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... "Anthem" is probably
thought of as the finest contemporary piece of writing in this
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Buck Ramsey's Writings
Photo by Scott Braucher
Below: selections from Buck Ramsey's masterpiece, And As I Rode Out on the Morning
The Story: One
(Three additional chapters are featured on subsequent volumes of The BAR-D Roundup)
And additional poems:
And in the morning I was riding
Out through the breaks of that long plain,
And leather creaking on the quieting
Would sound with trot and trot again.
I lived in time with horse hoof 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 in 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.
We were not told, but ours the knowing
We were the native strangers there
Among the things the land was growing—
To know this gave us more the care
To let the grass keep at its growing
And let the streams keep at their flowing.
We knew the land would not be ours,
That no one has the awful pow'rs
To claim the vast and common nesting,
To own the life that gave him birth,
Much less to rape his mother earth
And ask her for a mother's blessing
And ever live in peace with her,
And, dying, come to rest with her.
Oh, we would ride and we would listen
And hear the message on the wind.
The grass in morning dew would glisten
Until the sun would dry and blend
The grass to ground and air to skying.
We'd know by bird or insect flying
Or by their mood or by their song
If time and moon were right or wrong
For fitting works and rounds to weather.
The critter coats and leaves of trees
Might flash some signal with a breeze—
Or wind and sun on flow'r or feather.
We knew our way from dawn to dawn,
And far beyond, and far beyond.
It was the old ones with me riding
Out through the fog fall of the dawn,
And they would press me to deciding
If we were right or we were wrong.
For time came we were punching cattle
For men who knew not spur nor saddle,
Who came with locusts in their purse
To scatter loose upon the earth.
The savage had not found this prairie
Till some who hired us came this way
To make the grasses pay and pay
For some raw greed no wise or wary
Regard for grass could satisfy.
The old ones wept and so did I.
Do you remember? We'd come jogging
To town with jingle in our jeans,
And in the wild night we'd be bogging
Up to our hats in last month's dreams.
It seemed the night could barely hold us
With all those spirits to embold' us
While, horses waiting on three legs,
We'd drain the night down to the dregs.
And just before beyond redemption
We'd gather back to what we were.
We'd leave the money left us there
And head our horses for the wagon.
But in the ruckus, in the whirl,
We were the wolves of all the world.
The grass was growing scarce for grazing,
Would soon turn sod or soon turn bare.
The money men set to replacing
The good and true in spirit there.
We could not say, there was no knowing,
How ill the future winds were blowing.
Some cowboys even shunned the ways
Of cowboys in the trail herd days
(But where's the gift not turned for plunder?),
Forgot that we are what we do
And not the stuff we lay claim to.
I dream the spell that we were under;
I throw in with a cowboy band
And go out horseback through the land.
So mornings now I'll go out riding
Through pastures of my solemn plain,
And leather creaking in the quieting
Will sound with trot and trot again.
I'll live in time with horse hoof falling;
I'll listen well and hear the calling
The earth, my mother, bids to me,
Though I will still ride wild and free.
And as I ride out on the morning
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I'll be this poem, I'll be this song.
My heart will beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen will ride all with me,
And we'll be good, and we'll be free.
© 1993, Buck Ramsey, All Rights Reserved
A pattern of the past comes surface
In dapple shadows on the floor.
I stir the leafings there to purchase
A feeling old, one mem'ry more.
Of all the earth, we were its princes,
Though some thought we had flown our senses
When we left homes and sweethearts for
Some place beyond one river more.
The cow trail was the one way going
Directions our kind deigned to take
To places where we chose to make
The mark on time we'd keep for showing.
Oh, we were full of health and hell
And knew the gods had picked us well.
So start with one; his name was Billy.
He'd soon begin his fifteenth year.
His life was common fare until he
Began to hearken out and hear
A far, peculiar kind of calling.
His was a farm boy Michael's falling.
A runty steer had strayed somehow
Where Billy plied the bull-tongue plow
To turn some prairie sod for planting.
His daddy caught him up astride
The plowhorse. He had roped and tied
The stray. (The old dray horse was panting.)
Pa put the horse up in a stall
And laid the law down once for all.
This Billy's dad was grim and gritty --
He'd fit right in Elija's crowd.
If pity showed, he'd himself pity,
Though, all in all, he played it proud.
As railroad arteried a bleeding
From peopled territories needing
A dumping for its detritus,
For all its men whose kind of lust
Caused them to hanker for things virgin,
It hauled them out to bust the sod
That had been sown by some old god
Of prairie passion, grassy urging.
To come, to see, and then conquer --
The civilized investiture.
Young Billy's yens were quite contrary
To frontier nesters like these folk
Whose calling was to break the prairie
To Genesis' Dominion Yoke.
He watched, from where he plowed, the steer herds
Go trailing northward for the railroads,
Edged near the cowboys on their rounds
And liked their manner, treasured sounds--
Those cowboy yells, their jolly prattle,
The lingo spoken, sayings said,
The herd hooves pounding (how they made
The muffled roar), the herd horns' rattle.
Oh, it was something strange and grand
A very few would understand.
The cowboy life was wild and sinful
To nesters like young Billy's dad.
They ran all roughshod and unmindful
Of the old doctrines, acted mad.
He gave his boy a plowline beating,
Just what he thought the boy was needing
For flaunting ways the Old Book God
Had given men who turn the sod.
And Billy plotted out his parting
As afterflow turned into night.
He went away before dawn's light.
But with his shuffling before starting,
His mother stirred from where she slept
And came to him and wept and wept.
She'd been a lass, if you had known her,
You'd surely love when she was young.
But years had worn and beauty flown her.
Now she was torn between her son
And what she still loved in his father.
So now her dread, her deepest bother,
Was that her Billy's years to come
Would be his Pa's years done and gone.
She quietly came. Oh, how it pained her.
She wept and prayed and kissed his face,
For she knew he must leave this place.
Her husband looked for her in anger
To scold her getting breakfast late
And found her bowed by parting's gate.
"The world's a place far too unwieldy
For boys like him to take in stride.
He'll soon be feeling scared or guilty
And three days gone be by your side."
But what she knew he well suspected--
That Billy had been long infected
With callings to the cowboy life
And thought the farmer's way all strife.
A part of him--more so the mother--
Knew that their boy was good and gone
And that to guess where he might roam
Was like predicting next week's weather.
For good or bad, time proved their fears;
He'd not come back to them for years.
© 1993, Buck Ramsey, All Rights Reserved
(Chapters Two through Ten follow in the complete work)
And was I real or was I dreaming?
Was I that boy, "so good of face"?
Were we so good, or are we scheming
To forge a role that garners grace?
We rode our horses 'cross the grasses
In flight from Babel's huddled masses.
We were the offside of the coin;
We didn't care to court or join
The mad pursuit of pelf or puissance;
We left our money on the bar--
A crude disdain, perhaps, but far
Contrary to the crass insistence
On hierarchy's servility
That passes for civility.
We didn't spend much time defining
Our role, but were we to define:
"To do what's right with careful timing,
To be the right place the right time,"
Would pretty well sum up our duties.
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.
The Goddess handed me the bridle
That tamed my horse's summer heart.
Then, by the spring and standing idle,
He took my saddle, took his part
In works of rounds I would be keeping.
In consecrating moonlight meeting
I joined myself to Mother Earth
And put in order first things first.
I pledged my heart; I made my promise
To love her faithfully till death
Despite enigmas, even with
The burdens of those moods that harm us.
I joined to her in mortal cord
To tender thought and work and word.
We toil so hard in sun, we're abler
By light of moon to know our part.
So things that I would take from labor
I'd carry only in my heart.
The death millenniums behind me,
Lift up the stone and you will find me.
The true man dwelling in the dream,
I listen and remember when
Each thing was sung into existence
And carried yet its proper name.
The Moon might bring that time again
If it can calm the Sun's resistance.
Beyond the din of dusty day
There is no closed place I must stay.
When thought is clear, things fall in place,
We'll grasp the mood of Nature's face,
We'll know the texture of real grace.
© 1993, Buck Ramsey, All Rights Reserved
The recording is available on the two-CD set, Buck Ramsey, Hittin' the Trail, from Smithsonian Folkways Records.
And As I Rode Out on the Morning was published in 1993 by Texas Tech Press, and is now rare and out of print.
A recording of Buck Ramsey reading "Anthem" was made in 1997 at a gathering in Anson, Texas. It was Buck Ramsey's last public appearance before his death.
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.
If you see me sittin' sorrowful, all busted up and stove-up
And you wonder how a puncher gits that way,
I can tell you at the start-off to avoid all work aground
If you rope and ride ahorseback for yore pay.It's all right to shoe you horses and to braid and mend your tack,
All that work aground that keeps you in the saddle.
But yore mind gits misdirected if you try yore hand at chores
Beneath stomping out the broncs and punchin' cattle.Now and then old Majordomo, he'd come roust me during slack
And suggest I patch his roof or plow his garden,
Or do some posthole diggin' or go scale some tall windmills,
But I'd always tell 'im, "Please, I begs yore pardon."But it so happened that one Sunday I was early in from town
And was holdin' down the bunkhouse all alone
When the boss, he done convinces me that if I'd pull one chore,
Tackin' hack hooves next day would be quicker done."All them shoes are in a whiskey barrel up in the barn hayloft,
Standing right beside that hayloft pulley door.
Though it took us five to hoist 'em up, I figures comin' down
All that gravity is worth them four men more."Wal, I'm nowhere near a horse, so it makes good sense to me.
I go don my chaps and spurs and gits my rope,
Then I ambles to the barn and up the ladder to the loft,
Thinkin' I can git this job done in a lope.So I straps a big old jug knot tie around that whiskey barrel,
Runs the rope out through the pulley to the ground.
Then I delicately balances that barrel on the edge,
And I rushes out to gently let 'er down.Well, I runs the rope around my tail and takes a hitch in front
To control the downward progress of the barrel.
Then I gives the jerk that tilts the barrel out of that hayloft door—
And that's the insult that begins our little quarrel.See, that barrel of horseshoes had to weigh a good four hundred pounds,
More than twice what I would weigh all wet and dressed.
So when I tell you that my rope hitch HITCHED and slipped up underarm,
Then I figure you can guess most of the rest.I plumb parts with earth quite suddenly, ablastin' for the sky,
But I meets that barrel 'bout halfway up that barn.
This wreck, it slows my progress some, but it ain't slowed for long'For I'm headin' for that pulley and yardarm.When that barrel hits the bottom and my pore head hits the top
And it rings that pulley like a midway gong
Where those fellers swing the hammers for to show on with the girls—
Wal, you might think that it's over...But you're wrong.See, the crashin' of that old stave barrel all weighed down with that steel
Caused the bottom to bust out and dump its load,
So I'm plummettng from heaven now about the speed of sound,
And I'm speedin' on dang'rous deadend road.But that devil barrel, it slaps me blind and sideways one more time
As it flies up and I'm acrashin' down.
THEN you'd think this stubborn accident would be about played out
When I breaks a few more bones upon the ground.No. The rope goes slack. The hitch unhitches. I lie grazin' up.
Then I close my eyes and gives me up for dead.
'Cause the last thing that I see before I wakes, all splintered up,
Is that cussed barrel acomin' fer my head.
© Buck Ramsey, reprinted with permission
Songster and reciter Andy Hedges recites this
The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Seven. It was reciter Jerry A. Brooks who suggested the inclusion of the poem, and Bette Ramsey kindly lent her permission.
Buck Ramsey's friend, the late J.B. Allen also recites the poem on his Classics recording.
(Being a one-sided conversation with the Kid about his daddy)
"Yeah he'd be called a 'daisy hand'
If this was bygone days
Before the meanings changed their names
And cowboys changed their ways.
"Those punchers out of real old rock
And of the long, long shadow,
Those graduates of the camp and trail
Who shunned the fenced-in meadow
"When all the range was grass-side up
And all the cows wore horns--
They'd call your dad a 'ranahan'
Well to the leather born."
Old Dunder, augering the Kid,
Was brushing on the paint
In strokes that made the Fiddle look
A downright cowboy saint.
He paused, and then commenced to rake
His hand across his whiskers,
But realized that rasp he grew
Might raise some awful blisters.
He soothed his palm upon his knee
And gazed the air a hole
And gave the Kid the look that showed
The secrets of his soul.
"You set out definin' you're ridin' for boggin' --
There's not a pure way to describe
The reason and rhyme of the cowpuncher callin',
The jist of the cowpucher tribe.
"But say we start up with an idy of Santee --
Like Russell, a cowpuncher saint --
The best you can say is, he's good to his horses,
The worst you can say is, he ain't.
The kind out of old rock and of the long shadow --
Your daddy is of the same leather --
You'd say of his makin's his water runs deep,
And he'd do with to ride the wild river.
"You can't call his rank by the crease of his hat,
By his get-up, now matter how fine.
You go by the moves that he makes on his horse --
Is he in the right place the right time?
He knows what the mother cow says to her calf,
He's a regular webster on cattle,
He hears what the wind says and listens to grass --
He's plumb simply at home in the saddle."
© Buck Ramsey, reprinted with permission
(Bette Ramsey shared this poem with us, in response to a question in our Who Knows? feature.)
The winter is here and the old year is passing,
The sun in its circle winds far in the south.
It's time to bring cheer to a cold, snowbound cow camp,
It's Christmas tree time of the year for the house.
Go ride to the cedar break rim of a canyon,
Down by where the river takes creek water clear,
And saddle-sleigh home us a fine shapely evergreen
Picked out while prowling the pasture this year.
While Fair strings the berries and popcorn and whatnots
And Ty braids the wreaths out of leather and vines,
Old Dunder, he whittles and whistles old carols
And fills them with stories of fine olden times.
He talks of a baby boy born in a cow shed,
All swaddled in tatters and laid in a trough,
Who, growing up, gave away all he could gather
And taught us that what is not given is lost.
It's morning of Christmas and long before dawning
The camp hands are risen to ready the feast.
But with the fires glowing they don warm apparel
And go out to gaze on the Star of the East.
They cobbler the plums they put up back in summer,
They bake a wild turkey and roast backstrap deer,
They dollop the sourdough for rising and baking,
And pass each to each now the brown jug of cheer.
The dinner is done and they pass out the presents,
Their three each they open with handshakes and hugs,
Then Ty gets his guitar and Fred gets his fiddle
While Dunder and Fair laugh and roll back the rugs.
The tunes that they play melt the chill from the winter
As Dunder and Fair waltz and two-step along.
They play, sing and dance till the next morning's dawning
Then all of the their slumbers are filled with this song.
© 1996, Buck Ramsey, All Rights Reserved
"Christmas Waltz" was printed in a small gift edition by Gibbs-Smith Publishers in 1996. It is out of print but copies are available from the Western Folklife Center.
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 also on the 2-CD set, Buck Ramsey, Hittin' the Trail, released by Smithsonian Folkways Records in 2003.
See Page 1 for more information about Buck Ramsey
and see our feature about:
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, 2005, here.
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