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About K. T. Etling

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


One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for her poem, Culture Shock


About K. T. Etling:

K. T. Etling  K.T. Etling has been writing cowboy poems for nigh onto five years.  She loves all things western, collects western gear and art, and she and her husband own a large spread in Missouri where they now run horses.  She's cowboyed from time to time in Wyoming and Colorado, most recently roundin' up strays for the Bolten Ranch near Rawlins and trailin' a herd for the ID near Seminoe.  Her poems have been published in American Cowboy and Whinnies and Neighs.   She is a charter member of the Missouri Cowboy Poets Association.

We asked K. T. Etling why she writes cowboy poetry and she replied: I write Cowboy Poetry because it speaks to me from my heart.  I fear we are losing more than just the cowboy way of life here in the early days of the 21st century.  We are losing traditions that speak to us as human beings; traditions that cowboys, with their close ties to the earth, feel deep within their marrow and express in the most elemental of ways.  Whether the  resulting poem speaks of sheer wonder at the glories to be found on the high prairie, or satisfaction at a hard job well done, glee at a particularly well-planned prank, a wild cayuse, or just the pure love of the land and her   creatures, I think a cowboy's simple way of thinking and speaking cuts to the heart of a matter in a purer, more straightforward manner than any other literary form.   And yet no one can deny that cowboys are colorful, complex, near-mythic characters.   It is the romance of the cowboy and of the cowboy's way of life that I seek to preserve.  I hope those whom my poetry touches will realize that the cowboys I celebrate were strong yet gentle men with a distinctive way of communicating their thoughts.  These were men for whom there was only black and white and no shades in between; men who gave as good as they got and who fought the elements to help transform this nation into the superpower it is today (for better or worse).  If more folks thought and acted like cowboys, it would be a far, far better world we live in.  And if I can bring folks just a small part of the way toward thinking like cowboys, well, pard, my entire life will have been worthwhile. 

You can email K. T. Etling.


K. T. Etling is the editor of The Quotable Cowboy, which includes the wisdom of Roy Rogers, Red Steagall, D. J. O'Malley, Will Rogers, Ty Murray, and about 400  others.  You can get a closer look here at Amazon.   



Culture Shock

                  I've always been a loner,
                  Rode the Bighorn range so long,
                  Ain't never rightly sure
                  Who's still squattin' here, who's gone.

                  About a week ago,
                  Reined my hoss down from them hills.
                  Was outta grub and chew,
                  Low on Carter's Liver Pills.

                  But soon I seen the worstest sight
                  a man could ever see:
                  A cowboy nearly nekked
                  trottin' right in front of me.

                  He wore a big ol' Stetson hat,
                  no shirt and Lycra pants.
                  Ya heard me right, boys, SHINY shorts!
                  He didn't run, he pranced!

                  I said, "HELLOOOO, cowboy!
                  Now, what's THAT all about?
                  Tarnation, fella!  Where's yer clothes?"
                  (When I'm upset I shout.)

                  He said, "I'm doin' road work,
                  jest a-tryin' to stay in shape."
                  He slipped the headset off his skull,
                  Popped in another tape.

                  I'd never seen a hand like this
                  in nigh on sixty years.
                  I rode ol' Rattler close behind
                  that cowboy's glistenin' rear.

                  The lad jogged to a brand new car,
                  Then leaned against it hard.
                  He stretched his hamstrings left and right,
                  Asked, "How ya doin', pard?"

                  I eyeballed that new ve-hi-cle,
                  Saw nothin' that I liked.
                  A cowboy needs a pickup truck,
                  This?   Useful as a bike.

                  "Heck, no, old man, this ain't no car,"
                  The cowboy now did crow.
                  This here's an S. U. V., and pard,
                  It set me back some dough."

                 He leaped inside and pointed out
                 each geegaw on the dash.
                 The CD player, cell phone,
                 the beeper all cost cash.

                 He got to fiddlin' with a wad
                 of buttons, knobs and gears,
                 A siren blared, a beep, a buzz,
                 a whistle.  My worst fears.

                 I said, "HELLOOO, cowboy!
                 Now, what's THAT all about?
                 Tarnation, fella!  Where's yer Stroke?"
                 (When I'm upset I shout.)

                  “Ol' man, I got to l'arn ya
                  a thing, or mebbe three.
                  Come over to my place tonight,
                  some things ya gotta see."

                  Well, I agreed, reluctantly,
                  to meet up with the hand.
                  His house?  It was a condo!
                  With not a speck of land!

                  I said, "HELLOOO, cowboy!
                  Now, what's THAT all about?
                  Tarnation, fella!  Where's yer spread?"
                  (When I'm upset, I shout.)

                  "Ol' man, yer livin' in the past,
                  that much I plainly see.
                  Come on in and have a brew."
                  I eased in.  Carefully.

                  The cowboy gave me somethin' cold,
                  I held it to the light.
                  "Hey, son," I whined, "Yer beer's gone bad."
                  "Ol' coot, that stuff's all right."

                  "All right?" I purely sputtered.
                  "Why son, jest look right here.
                  Ain't beer s'posed to be YELLER?
                  This stuff is downright clear."

                  I said, "HELLOOO, cowboy!
                  Now, what's THAT all about?
                  Tarnation, son, I need a BEER!
                  (When I'm upset, I shout.)

                  His boots?  They looked like runnin' shoes.
                  He swore they WAS his boots.
                  His jeans they stretched this way and that. . .
                  like a polyester suit.

                  He served me dinner, oh so smug,
                  as at my plate I stared.
                  I'd never SEEN grub quite like this,
                  This cowboy had me scared.

                  I said, "HELLOOO, cowboy!
                  Now, what's THAT all about?
                  Tarnation, son!  I could eat a horse!"
                  (When I'm upset I shout.)

                  "Ol' man, this here is sushi.
                  It's downright good fer you.
                  Some tuna, shark and grouper.
                  A few raw oysters, too.

                  I said, "GOOD-BYE, cowboy!
                  I've had it up to HERE!
                  Yer shiny shorts, yer runnin' boots,
                  Yer clear not-yeller beer.

                  Yer car that's good fer nothin'
                  'cept drivin' on concrete,
                  Yer CD player, cell phone,
                  and beeper ain't no treat.

                  But when ya serve a hand like me
                  raw FISH instead of steak,
                  Ya crossed a line there, sonny boy,
                  My own advice I'll take.

                  And so GOOD-BYE, cowboy!
                  And DURN GOOD RIDDANCE, too.
                  I'm headin' fer them Bighorns,
                  I've had my fill of you. . .
                        and Lycra
                        and high-pitched pesky beeps.
                        Sissy cars.
                         Now, I ask ya:
                        Has the world gone plumb crazy?
                        Raw fish.
                        Sorry, son,
                        I gotta get OUTTA here.
                        Come on, Rattler.


The Road Beyond

(On the occasion of the death of a cowboy's wife)

                        Now, darlin' don't you cry.
                        I've just ridden on ahead.
                        I'm only sorry that you found
                        me lying in our bed.
                        But darlin' don't you understand:
                        that all of this was just God's plan?

                        And sweetheart let me tell you
                        it's a better world up here.
                        You know that herd we wanted?
                        Well, it's waitin' for you, dear.
                        A home that's ours and not the brand's,
                        I tell you, love, it's all God's plan.

                        The grass up here is oh so lush,
                        It only rains at night.
                        No chokin' duststorms, no more droughts,
                        A sky so blue and bright.
                        No sickness now to slow me down,
                        Can't wait until you come around. 

                        Please tell our boys their Ma's okay
                        and thinkin' of them here.
                        We'll be together once again
                        in just a few short years.
                        And darlin' please don't mope or cry,
                        I'll be with you until you die. 
                        I wanted these few words to say
                        so rootless you won't roam.
                        I'm waitin' on the road beyond
                        Preparin' our new home. 
                        I've planted flowers by the door,
                        Baked cookies, cakes, and so much more. 

                        A few more days, a few more weeks,
                        The time up here speeds fast.
                        I'm tellin' you, my darlin' love,
                        the years go reelin' past.
                        And soon no tears will stain your face,
                        You'll join me in this better place
                        that's on the road beyond.



    There's quite a flap a-goin' on
    out in the town of Oakland.
    Some folks are gettin' fightin' mad
    about some speech they think is bad.
    This speech is called Ebonics.

    It seems some teachers don't feel right
    with "I be black" or "I be white."
    Another phrase they hope folks miss
    is any word that's used with "dis."
    It's what they call Ebonics.

    I don't know why they howl 'n shriek.
    A different lingo cowboys speak;
    like "recollect" and "reckon," too;
    "Tarnation", "plumb" 'n "foofaroo"
    Shucks, that's jest Cowboyonics.

    A cowpoke's speech is plumb diverse.
    Ebonics?  Heck, it ain't much worse
    than "haywire" or "buckaroo,"
    "hen-skin", "dogie" 'n "coosie," too.
    I'm speakin' Cowboyonics.



Should'a Been Here Yesterday

       He's an old cowboy in a nursing home I visit some.
       That is, when I can find the time.
       I listen to his tales and I pretend
       I'm ridin' right beside him, when the world was still sublime.

       "Son," he says, 'though I know he knows I'm not,
       "I remember when a man's word was his bond
       When a deal was cemented with a handshake,
       When a fella married the gal of whom he felt quite fond.
       I tell ya, boy, ya should'a been here yesterday.
       Why, ya know that four-lane interstate?
       The one that cuts right thru them plains?
       Why, boy, I recollect when it was jest a two-rut wagon track
       That washed away completely when it rained.
       I tell ya, boy.  Ya should'a been here yesterday.
       When our leaders kept their word.
       When a man who read the Bible
       wasn't treated like a 'nerd'
       (whatever that is, son).
       I tell ya, boy.  Ya should'a been here yesterday
       When folks gathered far and wide
       fer occasions, great and small.
       We all knew our neighbor,
       loved our God, obeyed the law.
       That wasn't odd, son.
       That was jest the way it was.
       I tell ya, boy.  Ya should'a been here yesterday.
       We didn't have no brownouts;
       Shucks, we didn't have no lights!
       We didn't have no censorship;
       We all knew what was right.
       We always helped each other out,
       Birthin' babies, gatherin' steers.
       And when the troubles came, son,
       We'd lend sympathetic ears.
       I tell ya, boy.  Ya should'a been here yesterday.
       Gene and Roy and Hoppy
       Weren't jest cowboys on a screen.
       No, boy.  They stood for somethin'
       More important than it seemed
       Way back then, when you were jest a tyke.
       Them boys reminded us of duty, country, honor
       And all else that was right.
       I tell ya, boy.  Ya should'a been here yesterday."

       I left the old man then, but knew he spoke the truth.
       Wished I'd a'known him way back then when he was still a youth,
       But that jest wasn't possible,
       He was ninety, I was thirty-nine.
       But ponderin' them yesterdays
       I admit was awful fine.

       Two days later I was asleep when my ol' phone did ring.
       "Pappy died at four A.M." the message it did bring.
       "But 'fore he left, he wanted me to say these words to you,
       'I'll miss ya, son.  I really will,'' was what I heard her say,
       “I tell ya, boy.  Ya really should'a been here yesterday'"


Rufus, Ridin’ Point

“Go, boys, go!  Push ‘em in right here!”
‘Twas Rufus ridin’ point,
We heard him loud and clear.
Dust from 10,000 longhorn hooves
blew round to blot the sun.
The leader paused, then leaped on in.
Herd followed at a run.
The murky water broke and swirled
about them spotted backs.
The herd first milled, and then swam on
right toward the other bank.
As Rufus rode he chirped and soothed
them frazzled longhorn nerves.
I heard his voice, his darky songs,
Them cows loved every word.

We trailed ‘em to Dodge City
with Rufus ridin’ point.
“That Rufus boy is somethin’”
Ol’ Badger Mac did say.
“That black boy knows this trail by heart,
“He’ll be a part of all my herds.
“That Rufus, now, he’s somethin’.
“A good man through and through.”
Ol’ Mac was only saying
what we already knew.
We knowed Rufe had a gentlin’ way
with hombre, horse and cow.
His smile plumb lit his broad black face,
‘twas like a lantern burnin’ bright
out on the the prairie in the night.

That evening, we all went to town
to drink and have some fun.
But there was harsh words with the J-Bar,
a shove, a punch, a gun.
Now, Eddie Shaw done drew his piece,
though the J-Bar hand fired first.
Ol’ Eddie missed.  The J-Bar didn’t.
The news, it was the worst.
‘cause Rufus lay there bleedin’
on the sawdust dram house floor.
“I’m kilt, boys,” Rufus whispered.
“Can’t feel nothin’ any more.
“I’m leavin’ at an awful time, the rain is gonna pour.
“But when yer pushin’ north again, I’ll be waitin’ at each ford.
“And if the good Lord’s willin’,
“I’ll guide yer herd across.”
His eyes now shut, his head dropped low,
And Brazos said, “Rufe’s lost!”

Not one of us could speak then.
We’d all loved Rufus so.
His lively talk, his banter,
His jokes on cookie and the boss,
his way with us and his black hoss.
We buried him the mornin’ next, just outside of town
upon a rim where he could see, were he to look,
a line of trees that trailed a flowing river.
“The Lord is my shepherd,” ol’ Badger Mac now said.
And we boys, well, we wept.  Our eyes were all quite red.
Then Badger he turned and walked back to town,
said, “Boys, Rufe was right.  Rains’ll soon come on down.
“We’d best get a move on to trail our next bunch,
“It’s been a wet summer and I got a bad hunch
“that the rains will come early and last fer some weeks.
“We’ll have our hands full crossin’ rivers and creeks
“without our boy Rufus, best man on the point.
“Ol’ Rufus he’d find the best ford ever’ time
“avoidin’ that quicksand, them bogs and bad mud.
“The moccasin nests that endanger each flood.
“Them whirlpools that often suck down baby calves.
“I’m tellin’ ya, boys, on the evenin’ jest past
“we lost a fine hand and a helluva man.
“But we’re sittin’ here jowlin’ and fixin’ to; cry,
“when, if Rufus was here, he’d be biddin’ us, “Ride!”
“So mount up and rein their heads into the wind
“and after reachin’ Fort Worth we’ll head north again.
“If luck’s ridin’ with us, we’ll all pull up safe.
“And, boys, when that happens, we’ll visit Rufe’s grave.”

We turned ‘round and rode south to Texas right quick.
Our eyes on the sky, which was greasy and slick.
The prairie grass red with the shortenin’ days,
the trail black and muddy where millions of hooves
had churned it and turned it to dark oily mud
that clung to our horses, chuckwagon and gear
and made life durn miserable, plumb ever’where.
‘Twarn’t lookin’good, ever’ one of us knew.
Our trail boss, ol’ Badger, would stare at the sky
and I saw the concern in those sad ol’ blue eyes.
Plumb worried, of course, ‘bout trailin’ that herd,
to get ‘em to Dodge he’d done given his word.
But thinkin’ about all his men, too, ya see.
We all was Mac’s boys, or he thought us to be.

Three nights from the Fort with the herd movin’ nice,
A storm kicked on up, with rain, hail and ice
pellets slicing’ down, in the way of fall storms.
The lightnin’ did flash, and the thunder it roared.
And Badger Mac yelled, “Head ‘em up to the ford!”
But the rain had that river done swolled up by two.
The sky was all clogged with them ugly black clouds.
The wind blowin’ sideways, annoyin’ them cows,
when an old brindle steer had enough of them gusts,
raced past Brazos Bill with a beller and a rush
and down toward the floodplain that flat wasn’t there.
The whole herd in mayhem, when suddenly clear
as the voice of our God, come from heaven above,
I swear now, ol’ Rufus yelled, “Go, boys, you shove!
“Come and push them cows here!
A crack then of thunder, a blinding white light.
The whole herd now turned and there in the night
on a small spit of sand we saw Rufus astride
a black horse a-rearin’ and pawin’ the sky.
Rufus, his eyes like that lightnin’ so bright.
The brindle steer balkin, too fearful to wade,
‘til Rufus came at him and flailed with his reins
pushin’ that steer which pulled with him the herd,
that entered the water and got carried downstream.
Then there through the storm we could hear Rufus scream,
“Don’t worry none, boys, they’re doin’ right fine.
“I reckon I got ‘em all swimmin’ in line.
“It looks mighty bad ‘cause the rain has sure poured,
“but the herd right now’s climbin’ on out at the ford.
“That far side is low with a nice solid bank.
“they’ll clamber out there and even the rank
ol’ steers and mean bulls I reckon’ll be safe.”

And ya know what?  They was when we tallied next day,
though no one would mention the preceding night.
The boys all looked sheepish, or skairt, I might say,
‘til Badger Mac called us together at noon.
“Boys,” he began, “I’m a-tellin’ ya, now,
“I believe we escaped without loss of a cow.
“And, Brazos, on point you’ll no longer ride.
“I know an old hand who’s jest itchin’ to try
“on that job.”  Mac turned up his face and spoke to the clouds,
“Hey, Rufus, jobs yers!” He yelled it out loud.
The boys, well, they giggled, some nervous, some sick.
But the blue sky got bluer a durned little bit.
And the wind blew some harder, perfumin’ the air.
And all the hands knew, by gum, Rufus was there.
Then, fer no good reason, the bedded-down herd,
rose as one being and all them cows merged
and moved out so calm, at a nice steady pace.
We all knew that Rufus was back in his place
at the head of the herd
at the front of that line.
Rufus, on point, and our herd would be fine.

Temporary Insanity

Kid leaped up off the dusty ground,
glanced left and right, then raced around
the bull-fighter in loud apparel:
Fright wig, red nose and sturdy barrel.
Spied his brother on the fence,
a dang rough ride; Bro's lookin' tense
until the Kid makes one last dash
and clambers up before the crash
of deadly horns smack in the chute.
"Good grief," Kid shrieked, "what did I do?"
"Ya rode that bull," his Bro did say.
"Or almost did.  He tossed ya waaaaaaaay
up in the air.  Ya fell plumb flat.
I'll betcha ruint your cowboy hat."
"You're worried 'bout the goldang hat?
I'm worried 'bout much more than that.

"Like why I feel compelled to climb
up on these monsters, each dang time.
My head was once screwed on quite tight.
But now I think I ain't quite right.
My vertebrae?  Shoot, plumb detached.
My legs?  I reckon once they matched.
Ain't real durned sure.  But this I know:
This dang bull-ridin's got to go.
Don't recollect even climbin' on.
I must'a, though, 'cause stomped right on
my brand new shirt and safety vest
huge tracks that should'a caved my chest.
I guess I must'a grabbed the rope.
S'pose I had'a have some hope.
But oh-good-gosh my face is sore.
I must'a slammed into a door."

"A wooden door?" Bro laughed "Lord, no!"
A door, mebbe, like mighty Beau.
That bull beaned you like Beau beaned Tuff.
I guess you're feelin' kinda rough."
"Rough?" Kid squalled, "ain't half of it.
I'll tell ya what:  I feel like . . . well, I feel BAD, kid REAL bad!
Can barely set here, head's plumb dizzy.
Gotta think, get my brain busy
Comin' up with some excuse
So that next bull won't cook my goose."
"Hey, Kid," it's time to climb on down
  To start our final go-around."
"Uh, jest a minute, I'll be there.
Quick, Bro, think fast, ya s'pose I dare?
Approach them judges with my plea
Of temporary insanity?"


These ol’ eyes are gettin’ foggy and my memory’s growin’ dim,
but I can still remember days we raced up on that rim.
Ol’ Curly Pete a-ridin’ on his big ol’ grulla mare,
we’d reach the top and let our ponies blow in the sweet air.
Then Curly Pete and I would simply stare fer miles around
at endless purple sage and prairie earth parched out so brown.
At a sky so huge and vast we thought it really had no end.
We two so glad to be alive, to call each other ‘friend.’

Now, Curly Pete’s been gone some years and, Lord, I miss that man.
Though every now and then I ride back out onto that land.
I rein my pony east while bitter tears do fill my eyes
to see that wind-farm sproutin’ on the next substantial rise.
And down along the interstate, a station pumpin’ gas,
a maze of elbows, tubes, and flame eruptin’ from pale grass.
Tall towers topped by strobe lights durned near ever’where I look;
tract houses, fences, goldfish ponds dammed on the little brook.

The rancher we once rode fer done sold out to Banker Bill.
Now down there ‘cross them precious plains they’re levelin’ ever’ hill.
The roads are paved so cars can go whenever weather sours.
The land’s still here, I reckon, but it’s changin’ ever’ hour.
Ol’ Curly Pete and me we didn’t need much to get by:
horizons stretchin’ out to touch that big blue cloudless sky.
We never ciphered out our wealth in dollars, dimes, or cents.
Our fortune came from ridin’ land that never knew a fence.

I rein my pony off the rim and hear the diesel trucks.
My time has passed, I know it’s true, I’ve plumb run outta luck.
Ol’ Curly Pete, he always seemed a man before his time.
He had the right idea, boys.  I reckon now it’s mine.
Just ain’t no point in hangin’ round while this country’s pushed and shoved.
So on this day I’ll  bid farewell to all I knowed and loved.
I’m headin’ off to join ol’ Pete where cowboys never age,
on a prairie vast we’ll once more ride through endless purple sage.


See K. T. Etling's poems Rudolph Was an Outlaw, Angels in the Desert, Santa Drives a Cutter, and Today He'd Be a Cowboy, posted with other Holiday 2000 poems.

We liked this photo of  K. T. Etling so much, that when she sent us a new "more cowboy" photo we asked her if we could keep this one up, too:

K. T. Etling