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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.




Jim Quarternight's Gift

Ride on, ride on, Jim Quarternight, another lonely ride.
Stars shine bright in the cloudless night, and Time is a pleasant blur.
It's Christmas Eve, and family and feast await at the fireside
To crown the year with love and cheer and the welcome warmth of her.

Age-won wisdom whispers dark and melancholy songs
Of a time when Fortune's promise lured your willing heart astray,
And the romance of the ranges led you knowingly along
As a temptress or mirage that flirts, then gently fades away.

Does your Stetson cover memories of a gay and reckless youth,
Or simply serve to shelter silver hair from snow and cold?
Does the wistful want and longing in your eyes bespeak the truth
Of a quiet resignation at the deal the dice have rolled?

Lord knows you've seen the elephant; the Prodigal's your kin,
Though a fatted calf won't mark the mortal ending of your ride.
But Fate can be capricious, and She throws a whimsic spin,
Why, picture old Jim Quarternight with Hannah by his side!

Hers a world of joy and love, who knows not care nor worry;
His the weight of fifty years, but tall he rides tonight.
And his pulse begins to quicken, and his horse's hoofbeats hurry
'Til he reins up at the homestead in the lantern's welcome light.

A bait of grain and Christmas apple saved for Dancy's feast,
A blanket and a sheltered stall to pass the night in style.
Solemnly Jim tips his hat toward the starlit East,
Then steps into the cabin, wreathed in finest Christmas smile.

A hearty cheer and handshake for his younger brother Paul,
While laughter, hugs and kisses come as gifts from Sue to Jim.
But gala airs can't hide the knowing glances in the hall,
Or the sheer delight that fills his soul when she runs out to him.

So young, so young, so soon they learn to snare an old man's heart,
With innocence and faith and trust that swell a man inside.
And he knows it's not forever, and he knows they'll someday part,
But soft she nestles in his arms, and glad he made the ride.

And I've often heard her speak of him with tender tones and tears,
How he smelled of burnished leather, of campfire smoke and sage;
With no regret for beauty lost beyond the veil of years,
Of long-loved scents of plug tobacco, homemade soap and age.

Gifts are given, gifts received, but none so rare as this.
Jim Quarternight holds Hannah tight, and memories weave and wend
To that Christmas Eve when fear and anguish stole away the bliss,
And his brother's wife screamed out and prayed the fearsome pain might end.

A freighting trip took Paul away to pay the banker's due,
His hopes and dreams entrusted to a brother's faithful care.
But Sue broke early, body wracked by spasms through and through,
And placed her life in calloused hands and desperate, whispered prayers.

A midwife's ministrations couldn't be more true nor kind.
"Why, it's just like pullin' calves," said Jim, and blushed upon the saying.
With her precious maiden's modesty relieved and thus defined,
She laughed at his embarrassment, but never ceased her praying.

And they named the baby Hannah, who was given gifts by God
And taught that gifts received may be returned.
They give the most that have the least and know not Wealth's facade;
This lesson shall redeem them yet, if nothing else they've learned.

For one there was who gave His all, though He had naught to give
But His life to save us from our earthly sin.
And Hannah, darlin' Hannah, in the four short years she'd lived
Redeemed a lonely cowboy's soul and found the love within.

Jim's anxious fingers fumbled through his tattered saddlebags,
Past shirt and soap and sundries cast aside to claim the prize.
A silken wild rag worn behind a thousand dusty drags
Held the treasure he had made for her -- a doll with emerald eyes.

I've heard it told so often I believe that I was there;
How he cut up Cookie's apron made from flour sacks he'd saved.
How Dancy's sorrel mane was gleaned for softest, shining hair,
And why he swapped his six-gun to an old Shoshone brave

For a soft and supple buckskin cured with all the ancient skills,
To fashion dress and moccasins with fringe and beads of blue.
How his patient fingers stitched and stuffed with cotton from his quilts,
And how she gazed in wonder at those eyes of emerald hue.

Those eyes, those eyes; swift recognition flashed across Paul's face,
Recalling how a ring adorned the finger of his mother,
Who lived with quiet dignity and died in solemn grace.
No greater love could Jim bequeath the daughter of his brother.

And in the reaches of the night Jim woke to reminisce
And ponder how he might have lived his life another way.
Memory's taste is bittersweet for chances known and missed,
But profit comes not from regret for chances thrown away.

His bed he'd spread beside the hearth and Hannah's downy pad
And smiled to see her clutch the doll with honest love and pride.
Too late he knew the loss of wife and child he'd never had.
"God bless you, girl," he whispered low, then turned his head and cried.

She told me how he spoke to her of life upon the range,
How he loved her true, but loved it, too, and time had come to part.
His salty tears as he held her near seemed not so very strange,
For nothing else but truest love can break a great, good heart.

Jim Quarternight was killed next spring at a round-up on the Red,
When a fool green kid tied hard and fast to the outlaw bull at dawn.
Death rode hard, but Jim rode harder; he took the horns instead.
Ropes sailed true and six-guns crashed too late -- old Jim was gone.

She remembers him now in his boots and spurs and hat placed upon his breast;
So proud, so strong, so peaceful, and yet -- how could the story be told otherwise?
As they lowered the lid on the old cowboy and sang to his final rest,
Clutched in his good right hand was her gift -- the doll with the emerald eyes.

©  1991, Dennis Gaines
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Dennis Gaines' poetry here.



The Gift

It had been bitter cold, for three long days
The wind blew sharp with swirling snow
So I bundled up, with lots'a clothes
'Cause I had somewhere I needed to go

I caught and harnessed my work mares
The harness was so stiff, it wouldn't bend
I warmed up the bits, 'fore I hung 'em on
On a cold day, you'll do that for a friend

And them ol' mares, are good ol' girls
They give me, everything that they've got
Not too many friends would go willingly outside
Then line right out, in a trot

Those hungry cows was sure glad to see us
They went right to work, on their hay
You know, when it's 24 below and breezy
You ain't just feedin' them cows for the pay

At least not the pay that the bankers loan out
But there are rewards, in the job that you do
So I drug out extra feed, 'cause it's Christmas eve
And I hummed a Christmas carol or two

When the cows were fed, we jogged on home
I poured a good feed of grain for the team
Most folks wouldn't enjoy my kind of lifestyle
That's O.K., 'cause I'm livin' my dream

And I think about a babe in a manger
As I fill my manger, full of hay
I think about all the people in the world
And how they all celebrate this day

Some folks enjoy Christmas, because of the gifts
And I sure don't think that's all wrong
But most'a the gifts, they give and receive
Are forgotten, 'fore the New Year comes along

The gift that I'm most thankful for
Is gettin' to ranch, not punchin' a time-clock
And strangely enough, goin' out in the cold
With a good team, to feed, my hungry stock

© 2005, Robert Dennis 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Read more poetry by Robert Dennis here.



A Badger Clark Christmas

Way up in South Dakota's realm
it's nearin' Christmastime.
the snow's upon the Black Hills deep
in ponderosa pine.
The buffalo have wintered in,
most creatures gone to ground,
yet near a place called Badger Hole
you just might hear this sound. 

The distant ring of harness bells
across a silver lake
comes driftin' through the swayin' trees
along with swirlin' flake. 

"The wind, the wind, the good free wind,"
a voice calls from the dark,
and I've heard tell 'round Christmastime
it might be Badger Clark. 

For no one loved this season more
when winter winds blow free
than he who lived in Badger Hole
and penned such poetry. 

It doesn't seem so odd at all
that at this time of year,
a spirit from a Christmas past
should once again appear. 

You just might hear his, "Home at last,"
within a wooded vale,
he's ridden all the year around
to reach this Christmas trail. 

"Oh folks," he seems to whisper low,
"a campfire dims alone,
but bright and for eternity
the hearth and fires of home."
Each season holds a special place
but winter's wind is bold
and signals time for headin' in
to all both young and old. 

Way up in South Dakota's realm
it's nearin' Christmastime.
the snow's upon the Black Hills deep
in ponderosa pine. 

The buffalo have wintered in,
most creatures gone to ground
but not the soul of Badger Clark
at Christmas homeward bound.

© 2004, Rod Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more poetry by Rod Nichols here.

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



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 


Read more classic poetry from Badger Clark
at the BAR-D.

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





Visit our Art Spur project for a growing collection of poems inspired by 
"A Christmas Tale" by Mick Harrison. 



See a complete list of all the holiday poems from 2000-2004 here.

See the links here for holiday news and more.



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