Page Fourteen

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past

My dearest wife's departed dad
Had been a horseman in the Cav',
A farrier, packer, a trader, too, she says.
He'as a hard man--one quick to notice wrongs,
But play an ol' time Christmas song;
He softened up like cold butter on hot bread.

The sacred Christmas season through
He'as like the feller who
Had never knowed no disappointments ner no griefs.
He growed cheerful an' pleasant, consid'rate an' kind,
With a more fergivin' turn o' mind.
He reconfirmed him in his childhood's strong beliefs.

Then he'd tell 'em of his mother,
One-long-lost brother er 'nother,
An' them Christmases long ago out on the farm--
The awful deep an' bitin' cold an' drifted snows,
How fierce an' strong the winds'ld blow,
An' o' the cozy, tight-chinked cabin, snug an' warm.

How they'd dress up an' deck the tree,
How pow'rful restless that he'd be
After the painted cones an' popcorn strings'as hung,
'Til in the mornin' he'as fer sure that ol' St. Nick
Just hadn't left him rocks an' sticks--
New shoes an' a orange drawed smiles when he'as young.

Them days long gone would grow to be
His stuff o' dreams an' reverie
An' his eyes would seem to see to other Christmas eves.
An' then a quiet, perfect peacefulness would grow
Around 'em in the firelight's flow
As he'd help 'em how to know an' to believe.

He taught 'em well how all the land
Wore a divine an' perfect Brand
An' showed 'em how to know their places in creation--
Taught 'em well about that far-off holy stable
An' o' the stockmen, strong an' able,
Who'd travelled to share the Christmas revelation.

He taught 'em o' the three wise kings,
The Christmas star an' other things
That shaped His upright, humble life, 'thout blame er sin--
How He come at last to a painful, awful death
An' after three days drawed new breath
In the Spring, 'bout the time the calves is gathered in.

Then ev'ry Christmas mornin' bright
After the gifts an' cherry pie,
While the feast'as in the oven, a-smellin' fine,
They'd just saddle all them good horses up an' go
Out through the pine trees an' the snow,
Dad, an' Mama, an' seven kids all in a line.

This her best fondest childhood fun--
Horse breath a-blowin', cold winter sun,
Cold, stiff saddles all a-creakin', her Daddy's grin,
Cold feet, froze mittens, cold, stiff reins, an' bits a-clinkin',
Horse a-dancin' and a-dinkin',
Her heart warmed through by ties o' blood an' kith an' kin.

Them rides'as over way too soon.
They'as back 'bout mid-afternoon,
An' the tack'as in the saddlehouse, put up neat;
The horses, fed hot mashes o' lick an' eggs an' bran;
The kids, a nursin' frozen hands,
Then her family all set down at last an' eat.

She'd always missed them childhood times,
So when our little boy turned five
She asked me could we jus' saddle us up an' go
Out fer a little Christmas morning Family ride.
Now, she ain't one who'll' be denied,
Not matter them ol' jades saddle fresh an' ain't no snow.

So I screws the rigs on Roany,
Magic, Scatter, and the pony,
An' we trail out through ocotillo an' mesquite.
There ain't no pines er snow fer a hundred miles
But when our little Kali smiles
I tell you, friends, that's sure a pleasurable treat.

Though this country's dry an' seared
An' ain't no snow er pine trees near,
Still I kin tell by the way Mom's eyes is a-shinin' bright
That she's 'mongst the pine trees an' the snows
Of far away an' long ago
An' the ghosts of Chrsitmases past gives her delight.

It leads me to strange cogitations
To roll with this here corporation--
Mama rides a trail of memory on her bay,
Cutter ropes imagined mossbacks off o' Roany,
Kalireyna's on her pony,
An' I'm feelin' pinched 'tween o' now an' yesterday

'Cause there's that rider in the lead
No one but Mama's ever see'd
Whose Christmas visits gives me strange sensations--
An' though I never see'd his face ner heard his voice
An' never really had no choice,
I find I'm glad to be a'raisin' his relations.

So here I'm a-wishin' you the kind o' cheer
The season brings to me--
Warm hearth-side with the family
Gathert 'round a Christmas tree,
A peaceful heart an' peace o' mind and love an' charity
An' a welcome ghost amongst you there--
                                    er mebbe two er three

1995, Jeff Streeby  All rights reserved.
This poem appears in From Texas to Montana 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Read more poetry by Jeff Streeby here
and selections from his work-in-progress, Sunday Creek, here

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

 

Christmas Conversion

Lefty spit out his snoose, said " I ain't got no use
Fer no nesters in these here parts";
They grow 'taters an kids ,they're hard to get rid
And they drive around in those carts."
 
"They ain't our kind o' folk and' that ain't no joke
They don't understand cowboy ways.
I ain't goin' there, though you don't seem to care
That your pard's alone if I stays".
 
Now Lefty's a hand and he will take a stand
Against things that he don't want to do.
He's forty years old and sometimes acts cold
To ideas that to him seem too new.
 
I'm just seventeen, there's a lot I ain't seen
My curiosity can grab a hold.
When I saw the homestead at first I felt dread
But seeing children there, made me bold.
 
In the following months more than just once
I'd been visiting with the nester crew.
It started that Fall when I stopped by to call
For a howdy and  some water too.
 
T'was a widow with kids who lived there amid
The cactus, the sand and the snakes.
They had come from the East and to say the least
They were playing for mighty high stakes.
 
Now Cora's the mother, but her significant other
Had been killed in a gambling fight.
So she sold all they had, took her kids, with no Dad,
And homesteaded here on this site.
 
The kids, there are four, all came to the door
Every time that I came to their place.
From my horse I'd step down and never a frown
Showed on those clean, smiling faces.
 
Michael is six and he's learned to do tricks
With his eyes that sure bring a smile.
Marcus is eight and can clean up his plate
And leave corncobs stacked in a pile.
 
Jeanna is nine and has proven a fine
Little housekeeper just like her Mom.
And Claudia, the queen, has just turned thirteen
And takes charge when her mother is gone.
 
Last Christmas, you see, I'd brought them a tree
To decorate for the holiday season
Cora asked us to dinner and I felt like a winner
But Lefty said it was something like treason.
 
I reminded my pard that it would be hard
For he'd have to eat his own cooking.
If he don't come along I'd sing his death song,
Food poison's at what he was looking.
 
Lefty grumbled and groused on the way to the house
But, he and Cora got along really fine.
He behaved at this best and sure passed the test,
He said grace when we sat down to dine.
 
Well, it's a new year, again Christmas is here
And we'll eat with the nesters again.
I've got a new pard and he sure is a card
An old timer by the name of Ben.
 
As we enter the yard, there's my old pard
Standing proudly by Cora's side.
Lefty'd fallen in love and needed no shove
To take sweet Cora for bride.
 
Though I can't tell him I can't help but grin
When I see the conversion he's made.
Though he won't admit it, not one little bit,
He's a nester a'pushing a spade.
 
But the grin on his face says he sure drew an ace
When he made his decision to wed.
He's proud as can be and it's easy to see
He's happy and loved and well fed.
 
I rode into this yard to see my old pard,
His new bride, and kids at the start.
But now, my main reason, in spite of the season,
Is that Claudia's captured my heart.
 
2004, George Bourbeau
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Read more poetry by George Bourbeau here

 

 

The Ballad of Big Nick

Provenance and disclaimer: As told by "Lone Wolf" McGinty in 1903. McGinty, whose life and times have been well-chronicled, panhandled for gold after the big rush, homesteaded, and worked for a period at the Egan Canyon Ranch near Cherry Creek where he claimed to have known a some-time cowpuncher, gambler and gunfighter of German-Mexican ancestry named Klaus Santana.  Historians now suspect that "Big Nick", as the stocky, happy-go-lucky gunslinger was sometimes called, was not German, but may have had a speech impediment. They agree with anthropologists from Reno, Nevada that this person was probably the cattle rustler, Joshua St. Nicholas, who was not Mexican either, but merely came from a border village, Santa Anna, now a ghost town.  There remains much controversy over whether this legend is in fact the basis for modern-day Christmas celebrations world-wide, or whether, like the story of Johnny Appleseed, it is simply Americana folklore.

When Santa was a cowboy and rode the chaparral,
Gunning desperados; for doggies on the prowl,
He was never lonesome, out on the open plain,
Cause Farley was his pony and Squanto was his pal.

He liked to ride the broncos, and had a gal named Jane.
He could rope and cut and ride all day out in the pouring rain,
Eat beans, hard tack, and coffee black; and swallow a whole pie,
Drink 'n gamble 'n fight all night, then do it all again.

Bad luck always comes in threes though nobody knows why:
Squanto got himself fired, for drinking rotgut rye.
So Big Nick cussed the ramrod, and there ensued a fight,
And Nick he vamoosed pronto without kissing' Jane good-bye.

They dug spurs 'cross the prairie, left the posse out of sight,
Splashed through Pinto Creek in glimmering twilight.
By the time they got to Carson, they were tired, it was late.
But the town was full for rodeo, no place to spend the night.

Sometime in late December, though I don't recall the date,
A stranger playing five-card stud; they anteed up their fate.
The game went back and forth that night and Big Nick bet in haste.
And so when Nick showed seven, the stranger drew an eight.

Big Nick went to pull his tile but the stranger was too fast,
So Nick just reached for heaven and thought he'd breathed his last.
The stranger, he just smiled, and put away his gun:
He made Nick vow to start afresh and leave behind his past.

Was the stranger Ringo, or maybe Bat Masterson?
He may have started Christmas, which brings joy to everyone.
To avoid the hoosegow, Nick grew whiskers ear to ear,
And now brings gifts for children: His work is never done!

Jane is now called Mrs. Claus; Nick took to herding deer;
Squanto heads a team of elves who make toys the livelong year.
But if you ever rode a horse, or slept beneath the stars,
You know Santa's still a cowboy, and so, be of good cheer.

2004, Dennis Higgins
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Read more about Dennis Higgins here


 

Somethin' in the Air

I had an extra chore today: to find an evergreen
As fine as any Christmas tree this ranch had ever seen.
I rode on out past Stoney Creek, 'n found a good one there.
I think we're all excited now: there's somethin' in the air!
Tomorrow, most the family's comin' for a Christmas feast.
We'll catch up on the latest news of how things are back east.
Ma's usin' her good china, the fancy silverware,
The crystal, 'n the placemats: there's somethin' in the air.

The kids are both behavin' so's they git on Santa's list.
They done their chores, 'n took their baths, 'n not one spot was missed:
Tommy scrubbed behind his ears, 'n Willie washed his hair.
Ain't no doubt about it: there's somethin' in the air!
Then Willie had some chocolate milk, and snacks of gingerbread.
He left some out for Santa, too, before he went to bed.
Tommy prayed for peace on earth, in his nightly prayer;
The world in silent stillness waits: there's somethin' in the air.

2004, Bruce Satta
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission

 

Read more about Bruce Satta here

 

 

Little Pot-bellied Stove


Brother Stan tore down some things and gave me all the wood.
I built a cabin with the kids, I guess...just because we could.
It started out a tool shed, but you know how it goes-
When little Em asked for "a loft," well, how could Dad oppose?
 
'Couple years, was nearly built, before November snows,
N' all along, we'd dream of findin' us a pot-bellied stove.
And Zee would check the classifieds-he gave it his best try,
But every one he ran across, the price was way too high.
 
A cutie at a roadside inn, was perfect size and such-
But the price-Holy Mackerel!  Two hundred fifty bucks!
Tho' it was such a fun idea, my hopes had long resigned
Until that Christmas morning, nothing further from my mind...
 
The gifts had all been opened, or at least that I could see;
Zerin winked n' eyed a blanket, 'tween the branches o' the tree...
And as that wrapping fell away, my heart just sort o' froze,
The kids'd gone back and bought that little pot-bellied stove!
 
It made our little winter cabin cozy as could be
To cuddle round, warm toes and nose, step back in history,
N' imagine Momma on the ranch, how, early in the morn,
She'd snuggle there in bed till Grampa got the stove a goin'.
 
She'd prob'ly hurry do her chores cause everybody knows
To get to school in time to get a warm place by the stove.
How a trail o' smoke or wrinkled air would tell if someone's home,
How it's bucking logs and hauling coal to keep the thing a goin'.
 
I'd tell the kids to get more wood and stoke the fire up nice,
And th' Indian sayin', "who builds his own fire, warms himself up twice."
With fire a flickerin' through the cracks, the smell of yesterday,
We'd count our blessings, warmed to sleep, the time'd float away.
 
Now days they got fancy stoves, the catalogs enthrall,
Positive pressure, high-temp glass, pellets, feeders and all-
Tho' super high-efficient, none could warm m' heart so hot
As that little pot-bellied stove the kids went back and got.

2004, Doug Brewer
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Read more poetry by Doug Brewer here


The Red Calico Cowboy Santa Claus of Concho County

'Twas a snowy Christmas eve some say nearly fifty years ago,
When a cowboy playin' Santa first rode in dyed-red calico.
That takes some doin' in Concho County, Texas, where winter's mild
And snow's uncommon even in December like a red-haired stepchild.

That first ol' Santa Claus was a worn-out cowboy that they called Hartz,
Who for reasons unknown took gifts each year to folk's kids in them parts.
He had an ol' white cowboy hat and calico coat that he dyed red
And he hung brass bells and fresh holly on his saddle it is said.

Oh, he must of looked a sight ridin' alone on each Christmas morn-
But he brought his presents to celebrate the day when Christ was born.
All the cowboys thereabouts would donate money and toys to give,
So as not to overlook the children or the ranches where they lived.

But after some thirty years ol' Hartz, he just up, sat down and died,
And that's when another cowboy took his place by the name of Clyde.
That Clyde was kinda skinny but his heart was made of gold we know,
Though sometimes he strayed from paths of faith with a bottle of Ol' Crow.

So each Christmas we'd hide the hotch till he put on that red jacket
And we'd load up his sack with toys we'd bought and carefully pack it.
This went on twenty years, as we tried to keep tradition alive,
'Cause most of us had been poor kids when that first Santa had arrived!

Now ol' Clyde had grown into his part and was puttin' on some pounds,
'Cause each Christmas they left cookies on the porch when he made his rounds.
And sometimes, if they could, a child's parent would leave a little drink,
To thank ol' Clyde for his work and kindness, and give him pause to think.

Then there came another rare Christmas eve that blew in snow and cold,
As I realized on that bleak day that Clyde truly was gettin' old.
As Clyde left, he tipped his hat-drew close his coat of calico red-
He pulled down his long, false white beard as gruffly he coughed and then said:

"Boys, I dreamt of ol' Hartz last night when he wore this same ol' red coat-
And he said to me 'Take it easy son-don't ride when you can float.'"
Me and none of the cowpokes said a word as Clyde rode off with those toys,
But I had me a bad feelin' as I stared back at those bunkhouse boys.

"Maybe me and Wayne should follow," I said slow with a hollow smile,
"At least till we know he's alright, then we'll come back after awhile."
We caught sight of Clyde ridin' out by the ol' Bob Binder homestead,
As we watched from afar the work of that gent in calico red.

Ol' Clyde seemed some years younger as he bounded quickly to his horse
And headed for the next ranch on his long and cold Christmas course.
It started snowin' harder-worst in years of Concho County lore,
But we kept on followin' Clyde in his yearly Santa Claus chore.

Me and Wayne were now plum tuckered but that ol' Clyde was goin' strong-
We reckoned that all our dark misgivin's sure had been all dead wrong.
We headed back to the ranch knowin' that Clyde would soon follow suit-
But when we got back to the spread all the boys were pure white and mute.

They stood outside the bunkhouse around something blue in the pale snow-
Yet somehow I knew what it was although I had no way to know.
"The Binders found him minutes after you left," choked out Cool Hand Slim,
"At first Bob and Jane thought he was drunk when they first came upon him.

"And derned if those toys were gone-as was his calico coat and hat-
Bob thought if might be robbers, but who'd be so low as to do that?"
"But we just followed ol' Clyde for miles!" both me and Wayne related,
As we looked on his still face at the end of his trail belated.

But who or what it was that night that carried on that tradition,
Left Clyde's hat and coat on his bunk next day in perfect condition.
So now each year I don that garb and deliver Christmas bounty,
As the red calico cowboy Santa Claus of Concho County.

2004, Glen Enloe
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 


Read more poetry by Glen Enloe here.

Visit our Art Spur project for poems 
inspired by Charlie Russell's "Seein' Santa."


"Seein' Santa" 
by Charles M. Russell, 1910
 
C. M. Russell Museum
Great Falls, Montana
reproduced with permission

 

 

 

 

Page Fourteen

 

 

 

 

 

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