pleased to announce the winner of the:
Rod Miller resides in Sandy, Utah. He says "I grew up in the small town of Goshen, Utah where our family ran a small herd of cattle and enough horses to keep everyone mounted. For a good part of his life, my dad was a working cowboy, responsible for the cattle on a large farm/ranch operation. I rode bareback broncs in high school, college, and PRCA rodeos for several years. The peak of my career (probably) was landing on my head at the College National Finals Rodeo. Nowadays, I write poetry for fun at my home in Sandy, Utah where I live with my wife and two daughters."
More than seventy of Rod's poems have appeared in print since he penned his first in 1997. WESTERN HORSEMAN, AMERICAN COWBOY, RANGE, and COWBOY magazines have all featured his poems on multiple occasions. Rod has also written a book of cowboy humor which the publisher is due to release in Spring 2003, and he has short stories in two forthcoming Western anthologies. He is a member of Western Writers of America.
Rod Miller told Omar West why he writes Cowboy Poetry when the two met up at the 2001 Elko Gathering:
I believe in perpetuating the Western traditions. I had some things I wanted to say and, for me, Cowboy Poetry is the way to say it.
And Rod recently remarked:
I like the title of the Bill Moyers' series about poetry on PBS, "Fooling with Words." Cowboy lingo provides a lot of interesting words to fool around with. Cowboy poems ought to be more than sentimental stories or jokes that rhyme -- they ought to use to advantage the rich words of the West.
(Self Portrait above by Rod Miller; click for larger image.)
Below is a photo from Elko, February 1, 2002 by Teddie Daley:
We asked Rod about his inspiration for "Luck (But Not Exactly the Beginner's Kind)" and he replied:
Back in my rodeo days, I was always impressed by those few people you would see who were real "hands" -- natural-born cowboys. While most of us were getting psyched up and endlessly tinkering with equipment and fretting over every detail, some "hand" would just show up and outdo everyone at everything without even thinking about it or working at it.
These natural-born cowboys were the ones I was thinking about when I set out to write this poem. The story just came out of nowhere and I lay no claim to it.
You can email Rod. Here's his award-winning poem:
(But Not Exactly the Beginner's Kind)
Jammed together in the truck seat
A cowboy, his wife, and three kids
Wearing raggedy pants and patched-up boots
And passed-down, worn-out lids.
The pickup truck shuddered to a stop.
It had a stock rack in the back.
And, there among the feed bags and salt,
Was a sorry collection of tack.
He rooted through the refuse
Of days spent tending cattle
And pulled out from under a pile of twine
An ancient association saddle.
An old canvas bag came out next,
It, too, had seen better days;
So had the bareback rigging inside
And the bull rope, old, and frayed.
He dumped his gear behind the chutes
And hustled to the other end
To arrange to borrow a bulldogging horse
From a long-time, long-lost friend.
The other contestants snickered
At this hand who rode in from the range.
They'd never seen such equipment:
Old, outdated, and strange.
Then he kicked the hair off his bareback
And ended up in second place,
Beat 'em in the bronc and bull riding,
Came in fourth in the steer wrestling race.
They didn't know that years ago
He'd been a star on the college circuit,
But married and went back home to the ranch
To help his family work it.
Just now, there was a note coming due
And hospital bills left by his dad,
So this cowboy showed up at the rodeo
Because he needed a payday real bad.
He gathered his family and collected his checks
And limped off in that rusty old truck,
While the cocky young cowboys he'd bettered that day
Laughed it off as nothing but luck.
("Luck" originally appeared in Western Horseman magazine)
You can read more poetry by Rod Miller here at the BAR-D.
30 A Month, and Found
I was up in New York City,
It was the fall of '83.
Standin' by the Ocean,
Watching Lady Liberty.
I'd only gone up there,
As a promise to a friend.
To give the word to family,
That his life had reached an end.
When I left their home that day,
I thought I'd look around.
This would probly be the only time,
I'd get to New York town.
Even from a distance,
I could see her torch held high.
And it drew me to the harbor.
Where a teardrop filled my eye.
Cuz I just stood there, thinkin',
Of folks gone on before.
Fightin' and believin',
In the things that she stood for
This feller, he come up to me,
Said, 'Isn't she a sight?"
In order to hide my tears,
I turned my head a mite.
He said "Cowboy,
don't try to turn away.
She brings a tear, to my eyes too,
And I see her every day"
"I can tell this is your first time,
Yes, I can see your aren't from here.
Let me tell you about my town,
And let me buy you a beer"
Well, we hit this saloon,
Tho' he called it a pub.
All the folks there howdy'd him,
Like it was a social club.
He said, "I work for the chamber of commerce"
From my blank stare, I'm guessin. He could see,
That I had no idee what he's talkin' 'bout,
So he 'splained it to me.
"You see cowboy, it works like this,
I kinda sell the town.
I try to get folks from all over,
To come lay their money down."
For a couple of hours, he described,
His city in detail.
Said, "Cowboy, I'm betting, there's nothing like this,
Out there on them trails.
"Well, says I, Mom said don't try,
To put nobody down.
And there's some almighty, awesome things,
To look at in this town
But out there where I have been,
Is God's great majesty.
And there ain't nothin' that can touch it,
In a man made town, you see.
Have you ever tasted water,
From a mountain stream, so pure?
Or seen an elk calf, nurse his Ma,
That'll set you back, for sure.
I've been up in the Bitterroots,
In the valley of the Red.
Where green grass grows, stirrup deep,
Along the riverbed.
I've seen a thousand Antelope,
Grazin' Wyomin's plains.
With purple mountains, in the background,
Shrouded in summer rains.
Ever see a band of Quakies,
With there leaves, aturnin' gold?
Against a field of spruce trees,
That's somethin' to behold.
Have you seen a western sunrise,
Where the sky turns from black to blue?
But not before God paints the sky,
With an orange, and purple hue.
I'll tell you sir, nothin' on this earth,
Can chase away the gloom.
Like a mornin' in East Texas,
When the Dogwoods is in bloom.
If by chance, someday you leave,
This city, and come out West.
Take some time, and look around,
Its Heaven, at its very best.
Now you're awful proud, and rightly so,
Of what you folks built here.
But, I think I'll head to Texas,
Where the sky is wide, and clear.
I know you think you've got it made,
In a house, with a feather bed.
But for me, I'd rather sleep,
Out there, with stars over my head.
Those folks there in that tavern,
Had listened to my spiel,
And they could see in my eyes,
That's how I truly feel.
"Why it must have cost a fortune,
To see all that you have seen.
We only get to read about it,
In some fancy magazines."
Yes, boys I'm truly blessed,
Tho' I got no cash to toss around.
I've seen it all through the ears of a horse,
For 30 a month, and found.
© 2001, Don Gregory
About Don Gregory
I was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and was raised in a small town just southeast of there, called Kennedale. I've always been fascinated by the "old" west, and the way of life that folks led back then. I've never had to depend on livestock for my living, but have had a hand in raising a few head, on small farms of family, and friends. I've only recently taken up writing cowboy poetry, but have been writing, for many years, mainly poems for friends, and loved ones.
We asked Don why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he replied:
I've been reading, and listening to Cowboy Poetry for some time now, and
the life depicted in those poems struck me as the way things should still
be...where a man's word is his bond, and where honesty, and integrity,
aren't just words. The words, and expressions widely used by the folks of
the range...both in the past, and the present, should be forever preserved...and I am so glad, that I have been given the chance to do my
part, to keep it alive.
We asked Don about his inspiration for "30 A Month and Found" and he replied:
I sat down to write this poem, and the first verse of this one, and Hard
Promises To Keep are almost the same, because while I meant to write this
one, I had to write it first, to set the table, it seems. The places and
sights mentioned in the poem are from my own experiences, hunting and
fishing across the western U.S., and being raised in Texas. The beauty of
these sights should be remembered, and protected. I hope in some small part, I can help folks to be able to see them, if only in their minds.
You can email Don.
You can read more of Don Gregory's poetry here at the BAR-D.
They say the cowboys' time spanned some twenty years
And their day has long since passed
That barbed wire now rides night herd
And the roundups run on gas
We hear that horses now are bred to ride
Not needed to work cattle
That cowboy gear is just for show
Like a rattlesnake with its rattles
As the lonely howl of the timber wolf
Has been replaced by the coyote's song
The tough young men who trailed the herds
In today's world don't belong
But out there on the prairies
In the canyons and the draws
You'll see horsemen herding cattle
And hear the branded mavericks bawl
You'll see horses hot and lathered
And the cowboys rope and tie
See the cooky's fire start smoking
As the long day starts to die
Just the sight of young men riding
Brings back images from the past
While they yet ride these memories
Until the final day will last
And high up in the heavens
Riding trails that have no end
On mustangs made of rawhide
Chasing thunder on the wind
Ride the cowboys of the legends
We record in verse and song
May their ride go on forever
And may I someday ride along
© 2001, Jay Jones
About Jay Jones:
Jay Jones was raised on a farm in rural Missouri. In his younger days he rode bulls and roped calves in amateur rodeos. He draws heavily on his experiences in amateur rodeos for much of his poetry, and believes strongly in the preservation and promotion of the cowboy way of life. Since joining the Missouri Cowboy Poets Association he has branched out into song writing and, on occasion, will even play and sing a song or two he has written. Jay and his wife Debbie have been married for over 30 years and have one son and two grandchildren. Jay and family live in Columbia, Mo. He has a B. A. in English, is a teacher for the State of Missouri, and is a Vietnam Veteran. His poetry and songs are always uniquely original, usually humorous, but sometimes explore the traditional aspects of our western heritage.
We asked Jay why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he replied:
I write Cowboy Poetry because I admire the courage, independence, and determination of the American Cowboy. Cowboy poetry encompasses so many topics -- horses, dogs, cattle, all kinds of critters -- along with adventure, romance, humor, and a marvelous landscape for a backdrop. Subjects to write about are endless. I enjoy my association with other members of the Missouri Cowboy Poets Association and really anticipate our gatherings where everyone presents their latest creations.
You can email Jay Jones.
You can read more of Jay Jones' poems
here at the BAR-D.
He was known as Feather Henry on th' ranches hereabout,
Whenever you needed an extra hand, you'd hunt young Henry out.
Th' sign fer him was a hawk feather hung out on th' rancher's gate,
Sure enough, he'd show up in a week or so, dependable as fate.
Steppin' out on th' porch, you'd find 'im, hunched up aginst th' rain.
On his head he wore a cowpoke's hat that blew in off th' plain,
In th' band there was a feather from a high flyin' red-tailed hawk;
He'd have set out there a week, I guess, before you'd get him to knock;
Henry was born to a white girl who hadn't known 'gee' from 'haw,'
And a scared young Nez Perce' man runnin' hard from th' county law.
The boy was ten when his ma was drowned in a canyon flood;
His granddad turned th' kid away, couldn't bear his Indian blood.
Feather Henry would rake or mow or plow... do most any chore;
He slept in tack shacks an' woodsheds, ate at th' kitchen door.
Kindly ranch women kept him in duds, hand-me-downs from their kids,
Any one of them would have let him stay on... but Henry never did.
He moved around th' valley, showin' up when an' where he was needed
With hayin' or lambin' or when it was time t' get th' garden weeded.
One day Jed Grant found out by chance where Henry's true talents lay...
He could gentle a wild colt quiet, and do it in less than a day.
Henry could do some of lots of things, but when it came to a horse,
He could outshine anyone around, with light from an inner source.
Henry would whisper his horse talk, keepin' his hat down low,
He'd call wild ones out of th' hills, or in from th' prairies below.
Legend said Nez Perce' knew horses, Appaloosas were their pride;
Decked out in fancy trappin's, they showed th' Crow how t' ride.
The word went 'round like wildfire...Feather Henry's fame soon grew;
Said he'd always called ponies an' hawks...th' white folks just never knew.
When it seemed no one livin' had the power t' calm those crazy eyes,
Henry'd lean quiet up aginst th' corral, backed by a blazin' sunrise.
Filled with doubt, th' throbbin' blood poured through th' critter's veins,
With flashin' hooves an' shudderin' hide, fear raced through their brains.
Th' boy would wait, still as a stone, 'til th' worst of it had passed,
Then he'd move slow, takin' the sun's glare out of their eyes at last.
Henry'd hunch his back up waitin' 'til he felt th' first shy move,
Then he'd cock his head an' drop his hip t' show that he approved.
Their noddin' heads an' canted eyes would answer only to him...
He'd shoulder in, layin' his hands on th' young'un's quivverin' skins.
Nudgin' an' turnin'...walkin' away... speakin' in tongues of their own,
I never once saw Feather Henry come close t' bein' thrown.
I knew I'd been seein' wonders performed before my very eyes;
When I said as much t' Henry, he just looked at me, surprised.
He never seemed to comprehend the way that he'd been blessed,
Or even why th' rest of us had always seemed impressed.
Th' boy grew up to be a man, we'd come t' take him fer granted,
Stickin' some feathers up on th' gate whenever we needed his talent;
Time went by an' as things changed, th' country went t' war,
It was some other folks' fight in Asia, just like we'd done before.
Henry talked war talk like th' rest of us but no one thought he'd go,
Then he joined up an' spent his boot camp in a place called Quantico.
Henry went t' 'Nam an' when they shipped him an' his medals back,
We put him t' rest the Nez Perce' way... with hawk feathers in our hats.
© 2001, Byrd Woodward
About Byrd Woodward:
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."
We asked Byrd about her inspiration for "Feather Henry" and she replied:
Yes, it's drawn from my experience...Grandpa Jordan, who lived with us for quite a while, could do this....and my husband Woody is pretty good at it, too. The young man in the poem is real, he just wasn't a whisperer.....he was a fellow my brother went to high school with, a talented writer and poet.....I've often wondered what we've missed by his death...I thought his work was wonderful.
Byrd Woodward's paternal grandfather,
Chester Warren Jordan, a horse whisperer.
Above photo of Byrd Woodward by Laura Flood of the Prescott Valley Tribune,
used with her kind permission
You can email Byrd.
You can read more of Byrd Woodward's poems here at the BAR-D.
The Killin' of Lefty McFee
(with apologies to Robert W. Service)
Strange things are done 'neath a hot Texas sun
by the men who have charge of the herd.
He's a liar who says "rare is a sigh or a care"
or he's heard no "discouraging word."
These steers have seen sights to give grown men frights
but the strangest they ever did see
was the night on sand by the Rio Grande
that I outgunned ol' Lefty McFee.
Now Lefty McFee came from Tennessee
where the grass is blue, so I've been told
and the air is like wine and the music is fine
and only the mountains are old.
Lefty came late to the Lone Star State
with a shady and dark-shadowed past...
when he joined with our crew, more than one or two
of us cowboys said he'd never last.
'Cause Lefty McFee was a shepherd, you see,
and in cattlemens' eyes, that's a sin
since everyone knows that no more grass grows
where a herd of ol' sheep has once been.
But for Lefty to try to herd cattle was sly,
for who'd ever look for him here?
If he ran from the law, there was no one who saw
him show up here and smelling of beer...
And that, he sure did, and, friend, I wouldn't kid
you, ol' Lefty could pour it an' swill it.
With one hollow leg, there wasn't a keg
but what, by hisself, Lefty could kill it.
His habits were rude and he gulped down his food
like each bite was the last chow he'd see.
His breath was a curse...went from bad to much worse
and from Day One, this cuss hated me!
Now no one believes that workin' with beeves
is a job to make anyone rich
but I have to admit, from his first day at it
he was one workin' son of a bitch.
He was mean, but not thick, and he caught on real quick
to the ornery ways of a steer.
He could chase cattle down 'til they dropped to the ground
and he didn't know the meaning of 'fear'.
He did his job well, but, as all of us tell
it, he always walked 'round lookin' beat.
'Twas the sun, don't you see, that was his enemy.
Lefty just couldn't handle the heat!
The Tennessee skies (so say those who are wise)
are gentle and soft to the eye,
but you won't see much sun that's as hot as the one
that shines up in this here Texas sky
an ' ol' Lefty he felt sometimes like he might melt,
from the way that his feet dragged the ground..
Except for cold beer, wasn't much that would cheer
up this drover, when summer came round,
but he still did his share, pulled his weight, fair and square
and we mostly forgave him his ways
and kept a cold six in a locker we fixed
up... and kept it locked tight through the days.
But one thing I can say, and I know to this day
Lefty hated my guts through and through.
And like any old bone, if he caught me alone,
I knew...bury me's what he would do.
There was no knowing why, but the look in his eye
when he looked at me made me grow cold
and the growl in his in his voice said if he had a choice,
that I just wouldn't live to grow old.
Well, there came a day, soon, in the middle of June
when we'd put all the beeves on the train
down old El Paso way. 'Twas the hottest damn day
and the folks was all prayin' fer rain.
We'd stopped down at the bar, after loadin' that car
full of steers bound for somebody's plate.
then we all hit the sand by the old Rio Grande
to cool down a bit (though it came late).
We swam (best we could in a river where mud
was in bigger supply than the water)
then we dried off and dressed while ol' Lefty just messed
around chasin' a trout (and he caught her!).
Johnny picked his guitar and his eyes got that far-
away look that he got when he drank.
We'd brought more beer along, and we started a song
by a fire on that old river bank.
We was on the last keg, and down close to it's dregs
so Pat said he'd head back to town
and bring back another. Then Lefty, that mother-
less souse drank the last of it down!
Well, I took it the worst, 'cause I had me a thirst
that left my throat dry as old boots.
I said "Look, you besotten old dog, that was rotten!"
and cussed him right down to his roots.
Then I turned my back, and that's when he attacked,
and his leg (at least, some of us claimed)
caught Cooky's shotgun as he leaped on the run
and it fell, and at me it was aimed.
Now some of us figger he ne'er pulled the trigger
and it went off when it hit the ground
but Cooky is square, and to this day he'll swear,
it weren't cocked when he put it down.
But the truth doesn't change, even though it be strange
and when my leg caught that double-ought
There was no time for thinkin', so don't blame my drinkin'.
I turned...and I drew...
and I shot.
he was still in mid-leap and it wasn't a heap
of help, seein', then, he was unarmed.
He was dead in the air, be it foul, be it fair,
all I knew was he shot me, unwarned!
It's sure strange, but his eyes didn't show no surprise
as my bullet went into his chest
and he fell to the ground without nary a sound...
That's just how it happens, out west.
We buried him deep, and a mem'ry we'll keep
of the dangdest ol' beer-drinkin' hound
that we believe ever came cros't the Red River
and set foot on hot Texas ground
an' we placed there a stone in the shape of a bone
to honor poor Lefty McFee.
See, the truth is, this vermin-ous Shepherd was German
And a meaner dog you'll never see!
Strange things are done 'neath a hot Texas sun
by the men who have charge of the herd.
He's a liar who says "rare is a sigh or a care"
or he's heard no "discouraging word."
These steers have seen sights to give grown men frights
but the strangest they ever did see
was the night on sand by the Rio Grande
that I outgunned ol' Lefty McFee.
© 2001 by eric lee
About eric lee:
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 45, spent the last five years livin' in the mountains in northern Arizona with my beautiful and talented wife, Vicki, the one in Arizona Girl. We've recently moved, though, since an injury has taken me off the list of able-bodied ranch hands, and now live in Lost Wages, Nevada (though I see that's misspelled on the map). I'm 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 of eric lee's poems here at the BAR-D.
Old tree, you've seen one hundred ten years
as the sun went rolling by.
Growing bigger every season,
cutting space into the sky.
Cottonwood, you sing at evening,
when the wind is wafting low.
Songs of sweetness, songs of sadness,
songs of all the years you know.
And the log house built before you
still stands there beneath your leaves.
Dreaming now of all the home folks,
born and grown who always leave.
There were children in your young years--
great-great grandparents of those now.
Children born and lived and died here--
ranching, working, raising cows.
There was many a black angus
sought the coolness of your shade.
Children played their games about you,
broken-hearted mourners prayed.
There were lilacs in the sweet May,
family dinners on the lawn.
Family gatherings, weddings, good times,
ah, so many of them gone.
Patriarch, you're left to dream now
of the times on the Seven-Y-Bar.
Families gone and past now--
only you know where they are.
© 2001, Jean Mathisen
About Jean Mathisen:
I'm a native of Lander and Wyoming--my family has been here in the Lander Valley since 1869 and seven 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 currently work for the Wyoming Dept. of Transportation as an Administrative Specialist (permit clerk and radio dispatcher to translate the government title!).
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.
We asked Jean what inspired her poem "Patriarch" and she told us:
I came to write "Patriarch" because the tree I wrote it about was planted the year my Grandfather, John Hornecker, was born in 1890 behind the log cabin he was born in. My mother was also raised in that cabin along with 7 brothers and sisters and was married there. The tree is an integral part of our family lore, our "family tree" so to speak.
My aunt still owns the old home ranch and the tree is still there, big as ever!
The ranch is still in family ownership and the cottonwood is a giant. I think it has to be one of the biggest cottonwoods in Wyoming--it has a trunk circumference of better than 28'.
Photo from about 1990, it's bigger now!
You can contact Jean Mathisen by email.
You can read more of Jean Mathisen's poetry here at the BAR-D.
Ranch Wife's Resume
I was helping my sister the other day,
She was writing up a resume.
I got to thinking how mine would read.
Some things would sure look strange, indeed.
"What is 'cow bait'?" they might say,
Well, I'd answer, it works this way.
When you're in the corral with a cow that's mean
This will do as good as anything.
You stand in the gate, and when she charges you,
Jump out of the way and let her through,
Then hop back over and slam the gate.
That's what's meant by being 'cow bait'.
Then, tractor puller, not the one
That's a sport, or meant for fun.
Lots of patience is a must.
Remember, ease out on the clutch.
Don't want to snap ol' hubby's neck
Or stronger words are used than "heck."
Next up, blade weight. This don't take much skill,
But husbands can get looks to kill.
They ask you to stand out on the end of the blade.
The reason, well, they need more weight
So they can scrape the stackyard free of old hay,
But hubby don't earn no points that day.
I can be a fencepost or a gate,
Often times that's been my fate.
Hold that cow, don't let her through.
You're sure in trouble if you do,
'Cause you change from fencepost to cowdog.
It's awful helpful if you can jog.
Equipment mover, this one I hate,
Trying to squeeze them through the gate,
Combine, hayrack, rake, or baler,
Backing up a fifth wheel trailer.
Never learned to do that right,
Wonder it don't cause a fight.
Hand lines are a tribulation,
But I'm pretty good at flood irrigation.
I can dig ditches, and shovel sods,
Set canvas dams with rocks and clods.
I've got such lovely calloused hands
From chasing water cross alfalfa lands.
But the one of which I'm proud,
And I'll say this right out loud--
"Bovine Obstetrics and Nutritional Knowledge."
Now, don't that sound like I been to college?
But all them fancy words fall flat
When you stop and realize that
All it means is I pitch hay
To them big ol' cows all day,
Then leave my nice warm bed at night
To look at their bums with my flashlight.
After looking at my resume,
It looks funny, I should say.
Hope I don't have to go and look
For another job...sure glad I can cook!
About Denise McRea:
I live in Leadore, Idaho. I belong to the Cowboy Poets of Idaho, and attend any gatherings that I have gas money for. I love cowboy poetry and music. I have spent my life among cowboys and ranchers and have the utmost respect and admiration for them. Once in awhile I am lucky enough to be asked to go to schools and teach cowboy poetry. I really enjoy that part of it.
I have a husband and 3 children, a few horses and dogs. I cook at the school, and I love being around the kids.
In 2002, Denise told us how she got started in Cowboy Poetry: I got started writing cowboy poetry about 12 years ago or more, when Roberta Green, Ethie Corrigan, and Ellie Corrigan, from Challis, Idaho put on a gathering in Salmon, Idaho. My husband heard the ad on the radio asking for local poets to submit poetry for their gathering. He encouraged me to send in a poem, and I wrote them a poem about our meanest cow. They liked it, and used it in the gathering. I wasn't able to attend the first few gatherings in Salmon. Ten years ago, my husband secretly signed me up to to the St. Anthony gathering, then three days before, told me to get my stuff together, John Howell was expecting me. Yikes! I went, got up on stage, somehow remembered to breathe long enough to get through it, and found myself a a part of the grandest group of people it has ever been my pleasure to be around...the Cowboy Poets of Idaho.
We asked Denise why she thinks Cowboy Poetry is important and she said: This is who we are, a culture as vibrant and exciting as any other. I want to pass it along to my children and others so they can know who we are and where we come from.
When we asked her why she writes Cowboy Poetry, she said: The happiest days of my life were spent on ranches and around horses and cows, and the wonderful people who tend to them. I write to keep that happiness close at hand.
When we asked her what inspired "Ranch Wife's Resume" she said: Heck, it is my life!
I like to do this poem at gatherings, because I see women in the audience poking their husbands in the ribs, saying, yeah, I know what she means!
You can contact Denise McRea by email, and don't be surprised if she takes a while to answer. She tells us that out where she lives she doesn't "have power, so I have to borrow a computer or go to the library when I have some spare time."
You can read more of Denise McRea's poetry here at the BAR-D.
Shye Ann and the Card Game
The barroom was all quiet when Shye came on the scene.
Black Bart was playin' poker. She stood there long and lean.
"A long neck beer," she called, and tossed a coin on the bar.
"I rode into town today, I'm dry from ridin' s'far."
"Don't serve ladies at the bar, pull up to a table.
Better yet, the way you're dressed, we'll serve you in the stable."
"Never claimed to be a lady. Hard work is all I've known.
So before I blow your head off, my beer...now leave me alone."
She turned and stared at ol' Black Bart a calm look on her face.
"I'll take my beer to that table, and fill the empty place."
"Don't like ladies at this table," Bart quickly shuffled the cards.
"Then let's admit I ain't one, and both let down our guards."
"Ain't here to waste your time, I'll play a high stakes game."
She pulled out a roll of bills, yea thick, "Winnin's why I came."
Two cowpokes up and left...at the table there were three,
Bart, Shye Ann, and a rancher with a dance girl on his knee.
Bart said he'd be the dealer, Shye asked for a fresh new deck.
The rancher ordered a stiff drink, got the dance girl off of his neck.
They played 'til two in the morning. Shye, she held her own.
Black Bart was gettin' twitchy 'cause her stack of bills had grown.
He was tryin' hard to beat her, but his cards had turned to trash.
Without cheatin', he couldn't skin her of her worldly cash.
Shye watched as ol' Bart stretched, and palmed at least one ace.
The same trick had fooled her daddy, and won Bart, Shye Ann's homeplace.
Daddy had took to drinkin', Ma came down with the cough.
The baby was near to starvin' when Shye saddled, and took off.
She wrapped her chest with a cinch strap, cut her hair real short.
Then rode, and worked, with some drovers, who thought the "lad" a good sort.
So they taught her the game of poker 'til she played her a "manly" hand.
She busted all their flushes, and put her winnings in a can.
Once the tin overflowed, she took it to the bank.
And turned it into greenbacks. She had them boys to thank!
She went out lookin' to find Bart, and face that ruthless cad
Who cheated and robbed the innocent and stole the ranch from her dad.
And now he sat across from her wearing that nasty grin
Thinking that he'd break her, too. That's when the sheriff walked in.
Shye lifted her hand from her pistol grip, she was gettin' ready to fire.
But she didn't want to get hung for killin' a cheat and a liar.
She looked at her hand with four cards drawn, and realized with a rush
That she was one card away from a win, if she got her a royal flush.
She turned to the sheriff and said "Sir, watch 'til we end this game.
I nearly killed Bart for cheatin' but I'd like to see him in pain."
The last card was dealt to all of 'em. Shye ran her hand through her hair.
"I'll just feel better about it when I win here, fair and square."
The rancher called and raised her, Bart up and doubled the bet.
Shye matched his bet, and doubled again, her hands were startin' to sweat.
It was time to turn over their cards, the table held all of her dreams.
Bart rolled over a full house. It was aces over queens!
The rancher sighed and showed his cards he only had two pair.
Aces and eights, "the dead man's hand," five aces a game is rare!
Shye turned her cards, one at a time, her cheeks began to blush.
For there on the table, for all to see, was Shye Ann's Royal Flush!
"I never seen six aces show up natural in a game."
"Someone's cheatin'," the Sheriff said, "and I bet I know his name."
The sheriff grinned as he sauntered up intendin' to cuff ol' Bart.
But Bart whirled 'round like lightnin' and shot him straight through the heart.
The sheriff's body hit the floor 'fore you could count to three,
Shye ducked under the table and bit Black Bart on the knee.
He let out a whoop you could hear for a mile, Shye pushed him out of his chair.
She came onto him like a wild cat, ol' Bart never had him a prayer.
She knocked him out with a left hook, and tied him up like a hog.
Remember, she was a drover, and sturdy as a log.
Then she gathered up her winnings, and saddled her horse to ride.
She'd avenged her family honor, and had justice on her side!
© 1999, Rusty Calhoun
About Rusty Calhoun
I am a fifth generation member of horse and cattle ranchers beginning in Virginia and the Carolinas before the Revolutionary War, where they raised gaited horses, carriage and wagon horses, as well as mules for the U.S. Army.
I was raised on the B BAR V Ranch in Clear Creek County, Colorado. Our Upper Bear Creek Canyon ranch house, at one time, served as the last stage coach stop of the Butterfield Stage Coach Lines before its Denver terminus. We raised Black Angus cattle and Tennessee Walking Horses, as well as trail and ranch ponies.
Besides ranching, I've operated a base camp and pack string for hunters in the Colorado Rockies. My husband and I did some limited rodeoing in the early years of our marriage.
I am the Poet Wrangler for the annual Festival of the West in Scottsdale, Arizona and I perform at Cowboy Poetry Gatherings throughout the west as well as other gatherings and festivals including: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Nevada where Ive been a featured poet along with most of the well known cowboy poets. At the Western Heritage Festival in Las Vegas, my work was singled out by Baxter Black during one of his performances. I considered this quite an honor.
It is a great privilege to be able to chronicle our western heritage in poetry and prose. The cowboy life deserves to be portrayed with all of the respect possible. Of course this does not preclude showing the rich sense of humor that is at the heart of the cowboy life. Pranks, jokes, and tall tales are included in every cowboy poet's collection.
When we asked Rusty why she writes Cowboy Poetry, she replied:
In my family and its history cowboy poetry isn't something that began with the Elko Gathering -that's only when many people became familiar with it. Part of my legacy was listening to my menfolk recite their poems, spin yarns, try to outdo each other with tall tales, and sing songs like "Long haired Preacher's," "Springtime in the Rockies," "Red River Valley," "Froggy Went a Courtin'," and any number of old tunes that took their minds off the bitter cold, aching joints, tired bodies and weary minds from worry and overwork. Those who glamorize and wax philosophical about the hard, lonely, grueling, dangerous, gut-bustin' work of ranching probably ain't never done it.
Most cowboys before my dad's time ( turn of the century) were illiterate and their poems were the only way they had of sharing their stories. Cowboy poetry was like the "range newsletter" of its day and cowboys would memorize each others poems and spread them - in this way we learned of the doin's and whereabouts of many of our kin. That's why true cowboy poetry is filled with references to "Slim" and "Shorty" "Gus" and "Greasy John" - These men sent their messages along through the campfire network. Much like we, here at the Bar -D Ranch send our ranchin' stories along to other pards who see and know the truth of our words. We all know who the real cowboys are. It's a hard life even in this day and age, and we sure need the contact with our pards to stay focused on the trail ahead, and ride it out with cowboy honor and dignity as our guides. That's why I write cowboy poetry.
You can email Rusty Calhoun.
Visit her web site
You can read more of Rusty Calhoun's poetry here at the BAR-D.
Where the Meadow Larks Once Flew
A sign went up on the highway one day
"Prime land for sale" was all it did say.
And then one day the sign came down
And new cars and trucks drove by from town.
The Realtor was the first to show in his shiny SUV,
He stood upon the bumper, to see what he could see.
The land surveyors were next with their laser-guided scopes
They measured this and figured that and tallied all the slopes.
Then one day with a grinding roar,
A bulldozer walked where none had before,
Pushing trees and bushes out of the way
And turning lush, green grass into brown, dead hay.
Streets rose next from the flattened range
With names on signs both exotic and strange.
"Willow Way" read one where willows never grew,
"Eagle Lane" was another where eagles never flew.
The masons and carpenters were next to appear,
Raising walls and roofs from there to here.
And out on the highway rose walls and a gate
And a sign that said "homes going fast, don't be too late."
We watched with wonder as moving vans came
Disgorging families and furniture, all just the same
With two kids, a dog and a minivan, too,
They settled in to live where meadow larks once flew.
But soon we began to hear murmurs of trouble
As the things we were used to burst the newcomers' bubble.
They didn't like the sounds and smells, it seems, of cattle
And the smoke raised by our fires was enough to do battle.
So, to the county commission they went one night
And told tall tales that would give anyone fright.
They paid more taxes and were entitled, it seems
To new rules and concessions to guard their new dreams.
So, now on the highway there's a new sign erected
A sign of the times we should have expected
"For sale," it says, "prime growth opportunity,"
As another ranch is erased by a new Florida community.
© 2001, Allan H. Horton
About Allan Horton
Yeah, I'm from Florida and I've worked as a cowboy, and now I own a commercial beef cattle ranch that's being hemmed in by land development -- little ticky-tacky houses and gentrified "barns" sprouting up all over the place on 6 acres here, 10 acres there - that sort of thing. I'm thinking of planting the property line I share with a subdivision with Spanish bayonet and Opuntia cactus, and go down to the Glades and buy the biggest, meanest swamp bulls I can find; that should keep the ATVs and pit bulls and poodles at bay!
I run about 170 head of F1 brood cows on 1,300 acres of land which actually is a pretty good stocking rate, believe it or not, but I work as a newspaper editorial writer though my degree is actually animal science and pre-vet medicine (never could pass the chemistry and math). We used to have more than twice the land, but after my parents died within four years of each other, I lost half to a combination of federal estate taxes and a balloon payment my mortgagor would not extend, and the rest put my kids through college.
We asked Allan why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he thinks it is important, and he replied: Cowboy poetry (and Masefield's maritime poetry) speak the languages I know best -- sailing and ranching/cowboying -- because of all the things I've done, the modest proficiencies I've gained and the lessons I've learned at sea and on the ranch have been the most durable -- and yes, I've written sea poetry, too, which maybe someday I'll try to publish.
There's an honesty expressed in their poetry both by sailors and cowboys that leaves no misunderstanding about their lives and the conditions that shape those lives. I think whether you're left in charge of the ship's helm or the crowding crevice-fence gate, the
sense of personal responsibility and trust in your ability is the implicit contract both sailors and cowboys are expected to fulfill. Whether you're told to steer 150 degrees or ride three miles and set the gates for a drive, there's no shirking that responsibility, no matter the weather, no matter how you feel - it's your watch, and you'd better do it.
And, that's why cowboy poetry is important because not only does it express the import of those obligations, it manages also to tell about the eagle, the new colt and the sunrise seen on the way. And it does it in a very human, very approachable way.
We asked him how he came to write "Where the Meadow Larks Once Flew" and he said: Driving out our gate one day, the impact of the new 5 to 15-acre "ranchettes" eating up the county's finest pasture directly across the road hit me in the gut. I'd seen the surveyors, and then the realtor's little office tent and trailer and within weeks, the first bulldozer pushing out a house pad - and I knew the whole process could come marching over my horizon someday. And, that's when I really decided - firmly - the asphalt
will stop at my property line because as sole owner, I fully intend to install a perpetually binding, deed-dedicated, irrevocable conservation easement over all my land. I'll lose, potentially, millions of dollars, but I don't give a damn; what I'm looking for now is some sort of foundation, trust or whatever can provide the umbrella to maintain not only the land and its habitats, but the practices of range cattle stewardship as we do it in Southwest Florida. I purely hate what is happening in Florida -- on the ranges and
on the waterways -- because it's being inundated by growth and development that give mostly lip service only to the natural terrain and resources they are demolishing, along with the water and the air -- and despite very active conservation and public land acquisition programs.
You can contact Allan Horton by email.
You can read more of Allan Horton's poetry here at the BAR-D.
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