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My whole world changed when I met Carlos Ashley's poetry...Carlos became my true hero and a very special friend...He painted word pictures about the people and the land that he loved in a way that no one else ever has or ever will....
                                                                         Red Steagall

We're pleased to feature the poetry of Carlos Ashley (1904-1993), in this feature made possible by the kind permissions and generous assistance of his daughter, Adele Waide, and his son, Carlos Ashley Jr.

Carlos Ashley, a fourth-generation Texas Hill Country rancher, served as Texas Poet Laureate, 1949-1951. Trained as a lawyer, he also served as a Texas State Senator, District Attorney, president of the District and County Attorney's Association of Texas, president of the Hill Country Bar Association, First Assistant Attorney General of Texas, Chairman of the  State Board of Control of Texas, and member of the board of trustees for Texas Christian University.

He was an important inspiration to two giants in cowboy poetry: Baxter Black and Red Steagall. Baxter Black, who began his own writing career as a songwriter, has said he was about 30 before he knew anything about cowboy poetry. He tells that Red Steagall introduced him to the work of Carlos Ashley, and Ashley's "Epilogue" changed his writing life. Read comments below by Red Steagall and Baxter Black.

Carlos Ashley performed his poems at the third annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1988. The next year he was a part of the first National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration with Baxter Black and Red Steagall, and he appeared on Johnny Carson's NBC Tonight Show with Baxter Black. In 1992, he received the American Cowboy Culture Award from the National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration.
 


Carlos Ashley at his Rattlesnake Pond Ranch, about 1948 or 1949.
 

Below:

About Carlos Ashley and his Poetry

Selected Poems

Books by Carlos Ashley

Words from Red Steagall

Words from Baxter Black

Links and More

Additional Photos

 


About Carlos Ashley and his Poetry

From the Foreword to These Hills:

Carlos Ashley grew up in the San Saba country. He has a feeling for its long wooded hills and its rocky stream beds that flood in the sudden spring rains. he knows the hard January sunshine of the West Texas plains, and the dancing August heat that burns up the grass. He learned these things when he was a boy, and he never forgot them during four years of college spent away from his own region. With a sure instinct he headed straight back to his own hills, and before long hung out his shingle in Llano. A lawyer by vocation, he is a rancher by avocation. In fact, his true "calling" is the urgent need to live on the Texas land.

Carlos Ashley not only knows the land; he knows the people along the San Saba and the Llano—cedar-whacks and lonely cow-hands and small town folks. He knows how they talk, not a dialect but their idiom and drawl. His verses are written in this West Texas language, authentic in rhythm and vocabulary. Her is a sample of the easy folk-talk he uses.

Now the more I tried to catch 'er,
And the more I give it thought,
I begin to get the notion
She's opposed to bein' caught.

If you read this quatrain in the native manner, the words will fall right, and the humor in it will break in the last line.

The real value, however, of the poems in "These Texas Hills" lies in their sure knowledge of how Aunt Cordy and Ole Edgar Martin and the legal owner of Cedar Mountain feel and act. They are old fashioned people, these folks that Carlos Ashley writes about; but they seem sound and permanent to me, like the Texas hills. And I rejoice that a young man raised among them finds them beautiful and good. I am glad that Carlos Ashley writes poetry about his own land and neighbors.

Rebecca W. Smith
Texas Christian University

 

From the Foreword to That Spotted Sow and Other Texas Hill Country Ballads:

People cherish Carlos Ashley's warm-hearted verse. "The man writes in pictures," Cowboy Kelly once told me. Cowboy Kelly, who died several years ago, was perhaps Texas' best primitive painter.

Kelly loved the title poem in this volume. In fact, after reading it he composed an oil painting of a spotted feral sow, and then Old Man Kelly caught the bust from his home in Blanket and went to Llano and presented the work of art to the poet. Few poets ever receive such spontaneous manifestations of appreciation.

To recite Carlos Ashley's endeavors suggests that he is really 2 or 3 men. He has been a hill country rancher all his life. He was an athlete at TCU and a high school coach for 3 years before going on to law school. He has had a distinguished legal career and was recently the chairman of a squad of lawyers writing a volume on the history and traditions of the Texas Bar.

He was a State Senator for 10 years and District Attorney of the Texas hill country for 18. He is a 3rd generation hill country rancher, and for many years he has raised and raced thoroughbred horses in that ideal horse country. His kudos are too many to mention, but it should be recited that he is a former Poet Laureate of Texas, which was only fair since he writes the sort of verse that probably appeals to the most in Texas.

I somehow wandered into a sort of convention of Texas poets in Dallas about a decade ago and heard Carlos recite some of his poems, verse in praise of creatures in the range from the town scavenger in San Saba, Texas, to the former Vice President of the United States, Cactus Jack Garner.

My favorite Carlos Ashley poem is called "Bob Sears' Chili Joint." This is an ode in nostalgic remembrance of a little chili parlor in Carlos' home town, San Saba.

For one thing he admitted in the opening lines:

"There's a smell about good chili
That no poet can portray...
And of all exotic odors
That the wings-of-time-anoint,
There's none can match description
With Bob Sears' chili joint..."

Carlos mentioned some of the famous eating places in New York City and New Orleans where he'd dined, and then he wound up his classic chili poem with these lines:

"Yet no chief has ever challenged
The high gastronomic point
That was mine in early childhood
In Bob Sears' Chili Joint."

I've nominated Carlos Ashley for the poet laureate of the Chili Appreciation Society International. And the barbers of Texas should make Carlos their poet laureate for his beautiful tribute in verse to the town tonsorial artist, called "Jim Watkins' Barber Shop."

This book is valuable, too, because it is illustrated by pen-and-ink sketches of the hill country and its people and its creatures, such as quarter horses and coyotes, by one of the memorable western artists, the late Harold D. Bugbee of Clarendon, Texas.

Frank Tolbert
Dallas Morning News Daily Columnist
 


Selected Poems

Aunt Cordie
Ole Edgar Martin

That Spotted Sow
Bob Sears' Chili Joint
 


 

Aunt Cordie

You never did know Aunt Cordelia?
   They's a gap missin outa your life!
She sure was a remarkable woman—
   And I dreaded her worse'n my wife.

Her time was spent roundin' up mavericks
   And brandin' 'em out for the Lord;
Not many boys in this Hill Country
   Escaped from the wrath of her sword.

She contest-rule rode the Devil:
   A-rakin' in front and behind
She'd holler and come out a-fannin
   And kick 'im and beat 'im plum blind.

She worked at the job almost constant,
   And rode with a mighty sharp spur;
There aint airy houn dog a-livin
   That could smell any better'n her.

If I took a drink she could wind it.
   I'd heap rather be throwed in jail
Than to see Auntie Cordie a-comin—
   She made the worst sinners turn pale.

She caught us boys playin brush poker—
   The way she depicted our fate,
Our chances of crossin the Jordan
   Wasn't near good as fillin a straight.

So we promised we'd try to do better;
   We listened to Aunt Cordie pray
And wound up the meetin agreein
   We'd turn out for preachin next day.

We all edged in under the arbor
   And just kinda froze on the bench;
We stared straight ahead at the pulpit
   And didn't dare wiggle an inch.

Aunt Cordie was leadin the singin
   And playin the organ in style—
When she throwed back her head on "Old Canaan,"
   She could rattle the winders a mile.

The preacher was holdin revival—
   He knew more sad stories to tell
About the few people in Heav'm
   And the crowded condition in Hell.

The sinners seemed all time a-dyin—
   The flames were a-scorchin their hide;
The whole congregation was shoutin—
   My breast was a turmoil inside.

I lost count of time and location—
   That fire was a-cookin me brown.
Somebody was leadin me forward,
   And then we was both kneelin down.

Sure enough, Aunt Cordie had got me,
   And all of the other boys too;
We joined the church at that meetin
   Just like she had told us to do.

It's twenty years since that revival,
   But folks here remember it still,
When Aunt Cordie contested the Devil
   And rode him plum over the hill.

We buried her early last Summer,
   And all of the boys she had saved
She wanted to be her pallbearers
   And lay her away in her grave.

We fellers still meet and play poker
   And join in a drink now and then,
But drinkin a toast to Aunt Cordie
   Couldn't hardly be classed as a sin.

© Carlos Ashley, from That Spotted Sow and Other Texas Hill Country Ballads, used with permission of the Ashley family
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 


 

Ole Edgar Martin

I seen Ole Edgar Martin a-ridin by jus now;
   He's goin up to Walker's to get that bald-faced cow.
Funny feller—Edgar—sorter quiet and queer—
   Why, he's been ridin by that way for nearly twenty year.

I knowed 'im when he's jest a kid a-livin at his aunt's—
   A-wearin long-tailed hickry shirts 'thout no boots ner pants;
Sorter shied from other kids—his folks wuz all that way—
   A-grazin off from all the herd just like a maverick stray.

He growed up in these post oak hills, a-huntin fox and coon—
   Hell, I can hear his ole houn now a-bayin to the moon
While boy and dog come down this flat—there warn't much town here then—
   Yeh, Edgar had a world o range to run them varmints in.

But my, this town has changed a sight—it aint the same a-tall;
   They've put in City Water Works and built a City Hall
And Edgar's changed a heap hisself—he ain't quite understood
   That all the things he's honin for are gone—and gone for good.

I reckon Edgar's sixty-five—a little feeble too—
   He never took to no one trade—aint much that he kin do.
So he jus rides aroun all day—a sorter "livin sigh"—
   A lost and homeless kinda look a-starin from his eye.

He starts at daylight for the hills, when herds is comin down,
   And helps the ranchers and the boys to punch their stuff through town.
He hangs aroun the pens all day to watch 'em load the cars—
   And nights—I've seen 'im on his porch jus lookin at the stars.

He's pickin up a little stuff for Bigg's Meat Market now—
   Like goin up to Walker's there to get that bald-faced cow.
I noticed when he passed jus now he didn't have no houn—
   So I guess I'd better saddle-up and help 'im into town.

© Carlos Ashley, from That Spotted Sow and Other Texas Hill Country Ballads, used with permission of the Ashley family
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 


 

That Spotted Sow
or The Ballad of Cedar Mountain

Did you ever hear the story
   Of that famous hog of mine?
She’s a razorback and spotted
   Black and white from hoof to spine;

With a snout made outa granite,
   She can root just like a plow;
And the fence ain’t been invented
   That can turn that spotted sow.

Born and bred on Cedar Mountain
   She is wilder than a deer;
And she’s known by reputation
   To the ranch hands far and near.

Though a sow of mine had raised ‘er,
   On that mountain she was free;
And I always kinda doubted
   That she really b’longed to me.

She didn’t claim no owner—
   Save the God who put ‘er there—
And for mortal man’s relations
   She just simply didn’t care.

She preferred the solemn silence
   Of her Cedar Mountain home,
And most of all she wanted us
   To let ‘er plum alone.

Ever Fall I’d try to mark ‘er
   But she’d get away agin;
And I reckon that my cussin,
   Though artistic, was a sin.

Well, I sold my brand in ’30—
   Moved out ever hog and cow;
Rounded-up…yea…all but one head,
   All but that blamed spotted sow.

So we organized against ‘er—
   Got the best of dogs and men;
But we never got good started
   Puttin that hog in a pen.

Now we really went a-huntin
   When we tried to catch Ole Spot;
We left the ranch at daylight
   And her trail was always hot.

She might be pickin acorns
   On the banks of Sandy Creek.
Or in somebody’s turnips
   Cultivatin, so to speak.

But let the foot of dog or man
   Disturb the morning dew.
And you might as well a phoned ‘er,
   Cause somehow she always knew.

She’d light out for Cedar Mountain
   Where the land and sky divide—
There ain’t no spot on earth nowhere
   A better place to hide.

We’d hear the pack a-bayin
   Up the mountain loud and clear.
But before we rode up to ‘em
   That ole sow would disappear

Or she’d rally ‘gainst a boulder,
   Bristlin like a porcupine,
Till a dog forgot his caution—
   Then she’d cut him into twine.

Killin dogs was just a pastime
   To that hog; I’m tellin you
With them long, curved, knife-like tushes
   She could slice a houn in two.

She could whip most any critter
   On four legs I ever saw,
And she had a perfect record
   'Cause she never fought a draw.

Now the more I tried to catch her,
   And the more I give it thought,
I begin to get the notion
   She’s opposed to bein’ caught.

I couldn’t help admire that sow,
   When all was done and said;
For, to tell the truth about ‘er,
   She was really thoroughbred.

She had character and courage
   And the heart to do the right;
And when it come to fightin
   Now she shore as hell could fight.

Well, the Fall froze into Winter,
   And the Winter thawed to Spring.
April watered hill and valley;
   Maytime painted ever’thing.

Late one evenin just at sundown
   I was ridin home right slow,
When I passed a lonesome waterhole
   And saw…..it was a show.

Ole Spot was trailin down the hill
   And right behind her trotted
Ten baby pigs not ten days old,
   And ever one was spotted.

I stopped and stared; she studied me;
   My eyes filled like a fountain;
And there I gave ole Spot a deed—
   A deed to Cedar Mountain.

Now I was taught that folks who try,
   You oughta help and praise em;
So, “Boys,” I sez, “Ole Spot's got pigs,
   And, damn sure gonna raise ‘em."

She’s still on Cedar Mountain
   Though I seldom see ‘er now;
You can bet that’s one dominion
   Where the Queen’s a spotted sow.

© Carlos Ashley, from That Spotted Sow and Other Texas Hill Country Ballads, used with permission of the Ashley family
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 


 

Bob Sears' Chili Joint

   There's a smell about good chili
That no poor poet can portray;
   It wafts a rare aroma
Where all the gentle breezes play'
   And of all exotic odors
That the wings-of-time anoint,
   That's none can match description
With Bob Sears' Chili Joint.

   Now it wasn't much to look at;
Just a hole there in the wall,
   No sign above the entrance
And no fancy front atall.
   A stranger couldn't find it
'Less the wind was blowin right;
   Then he couldn't hardly miss it,
Even on the darkest night.

   A dime would buy a bowl full
Of that wondrous bill-of-fare;
   A quarter got a milk shake
And another bowl to spare.
   It wasn't always fresh and clean
By sanitation's letter,
   But somehow it improved with age
And day by day got better.

   I've eaten Antoine's Crepe Suzettes,
A joy beyond compare;
   I've dined at old Delmonico's,
Where famed gourmets repair;
   But no Chef has ever challenged
The high gastronomic point
   That was mine in early childhood
In Bob Sears' Chili Joint.

© Carlos Ashley, from That Spotted Sow and Other Texas Hill Country Ballads, used with permission of the Ashley family
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 


Red Steagall, photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski  www.JeriDobrowski.com  Words from Red Steagall


Carlos Ashley with his book, That Spotted Sow and Other Hill Country Ballads

We asked Red Steagall for a comment for this feature, and he replied:

My whole world changed when I met Carlos Ashley's poetry. Baxter and I spent an afternoon reading That Old Spotted Sow and Other Hill Country Ballads to each other. Carlos became my true hero and a very special friend... The times that we were able to spend with him at his home in Llano will always be some of the most special memories of my life. He was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. He painted word pictures about the people and the land that he loved in a way that no one else ever has or ever will.

His place in the history of Texas literature and his contribution to the poetic art form will live on a plane all by itself forever. He was a true master of words and touched everyone that he came in contact with very deeply. I am so proud that he was and still is a big part of my life."

Red Steagall was a pall bearer at Carlos Ashley's funeral.

photo of Red Steagall by Jeri L. Dobrowski


Words from Baxter Black

 

In January, 1989, Carlos Ashley appeared on Johnny Carson's NBC Tonight Show with Baxter Black. Read more about the poets who appeared on the Tonight Show here.

From a 2002 article about Baxter Black in Tulsa World:

Steagall would end up recording several of Black's tunes. He'd also be at least partially responsible for aiming him toward cowboy poetry. Black remembers well the time on Steagall's porch in Texas when Steagall brought out a volume of poems called That Spotted Sow and Other Texas Hill Country
Ballads
, written by Carlos Ashley, and read one of the entries aloud.

"I'd never heard anything like it," said Black. "Then he said, "You read one.' We went back and forth, reading the whole book to each other, and I was enthralled."

"I was writing poetry by then, but I didn't know what I was doing," Black said. "This was what I was trying to do."

We asked Baxter Black for a comment for this feature and he replied:

From Carlos Ashley's poem, "Epilogue":

Ambition feeds a thousand fires whose ashes leave no ember.
I pray to pen a rustic rhyme that someone will remember."

Carlos' prayers came true.
                                                                       Baxter Black...a fan.

 


Books by Carlos Ashley

  That Spotted Sow and Other Texas Hill Country Ballads, 1941, 1949, and 1975. Foreword by Frank Tolbert, illustrations by Harold D. Bugbee. (This book is out of print, but copies are sometimes available from used book sources and from Frontier Books (contact Linda Kirkpatrick, lbrice@hctc.net.)

Includes:

That Spotted Sow (The Ballad of Cedar Mountain)
Bob Sears' Chili Joint
Wild Cattle
Jim Watkins' Barber Shop
Epilogue
The Widder
Ole Edgar Martin
Oh, Where is that River?
True Livin'
Texan's Code
So-Long
Science—Romance
South of the Cap Rock
For Politicians
Aunt Cordie
Luck
The Destiny Stakes
Love and a Song
The Cedar-Whack
Said the Hoot Owl to the Hen Hawk
Bowie's Bones
The King of the County Fair
The Substitute
Duty
A Sermon
Old Blue
Values
Blacksnake Bill
The Big Convention
Service
I Built My House upon a Hill
Ambition
The Sheriff's Widow
The Old Nightwatchman
Hard Times
Pete Wood'ard
Your Eyes are Brown
Nylon Avenue
What is a FLower?
The Old Town Clock
The Ticket
Human Nature
Bonnie Bird (1890-1917)
Abe Galloway
Cactus Jack
When the World Gets Out of Focus


These Texas Hills, 1941, with a Foreword by Rebecca W. Smith of Texas Christian University. This small book of verse includes the following poems in its 21 pages:

The Ballad of Cedar Mountain
The Widder
Ole Edgar Martin
Oh Where is That Riber
So-Long
Aunt Cordie
The Cedar-Whack
Oh Bury Me South of the Cap Rock
Bowie's Bones
The King of the County Fair

 


  Ole Train, 1964 with illustrations by Allen F. Brewer, Jr. This 8-page book contains a poem in a trainer's voice about his work with "Ole Train."


  A Front Seat in Heaven, 1991. Carlos Ashley's charming Dedication best describes this autobiographical book, which is filled will compelling, colorful stories:

In memory of my beloved parents, "Alf" and Mattie Gray Ashley, my darling wife and helpmate of fifty-six years, Cynthia; and our devoted children, Adele Waide and Carlos Ashley, Jr., these reminiscences are lovingly dedicated.

The tales, episodes and anecdotes related herein are true, although they might be embellished by rude figures of speech, and an occasional artless adjective. They are written almost entirely from memory, about events occurring between fifty and eighty-odd years ago. A foggy detail, a vaguely recollected date, or a deed grown more heroic by the enchantment of time, may creep into this narrative, because although I possess a pretty good memory, it ain't perfect.

I admit to being sentimental, and to relying on the idiom of my Texas Hill Country heritage.

So, with charity and good humor toward all, and with faithful adherence to Old Man Wood'ard's timeless advice, I have given it my best shot.


Cynthia and Carlos Ashley


   Origin and Decline of the Texas Hill Country Razorback, 1992. This 24-page book gives the history of the local wild hogs, hog dogs, hog hunters and more, from the times of the Comanche to the present. From the Foreword by Carlos Ashley:

In the spring of 1870, young Captain and Anna Ashley, with their firstborn year-old baby, William Alpheus [Carlos Ashley's father], moved westward from Arkansas and settled on Wallace Creek in San Saba County, Texas.

They found the country stocked with an abundance of wildlife, including a generous supply of razorback hogs...Eighty-five years ago barbed wire had come into general use in the Hill Country, and although property lines were still marked by rock fences, most ranches were circumscribed by loosely strung three-wire fences which, while serving fairly well to restrain cattle and horses, were no impediment to free-ranging wild hogs. They went where they pleased with much the same freedom their ancestors found here more than one hundred years before.

The book also includes the poem "The King of the County Fair" and an epilogue in verse. There are photographs and illustrations.
 



Links and More
 

Red Steagall's recording of Carlos Ashley's poem, "Bob Sears' Chili Joint," and Baxter Black's recording of  "Epilogue" are included on Cowboy Poetry Classics (Smithsonian Folkways) compiled, produced, and annotated by David Stanley. Listen to sound samples here.
 

Click to view at Amazon.com Carlos Ashley's poem, "Ol' Edgar Martin," is included in Cowboy Poetry: A Gathering (Gibbs M. Smith, Inc., Peregrine Smith Books), edited and with an index by Hal Cannon
 

Carlos Ashley's poem, "That Spotted Sow or The Ballad of Cedar Mountain" is included in Linda Kirkpatrick's Somewhere in the West chapbook (Volume 2, No. 2, June 2008) and included here on the web in her Texas Escapes column.


Monte Jones ("Biscuits O'Bryan") includes Carlos Ashley's "Aunt Cordie," "Bob Sears' Chili Joint," and "That Ol' Spotted Sow" on his CD, Biscuits Live at the Grand. He comments, "I heard Carlos recite several poems at the very first National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration in Lubbock in 1989. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when he did "Bury Me South of the Cap Rock." I love his poetry, especially—being a former English teacher—his wonderful meter and rhyme.

 


Additional Photos

Our special thanks to Adele Waide for sharing all of the photographs in this feature.

 


Thanks to Adele Waide, Carlos Ashley Jr., Red Steagall, Baxter Black, Linda Kirkpatrick, and Monte Jones for assistance with this feature.

 

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