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CHARLENE SCHILLING
Genesee, Idaho
About Charlene Schilling

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

 

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for her poem, I'm Not an All-Around Cowboy

 

 

 

 

I'm Not An All-Round Cowboy

I don't claim to be an all-round cowboy,
The kind that won the west,
My boots don't have riding heels,
And I never owned a leather vest.

My horse is mostly out to pasture,
Except for once or twice a year
When I ride down in the canyon
To bring the cows back up here.

I mostly use the four-wheeler
When I go out to check the herd
My truck is just an old Ford Ranger,
And my wife drives an '85 Thunderbird.

My kids are both in high school,
But they don't junior rodeo;
They're too busy doing school work
And planning how their lives will go.

My wife doesn't belong to ladies' clubs,
She's never been to a quilting bee;
She's too dang busy correcting papers
And teaching American History.

Oh, I keep a little herd book
In the pocket of my jeans, but
Daughter enters it in the computer
And tells me what the figures mean.

Joe, he's a real whiz with figures,
Understands all the economic stuff,
I just feed the cows and cross my fingers,
But he says today that's not enough.

Now you might think we lost our way,
And forgot what ranch life means,
But pard, you'd be dead wrong,
Because we work here like a team.

Just watch that girl of ours
While she mothers a sickly calf.
She's no rough-neck cowgirl,
She's just a sweet and tender lass,

But she knows every breed there is,
And which ones bring best cash.
She knows all the historic brands,
And what'll make this ranch land last.

Joe, he'll go off to college
When the haying's done this fall;
Ma and I are sure gonna miss him,
But he says it won't be long at all

He'll be ready to run the place,
Then maybe I can take a rest.
(Well, I don't know I'm ready to quit
I thought I'd just reached my best.)

This land belonged to great grandpa Jake;
Passed from him to Gramps, to Dad, to me.
Looks like our kids will own it too,
And that's the way it's meant to be.

It's more than making money,
Although a living we got to have.
It's watching good cows come fresh
When you've raised them up from calves.

It's watching clover come to purple bloom;
It's a crop, and we sell the seed--
But it's that clover smell in spring time,
More than money, that's what it is I need.

It's watching a blazing sunset,
And holding children on your knee.
I don't claim to be an all-round cowboy,
But this family ranch means a lot to me.

2003, Charlene Schilling
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.



We asked Charlene about her inspiration for this poem and she told us:

This poem is really "real life," because I am not an all-round cowboy.  I've rode the horse, collected cattle, and helped at the pens, but I'm more aware of the "Cowboy Way," than the "Cowboy Life."  I could go in when the work was done and heat up dinner in the microwave.  I think that the ranch owners' feelings of possession of the land  goes beyond the Title in the County Office.  When one works on the land, is on hand when the calves are born, bears the burden of low prices, and enjoys the rewards of high cattle prices,  the reward is beyond that of dollars.  It is a way of life.

 

Understanding 

By now his gear is all loaded,
But he's having trouble saying goodbye;
He'll watch the flight of a red-tail
As it soars in the evening sky.

He'll stand by the corral in wonder,
Watching the calves mother up,
While his horse paws the ground, restless,
Tied at the end of the truck.

The fire is down to just embers
There where they cooked the last meal.
They've all promised to come back,
Shook hands two or three times on the deal.

But gone are the days of the trail drive,
The bunkhouse and chuck wagon too
Now there's just times he can go help out,
Part of a volunteer crew.

He'll hate to head down the mountain,
He'll linger as long as he can
For it's there where the fir trees surround him
That he truly feels like a man.

When he finally hits the freeway
That's when he's really alone
Even though I'm always here waiting
Anxious to welcome him home.

He doesn't look much like a cowboy
Dressed for work in a business suit,
But the man behind that computer
Really can ride, and rope, and shoot.

He's too old now for the rodeo circuit,
He says that was just life on the fly.
He quit after he won the buckle,
Afraid real life would pass him by.

But always, it's back to the mountains.
I think, in his heart, they're his home.
And he rides there in silent wonder
Where the elk and the cougar roam.

Oh, sometimes I go with him,
And we sleep under a moonlit sky
And watch from the comfort of bedrolls
While centuries of stars march by.

But sometimes at home I am lonely,
Then I turn to the video screen
And watch in teary remembrance
My days as a rodeo queen.

Charlene Schilling
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

 

The Ballad of Jo-Ann Lee

The fence was down at the trailhead,
And twenty-three calvers were out.
John was off on a buying trip,
Looking for a good deal on hay, further south.

With our winter moisture low,
The pasture spring was still dry.
I knew where the cows were headed--
To the green grass and water in Valley High.

Old Maude was born way up there,
So she knew just where to hide.
But, at the entrance to the valley,
The trail is narrow, a horse and rider wide.

And the mountainsides are steep,
With rock and shale on either side.
So I knew to be concerned
About a spring storm starting a slide.

I rolled  up my slicker and
Saddled sure-footed old Buck.
I thought I'd make it by noon,
With good weather holding, and a little luck.

There was mean gray sky
Off  high and to the northwest,
So I tied on a bedroll,
Cold, wet weather is what I could expect.

At high noon we were resting
At the niche in the divide,
Watching the strayed cows graze
In that miniature valley on the Doe Creek side.

The valley looked so peaceful,
Nestled in the warmth of the sun,
But I could see Maude would calve
There'd  be no leaving until she was done.

With the sun hiding early
As those northwest clouds rolled in,
The only dry campsite would be
In the Ghost Cave under the Chimney Creek Rim.

Some say it's just a legend,
That it isn't really true,
That someone made up the tale
Of JoAnn Lee and the spring storm of 1872.

But the grandmothers
Still sing of a gallant young brave
Who rides the thunder and lightning
Of every spring storm, guarding her rocky grave.

He wasn't the son of a chief
Or even a warrior bold.
He was more of the shaman,
With mysteries of The Good Place to unfold.

She was a rancher's young daughter,
His name was Cameron Lee,
And he ruled with an iron hand,
Proud of  his strength, power, and superiority.

It was here on the high mountain
Where their hearts raced with the wind,
But when their secret reached him,
Cameron Lee denounced their pledge as sin.

He rode through a raging storm,
And found them safe in the cave.
One shot from Cameron's rifle
Laid an Indian soul in a mortal grave.

While in the church yard in town
The writing on her stone is true,
"JoAnn was thrown from her horse
In a mountain storm in the spring of 1872."

As I unsaddled old Buck,
The story was still on my mind,
And whether true or just fiction,
I hoped that today we are truly more kind.

Well, then my thoughts had to turn
To cows and the problem at hand,
But somehow there was greater value
To be here, freely surveying our own land.

I put Buck out to pasture,
He'd graze down with the cows.
Then I swept out the old cave
As well as a buck-brush broom would allow.

I cached away my rigging
And settled down to some rest
With a feeling of uneasiness,
As the wind picked up some rain from the West.

I slept the sleep of hard work
But woke to the pine trees' moan,
Roll of thunder and lightning flash,
Pounding hail, and the feeling I wasn't alone.

Then, as my eyes adjusted
To the storm and dark night,
There, under that spreading fir--
Could it be a campfire's flickering light?

From the protection of the cave,
I watched the wintry gale
While lightening flashed,
And the mountain turned white with incessant hail.

In a splendid flash of light,
I saw, and became more bold;
The shadow by the fire
Leaned on a staff, an Indian, bent and old.

I set my last doubts aside
Over who the old man could be;
Human kindness demanded
That he should share the old cave's comfort with me.

I pulled my slicker tight
And took the icy trail down,
But when I reached the bottom,
The old man was gone, no fire, no one around.

There was no time to wonder--
I knew the ominous sound
Of sliding rock and shale.
It rolled down the mountain, shaking the ground.

And then the night was quiet.
The storm was subsiding.
I stood close to the fir tree,
Waiting for the first rays of the new morning.

The niche at the rim was gone.
There was no sign of the cave,
And I could not fathom
What saved me from that lonely, dusty grave.

Oh, we finally got the cows
By truck from the Doe Creek side,
But each spring when buttercups,
"Coyotes eyes," bloom on the face of the slide

I am anxious to ride there again
To stand on the rim facing east.
And with my hand raised to the sun,
I give thanks for my life, and I am at peace.

2002, Charlene Schilling
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.



We asked Charlene how she came to write this tale, and she said that since she is not a prolific writer, "there has to be an experience to propel me along the cowboy poetry trail."  She said that when this poem came to mind, she was traveling south on US 91 where she visited Fort Hall.  She said "I saw a picture of a young woman in 1890's dress with a young Indian man in Indian garb, kneeling by her side, holding her hand. I wondered.  Surely at that time, relationships between young white women and young Indian men were not socially acceptable.  I thought about it for about a year, then the Ballad suddenly came to life on paper."  

Fort Hall was an early fur trading post and later became an important stopping place for travelers along the Oregon Trail. It  belongs to the Shoshone Bannock Tribe.

 

About Charlene Schilling: 

Many bios start off in a log cabin in the mountains helping  with the family cattle ranch.  Well, mine starts in a tar papered shack on the Gunflint
Trail in Northern Minnesota where my dad worked in a lumber camp. There was the proverbial  two room school, the family farm with a couple of milk cows, the usual pigs  and chickens, and gardens where the deer frustrated my mother with their moonlight  foraging.  Bob and I left the cold, snow, and mosquitoes of Minnesota in 1974 to settle in Genesee, Idaho.  

While "I Don't Claim To Be An All-Round Cowboy" (oops, one of my poem titles slipped in there),  I have lent a hand to gathering cattle, manned the needles, and even laid on a couple of brands.  I could certainly qualify as camp cook. I've been involved with cowboy poetry since 1994 when I joined the Cowboy Poets of Idaho.  The most gratifying part of being connected to CPI is the camaraderie with other poets. CPI claims to be a family, and that's the way the poets treat one another.  Bob and I have four wonderful children, 11 grandchildren, and one great grandson. We celebrated our 52nd anniversary April 2, 2001.



Charlene's sent this description of the Cowboy Poets of Idaho, which also appears on our Other Sites page. 

In recent years there has been a resurgence of what we believe to be the "cowboy way."  We have romanticized the cowboy; we have assigned him
honesty, integrity, respect of home, mother and apple pie. That's one of the reasons why many of our Cowboy Poets of Idaho reach out to youth. Some of  our most well-known reciters will be found talking to school children, telling them of their worth, extolling the virtues of integrity and honesty. Many of us no longer really go out and herd cows except at the invitation of a rancher who needs help gathering cows that will be transported by truck to market. Some of those ranchers and ranch hands are among us, lending credibility to the cowboy experience we sing and recite about. We honor our heroes in cowboy halls of fame. We give awards for excellence in the writing and rendition of poetry and music. As cowboy poets and musicians, we are dedicated to keeping alive an era that was short-lived in American history but vivid and full of meaning, rounding up at Gatherings memories of the trail drives of the Old West."   

 

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