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Badger Clark, a minister's son born in 1883, wrote A Cowboy's Prayer, one of the best known Western poems.

In the Preface to Sun and Saddle Leather, a collection of Clark's poems, editor Ruth Hill tells of a compliment given by "an old cowman who said, 'You can break me if there's a dead poem in the book, I read the hull of it. Who in H— is this kid Clark, anyway?  I don't know how he knowed, but he knows.'"

The Preface goes on to tell how as a young man, Clark found himself in cow country near the Mexican border and "stumbled unexpectedly into paradise . . . The sky was persistently blue, the sunlight was richly golden, the folds of the barren mountains and the wide reaches of the range were full of many lovely colors, and his nearest neighbor was eight miles away. . . the cowmen who dropped in for a meal now and then . . . appeared to have ridden directly out of books of adventure, with old young faces full of bad grammar, strange oaths and stranger yarns, and hearts for the most part as open and shadowless as the country they daily ranged."

Clark wrote his mother regularly, and "found prose too weak to express his utter content and perpetrated his first verses."  His mother submitted the poems to the Pacific Monthly, and the rest is cowboy poetry history.

Below:

A selection of poems by Badger Clark

Badger Clark's books

Books about Badger Clark

 

On page 2:

Badger Clark Memorial Society
Badger Clark and the "Poet Lariat," commentary by Greg Scott
A Visit to the Badger Hole
More information and links

On additional pages:

Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose
by Badger Clark, edited by Greg Scott

See our feature based on this book, with selections of the prose and poetry and the book's table of contents, here.

Also see Greg Scott's article about Bob Axtell, Clark's "best Arizona friend and fellow poet" here.


Badger and Bob
photo by Charles Axtell

Read Linda Hasselstrom's report on the first annual Badger Clark Memorial Society Western Prose and Poetry Writers Workshop, held in Custer, South Dakota, in September, 2006


Poems

Bachin'
Our lives are hid; our trails are strange...

A Bad Half Hour
Wonder why I feel so restless . . .

The Border
When the dreamers of old Coronado...

A Border Affair
Spanish is the lovin' tongue...

The Bunk-House Orchestra
Wrangle up your mouth-harps, drag your banjo out ...

The Camp Fire's Song
I reared your fathers long ago...

The Christmas Trail
The wind is blowin' cold down the mountain tips of snow...

A Cowboy's Prayer (Written for Mother)
Oh Lord, I've never lived where churches grow. . .

The Coyote
Trailing the last gleam after, in the valleys emptied of light...

The Free Wind
I went and worked in a drippin' mine...

From Town
We're the children of the open...

The Glory Trail (High-Chin Bob)
'Way high up the Mogollons . . .

God of the Open
God of the open, though I am so simple...

God's Reserves
One time, 'way back where the year marks fade

Jeff Hart
Jeff Hart rode out of the gulch to war...

The Legend of Boastful Bill
At a roundup on the Gily, one sweet mornin' long ago...

The Lost Pardner
I ride alone and hate the boys I meet.

The Married Man
There's an old pard of mine that sits by his door...

The Medicine Man
"The trail is long to the bison herd...  

The Old Cow Man
I rode across a valley range...

The Old Prospector
There's a song in the canyon below me...

On Boot Hill
Up from the prairie and through the pines...

Others
The daybreak comes so pure and still...

The Outlaw
When my rope takes hold on a two-year-old...

Pals (separate page)
Once we met in a cow corral...

The Passing of the Trail
There was a sunny, savage land...

The Piano at Red's
'Twas a hole called Red's Saloon . . .

The Plainsmen
Men of the older, gentler soil...

The Rains
You've watched the ground-hog's shadow and the shiftin' weather signs...

Ridin'
There is some that like the city . . .

The Roundup  (separate page)
Come, strap on your chaps and your big spurs, too...

Roundup Lullaby
Desert blue and silver in the still moonshine, coyote yappin' lazy on the hill...

Saturday Night
Out from the ranch on a Saturday night...

The Smoke-Blue Plains
Kissed me from the saddle and I still can feel it burning...

The Song of the Leather
When my trail stretches out to the edge of the sky...

Thanksgiving (separate page)
Accept my thanks today, O Lord, but not so much for bed and board...

Thanksgiving Hymn, 1943 (separate page)
Another year grows calmly old and frost is on the morning grass...

To Her
Cut loose a hundred rivers...

The Westerner
My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains . . .

The Wind is Blowin'
My tired horse nickers for his own home bars...

 

 

A Cowboy's Prayer
(Written for Mother)

Oh Lord, I've never lived where churches
        grow.
    I love creation better as it stood
That day You finished it so long ago
    And looked upon Your work and called it
         good.
I know that others find You in the light
    That's sifted down through tinted window
        panes,
And yet I seem to feel You near tonight
    In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains.

I thank You, Lord, that I am placed so well,
    That You have made my freedom so com-
        plete;
That I'm no slave of whistle, clock or bell,
    Nor weak-eyed prisoner of wall and street.
Just let me live my life as I've begun
    And give me work that's open to the sky;
Make me a pardner of the wind and sun,
    And I won't ask a life that's soft or high.

Let me be easy on the man that's down;
    Let me be square and generous with all.
I'm careless sometimes, Lord, when I'm in
        town,
    But never let 'em say I'm mean or small!
Make me as big and open as the plains,
    As honest as the hawse between my knees,
Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains,
    Free as the hawk that circles down the
        breeze!

Forgive me, Lord, if sometimes I forget.
    You know about the reasons that are hid.
You understand the things that gall and fret;
    You know me better than my mother did.
Just keep an eye on all that's done and said
    And right me, sometimes, when I turn
        aside,
And guide me on the long, dim, trail ahead
    That stretches upward toward the Great
        Divide.

 

In Katie Lee's classic book, Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story, and Verse," she writes about "A Cowboy's Prayer":  "Of the hundreds of poems written about cowboys praying to the stars, this is probably the best.  I've heard any number of cowboys recite it, but have never heard one sing it. The language is true to his free-roving spirit and gives insight to the code he lived by -- the things he expected of himself."  According to Austin and Alta Fife, Clark wrote it while living on a ranch near Tombstone, Arizona, and it was first published in The Pacific Monthly, December of 1906. John I. White, in Git Along Little Dogies, notes that Tex Ritter used to recite the poem against the music of "The Cowboy's Dream," and that Clark had it stolen from him and put on postcards as "Anonymous" so many times that he made a collection of more than sixty thievings from his original.

 

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The Glory Trail
(High-Chin Bob)

'Way high up the Mogollons,
    Among the mountain tops,
A lion cleaned a yearlin's bones
    And licked his thankful chops,
When on the picture who should ride,
    A-trippin' down a slope,
But High-Chin Bob, with sinful pride
     And mav'rick hungry rope.

"Oh, glory be to me," says he,
    "And fame's unfadin' flowers!
All meddlin' hands are far away;
I ride my good top-hawse today
And I'm top-rope of the Lazy J

    Hi! kitty-cat, you're ours!"

That lion licked his paw so brown
    And dreamed soft dreams of veal—
And then the circlin' loop swung down
    And roped him 'round his meal.
He yowled quick fury to the world
    Till all the hills yelled back;
The top-hawse gave a snort and whirled
    And Bob caught up the slack.

"Oh, glory be to me," laughs he.
    "We hit the glory trail.
No human man as I have read
Darst loop a ragin' lion's head,
Nor ever hawse could drag one dead
    Until we told the tale."

'Way high up the Mogollons
    That top-hawse done his best,
Through whippin' brush and rattlin' stones,
    From canyon-floor to crest.
But ever when Bob turned and hoped
    A limp remains to find,
A red-eyed lion, belly roped
    But healthy, loped behind.

"Oh, glory be to me," grunts he.
    "This glory trail is rough,
Yet even till the Judgment Morn
I'll keep this dally 'round the horn,
For never any hero born
    Could stoop to holler: ''Nuff!'"

Three suns had rode their circle home
    Beyond the desert's rim,
And turned their star-herds loose to roam
    The ranges high and dim;
Yet up and down and 'round and 'cross
    Bob pounded, weak and wan,
For pride still glued him to his hawse
    And glory drove him on.

"Oh, glory be to me," sighs he.
    "He kain't be drug to death,
But now I know beyond a doubt
Them heroes I have read about
Was only fools that stuck it out
    To end of mortal breath."

'Way high up the Mogollons
    A prospect man did swear
That moon dreams melted down his bones
    And hoisted up his hair:
A ribby cow-hawse thundered by,
    A lion trailed along,
A rider, ga'nt but chin on high,
    Yelled out a crazy song.

"Oh, glory be to me!" cries he,
    "And to my noble noose!
Oh, stranger, tell my pards below
I took a rampin' dream in tow,
And if I never lay him low,
    I'll never turn him loose!"

 

Badger Clark's poems were often printed, put to music, and otherwise adopted and adapted without acknowledgement of his authorship, passing into the oral tradition.

In the Preface to Sun and Saddle Leather, Clark's 1915 book where "The Glory Trail" was first published, he writes that the "folk version" perhaps was better than the original, and that the changes reflected "such rubbings down and chippings off as might happen to it in passing from mouth to mouth." He writes:

One night when I was washing my pots and kettles I heard the boys around the fire discussing a cow-puncher over in the mountains, who, the week before, had roped a bobcat and 'drug' it to death. The boys spent some time swapping expert opinions on the incident, so it stuck in my mind, incubated, and eventually hatched out The Glory Trail.

Nobody said anything about the poem, good or bad, as I remember, and I reckoned it had fallen rather flat until, some years later, about three years ago, I think, a distant friend sent me a copy of Poetry which featured High Chin Bob. I found a real native folksong which the cowboys were accustomed to carol in their long riders over the romantic wildernesses of the Southwest, a song like Melchizedek, without father or mother, which probably had naturally "just growed" in the rocky soil where it now flourished. What was my amazement, in examining this literary curiosity, to find that it was my Glory Trail, with slight alterations, such as the omission of one line in the refrain, such rubbings down and chippings off as might happen to it in passing from mouth to mouth. I own that the "folksong" version is in some points more striking, and easy than my more labored original, and I believe it is better known.

A 1954 article, "Literary Origin of Some Western Ballads," by Everett A. Gillis in the journal Western Folklore adds a bit more about the various versions of "The Glory Trail":

The folk version of Clark's poem seems to have fairly wide circulation. In his headnote to the version in Songs of the Cowboys [...] Thorp remarks: "This song was brought to Santa Fe by Henry Herbert Knibbs, who got it from Southern Arizona, where it was sung by the cowboys." John A. Lomax also prints a "cowboy version" of "The Glory Trail" in Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp.

 

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A Bad Half Hour

Wonder why I feel so restless;
    Moon is shinin' still and bright,
Cattle all is restin' easy,
    But I just kain't sleep tonight.
Ain't no cactus in my blankets,
    Don't know why they feel so hard—
'Lesst it's Warblin' Jim a-singin'
    "Annie Laurie" out on guard.

"Annie Laurie"— wish he'd quit it!
    Couldn't sleep now if I tried.
Makes the night seem big and lonesome
    And my throat feels sore inside.
How my Annie used to sing it!
    And it sounded good and gay.
Nights I drove her home from dances
    When the east was turning gray.

Yes, "her brow was like the snowdrift"
    And her eyes like quiet streams,
"And her face" — I still can see it
    Much too frequent in my dreams;
And her hand was soft and trembly
    That night underneath the tree,.
When I couldn't help but tell her
    She was "all the world to me."

But her folks said I was "shif'less,"
    "Wild," "unsettled.,"— they was right,
For I leaned to punchin' cattle
    And I'm at it still tonight.
And she married young Doc Wilkins—
    Oh my Lord! but that was hard!
Wish that fool would quit his singin'
    "Annie Laurie" out on guard.

Oh I just kaint stand it thinkin;
    Of the things that happened then.
Good old times, and all apast me!
    Never seem to come again—
My turn? Sure.  I'll come a runnin'.
    Warm me up some coffee, pard—
But I'll stop that Jim from singin'
    "Annie Laurie" out on guard.

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To Her

Cut loose a hundred rivers,
     Roaring across my trail,
Swift as the lightning quivers,
     Loud as a mountain gale.
I build me a boat of slivers;
     I weave me a sail of fur,
And ducks may founder and die
     But I
  Cross that river to her!

Bunch the deserts together,
     Hang three suns in the vault;
Scorch the lizards to leather,
     Strangle the springs with salt.
I fly with a buzzard feather,
     I dig me wells with a spur,
And snakes may famish and fry
     But I
Cross that desert to her!

Murder my sleep with revel;
     Make me ride through the bogs
Knee to knee with the devil,
     Just ahead of the dogs.
I harrow the Bad Lands level,
     I teach the tiger to purr,
For saints may wallow and lie
     But I
Go clean-hearted to her!

 

This poem is included in our Cowboy Love Poetry collection.

"To Her" is put beautifully to music by Wylie Gustafson of Wylie and Wild West on their Paradise CD, and featured in our Before the Song column here.

Find a video here on YouTube.

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The Lost Pardner

I ride alone and hate the boys I meet.
  Today, some way, their laughin' hurts me so.
I hate the mockin'-birds in the mesquite--
  And yet I liked 'em just a week ago.
I hate the steady sun that glares, and glares!
  The bird songs make me sore.
I seem the only thing on earth that cares
  'Cause Al ain't here no more!

'Twas just a stumblin' hawse, a tangled spur--
  And, when I raised him up so limp and weak,
One look before his eyes begun to blur
  And then--the blood that wouldn't let 'im speak!
And him so strong, and yet so quick he died,
  And after year on year
When we had always trailed it side by side,
  He went--and left me here!

We loved each other in the way men do
  And never spoke about it, Al and me,
But we both knowed, and knowin' it so true
  Was more than any woman's kiss could be.
We knowed--and if the way was smooth or rough,
  The weather shine or pour,
While I had him the rest seemed good enough--
  But he ain't here no more!

What is there out beyond the last divide?
  Seems like that country must be cold and dim.
He'd miss the sunny range he used to ride,
  And he'd miss me, the same as I do him.
It's no use thinkin'--all I'd think or say
  Could never make it clear.
Out that dim trail that only leads one way
  He's gone--and left me here!

The range is empty and the trails are blind,
  And I don't seem but half myself today.
I wait to hear him ridin' up behind
  And feel his knee rub mine the good old way
He's dead--and what that means no man kin tell.
  Some call it "gone before."
Where?  I don't know, but God!  I know so well
  That he ain't here no more!

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The Christmas Trail

The wind is blowin' cold down the mountain tips of snow
   And 'cross the ranges layin' brown and dead;
It's cryin' through the valley trees that wear the mistletoe
   And mournin' with the gray clouds overhead.
Yet it's sweet with the beat of my little hawse's feet
   And I whistle like the air was warm and blue
For I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you, 
                  Old folks,
   I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

Oh, mebbe it was good when the whinny of the Spring
   Had weedled me to hoppin' of the bars.
And livin' in the shadow of a sailin' buzzard's wing
   And sleepin' underneath a roof of stars.
But the bright campfire light only dances for a night,
   While the home-fire burns forever clear and true,
So 'round the year I circle back to you, 
                   Old folks,
   'Round the rovin' year I circle back to you.

Oh, mebbe it was good when the reckless Summer sun
   Had shot a charge of fire through my veins,
And I milled around the whiskey and the fightin' and fun
   'Mong the mav'ricks drifted from the plains.
Ay, the pot bubbled hot, while you reckoned I'd forgot,
   And the devil smacked the young blood in his stew,
Yet I'm lovin' every mile that's nearer you,
                   Good folks,
   Lovin' every blessed mile that's nearer you.

Oh, mebbe it was good at the roundup in the Fall,
   When the clouds of bawlin' dust before us ran,
And the pride of rope and saddle was a-drivin' of us all
   To stretch of nerve and muscle, man and man.
But the pride sort of died when the man got weary eyed;
   'Twas a sleepy boy that rode the nightguard through,
And he dreamed himself along a trail to you,
                    Old folks,
   Dreamed himself along a happy trail to you.

The coyote's Winter howl cuts the dusk behind the hill,
   But the ranch's shinin' window I kin see,
And though I don't deserve it and, I reckon, never will,
   There'll be room beside the fire kep' for me.
Skimp my plate 'cause I'm late.  Let me hit the old kid gait,
   For tonight I'm stumblin' tired of the new
And I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
                     Old folks,
   I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

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Bachin'

Our lives are hid; our trails are strange;
     We're scattered through the West
In canyon cool, on blistered range
     Or windy mountain crest.
Wherever Nature drops her ears
     And bares her claws to scratch,
From Yuma to the north frontiers,
     You'll likely find the bach',
          You will,
     The shy and sober bach'!

Our days are sun and storm and mist,
     The same as any life,
Except that in our trouble list
     We never count a wife.
Each has a reason why he's lone,
     But keeps it 'neath his hat;
Or, if he's got to tell some one,
     Confides it to his cat,
          He does,
     Just tells it to his cat.

We're young or old or slow or fast,
     But all plumb versatyle.
The mighty bach' that fires the blast
     Kin serve up beans in style.
The bach' that ropes the plungin' cows
     Kin mix the biscuits true--
We earn our grub by drippin brows
     And cook it by 'em too,
          We do,
     We cook it by 'em too.

We like to breathe unbranded air,
     Be free of foot and mind,
And go or stay, or sing or swear,
     Whichever we're inclined.
An appetite, a conscience clear,
     A pipe that's rich and old
Are loves that always bless and cheer
     And never cry or scold,
          They don't.
     They never cry or scold.

Old Adam bached some ages back
     And smoked his pipe so free,
A-loafin' in a palm-leaf shack
     Beneath a mango tree.
He'd best have stuck to bachin' ways,
     And scripture proves the same,
For Adam's only happy days
     Was 'fore the woman came,
          They was,
     All 'fore the woman came.

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The Free Wind

I went and worked in a drippin' mine
     'Mong the rock and the oozin' wood,
For the dark it seemed lit with a dollar sign
     And they told me money's good.
So I jumped and sweat for a flat-foot boss
     Till my pocket bulged with pay,
But my heart it fought like a led bronc hawse
     Till I flung my drill away.

For the wind, the wind, the good free wind,
     She sang from the pine divide
That the sky was blue and the young years few
     And the world was big and wide!
From the poor, bare hills all gashed with scars
     I rode till the range was crossed;
Then I watched the gold of the sunset bars
     And my camp-sparks glintin' toward the starts
And laughed at the pay I'd lost.

I went and walked in the city way
     Down a glitterin' canyon street,
For the thousand lights looked good and gay
     And they said life there was sweet.
So the wimmin laughed while night reeled by
     And the wine ran red and gold,
But their laugh was the starved wolf's huntin' cry
     And their eyes were hard and old.

And the wind, the wind, the clean free wind,
     She laughed through April rains:
"Come out and live by the wine I give
     In the smell of the greenin' plains!"
And I looked back once to the smoky towers
     Where my face had bleached so pale,
Them loped through the lash of drivin' showers
     To the uncut sod and the prairie flowers
And the old wide life o' the trail.

I went and camped in the valley trees
     Where the thick leaves whispered rest,
For love lived there 'mong the honey bees,
     And they told me love was best.
There the twilight lanes were cool and dim
     And the orchards pink with May,
Yet my eyes they'd lift to the valley's rim
     Where the desert reached away.

And the wind, the wind, the wild free wind,
     She called from the web love spun
To the unbought sand of the lone trail land
     And the sweet hot kiss o' the sun!
Oh, I looked back twice to the valley lass,
Then I set my spurs and sung,
For the sun sailed up above the pass
And the mornin' wind was in the grass
     And my hawse and me was young. 

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The Passing of the Trail

There was a sunny, savage land
   Beneath the eagle's wings,
And there, across the thorns and sand,
   Wild rovers rode as kings.
Is it a yarn from long ago
   And far across the sea?
Could that land be the land we know?
   Those roving riders we?

The trail's a lane, the trail's a lane,
   How comes it, pard of mine?
Within a day it slipped away
   And hardly left a sign.
Now history a tale has gained
   To please the younger ears—
A race of kings that rose, and reigned,
   And passed in fifty years!

Dream back beyond the cramping lanes
   To glories that have been --
The camp smoke on the sunset plains,
   The riders loping in
Loose rein and rowelled heel to spare,
   The wind our only guide,
For youth was in the saddle there
With half a world to ride.

The trail's a lane, the trail's a lane,
   Dead is the branding fire. 
The prairies wild are tame and mild,
   All close-corralled with wire.
The sunburnt demigods who ranged
   And laughed and lived so free
Have topped the last divide, or changed
   To men like you and me.

Where, in the valley fields and fruits,
   Now hums a lively street,
We milled a mob of fighting brutes
   Among the grim mesquite.
It looks a far and fearful way--
   The trail from Now to Then--
But time is telescoped to-day,
   A hundred years in ten.

The trail's a lane, the trail's a lane,
   Our brows are scarcely seamed,
But we may scan a mighty span
   Methuselah ne'er dreamed.
Yet pardner, we are dull and old
  With paltry hopes and fears,
Beside those rovers gay and bold
   Far riding down the years!

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The Westerner

My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains,
    And each one sleeps alone.
Their trails may dim to the grass and rains,
    For I choose to make my own.
I lay proud claim to their blood and name,
    But I lean on no dead kin;
My name is mine, for the praise or scorn,
And the world began when I was born
    And the world is mine to win.

They built high towns on their old log sills,
    Where the great, slow rivers gleamed,
But with new, live rock from the savage hills
    I'll build as they only dreamed.
The smoke scarce dies where the trail camp
        lies,
    Till the rails glint down the pass;
The desert springs into fruit and wheat
And I lay the stones of a solid street
    Over yesterday's untrod grass.

I waste no thought on my neighbor's birth
    Or the way he makes his prayer.
I grant him a white man's room on earth
    If his game is only square.
While he plays it straight I'll call him mate;
    If he cheats I drop him flat.
Old class and rank are a wornout lie,
For all clean men are as good as I,
    And a king is only that.

I dream no dreams of a nurse-maid state
    That will spoon me out my food.
A stout heart sings in the fray with fate
    And the shock and sweat are good.
From noon to noon all the earthly boon
    That I ask my God to spare
Is a little daily bread in store,
With the room to fight the strong for more,
    And the weak shall get their share.

The sunrise plains are a tender haze
    And the sunset seas are gray,
But I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
    Over me and the big today.
What good to me is a vague "maybe"
    Or a mournful "might have been,"
For the sun wheels swift from morn to morn
And the world began when I was born
    And the world is mine to win.

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The Piano at Red's

'Twas a hole called Red's Saloon
    In La Vaca Town;
'Twas an old piano there,
    Blistered, marred and brown,
And a man more battered still,
    Takin' drinks for fees,
Played all night from memory
    On the yellow keys.

While the glasses clinked and clashed
    On the sloppy bar,
The piano's dreamy voice
    Took you out and far,
Ridin' old, forgotten trails
    Underneath the moon,
Till you heard a drunken yell
    Back in Red's Saloon.

Whirr of wheel and slap of cards,
    Talk of loss and gain,
Mixed with hum of honey bees
    Down a sunny lane.
Glimpses of your mother's face,
    Touch of girlish lips
Often made you lose your count
    As you stacked your chips.

Scufflin' feet and thud of fists,
    Curses hot as fire—
Still the music sang of love,
    Longin', lost desire,
Dreams that never could have been,
    Joys that couldn't stay—
While the man upon the floor
    Wiped the blood away.

Then, some way, it followed you,
    Slept upon your breast,
Trailed you out across the range,
    Never let you rest;
And for days and days you'd hum
    Just one scrap of tune—
Funny place for music, though
    Back in Red's Saloon!

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Ridin'

There is some that like the city—
    Grass that's curried smooth and green,
Theaytres and stranglin' collars,
    Wagons run by gasoline—
But for me it's hawse and saddle
    Every day without a change,
And a desert sun a-blazin'
    On a hundred miles of range.

    Just a-ridin', a-ridin'—
        Desert ripplin' in the sun,
    Mountains blue among the skyline—
        I don't envy anyone
            When I'm ridin'.

When my feet is in the stirrups
And my hawse is on the bust,
With his hoofs a-flashin' lightnin'
From a cloud of golden dust,
And the bawlin' of the cattle
Is a-comin' down the wind
Then a finer life than ridin'
Would be mighty hard to find.

    Just a-ridin', a-ridin'—
        Splittin' long cracks through the
            air,
    Stirrin' up a baby cyclone,
        Rippin' up the prickly pear
            As I'm ridin'.

I don't need no art exhibits
    When the sunset does her best,
Paintin' everlastin' glory
    On the mountains to the west
And your opery looks foolish
    When the night-bird starts his tune
And the desert's silver mounted
    By the touches of the moon.

    Just a-ridin', a-ridin'—
        Who kin envy kings and czars
    When the coyotes down the valley
        Are a singin' to the stars,
            If he's ridin'?

When my earthly trail is ended
    And my final bacon curled
And the last great roundup's finished
    At the Home Ranch of the world
I don't want no harps nor haloes
    Robes nor other dressed up things
Let me ride the starry ranges
    On a pinto hawse with wings!

    Just a-ridin', a-ridin'—
        Nothin' I'd like half so well
    As a-roundin' up the sinners
        That have wandered out of Hell,
            And a-ridin'
   

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The Wind is Blowin'

My tired horse nickers for his own home bars;
A hoof clicks out a spark.
The dim creek flickers to the lonesome starts;
The trail twists down the dark.
The ridge pines whimper to the pines below.
The wind is blowin' and I want you so.

The birch has yellowed since I saw you last,
The Fall haze blued as the creeks,
The big pine bellowed as the snow swished past,
But still, above the peaks,
The same stars twinkle that we used to know.
The wind is blowin' and I want you so.

The stars up yonder wait at the end of time
But earth fires soon go black.
I trip and wander on the trail I climb--
A fool who will look back
To glimpse a fire dead a year ago.
The wind is blowin' and I want you so.

Who says the lover kills the man in me?
Beneath the day's hot blue
This thing hunts cover and my heart fights free
To laugh an hour or two.
But now it wavers like a wounded doe.
The wind is blowin' and I want you so.

This poem is included in our Cowboy Love Poetry collection

 

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The Bunk-House Orchestra

Wrangle up your mouth-harps, drag your banjo out,
Tune your old guitarra till she twangs right stout,
For the snow is on the mountains and the wind is on the plain,
But we'll cut the chimney's moanin' with a livelier refrain.

Shinin' 'dobe fireplace, shadows on the wall--
(See old Shorty's friv'lous toes a-twitchin' at the call:)
It's the best grand high that there is within the law
When seven jolly punchers tackle "Turkey in the Straw."

Freezy was the day's ride, lengthy was the trail,
Ev'ry steer was haughty with a high arched tail,
But we held 'em and we shoved 'em for our longin' hearts were tried,
By a yearlin' for tobacker and our dear fireside.

Swing 'er into stop-time, don't you let'er droop!
(You're about as tuneful as a coyote with the croup!)
Ay, the cold wind bit when we drifted down the draw,
But we drifted on to comfort and to "Turkey in the Straw."

Snarlin' when the rain whipped, cussin' at the ford--
Ev'ry mile of twenty was a long discord,
But the night is brimmin' music and its glory is complete
When the eye is razzle-dazzled by the flip o' Shorty's feet!

Snappy for the dance, now, till she up and shoots!
(Don't he beat the devil's wife for jiggin' in 'is boots?)
Shorty got throwed high and we laughed till he was raw
But tonight he's done forgot it prancin' "Turkey in the Straw."

Rainy dark or firelight, bacon rind or pie,
Livin' is a luxury that don't come high:
Oh, be happy and onruly while our years and luck allow,
For we all must die or marry less than forty years from now!

Lively on the last turn! lope 'er to the death
(Reddy's soul is willin' but he's gettin' short o' breath.)
Ay, the storm wind sings and old trouble sucks his paw
When we have an hour of firelight set to "Turkey in the Straw."

 

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The Rains

You've watched the ground-hog's shadow and the shiftin' weather signs
   Till the Northern prairie starred itse'f with flowers;
You've seen the snow a-meltin' up among the Northern pines
   And the mountain creeks a-roarin' with the showers.
You've blessed the stranger sunlight when the Winter days were done
   And the Summer creepin' down the budded lanes.
Did you ever see a Springtime in the home range of the sun,
   When the desert land is waitin' for the Rains?

The April days are sun and sun; the last thin cloud is fled.
   It's gold about the eastern mountain crest,
Then blaze upon the yellow range all day from overhead
   And then a stripe of gold across the west.
The dry wind mourns among the hills, a-huntin' trees and grass,
   Then down the desert flats it rises higher
And sweeps a rollin' dust-storm up and flings it through the pass
   And fills the evenin' west with smoulderin' fire.

It's sun and sun without a change the lazy length o' May
   And all the little sun things own the land.
The horned toad basks and swells himse'f; the bright swifts dart and play;
   The rattler hunts or dozes in the sand.
The wind comes off the desert like it brushed a bed of coals;
   The sickly range grass withers down and fails;
The bony cattle bawl around the dryin' water holes,
   They stagger off along the stony trails.

The days crawl on to Summer suns that slower blaze and wheel;
   The mesas heave and quiver in the noon.
The mountains they are ashes and the sky is shinin' steel,
   Though the mockin'-birds are singin' that it's June.
And here and there among the hills, a-standin' white and tall,
   The droopin' plumes of yucca flowers gleam,
The buzzards circle, circle where the startin' cattle fall
   And the whole hot land seems dyin' in a dream.

But last across the sky-line comes a thing that's strange and new,
   A little cloud of saddle blanket size.
It blackens 'long the mountains and bulges up the blue
   And shuts the weary sun-glare from our eyes.
Then the lightnin's gash the heavens and the thunder jars the world
   And the gray of fallin' water wraps the plains,
And 'cross the burnin' ranges, down the wind, the word is whilrled:
   "Here's another year of livin', and the Rains!"

You've seen your fat fields ripplin' with the treasure that they hoard;
   Have you seen a mountain stretch and rub its eyes?
Or bare hills lift their streamin' faces up and thank the Lord,
   Fairly tremblin' with their gladness and surprise?
Have you heard the 'royos singin' and the new breeze hummin' gay,
   As the greenin' ranges shed their dusty stains--
Just a whole dead world sprung back to life and laughin' in a day!
   Did you ever see the comin' of the Rains?

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The Old Cow Man
 
I rode across a valley range
I hadn't seen for years.
The trail was all so spoilt and strange
It nearly fetched the tears.
I had to let ten fences down
(The fussy lanes ran wrong)
And each new line would make me frown
And hum a mournin' song.
 
Oh, it's squeak! squeak! squeak!
Hear 'em stretchin' of the wire!
The nester brand is on the land;
I reckon I'll retire,
While progress toots her brassy horn
And makes her motor buzz,
I thank the Lord I wasn't born
No later than I was.
 
'Twas good to live when all the sod,
Without no fence or fuss,
Belonged in partnership to God,
The Gover'ment and us.
With skyline bounds from east to west
And room to go and come,
I loved my fellow man the best
When he was scattered some.
 
Oh, it's squeak! squeak! squeak!
Close and closer cramps the wire.
There's hardly any place to back away
And call a man a liar.
Their house has locks on every door;
Their land is in a crate.
These ain't the plains of God no more,
They're only real estate.
 
There's land where yet no ditchers dig
Nor cranks experiment;
It's only lovely, free and big
And isn't worth a cent.
I pray that them who come to spoil
May wait till I am dead
Before they foul that blessed soil
With fence and cabbage head.
 
Yet it's squeak! squeak! squeak!
Far and farther crawls the wire.
To crowd and pinch another inch
Is all their heart's desire.
The word is overstocked with men
And some will see the day
When each must keep his little pen,
But I'll be far away.
 
When my old soul hunts range and rest
Beyond the last divide,
Just plant me in some stretch of West
That's sunny, lone and wide.
Let cattle rub my tombstone down
And coyotes mourn their kin,
Let hawses paw and tromp the moun'
But don't you fence it in!
 
Oh it's squeak! squeak! squeak!
And they pen the land with wire.
They figure fence and copper cents
Where we laughed 'round the fire.
Job cussed his birthday, night and morn,
In his old land of Uz,
But I'm just glad I wasn't born
no later than I was!

 

Sometimes a nearly-identical poem called "Way Out West" is attributed to cowboy, writer, and detective Charles A. Siringo 1855-1928 (read more about him in the Handbook of Texas Online). That attribution appears in John A. Lomax' Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads, first published in 1910 and reprinted many times, where Lomax notes the poem is from A Lone Star Cowboy (1919) by Siringo.

In Siringo's book, he gives the proper credit to Badger Clark and writes:

When the time comes for putting me under the sod, I hope the little verse by Badger Clarke (sic), Jr., which follows, will be carved on my headstone. The verse was dug up from the William E. Hawks collection of cowboy songs as appropriate for the wind-up of a fool cowboy's life history.

Mr. William E. Hawks, of Bennington, Vermont, a cowboy of the old school, has been fifteen years gathering cowboy songs and data, with a view of publishing a true history of the early day cattle business, so that posterity will know the class of dare-devils who paved the way for the man with a hoe.

The hoe-man will need no history for the benefit of posterity, as he is here to stay. When once he plants his feet on the soil, time or cyclones cannot jar him loose.

'Twas good to live when all the range,
Without no fence or fuss,
Belonged in partnership to God,
The Government and us.

With skyline bounds from east to west
And room to go and come,
I liked my fellow man the best
When he was scattered some.

When my old soul hunts range and rest
Beyond the last divide,
Just plant me on some strip of west
That's sunny, lone and wide.

Let cattle rub my tombstone round,
And coyotes wail their kin,
Let hosses come and paw and the mound
But don't you fence it in!

Lomax did give the poem the proper attribution in his Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp, first printed in 1919. You can read and download the entire text of that book at the Internet Archive.

Don Edwards' "The Old Cow Man" is inspired by the poem, and you can see a video of a performance of that here.


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Jeff Hart

Jeff Hart rode out of the gulch to war
     When the low sun yellowed the pines.
He waved to his folks in the cabin door
     And yelled to the men at the mines.
The gulch kept watch till he dropped from sight—
     Neighbors and girl and kin.
Jeff Hart rode out of the gulch one night;
     Next morning the world came in.

His dad went back to the clinking drills
     And his mother cooked for the men;
The pines branched black on the eastern hills,
     Then black to the west again.
But never again, by dusk or dawn,
     Were the days in the gulch the same,
For back up the hill Jeff Hart had gone
     The trample of millions came.

Then never a clatter of dynamite
     But echoed the guns of the Aisne,
And the coyote's wail in the woods at night
     Was bitter with Belgium's pain.
We hear the snarl of a savage sea
     In the pines when the wind went through,
And the strangers Jeff Hart fought to free
     Grew folks to the folks he knew.

Jeff Hart has drifted for good and all,
     To the ghostly bugles blown,
But the far French valley that saw him fall
     Blood kin to the gulch is grown;
And his foreign folks are ours by right—
     The friends that he died to win.
Jeff Hart rode out of the gulch one night;
     Next morning the world came in.

by  Charles Badger Clark, from Sun and Saddle Leather, 1915

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The Coyote

Trailing the last gleam after,
     In the valleys emptied of light,
Ripples a whimsical laughter
     Under the wings of the night.
Mocking the faded west airily,
Meeting the little bats merrily,
     Over the mesas it shrills
     To the red moon on the hills.

Mournfully rising and waning,
     Far through the moon-silvered land
Wails a weird voice of complaining
     Over the thorns and the sand.
Out of blue silences eerily.
On to the black mountains wearily,
     Till the dim desert is crossed,
     Wanders the cry, and is lost.

Here by the fire's ruddy streamers,
     Tired with our hopes and our fears,
We inarticulate dreamers
     Hark to the song of our years.
Up to the brooding divinity
Far in that sparkling infinity
     Cry our despair and delight,
     Voice of the Western night!

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The Legend of Boastful Bill

At a roundup on the Gily,
  One sweet mornin' long ago,
Ten of us was throwed right freely
  By a hawse from Idaho.
And we thought he'd go a-beggin'
  For a man to break his pride
Till, a-hitchin' up one leggin',
  Boastful Bill cut loose and cried --

  "I'm a on'ry proposition for to hurt;
  I fulfill my earthly mission with a quirt;
      I kin ride the highest liver
      'Tween the Gulf and Powder River,
  And I'll break this thing as easy as I'd flirt."

So Bill climbed the Northern Fury
  And they mangled up the air
Till a native of Missouri
  Would have owned his brag was fair.
Though the plunges kep' him reelin'
  And the wind it flapped his shirt,
Loud above the hawse's squealin'
  We could hear our friend assert

  "I'm the one to take such rakin's as a joke.
  Someone hand me up the makin's of a smoke!
      If you think my fame needs bright'nin'
  W'y I'll rope a streak of lightnin'
  And I'll cinch 'im up and spur 'im till he's broke."

Then one caper of repulsion
  Broke that hawse's back in two.
Cinches snapped in the convulsion;
  Skyward man and saddle flew.
Up he mounted, never laggin',
  While we watched him through our tears,
And his last thin bit of braggin'
  Came a-droppin' to our ears.

  "If you'd ever watched my habits very close
  You would know I've broke such rabbits by the gross.
      I have kep' my talent hidin';
      I'm too good for earthly ridin'
  And I'm off to bust the lightnin's, --
      Adios!"

Years have gone since that ascension.
  Boastful Bill ain't never lit,
So we reckon that he's wrenchin'
  Some celestial outlaw's bit.
When the night rain beats our slickers
  And the wind is swift and stout
And the lightnin' flares and flickers,
  We kin sometimes hear him shout --

      "I'm a bronco-twistin' wonder on the fly;
      I'm the ridin' son-of-thunder of the sky.
          Hi! you earthlin's, shut your winders
          While we're rippin' clouds to flinders.
      If this blue-eyed darlin' kicks at you, you die!"

Stardust on his chaps and saddle,
  Scornful still of jar and jolt,
He'll come back some day, astraddle
  Of a bald-faced thunderbolt.
And the thin-skinned generation
  Of that dim and distant day
Sure will stare with admiration
  When they hear old Boastful say --

      "I was first, as old rawhiders all confessed.
      Now I'm last of all rough riders, and the best.
          Huh, you soft and dainty floaters,
          With your a'roplanes and motors --
      Huh! are you the great grandchildren of the West!"

 

The late Buck Ramsey comments on the poem in an essay, "Cowboy Libraries and Lingo," in Cowboy Poets & Cowboy Poetry, edited by David Stanley and Elaine Thatcher. He writes, "..for imaginative cowboy lingo and outlandish braggadocio, Badger Clark's "The Legend of Boastful Bill" is hard to beat...Bill goes on one hell of a ride, but as a challenge this raging bronc is for Boastful Bill about like hairpinning Aunt Maude's milk cow..."

Clark wrote the poem in 1907 and our version is from Clark's Sun and Saddle Leather, first published in 1915. John Lomax included the poem in his 1919 book, Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp, transcribed from a recitation.

Among the top recordings of the poem are by Randy Rieman, on his Where the Ponies Come to Drink CD, Paul Zarzyski on Cowboy Poetry Classics from Smithsonian Classics, Larry Maurice on his Purt Near CD, and Jerry Brooks' recitation on her Shoulder to Shoulder CD and The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Five.  There is a recording of Badger Clark reciting his poem, on a CD available from the Badger Clark Memorial Society. Clark's recording of his poem, Ridin', from the same CD, is included on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Two (2007).

 

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A Border Affair

Spanish is the lovin' tongue,
    Soft as music, light as spray.
'Twas a girl I learnt it from,
    Livin' down Sonora way.
I don't look much like a lover,
Yet I say her love words over
Often when I'm all alone—
    "Mi amor, mi corazon."

Nights when she knew where I'd ride
    She would listen for my spurs,
Fling the big door open wide,
    Raise them laughin' eyes of hers
And my heart would nigh stop beatin'
When I heard her tender greetin',
    Whispered soft for me alone
    "Mi amor! mi corazon!"

Moonlight in the patio,
    Old Seņora noddin' near,
Me and Juana talkin' low
    So the Madre couldn't hear—
How those hours would go a-flyin;!
And too soon I'd hear her sighin'
In her little sorry tone—
    "Adios, mi corazon!"

But one time I had to fly
    For a foolish gamlin' fight,
And we said a swift goodbye
    In that black, unlucky night.
When I'd loosed her arms from clingin'
With her words the hoofs kep' ringin'
    As I galloped north alone—
    "Adios, mi corazon"

Never seen her since that night,
    I kain't cross the Line, you know.
She was Mex and I was white;
    Like as not it's better so.
Yet I've always sort of missed her
Since that last wild night I kissed her,
    Left her heart and lost my own—
    "Adios, mi corazon!"

Watch Dave Stamey's outstanding 2013 performance of this song here. It was a part of a National Cowboy Poetry Gathering show, "Back-trailing to the Home Range," in which many top poets and musicians performed their favorite Badger Clark poems and songs (Jerry Brooks, Elizabeth Ebert, Don Edwards, Dick Gibford, DW Groethe, Wylie Gustafson, Kay Kelley Nowell, Gary McMahan, Waddie
Mitchell, Joel Nelson, Randy Rieman, and Gail Steiger). View the entire show here.
 

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The Plainsmen

Men of the older, gentler soil,
     Loving the things that their fathers wrought--
Worn old fields of their father's toil,
     Scarred old hills where their fathers fought--
Loving their land for each ancient trace,
Like a mother dear for her wrinkled face,
     Such as they never can understand
     The way we have loved you, young, young land!

Born of a free, world-wandering race,
     Little we yearned o'er an oft-turned sod.
What did we care for the father's place,
     Having ours fresh from the hand of God?
Who feared the strangeness or wiles of you
When from unreckoned miles of you,
     Thrilling the wind with a sweet command,
     Youth unto youth called, young, young land?

North, where the hurrying seasons changed
     Over great gray plains where the trails lay long,
Free as the sweeping Chinook we ranged,
     Setting our days to a saddle song.
Through the icy challenge you flung us,
Through your shy Spring kisses that clung to us,
     Following as far as the rainbow spanned,
     Fiercely we wooed you, young, young land!

South where the sullen black mountains guard
     Limitless, shimmering lands of the sun,
Over blinding trails where the hoof rang hard,
     Laughing or cursing, we rode and won.
Drunk with the virgin white fire of you,
Hotter than thirst was desire of you;
     Straight in our faces you burned your brand,
     Marking your chosen ones, young, young land.

When did we long for the sheltered gloom
     Of the older game with its cautious odds?
Gloried we always in sun and room,
     Spending our strength like the younger gods.
By the wild sweet ardor that ran in us,
By the pain that tested in the man in us,
     By the shadowy springs and the glaring sand,
     You were our true-love, young, young land.

When the last free trail is a prime, fenced land
     And our graves grow weeds through forgetful Mays,
Richer and statelier then you'll reign,
     Mother of men whom the world will praise.
And your sons will love you and sigh for you,
Labor and battle and die for you,
     But never the fondest will understand
     The way we have loved you, young, young land.

 

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God of the Open

God of the open, though I am so simple
     Out in the wind I can travel with you,
noons when the hot mesas ripple and dimple,
     Nights when the stars glitter cool in the blue.
Too far you stand for the reach of my hand,
     Yet I can feel you big heart as it beats
Friendly and warm in the sun or the storm.
     Are you the same as the God of the streets?

Yours is the sunny blue roof I ride under;
     Mountain and plain are the house you have made.
Sometimes it roars with the wind and the thunder
     But in your house I am never afraid.
He? Oh they give him the license to live,
     Aim in their ledgers, to pay him his due,
Gather by herds to present him with words--
     Words!  What are words when my heart talks with you?

God of the open, forgive an old ranger
     Penned among walls where he never sees through.
Well do I know, though their God seems a stranger,
     Earth has no room for another like you.
Shut out the roll of the wheels from my soul;
     Send me a wind that is singing and sweet
Into this place where the smoke dims your face.
     Help me see you in the God of the street.

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On Boot Hill

Up from the prairie and through the pines,
Over your struggling headboard lines
     Winds of the West go by.
You must love them, you booted dead,
More than the dreamers who died in bed--
You old-timers who took your lead
     Under the open sky!

Leathery knights of the dim old trail,
Lawful fighters or scamps for jail,
     Dimly your virtues shine,
Yet who am I that I judge your wars.
Deeds that my daintier soul abhors,
Wide-open sins of the wide outdoors,
     Manlier sins than mine.

Dear old mavericks, customs mend
I would not glory to make an end
     Marked like a homemade sieve.
But with a touch of your own old pride
Grant me to travel the way I ride.
Gamely and gaily, the way you died,
     Give me the nerve to live.

Ay, and for you I will dare assume
Some Valhalla of sun and room
     Over the last divide.
There, in eternally fenceless West,
Rest to your souls, if they care to rest,
Or else fresh horses beyond the crest
     And a star-speckled range to ride.

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The Outlaw

When my rope takes hold on a two-year-old,
     By the foot or the neck or the horn,
He kin plunge and fight till his eyes go white
     But I'll throw him as sure as you're born.
Though the taught ropes sing like a banjo string
     And the latigoes creak and strain,
Yet I got no fear of an outlaw steer
     And I'll tumble him on the plain.

For a man is a man, but a steer is a beast,
     And the man is the boss of the herd,
And each of the bunch, from the biggest to least,
     Must come down when he says the word.

When my leg swings 'cross on an outlaw hawse
     And my spurs clinch into his hide,
He kin r'ar and pitch over hill and ditch,
     But wherever he goes I'll ride.
Let 'im spin and flop like a crazy top
     Or flit like a wind-whipped smoke,
But he'll know the feel of my rowelled heel
     Till he's happy to own he's broke.

For a man is a man and a hawse is a brute,
     And the hawse may be prince of his clan,
But he'll bow to the bit and the steel-shod boot
     And own that his boss is the man.

When the devil at rest underneath my vest
     Gets up and begins to paw
And my hot tongue strains at its bridle reins,
     Then I tackle the real outlaw.
When I get plumb riled and my sense goes wild
     And my temper is fractious growed,
If he'll hump his neck just a triflin' speck,
     Then it's dollars to dimes I'm throwed.

For a man is a man, but he's partly a beast.
     He kin brag till he makes you deaf,
But the one lone brute, from the west to the east,
     That he kain't quite break is himse'f.

 

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God's Reserves

One time, 'way back where the year marks fade
     God said: "I see I must lose my West,
The place where I've always come to rest,
     For the White Man grows till he fights for bread
And he begs and prays for a chance to spread.

"Yet I won't give all of my last retreat;
     I'll help him to fight his long trail though,
But I'll keep some land from his field and street
     The way that it was when the world was new.
He'll cry for it all, for that's his way
And yet he may understand some day."

And so, from the painted Bad Lands, 'way
     To the sun-beat home of the 'Pache kin,
God stripped some places to sand and clay
     And dried up the beds where the streams had been.

He marked His reserves with these plain signs
And stationed His rangers to guard the lines.
Then the White Man came, as the East growed old,
     And blazed his trail with the wreck of war.
He riled the rivers to hunt for gold
     And found the stuff he was lookin' for;
Then he trampled the Injun trails to ruts
And gnashed through the hills with railroad cuts.

He flung out his barb-wire fences wide
     And plowed up the ground where the grass was high.
He stripped off the trees from the mountain side
     And ground out his ore where the streams run by,
Till last came the cities, with smoke and roar,
And the White Man was feelin' at home once more.

But Barrenness, Loneliness, suchlike things
     That gall and grate on the White Man's nerves,
Was the rangers that camped by the bitter springs
     And guarded the lines of God's reserves.
So the folks all shy from desert land,
'Cept mebbe a few that kin understand.

There the world's the same as the day 'twas new,
     With the land as clean as the smokeless sky
And never a noise as the years have flew,
     But the sound of the warm wind driftin' by'
And there, alone, with the man's world far,
There's a chance to think who you really are.

And over the reach of the desert bare,
     When the sun drops low and day wind stills,
Sometimes you kin almost see Him there,
     As He sits alone on the blue-gray hills,
A-thinkin' of things that's beyond our ken
And restin' Himself from the noise of men.

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Roundup Lullaby

Desert blue and silver in the still moonshine,
     Coyote yappin' lazy on the hill,
Sleepy winks of lightnin' down the far sky line,
     Time for millin' cattle to be still.

      So—o, now, the lightnin's far away,
        The coyote's nothing skeery;
        He's singin' to his dearie—
      Hee—ya, tammalalleday!
          Settle down, you cattle, till the mornin'.

Nothin' out on the hazy range that you folks need,
     Nothin' we can see to take your eye.
Yet we got to watch you or you'd all stampede,
     Plungin' down some royo bank to die.

      So—o, now, for still the shadows stay;
        The moon is slow and steady;
        The sun comes when he's ready.
      Hee—ya, tammalalleday!
        No use runnin' out to meet the mornin'.

Cows and men are foolish when the light grows dim,
     Dreamin' of a land too far to see.
There, you dream, is wavin' grass and streams that brim
     And it often seems that way to me.

      So—o, now, for dreams they never pay.
        The dust it keeps you blinkin'.
        We're seven miles from drinkin'.
      Hee—ya, tammalalleday!
        But we got to stand it till the mornin'.

Mostly it's a moonlight world our trail winds through.
     Kain't see much beyond our saddle horns.
Always far away is misty silver-blue;
     Always underfoot it's rocks and thorns.

      So—o, now. It must be this away—
        The lonesome owl a-callin',
        The mournful coyote squallin'.
      Hee—ya, tammalalleday!
        Mocking-birds don't sing until the mornin'.

Always seein' 'wayoff dreams of silver-blue
     Always feelin' thorns that stab and sting
Yet stampedin' never made a dream come true,
     So I ride around myself and sing,

      Soo, now, a man has got to stay,
        A-likin' or a-hatin',
        But workin' on and waitin'
      Hee
ya, tammalalleday!
        All of us are waitin' for the mornin'.

 

"Roundup Lullaby" has been sung by folks including Katie Lee, Don Edwards, Bing Crosby, Sue Harris, and others. As a song, it's also been called "Cowboy Lullaby" and "Desert Silvery Blue." The University of Colorado has a few different vintage sheet music versions in their digital archive.

There are some lyrics and an audio file here: here at Mudcat.org, where there are also discussion threads, here and here

A site here has a selection of audio versions, including one by Gene Autry.

 

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The Song of the Leather

When my trail stretches out to the edge of the sky
     Through the desert so empty and bright,
When I'm watchin' the miles as they go crawlin' by
     And a-hopin' I'll get there by night,
Then my hawse never speaks through the long sunny day,
     But my saddle he sings in his creaky old way:

          "Easy--easy--easy--
       For a temperit pace ain't a crime.
   Let your mount hit it steady, but give him his ease,
   For the sun hammers hard and there's never a breeze.
       We kin get there in plenty of time."

When I'm after some critter that's hit the high lope,
     And a-spurrin' my hawse till he flies,
When I'm watchin' the chances for throwin' my rope
     And a-winkin' the sweat from my eyes,
Then the leathers they squeal with the lunge and the swing
     And I work to the livelier tune that they sing:

          "Reach 'im!, reach 'im, reachin 'im!
      If you lather your hawse to the heel!
   There's a time to be slow and a time to be quick;
   Never mind if it's rough and the bushes are thick--
      Pull your hat down and fling in the steel!"

When I've rustled all day till I'm achin' for rest
     And I'm ordered a night-guard to ride,
With the tired little moon hangin' low in the west
     And my sleepiness fightin' my pride,
Then I nod and I blink at the dark herd below
     And the saddle he sings as my hawse paces slow:

          "Sleepy--sleepy--sleepy--
      We was ordered a close watch to keep,
   But I'll sing you a song in a drowsy old key;
   All the world is a-snoozin' so why shouldn't we?
      Got to sleep, pardner mine, go to sleep."

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Others

The daybreak comes so pure and still.
He said that I was pure as dawn,
That day we climbed to Signal Hill.
Back there before the war came on.
God keep me pure as he is brave,
And fit to take his name.
I let him go and fight to save
Some other girl from shame.

Across the gulch it glimmers white,
The little house we plotted for.
We would be sitting here tonight
If he had never gone to war--
The firelight and the cricket's cheep,
My arm around his neck--
I let him go and fight to keep
Some other home from wreck.

And every day I ride to town
The wide lands talk to me of him--
The slopes with pine trees marching down,
The spread-out prairies, blue and dim.
He loved it for the freedom's sake
Almost as he loved me.
I let him go and fight to make
Some other country free.

by  Charles Badger Clark, from Sun and Saddle Leather,, 1915

 

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The Border

When the dreamers of old Coronado,
   From the hills where the heat ripples run,
Made a dust to the far Colorado
   And wagged their steel caps in the sun,
They prayed like the saint and the martyr
   And swore like the devils below,
For a man is both angel and Tartar
   In the land where the dry rivers flow.

Ay, the Border, the sun smitten Border,
   That fences the Land of the Free,
Where the desert glares grim like a warder
   And the Rio gleams on to the sea;
Where ruins, like dreamy old sages,
Hint tales of dead empires and ages,
Where a young race is rearing the stages
   Of ambitious empires to be.

Came the padres to soften the savage
   And show him the heavenly goal;
Came Spaniards to piously ravage
   And winnow his flesh from his soul;
Then miner and riotous herder,
   Over-riding white breed of the North,
Brought progress, and new sorts of murder,
   And a kind of perpetual Fourth.

Ay, the Border, the whimsical Border,
   Deep purples and dazzling gold,
Soft hearts full of mirthful disorder,
   Hard faces, sun wrinkled and old,
Warm kisses 'neath patio roses,
Cold lead as the luck-god disposes,
Clean valor fame never discloses,
   Black trespasses laughingly told!

Then out from the peaceful old places
   Walked the Law, grave, strong and serene,
And the harsh elbow-rub of the races
   Was padded, with writs in between.
Then stilled was the strife and the racket
   That neighborly love might advance--
With a knife in the sleeve of its jacket
   And a gun in the band of its pants.

Ay, the Border, the bright, placid Border!
   It sleeps, like a snake in the sun,
Like a "hole" tamped and primed in due order,
   Like a shining and full throated gun.
But the dust-devil dances and staggers
And the yucca flower daintily swaggers
At her birth from a cluster of daggers,
   And ever the heat ripples run.

Fierce, hot, is the Border's bright daytime,
   Calm, sweet, the vast night on its plains;
White hell on the mesas, its Maytime,
   A green-and-gold heaven, its Rains.
It is grimmer than slumber's dark brother,
   'Tis as gay as the mocking-bird likes;
It loves like a lioness mother
   And strikes as the rattlesnake strikes.

Ay, the border, the bewildering Border,
   Our youngest, and oldest, domains,
Where the face of the Angel Recorder
   Knits hard between chuckles and pains,
Vast peace, the clear sky's earthly double,
Witch cauldron forever a-bubble,
Home of mystery, splendor and trouble
   And a people with sun in their veins.

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Saturday Night

Out from the ranch on a Saturday night,
Ridin' a hawse that's a shootin' star,
Close on the flanks of the flyin' daylight,
Racin' with dark for the J L Bar.
Fox-trot and canter will do for the day;
It's a gallop, my love, when I'm ridin' your way.

Up the arroyo the trippin' hoofs beat,
Flingin' the hinderin' gravel wide;
Now your light glimmers across the mesquite,
Glimpsed from the top of a rocky divide;
Down through a draw where the shadows are gray
I'm comin', my darlin', I'm ridin' your way.

West, where the sky is a-blushin' afar,
Matchin' your cheeks as the daylight dies,
West, where the shine of a glitterin' star
Hints of the light I will find in your eyes,
Night-birds are passin' the signal to say:
"He's comin', my lady, he's ridin' your way."

Hoof-beats are measurin' seconds so fast,
Clickin' them off with an easy rhyme;
Minutes will grow into months at the last,
Mebbe to bring us a marryin' time.
Life would be singin' and work would be play
If every night I was ridin' your way.

by Badger Clark from Sun and Saddle Leather, 1922

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From Town

We're the children of the open and we hate the haunts o' men,
   But we had to come to town to get the mail.
And we're ridin' home at daybreak—'cause the air is cooler then—
   All 'cept one of us that stopped behind in jail.
Shorty's nose won't bear paradin', Bill's off eye is darkly fadin',
   All our toilets show a touch of disarray,
For we found that city life is a constant round of strife
   And we ain't the breed for shyin' from a fray.

Chant your warwhoop, pardners dear, while the east turns pale with fear
And the chaparral is tremblin' all aroun'
For we're qicked to the marrer; we're a mid-night dream of terror
When we're ridin' up the rocky trail from town!

We acquired our hasty temper from our friend, the centipede,
   From the rattlesnake we learnt to guard our rights.
We have gathered fightin' pointers from the famous bronco steed
   And the bobcat teached us reppertee that bites.
So when some high-collared herrin' jeered the garb that I was wearin'
   'Twasn't long till we had got where talkin' ends,
And he et his illbred chat, with a sauce of derby hat,
   While my merry pardners entertained his friends.

Sing 'er out, my buckeroos! Let the desert hear the news.
Tell the stars the way we rubbed the haughty down.
We're the fiercest wolves a-prowlin' and it's just our night for howlin'
When we're ridin' up the rocky trail from town.

Since the days that Lot and Abram split the Jordan range in halves
   Just to fix it so their punchers wouldn't fight,
Since old Jacob skinned his dad-in-law for six years' crop of calves
   And then hit the trail for Canaan in the night,
There has been a taste for battle 'mong the men that followed cattle
   And a love of doin' things that's wild and strange,
And the warmth of Laban's words when he missed his speckled herds
   Still is useful in the language of the range.

Singer 'er out, my bold coyotes! leather fists and leather throats,
For we wear the brand of Ishm'el like a crown.
We're the sons of desolation, we're the outlaws of creation—
Ee—yow! a-ridin' up the rocky trail from town!

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The Smoke-Blue Plains

Kissed me from the saddle, and I still can feel it burning,
     But he must have felt it cold, for ice was in my veins.
I shall  always see him as he waved above the turning,
     Riding down the canyon to the smoke-blue plains.
Oh, the smoke-blue plains! how I used to watch them sleeping,
     Thinking peace had dimmed them with the shadow of her wings;
Now their gentle haze will seem a smoke of death a-creeping,
     Drifted from the fighting in the country of the kings.

Joked me to the last, and in a voice without a quaver—
     Man o' mine!—but underneath the brown his cheek was pale.
Never did the nation breed a kinder or a braver
     Since our fathers landed from the long sea trail.
Oh, the long sea trail he must leave me here to follow—
     He that never saw a ship—to dare its chances blind,
Out the deadly reaches where the sinking steamers wallow,
     Back to trampled countries that his fathers left behind.

Down beyond the plains among the fighting and the dying,
     God must watch his reckless foot and follow where it lights;
Guard the places where his blessed, tousled head is lying—
     Head my shoulder pillowed through the warm safe nights!
Oh, the warm, safe nights, and the pine above the shingles!
     Can I stand its crooning and the patter of the rains?
Oh, the sunny quiet and a bridle-bit that jingles,
     Coming up the canyon from the smoke-blue plains!

by Badger Clark from Sun and Saddle Leather, 1922

"The Smoke Blue Plains" is included in Badger Clark's 1915 book, Sun and Saddle Leather. In 1918, the poem was included in the Century magazine, under the title of "The Drafted Man." There are small changes in the third and fourth linetwo words reversed and the addition of a question mark—making it even more relevant to the war-torn times:

Shall I always see him as he waved above the turning,
Riding down the canyon to the smoke-blue plains?

See "The Drafted Man" here in a Google Books feature.

South Dakota poet Elizabeth Ebert recites "The Smoke Blue Plains" on Cowboy Poetry Classics, a CD produced by the Western Folklife Center and Smithsonian Folkways.

 

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The Camp Fire's Song

I reared your fathers long ago —
   Big, savage children — from the breast,
But in the circle of my glow
   You sit to-night a haughty guest,
For far beyond their artless day
Your lofty trail has stretched away.
   So wise! so wise!
But still the child is in your eyes.

Your fathers feared the club and claw,
   Their days were full of fight and flight;
Behind you stands your mighty law
   To guard your lonely sleep to-night,
Or, if some lawless brute run free,
A rifle gleams across your knee.
   So strong! so wise!
But still the fear is in your eyes.

They filled their little tents with spoil,
   Then vaguely longed for greater things;
Your shining cities spurn the soil
   And through your valleys plenty sings;
You span the seas they endless deemed
And rule a world they never dreamed.
   So great! so wise!
But still their longing in your eyes.

They made them gods of flood and fire;
   With simple awe they watched the stars;
You bend all powers to your desire;
   The river gods must draw your cars,
The drudging fire gods drive your fleets,
The lightning slaves about your streets.
   So proud! so wise!
Yet their old wonder in your eyes!

They dreamed a god might in them dwell
   Who lived beyond the silenced heart;
You know your mortal self so well —
   A wondrous thing in every part,
But earthbound as this gaunt mesquite
Or firelit dust about your feet.
   So hard! so wise!
But still the god is in your eyes.

Poor little primal thing am I,
   Great stranger, yet I mock your lore;
Your thickest volumes often lie
   And these still stars could tell you more,
The wind that sighs across the sand
Or I, but could you understand?
  So wise! so wise!
A puzzled child within your eyes.

by Badger Clark from Sun and Saddle Leather, 1922

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The Married Man

There's an old pard of mine that sits by his door
     And watches the evenin' skies.
He's sat there a thousand evenin's before
     And I reckon he will till he dies.
El pobre!* I reckon he will till he dies,
     And hear through the dim, quiet air
Far cattle that call and the crickets that cheep
And his woman a-singin' a kid to sleep
     And the creak of her rockabye chair.

Once we made camp where the last light would fail
     And the east wasn't white till we'd start,
But now he is deaf to the call of the trail
     And the song of the restless heart.
El pobre! the song of the restless heart
     That you hear in the wind from the dawn!
He's left it, with all the good, free-footed things,
For a slow little song that a tired woman sings
     And a smoke when his dry day is gone.

I've rode in and told him of lands that were strange,
     Where I'd drifted from glory to dread.
He'd tell me the news of his little old range
     And the cute things his kid had said!
El pobre! the cute things his kid had said!
     And the way six-year Billy could ride!
And the dark would creep in from the gray chaparral
And the woman would hum, while I pitied my pal
     And thought of him like he had died.

He rides in old circles and looks at old sights
     And his life is as flat as a pond.
He loves the old skyline he watches of nights
     And he don't seem to care for beyond.
El pobre! he don't seem to dream of beyond,
     Nor the room he could find, there, for joy.
"Ain't you ever oneasy?" says I one day.
But he only just smiled in a pityin' way
     While he braided a quirt for his boy.

He preaches that I orter fold up my wings
     And that even wild geese find a nest
That "woman" and "wimmen" are different things
     And a saddle nap isn't a rest.
El pobre! he's more for the shade and the rest
     And he's less for the wind and the fight,
Yet out in strange hills, when the blue shadows rise
And I'm tired from the wind and the sun in my eyes,
     I wonder, sometimes, if he's right.

I've courted the wind and I've followed her free
     From the snows that the low stars have kissed
To the heave and the dip of the wavy old sea,
     Yet I reckon there's somethin' I've missed.
El pobre! Yes, mebbe there's somethin' I've missed,
     And it mebbe is more than I've won—
Just a door that's my own, while the cool shadows creep,
And a woman a-singin' my kid to sleep
     When I'm tired from the wind and the sun.

* "El pobre," Spanish, "Poor fellow."

by Badger Clark from Sun and Saddle Leather, 1922

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The Old Prospector

   There's a song in the canyon below me
     And a song in the pines overhead,
As the sunlight crawls down from the snowline
     And rustles the deer from his bed.
With mountains of green all around me
     And mountains of white up above
And mountains of blue down the sky-line,
     I follow the trail that I love.

My hands they are hard from the shovel,
     My leg is rheumatic by streaks
And my face it is wrinkled from squintin'
     At the glint of the sun on the peaks.
You pity the prospector sometimes
     As if he was out of your grade.
Why, you are all prospectors, bless you!
     I'm only a branch of the trade.
You prospect for wealth and for wisdom,
     You prospect for love and for fame;
Our work don't just match as to details,
     But the principle's mostly the same.

While I swing a pick in the mountains
     You slave in the dust and the heat
And scratch with your pens for a color
     And assay the float of the street.

You wail that your wisdom is salted,
     That fame never pays for the mill,
That wealth hasn't half enough value
     To pay you for climbin' the hill.
You even say love's El Dorado,
    A pipe dream that never endures—
Well, my luck ain't all that I want it,
     But I never envied you yours.
You're welcome to what the town gives you,
     To prizes of laurel and rose,
But leave me the song in the pine tops,
     The breath of a wind from the snows.
With mountains of green all around me
    And mountains of white up above
And mountains of blue down the sky-line,
     I'll follow the trail that I love.

by Badger Clark from Sun and Saddle Leather, 1922

Top reciter Jerry Brooks recorded "The Old Prospector" for her recent Shoulder to Shoulder CD, and that recording is on The BAR-R Roundup: Volume Six. You can listen to her perform the poem at the 2006 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering here. Find more about Jerry Brooks in our feature here.
 

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The Medicine Man

"The trail is long to the bison herd,
   The prairie rotten with rain,
And look! the wings of the thunder bird
   Blacken the hills again.
A medicine man the gods may balk—
Go fight for us with the thunder hawk!"

The medicine man flung out his arms.
   "I am weary of woman talk
And cook-fire witching and childish charms!
   I fight you the thunder hawk!"
Then he took his arrows and climbed the butte
While the warriors watched him, scared and mute.

A wind from the wings began to blow
   And the arrows of rain to shoot,
As the medicine man raised high his bow,
   Standing alone on the butte,
And the day went dark to the cowering band
As the arrow leaped from his steady hand.

For the thunder hawk swooped down to fight
   And who in his way could stand?
The flash of his eye was blinding bright
   And his wing-clap stunned the land.
The braves yelled terror and loosed the rain
And scattered far on the drowning plain.

So, after the thunder hawk swept by,
   They found him, scorched and slain,
Yet (fighting with gods, who fears to die?)
He smiled with a light disdain.
That smile was glory to all his clan
But none dared touch the medicine man.

by Badger Clark from Sun and Saddle Leather, 1922





 


Badger Clark's Books 

The Badger Clark Memorial Society has kept some of Badger Clark's books in print.  Visit their site for their list of books and other materials.

Among the titles available:

Badger Clark Ballads: Selected Works of a Cowboy Poet
boots and bylines
God of the Open
Grass-Grown Trails
Singleton
Spike
Skylines and Wood Smoke
Sun and Saddle Leather, including Grass Grown Trails
When Hot Springs Was a Pup

We receive many queries about poems, and more about Badger Clark poems than those of any other poet.  To help visitors find which poems are where, below are the indexes to three of the most popular collections of his work.


Sun and Saddle Leather
by Badger Clark
introduction by Richard G. Badger, The Gorham Press, Boston, 1922 (Sixth edition)

Bachin'
"Bacon"
"A Bad Half Hour"
"The Bad Lands"
"Battle"
"The Border"
"A Border Affair"
"The Buffalo Trail"
"The Bunk-House Orchestra"
"The Camp Fire's Song"
"The Christmas Trail"
"A Cowboy's Prayer (Written for Mother)"
"The Coyote"
"The Forest Rangers"
"The Free Wind"
"Freightin'"
"
From Town"
"The Glory Trail (High-Chin Bob)"
"God of the Open"
"God's Reserves"
"Half-Breed"
"Hawse Work"
"In the Hills"
"Jeff Hart"
"Latigo Town"
The Legend of Boastful Bill
"The Locoed Horse"
"The Long Way"
"The Lost Pardner"
"The Married Man"
"The Medicine Man"

"My Enemy"
"The Fighting Swing"
"The Night Herder"
"The Old Camp Coffee-Pot"
"The Old Cow Man"
"The Old Prospector"
"On Boot Hill"
"On the Drive"
"On the Oregon Trail"
"Others"
"The Outlaw"
"The Passing of the Trail"
"The Piano at Red's"
"Plains Born"
"The Plainsmen"
"The Rains"
"A Ranger"
"Ridin'"
"A Roundup Lullaby"
"Saturday Night"
"The Sheep-Herder"
"
The Smoke-Blue Plains"
"The Song of the Leather"
"Southwestern June"
"The Springtime Plains"
"The Tied Maverick"
"To Her"
"The Trail o' Love"
"The Westerner"
"The Wind is Blowin'"
"The Yellow Stuff"

From the Preface to the 1922 edition:

Cowboys are the sternest critics of those who would represent the West.  No hypocrisy, no bluff, no pose can evade them.

Yet cowboys have made Badger Clark's songs their own.  So readily have they circulated that often the man who sings the song could not tell you where it started.  Many of the poems have become folk songs of the West, we may say of America, for they speak of freedom and the open.

Generous has been the praise given Sun and Saddle Leather, but perhaps no criticism has summed up the work so satisfactorily as the comment of the old cowman who said, "You can break me if there's a dead poem in the book, I will read the hull of it.  Who in H--- is this kid Clark, anyway?  I don't know how he knowed, but he knows."

That is what proves Badger Clark the real poet. He knows.  Beyond his wonderful presentation of the West is the quality of universal appeal that makes his work real art. He has tied the West to the universe.

The old cowman is not the only one who has wondered who Badger Clark was.  Charles Wharton Stork, speaking of Sun and Saddle Leather, said:  "It has splendid flavor and fine artistic handling as well.  I should like to know more of the author, whether he was a cow-puncher or merely got inside his psychology by imagination."

Badger Clark was born January 1, 1883, at Albia, Iowa.  His ancestors on his father's side were of puritan stock and had called themselves Americans for seven generations.  His mother's people were Pennsylvania Quakers. His paternal grandfather, a Vermonter, moved West in 1857 and invested heavily in a town site and manufacturing interests in southern Missouri.  He was an Abolitionist and indiscreet enough to say so.  The climate of southern Missouri was particularly insalubrious for Abolitionists at that period, and Mr. Clark's neighbors took such an ardent interest in his opinions that he, with his two sons, slept away from home for two months because they were expecting to be the guests of honor at a tar-and-feather party and did not care to involve the women-folk of the family.

As the Civil War drew on, the tar-and-feather threat was complicated with strong possibilities of hemp and this, with malaria, made the location so unattractive that Mr. Clark trailed north into Iowa, arriving on free soil with his family, two wagon loads of household effects, and about one hundred and fifty dollars in money.

The father of the author, after this border experience, naturally enlisted in the Union army, and served the Western forces until disabled by wounds before Vicksburg.  Returning north he entered the ministry of the Methodist church and continued therein for the rest of his active life, retiring in 1915 after an exceptionally successful and honored career of fifty-one years in the pulpit.

Shortly after the birth of Badger Clark the family moved to Dakota, which was then frontier territory, and the cowboy poet's first taste of pioneering was at the age of six months, when his mother, in the absence of his father and elder brothers, carried him on one arm while she drove a plow team and turned enough sod to save the home from one of the sudden prairie fires of the early days.

He grew up in, and with, the state of South Dakota, spending his 'teen years in the Black Hills at Deadwood.  Deadwood at that time was trying to live down the reputation for exuberant indecorum which she had acquired during the gold rush, but her five churches operating two hours a week could make little headway against the competition of two dance halls and twenty-six saloons running twenty-four hours a day.  This "wide open" condition of things familiarized Mr. Clark with the free-and-easy moral atmosphere of the old West, but at the same time had the odd effect of making him a teetotaler in defiance of all the older poetic traditions.

During his youth he showed no particular literary tendencies beyond an insatiable appetite for books.  Luckily for his health this was balanced by an equally strong passion for outdoor life,--hunting, fishing, camping or anything or that sort, providing it was not sufficiently practical to interfere with concurrent dreaming. During two vacations of his high school course he went overland into western Wyoming and spent the summer on the ranch of an uncle at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains.

Having finished the high school with no particular scholastic honors, he entered Dakota Wesleyan University and studied there for a year.  At the end of that time he was given an opportunity to go to Cuba in connection with one of the colonizing enterprises undertaken there at the close of the Spanish war, and lack of money and a romantic temperament led him to abandon his studies for the promise of a more adventurous life under tropic skies,--a step he afterward regretted.  The colonization project fell through and his fellow colonists returned to the States, but he had fallen in love with opalescent surf and the rustle of warm trade winds in the palms, and so, in the spirit of the lotos-eaters and with about the same business prospects, he stayed.

While working on a Camaquey plantation a year later he had the misfortune to be present at a dispute between his employer and two native neighbors over a boundary fence in the jungle.  In the course of the argument one of the natives was shot and Clark, with the usual fate of innocent bystanders, shortly found himself in irons and on the way to the carcel.  During the two weeks which elapsed before the arrival of the cash for his bail, he spent his times in a cell with seventeen Spanish negroes and a dog-eared copy of the Rubaiyat handed in by an American friend on the outside.

For six months thereafter he divided his attention between plantation work, paludic fever, and a practical course in Spanish legal procedure, at the end of which time he was tried and acquitted, and then turned his face toward home in much the same mental and material condition as the prodigal son of old.

The summer of his return was spent very much to his taste, with a surveying party in the Bad Lands of South Dakota.  That fall he took up an agency for a correspondence school but indifference to the charms of the business game and a constitutional aversion to dunning anybody militated against his success and he resigned in a few months to accept the city editorship of a small daily paper in Lead, South Dakota.  This pleased him better, but he became too deeply interested in it and overwork, together with the after effect of tropical fever, led to a sentence of exile from his beloved Black Hills for at least two years, in obedience to which he journeyed south to Arizona.

In the cow country near the Mexican border, Badger Clark stumbled unexpectedly into paradise.  He was given charge of a small ranch and the responsibility for a bunch of cattle just large enough to amuse him but too small to demand a full day's work once a month.  The sky was persistently blue, the sunlight was richly golden, the folks of the barren mountains and the wide reaches of the range were full of many lovely colors, and his nearest neighbor was eight miles away.

The cowmen who dropped in for a meal now and then in the course of their interminable riding appeared to have ridden directly out of books of adventure, with old young faces full of sun wrinkles, careless mouths full of bad grammar, strange oaths and stranger yarns, and hearts for the most part as open and shadowless as the country they daily ranged,

In the evenings as Clark placed his boot heels on the porch railing, smote the strings of his guitar, and broke the tense silence of the warm, dry twilight with song, he often wondered, as his eyes rested dreamily on the spikey yuccas that stood out sharp and black against the clear lemon color of the sunset west, why hermit life in the desert was traditionally a sad, penitential affair.

In a letter to his mother a month or two after settling in Arizona, he found prose too weak to express his utter content and perpetuated his first verses. She, with natural pride, sent the verses to a magazine, the old Pacific Monthly, and a week or two later the desert dweller was astonished beyond measure to receive his first editorial check.  The discovery that certain people in the world were willing to pay money for such rhymes as he could write bent the whole course of his subsequent life, for good or evil, and the occasional lyric impulse hardened into a habit which has consumed much of his time and most of his serious thought since that date. The verses written to his mother were Ridin', the first poem in his first book, Sun and Saddle Leather, and the greater part of the poems in both Sun and Saddle Leather and Grass Grown Trails were written in Arizona.

He remained in the border country for four years and finally said good-bye to the desert with regret. He appears to have left something behind to keep his memory green, however, for seven years after his departure his High-Chin Bob was discovered to be a popular song among the cowboys in a certain section of the Southwest, as was printed in Poetry as a true Western folksong of unknown authorship.

As Badger Clark says: "Regarding the High Chin Bob business, it is so far back and, with my usual carelessness, I have neglected to preserve any documentary evidence bearing on it, that I fear I can't give you much of value.  The thing began once when I was with an outfit of ten men driving seven hundred cattle to the shipping point after the roundup, acting as cook because the regular incumbent had gone to town and looked upon the wine when it is red.  One night when I was washing my pots and kettles I heard the boys around the fire discussing a cow-puncher over in the mountains, who, the week before, had roped a bobcat and 'drug' it to death. The boys spent some time swapping expert opinions on the incident, so it stuck in my mind, incubated, and eventually hatched out The Glory Trail.

"Nobody said anything about the poem, good or bad, as I remember, and I reckoned it had fallen rather flat until, some years later, about three years ago, I think, a distant friend sent me a copy of Poetry which featured High Chin Bob.  I found a real native folksong which the cowboys were accustomed to carol in their long riders over the romantic wildernesses of the Southwest, a song like Melchizedek, without father or mother, which probably had naturally 'just growed' in the rocky soil where it now flourished.  What was my amazement, in examining this literary curiosity, to find that it was my Glory Trail, with slight alterations, such as the omission of one line in the refrain, such rubbings down and chippings off as might happen to it in passing from mouth to mouth.  I own that the 'folksong' version is in some points more striking, and easy than my more labored original, and I believe it is better known.

"Frothingham, you remember, took it for his Songs of Men and I recently noticed that Rupert Hughes mentions High Chin Bob in a familiarly friendly way in his novel, Beauty, and no doubt many a country newspaper in the West has runs the lines.  When I was in California a year or so ago I became acquainted with H. H. Knibbs and I noticed that he introduced me to everybody as the author of High Chin Bob. So, under another name than the one its dad bestowed at the christening, this poem has been probably the most widely known son of its father.

"By the way, I have never heard High Chin Bob sung, and have some curiosity as to its homemade musical setting. If I ever meet some one who knows it, I'll make him warble it, if I have to use a sixshooter."

At present Badger Clark lives in Hot Springs, South Dakota.  Recently he has learned that is it easier to talk to five hundred people than to five, and that sometimes his fellow citizens would rather heard him read his own verse than read it themselves, which furnishes a new source of pleasure in a very quiet life.  He is thirty-eight years old and unmarried.  He is a church member of irreproachable daily walk and conversation but somewhat uncertain orthodoxy.  He never wears a starched collar and generally appears in a coat only when meteorological conditions or an occasion of ceremony make it necessary. He is six feet tall.

One who knows him intimately thus writes of the author:  "Badger Clark is loved in his own home town but is not worshipped as a celebrity, for which fact, doubtless, no one is more thankful than he himself.  It leaves him free to visit the public library, take part in local election squabbles, and be rated as a good citizen.  He can sing in the church choir or join in the Christmas pageant as one of the grown-up children of the congregation.  He is free to use his alert sense of humor, and in turn is glad to be the target for the wit of others. He can write verse on local subjects and they will be printed in the weekly newspaper and read without his fellow townsmen thinking the author odd."

The first edition of Sun and Saddle Leather appeared in 1915.  It was a modest little volume of fifty-six pages bound in antique boards; but to prove how easily copies were disposed of, the publisher wrote this letter to the author:

"Do you happen to have a spare copy of the first edition of Sun and Saddle Leather?  Some evil-minded person has lifted the last copy I had.

"I would be tickled to death to send you a copy of the last edition to replace, it you are willing to make a swap."

But even the author did not have one, for this was his answer:

"I'm sorry, but my last copy of the first edition of Sun and Saddle Leather disappeared long ago.  All I have in that line is one copy of the third edition that was so thumbed and soiled from using it to read out of in public that it would tempt nobody to steal it.

"I suppose that I should have preserved at least one copy of the first edition for its historic interest, but, like Henry Ford, I am inclined to think that history is 'mostly bunk,' at least any sentimental tenderness over one's personal history. 'So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.'  Beautiful but bunk, bunk, bunk. Let's rather grow tearfully enthusiastic over the fortieth edition."

In 1917 the second edition appeared. It was illustrated by L. A. Huffman, whose pictures have had their place in every subsequent edition.  Back in 1878 Mr. Huffman began to take photographs with crude cameras which he made himself.  These same photographs were the first of the now famous Huffman pictures comprising something like six thousand historic subjects, beginning with the Indians and buffaloes round about Fort Keogh on the Yellowstone, where he was post photographer in General Miles's army.  Mr. Huffman knows his West thoroughly and his pictures help others to know it.

Having his poems run into a second edition did not make Badger Clark believe that he was straight on the road to wealth or fame for this was how he inscribed a copy:

When my Pegasus is lopin',
   Ory-eyed and on the bust,
And the cares of common livin'
   Sprawl behind me in the dust,
And the breath of inspiration
   Comes a driftin' down the wind,
Then a finer life than writin'
   Would be might hard to find.

Just a-writin', a writin'
   Nothin' I like half so well
As a-slingin' ink and English--
   If the stuff will only sell
  When I'm writin'.

The same year appeared the first edition of Grass Grown Trails.  William S. Hart wrote:  "May these trails never be wholly obliterated!  I love the West and them, and thoroughly appreciate anything which so beautifully illustrates and typifies it as this last volume of Badger Clark's does."

In 1919 a third edition of Sun and Saddle Leather was brought out containing additional poems.

In 1920 appeared a collected edition of Badger Clark's work, containing all the poems in Sun and Saddle Leather, all those in Grass Grown Trails and nine new poems hitherto unpublished in book form.

To prove that some authors are grateful, this is what Badger Clark wrote his publisher when he had seen the book:

"I am now ready to die. Hitherto I have felt that I have never done anything rightfully to prove up on my world-without-end six-by-three homestead, but now I have earned that spot of deep repose.  And now I am ready for the "Sure enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.'  I have achieved my achievement. I have done done it, as the Texanos used to say.  I am the parent of a chile, a real child, a grown child--no mewling, thirty-page infant in pasteboard swaddling clothes, no gas-pipe-legged adolescent looking out at the world with scared eyes that mutely beg: 'Please like me'; but a splendid, rounded-out, mature specimen of progeny, quietly elegant in garb, and bearing itself with calm confidence, conscious of the friendship and commendation of a variety of the people, real people, distinguished people, people who (be it uttered in confidence) ought to know better.  And I am its dad: bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, heart of my heart, it stands and nobody can even pick out its more amiable traits and say: 'That came from the mother's side.' 'Come, lovely and soothing death,' you bleak, bloodless, black humbug you; come whenever you're ready.  I've beaten you! You can't kill me!

"Where was I?  Pardon me!  'B'ar with me, y're honor,' as I once heard a cow country lawyer say when he as trying to plead a case under a burden of emotion and mixed drinks. But, Badger, it has taken me the best part of fifteen years to make that book and now, as I look at it, I sing to myself: 'By gosh! it was worth it!'  I have stood wistfully by and watched the companions of my youth go into real estate and insurance and the ministry and medicine and standing in the world, wondering if I wasn't after all, a variegated damfool for trying to scale the perpendicular side which Parnassus presents to the half-educated. But to-night I envy no man on earth--not Rockefeller, not Doug. Fairbanks, not even Gamaliel Harding as he leads admiring millions toward the promised land of Normalcy. 'Blessed is that man who has found his work. Let him ask no other blessedness.'  Why Carlyle, you dear, crusty old son-of-a-gun, you're dead right, and when I meet you beyond the last divide I'll humble myself before you for having thought, sometimes, that those words of yours were mere inspirational bunk.

"Well, to return to coherency, if I can, the new Siamese-twins edition of Sun and Saddle Leather and Grass Grown Trails is really a source of some slight satisfaction to me. I have before me collections of Wilfred Wilson Gibson, and John Masefield and they, though thicker, don't look a bit better--mechanically. You've done me proud. Thank you."

The present sixth edition, we hope, will speak for itself."

Dr. W. T. Hornaday said of the book: "Some of the Sun and Saddle Leather poems have taken hold of me with a grip that only imbecility even can shake loose.  I have seen many poems and verses come out of the wild portions of the West; but these are the best. They are real poetry!"

Sun and Saddle Leather and Grass Grown Trails are Western songs, simple and ringing and yet with an ample vision that makes them unique among poems written in a local vernacular.  The spirit of them is eternal, the spirit of youth in the open, and their background is "God's Reserves," the vast reach of Western mesa and plain that will always remain free -- "the way that it was when the world was new."

Every poem carries a breath of the plains, wind-flavored with a tang of camp smoke; and, varied as they are in tune and tone, they do not contain a single note that is labored or unnatural.  They are of native Western stock, as indigenous to the soil as the agile cow ponies whose hoofs evidently beat the time for their swinging measures; and it is this quality, as well as their appealing music, that has already given them such wide popularity, East and West.

That they were born in the saddle and written for love rather than for publication is a conviction that the reader of them can hardly escape.  From the impish merriment of From Town to the deep but fearless piety of The Cowboy's Prayer, these songs ring true; and are as healthy as the big, bright country whence they came.

In prefaces to earlier editions I made free to quote from the poems and to attempt to point out their peculiar excellencies.  With modesty unusual in authors, Badger Clark wrote:

"By the way, Mr. Badger loaded most of the odium for the biographical preface to Sun and Saddle Leather onto you at the time it first appeared, and I suppose you are responsible for the extended version of the late edition.  It is said that modern women are deficient in spinning, weaving and other arts familiar to their great grandmothers, but when it comes to the proverbially difficult stunt of fabricating a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you are THERE.  Thank you."

the Preface to the 1922 edition of Sun and Saddle Leather, written by "R. H." (Ruth Hill)

                                                                                                                                  


Ashley Thornburg (see more about him here) shared the image of his personally autographed copy of Sun and Saddle Leather, a 1942 edition that he purchased in Hot Springs, South Dakota in June, 1945.  The inscription reads "I love my fellow man the best when he is scattered some." 

 


Poet Gene O'Quinn compiled the indexes for the two following books:

Sky Lines and Wood Smoke
from the Second Revised Edition, Third Printing,
by The Badger Clark Memorial Society, Custer, South Dakota 57730, 1997
printed by the State Publishing Company, Pierre South Dakota

"The Assay"
"Battle Mountain"
"Big Pines"
"Birch Fire"
"The Buck"
"The Butte"
"The Cat Pioneers"
"The Chopper"
"Cottonwood Leaves"
"The Country Beyond"
"Coyotes"
"Dancing Pines"
"Date with the Sky"
"Deer Trails"
 "God Meets Me in the Mountains"
"Hometown"
"Horseback Men"
"I Must Come Back"
"The Job"
"Lead, My America"
"The Long Trail"
"Love Song"
"Myself and I"
"The Old Musician"
"Old Timer"
"An Oldster Muses"
"Our Folks"
"People"
"Pioneers"
"Prairie Wind"
"Quaking Asp"
"Quick and Dead"
"Romeo Elk"
"Thanksgiving"
"Tiger Lilies"
"To a Pack Rat"
"To the Experimenters"
"Wood Smoke"


God of the Open
by Charles Badger Clark
Black Hills Methodist Historical Society, 1981
All the poems were printed in other works; Sky Lines and Wood Smoke,
boots and bylines, Sun and Saddle Leather

"Birch Fire"
"The Butte"
"A Cowboy's Prayer (Written for Mother)" 
"A Date with the Sky"
"God Meets Me In the Mountains" [excerpts from the poem]
"God of the Open"
"God's Reserves"
"The Good Green Year"
"I Must Come Back"
"The Job"
"I Must Come Back"
"My Father and I"
"Lead My America"
"The Lost Pardner" [last two stanzas only]
"Myself and I" [mentioned only]
"An Old Deal"
"An Oldster Muses"
"The Old Visitor"
"Our Folks1934"
"People"
"Pioneers"
"Prairie Wind"
"Quick and Dead"
"Release" [excerpts only]
"Ridin'"
"Small Town"
"Thanksgiving"
"Thanksgiving" [two different poems with the same title]
"Thanksgiving Hymn, 1943"
"Untitled" [Badger Clark's last poem]


Books About Badger Clark

 

Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark
Edited by Greg Scott, published (2005) by Cowboy Miner Productions
Available for $29.95 from the Cowboy Miner Productions' web site.

This book (432 pages) includes all of Badger Clark's short stories; poetry, including more than two dozen previously unpublished or long out-of-print poems; essays; letters; and photos. 

See our feature based on this book, with selections of the prose and poetry and the book's table of contents, here.

Read Linda Hasselstrom's review here.

 


  Badger Clark, Cowboy Poet with Universal Appeal
By Jessie Y. Sundstrom, published 2004  
Available for $12.45, postpaid. Make checks payable to Jessie Y. Sundstrom, sent to: The Badger Clark Memorial Society., Box 351, Custer, SD 57730-0351

This book (about 65 pages) includes much personal history for Badger Clark, three poems, photos, and a bibliography.

The author, a respected historian and publisher, knew Badger Clark. She is currently the corresponding secretary of The Badger Clark Memorial Society.  

Thanks to Linda Hasselstrom for the initial information about this book.


  The Badger Clark Story
By Helen F. Morganti, published 1960  
Available for $8 postpaid (quantity discounts available) from Black Hills Books & Treasures, 112 S. Chicago Street, Hot Springs, SD 57747 605-745-5545

This book (89 pages) includes much personal history for Badger Clark, 17 poems, photos, and a bibliography.

The author knew Badger Clark for many years, and was commissioned by the South Dakota State Historical Society to write this book.

Thanks to Yvonne Hollenbeck for the initial information about this book.


 

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