Page One

 


 

Christmas Waltz

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
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

See our feature about Buck Ramsey here.

  "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.

 

   Buck Ramsey’s Grass, With Essays on His Life and Work, a commemorative edition and CD edited by Scott Braucher and Bette Ramsey, with a foreword by Byron Price, was released in December, 2005 by Texas Tech University Press.  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."  Read more here at the publisher's site.

 

 

Draggin' the Tree

The cowboy ain't no lumberjack,
   an' if you want the facks,
One thing he ain't the fondest of
   is choppin' with an axe.
But when December snow has got 
   the range all wrapped in white,
There is one job of choppin'
   that he seems to like all right.
A sharp ax on his shoulder,
   he will ride off up the draw
Until he finds an evergreen
   without a single flaw.
A spruce, a fir, a juniper
   that's shaped just to a T
To set up in a corner
   for the ranchhouse Christmas tree.

As like as not, last summer
   while a-ridin' after cows
He noticed just the tree he wants,
   with green and graceful boughs
That's stout enough to ornament
   without no droop nor saggin',
But still a tree that ain't too big
   to fetch without a wagon.
It may be that he picked it out
   when August sun was hot,
But he knows where to find it,
   For his mind has marked the spot.

It ain't no chore to chop it down,
   an' if the snow is deep
He drags it in behind his horse.
   It warms him up a heap
To see them rancher kids
   run out a-hollerin' with glee
To watch him an' admire him
   when he's bringin' the tree.

Them kids may not belong to him,
   but that don't matter none—
His boss' brood, a nester's brats—
   It's still a heap of fun
To some ol' lonesome cowpoke,
   an' it sets his heart aglow
To come a-draggin' in the tree
   across the Christmas snow.
Sometimes when there's a schoolmarm
   an' she wants a tree at school,
She gets half a dozen.
   for you'll find that as a rule
At least that many cowboys,
   in sweet education's cause,
Will somehow get to feelin'
   That they're kin to Santy Claus!

Sometimes the rangeland's lonesome
an' sometimes it's kind o' grim,
But not when every ranchhouse
has a Christmas tree to trim.
An' though the wild cowpuncher
ain't no hand to swing an ax,
Across the white December snow
you'll often find his tracks
A-leadin' to the timber,
then back out again once more,
A-draggin' in the Christmas tree—
his purt near favorite chore!

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited; this poem is included in Cowboy Miner Productions' Classic Rhymes by S. Omar Barker


Empty Saddles at Christmas

The junipers whiten with snow softly fallin';
Somewhere down in the draw there's an ol' cow a-bawlin'.
There ain't nothin' ails her—we're plumb sure of that,
For grass has been good and the stock is all fat.
And yet, driftin' in on the snow-feathered breeze,
The sound brings a feelin' of wishful unease
To us old hands settin' here cozy and warm,
Snug-sheltered and safe from this Christmas Eve storm:
A strange, lonesome feelin' we can't push away,
Rememberin' tomorrow will be Christmas day;
Rememberin' it's Christmas and wonderin' when
Them two empty saddles will be rode again.

There's two pairs of spurs and two hats on their pegs,
And two pairs of chaps meant for young cowboy legs
A-hangin' unused on the old bunkhouse wall—
But the boys they belong to ain't hearin' cows bawl.
They're hearin' machine guns, the whine of a shell,
And all them strange sounds of a war that's plain hell;
The sea waves a-slappin' the side of a boat,
The ominous roar from a big bomber's throat;
The strange, alien language of little brown men—
The same sounds all over and over again,
While deep in their hearts what they're longin' to hear
Is wind in the cedars, the bawl of a steer.

Us oldsters, we set here this Christmas Eve night
A-thinkin' of cowboys that's gone off to fight.
If our thoughts could reach 'em, here's what we would say:
"We're doin' our best, boys, since you went away.
The ranch is still here and the cattle well-tended.
Your horses are fed and the fences are mended.
Looks like a white Christmas will show up at dawn.
We hope it's the last one you boys will be gone.
There's an old cow a-bawlin'—she claims her calf's missin'—
Sure wish that you boys was here with us to listen.

© 1966, S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.


"Empty Saddles at Christmas" was the winner of a 1967 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and was printed in Western Horseman magazine December, 1966, illustrated by Brummett Echohawk.

 


 

Line-Camp Christmas Letter

Inside an Old West line-camp,
   settin' on his lonely bed,
A cowboy wrote a letter home,
   and this is what it said:
"Dear Folks: It looks like Christmas time
   is comin' on again,
And I ain't wrote no letter
   since the devil don't know when.

So now I thought I'd drop a line
   just like I done last year,
To let you know I'm safe and well
   and full of Christmas cheer.
Seems like the news ain't much to tell.
   A blizzard blowin' now.
There'll be some cattle driftin',
   Merry Christmas, anyhow!

I've been out ridin' most all day.
   The horse I rode went lame.
The cattle sure are scattered.
   Merry Christmas just the same!
Last night my waterholes froze up.
   Snow sure is slow to thaw.
Some cattle lookin' porely.
   Merry Christmas, Pa and Ma!

This line-camp shack has got some cracks
   that let the snow sift through.
Well Merry Christmas to you, folks,
   and Happy New Year, too!
Excuse this crooked writin'.
   Got my hands frostbite I guess.
The cattle sure are driftin'
   Merry Christmas, Frank and Bes!

Ax handle busted.  Woodpile low.
   Ain't got much fire tonight.
The drifts have knocked some fence line down.
   I trust you're all all right.
My post of beans boiled dry
   and scorched while I was out today.
Them cows are driftin' awful.
   Merry Christmas anyway!

Well folks, I've got to cut this short
   and mend my busted rope.
Just thought I'd drop a little line.
   You all keep well, I hope.
The cowboy life is wonderful.
   Sure glad I came out West.
Give my regards to Adelaide
   and Jack and all the rest.
I'm glad I ain't a cow tonight
   Outside I hear 'em bawl.
Pore critters sure are driftin'.
   Merry Christmas to you all!

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited; this poem is included in Cowboy Miner Productions' Classic Rhymes by S. Omar Barker


Bunkhouse Christmas

'Twas Christmas Eve out on the ranch, and all the winter crew
Was settin' 'round the bunkhouse fire with nothin' else to do
But let their fancies wander on the thoughts of Christmas chuck,
And what they'd like the best to eat if just they had the luck
To set down to a table where the feast was laid so thick
That all they'd have to do was reach and take their choice and pick.

Young Sleepy Kid, the wrangler, claims he'd love a stummick-ache
From stuffin' steady half a day on choclit-frosted cake.
"A slab of turkey breast, " smacks Pete, "and good ol' punkin' pie!"
"I'd reach for oyster dressin'!" Lobo Luther heaves a sigh.
"It ain't no Christmas feed for me," says little Charlie Moss,
"Without brown turkey gravy and some red cranberry sauce!"
"Mince pie!" avers ol' Swaller-Fork. "The kind my ma could make.
It beats your punkin' forty ways—and also choclit cake!"

So each they named their fancy, till their chops begun to drip,
Then ol' Pop Williams gives a snort and rubs his crippled hip.
He hitches to the window, sorter sizin' up the night.
"Well, boys," he says, "it's Christmas Eve, and if I figger right,
That snow's too deep for travel, so before I hit the hay,
Upon the subject now in hand I'll have my little say.
It ain't what's in your stummick that's the most important part.
It's the feelin's of your gizzard, or in other words, your heart.
A-doin' others kindness is the road to Christmas cheer,
But that, of course, ain't possible, the way we're snowbound here.

It looks like all that we can do for our good Christmas deed
Is hustle all the livestock in and give 'em extry feed.
To hungry cows an extry fork of hay will seem as nice
As when a hungry cowboy finds a raisin in his rice.
And as for favorite Christmas chuck, I'll name mine now, to wit:
It's beef and beans and biskits—'cause I know that's what we'll git!"

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited; this poem is included S. Omar Barker's Rawhide Rhymes.

 


 

A Cowboy's Christmas Prayer

I ain't much good at prayin',
   and You may not know me, Lord—
For I ain't much seen in churches,
   where they preach Thy Holy Word.
But you may have observed me 
   out here on the lonely plains,
A-lookin' after cattle, 
   feelin' thankful when it rains.

Admirin' Thy great handiwork.
   the miracle of the grass,
Aware of Thy kind Spirit,
   in the way it comes to pass 
That hired men on horseback
   and the livestock that we tend 
Can look up at the stars at night,
   and know we've got a Friend.

So here's ol' Christmas comin' on,
   remindin' us again
Of Him whose coming brought good will
   into the hearts of men.
A cowboy ain't a preacher, Lord,
   but if You'll hear my prayer,
I'll ask as good as we have got 
   for all men everywhere.

Don't let no hearts be bitter, Lord.
   Don't let no child be cold.
Make easy the beds for them that's sick
   and them that's weak and old.
Let kindness bless the trail we ride,
   no matter what we're after,
And sorter keep us on Your side,
   in tears as well as laughter.

I've seen ol' cows a-starvin'—
   and it ain't no happy sight;
Please don't leave no one hungry, Lord,
   on Thy Good Christmas Night—
No man, no child, no woman,
   and no critter on four feet
I'll do my doggone best 
   to help you find 'em chuck to eat.

I'm just a sinful cowpoke, Lord—
   ain't got no business prayin'
But still I hope you'll ketch a word
   or two, of what I'm sayin':
We speak of Merry Christmas, Lord—
   I reckon You'll agree—

There ain't no Merry Christmas
   for nobody that ain't free!
So one thing more I ask You, 
   Lord: just help us what You can
To save some seeds of freedom 
   for the future Sons of Man!

© S. Omar Barker; in December, 2013, the estate of S. Omar Barker stated that this poem is now in the public domain.

S. Omar Barker earned more from the publication and uses of his "A Cowboy's Christmas Prayer" than from any other poem. A December 23, 1998 article by Ollie Reed Jr. in the Albuquerque Tribune, "Church on the Range," comments on the poem:

In November 1962, New Mexico author S. Omar Barker received a telegram asking permission for his poem "A Cowboy's Christmas Prayer" to be read on the Lawrence Welk TV show.

Barker, a sunup-to-sundown, every-day-of-the-week professional writer for much of his more than 90 years, telegraphed back that for $100 they had a deal.

Back again comes a telegraph from the TV show's agent asking if Barker would settle for $50.

"Fifty bucks no steak. Beans," Barker wired in response on Nov. 26, 1962. "But will accept anyway to help TV poor folks."

Jodie Phillips, wife of Barker's nephew Bob Phillips, smiled as she pointed out copies of the telegrams pasted in a thick scrapbook put together by Barker himself....


Pictured: Some of S. Omar Barker's scrapbooks, books, and photographs, photographed at the home of his grandniece, daughter of Jodie and Bob Phillips, November 2007.  Photo by Jeri Dobrowski, www.JeriDobrowski.com.


"If he didn't sell a poem, he didn't eat," Jodie Phillips said of Barker, who died in Las Vegas, N.M., in April 1985, just a couple of months shy of his 91st birthday.

Apparently the Welk show decided not to use the poem.

That was a rarity. Tennessee Ernie Ford and sausage king-country singer Jimmy Dean read it on national television, and it has been reprinted much more than 100 times in collections of Barker's works, anthologies, magazines and Christmas cards.

Leanin' Tree cards of Boulder, Colorado, has used the Barker verse...more years than not for more than two decades.

....

Jodie Phillips said she never heard Barker talk about what inspired him to write the Christmas prayer, but she thinks it's based on his own brand of theology.

"There were no churches where Omar grew up," she said. "He believed in God, and I think he had a very strong religious conviction. But he belonged to no sect. He never went to church services."

Listen to Jimmy Dean's recitation of S. Omar Barker's "A Cowboy Christmas Prayer" here on YouTube.

That recitation is included on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Eight, a couble-CD collection of Christmas cowboy poetry.

 


 

Line-Camp Christmas
Some eighty miles from nowhere, in a line-camp all alone,
A cowboy set on Christmas Eve without no telephone,
No radio, no TV set, no autos passin' by,
No sound but wind a-moanin' and lonesome coyote's cry
To wish him Merry Christmas. Lookin' back through mem'ry's eye,
He saw a happy fireside on an old Missouri farm,
With Pa and Ma and seven kids assembled snug and warm
Around a purty Christmas Tree a-gleam with candle-light,
With home-folks love a-shuttin' out the boogers of the night;

He saw white popcorn on a string and big red apples hung
To ketch the light in ruddy rays whenever one was swung;
He heard a little sister that was doomed to use a crutch,
A-braggin' on her presents even though they wasn't much;
He saw his older sister with her beau a-lookin' shy,
A-settin' on the hoss-hair lounge. He used to wonder why
Young fellers took so strong to gals. Since punchin' cows, he'd found
How heifer-lonesome you can git without no shes around,
Especially at Christmas time a 'way out in the west

When all the company you've got's the "makin's" in your vest.

So there this lonesome cowpoke set and pondered what to do
To make it seem like Christmas, but of course he durn well knew
He might as well forget it, for a boar's nest batcher's chance
Of making Christmas merry wasn't worth a preacher's pants.
He listened to the wintry wind across the drifted snow,
And thought about the happy home he'd left so long ago
Against his mother's wishes just to be a cowboy bold...
He wondered how the cattle would be standin' all this cold.

Outside he heard some coyotes howl. They sounded lonesome, too,
And all at once this cowboy thought of somethin' he could do.
He stepped outside the dugout, and the cold stars heard him yell:
"Merry Christmas, brother coyotes!" Well, there ain't no more to tell.

He come back in and went to bed a-feelin' like a fool,
But grinnin' some to think how he had celebrated Yule
By wishin' Merry Christmas to a yelpin' coyote crew—
Because there wasn't no one else around to wish it to!

© 1954, S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited

 


Pictured: The poem as it appears in S. Omar Barker's scrapbook, photographed at the home of his grandniece, daughter of Jodie and Bob Phillips, November 2007.  Photo by Jeri Dobrowski, www.JeriDobrowski.com.

 


 


photo © S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, 
further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.
S. Omar and Elsa Barker

 

 

Read more of S. Omar Barker's poetry here.

 

 

The Old Time Christmas

I liked the way we used to do,
   when cattle was plenty and folks was few.
The people gathered frum far and near, and
   they barbacued a big fat steer.
The kids tried stayin' awake because,
   they reckoned they might ketch Santa Claus.
Next mornin' you'd wake 'em up to see,
   what he'd been and put on the Christmas tree.

It was Christmas then fer the rich and pore,
   and every ranch was an open door.
The waddy that came on a company hoss
   was treated the same as the owner and boss.
Nobody seemed to have a care,
   you was in among friends or you wasn't there.
For every feller in them days knew
   to behave hisself as a man should do.

Some had new boots, which they'd shore admire
   when they warmed their feet in front of the fire.
And the wimmin folks had new clothes too,
   but not like the wimmin of these days do.
Sometimes a drifter came riding in,
   some feller that never was seen agin.
And each Christmas day as the years went on
   we used to wonder where they'd gone.

I like to recall the Christmas night.
   The tops of the mountains capped with white.
The stars so bright they seemed to blaze,
   and the foothills swum in a silver haze.
Them good old days is past and gone.
   The time and the world and the change goes on.
And you cain't do things like you used to do
   when cattle was plenty and folks was few.

Bruce Kiskaddon


The Cowboys Christmas Dance

Winter is here and it aint so nice tendin'
   the feeders and choppin' ice.
Nasty weather to stir about.
   Cold in the morning's a gittin' out.
Puts a sting in your ears and nose;
   gotta watch out or you'll freeze yore toes.
Blowin' your breath on a frosty bit.
   Makes you feel like you want to quit.

You like one part of it any way,
   That's when you git yore Christmas day.
Plenty of feed and a right good chance
   to shake yore feet at a country dance.
Fiddles a playin' jest watch 'em go.
   "Aleman left an' doce do!"
Don't keer none for the cold and storms.
   Dancin' around you soon git warm.

Folks all in from the hills and flats.
   Ears tied up onder their hats.
Tough on the horses they drove and rode
   shiverin' there with their backs all bowed.
It's the only time that folks has to spare
   so the hosses had got to stand their share.
You turn 'em out when they git rode down
   but you got to keep workin' the year around.

Winter time but it aint so bad.
   When it comes around yore sorter glad.
Even though it's nasty weather
   folks has a chance to git together.
And plenty of folks that was half way mad
   found out their neighbors was not as bad
Yes lots of trouble is checked in advance
   by a sociable crowd at a Christmas dance.

Bruce Kiskaddon


Merry Christmas

We was whistlin', we was singin' on a winter afternoon;
The hobble chains and fryin' pans was jinglin' to the tune.
Fer we knew the day was Christmas and the line camp was in sight,
No, it wasn't much to look at but it suited us all right.

We onpacked and we onsaddled, then we turned our hosses out;
We cooked lots of beef and biscuits and we made the coffee stout.
We et all we could swaller, then we set and took a smoke,
And we shore did work our memory out to find a bran new joke.

No, it wasn't like the Christmas like the folks have nowadays—
They are livin' more in comfort, and they've sorter changed their ways—
But I sorter wish, old pardner, we could brush the years away,
And be jest as young and happy, as we was that Christmas Day.

Bruce Kiskaddon


Bruce Kiskaddon wrote an annual Christmas poem for the Chuck Wagon Trailers, a group organized in 1931 "by old-time cowboys who were Hollywood's first stunt men and western stars."  This 1933 piece is posted courtesy of Bill Siems, whose recent, monumental book, Open Range; Collected Poems of Bruce Kiskaddon, includes more of those Christmas poems, and all of Bruce Kiskaddon's known poetry. Siems notes that the poem was reprinted in the Western Livestock Journal in December, 1933.

 

 

Read more of Bruce Kiskaddon's poetry here.

 

 

The Christmas Trail

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

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

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

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

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

Badger Clark, from Sun and Saddle Leather, 1915

 


photo from Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, used with permission
Clark at his writing table in 1906

 

Read more of Badger Clark's poetry here.


 

Santa Claus in the Bush

It chanced out back at the Christmas time,
When the wheat was ripe and tall,
A stranger rode to the farmer's gate—
A sturdy man and a small.
"Rin doon, rin doon, my little son Jack,
And bid the stranger stay;
And we'll hae a crack for Auld Lang Syne,
For the morn is Christmas Day."

"Nay noo, nay noo," said the dour guidwife,
"But ye should let him be;
He's maybe only a drover chap
Frae the land o' the Darling Pea.

"Wi' a drover's tales, and a drover's thirst
To swiggle the hail nicht through;
Or he's maybe a life assurance carle
To talk ye black and blue,"

"Guidwife, he's never a drover chap,
For their swags are neat and thin;
And he's never a life assurance carle,
Wi' the brick-dust burnt in his skin.

"Guidwife, guidwife, be nae sae dour,
For the wheat stands ripe and tall,
And we shore a seven-pound fleece this year,
Ewes and weaners and all.

"There is grass tae spare, and the stock are fat.
Where they whiles are gaunt and thin,
And we owe a tithe to the travelling poor,
So we maun ask him in.

"Ye can set him a chair tae the table side,
And gi' him a bite tae eat;
An omelette made of a new-laid egg,
Or a tasty bit of meat."

"But the native cats have taen the fowls,
They havena left a leg;
And he'll get nae omelette at a'
Till the emu lays an egg!"

"Rin doon, rin doon, my little son Jack,
To whaur the emus bide,
Ye shall find the auld hen on the nest,
While the auld cock sits beside.

"But speak them fair, and speak them saft,
Lest they kick ye a fearsome jolt.
Ye can gi' them a feed of thae half-inch nails
Or a rusty carriage bolt."

So little son Jack ran blithely down
With the rusty nails in hand,
Till he came where the emus fluffed and scratched
By their nest in the open sand.

And there he has gathered the new-laid egg—
'Twould feed three men or four—
And the emus came for the half-inch nails
Right up to the settler's door.

"A waste o' food," said the dour guidwife,
As she took the egg, with a frown,
"But he gets nae meat, unless ye rin
A paddy-melon down."

"Gang oot, gang oot, my little son Jack,
Wi' your twa-three doggies sma';
Gin ye come nae back wi' a paddy-melon,
Then come nae back at a'."

So little son Jack he raced and he ran,
And he was bare o' the feet,
And soon he captured a paddy-melon,
Was gorged with the stolen wheat.

"Sit doon, sit doon, my bonny wee man,
To the best that the hoose can do—
An omelette made of the emu egg
And a paddy-melon stew."

"'Tis well, 'tis well," said the bonny wee man;
"I have eaten the wide world's meat,
And the food that is given with right good-will
Is the sweetest food to eat.

"But the night draws on to the Christmas Day
And I must rise and go,
For I have a mighty way to ride
To the land of the Esquimaux.

"And it's there I must load my sledges up,
With the reindeers four-in-hand,
That go to the North, South, East, and West,
To every Christian land."

"Tae the Esquimaux," said the dour guidwife,
"Ye suit my husband well!"
For when he gets up on his journey horse
He's a bit of a liar himsel'."

Then out with a laugh went the bonny wee man
To his old horse grazing nigh,
And away like a meteor flash they went
Far off to the Northern sky.

When the children woke on the Christmas morn
They chattered with might and main—
For a sword and gun had little son Jack,
And a braw new doll had Jane,
And a packet o' screws had the twa emus;
But the dour guidwife gat nane.

1906

 

 

Read more of A. B. "Banjo" Paterson's poetry here.

 

 

Christmas Shopping in Cactus Center

Women's scarce in Cactus Center, and there ain't no bargain stores
Fer to start them Monday rushes that break down the stoutest doors;
But we had some Christmas shoppin' that the town ain't over yet,
Jest because of one small woman and a drug store toilet set.

She was Cactus Center's teacher, and she had n't left the stage
'Fore she had the boys plum locoed  -- and I don't bar youth nor age;
She was cute and smart and pretty, and she might 'a' been here yet
If it had n't been fer Dawson and his drug store toilet set.

It was old and scratched and speckled, for 't was in his case for years,
But ol' Dawson, sharp and clever, put a whisper in our ears—
'Lowed he'd sell that set at auction, and he says:  "Now, boys, you bet
This 'ill make a hit with Teacher—this here swell new toilet set."

Well the biddin' stated lively, and it got to gettin' hot,
For every mind in Cactus on that single thing was sot;
Purty soon I'd staked my saddle, worth two hundred dollars net,
Jest to own fer one short second that blamed drug store toilet set.

It was then began the shootin'—no one seems to know jest how—
And 't was lack of ammunition that at last broke up the row;
And thirteen of us was hurted, but the worst blow that we met
Was in findin' that some bullets had gone through that toilet set.

But we plugged the punctures in it, and we plugged the wounded, too,
And agreed we'd arbitrate it, and the bunch 'd see it through;
So we sent a gift committee, but they came back sorer yet—
Fer the teacher'd fluttered Eastward—so we've got that toilet set.

Arthur Chapman 

Read more of Arthur Chapman's poetry here.

 

The Trapper's Christmas Eve

It's mighty lonesome-like and drear.
Above the Wild the moon rides high,
And shows up sharp and needle-clear
The emptiness of earth and sky;
No happy homes with love a-glow;
No Santa Claus to make believe:
Just snow and snow, and then more snow;
It's Christmas Eve, it's Christmas Eve.

And here am I where all things end,
And Undesirables are hurled;
A poor old man without a friend,
Forgot and dead to all the world;
Clean out of sight and out of mind . . .
Well, maybe it is better so;
We all in life our level find,
And mine, I guess, is pretty low.

Yet as I sit with pipe alight
Beside the cabin-fire, it's queer
This mind of mine must take to-night
The backward trail of fifty year.
The school-house and the Christmas tree;
The children with their cheeks a-glow;
Two bright blue eyes that smile on me . . .
Just half a century ago.

Again (it's maybe forty years),
With faith and trust almost divine,
These same blue eyes, abrim with tears,
Through depths of love look into mine.
A parting, tender, soft and low,
With arms that cling and lips that cleave . . .
Ah me! it's all so long ago,
Yet seems so sweet this Christmas Eve.

Just thirty years ago, again . . .
We say a bitter, last good-bye;
Our lips are white with wrath and pain;
Our little children cling and cry.
Whose was the fault? it matters not,
For man and woman both deceive;
It's buried now and all forgot,
Forgiven, too, this Christmas Eve.

And she (God pity me) is dead;
Our children men and women grown.
I like to think that they are wed,
With little children of their own,
That crowd around their Christmas tree . . .
I would not ever have them grieve,
Or shed a single tear for me,
To mar their joy this Christmas Eve.

Stripped to the buff and gaunt and still
Lies all the land in grim distress.
Like lost soul wailing, long and shrill,
A wolf-howl cleaves the emptiness.
Then hushed as Death is everything.
The moon rides haggard and forlorn . . .
"O hark the herald angels sing!"
God bless all men—it's Christmas morn.

Robert Service
 


 

The Cremation of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
     By the men who moil for gold;
  The Arctic trails have their secret tales
     That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
     But the queerest they ever did see
  Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
     I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, 
     where the cotton blooms and blows.
  Why he left his home in the South to roam
     'round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold 
     seemed to hold him like a spell;
  Though he'd often say in his homely way 
     that he'd "sooner live in Hell."

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way 
     over the Dawson trail.
  Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold
      it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze 
     till sometimes we couldn't see,
  It wasn't much fun, but the only one
     to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight 
     in our robes beneath the snow,
  And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead 
     were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, 
     "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
  And if I do, I'm asking that you 
     won't refuse my last request."

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; 
     then he says with a sort of moan,
  "It's the cursed cold, and it's got right hold 
    till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'tain't being dead -- it's my awful dread 
     of the icy grave that pains;
  So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, 
     you'll cremate my last remains."

A pal's last need is a thing to heed, 
     so I swore I would not fail;
  And we started on at the streak of dawn; 
     but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day 
     of his home in Tennessee;
  And before nightfall a corpse was all 
     that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death, 
     and I hurried, horror-driven,
  With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, 
     because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: 
     "You may tax your brawn and brains,
  But you promised true, and it's up to you 
     to cremate those last remains."

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, 
     and the trail has its own stern code.
  In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, 
     in my heart how I cursed that load!
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, 
     while the huskies, round in a ring,
  Howled out their woes to the homeless snows --
     O God! how I loathed the thing!

And every day that quiet clay 
     seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
  And on I went, though the dogs were spent 
     and the grub was getting low.
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, 
     but I swore I would not give in;
  And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, 
     and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, 
     and a derelict there lay;
  It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice 
     it was called the Alice May.
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, 
     and I looked at my frozen chum;
  Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, 
     "is my cre-ma-tor-eum!"

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, 
     and I lit the boiler fire;
  Some coal I found that was lying around, 
     and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared -- 
     such a blaze you seldom see;
  And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, 
     and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like 
     to hear him sizzle so;
  And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, 
     and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled 
     down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
  And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak 
     went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow 
     I wrestled with grisly fear;
  But the stars came out and they danced about 
     ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said,
     "I'll just take a peep inside.
  I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked."
     Then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, 
     in the heart of the furnace roar;
  And he wore a smile you could see a mile, 
     and he said:  "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear 
     you'll let in the cold and storm --
  Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, 
     it's the first time I've been warm."

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
     By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
     The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
     Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee

Robert Service

(Reprinted with permission from The Cremation of Sam McGee, Hancock House, 1989)


Poet Don Ensminger once helped us to decide whether or not the poem was appropriate for the season. He wrote, "'Sam McGee' would be a fine addition to Christmas since the whole heart of the poem is really making the best of a very bad situation. Sam longed for home at this time of year like so many others do. He just happened to have found it (or felt it) in a mighty peculiar place there on the 'marge.'"

 

Read more of Robert Service's poetry here.

 

Ben Duggan

Jack Denver died on Talbragar when Christmas Eve began,
And there was sorrow round the place, for Denver was a man;
Jack Denver's wife bowed down her head—her daughter's grief was wild,
And big Ben Duggan by the bed stood sobbing like a child.
But big Ben Duggan saddled up, and galloped fast and far,
To raise the longest funeral ever seen on Talbragar.

By station home
And shearing shed
Ben Duggan cried, "Jack Denver's dead!
Roll up at Talbragar!"

He borrowed horses here and there, and rode all Christmas Eve,
And scarcely paused a moment's time the mournful news to leave;
He rode by lonely huts and farms, and when the day was done
He turned his panting horse's head and rode to Ross's Run.
No bushman in a single day had ridden half so far
Since Johnson brought the doctor to his wife at Talbragar.

By diggers' camps
Ben Duggan sped—
At each he cried, "Jack Denver's dead!—
Roll up at Talbragar!"

That night he passed the humpies of the splitters on the ridge,
And roused the bullock-drivers camped at Belinfante's Bridge;
And as he climbed the ridge again the moon shone on the rise;
The soft white moonbeams glistened in the tears that filled his eyes;
He dashed the rebel drops away—for blinding things they are—
But 'twas his best and truest friend who died on Talbragar.

At Blackman's Run
Before the dawn,
Ben Duggan cried, "Poor Denver's gone!
Roll up at Talbragar!"

At all the shanties round the place they'd heard his horse's tramp,
He took the track to Wilson's Luck, and told the diggers' camp;
But in the gorge by Deadman's Gap the mountain shades were black,
And there a newly-fallen tree was lying on the track—
He saw too late, and then he heard the swift hoof's sudden jar,
And big Ben Duggan ne'er again rode home to Talbragar.

"The wretch is drunk,
And Denver's dead—
A burning shame!" the people said
Next day at Talbragar.

For thirty miles round Talbragar the boys rolled up in strength,
And Denver had a funeral a good long mile in length;
Round Denver's grave that Christmas day rough bushmen's eyes were dim—
The western bushmen knew the way to bury dead like him;
But some returning homeward found, by light of moon and star,
Ben Duggan dying in the rocks, five miles from Talbragar.

They knelt around,
He raised his head
And faintly gasped, "Jack Denver's dead,
Roll up at Talbragar!"

But one short hour before he died he woke to understand,
They told him, when he asked them, that the funeral was "grand";
And then there came into his eyes a strange victorious light,
He smiled on them in triumph, and his great soul took its flight.
And still the careless bushmen tell by tent and shanty bar
How Duggan raised a funeral years back on Talbragar.

And far and wide
When Duggan died,
The bushmen of the western side
Rode in to Talbragar.

Henry Lawson, 1891


The Fire at Ross's Farm

The squatter saw his pastures wide
  Decrease, as one by one
The farmers moving to the west
  Selected on his run;
Selectors took the water up
  And all the black soil round;
The best grass-land the squatter had
  Was spoilt by Ross's Ground.
Now many schemes to shift old Ross
  Had racked the squatter's brains,
But Sandy had the stubborn blood
  Of Scotland in his veins;
He held the land and fenced it in,
  He cleared and ploughed the soil,
And year by year a richer crop
  Repaid him for his toil.

Between the homes for many years
  The devil left his tracks:
The squatter pounded Ross's stock,
  And Sandy pounded Black's.
A well upon the lower run
  Was filled with earth and logs,
And Black laid baits about the farm
  To poison Ross's dogs.

It was, indeed, a deadly feud
  Of class and creed and race;
But, yet, there was a Romeo
  And a Juliet in the case;
And more than once across the flats,
  Beneath the Southern Cross,
Young Robert Black was seen to ride
  With pretty Jenny Ross.

One Christmas time, when months of drought
  Had parched the western creeks,
The bush-fires started in the north
  And travelled south for weeks.
At night along the river-side
  The scene was grand and strange—
The hill-fires looked like lighted streets
  Of cities in the range.

The cattle-tracks between the trees
  Were like long dusky aisles,
And on a sudden breeze the fire
  Would sweep along for miles;
Like sounds of distant musketry
  It crackled through the brakes,
And o'er the flat of silver grass
  It hissed like angry snakes.

It leapt across the flowing streams
  And raced o'er pastures broad;
It climbed the trees and lit the boughs
  And through the scrubs it roared.
The bees fell stifled in the smoke
  Or perished in their hives,
And with the stock the kangaroos
  Went flying for their lives.

The sun had set on Christmas Eve,
  When, through the scrub-lands wide,
Young Robert Black came riding home
  As only natives ride.
He galloped to the homestead door
  And gave the first alarm:
"The fire is past the granite spur,
  And close to Ross's farm."

"Now, father, send the men at once,
  They won't be wanted here;
Poor Ross's wheat is all he has
  To pull him through the year."
"Then let it burn," the squatter said;
  "I'd like to see it done—
I'd bless the fire if it would clear
  Selectors from the run.

"Go if you will," the squatter said,
  "You shall not take the men—
Go out and join your precious friends,
  And don't come here again."
"I won't come back," young Robert cried,
  And, reckless in his ire,
He sharply turned his horse's head
  And galloped towards the fire.

And there, for three long weary hours,
  Half-blind with smoke and heat,
Old Ross and Robert fought the flames
  That neared the ripened wheat.
The farmer's hand was nerved by fears
  Of danger and of loss;
And Robert fought the stubborn foe
  For the love of Jenny Ross.

But serpent-like the curves and lines
  Slipped past them, and between,
Until they reached the bound'ry where
  The old coach-road had been.
"The track is now our only hope,
  There we must stand," cried Ross,
"For nought on earth can stop the fire
  If once it gets across."

Then came a cruel gust of wind,
  And, with a fiendish rush,
The flames leapt o'er the narrow path
  And lit the fence of brush.
"The crop must burn!" the farmer cried,
  "We cannot save it now,"
And down upon the blackened ground
  He dashed the ragged bough.

But wildly, in a rush of hope,
  His heart began to beat,
For o'er the crackling fire he heard
  The sound of horses' feet.
"Here's help at last," young Robert cried,
  And even as he spoke
The squatter with a dozen men
  Came racing through the smoke.

Down on the ground the stockmen jumped
  And bared each brawny arm,
They tore green branches from the trees
  And fought for Ross's farm;
And when before the gallant band
  The beaten flames gave way,
Two grimy hands in friendship joined—
  And it was Christmas Day.

Henry Lawson, 1891
 

Read more of Henry Lawson's poetry here.

 

 

The Cowboys' Christmas Ball 
To the Ranchmen of Texas

'Way out in Western Texas, where the Clear Fork's waters flow,
Where the cattle are "a-browzin'," an' the Spanish ponies grow;
Where the Northers "come a-whistlin'" from beyond the Neutral Strip;
And the prairie dogs are sneezin', as if they had "The Grip";
Where the cayotes come a-howlin' 'round the ranches after dark,
And the mocking-birds are singin' to the lovely "medder lark";
Where the 'possum and the badger, and rattlesnakes abound,
And the monstrous stars are winkin' o'er a wilderness profound;
Where lonesome, tawny prairies melt into airy streams,
While the Double Mountains slumber, in heavenly kinds of dreams;
Where the antelope is grazin' and the lonely plovers call—
It was there that I attended "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The town was Anson City, old Jones's county seat,
Where they raised Polled Angus cattle, and waving whiskered wheat;
Where the air is soft and "bammy," an' dry an' full of health,
And the prairies is explodin' with agricultural wealth;
Where they print the Texas Western, that Hec. McCann supplies
With news and yarns and stories, uv most amazin' size;
Where Frank Smith "pulls the badger," on knowin' tenderfeet,
And Democracy's triumphant, and might hard to beat;
Where lives that good old hunter, John Milsap, from Lamar,
Who "used to be the Sheriff, back East, in Paris sah!"
'T was there, I say, at Anson with the lovely "widder Wall,"
That I went to that reception, "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The boys had left the ranches and come to town in piles;
The ladies—"kinder scatterin'"—had gathered in for miles.
And yet the place was crowded, as I remember well,
'T was got for the occasion, at "The Morning Star Hotel."
The music was a fiddle an' a lively tambourine,
And a "viol came imported," by the stage from Abilene.
The room was togged out gorgeous-with mistletoe and shawls,
And candles flickered frescoes, around the airy walls.
The "wimmin folks" looked lovely-the boys looked kinder treed,
Till their leader commenced yellin': "Whoa! fellers, let's stampede,"
And the music started sighin', an' awailin' through the hall
As a kind of introduction to "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The leader was a feller that came from Swenson's ranch,
They called him "Windy Billy," from "little Deadman's Branch."
His rig was "kinder keerless," big spurs and high-heeled boots;
He had the reputation that comes when "fellers shoots."
His voice was like a bugle upon the mountain's height;
His feet were animated an' a mighty, movin' sight,
When he commenced to holler, "Neow, fellers stake your pen!
"Lock horns ter all them heifers, an' russle 'em like men.
"Saloot yer lovely critters; neow swing an' let 'em go,
"Climb the grape vine 'round 'em—all hands do-ce-do!
"You Mavericks, jine the round-up- Jest skip her waterfall,"
Huh!  hit wuz gettin' happy, "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball!"

The boys were tolerable skittish, the ladies powerful neat,
That old bass viol's music just got there with both feet!
That wailin', frisky fiddle, I never shall forget;
And Windy kept a-singin'—I think I hear him yet—
"Oh Xes, chase yer squirrels, an' cut 'em to one side;
"Spur Treadwell to the centre, with Cross P Charley's bride;
"Doc. Hollis down the middle, an' twine the ladies' chain;
"Varn Andrews pen the fillies in big T Diamond's train.
"All pull yer freight together, neow swallow fork an' change;
"'Big Boston,' lead the trail herd, through little Pitchfork's range.
"Purr 'round yer gentle pussies, neow rope 'em! Balance all!"
Huh!  hit wuz gettin' active—"The Cowboys' Christmas Ball!"

The dust riz fast an' furious; we all jes' galloped 'round,
Till the scenery got so giddy that T Bar Dick was downed.
We buckled to our partners, an' told 'em to hold on,
Then shook our hoofs like lightning, until the early dawn.
Don't tell me 'bout cotillions, or germans. No sire 'ee!
That whirl at Anson City just takes the cake with me.
I'm sick of lazy shufflin's, of them I've had my fill,
Give me a frontier break-down, backed up by Windy Bill.
McAllister ain't nowhar: when Windy leads the show,
I've seen 'em both in harness, and so I sorter know—
Oh, Bill, I sha'n't forget yer, and I'll oftentimes recall,
That lively gaited sworray—"The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

William Lawrence "Larry" Chittenden, 1890

 

Read more about the poem's history and the ball at the Handbook of Texas Online web site.

Read more of Larry Chittenden's poetry here.

 

Happy Days

The bells in town are ringing,
   'Tis Christmas time, we know;
But not a sound of the bells we hear
   Out across the shifting snow.
Across the wind-swept prairie,
   Where the wild chinook winds blow.

'Tis Christmas night, and we're far away
   From all we love and know,
But faces are bright, and hearts are light;
   Outside is the drifting snow.
And we talk, and laugh, and sing with joy,
   Out where the chinooks blow.

It's Christmas night, and they drink a toast
   To the loved one, far away;
One to the boys from the sunny South,
   And one for the old range ways;
But the one we all love best of all
   When they call out "Happy Days."

'Tis Christmas night on the old wild range,
   And the Northern Lights aglow,
Dance o'er the grim grey cut-banks,
   And down on the drifting snow.
And the coyote sneaks by the frozen creeks,
   And the wolf calls long and low,
But the toast on the range is "Happy Days,"
   Far out where the riders go.

Rhoda Sivell,1912

 

Read more of Rhoda Sivell's poetry here.

 

Busted Cowboy's Christmas

I am a busted cowboy
   And I work upon the range,
In summertime I get some work,
   But one thing which seems strange,
As soon as fall work's over
   I get it in the neck
I get a Christmas present
   Of a neatly written check.

I come to town to rusticate,
   I've no place else to stay
When winter winds are howling hard
   Because I don't eat hay.
A puncher's life's a picnic?
   It is one continual joke.
But there's none more anxious to see spring
   Than the cowboy who is broke.

The wages that a cowhand earns
   In summer goes like smoke,
And when the snow begins to drift 
   You bet your neck he's broke.
You may talk about your holidays,
   Your Christmas cheer and joy,
They're all the same to me, my friend.
   Cash gone, I'm a broke cowboy.

My saddle and my gun in soak,
   My spurs I've long since sold,
My rawhide and my quirt are gone,
   My chaps, no. They're too old.
My outfit's gone, I can't e'en bum
  A cigarette to smoke.
For no one cares what happens 
  To a cowboy who is broke.

Just where I'll eat my dinner
   This Christmas, I don't know,
But you can bet your life I'll have one
   If I get but half a show.
This Christmas holds no charms for me,
   On good things I'll not choke,
Unless I get a big handout
   I'm a cowboy who is broke.

D. J. O'Malley, 1893, included in Cowboy Poetry: Classic Rhymes and Prose by D. J. O'Malley, The N Bar N Kid White, published by Cowboy Miner  

 

Read more of D. J. O'Malley's poetry here.

 

Christmas Week in Sagebrush

It is Christmas week in Sagebrush, and the old town's only store
Never had, sence it was opened, such a run o' trade before.
Ev'ry rancher is a-blowin' his "dinero" full and free,
Buyin' gim-cracks for the young'uns to put on the Christmas tree.

The cowboys ride in muffled in their wolf-skin coats and chaps,
And the rancher's wife is wearin' all her extry furs and wraps;
'Cuz nobody takes no chances on a norther breakin' loose,
Fer a blizzard on the prairy's purty apt to raise the deuce.

The ponies that are standin' all a-shiver at the rack,
Champ their bits, and paw and nicker for their riders to come back;
Ev'ry poker joint is runnin', and there's faro and roulette,
And the booze-joints are a-grabbin' all the punchers they can get.

The picter show is crowded full o' riders off the range
Who are watchin' actor cowboys doin' stunts that's new and strange;
Ev'ry film brings groans and hisses, 'cuz the guys upon the screen
Go through lots o' monkey bizness that a cow ranch never seen.
...

From the dance halls comes the echoes of a squeaky violin,
Where the painted dames are ropin' all the gay cowpunchers in;
For it's Christmas week in Sagebrush, and there won't a puncher go
Back to ride the wintry ranges when he has a cent to blow!

E. A. Brininstool, from Trail Dust of a Maverick, 1914

 

Read more poetry by E. A. Brininstool here.

 

Christmas Trees
  (A Christmas Circular Letter)

            The city had withdrawn into itself 
            And left at last the country to the country; 
            When between whirls of snow not come to lie 
            And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove 
            A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,         
            Yet did in country fashion in that there 
            He sat and waited till he drew us out 
            A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was. 
            He proved to be the city come again 
            To look for something it had left behind         
            And could not do without and keep its Christmas. 
            He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees; 
            My woods-the young fir balsams like a place 
            Where houses all are churches and have spires. 
            I hadn't thought of them as Christmas Trees.         
            I doubt if I was tempted for a moment 
            To sell them off their feet to go in cars 
            And leave the slope behind the house all bare, 
            Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon. 
            I'd hate to have them know it if I was.         
            Yet more I'd hate to hold my trees except 
            As others hold theirs or refuse for them, 
            Beyond the time of profitable growth, 
            The trial by market everything must come to. 
            I dallied so much with the thought of selling.         
            Then whether from mistaken courtesy 
            And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether 
            From hope of hearing good of what was mine, 
            I said, "There aren't enough to be worth while." 
            "I could soon tell how many they would cut,          
            You let me look them over."  

            "You could look. 
            But don't expect I'm going to let you have them." 
            Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close 
            That lop each other of boughs, but not a few         
            Quite solitary and having equal boughs 
            All round and round. The latter he nodded "Yes" to, 
            Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one, 
            With a buyer's moderation, "That would do." 
            I thought so too, but wasn't there to say so.        
            We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over, 
            And came down on the north. 
            He said, "A thousand." 
             
            "A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?" 
             
            He felt some need of softening that to me:         
            "A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars." 
             
            Then I was certain I had never meant 
            To let him have them. Never show surprise! 
            But thirty dollars seemed so small beside 
            The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents 
            (For that was all they figured out apiece), 
            Three cents so small beside the dollar friends 
            I should be writing to within the hour 
            Would pay in cities for good trees like those, 
            Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools       
            Could hang enough on to pick off enough. 
            A thousand Christmas trees I didn't know I had! 
            Worth three cents more to give away than sell, 
            As may be shown by a simple calculation. 
            Too bad I couldn't lay one in a letter.         
            I can't help wishing I could send you one, 
            In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas. 

                by Robert Frost, from Mountain Interval, 1916



 


Read more about Robert Frost at Poets.org.

 

 

 

 Owen Wister (1860-1938), best known as the author of The Virginian, wrote a story we posted serially in a past Christmas, A Journey in Search of Christmas, with illustrations by Frederic Remington. Find the entire story and illustrations here.

 

 

Visit our Christmas Art Spur project, an illustration by Dee Strickland Johnson (Buckshot Dot), "A Cowboy's Christmas Eve."

 

 

See a complete list of all the holiday poems from 2000-2007 here.

See the links here for holiday news and more.


 

 

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