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Indian, Alaska
About Clem Caufield



The Initiation of a Pot Licker

The Norwegian kid was five foot four and lean,
an aspiring wrangler, severely green.
He signed on at the Diamond D, his chance
to experience the cowboy life, western romance.
Bill, the old hand, dubbed him the "pot licker,"
us other hands would laugh at him and snicker.

The Diamond D is a dude ranch place,
sits in Wyoming under the Tetons' face.
Ponderosa pines there fall to winter gales,
congesting well-traveled mountain trails.
The government relies on packers and guides
to clear the routes for summer dude rides.

Early that spring, the boss sent Bill and Bent, the pup
on an excursion to get the trails cleaned up. 
Packing is the mode, the only recourse:
the Tetons are only crossed by foot or horse.
I, the cook, prepared them a hearty fare.
They added their slickers and winter underwear.

Tho' they'd picked a sunny day for the trip,
at noon the skies began to flash and drip.
Through the downpour they went as if afire,
a dry camp, tent and dinner their desire.
That's when the Arab pack horse blew,
breaking Bent's lead and thumb right in two.

In full flight, the bay headed home at a fast pace.
the pot licker in pursuit, a suicide chase.
Down the ledges they ran, lunged and hopped,
but brave Bent got that runaway stopped.
It wasn't pretty, (they later reported in town),
for the dang Arab had landed upside down.

It is quite a tussle and wrangler's trick
to drag a reversed packhorse out of a crick.
That pony was vertical, legs waving in the air.
(Bent later told me he didn't even care).
But they saved the life of that little pack beast,
'cept for his rear which Bill carefully creased.

At midnight when they reached Six Point Camp,
those boys were starving, sore and damp.
But thankfully, the wood cache was dry
and they got the tents up on the very first try.
Bill offered to cook for his new pal Bent,
so they unpacked to see what I had sent.

It was a feast: eggs, biscuits, fruit and steak.
Except it's predictable how often packed eggs break.
The grub was a mash, glued up with pear juice-
seasoned by Bill's extry can of snoose.
Bill figured they'd survive on coffee and a cigarette.
Then they discovered all the Marlboros were wet.

They discussed riding home, calling it a loss,
until they considered the wrath of the boss.
So they stayed to  slice trees with a handsaw,
(wilderness automation is agin the law).
They cut more wood than a lumber jack.
after two days of this torture they headed back.

They took the shortcut through Salt Block Trail,
mounts and pack string lined up head to tail.
The drop was vertical, down though the trees,
and the path was narrow, a turrible squeeze.
That's when the Norsky realized, real quick,
the awesome power of a pack horse kick.

When they finally got back to the Diamond D,
Bent came in the kitchen to confide in me:
"I've seen the world and done lots of stuff,
but I've never held a job so awful and rough.
Low pay, long hours and hazards are the reason
I'm just gonna be a cowboy through the season."

Clem Caufield
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Prayin Sites

I have prayed in Cathedrals
with glass windows so fine.
Received communion,
after standin in line.

I have prayed in arenas
before a big rodeo.
We asked for lucky draws
and safe runs in the go.

I've prayed with evangelists
in canvas meetin tents.
Got saved several times,
at the time it made sense.

And I've prayed in sweat lodges
with my fellow Cheyenne.
Took things to give away.
Thank God. Give to man.

But when real prayin comes up,
the type can't be denied.
I saddle up old Top;
had for the hills and ride.

Sometimes we hit the peaks,
others a peaceful glen.
Either spot works fine
if it is far from town and men.

I have heard God's voice
in the whisper of a pine.
Been hailed by eagles,
messengers divine.

Even the smallest pebble
offers mute testament,
that faith, like mountains,
survives myopic lament.

I don't aim to denigrate
anyone's praying site.
Whatever the locale,
talking to God is ever right.

He has many churches,
but for me it works out best.
Communing with the Creator
in the mountains of the northwest.

Clem Caufield
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Clem told us: I wrote this poem while I was working in the outfitting business in the Teton Wilderness in Wyoming. I am a half-breed (my mother is a full-blood Northern Cheyenne and my father was Irish) so I guess that would make me half cowboy and half Indian. Though I cowboy for a living, I subscribe to the Native view of spirituality.  The Indians believe that the mountains are a sacred place -the home of powerful spirits- thus, that is where we go to pray, conduct sacred ceremonies and vision quests. However, I have observed that people of all races, cultures and creeds feel good in the mountains.  I think it because we are closer to God when we are in the high, remote places, largely untainted by human progress.

The poem "Praying Sites" reflects my feeling of being in those areas.



The Crib Master

I started playing crib with Dad when I was ten,
tradition in our clan of ranching men.
It was passed from Grandpa who rode for the XIT,
taught to me and then my boys for continuity.

The old place sat forty miles out on Bad Route Crick,
a lonesome spot when snow fell deep and thick.
With neighbors few and our own selves for company
that peggin game eased the monotony.

I was the oldest, a tag-a-long dubbed Punks
enduring year of humiliation-double skunks.
"This game is fun," he'd say, but also serious.
You'll play better if I take the points you miss."

We'd play at dawn, waitin for the coffee to heat.
One game, two or three, often as I'd be beat.
It settled who'd do dishes, load the hay to feed,
chop ice in the crick or firewood Maw would need.

From the first snow till the early spring that,
Dad victimized hired men, us kids and even Maw.
At a penny a peg and two-bits for a skunk
we donated with a regular kerplunk.

Many year later, T.V. is a welcome change,
yet "fifteen-two-four" still echoes on the range.
Thus, when we need a break from winter in the west,
I'll challenge my son to a little crib contest.

We'll use that board inherited from Grandpa Jim.
It's seen ten thousand games, most played by him.
And shuffle tattered cards, with alterations made,
so we can tell that the Joker is actually a spade.

Cribbage invokes his chuckle, absent,  yet so real.
So, I'll share his philosophy as we draw for the deal.
"Tho, now you have your pride and some jingle in your jeans.
Kid, buy a smaller hat and get used to eatin beans."

2005, Clem Caufield
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
The poem appeared previously in Cribbage World


Clem wrote: There is still four feet of snow in Cantwell, Alaska but it has turned mushy, putting a
halt to snowmobiling (as folks in the lower forty-eight would say), snow machining (as the Alaskans say) or Snow Go (as the Alaskan Natives say). We are nearing "break-up" season. In Alaska that is not a romantic term (jokes). Rather, it refers to the break up of ice in the huge rivers such as the Yukon or the Tanana, a sure sign of spring. In the mean while we pass the time with various occupations, cribbage and poker being two of the mainstays. Since I have lately been beating the socks off of several youngsters (and collecting a formidable collection of quarters in the process) at this game, I am reminded of my father who did the same to me. 

About Clem Caufield:

In 1993, I was a featured performer at Elko, Nevada mostly because they had the theme of American Indian Cowboys and Cowgirls and had to drag up a few natives.  However, I was also selected as one of 33 performing artists supported by the Wyoming Arts Council and have made other performances too numerous to mention (Montana State Prison, the Montana State Legislature, Harvard University and have been published in the New York Times, all closely related entities in my opinion).

I moved to Alaska two years ago and at present, I drive a horse-drawn sleigh and guide trail rides in Anchorage, Alaska which gives me time to try and fulfill a contract I have with National Geographic to produce a a book about Indian cowgirls. In previous lives I have been a professional PRCA barrel racer; the hard working wife of a Wyoming outfitter and I made my living as a cowboy poet and story teller at dude ranches in the Jackson Hole Area for several years.  Quite a few of my poems have been published in magazines, books and anthologies and I have a self-published book entitled Boots, Buckskins and Boy which I hawk to tourists.



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