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We learned by look and feel, not studies—
Unless it was the moves of pards
Ahorseback, eloquent as bards.
It was a spark, and we would fan it
While riding favored by good winds
With favored ancients, proper ends.
The owners merely mined the granite;
We were sculptors of the herd.
Yes, ours the poetry; theirs the word.

From And As I Rode Out on the Morning
     by Buck Ramsey, 1993

Buck Ramsey left an important legacy when he died in 1998, and many poets and musicians lost a dear friend.  He received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and two Western Heritage Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (now the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum) for his recordings. His work and life offer continual inspiration and education. 

Below, you'll find:

Buck Ramsey Profile
Biographical information from Bette Ramsey

Recollections 
Wisdom, humor, and inspiration...Buck Ramsey 
touched many lives and his friends remember him 
in prose and poetry.

Your recollections and photos are welcome.

Buck Ramsey's Writings and Recordings
An article: Nara Visa
Books and Anthologies
Audio and Video

More Links



 On Page 2, you'll find:

Poetry
Selections from his masterpiece, And As I Rode Out on the Morning 
Prologue: Anthem
The Story: One
Epilogue:  Ponder
__

Dunder Defining
__

Christmas Waltz


 


Photo by Scott Braucher

 

Buck Ramsey Profile
Information by Bette Ramsey

Name:

Kenneth Melvin Ramsey – Buck’s dad nicknamed him Buckskin Tarbox when he was born. Buck said he didn’t know his real name until he started to school. He never liked his real name and always went by Buck.

Birthplace: 

New Home, Texas, January 9, 1938.

Statement of subject’s significance:

Quote from Hal Cannon founder of the Western Folklife Center, 1998

His work "Anthem" is probably thought of as the finest contemporary piece of writing in this tradition, and his interpretation of traditional cowboy music is unsurpassed. He brought those songs to life, and that's very rare.

Quote from Virginia Bennett about Buck in an essay on Joel Nelson’s Benefit, 2002, Elko, Nevada

Among contemporary cowboy poets, there is a complete respect for a man named Buck Ramsey. Buck was one of a kind, and we all know there will never be another one. He knew the work, he had the heart, and he could write better than a million, widely- published poets or authors.

Buck wrote an epic poem called "And as I rode out in the morning," and the prelude to the poem was a piece that instantly became a classic. It is called "Anthem." Joel says that when he first heard "Anthem," he had to memorize it and recite it. I think the poem owned Joel, and I think the poem belongs to him, as well. Personally, I don’t think anyone else should present "Anthem" while Joel is around to do it. Call it narrow-minded of me, but why fix what ain’t broke.

Buck passed away a few years ago, and we all mourned his loss. He was the father and friend of contemporary poetry in a classic style. He could not be replaced. But in our hearts, we needed another such a one worthy of our respect. I don’t mean we needed to stand in awe of anyone or put anyone on a pedestal. It just feels good to know that there is someone to carry on the purity of the well-crafted, cowboy poem. It’s a heavy mantle to bear.

And it falls to Joel to bear it. And he carries it well.

[Note: "Anthem" is recited by Joel Nelson on his Grammy-nominated CD, Breaker in the Pen.]

Quote from Andy Wilkinson at Buck’s memorial in Amarillo, Texas, January 6, 1998 

Before the service…
It was Buck himself who made the impact on my poetry and music. I’ve only known Buck for about six years, but it seems like I knew Buck my whole life. Everyone who knew him felt that same way. 

During the eulogy… 
One of the most important things Buck gave me was a book called "The Gift" which explains that a gift is something you receive that is not asked for. When you take the gift, you have an obligation to give a gift to someone. Buck’s own gifts of talent and ability meant he had an obligation to use his gifts. Buck understood his gifts. 

Wilkinson also related four other gifts that Buck has given his friends: a sense of direction and understanding of our heritage; a wide group of friends; the discomfort of his art; and the lightness in his spirit and the depth to his concern about people. 

To remember Buck is to remember his gifts and give them back.

Quote from CowboyPoetry.com, 2002 

The Big Roundup was awarded the Academy of Western Artists' Buck Ramsey Award, the 2002 Best Poetry Book at the Seventh Annual Will Rogers Awards for Outstanding Achievement of Contemporary Cowboy Skills ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, July 9, 2002.

The program described the award:
"Every now and then, a unique and very special person comes along who touches all of us in a memorable and lasting way.  Buck was one of those rare individuals.  Beside the considerable body of poetry and songs he left us, his quiet courage, his gentle friendship, his joyful sense of humor and his constant encouragement, both by example and by eloquent expression, left an indelible impression on those who knew him or ever saw him perform.  The Academy of Western Artists is proud to announce, that to honor Buck's memory and keep it vital, the Poetry Book Award will hereafter be called "The Buck Ramsey Award."  [Written by Charles Williams]

Parents: 

Father: David Melvin Ramsey, (Deceased) Born: Marmaduke, Arkansas, August 9,1909.

Mother: Pearl Lee Williams Ramsey Born: Tatum, New Mexico September 9,1913.

Buck’s parents raised all their children in the Primitive Baptist Church where they practiced shaped note singing in four-part harmony. They grew up singing in church and attending shaped note singing schools. All of the children had good voices and they were able to learn to sing different parts. 

Every family gathering turned into a musical singsong. Buck was born with perfect pitch. He sang in the school choirs and his music teachers used him as their tuning fork all through his school days. He always had a sweet, kind, sensitive demeanor in his music and magnetism in his personality, which made him a favorite in his family and with his relatives and friends.

Siblings: 

Wanda Pearl Ramsey Pirtle, Millie Joyce Ramsey Johnson, (Deceased), Mary Ellen Ramsey Watson, Sylvia Adell Ramsey Askew, Charles Winston Ramsey, and Patricia Janice Ramsey (Deceased). Buck’s four sisters formed a quartet and sang gospel music all over the Panhandle. Buck sang solos and by the time he was in high school, he was singing with a band called the Sandie Swingsters and making all the girls swoon and the boys jealous. 

He played the piano by ear throughout his life but he didn’t learn to play the guitar until Eddie Reeves, songwriter, musician, and (now retired) Warner Bros. Executive, showed up in his hospital room, tossed him a guitar and said, "Buck, now you’re going to have to become a guitar player." 

After he was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair at twenty-five years old, he taught himself how to play the guitar. He began to connect to more of his family and his roots. He remembered the old cowboy songs that his Uncle Ed used to sing and talk about so he started finding and performing those songs. Buck’s Uncle Ed ran away from the family farm when he was fourteen and became a cowboy. He was one of Buck’s heroes.

Education: 

Buck always claimed he got his main education in a two-room schoolhouse in Middlewell, Texas. He was an avid reader and did better teaching himself than he did trying to adjust to the confines of structured schooling, (He reminds me of Will Rogers in lots of ways but particularly in his restlessness and aversion to structure). 

1956 – he graduated from Amarillo High School. 

1956 – he attempted college at Texas Tech, left college, hitchhiked to Canada and California, worked a while in California. 

1957 - came back, went to New York City, worked a while 

1958 - left New York City entered West Texas State where he punched cattle around the Panhandle. He had played around with cowboy ways during his youth but he started seriously cowboying during college and would intermittently return to it in between his restless wanderings. He finally settled down and kept a job cowboying until he got hurt in 1962.

Profession or career: 

Cowboy, newspaper reporter, writer, singer, poet, and entertainer.

Significant achievements: 

Began resurrecting the old cowboy songs, performing and recording his versions to catalogue them for posterity. Wrote definitive contemporary cowboy poetry, which is regarded as some of the best in that genre.

Military service and/or other public service: 

He joined the marines in 1960, completed a six-month active duty stint, and remained in the reserve until he was medically discharged.

Religious and political affiliations: 

Primitive Baptist Church/Yellow Dog Democrat

Honors received:

1992/1994 - National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Wrangler Award for the Best Traditional Song Album

1995 – a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and a National Heritage Master Artist Award (He was in the first group of recipients to receive this award in a ceremony at the White House, the Clinton’s gave the awards)

1996 – the Lifetime Achievement and Best Poetry Book awards by the Academy of Western Artists and the American Cowboy Culture Award for Western Music.

Wife: 

Bette Cave Ramsey (We had been married for 35 years when Buck died). In high school, I had a terrible crush on Buck the first time I laid eyes on him. I loved those big, beautiful blue eyes and that sweet, magnetic smile of his – I never got over it! At fifteen, I knew that we were going to be best friends, at nineteen I knew we would be lovers someday, and at 21, I knew we would be partners until the end of our days. I was right; it all came to pass.

Daughter: 

Amanda Robin Ramsey

Places of residence: 

Middlewell, Texas, Channing, Texas; Dalhart, Texas; Amarillo, Texas; Logan, Utah; Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.

Date and place of death: 

Died: January 3, 1998 – At his home in Amarillo, Texas, one week before his 60th birthday.

Cause of death: 

Congestive heart failure.


Recollections 


Wisdom, humor, and inspiration...Buck Ramsey touched many lives and his friends remember him in prose and poetry: 

Contributors:

Andy Wilkinson
Darin Brookman
John Shelton Lawrence
Jeff Streeby
Yvonne Hollenbeck
Janice Mitich

Chris Isaacs
Virginia Bennett
Red Steagall
Pat Richardson
Sunny Hancock
Fletcher Jowers
Ray Lashley
Charles Williams
Bobby Newton

 

Your recollections (and photos) are invited.  Email us.

 

  Buck Ramsey's friend Andy Wilkinson contributed the following articles and poems. 


The following article first appeared in Persimmon Hill, a publication of The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, in about 1992. It is reprinted with the kind permission of Persimmon Hill and the author.

Buck Ramsey

A spirit storming in blank walls
                              
Wallace Stevens

It's midnight in Arizona, two a.m. in Texas.  We're east-bound on the interstate, somewhere past Flagstaff, with Orion rising in our windshield, his stars washed thin by the full moon at our backs and jumbled amongst the headlamps and the mercury-vapor lights scattered down the highway ahead.  The part of the night that can be touched is cool and wet, a relief after yesterday's thick, hot, Los Angeles smog, and almost as palpable, but the buttes of the Painted Desert, airbrushed silver by the moonlight, make the other part of the night a black-velvet hologram into which we ride without so much as a ripple.  Amarillo, and sunrise, are yet six hours away.

I drive, and Buck sits behind me, just over my right shoulder, his wheelchair jammed-up tight behind the van's two front captain's chairs.  The passenger seat is empty.  In the back, wedged in among the guitars and hats and boots and duffle bags and back-packs and other gear, sleeps Ramblin' Jack Elliott, prince of folk music and patron saint of the American road.  Yesterday, we'd been at the University of California at Riverside for a concert of cowboy music.  Held in a renovated old barn before a small but dedicated audience, it had been an evening more reminiscent of an informal ranch gathering than a big blow-out like the annual shindig at Elko, Nevada, the Carnegie Hall of cowboy culture.

Ramblin' Jack had been a crowd-pleaser, having turned in one of his vintage performances of story-telling and the guitar playing that has set the standard for the past forty years of folk-song accompaniment.  After an encore, which Buck instigated, Jack helped several of us haul Buck and his wheelchair up onto the stage where he began his set quickly and quietly and without pretense.  Although music has been a part of his life since childhood, Buck hasn't been performing in public but for the past few years, and, perhaps because of it, hasn't developed any of the glitzy parenthetical patter that most performers feel obliged to use to mark the beginning and end of their sets, the kind of planned spontaneity that becomes crusty with repetition and with hip cynicism.  Instead, Buck sneaks up on an audience, almost child-like, by simply starting to play, and, when he does make comments or introductions, he grins and mumbles through them so that they become little more than pauses to allow the audience to catch their breath.

Known for his renditions of traditional cowboy songs, he played standards such as "The Santa Fe Trail" and "Good-bye, Old Paint," along with lesser-known beauties like "The Brazos River Song" and "Blue Mountain."  As always, his guitar work was effective in its simplicity, providing the right rhythmic foundation for the traditional feel of the tunes, a guitar style that sets the tone as precisely as would the creak of saddle leather or the crackle of a mesquite fire.  His voice was pure and clear, almost sweet, contrasting with the rustic phrasings and pronunciations that he uses for authenticity.  Moved by the spirit, like folks at a tent revival, the audience cheered and applauded after each number.  Buck smiled sheepishly, like a boy who's just done something to make his folks proud.

* * *

Driving on a darkened highway shares something with standing night watch over a cattle herd, the campfire banked to hold the embers until morning, the cattle quiet but demanding of vigilance.  With eyes and hands occupied and your mount moving almost on its own, thoughts can run free, and talk can range far and wide.  Just now the subject is poetry, the poetry of Wallace Stevens to be specific, heady stuff for night-herding cowboys.

Or not so heady; Buck holds hard and fast to the notion that the cowboys of the past were a well-read lot, as fond of the classics as they were of those, like Zane Grey, who later put the cowboy himself into the myth, and into Hollywood, as well.  "Bunkhouse bookers," he calls them, and would doubtless fall among their number were he still punching cattle. In an unpublished essay about cowboy libraries and lingo---written tongue-in-cheek, or written in all sincerity; the glint in Buck's eye doesn't always spark for humor---he describes the mythical "303 Bull Durham Classics," where, for a dime and the tag from a sack of the correct brand of rollin' tobacco, a cowboy could receive in the return mail one of the "literary classics ranging from the old Greeks to books by early American authors whose patents had run out."

Regardless of whether or not there were in fact libraries on the range, it's well-accepted today that a surprising number of the cowboys of yesteryear were writers of poetry and song, and today's cowboy gatherings, where traditional cowboy poetry and music coexist with contemporary works penned and performed by modern-day waddies, is clear evidence that the artistic spirit of today's cowboy is very much unchanged from that of his nineteenth-century ancestor.

* * *

Buck Ramsey is best known as a poet, writing powerful pieces that transcend labeling, poems that use cowboy lingo to achieve a universal elegance, a sort of Robert Burns in boots.  Like his traditional cowboy tunes, Buck has performed his poetry at cowboy gatherings and at a variety of other venues.  He's recited before a crowd of thousands at the Vancouver Folk Festival, for small classes of college students, for the listeners of National Public Radio.  He's also had the courage to deliver his poetry in that most difficult of venues, the public restaurant.  It's the performer's nightmare: folks eating, drinking, talking, and, yes, listening, too, but not so as the performer can know that or can concentrate on presenting his work.

A few weeks before the Riverside concert, we were in a little Mexican restaurant in a shopping center in Lubbock, Texas, with good food and a quirky atmosphere emanating from a strange melange of garish fluorescent lighting and nifty Mexican knick-knack decor set against a stunning Aztec-looking wall mural.  Margaritas were popular and the blender went off sporadically; the waiters and waitresses were mostly teenagers, young and perky but also given to charging about with trays loaded with food or dirty dishes just like they go through life, noisily.

In his wheelchair, lost against the brightly-colored mural and surrounded by microphone stands and other sound-system paraphernalia, Buck began to recite his poem "
Anthem," working from memory, as he always does.  He spoke softly, though with firmness and deliberation, letting the rhythm of the piece dominate his delivery.  A remarkable thing happened. Conversations slowed, then stopped.  Knives and forks and spoons followed suit, and even the waitpersons paused to listen.  When Buck finished, his eyes were closed, as if a peaceful spirit had passed over his face.  Slowly, he began to smile as hand-clapping erupted all over the dining room, not just from the couple of tables of hats and boots.

* * *

Born to Texas farm folk, Buck wasn't raised on a ranch, although he spent a few very important years living on the edge of the ranching country between the Texas Panhandle towns of Channing and Dumas, in a little community called Middle Well.  And it's Middle Well that he'll tell you he's from, if you ask, because it's there that he first began his love-affair with the cowboy life, going horseback and often rambling on foot along the north side of the Canadian River breaks to visit the cowboys of the Coldwater Cattle Company and the Kilgore ranch.  It's where his Uncle Ed would drift in from cowboying around the Capitans in New Mexico and show Buck how to braid tack, or sing him the old cowboy songs.

For the past thirty years, he's been riding a wheelchair instead of the rough-stock that he was once so good at breaking, the result of a snapped bit-shank, a spoiled, sorry horse named Cinnamon, and "just landing wrong."  But throughout those years, through jobs like bookkeeping  and newspaper reporting and free-lance magazine writing, Buck has never quit being a cowboy.  Working punchers still treat him as one of their own, and those not belonging to the "cowboy tribe," as Buck is want to say, defer without question to his authority on matters of cowboy lingo and lore, and, most of all, on matters of the cowboy spirit.

Not that the spirits in Buck's life have always been so benign, or so simple.  "I wanted to kick dents in the world, and put my initials on 'em," Buck once said to me, and much of his past left bruises yet visible.  A streak of rebellion as a teenager and the willingness to emulate his cowboy buddies and his writer heroes lead him too many times to the whiskey bottle and the honky-tonk, leaving him with a drinking problem that he's only subdued in the past few years.  Today, Buck is the last guy you'd think of as quarrelsome, with his angelic demeanor and expansive smile and genuine willingness to do anything for a friend, and you have to believe him when he says that he never sought out a fight, or started one.  But then he seldom walked away from one, and will admit to having been in jail in at least five states.  "Just wild-assed cowboy stuff," he says, with an infectious grin.

Buck has never been just a cowboy, either.  Always interested in poetry, he wrote his first poems in grade school.  On his own, he also began what became a life-time of self-directed reading that has ranged from philosophers, like Camus and Pirsig, to poets, the traditional cowboy variety as well as moderns such as Stevens, T. S. Elliott, and e. e. cummings.  He also memorized long works, like Poe's "The Bells" when he was in junior high school and Elliott's "The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock" when he was older, motivated to recite them, he says, "purely out of conceit."  And Buck tried college, three different ones, in fact, but in as many colorful expulsions came away without a degree.

* * *

We'd come to Wallace Stevens on a winding trail, one started with my having asked Buck to distinguish cowboy poetry from other kinds. Since poetry is itself not easily given to definition, it wasn't a simple request.  Neither was it an idle request, nor an academic one; as the cowboy poetry movement has grown, so too has the debate over what poetry and which poets belong to the cowboy tribe, and the increasing popularity of cowboy poetry gatherings has further narrowed the debate to the somewhat more practical question of what and which should be cut from a herd already beginning to show signs of overgrazing the available pasture.  And, though it seems out of the cowboy character, deciding who's in and who's out has generated not an inconsiderable amount of acrimony. 

Buck hunched-up on his elbows and leaned forward in the wheelchair, his face now lit by the high-tech glow of the illuminated instruments on the van's dashboard, making his thoughtful expression otherworldly and theatric.  A few miles clicked by before he began to talk. 

"The subject matter of cowboy poetry should, of course, be taken from the cowboy life, and should be treated with an insider's perspective, using lingo that proves that the writer is part of that life. And it should have meter and rhyme."  He went on, "There's no place in traditional cowboy poetry for free verse or blank verse, because it has to be quickly picked up by the ear, and it shouldn't smell of experiment."

I objected.  Can't a cowboy write in blank verse, or free verse?  "Oh, well, yes," he said, "and it might be cowboy poetry, but it wouldn't be traditional cowboy poetry.  You see, it's like cattle; there's pedigreed or pure stock, and there's hybrid stock, and there's a place, and even a use, for both kinds.  We just need to distinguish between the two when we organize cowboy poetry gatherings."

Why is the distinction necessary, I asked?  There was no hesitation before he replied, quietly, "There is a tradition that has to be protected from people like me."  In the rear-view mirror, I caught an evanescent smile.  "The cowboy way has been lost for the last couple of generations, and we're just now rediscovering it through traditional cowboy poetry and songs.  We're finding our voice again, and the traditional forms give us an opportunity for reidentifying with the cowboy calling."  Then why, I persisted, is he willing to use blank verse, or free verse, or experiment with archaic verse structures and rhythms in his own poetry? "Because," the smile was no longer faint, "the strength of the line is in the hybrid stock."

* * *

You won't find Middle Well on the map today, but if you drive north out of Amarillo on US 87, turn left at Four-Way onto Texas 354 and head west, toward Channing, after about nine miles you'll begin to see the outline of the north side of the Canadian River Breaks as the flat and level plains drop away in a jumble of washes and draws down to the distant river, and just before the highway intersects with the unmarked county road that runs north toward FM722 and on back up to US 87, you can see on the south side of the road a stand of old evergreen trees that mark the depth of the wagon-yard in front of the two-story ranch house that once stood there. This is the site of Buck Ramsey's boyhood home, with the Breaks falling away no more than several hundred yards out the back door, the blue and hazy outline of the southern side of the valley clearly visible, and the four structures of Middle Well just a few miles north and east over the farmland across the road.  Stop the vehicle, turn off the ignition, and get out. Walk far enough down the road that you can't hear the popping and creaking of the engine as it cools down.  Now, listen for awhile.

To the north and east, depending on the time of year, you can hear the throb of the irrigation motors and the rhythmic plap-plap-plap of the tractor.  At any time of year, you'll hear the wind, and in its varying pitches, weaving in and out like the strands in a braided rope, you can hear, if you're careful, gospel harmonies or the raw melodies of old cowboy tunes.  To the south, when the wind lulls or when it shifts so that it's blowing off the red quick-sands of the Canadian River, and if you're ever more careful, you can hear the groaning and sighing of leather, the sharp shuffle of hooves, the heavy rustling of dusty hides, the snorting of the horses and the whistles and whoops of their riders.  Or, if you'd prefer, you can simply listen to Buck Ramsey.

And in the morning I was riding
Out through the breaks of that long plain,
And leather creaking in the quieting
Would sound with trot and trot again.
I lived in time with horsehoof falling,
I listened well and heard the calling
The earth, my mother, bade to me,
Though I would still ride wild and free.
And as I flew out on the morning
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I was the poem, I was the song.
My heart would beat the world a warning---
Those horsemen now rode all with me,
And we were good, and we were free.

from "Anthem," by Buck Ramsey


* * *

There are spirits even in this modern world, some which guide us and some which haunt us and dare us follow.  The cowboy spirit is both.  It is the spirit that turns the head of the young boy from farm or city, filling his dreams with stars that shine coolly above the infinite expanse of a prairie range, open and unspoiled by the nesters' clutter; it is that same spirit that leads him from the comfort of his known past and certain future to chase those stars, only to find in them the mercury-vapor lamps dotting the subdivisions and farms that, like a glittering rust, relentlessly eat away at the body of the American West.  It is the spirit that whispers in his ear that there is no man better than he; it is that same spirit that condemns his kind to forever work for a boss.  It is the spirit that gives him both the heart to face the world alone and the self-confidence to allow others to prove their own equality; it is that same spirit that pushes him to hubris and taunts him to fly higher and higher until he brushes his wings against the sun.  It is the spirit that gives him the grace and the insight to know that the ultimate measure of a man is what he does, not what he owns; it is that same spirit that seeks to sell the pure labors of his heart and hands to the highest bidder.  It is the spirit that leads him to poetry and song; it is that same spirit that leads him to the whiskey-trough and the whore.  It is Buck Ramsey's spirit.


The following article first appeared in Persimmon Hill, a publication of The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, in 1998.  It is reprinted with the kind permission of Persimmon Hill and the author.

Buck Ramsey

January 9, 1938 -- January 3, 1998


"All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they returneth again."  Ecclesiastes 1:7


Buck Ramsey was born near the southern tip of the Llano Estacado and came of age on its northern reaches in the breaks of the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle.  His life found its shape in that river's country.  The three-fold mission of his art began there, in the gospel singing of his sisters, in the books of the Middle Well School library, and in the lives and works of the cowpunchers who rode those ranges.  It is there where he met and married Bette, his life-long love, and where his daughter Amanda was born.  It is there, too, where he met the demons with whom he would wrestle the remainder of his days -- the bottle, and the wheelchair.  And it is there where, sometime this spring, when the blue-eyed grass is blooming and the bluestem is greening, we will scatter his ashes.

Though these river breaks shaped him, in his life Buck Ramsey cut for sign far beyond them.  He sang jazz in New York City, hitch-hiked across America, became a Marine, punched cows.  He tried college several times, winding up gloriously self-educated.  After his horse wreck in the Alibates country, he became a journalist and free-lance writer, and took up the guitar.  When the cowboy poetry movement stirred in Elko, Nevada, it was as if Buck had been waiting and preparing for it the whole of his life.  He brought his guitar and his sweet voice out of the bunkhouse and into the limelight, performing his poems and the old cowpunch songs across the breadth and depth of this nation.

Without intent, he became famous.  His two recorded collections of classic cowboy songs each won the coveted National Western Heritage Wrangler Award, and his poem, "Anthem," has become a classic in its own right.  Though Buck never set much stock in trophies, his plunder includes a wagon-load of other awards, among them the highest in the land for the folk arts, the National Heritage Fellowship of the National Endowment for the Arts.  More to his liking, he earned the respect and admiration of his fellow poets and musicians, and of his heroes, the cowboys.

Such was the shape of Buck Ramsey's life.  The river, too, has shape, in the color and motion of its waters, in its changing banks and sand bars, in its canyons and breaks.  Yet the river is far greater than these things, these traces.  So was Buck's life.

Like the river, which flows without plan or prejudice, Buck Ramsey lived a life of inclusion.  Friendship was perhaps his greatest talent, and he practiced it as an art.  Making no distinctions among friends, he made the newest feel as if they'd always known him, and the oldest feel as fresh as a first handshake.  Squatting or kneeling down beside his wheelchair to trade howdies -- fry cook or millionaire, childhood chum or literary intellectual, professor or cowpuncher -- Buck put us all on the same level.

Like the river, which we measure in width and depth and length, Buck Ramsey lived a life of large dimension.  His spirit, forged from stubborn beliefs and opinions and tempered with tolerance, was wide. His concerns, fueled by a fierce intellect and tender compassion, were deep. His journey,  driven by a force more powerful than the impediments cast before him, was long.

Like the river, which is marked by both tranquility and rage, Buck Ramsey lived a life of paradox.  His gentle nature could never deny the discomfort of his art.  As his smile warmed us and made us feel whole, the uncompromising poetry of his words and music penetrated us and made us feel wanting and incomplete.  The brightness of his light often hurt our eyes, even as the light in his eyes gave us joy.

Like the river, which is ordained by God to do the work of the land, Buck Ramsey lived a life of dignity.  He never allowed the loss of his legs, or the pain that replaced them, to become pathetic.  In his fragile truce with the bottle, he never drank out of self-pity.  He never wallowed in the glory of his successes.  When he came to understand that he was dying, he removed himself from the public indignity of the hospital to the private warmth of his home, where he died sitting upright.  His last reading was in Ecclesiastes.

Like the river, which throws off its impurities as it meets the ocean, Buck Ramsey has shed his bodily imperfections.  The wheelchair and the pain are gone now.  But as the panhandle wind spreads his ashes along his beloved Canadian River breaks, Buck Ramsey's soul, like the river that carved them both, will keep rolling, through the red sands of our hearts, down to the blue-swelling seas of our tribal spirit.

Andy Wilkinson, January 24, 1998


His Stubborn Soul

              for Buck Ramsey


The poet's dead, but not his stubborn soul.
These ashes free him, and this empty chair
releases him; they let him stand again
to build his loop and flick it through the air
and rope the one he wants; the tall-grass plain
out past the breaks now his to ride, the roll
of wind in mill and bluestem now regain
dominion, beyond joy, beyond despair--
for now, at last, he rides without his pain,
the pain that only poetry could bear;
the poet's dead, but not his stubborn soul.

© January 3, 1998, Andy Wilkinson

 

The above poem was delivered at Buck Ramsey's funeral



Scattering Cowboy Ashes

                   remembering Buck Ramsey


With horse hooves clipping crisply through the grass
along the bottom by the water's edge,
the late spring evening sun cool going down,
a blue wildrag behind the rider trailed
a blue smudge on the river wind, a brief
reminder of how thin the line remains
between who are the quick, and who the dead.

© May 26, 1998, Andy Wilkinson 

 

The above poem was delivered after the scattering of Buck Ramsey's ashes


Andy Wilkinson

. andywilk.gif (5692 bytes)

A poet, song writer, singer, and playwright whose particular interest is the history and peoples of the Great Plains, Andy Wilkinson has recorded five albums of original music and has written four plays, "Charlie Goodnight's Last Night," performed by Mr. Barry Corbin, the musical drama, "My Cowboy's Gift," "The Soul of the West" (with Red Steagall), and "The Fires of Camp," an historical musical commissioned by the City of Lubbock for their new outdoor amphitheater.  His work has received several awards, including the Texas Historical Foundation's John Ben Shepperd Jr. Craftsmanship Award, and three National Western Heritage "Wrangler" Awards, two for original music and one for poetry. In addition to his writing, he tours extensively in a
variety of venues in the US and abroad.

Our thanks to Andy Wilkinson for these generous contributions to this feature about Buck Ramsey. Visit Andy Wilkinson's web site for more information about him and his work.

 

darinbrookman.jpg (22725 bytes)  Buck Ramsey's friend Darin Brookman contributed the following:

 

Gentile Knights

Buck Ramsey was a cowboy, musician, poet and historian. He had a definite opinion on most subjects and a gentle nature that made you want to hear them. In the ranks of cowboy poets and singers, he was our leader and our conscience.

In 1994 I traveled with Buck to Arizona. There, we met four other singers and poets to take part in one of Phil Martin's Cowboy Chautauqua shows. As part of the deal Phil had agreed to do some short programs at the local schools. It was during the presentation at the Elementary School that my most enduring memory of Buck Ramsey came to be.

We were all in the lobby outside of the gymnasium waiting for the students to file in and take their seats. Buck was fussing with his guitar when a teacher pushed a young child in a wheelchair up beside him and introduced herself and the child. It was clear this youngster had spent his entire life, of eight or nine years, battling his disease. The child's arms and legs were withered and drawn. His head tilted down and to one side and he seemed oblivious to the world around him.

Buck shook hands with the teacher, then politely motioned her to one side so he could reposition his himself directly in front of the child. As Buck put his hand on the boy's fragile leg, a remarkable transformation took place. The child slowly raised his head to peer into Buck's eyes. He seemed to study the guitar held in Buck's lap, then as he took in the wheelchair Buck sat in, his eyes lit up and a great smile covered his face. Though neither spoke a word it was as if two long lost friends had just stumbled across each other. When Buck took one of the boy's hands in his and began to strum it across his guitar's strings, the restraints in the child's wheelchair could barely contain him. Buck laughed, the child was ecstatic, and I tried not to cry.

During the short program that followed the child was enchanted by Buck. He followed his every move and hung on his every word. As Buck sang of Texas and horses and cattle, it was plain the boy rode beside him each step of the way. It was one of those moments that is nailed in your brain, an event that keeps playing over and over in your head so that you might fully appreciate its significance.

At the time, I thought this was just a compassionate gesture on Buck's part to brighten the small boy's day. It seemed that in some way Buck had relieved this child's suffering for a short while and allowed him along on a grand cowboy adventure. In the months that followed I have come to know it was much more than that.

I have realized those kinds of adventures were probably nothing new for the small boy in the wheelchair. As I remember the light and life in that boy's eyes, it is obvious a tremendous heart must have beat inside his frail body. I am sure the soul and spirit evident on that day allowed this child to punch cows, fly space ships, and slay dragons whenever he chose. The one thing different and special about that day was that in Buck Ramsey the young boy had a partner; a comrade with an understanding of his world and the rules he played by.

That kind of understanding may be one reason Buck Ramsey knew so many friends and why so many wished to be his friend. I'm sure all that knew him would agree that Buck had the unique ability to look past all of our disabilities and shortcomings to see the things that were honest and true.

Beyond that, for me to profess some insight as to why Buck Ramsey was the man he was would be a vain and egotistical claim on my part (two traits, by the way, that Buck had little use for). I think my feeble brain will never really comprehend the lessons he taught by example. It will probably take most of us a lifetime to fully appreciate the scope of the works he left behind.

The one thing I can say with certainty and conviction, is that I was privileged to be on hand in a small Arizona town the day two Princes met.

 

(The title, "Gentile Knights," is from the last line of Buck Ramsey's poem, "Notes For A Novel": "And he's a varry, parfit, gentile knight.") 

Buck Ramsey's friend John Shelton Lawrence contributed the following:

For several years, I wrote a column for the Amarillo Daily News in their "Beliefs and Ethics" format. When Buck died, I wrote this for the January 15, 1998 edition. At the time, I was Professor of Philosophy at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.

"Cowboy poet inspired friends"
John Shelton Lawrence 

Like all who knew Buck Ramsey well, I feel great sadness about his departure. For me, his life had acquired a philosophical meaning that deepened during more than forty years of friendship. To put it abstractly, Buck's achievement taught me something about the eternal interplay between fate, character, and destiny.

It was a coincidence that Buck died during the week that I read a book about Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the authors of the Oklahoma City bombing. Fate dealt them several blows from which they failed to recover without a destructive anger that craved targets. McVeigh's mother had deserted him during his teens. His time as a soldier in the Gulf War of 1991 had been so stressful that his military career dissolved almost immediately after his return to the states.

Nichols' unhappy youth had included traumatic family scenes
such as his mother threatening his father with a shotgun. His mother had thwarted his educational plans. His marriages and business attempts constantly veered toward failure.

One cannot learn their life stories without twinges of grief and empathy. Their frustrations hardly excused or even explained the deed in Oklahoma, but knowing about their losses makes their turn toward terrorism more understandable.

Thinking of Buck's impairing toss from a horse, his friends might have expected a remaining life of bitterness and self pity. Many of us measure his diminishment by our images of him as a  high school student. He could enrapture the entire student body at Amarillo High School by crooning "My Funny Valentine." He was also a superb athlete. At a rodeo where I was instantly tossed into the dust by my bronc, I watched Buck ride his with composure and agility. I also remember his graceful arc on the high parallel bars at the Maverick Club for boys. Looking at Buck made most of feel clumsy, earth-bound.

Unfortunately, the accident at the ranch suddenly changed Buck's circumstance. He became a dependent young man in the wheelchair. What kind of life could he have now? Buck had loving family to help in the difficult journey, but his task of finding significance and satisfaction was so much harder than ours.

Luckily for us, Buck navigated toward gratifying ways to use his talents. His ultimate vocation became the understanding of neglected voices in American song and poetry. He developed into a unique anthropologist, folklorist, singer, poet. His awards from President Clinton, the Cowboy Hall of Fame, and others publicly confirmed the national value of what he had done.

Celebrity never became Buck's revenge against his great loss. And the fame never seemed to change his modest, self-effacing temperament. 

A personal event last year was typical. For years, he and I had exchanged manuscripts. I valued Buck's sense of style and the fact that he didn't have a Ph.D. academic background like my own. He improved every piece of my writing that he ever touched.

When I was writing my inaugural column for this newspaper, I emailed it to Buck for his opinion. Despite the brevity of my article, Buck quickly sent about two-dozen nice suggestions. I was pleased, accepted every one of them, and thanked him for helping.

Then Buck's conscience started working on him. I received several messages from him apologizing for the number of suggestions he'd made. I finally said, "Look, Buck. You're a poet who's won several awards. I am a Professor of Prose. Anytime I can get help from a writer like you, I feel lucky." By the end of this episode, Buck finally seemed satisfied that he hadn't hurt my feelings.

What Buck's life so inspiringly taught me until the end was that character can give fate a real drubbing.

As we brood on our own obstacles to the significant lives we'd like to create, remembering Buck can help us attain a healthy perspective.

© 1998, John Shelton Lawrence 

  Jeff Streeby:

I met Buck Ramsey some years ago in Ruidoso, New Mexico, at the big cowboy poetry gathering there.  He was scheduled on the main stage and played to rapt audiences.  It was there that I first became acquainted with "Anthem" and recognized it as perhaps the most significant single work in the genre.  I had brief opportunity to talk with Buck and thereby gain some sense of the man and his interpretation of the cowboy experience and of his approach to poetry.  

Over the next few years, I had several other opportunities to talk with him at more length.  It was Buck, I believe, more than any other influence, that validated for me the idea that there is room in cowboy poetry for more than the ballad form-- that cowboy poetry, if it is to be considered a worthy aesthetic enterprise,  should be more than simply melodrama and good jokes couched in catchy rhyme.  I tried in "rider..." to pay tribute to a good man and to his influence on my work and on the work of cowboy poets everywhere.

rider on the rough string
(for Buck Ramsey)

"They's nary a fuzztail has ever drawed breath
That I couldn't savvy and ride him to death."
"The Strawberry Roan" Curley Fletcher

"...the souls of horses mirror the souls of men more closely than men
suppose..."
All the Pretty Horses Cormac McCarthy

fall of hoof, heartbeat, flutter of breath...
harmony set to all the rhythms of earth,
 each itself complete and blameless and all unaccountable...
something wild and irresistible flashing along the pulse
drives along the stretch and fetch of muscle,
the lever and pivot of bone,
the flare of velvet nostril,
the glitter of awareness in a deep and dark and savage eye...
 the whole of it a song composed in blood, earth, and air,
and singing itself irrepressibly under the sweating hide.

brave spangle and jangle of silver from boot heel and bit...
accompaniment matched to every such rhythm of earth,
itself complete and blameless and unaccountable as any heartbeat...
something wild and resolute flashing along the pulse
drives give and take of rein,
pressure of leg,
touch of spur,
the quiet word...
the whole of it a bright strict music arranged by force of will
and composing itself irrevocably, sorrel, dun, or bay.

flex of haunch,
arch of loin,
bunch of forearm, gaskin,
the sharp descent of crest and poll...
something wild and resonant flashing along the pulse
drives heaven suddenly near in a bone-collapsing rush!
each cloud-hunt, casuey, rainbow, pinwheel
each warp of backbone, wrinkle of spine
each extravagant squall and bawl,
a vast and ancient hymn transcribed in air,
set down in crescent glyphs on a tablet of dust.

0, praise for the rough glee in that sparring and jarring to natural
purposes!

sparkle and darkle of silver,
slash of rowel,
cut of rawhide quirt,
bite of curb,
the bull-bat's joyful Hurrah! offered up to distance and the wide sky...
something wild and resonant flashing along the pulse
drives hell deep into its leather hull!
each cloud-hunt,
casuey,
rainbow,
pinwheel
each warp of backbone, wrinkle of spine
each sudden stunning embrace of earth,
blameless and unaccountable,
a violent Psalm to the eternity hidden behind each breath,
ticked out in ruthless measure,
heartbeat to heartbeat, scale to scale,
on a range of sweat, dust, wild blood, muscle, bone
and the vicious contending of wills.

O, pity for you whose blood is tame,
you who have always been so accountable,
 you who have heard, not at all, the Anthem at the wild heart of the world--

I am one who frames its lyric

© Jeff Streeby

  Yvonne Hollenbeck 

Inspiration

The most common question I have been asked in my travels, is "how I got started in the business of cowboy poetry."  That's a tough question, and my answer is "because of the inspiration of one person...Buck Ramsey."

Since childhood, I have always dabbled in writing songs and poems.  My great grandfather, Ben Arnold, and both my grandmothers wrote poetry and I have a cherished collection of their works.  I have really enjoyed the rising popularity of cowboy poetry during the last twenty years and because of this, was instrumental in organizing Old West Days and the Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Valentine, Nebraska, in 1992.  In order to produce this festival, I had to solicit the help of a number of friends, and in retaliation for their work, they literally arm-twisted me into performing some of my poetry at the gathering.  As one might say, I had to put my money where my mouth was, and had no alternative but to go on stage and recite some of my poetry.

I will never forget walking onto the stage of the first performance of the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Valentine, as my legs were shaking so badly that I didn't think they would hold me up.  I remember seeing many familiar faces in the crowd, but down in the front were four men who were strangers to me.  Later I was to meet them, and they were poets Ernest Johnson and Skinny Rowland, a fiddler player named Lonnie Fiels, and a fellow in a wheel chair named Buck Ramsey.

After that session, Buck Ramsey approached me and told me that he was impressed with my performance.  He said that he knew I was scared and that was natural, but to keep doing my poetry as he felt I had great potential.

That evening, I attended the night performance, and when Buck performed, I realized that he was one of the greatest talents I had ever witnessed.  I purchased his tapes and listen to them often, but it was his words of encouragement that ring out the loudest,  as I recall the moment when Buck Ramsey singled me out to encourage me to continue with my cowboy poetry.  He was and is my inspiration.

  Janice Mitich

I was fortunate and honored  to meet Buck at the "Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering" in Prescott, several years ago, and even luckier to attend one of his workshops.  He had encouraging words for my work. He was ever the gentleman.  I loved his sense of humor and the twinkle in his eyes.  He will always be missed by many, including myself.  As my poem says, I know he's horseback once again.  Hopefully he will be there to greet many cowboy and cowgirl poets when our time comes to "move on."

Here is my humble poem about Buck.  It's one of the few free verse poems I've written.

Buck Ramsey

And how we rode with you on the lunging, muscled backs of your words
A gentle man, whose spirit soared above the prairie sage.
You, too, had lost the life a horseback, but in an adverse way,
And penned for us, the victims of Time and Change,
The anthem of man, horse, cow, and  land.

It was an honor to know you, to learn how you tamed the word
Controlling its stallion power with a loose, gentle rein.
How we rode, hell bent, on the galloping backs of your verse and song !
You transported us back to the Land, uplifted our souls,
Allowed us to grieve and weep, grin and laugh.

Our hearts sang with you.  We stood taller in your presence
Cherishing those moments when you acknowledged our work
With a twinkle-eyed chuckle or nod of recognition.
Now we lament your leaving us
Until,
We look to ground to read...
Two wheel tracks
Transformed
Into hoof prints
Running wild and free........

Dedicated to Buck Ramsey, always a gentle man and cowboy poet extraordinaire, who left these earthly plains to ride herd for the Lord, on January 3, 1998.  We will not again see the likes of him.

© June 10, 1998, Janice E. Mitich, written at Sierra Vista

 

More Recollections

 

  Chris Isaacs:

It was through the Poetry that Buck and I became friends.  I had seen him perform and was sure a fan when I met him for the first time at a little gathering in Silver City, New Mexico in 1994.  Our friendship grew over the years and we worked on a couple of projects together, most memorably the Christmas Album that we did in 1997.  We had a great time in the studio working on that album, a very laid back, fun recording session, not realizing that it would be Buck's last.

I often think of Buck and the gathering at Nara Visa, New Mexico that he and Phil Martin started.  Buck always said that that gathering was the kind that all of them should be: 'no headliners, leave your egos at the door, let's just get together and 'share.'"  It truly was (and still is) a GATHERING. Buck was always an "encouragement" to those around him and especially to his friends.  He never took himself too seriously and for all of the accolades he gathered, I still wonder if he truly realized how important he was to the genre.  I think of Buck often and miss seeing him at the shows and sharing the occasional phone call.

  Virginia Bennett:

I remember years ago at Elko they gave Buck a show called "Buck Ramsey and Friends"...he invited me to be one of about five others onstage. I was honored! He told me, "Virginia, don't ever let them give you a show called 'Virginia Bennett and friends!'" I asked why, and he said, "Because everyone wants to be on it, and you hurt everyone's feelings because you can't have EVERYBODY!"  I can still hear his panhandle drawl.

When the show happened, interestingly, EVERYBODY did show up and so after the show happened that he'd planned, it was announced to the audience that everyone could leave or not, but they were going to keep playing, so each person who came (RW Hampton, Ramblin' Jack, etc etc) stepped up to the stage, performing late into the night, all in honor of Buck (this was held in the Jr. High and they'd had to lift Buck up onto the stage in his wheelchair, so he just sat up there the whole time, in the back, while each person performed). It was something to remember.

...

I thought also of the Poets and Pards video made by the Veluzat family in Santa Clarita...great poem recitation by Buck that I absolutely LOVE, one about judging a man by how he treats his "hoss!"  I LOVE seeing him in that video, his eyes are so pure. I always thought Buck's eyes were the coolest thing, that there was no subterfuge or facade, you could look right into his soul by looking into his eyes.

 

  Red Steagall:

Very few times do you meet someone who immediately makes a difference in your life and becomes a true soul mate.  I met Buck Ramsey at West Texas State College in Canyon, Texas in the late 50's.  We became extremely close friends.  Then Buck got hurt, I moved off to California, then on to Nashville, and finally back home to Texas in 1977.  Buck and I re-connected through the cowboy poetry movement and it was as if we had never been apart. As in the beginning, we looked out the same window and saw the same things. Buck was a little more eloquent about how he explained what he saw, thus giving all of us a better understanding of and different insight into the lifestyle we love so much.

Buck had a tremendous ability to collect and utilize data about the west and her people.  I considered him the expert when it came to the legend, the lore, and the language of the west Texas cowboy.  Buck was an American treasure and his influence on the world of poetry will have an impact on American literature for generations to come.  I miss him dearly.  He was one of the best friends this west Texan will ever have.

 

  Pat Richardson:

I had polio at the age of three and was left with a partly paralyzed right arm and wasted lots of time feeling sorry for myself. I one time told Buck Ramsey that what I admired most about him was that he was cowboy enough to overcome his difficulties and write some GREAT stuff. I told him under the same conditions I didn't think anybody'd want to read the kind of bitter stuff I'd write. He grinned and said, "It don't do any good bench pressing hate, You just gotta ride what horse you happen to catch."

 

  Sunny Hancock:

Once at Ruidoso when one of the poets got married on the stage and a group of cowboys chapped him right there on the stage.  Buck hid the chaps in his wheel chair then handed them to me and when the boys had him secured I wielded the chaps.  Buck was a great friend...

 

  Fletcher Jowers:

On my bedroom wall hangs a set of reins and headstall Buck plaited for me and gave to me at The Western Heritage Classic in Abilene, Texas in 1992. His heart was of pure gold and I thought the world of him.  We often talked on the phone sharing ideas and thoughts of cowboy music.  It always saddens me to think of the lost opportunities I might have passed up to spend time with Buck. The first time he attended Elko, he called and asked me to go with him and I couldn't. The times I went through Amarillo without taking time out to stop and visit.  He always had a bunk for me at his house and I did stay there many times but wish it would have been more.  We did visit on many occasions and had some wonderful jam sessions, all over the country. Buck, Baxter, Phil, Guy, Larry and Bob could probably tell more. Buck was truly a treasure for the cowboy.  So very thoughtful and sharing.  We shared many good times together but I wish there had been more. God Bless you Buck and if there was a need to have golden wire in Heaven, I'd say "Stay out of the wire, Buck."

 

  Ray Lashley:

The single incident involving Buck that stands out most was a time when he invited a dozen or so of us into a small room off the kitchen of the Stockmen's upstairs convention rooms to hear some stuff he'd been working on.  During that session was the only time I ever heard him do "Anthem" and, of course, the first time I heard it but I remember that I was not the only one who was impressed with it... I liked that Ole Boy and I'd say that his "Anthem" was the best thing written by anyone since we kicked this thing off nearly twenty years ago but, you know, he owes me a beer and I jest never figgered he'd go that far to keep from buying it!!!

  Charles Williams:

I first met Buck when I was new to Cowboy Poetry Movement, and he was already an icon, but he was always friendly and courteous.  He loved to jam, and I sat in on many sessions with him and numerous other performers.  On my first (and only) trip to Elko, I sat in on a seminar that his wife, Bette, was presenting on ranch cooking, featuring methods for preparing Rocky Mountain Oysters.  It was aimed at chuckwagon cooks and ranch wives, of which I am neither, and it tickled Buck that I was sitting in on the class.

The session went a little long, and Buck and Lonnie Fiels, who was his great friend and co-musician, were getting ready for it to end.  To speed the process, they sat there in the back and composed a little song, which they proceed to sing, when Bette asked for questions.  I don't recall the exact words, but it was cleverly done and the jist of it was enough talk, let's eat!  Ever after that, whenever I ran into Buck he would flash that shy smile of his and ask me how my Oyster cooking was coming.

  Bobby Newton:

Buck was a unique individual who came along at the right time and the right place to put everything into perspective.  Buck was a keen observer of things around him and had the ability to put that into words that everyone could enjoy.  He had a great perspective on human nature and used the cowboy to convey his messages very effectively.  You can't really say that Buck is gone, he just got to the gathering a little ahead of the rest of us...........

Your recollections are invited.  Email us.


Buck Ramsey's Writings and Recordings
Below are just some references for writings and recordings.  We welcome information about other references.  Please email us

Below:
An article: Nara Visa
Books and Anthologies
Audio and Video


 

An Article: Nara Visa

Buck Ramsey wrote this article after one of the Nara Visa gatherings (most likely in 1994) that are held each fall at Nara Visa, New Mexico. This version is reprinted from Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists, and reprinted with Bette Ramsey's permission.

Bette Ramsey says "Nara Visa is where I go every year to refill my cup of "hope for humanity." It is a small gathering steeped in the goodness of people who live off the land, share a heartfelt knowledge and appreciation of Mother Earth and her creatures, and practice civility daily in their lives.  Buck was one of its founders."

Nara Visa
by Buck Ramsey

Nara Visa is a good distance from where you are and probably not on the trail to any place you would be going.  Some people who have been to the poetry gathering say it is a place more of the heart and imagination than of space and time.

The cowboy poetry gathering at Nara Visa is a very simple one where people you have never heard of perform as much and for as much pay as the people you have heard of, and the people you have heard of seem as pleased about the arrangement as the people you have not heard of, as you might suspect of people who respond to an invitation that says you are welcome to come and take part in the gathering, but if you come you may not get to perform and if you perform you may not get paid.

At this year's Nara Visa gathering, however, everyone who came to perform was featured in both the Friday and Saturday night shows, because the stage manager was able, with little chousing or jostling, to chute-run them across the stage to perform their numbers without too much explaining, and the audiences, made up mostly of local ranch kind of people and the performers themselves, seemed to think the shows were very good, indeed.

There were places set up to entertain and be entertained all day Saturday, although people seemed to want to visit and maybe do a little swapping back and forth.  The good ladies of the community provided a snack bar throughout the gathering and the crew of a famous chuckwagon from a nearby ranch provided breakfast and one big Saturday supper.

The parking at the Nara Visa gathering is haphazard, kind of a horse pasture country carnival sort of a situation, so if you plan to come sometime, you might want to come with a carload of friends or neighbors, although the next door rancher might allow the parking to run over into his pasture if things got too jammed up.  You should either bring your hotrolls and teepees for camping out or plan to drive thirty miles for lodging.

There is a dance on Saturday night with old fashion fiddle music where couples are discouraged from two-stepping to a waltz tune, where everyone is discouraged from line-dancing, although the children are allowed to dance any way they want to, or even to play tag among the dancers.  There is a church service Sunday morning for those who wish, as the case may be, to offer thanks or repentance for the good time they had at the gathering.

No one has yet figured out a clear system of who is charged money to attend the gathering and who is paid money to attend the gathering, so while the performers are sure to make less than expenses, the organizers make less than the performers.

It is also true that no one has figured out a way to tote up the real rewards people get from the Nara Visa gathering.  At the gathering just past, many of the people there didn't seem to want to leave, so the performers still there drug out their poems and instruments from a Sunday afternoon session which lasted until near dusk, and not a few, who lingered till the last song was sung, thought this impromptu session might have been the best one of the gathering.

© Buck Ramsey, reprinted with permission


 

Books and Anthologies

  •    Buck Ramsey's Grass, with Essays on his Life and Work Commemorative Edition and CD, edited by Scott Braucher and Bette Ramsey, with a foreword by Byron Price, from Texas Tech University Press was released in December, 2005.  From the publisher's description, "First published as And As I Rode Out on the Morning, Buck Ramsey’s epic poem of cowboy life is a classic. In this edition, the editors have restored the poem’s original title, Grass, and have gathered insightful commentaries on Ramsey’s work from poets, musicians, historians, and others devoted to the cowboy way and movement. Completing the package are Ramsey’s original short story on which he based the poem and a CD of the original 1990 recording of Ramsey performing Grass in John Hartford’s home studio in Nashville, introduced by Andy Wilkinson."  See our feature here.

      Buck Ramsey's book, And As I Rode Out on the Morning was published in 1993 by Texas Tech Press, and  is now rare and out of print.  SilverCreek Books & Music loaned us this cover image from their personal collection.  Selections from that book are posted here on Page 2.

  • Click to view at Amazon.com   "Anthem," "Cowboy Went A-courtin'," "Christmas Waltz," and "The New Kid is Outfitted" are included in New Cowboy Poetry, which was the second anthology of poems from the Elko Gathering, edited by Hal Cannon (click the image for an Amazon link, which includes a complete table of contents).

  • The poems "Notes for a Novel" and "One Seraphic Ride" are included in Coolin' Down, An Anthology of Cowboy Poetry compiled by Phil Martin, illustrations by Keith Avery, Duward Campbell, and Bob Peterson Guy Logsdon Books, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1992.  The book is out of print, but often available at used book outlets.

  •   An autobiographical story, "The Bass Singer," and the poem "Anthem" appear in Buckaroo, Visions and Voices of the American Cowboy, edited by Hal Cannon and Thomas West, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993. Buck Ramsey's rendition of "Git Along Little Dogies" is included in the book's accompanying CD. This book is out of print, but available from the Western Folklife Center and often available at used book outlets.

  •   "The Box Dinner," "Poem Notes," and "The Terrorist" appear in Maverick Western Verse, edited by John Dofflemyer, Gibbs Smith, Logan Utah, 1994. This book is out of print, but often available at used book outlets.

  • Poems appeared in several issues of Dry Crik Review of Contemporary Cowboy Poetry, a periodical that was published from 1991-1994, edited by John Dofflemyer, Lemon Grove, California, including "Comes a Caller" and "Names and Callin's" (Winter 1991); "Belonging" and
    "Conservation" (Fall 1991); "The Slipper Waltz" (Winter-Spring 1994); "Poem Notes," (Fall 1992-Winter 1993).  Copies are rare.

  • A photo and an excerpt from "Anthem" appear in Something That a Cowboy Knows, a photographic essay, by L. L. Griffin, Utah State University Press, Logan, Utah 1996.  The book is out of print but worth searching for at used book outlets.


Audio and Video

Audio

Buck Ramsey's two Wrangler award-winning recordings are:

  • Rolling Uphill from Texas 
    1992 Wrangler Award Winner includes "Git Along Little Doggies," "Brazos River Song," "Railroad Corral," "Trail to Texas," "Cowboy Soliloquy," "Choppo," "Roundup in the Spring," "Powder River," "Santa Fe Trail," "Cowboy's Letter From Home," "Wild Rippling Waters," "Doney Gal," "Goodnight-Loving Trail," and "Grand Roundup."  

My Home it Was in Texas 
1994 Wranger Award Winner includes  includes "Blue Mountain," "Maid of Argenta," "I've Got No Use for the Women," "So, Bossy, So," "Pretty Pauline," "Cowboy's Meditation," "I'm Hittin' the Trail Tonight," "Red River Valley," "Border Affair," "When the Work's All Done This Fall," "The Streets of Laredo," "Christmas Waltz," and "Goodbye Ol' Paint." The liner notes include all the song lyrics.

Both recordings are available from Red Steagall's web site and other outlets, such as The Line Shack Trading Post, which also has the Cowboy Magazine review of "My Home it Was in Texas" posted.


Buck Ramsey ~ Hittin' the Trail
   
from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Winner of the 2004 Wrangler Award.

From the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings web site information about this CD, released in January 2003:  Called the "spiritual leader of the cowboy poetry movement," Buck Ramsey was beloved by his fellow poets and musicians, his "cowboy tribe," and all who knew him. A National Cowboy Poetry Gathering favorite and recipient of the highest honor bestowed on traditional folk artists in America, the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, Ramsey brought traditional cowboy songs to life. This 2-CD set, mostly recorded in concert, shows his immediate warmth and personal presence. Ramsey's spiritual home was always on the range; close your eyes while listening, and you will find yourself transported to the Texas Panhandle. 

Disc 1

       1. The Trail to Mexico 
       2. A Cowboy's Meditation 
       3. The High-Toned Dance 
       4. Danny Boy
       5. Good Bye, Old Paint 
       6. Windy Bill 
       7. Git Along Little Doggies 
       8. The Last Wagon 
       9. The Brazos River Song
      10. Christmas Waltz 
      11. The Grand Roundup  
      12. Along Side the Santa Fe Trail 

Disc 2
 
      1. Wild Rippling Waters 
       2. The Goodnight-Loving Trail 
       3. Blue Mountain 
       4. Hittin' the Trail Tonight 
       5. The Tenderfoot 
       6. Streets of Laredo  
       7. Palo Duro Farewell 
       8. Cowboy Letter from Home 
       9. The Cowboy's Soliloquy 
      10. Doney Gal 
      11. I'd Like to Be in Texas for the Roundup in the Spring 
      12. Anthem 

The 2-CD set is accompanied by a 17-page booklet with an excellent article written by Bette Ramsey and Charlie Seemann, the Executive Director of the Western Folklife Center. Photographs, track notes, and a list of suggested reading are included.  

You can order Buck Ramsey ~ Hittin' the Trail from the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings web site.

The 2003 program for the Western Folklife Center's National Cowboy Poetry Gathering says "The Western Folklife Center is pleased to announce the completion of Buck Ramsey, Hittin' the Trail, a two CD compilation of live recordings of Buck's musical performances over the years in Elko and beyond.  The project was a collaboration between the Western Folklife Center and Smithsonian Folkways Records, and has been released on the Smithsonian Folkways label.  A remarkable collection that captures Buck's persona on stage, it includes special performances such as the one he gave in Washington, DC when he received the National Heritage Fellowship and his last performance.  Profits from the sale of the CDs will go to the Buck Ramsey Memorial Fund at the Western Folklife Center.  $20.00"  You can contact the Western Folklife Center, for more information. 

The booklet that accompanies the CDs also states that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the CD go to the Buck Ramsey Memorial Fund, which "was established at the Western Folklife Center to honor the late Buck Ramsey and to support projects furthering the preservation and presentation of cowboy poetry and music."  Contact the Western Folklife Center for more information.

See our review of the CD here.


  •   Each addition of The BAR-D Roundup from CowboyPoetry.com (through Volume 5) includes a chapter of Buck Ramsey's Grass, courtesy of Bette Ramsey and Texas Tech University Press. The BAR-D Roundup is an annual compilation of contemporary recordings of some of today's best classic and contemporary cowboy poetry, issued each April, during Cowboy Poetry Week.

     
  •     Bette Ramsey describes this album: "... Jean Prescott, Chris Isaacs, Sky Shivers, Rich O'Brien, and Buck made a Christmas album called Merry Christmas (from Our Camp to Yours). That album has Chris Issacs reciting "Christmas Waltz," Buck singing a couple of Christmas carols, Jean singing her original songs about Christmas, and Sky telling a Christmas story, and Rich O'Brien's soulful guitar pickin' (I believe he produced that album...)"  A CD and tape are available from Jean Prescott's web site.
  • Bette Ramsey also notes "there is an obscure tape with Buck on it that most people probably don't know about, called Cowboy StuffIt's just plain old Buck with his guitar and a friend of his named John Blackburn (A classical and Flamenco guitar player taking turns singing cowboy songs). It's the first album that Buck made.  Andy Wilkinson remixed it and made CD's of it, for John. I think it can be ordered through Andy's Greyhorse Press."  (We're tracking down this recording.) 

Bette adds "I know Buck is also on Andy Wilkinson's Charlie Goodnight album (with all original songs by Andy) as lead singer in the song "Eye on the Boss" and one of the singers on "Voices from the Grave," as is this cute little Texas girl called Natalie Mains. Maybe some people have heard of her.  In fact, an interesting tidbit of information that most people don't know is that Natalie sang "White Women's Clothes" in the first few productions of Charlie Goodnight and the other two Dixie Chicks were also on stage playing when Andy had his second showing in Lubbock, Texas.  (Buck liked them a lot and he thought they were very nice young women who were extremely talented. Guess he was right!)"

  • A recording of Buck Ramsey singing "Christmas Waltz" was made in 1995.  Buck Ramsey tells about his family's shape-note singing and talks about the setting for his piece, which can be found on the award-winning Voices of the West's "A Cowboy Christmas" tape produced by Hal Cannon and Mary Beth Kirchner. The tape is available from the Western Folklife Center.

    Bette Ramsey comments about the recording: "Buck grew up in a singing family, and his sisters were well known for their gospel singing. We get a sense of what the Ramsey family sounded like as Buck is joined on this beautiful recording by his sisters Wanda, Ellen and Sylvia, and his younger brother Charles." 

    The recording is included on Buck Ramsey, Hittin' the Trail, from Smithsonian Folkways Records, details above.

  •   Bette Ramsey tells Buck Ramsey was working on "The Canadian River Breaks Project," which was to document the fiddlers and their fiddling style in the Texas Canadian River Breaks. Bette says "Andy Wilkinson took over the project for Buck and the album is dedicated to Buck.  All of the fiddlers that are on the album were Buck's friends... part of the proceeds from the sales of the album go to The Buck Ramsey Memorial Fund."  The final title of the CD is "Ridin' Old Paint" and it is available from the Western Folklife Center.

 

 

Video

  The Nevada Museum of Art and the Western Folklife Center have produced a DVD of the film, Anthem; the prologue to Grass, which is available for $10 plus postage here at the Western Folklife Center Gift Shop.

The impressive film (originally titled Between Grass and Sky) features top poets and reciters Joel Nelson, Jerry Brooks, and Andy Hedges reciting the late Buck Ramsey's "Anthem," the prologue to his master work, Grass. (The film begins with Buck Ramsey's voice.) 

The Nevada Museum of Art originally conceived and commissioned the work, and provided this description:

The poem Grass has impacted generations of cowboy poets throughout the American West. This audiovisual presentation features an original rendition of recitations by three renowned cowboy poets combined with a 1993 recording of Ramsey’s voice. Joel Nelson, a dear friend of Ramsey’s, owns and operates a ranch outside of Alpine, Texas. Andy Hedges, a young cowboy poet and musician, lives and works in Lubbock, Texas. Jerry Brooks, of Sevier, Utah, is one of the most respected reciters of Grass. Together, these poets’ voices pay tribute to the legacy of Buck Ramsey’s words and the universal themes they evoke.

The film was a part of one of the most commented-on sessions at the 2011 Western Folklife Center's National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (read more about that session here in our reports from the gathering).


  Between Grass and Sky, an impressive film produced by Jerry Dugan (FLF Films), features top poets and reciters Joel Nelson, Jerry Brooks, and < Andy Hedges reciting Buck Ramsey's "Anthem," the prologue to his master work, Grass. (The film begins with Buck Ramsey's voice.)

View the film here at the UeBERSEE web site, where there are additional photos of the associated 2009 exhibit at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada.

The Nevada Museum of art conceived and commissioned the work, and provided this description:

The poem Grass has impacted generations of cowboy poets throughout the American West. This audiovisual presentation features an original rendition of recitations by three renowned cowboy poets combined with a 1993 recording of Ramsey’s voice. Joel Nelson, a dear friend of Ramsey’s, owns and operates a ranch outside of Alpine, Texas. Andy Hedges, a young cowboy poet and musician, lives and works in Lubbock, Texas. Jerry Brooks, of Sevier, Utah, is one of the most respected reciters of Grass. Together, these poets’ voices pay tribute to the legacy of Buck Ramsey’s words and the universal themes they evoke.

The exhibit's artistic direction was by Nik Hafermaas, UeBersee Inc., Los Angeles.

The film is also available here on YouTube.


  Virginia Bennett told us about the Poets and Pards video made by the Veluzat family in Santa Clarita. The video, made in 1996, features Buck Ramsey, Glenn Ohrlin, Virginia Bennett, Peggy Godfrey, Les Buffham, Ian Tyson, Riders in the Sky, Waddie Mitchell, Don Edwards, and Sons of the San Joaquin (along with special guest actors Robert Fuller, Peter Brown, Johnny Crawford, and James Drury and the paintings of William Matthews).  It's available for $19.95 plus $3.95 postage and handling from: Rave Entertainment, PO Box 220587, Newhall, CA 91322.


  The Cowboy Poets Live at Elko, available from Amazon and from the Western Folklife Center celebrates the 10th National Cowboy Poetry gathering, and includes Buck Ramsey singing and reciting, along with Waddie Mitchell, Don Edwards, Paul Zarzyski, Michael Martin Murphey, Wallace McRae, Ian Tyson, Sons of the San Joaquin and many others.


  The Cowboy Mystique: A Tribute to Buck Ramsey was filmed by Amarillo public television station KACTV.  It includes Buck Ramsey reciting "Anthem" on his back porch, and includes interviews with Red Steagall, Michael Martin Murphy, and J.B. Allen. You can read about it at their site here.


  Sourdough Beefsteak and Beans is a video about "The history of the chuckwagon and romance of life along the trail relived in poetry and song by the top hands of modern cowboy entertainment. Starring Red Steagall, and featuring Don Edwards, J.B.Allen, Larry McWhorter, Waddie Mitchell, Joel Nelson, Buck Ramsey, and the Coleman County Cowboys."  


Of Note

 

  • Amanda Robin Ramsey, Buck Ramsey's daughter, has created a Facebook group, Buck Ramsey Memorial Page, here on Facebook.


More Links

  • An article from the time of Buck Ramsey's death in The Houston Chronicle includes information about Buck Ramsey and comments from his family, friends, and admirers.  It is in that article that Hal Cannon of the Western Folklife Center says: "His work 'Anthem' is probably thought of as the finest contemporary piece of writing in this tradition, and his interpretation of traditional cowboy music is unsurpassed. He brought those songs to life, and that's very rare."
  • The Academy of Western Artists' (AWA) annual Buck Ramsey Award is given to the book voted by its members as the Best Poetry Book at their Annual Will Rogers Awards for Outstanding Achievement of Contemporary Cowboy Skills ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas. You can read more about the award here.

The program notes, written by AWA Executive Vice President Charles Williams, describe the award: 

"Every now and then, a unique and very special person comes along who touches all of us in a memorable and lasting way.  Buck was one of those rare individuals.  Beside the considerable body of poetry and songs he left us, his quiet courage, his gentle friendship, his joyful sense of humor and his constant encouragement, both by example and by eloquent expression, left an indelible impression on those who knew him or ever saw him perform. The Academy of Western Artists is proud to announce, that to honor Buck's memory and keep it vital, the Poetry Book Award will hereafter be called The Buck Ramsey Award."

Winners of the Buck Ramsey Best Poetry Book Award have been:

2006  Buck Ramsey's Grass, with essays on his life and work edited by Bette Ramsey and Scott Braucher 
2005  Cowboy Poetry: Cloud Watchers by Rolf Flake
2004  Born to This Land by Red Steagall with photographs by Skeeter Hagler
2003  Horse Tracks Through the Sage by Sunny Hancock and Jesse Smith
2002  The Big Roundup, edited by Margo Metegrano
2001  A Cow's Tail for a Compass, Leon Flick
1999  My Cowboy's Gift, Andy Wilkinson
1998  Poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, edited by Mason & Janice Coggin  
1997  Cowhide 'n Calico, Ann Sochat
1996  Cowboy Curmudgeon, Wallace McRae  

 


 

 

 

 

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