I have another story of this young fellow, which illustrates his resourcefulness and determination at an early age.  He was eight years old and attending a one-room country school. He had some sort of dispute with his teacher (some of these teachers were 8th grade graduates only, in these desperate early years.)  As he was unable to resolve the problem to his satisfaction, he marched over to his younger brother in the first grade aisle, bundled him into his coat and took him with him, hitched their horse to the buggy and drove several miles to another one-room school and enrolled both of them.  Then he went home and told our parents what he had done and somehow persuaded them to let him stay in the new school. I don't remember the young boy, he was ten years older than I, but I knew well the gentle, strong willed man he became.

I have tried to keep these tales alive by writing them down, sometimes in the form of poetry.

Joyce Johnson told us:  I was raised on a farm in North Dakota and knew no other life until I married and moved to the big city of Detroit in 1941 just six months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  I had no idea where that was but like for so many others, it was to be an important part of my life.  We moved to the state of Washington in 1943 just two weeks before the birth of my first child and only son. I raised three children and am now a widow and a great, great grandma to be.  I started writing poetry when I lost my son in 1999, to record memories important to me.  Most of my poetry is based on fact and I have received much pleasure from my writings. My cowboy poetry is made up of recollections from my early years.

 

We asked Joyce why she writes Cowboy Poetry and she told us:

I write Cowboy Poetry because its simple style comes easily to me and my childhood rural heritage was closely linked to horses and cows and the hard life of the cowboy.

Cowboy poetry is as unpretentious, simple and honest as my background.  No one after reading a good cowboy poem will have to ask, "Now I wonder what the poet meant by that?"

I consider cowboy poetry an important link to our past.

You can email Joyce Johnson.

You can read more of Joyce Johnson's poetry here at the BAR-D.

Jim John

 

The Flint Hills

There's a simple kind of beauty
In the Flint Hills late at night,
When the moon shines on the bluestem grass
And there's not a tree in sight.

Just a'sittin round a campfire
And warmin' to its glow,
As the deep dark blue of nighttime
Covers the hills below.

You can see the rollin' prairie
Bathed in the moon's soft light
And the stars a'specklin' the midnight sky
Givin' beauty to the night.

And out there somewhere nearby
You'll hear a nightbird trill
And the lonely cry of a coyote
Upon some rollin' hill.

It's that evenin' quiet that frees us
From the daytime's work and toil
And our busy lives can rest a spell
Out on that ancient soil.

Yes, it's a simple kind of beauty
In the Flint Hills late at night.
When the moon shines on the bluestem grass
And there's not a tree in sight.

Copyright, 1997, Unpublished Work, James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

We asked Jim about the inspiration for this poem and he told us: I fell in love with the Flint Hills when I was a teenager. They're thousands of acres that buffalo once grazed and are now grazed by cattle. Rolling hills and valleys covered by bluestem grass with an occasional tree here and there. But they're wide open. They inspire all my poems and my sense of the hardiness and rough and ready humor of the folks that settled these great plains.

This poem was the second cowboy poem I ever wrote and it's still one of my favorites. I often look at those rolling Flint Hills, barren of trees, and try to imagine those great herds moving across them like the slow, but inevitable movement of a glacier followed by the nomadic Indian tribes.

I also often wonder about what the settlers heading west thought when they looked at these open hills and saw them seemingly going on and on without end. Were they discouraged or inspired or just determined to cross them and
find the mountains and the ocean.

There are lots of explanations as to why the Kansas territory which included the front range of the Rockies became the state of Kansas without the mountains.  It's my belief that, deep down inside, Kansans are plainsmen and like to see the horizon run from eye level to eye level (north, south, east and west) and the mountains just interrupted that view. So, they weren't needed.

After all, we had the Flint Hills and they're high enough.

jimjohn04.jpg (13080 bytes)  Jim John told us:  I'm a Kansas boy born in the Ozark border country of southeast Kansas. My dad was a railroader with the Santa Fe. When I was nine we moved to Wichita, a cowtown if there ever was one. Of course now it's a lot bigger, but it's still more town than city.

I've spent better than 50 years calling Wichita home and living in the midst of the old west. Since the pilgrims first landed we've been moving west. But, to me, the old west starts at the Kansas and Nebraska and Indian territories (all to become states) with Texas and then the trail drives north to Abilene and Wichita and Newton and Dodge City. These are the times that marked the start of the great surge West with all it's courage and excitement and violence.

Later the West came to be known as Arizona and Colorado and New Mexico and Wyoming and Montana and it just kept marching on to the coast. But the Great Plains were the first stop and formation point for the plainsman and the cowboy and the westerner.

I consider myself a plainsman which means to me someone who is most at home under a sky with unlimited horizons. I've adopted the handle "Kansas Jim" because I'm just mighty proud to be one.

We asked Jim why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he replied:  I've been writing Cowboy Poetry for a few years now because I think that we need to keep the legends of the West. Unlike some poets I don't think that the really important part is the historical accuracy of the old west. I want us to remember and be inspired by the legend just as we're inspired by the legends of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

There were enough mean, vicious, cruel, dishonest westerners to go around. But eventually they lost out because, there were more hard working, straight talking, neighborly cowboys and ranchers and settlers that stood up for what was right and good and god fearing. Folks that helped each other, stood by their friends and fought through dust storms and cyclones and droughts and blizzards and floods and stood tall and proud. This is the legend of the cowboy that is worth celebrating and keeping.

I've been honored to be published in American Cowboy magazine and The Big Roundup. I was once even Cowboy Poet of the Month on the Notorious Clanton Gang site (December 1977).

You can email Jim John.

You can read more of Jim John's poetry here at the BAR-D.

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

 

Michael Henley

 

His Last Chore

"Hardly worth eight hundred son, 'doubt he'd bring that much for killin."
That's what my daddy frowned and said the first time he saw Dillon.
A four year old appendix bred bay gelding with white markings
who seem quite unconcerned with dad's critique and Skipper's barking.
He showed more thoroughbred than quarter and his hips fell off a mite.
His head was long but his legs were straight, 16.1 if I guessed right.

I brought him home from Colorado, fourteen hundred miles in all,
in hopes he'd make a mountain horse when I went back that fall.
Maybe help around the farm to catch the odd sick cow or two
and push 'em through the pens next spring, that's all he'd have to do.
But that was 1983 and he's long since proved dad wrong.
He'll be twenty five tomorrow and both our best days are gone.

Hell, he's a legend in the Rockies, they still talk of things he's done
in the blizzards and on the bad trails that the best old mules shied from.
He caught every sullen cow and held 'em, did it every time I asked
and made me look better than I was for sure and never shirked a task.
There isn't time to tell you all the stories 'bout his worth
but the world will be a poorer place when Ol' Dillon leaves this earth.

Just last Saturday's when I realized he had one last job to do.
One last favor from my old friend before his tour was through.
I eased a nervous eight year old up, real gentle, on his back.
She looked tiny on that giants back, a sittin' my old kak.
She'd been three years ridin' ponies, doin' what the ponies chose to do.
Now she's toppin' off a champion and he began to lead her through.

When she first felt the 'power steering' a broad smile crossed her face
and the confidence kept on building as they crisscrossed the place.
I had to turn my head so she'd not see my eyes get full
the first time she slid to a stop with just the slightest pull.
Atop the finest horse I'll ever own, there rides my little girl.
That's a memory you can't buy for all the money in the world.

Now she pesters me each day askin', "When can I go again?"
And I'm more than proud to saddle up my faithful mountain friend.
I keep wonderin' what he's thinkin' and wonderin' if he knows.
If it bothers him to teach a "pup," I can't see that it shows.
So here's a prayer of thanks Boss for that big bay, heaven sent
and the best eight hundred dollars a cowboy ever spent.

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

We asked Michael how he came to write this poem and he told us: This one happened just like I wrote it and she's gettin' a little more forked every day. I know some folks have the privilege of owning many fine horses in their life. I've fed a bunch, trained a bunch, sold a bunch, even liked a few, but only one "Dillon."


Michael told us "I took this picture the day my little girl first boarded the old horse."

 

I've been a fan of cowboy poetry all my life. My pickup is littered with tapes of Baxter and Waddie as well as my favorite Red Steagall. I'm a business owner and rancher here in central Arkansas. I've hunted the western states and Canada for the last 25 years and share your love of the heritage of cowboy poetry. I am married with three children. There are not many ways to accurately describe the freedom, independence or spirit of the west and the cowboy life, but to my friends who seek an explanation, I've found poetry to do it best. I've been playing the guitar and writing cowboy songs all my life.

 

We asked Michael Henley why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he told us:  My home, sometimes to my wife's chagrin, is a temple to all things "Cowboy."  While, I've had horses and cows most of my life, I'm a far piece from the "real thing," but like a lot of folks I know a little more about the West than the average dude. I just came home from a horseback trip to
the Gila Wilderness area in New Mexico. One million acres untouched can give a man a glimpse of what once was. My cattle raisin' teaches me about genetics and the folks who left the security of the towns to cross that country or settle it or even drive a herd through it were the best of the breed. Their descendants represent the spirit of those folks today. I love to talk cattle with them, share a camp with them or just listen to their thoughts and try to imagine a whole nation full of people like that. The "Cowboy" is not a Hollywood manifestation for me, he lives in those deep lines in the faces of people who still live there, still do it right. I try to take that to paper and know that at best it's awkward sometimes, but I do it, always, to honor that image, the Cowboy.

You can email Michael Henley.

You can read more poetry by Michael Henley here at the BAR-D.

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

 

Janice Gilbertson

 

 

I Knew That

On a red and silver morning in the golden month of June
I hit the trail a'trottin' long so as to reach my goal by noon.

These Lucias are my home-sweet-home, trails traced upon my mind.
Don't consider me a braggart, but I could likely ride 'em blind.

Past the mossy spring-ponds, left over in a damp creekbed,
'Neath perfect, arching Sycamores I held my hat and ducked my head.

I traveled t'ward the South and West and watched the landscape rise.
Past rocks and trees and hollowed logs, all familiar to my eyes.

My thoughts began to wander, as my thoughts so often tend...
I rode my pony mindless 'til our way became a blurry blend.

I rode high above deep washes where yellow wild oats grew,
Then scrub and Oak and Pinyon pine where season's warm winds blew.

Then sometime just thereafter, I came 'round with a start...
Someplace back at who-knows-where, my trail had fell apart!

I gathered up my wits and skills and aimed my horse another way.
No problem here, I knew this land. It was just a short delay.

The high-noon sun moved over and the shadows chose my route,
But a shaley-slide and winter wash sent me 'round about.

The next I knew we were restin' 'neath a tree I knew too well...
We had rested there some hours ago, where it's morning shadow fell.

But I wasn't worried. No, not me. I knew that place by heart.
No way could I be lost up there, cuz I am much too smart!

Off we stuck with purpose cuz I wasn't messin' 'round no more,
...Down the switchback, cuttin' corners...Why! There's that blasted Sycamore!

What ya 'spose was wrong with my dang horse? It's a common-knowledge fact,
Just drop your reins, have trust in him. Why, he'll simply re-enact...

The day was shot when I saw the gate that enters my own land...
BUT I KNEW THAT...I know this place like the back of my own hand.

© 2003, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



I live in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountain range

We asked Janice how she came to write this poem and she told us: "I Knew That" was a fun one for me. I am a proud volunteer member of the Monterey County Sheriffs Mounted Unit and we are primarily a Search and Rescue Unit so we try to learn as much as we can about the why's, how's and where's of people who loose their way. So maybe that is how this poem came to be.

My husband, Ron, and I live in the beautiful foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains on the west side of the Salinas Valley in California. I was born and raised here in the valley. I have been horseback since I was four years old. My father ran cattle here all of my growing up years. I began riding in these hills nearly fifty years ago and I am still doing just that. I am a lover of the land and all God's critters and it seems those things become more and more important as my time goes by. I write my poems from past experiences and a darn good imagination. I learn about myself when I write a good poem. It makes me reach deep to find a way to express something that is not only a thought, but also a "feeling." At the same time, I love humor, so things that make me smile are worth writing down.


We asked Janice why she thinks Cowboy Poetry is important and why she writes it and she told us: I know some folks are a little skeptical of the Cowboy poetry being written in these recent times. I have such admiration for the Classics and the poets who created them, but, alas, I didn't get to live in their time and their lifestyle, so I write what I know and feel and the outcome may seem more Western than Cowboy. I don't think it should matter too much. It all comes from the heart, and I honor the cowboy way.

You can email Janice Gilbertson.

You can read more poetry by Janice Gilbertson here at the BAR-D.

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

 

eric lee

 

Songs of a Cowboy Heart

I grew up in the saddle, called the Texas Plains my home:
though I'd leave, they always called...I always came.
Ma's best lullaby was 'Goin back where the longhorn cattle roam'
and that sleepy Rio Grande, it knows my name.

I was baptized in the Frio, nearly drowned in Austin's flood
when the Colorado left me nearly dead.
I've drunk from Texas rivers 'til they're flowin' in my blood
from San Gabriel to the Trinity to the Red.

I chewed dust by the acre in the western prairie-lands
for my dollar-fifty, bringin' home the herd;
watched rain flood the wadis even while it vanished in the sands
an' in the summer thunder, swore I heard God's word!

See, my Texas has a voice, and all my life I've heard it ring.
Every wind and rock and river has it's part.
When the ol' coyote howls at night or the evenin' mockingbird sings
I'll always hear the songs of a cowboy heart.

I've felt a stampede shake the ground beneath my sleepin' ear,
an' woke up already runnin' for my horse.
I kept my seat an' rode to meet the ugly face of fear:
held my ground 'til the herd had changed its course.

I've felt my throat so dry, cold beer was like the sweetest wine
and drank cheap whiskey down to kill the pain
of knowin' that the girl I loved could see that same moon shine...
and that I'd prob'ly never see her face again.

I've gulped down campfire coffee, eaten bacon and red beans...
walked backward 'crost the state, one fence-post at a time,
busted  bronc for the remuda, an' sat waitin' for the gate
to pop, then held on 'til I heard eight seconds chime.

It's been my whole life's music, played in lonesome, minor chords,
and here, near the end, it's just like at the start.
I hope, one day,
    to hear God's angels singin' me them same sweet words

that echo...

...in the songs of a cowboy heart.


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

 

We asked eric how he came to write this poem and he told us: This poem in particular was purpose-written; I'd decided some four years back that when I finally publish a collection of my cowboy poems, the title would be Songs of a Cowboy Heart, and I have tried off and on since then to write a proper theme-piece for that title.  A couple days after the event in Kanab, back in '02, I was havin' trouble sleepin' and thought back to Ma singin' to us, when we was kids...

     "Goin' back where the Longhorn Cattle roam, roam, roam..
      'way down by the sleepy Rio Grande"

I listened to it, in my head, all the way through to that last line,

     "Texas, where I'll never more be leavin'...
     Texas, all my ramblin' days are done!"

Soon as that last note faded from my head, I started to crawl out of bed, told my sleepy wife "Stay put...just gotta write somethin'!" (do y'all ever stop to think what the wife of a writer puts up with?!) She wouldn't let me get up, grabbed a notebook and lay there writin' while I dictated the poem.

Y'know...I do believe I mighta been cryin' by the time I was done with the writin'.  (Big, tough cowboy, huh?)

 

  I was born in West Texas, brought up there and on the Western Slope of Colorado.  Done enough ranch-work to know one end of a lariat from the other, and usually get the right end over a steer, but my event was always bareback bronc.  I'm 48, livin' in the mountains in northern Arizona with my beautiful and talented wife, Vicki (the one in Arizona Girl).

I'm still looking for a composer to collaborate on a few dozen Country lyrics I've written, and maybe get rich with me, if we can get Mr. Strait's kind attention for three minutes forty.  Still married, still happy...and still a cowboy after all these years.

We asked eric why he writes songs and Cowboy Poetry and he answered: Why I love the cowboy traditions and way of life is more words than are easily quotable, which is exactly why I write cowboy poetry.  Some things are just worth savin' and some ought never be forgot!

You can contact eric lee by email.

You can read more poetry by eric lee here at the BAR-D.

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

 

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