It's 15 below on the prairie
the wind chill's down near 42
and I'm watchin' a Texas blue norther blow in
and I'm not sure what I'm gonna do.
'Cause the tanks are froze pretty near solid
and the handle broke off my best ax
and the feed's gettin' wet from a hole in the roof
where it's leakin' all over the sacks
And I'm feedin' more hay than I planned on
'cause the snow covered up all the grass
the tractor's broke down and the pickup won't start
and it's cold as a well digger's...shovel
It's the 24th day of December
and the sagebrush is covered with ice
and I think that a hot cup of coffee
or a good shot of rye would be nice
'Cause my feet are so cold I can't feel 'em
and my fingers are purty near froze
and there's icicles hung off my moustache
from the drip drippin' off of my nose
I was hopin' I'd get to quit early
and be back at the house Christmas Eve
but these baldies are cryin' and hungry
and there's no one to feed if I leave
And there's one little motley-faced heifer
who somehow got in with the bull
and she's just too little to leave by herself
'cause the calf's gonna have to be pulled
And there's one other thing I might mention
a fact that is painfully clear
I'm so broke that I can't pay attention
so I guess I'll spend Christmas out here
But it's pretty out here on the prairie
where the stars light the cold winter sky
and though I can't remember when things were much worse
I guess I'm still a right lucky guy
'Cause I've got a good woman who'll love me
no matter what time I come home
and my young 'un is happy and healthy
though I wish he weren't quite near so grown
And I've got that new 3-year-old filly
who's better than I even dreamed
and my old spotted gelding as good as they come
so things ain't all as bad as they seem
I've got no cause for being ungrateful
and to gripe and complain isn't good
'cause there's people all over this country
who'd trade places with me if they could
So I know that I'll have a good Christmas
in spite of my problems somehow
I'll just watch as this Texas blue norther blows in
and sing "O Holy Night" to the cows.
© 1996, J. W. Beeson
This poem appeared in Western Horseman in December, 1996
You can read more of Honored Guest J. W. Beeson's poetry here at the BAR-D. He is a frequent performer at gatherings and has a great tape, Last of a Breed.
Line-Camp Christmas Letter
Inside an Old West line-camp,
settin' on his lonely bed,
A cowboy wrote a letter home,
and this is what it said:
"Dear Folks: It looks like Christmas time
is comin' on again,
And I ain't wrote no letter
since the devil don't know when.
So now I thought I'd drop a line
just like I done last year,
To let you know I'm safe and well
and full of Christmas cheer.
Seems like the news ain't much to tell.
A blizzard blowin' now.
There'll be some cattle driftin',
Merry Christmas, anyhow!
I've been out ridin' most all day.
The horse I rode went lame.
The cattle sure are scattered.
Merry Christmas just the same!
Last night my waterholes froze up.
Snow sure is slow to thaw.
Some cattle lookin' porely.
Merry Christmas, Pa and Ma!
This line-camp shack has got some cracks
that let the snow sift through.
Well Merry Christmas to you, folks,
and Happy New Year, too!
Excuse this crooked writin'.
Got my hands frostbite I guess.
The cattle sure are driftin'
Merry Christmas, Frank and Bes!
Ax handle busted. Woodpile low.
Ain't got much fire tonight.
The drifts have knocked some fence line down.
I trust you're all all right.
My post of beans boiled dry
and scorched while I was out today.
Them cows are driftin' awful.
Merry Christmas anyway!
Well folks, I've got to cut this short
and mend my busted rope.
Just thought I'd drop a little line.
You all keep well, I hope.
The cowboy life is wonderful.
Sure glad I came out West.
Give my regards to Adelaide
and Jack and all the rest.
I'm glad I ain't a cow tonight
Outside I hear 'em bawl.
Pore critters sure are driftin'.
Merry Christmas to you all!
S. Omar Barker; reprinted with permission from Cowboy Miner Productions
This and other S. Omar Barker poems at the BAR-D are reprinted with the kind permission of Cowboy Miner Productions, publishers of the finest in classic and modern Cowboy Poetry. This poem is from their book Classic Rhymes by S. Omar Barker
The Trapper's Christmas Eve
It's mighty lonesome-like and drear.
Above the Wild the moon rides high,
And shows up sharp and needle-clear
The emptiness of earth and sky;
No happy homes with love a-glow;
No Santa Claus to make believe:
Just snow and snow, and then more snow;
It's Christmas Eve, it's Christmas Eve.
And here am I where all things end,
And Undesirables are hurled;
A poor old man without a friend,
Forgot and dead to all the world;
Clean out of sight and out of mind . . .
Well, maybe it is better so;
We all in life our level find,
And mine, I guess, is pretty low.
Yet as I sit with pipe alight
Beside the cabin-fire, it's queer
This mind of mine must take to-night
The backward trail of fifty year.
The school-house and the Christmas tree;
The children with their cheeks a-glow;
Two bright blue eyes that smile on me . . .
Just half a century ago.
Again (it's maybe forty years),
With faith and trust almost divine,
These same blue eyes, abrim with tears,
Through depths of love look into mine.
A parting, tender, soft and low,
With arms that cling and lips that cleave . . .
Ah me! it's all so long ago,
Yet seems so sweet this Christmas Eve.
Just thirty years ago, again . . .
We say a bitter, last good-bye;
Our lips are white with wrath and pain;
Our little children cling and cry.
Whose was the fault? it matters not,
For man and woman both deceive;
It's buried now and all forgot,
Forgiven, too, this Christmas Eve.
And she (God pity me) is dead;
Our children men and women grown.
I like to think that they are wed,
With little children of their own,
That crowd around their Christmas tree . . .
I would not ever have them grieve,
Or shed a single tear for me,
To mar their joy this Christmas Eve.
Stripped to the buff and gaunt and still
Lies all the land in grim distress.
Like lost soul wailing, long and shrill,
A wolf-howl cleaves the emptiness.
Then hushed as Death is everything.
The moon rides haggard and forlorn . . .
"O hark the herald angels sing!"
God bless all men -- it's Christmas morn.
by Robert Service
You can read more classic poetry by Robert Service right here at the BAR-D. He is perhaps best known for "The Cremation of Sam McGee," a poem with an adventure that starts on Christmas day: "On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail..."
A Cowboy Christmas Carol
Ol' Badger was done for the evenin';
he stirred the last embers of fire,
turned down the lamp on the table
and readied himself to retire.
The wind of a winter's night blowin'
came callin' as Badger lay down,
another long night in December,
another long night of that sound.
The winter's a time for old mem'ries,
and Badger had more than his share.
A lifetime of people and places
were gathered about his gray hair.
For some reason Smitty came to him,
at least in his mind's eye it seemed:
a cowboy he'd known in the old days.
How funny he'd be in this dream.
For Smitty was sort of a loner
as tight with a penny or mill.
No moocher or lender Ol' Smitty;
he'd kept his first dime with him still.
But Badger weren't nothin' like Smitty:
the depth of his pockets ran deep.
"Why money wuz meant to be spent, son,"
and Badger weren't known to be cheap.
Still Smitty was there for a reason,
and Badger began to ask"Why?
"Both of our lives were so diff'rent.
I thought that the day that you died.
There wuzn't a soul at yore fun'ral.
I came 'cause it didn't seem fair
a man would be 'round us forever
and when he had passed no one cared.
"I know," came the voice of Ol' Smitty,
"and that is the reason I've come.
You done me a kindness ol' pardner,
and I felt that I owed you one."
"You think that our lives were so diff'rent,
but pardner you got it all wrong:
you and me rode diff'rent hosses,
but both of us wound up alone."
"In my case I miser'd my money
and that kept me cut off from men
while you never held back a penny,
but that never bought you a friend."
"You see it's like this," said Ol' Smitty,
"tain't money that matters most, friend:
it's friendship and love that most matters
when time has run out fer all men."
It might have been just an old tree limb
or maybe an ember that flared.
Whatever it was woke Ol' Badger
all sweaty and shiv'rin' and scared.
"When time has run out," he was thinkin'
"could Smitty have meant that fer me?
Lord, I've been such an old 'igit'
If I had one chance you would see."
Then somethin' or someone was knockin'.
Now who could that be late at night?
He opened the door of his cabin.
His eyes had to shut from the light.
Why it wasn't nighttime at all now;
he'd stayed in that dream until dawn,
and here were some cowboys "jest passin"
who'd stopped to see who was at home.
"Come in boys and make yoreselves cozy!
I'll rustle some coffee and such.
I'm right glad to see you this mornin'.
You know I've been long out of touch."
Ol' Badger began to relax now,
a smile big as life on his face.
That visit from Smitty had done it
and brought three new friends to his place.
The laughter and jawin' was music,
a tuneless old carol that played.
Twas then that he thought of the reason:
"Dear Lord!" it was now Christmas Day."
"If you boys don't mind, I'll come with you.
at least into town if I may.
I'd like to find somethin' fer Christmas
to place on an old pardner's grave."
© 2002, Rod Nichols
You can read more of First Lariat Laureate Rod Nichols' poetry here. Visit his site for plenty poetry and his special presentation of his "Christmas Comes to Line Camp," right here in a special "web book" with music and entrancin' graphics.
Rod has a new book, A Little Bit of Texas, which you can read more about at Rod's site:
And of course he is:
Our special columnist Charlie Camden keeps in touch with his views from "Just Beyond the Ridge," and following is his day-after-Thanksgiving letter, full of interesting observations at the start of the holiday season:
Just a short note to let you know what it is like here in the Mts. of Idaho. This is the first day after Thanksgiving and I am out riding around in the country. It is the day that Christmas Shopping begins, and retailers are begin to frantically scratch for the dollars hidden deep in consumers pockets. Also the day when I begin my quest to be where retailers are not.
So here I go, riding East out of Nezperce, Id. heading where the old truck takes me. As I look out to the South, and slightly behind me I can see the distant peaks of the Seven Devils Wilderness area fifty miles away. Seemingly framed in rolling hills of golden wheat and barley stubbled fields. In reality I know that the Seven Devils lie in a rugged range of mountains bordering Hells Canyon. To the East of this range lie the deep canyons of the Little Salmon River as it spills from the broad green valleys surrounding the small village of New Meadows.
As I ride along trying to decide where I will go, I look ahead to the snow capped mountains that only short weeks ago were the scene of the elk hunting camps of Autumn. Hundreds of camps along the streams and roads of the North Fork of the Clearwater, the Little Joe, the Locsha, and the shores of Dworshak Reservoir.
I take a quick glance at the clock on the dash and it says 6:48 AM. The sun has not
yet risen, but darkness will return in 9 hours. To the North the Palouse beckons, and to the West the Waha, and the Blue Mountains of Washington. Considering the time element I turn east on Highway 12 as I pass through Kamiah, Id. and proceed East up the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River to Kooskia. Both are interesting towns nestled along the river and they are named for points of interest of the NezPerce people.
Kamiah in NezPerce means "place of the reeds, or where the reeds grow", and Kooskia means "place of two rivers, or up on two rivers" Kooskia lies at the Junction of the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and the South Fork of the same.
As I approach Kooskia, I decide that I will turn off the highway and head out towards Elk City. Roughly a trip of 60+ miles of scenic winding highway to a small settlement of hardy folks that don't mind the deep snows of winter. In fact they live for the time when snow covers small trees, and sometimes reaches depths of 15 ft. or more on high ridge top roads. A world of silence, yet filled with snowmobiles, skis, and snowshoes.
Elk City did not receive commercial electricity until about 1959-60. In the past the Elk City Wagon Road was the only completed road until approx. 1950. It is almost like going into a time warp. But a good one for sure. In the early days of the 20th century, mail was delivered by a hardy individual on snowshoes, who often slept out overnight in the snow in 0 degree temperatures. I thought about all of this as I rolled down the window and let in some cold air that smelled of wood smoke, and Douglas Fir.
After seeing quite a few animals along the road, and numerous bundled up figures fishing for steelhead I rolled into Elk City. The clock said 11:15 AM. I stopped at the local grocery which is a delight to shop in. Actually a number of rooms in a building that has seen many uses, currently stocked with anything a bigger city store might have, and a few things they may lack. You can also buy gas, diesel, or propane at the same stop.
Directions are cheerfully given to any possible locations, and information about road conditions are upgraded constantly by incoming customers, 90% of whom are on snowmobile, or 4X4 ATV's. So I grab a snack of Saltine crackers, Kielbasa sausage, and two bottles of Coke to wash it down, and I head back out on the road. So where now?
A few miles out of town, I turn off on the Red River road. A scene of much gold dredging in past times, and I keep my eyes open for Moose. No luck today, so the camera goes unused. I rarely waste film on scenery anymore, as I have so many photos whatever I would take would be not much more than a duplicate. So as I reach Red River Ranger Station I turn for home. The clock says 2:45 PM. As I head for lower, warmer climes, I think of all the things we have to be thankful for at this time of year.
Here in the USA we have our freedom to live the lives we choose. We have our family and friends. We have our days of Celebration. All of this is guaranteed to us in our Bill of Rights, and the Constitution of the USA. There are those who have the intent to destroy this way of life. Luckily we have our Sons and Daughters who are willing to commit their futures and lives to making this a safe country in which to live. They serve in many lands, and in many branches of the Military.
I remember my time in Military Service, and I wish that none of them had to be away during the Holidays. I guess I was deep in thought when I realized that it was time for the headlights to be turned on. The clock had danced its circle, and darkness had come once again. Much like the days of the year had danced through the seasons, and would do so again and again. So I said a prayer for all those Sons and Daughters in harms way, and God Speed in their mission so they could return home safe. So many things to be thankful for at any time of year. Not just the holiday season.
You can read more of Charlie Camden's prose and poetry right here at the BAR-D, from Just Beyond the Ridge
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