CowboyPoetry.com    Cowboy Poetry and Music and More at the BAR-D Ranch

DALE E. PAGE
Monrovia, Indiana
About Dale Page
Dale Page's web site

 

 Recognized as one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
for his poem, "Once We Were Kings"

 

Once We Were Kings


It’s a half day’s ride to this cabin door
Where I spent my eighteenth year.
There are spur marks there on the old wood floor,
But the crew’s no longer here.

So it’s silent now, where a noisy gang
Gathered round to lie and spar
Or to ponder life while some waddy sang
To his battered old guitar.

All the bunk bed slats have been long since burned
By the hungry cast iron stove.
In the corner there lies a chair, upturned,
With the leather seat I wove.

There an old grass rope and a horsehair rein
Hang forgotten on the wall.
That old Frazier rig won't be rode again.
Whose it was, I can’t recall.

Through the flyspecked, broken out window there
Stands an empty pine pole pen.
All the broncs are gone, but I don’t know where.
And what’s worse, I don’t know when.

And the boys who rode for their meager wage,
Which was thrown away each week,
Were a part of a wild and woolly age
Which gave way to mild and meek.

I can see them there, ‘round the coosie's fire
When the herd was bedded down.
We would swear our oaths we would not retire
To a lesser life in town.

We would toast our lives with a strong black brew
While we dined on beef and beans.
We looked down on the suit and necktie crew
Who don’t know what living means.

For we ruled the world from our leather thrones,
Cinched atop a half-broke mount.
And we spent our youth as if kings, not drones.
We were rich in things that count.

When we tally dreams that can still come true
We will find our herds are short.
But we won’t regret what we didn’t do
When we stand that final sort.

For a few short years we were pleased to live
As the luckiest of men.
We enjoyed the best that this life can give
Because we were cowboys then.

© 2007, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Dale told us about his inspiration for the poem:

The location in this poem is the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Cimarron, New Mexico, where I spent the summer after graduating high school. The barn where our bunkroom was located is 10 miles off paved road at an elevation of about 8,000 feet. We had 50 horses up there and that many pack burros. I had only one day off the entire summer, but I wouldn't trade that time for anything.

After 40 years, I returned to the camp and found it pretty much the same. I have to admit it showed a little less wear than I. Standing there brought back a lot of memories of good horses and good friends. In my mind, I could still see the palomino paint at the corral gate, waiting for me to go jingle up the rest of the horses. It was a great place and a great time of my life. That summer changed me from a city boy to a pretty decent rider and a lover of New Mexico.

This poem was written to illustrate the feelings of looking back to where we can't go, to times we can't forget and don't want to. Thanks to author Owen Ulph for the image of the "leather throne."
 

We asked Dale why he writes Cowboy Poetry:

I try to take my readers or audience with me to times that are gone but not forgotten. I want them to see characters that epitomize the best man is capable of being. I write things the way I think they should be rather
than the way they might be.

Poetry demands an economy of words which keeps me on track. I look at writing as "wordsmithing." The English language has more words for the same thing than most other languages. The words are out there; I just have
to find the right one. Writing poetry rather than prose makes me organize the story to fit a rhyming pattern. Rhymes make the words more interesting to listen to and easier to memorize. It is very important to me that I not
use near-rhymes or force a rhyme by using an awkward sentence structure. I take pains to insure the meter of the lines is consistent. Without this, the poem loses something. It's like a song that doesn't fit the music.

One of the best things about writing is being able to make the characters, the plot, and the action whatever I want them to be. I outline the story before I begin writing the lines. This keeps me focused and less prone to
stray from the idea. Without a good story, I believe the poem will be of questionable value to the reader or listener. The story develops as I write, but I know where it's going.

I believe I experience the same satisfaction when a poem is completed that an artist gets when he finishes an oil painting or a sculpture. It's a great feeling to give life to a story and to the characters it contains. I enjoy sharing my words with folks who will listen or read them, but I would write cowboy poetry even if no one else ever heard or saw it.

You can email Dale Page.

 

Jack's Cabin

In the gathering dark at Miranda Park
Sits an old cowboy named "Jack"
And he dreams of youth and a girl named Ruth,
But they're neither coming back.

Yet his tired old eyes, which we once called wise,
See a girl who won't grow old.
He can see her there with her raven hair
As his memories unfold.

He recalls a day, not so far away,
When they danced til after two.
But he skipped this part, where she broke his heart,
When he found she was untrue.

They shared ev'ry dance; he was in a trance
Til she asked him to decide
If he'd be like Bob, get a real job
And do something more than ride.

He replied, "Miss Ruth, I may seem uncouth,
But I ride because I can.
You can find my name in a gilded frame;
I'm an educated man.

"I am keen on books, but resent the looks
From a man who will not see
That a soda jerk or a ribbon clerk
Is just something I won't be."

Well, she turned away and she said, "Short pay
Isn't how I want to live.
So you see, I fear I am looking, Dear,
For a man with more to give."

So he weighed the cost of the love he'd lost,
How she'd never be his wife,
And he thought it strange she would want to change
What he'd been near all his life.

He reviewed his ways in the next few days,
And beneath the stars each night.
Though the stars shone down on that girl in town,
They just wouldn't look as bright.

For the ones who dwell in the town can't smell
When the sage is wet with rain.
When the coyote prowls and the chorus howls,
They don't hear the sad refrain.

Like a frightened child, they hate all things wild,
And their ways are living proof
That their fires are cold and their saddle's sold
For a necktie, shoes, and roof.

But a cowboy lives on what nature gives
By the season, moon, and sun.
He can be content with the hours he spent
When a long day's work is done.

So Jack sits tonight and he thinks he might
Should have lived in town instead.
But he whispers, "No," with his head hung low
As he hobbles off to bed.

© 2005, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Dale comments: I was inspired to write "Jack's Cabin" after seeing a small cabin high in the aspens in northern New Mexico. I was with my wife the first time I saw it, and it struck me how such a beautiful place should be shared with someone special. That made me think of the mixed blessing of having the place but having no one with whom to share it. I wrote this poem in elk camp in 2005, alone except for the sound of falling snow.

 

In Memory of Shorty O'Hare

By the river I stood 'neath an old cottonwood
Where a cowboy lay, mostly unknown.
There, where few ever came, the long grass hid his name.
But I knew it; I chiseled the stone.

At the end of his life, with no children or wife,
When the lot fell to me for the task,
I stood in as a son and I got the job done.
No one helped me and I didn't ask.

Back in nineteen and ten, when this waddy rode in
On a ribby and spavined old mare,
He was shy with his name, but stood straight with no shame
As he said, "Call me 'Shorty O'Hare'."

But what he didn't tell in the end served him well.
He was mute about how life had been,
How he'd suffered abuse when the hate was turned loose
From the many low men he had seen.

So Boss gave him a try, though the rest wondered why,
And this Shorty laid waste to their fears.
He soon proved he would last and he earned a place fast
Like a man who had been there for years.

And no matter the task, anything Boss would ask
He would do. There was nothing he'd shirk.
Folks, no matter the test, he would give it his best.
And I know, because I watched him work.

Yet with each passing day, ridicule came his way
As the hands made a joke of his size.
Though with each cruel name Shorty smiled just the same,
I could see the deep hurt in his eyes.

When the bull elk would call to their cows in the fall,
We'd stop work, pack our camp, and go hunt.
Sitting tall on his hoss, the firstborn of the boss
Rode out proud by that tough little runt.

It was said that the boy took particular joy
In the friendship of Shorty O'Hare.
When the small man rode out, there was never a doubt
Where his friend went, the lad would be there.

It was just after noon and we looked for rain soon,
So the boss gave the horses reprieve.
With his slicker untied, the young boy stayed astride
As he put his right arm in the sleeve.

That old gelding uncorked and his fat body torqued
As the slicker popped under his flanks.
In the youngster's wide eyes you could read the surprise
That you get when a gentle horse cranks.

Then, with every bound, the boy lost some more ground,
Mouth agape at his imminent fall.
When the wreck whirled by, Shorty let an arm fly
And he grabbed the boy, slicker and all.

When the danger was past, it had happened so fast
That not one of the others had moved.
The boss stood on the sod and gave Shorty a nod,
Understating how much he approved.

So from that very day, every man changed his way.
They showed Shorty he's one of their clan.
In collective surprise, he looked tall in their eyes.
And so Shorty became a new man.

'Round the wagon each fall, when the tales grow tall,
They recount how that short man behaved.
Folks who saw it were few, but the story is true.
And I know; I'm the one that he saved.

© 2007, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Dale commentsI was inspired to write the poem after witnessing a rescue like this. On a trail ride in New Mexico, a man picked a child off a bucking horse as it passed him. For the character of Shorty, I used a boy in my high school class who was picked on for his small size. In later life, he actually saved a life. You never know who will become a hero.

 

 

 

Cyclone in the Pines

We rode to gather horses from the herd
Which wintered in a canyon east of Lusk
And trotted out at noon without a word
Til velvet shadows lengthened in the dusk.

Our jinglebobs rang vespers as we prayed
We wouldn't come up short of Boss's mark,
But carry out the plans that he had laid
And get those ponies started back by dark.

We combed that canyon almost to the top
On narrow trails that hugged the rocky side.
There we beheld a steep and deadly drop
Where no sane man would ever dare to ride.

But "sanity" did not apply to Doug,
Whose glass-eyed cayuse, Cyclone, should be shot.
We urged him more than once to sell that plug
And be content no matter what he got.

With Doug and Cyclone bringing up the rear,
The Boss allowed our mounts could use a rest.
But Cyclone reckoned, since the top was near,
He'd take his ease when he decided best.

The next thing that we knew, there came a crash!
We turned around in terror and surprise
To see a stunt so crazy and so brash
We couldn't quite believe our bugging eyes.

That knothead plunged downhill between the trees
While Douglas struggled hard to stay aboard.
His imminent demise caused him to freeze,
Save for his mouth, which called upon the Lord.

Then Cyclone cut a swath through dead-fall pines,
Left limbs and splinters back there in his path.
The canyon looked destroyed by bombs and mines
Or some enormous force of nature's wrath.

The last thing Doug remembers, he's between
Two ponderosas, thick as any steer.
And there he found a sturdy limb, unseen,
Which hung so low his brain pan wouldn't clear.

Then Doug and Cyclone went their sep'rate ways;
The horse ran off and left the man behind.
When we arrived, poor Doug sat in a daze
And spurred the horse he still rode in his mind.

He finally recovered from his spill;
Those injuries were myriad and deep.
He thought he'd trade that horse-he'd had his fill.
This Cyclone was too dangerous to keep.

But Douglas didn't want to bear the blame
Should any puncher dare to take a chance.
He thought, "This rounder needs a brand new name!"
And then he shipped ole "T-Bone" off to France.

© 2006, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Dale comments
: The idea for this poem came about during a trail ride at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. When we stopped for a rest, one horse resented stopping and threw himself off the trail and into a ravine. The rider was thrown into a ponderosa and was knocked out. I'm not sure if that horse ended up in a French café, but he should have.

 

Jenny's Colt

I roll out of my bed before daylight
And the sun never finds me asleep.
But this morning's a tough one to rise to
Because I have a promise to keep.

I put match to the kindling that's waiting,
Slice some bacon and then fry it up.
Out of habit, I brew some Arbuckle's
And I rinse out last night's dirty cup.

But my breakfast this morning is tasteless
And my mind is already outside.
Though I've not had my fill of the coffee,
I just reckon it's time that I ride.

So I belt on my chaps and a pistol,
Then I pull on an old canvas coat
And I choke down one last swig of coffee,
But it can't clear the lump in my throat.

I go out to the pen with a bucket
With some sweet feed to catch up a horse.
A fine morning is lost on this old man,
'Cause my heart is weighed down with remorse.

Like most days, Doc puffs up when I cinch him
And he'd rather stay here with the hay.
But I'm bound and determined to do this;
I've decided today is the day.

We ride out to the glowing horizon
As a meadowlark sings in the dawn
And I yearn for the days that have fled me,
Before youth and my best friend were gone.

It's not long 'til I spot the remuda.
Like good troops, they line up and they go
To the headquarters, bucking and kicking.
And then Jenny's colt nickers, "Hello."

He seems glad to see one of his kinfolk
Since the others have galloped away.
He must choose between grass and the water
And he's losing more weight every day.

His once bright sorrel coat is now faded
And he won't last the winter for sure,
'Cause he's failing. I know he'll be wolf bait,
But I'm here to deliver the cure.

I dismount and I walk up to meet him
And my mind wanders back to the time
When she plaited his flax mane with asters
In the late summer days of his prime.

Then he bends his neck low for the halter,
His old eyes like the dull silver there.
And his nose seems to find the sweet fragrance
From a lock of our sweet Jenny's hair.

"You were mine til she combed out your forelock,
And she changed you from cowhorse to pet
When you bore her along in the saddle
On that first day when she and I met.

"On the Sundays we rode out for picnics,
You forsook ev'ry chance to act wild.
You were there when I asked her to marry
And the day she announced she's with child.

"Well, she's gone now, but she left a message.
She said I'm to take care of you.
And so out of my love for our Jenny,
Though I hate it, I've got it to do.

"Now come on, and we'll go talk to Jenny.
Yeah, you're hurtin', but I'll take it slow.
See, it's mostly downhill where she's waiting,
In that meadow where paintbrushes grow.

"I have made you a bed in that meadow
Near the headstone where Jenny's asleep.
There are knee-high, green pastures awaiting
And I have a promise to keep.

"Look away, as I take out my pistol,
To the bluffs where the pine trees are strewn.
Adios, Pard, I'll never forget you...
And tell Jenny I'm coming home soon."

© 2006, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Dale comments: I once heard a man relate how he had to put down a horse and I was touched
by his emotion in losing a longtime friend. Although some might say the horse was only a "dumb animal," those of us who have had to put down a horse or a dog know better. A really good horse is a blessing, and losing one like that is tough.

I decided to take it one step further in making Jenny's colt the last link to the man's wife and purposely held off acknowledging her death until the last.

"Jenny's Colt" is a tough one for me to get through, whether I'm I reciting it to a group or just to myself. Loss is a part of life, but sometimes it's tough to accept. I'm thankful to have had a horse like
Jenny's.
 


The Thoroughbred Filly

I have ridden these ranges for ten years or so,
Ev'ry trail, all the canyons and mountains.
It's a long time in coming, but soon I will know
If my path leads to dry wells or fountains.

I have worked every day like a clock newly wound
And I don't spend my nights in debasing.
I don't gamble or drink or throw money around,
But save up for the dreams I'm embracing.

While the others were feeding the stove by their beds,
I pulled calves in that late winter blizzard.
All my hard work paid off when we counted the heads
In the fall when the boss shipped them eastward.

Now this man, who lays claim to an ocean of grass
And to thousands of registered cattle,
Has a herd of fine horses that none can surpass.
They're the best ever seen under saddle.

But the pride and the joy of the owner's find band
Disappeared one dark night from the cavvy.
So the boss has been frantic--he's scoured the land
For the dappled gray thoroughbred filly.

There's just one other thing that he values above
That fine horse, in ways no one can measure.
She's the golden-haired child of the rancher's true love
Whom the father guards close like a treasure.

When I first saw this lass at a Saturday dance,
And I asked if she'd do me the honor,
With no thought to position, she gave me a chance,
But she hadn't considered her father.

She avoided my feet in her own self defense,
Squeezed my hand when the music had ended.
Though the look that I gave her contained no offense,
It was plain what this puncher intended.

But as I walked her back to her table and Dad,
He glared hard like I'd threatened her honor.
No doubt he's too familiar with feelings I had,
And if looks could kill, I'd be a goner.

I was called to the house the next night after chuck
And I felt like I walked to the gallows.
He said, "I've an idea you've run out of luck,
And I'm mad from my lid to my oxbows.

'''Cause no commonplace cowboy as you surely are
Should dare covet my ranch or my daughter.
She deserves a young doctor, or man of the bar.
So you mind what I say; cool your ardor."

I choked back a reply as I turned on my heels
And walked out without any excusing.
But instead, I began to prepare the appeals
For intentions he's falsely accusing.

From the day that I heard of the filly's escape,
I worked late on wild thoughts I've been taming.
I took care to avoid poor ideas and reshape
Every move toward the goal where I'm aiming.

See, I know where she is, since I saw her one day
In the sage flats with other caballos.
And the stud of the band who lured many away
Is the one that the gray filly follows.

I am waiting for them by the water tonight
In a blind where the river is bending.
I will throw a sure loop by the rising moon's light
And be paid for the time I've been spending.

When the mustangs come down to the river to drink
And that filly's nose touches the water,
My whole world and my fortune will change in a blink.
Maybe then I can marry his daughter.

© 2009, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Dale comments: Several years ago, I heard of a situation like this poem illustrates. I carried the idea around for years before putting it into verse. This poem is the only one I've ever written by starting with the last line. I usually build a poem around the first line, or at least the first verse. This time, I knew what I wanted the last line to say, so I composed the poem around it. I left the story open-ended, like the story I heard. I never knew what happened to the cowboy or the rich girl.
 


 

The Bear Facts

I was near Tolby Meadows, in elk camp, alone,
And was resting my soul for a spell.
I was dreaming of antlers in sizes unknown
And composing the tales I'd tell.

As the cold rains began, I just hunkered down tight.
There was firewood and coffee and grub.
I was dry and well fed as I welcomed the night
To my private, one-elk-hunter club.

When I set my alarm for the hour of four,
There were ominous clouds hanging low.
I crawled into the tent and I zipped up the door
As I hoped that tonight there'd be snow.

I was dead to the world in a peaceful repose;
All was silent out there in the night.
I was comfy and warm, all except for my nose,
When my bliss turned to gut-wrenching fright.

Because outside the tent, not a yard from my head,
Came a "swish" as some thing brushed the tent.
I was one solid goose bump and figured I'm dead
From a mauling that I can't prevent.

See, my rifle's unloaded down there at my feet.
There's no pistol to lay my hand on.
There's a bear coming into my mountaintop suite
And I'm gonna be bear scat by dawn.

Though I thought I was dead, no life images flashed,
But my senses grew strangely acute.
I just figured each moment was close to my last
As I waited to wrestle the brute.

I was praying that somehow I might yet go free
When the light from the October moon
Showed the drifted snow "swishing" right there over me,
Not a yard from my sweat-drenched cocoon.

For an hour or more, I just grinned in the night
And I told myself I wasn't scared.
I was feeling quite brave by the dawn's early light.
Let that bruin come back if he dared!

When I stepped from the tent, crimson fire in the sky
Showed my nightmare's recorded event.
And I spotted the proof that I couldn't deny:
There were tracks of a bear 'round the tent.

© 2009, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Dale comments: This incident happened to me during New Mexico's first rifle season in 2007. I was in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains overlooking Eagle Nest and Angel Fire. Opening morning brought neither a sight nor even a track of the elk I was hunting. That night, when it started to snow, I was hopeful for tracks in the accumulation. In the middle of the night, snow sliding down the tent's wall caused me to think a bear was outside the tent. That's the last time I'll sleep outdoors with an unloaded gun. The poem was easily written since it's basically a report. By the way, there were
no elk tracks in the snow. They all left the country during the muzzleloader season.
 

A Toast to Friendship

May your love be as wide as a Western sky
And your blessings stacked high as a mount.
May your lives be as long as the Rio Grande
And your friends be too many to count.

© 2009, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Dale comments: I first wrote this poem as a wedding toast, but whittled on it a little and cobbled a few new words onto it. It seems more universal now than just a wedding toast. The images I've put in as wishes for others will be recognizable and familiar to Westerners. A land of wide horizons, vertical topography, longevity, and good people to share it with has to be the best wish I could make for someone's earthly home.
 

 

 

Christmas Greetings

I’ve checked off, pert near, all the days of the year
From the calendar there on the wall.
Outside here, it’s snowing, and winter is showing
That it’s close on the heels of the fall.

The leaves have come down, save the oak’s, which are brown.
All the asters are withered and bare.
This morning at dawn, there was ice on the pond
And the temper’ture’s dropping out there.

Inside here, it’s warm, and we don’t fear the storm.
We’ve a chuck box so full it won’t shut.
There’s a big stack of wood, and the fire feels good
To the missus and me, and her mutt.

The stock’s all been fed and kids put to bed,
So we’ll sit here awhile, I suppose.
We’ll review the past year while we laugh at our fear
And rejoice in the life that we chose.

It’s said Christ was born on a cold winter morn
In a stable with cattle and sheep.
So we’re thankful today for things He would say
And the promise we know He will keep.

When the winter wind whines through the old pinyon pines
And stirs up the snows of December,
We’ll thank God for His Son, all the good things He’s done,
And the fam’ly and friends we remember.

© 2010, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


The Endless Chase

There are white-faced cattle calling to their weanling heifers bawling
In the pen down by the river where the apple orchards stand.
From the barn there comes a nicker to the woman in a slicker
Walking down to the corral to feed the horses with her brand.

Looking east while dawn is breaking and the colors that it’s making
Makes her glad she starts her day while those in town are still asleep.
There are chores to do out yonder, so there’s no more time to ponder
When the day is just so short and there are promises to keep.

She’s the one who’s charged with keeping vows she made to those who’re sleeping
‘Neath the grass beside the old adobe house where she was born.
She agreed to take the mission, go on ranching like her kinsmen,
And she heeds the obligation when she rises every morn.

It is time again for shipping and she hopes the scales are tipping
In her favor as the time to tally up the numbers nears.
But before they start to working, there’s a pot of coffee perking
In the kitchen where the Chases sat one hundred thirty years.

As the coffee cups are clinking, she sits back and starts to thinking
Of the years that piled on years to bring her where she is today;
How a family, tough as leather, battled markets, thieves, and weather,
And when times got tough they somehow found a way.

If the markets fell on cattle, Chase’s Ranch would prove its mettle
As they tightened up their belts and made it through another year.
Though the experts gave predictions, Manly Chase had learned his lessons
In the school of work and planning, not in weakness born of fear.

When the Reverend Tolby’s squatters and his band of thieves and robbers
Flew to Maxwell’s Grant like locusts in the plague which Pharaoh caused,
That same parson stopping deceiving on the day he quit his breathing
And the land the Chases paid for was still theirs when fighting paused.

Summer rains came down in torrents, and the Ponil River currents
Rose to make Magellan’s trip around the Cape seem like a cruise.
But the floods would soon diminish and find Chases at the finish
Standing firmly in the outcome of whatever nature brews.

All the watergaps were open, there were fence posts bent and broken,
And a hayrack wound up piled against the Raton highway bridge.
There was driftwood in the orchard in the trees the turkeys favored
And the grass was pointing downstream from the bottom land to ridge.

But the house was spared from water, as was every son and daughter;
It took more than rain to wash away the grit the Chases showed.
They fought bear and mountain lion with a fervor none could lessen;
Whether markets, wild fires, floods or droughts, they always packed their load.

While another day is dawning, cats are stretching, dogs are yawning
As the elk down in the orchard graze and turkeys glide from trees.
All too soon the mood is broken by a call in words unspoken
To do things that she agreed to and in which she still believes.

With a sigh of resignation as the sky begins to brighten,
Empty cup goes in the sink and she walks out the kitchen door.
It’s a chore now, just to saddle, but she pulls herself astraddle
And she rides to check her cattle like a thousand times before.

Now’s the time for self inspection, time for planning and reflection,
And it’s hard sometimes to winnow out the grain from all the chaff.
But she grins with eyes a-twinkle as she hears the bit chains jingle
And she trots up Chase’s Canyon looking for a newborn calf.

© 2011, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Dale told us, "I wrote this poem as a humble tribute to Gretchen Sammis, the fourth generation owner of the Chase Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico. Gretchen is the great-granddaughter of Manly Chase, who bought the land from Lucien Maxwell in the late 1860s.The Chase is one of the few ranches in New Mexico owned by the same family since territorial days. Gretchen was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame [find her profile at this link] in 1986 and was the first woman to be President of the Northern New Mexico Livestock Association. She was featured in Hard Twist, Western Ranch Women, by Barbara Van Cleve. The ranch's history is chronicled in Ruth Armstrong's book, The Chases of Cimarron. "

 

 

Brush Poppers

The gather’s done again another year
But now we find, like every other fall,
That crooked-horned old brindle cow ain’t here.
She’s hid out every year that I recall.

Lemont says he is tired of that old hag,
Swaps out his tired horse and tells the crew
He’s gonna pen that cow and have his brag.
So Shane and John each caught a fresh horse, too.

In San Juan Mountains’ wild and open range,
Old Brindle’s found the perfect hidey hole.
An outlaw cow like her will never change--
She has her lines down pat and loves her role.

Chamisa lines the trail back to the lease
Where Brindle and her calf are hiding out.
Those cattle are the ones who broke the peace;
And there will be a war, without a doubt.

The horses sense the tension in the men,
Who scan the trees for Brindle, ropes in hand.
They’ll neck that ringtail to an oak and then
They’ll heel the calf and burn the outfit’s brand.

Before she winded them, they spotted her.
So they dismounted, pulled their slack, and rode.
They promised her escape would not recur
And they’d collect the debt that brindle owed.

She saw them then and bee-lined for the brush.
She left the calf behind so Johnny vows,
“There’s no need here to get into a rush.
Let’s rope that calf and troll for mama cows.”

Lemont built him a loop. He spurred his horse
And Baldy closed the distance in a wink.
The heifer ran, to no avail, of course;
That slick-eared calf was tied ‘fore she could blink.

He packs a branding iron, of course a knife,
So while the iron got hot, he marked her ears.
Those notches hurt! She cried out for her life,
And when her baby bellers, mama hears.

Old Brindle shot the gap ‘tween Shane and John
‘Fore either of those boys could get her looped.
So by the time they’re ready, Brindle’s gone,
And poor Lemont don’t know that he's been duped.

She found her calf, and then she spied the man.
She altered course and then increased her speed.
Lemont looked up and saw her. Off they ran
With Brindle second, fightin’ for the lead.

Lemont runs after Baldy for a ride,
But can’t escape that crooked-horned old cow.
Old Brindle’s out to have that cowboy’s hide
And looks like she’s about to get it now.

They’re wound up tight as Grandma’s eight-day clock,
A-bawlin’ and a-squallin’ in a ring,
A-racin’ in a circle, head to hock,
Just like some Buff’lo Bill Wild West Show thing.

Lemont’s about to lose this mortal race
When heifer kicks her string; she’s runnin’ loose.
The cow decided she’d increase the pace
And wiped her nose across Lemont’s caboose.

She rolled him like a quirly in the dirt.
She stomped like some bovine flamenco dance.
Though he escaped those curly horns unhurt,
She ripped the dubya pockets off his pants.

“Go get him, Mama!” Shane yelled in support,
But Brindle broke it off and took her calf.
With heartfelt consolations, of a sort,
Lemont’s hermanos tried hard not to laugh.

They parlayed, when Lemont could breathe again,
‘Bout how to choose the words the boss would hear;
That if he wanted Brindle in a pen,
Then someone else could pop the brush next year.

© 2011, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Dale told us, "The story in this poem was told to me by a former classmate and Oklahoma cowman, Jim Guinn. The three brothers in the poem, Lemont, John, and Shane, are real cowboys who had a run-in with a really angry Brahma cow. After seeing the painting 'Brush Poppers,' by Tom Browning, I embellished the story to fit the painting. I was able to meet Tom when I recited 'Brush Poppers' at the 2010 Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering. His fine painting was the poster art for the gathering and a good fit for Jim's story."

See Tom Browning's painting here at the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering web site and visit tombrowning.com for more of his work.
 

At the End of My Rope

I packed two hundred pounds of salt on Turk,
And started up the trail to Aspen Park.
I had a half a day to do this work
And be back to the barn before it’s dark.

We trotted six miles uphill from the road
And scattered out that bovine condiment.
The trip back down is fast without a load,
But something caused delay to my descent.

Some does had wandered in to lick the salt.
They eyed me close, and then they eyed that block.
I now admit what happened’s all my fault.
Be careful when you hear temptation knock.

From some dark place I hope I never find,
A deep, demonic voice which I could hear
Instilled an evil plan into my mind.
It told me I was gonna rope a deer.

I loosed the twine a-hangin’ on my kack
Uncoiled it, let the loop hang at my side.
I took a peek across my horse’s back,
My reason overshadowed by my pride.

From back behind my horse, I stepped out there.
I looked away from them to ease their fears.
With grace that equaled that of Fred Astaire,
I hoolihanned my loop behind two ears.

They call that meadow “Little Bighorn” now,
In memory of the battle we had then.
Too late, I found I overlooked, somehow,
That deer are twice as strong as full-grown men.

Her eyes bugged out like beartrap saddle swells
And she commenced to buck and run and twist.
That demon’s voice piped up again and tells
Me I should take a dally ‘round my wrist.

She yanked me off my feet and drug me through
Some rocks just big enough to slow her some.
I’m bleedin’ and my nose is knocked askew.
My wrist is red and raw, my hand is numb.

On top of that, to make my shame complete,
I found that I’d forgot my thirty-eight.
I pitched my slack to signal my defeat
And waited for her anger to abate.

She sprang just like a kitty on a rat!
In great surprise that she’d resume the fight,
I tried in vain to swat her with my hat.
I ask you now, “Did you know deer can bite?”

They can! They bite down hard and don’t let go!
I added that to other facts I'd missed
And screeched like a soprano when that doe
Reached out and sank her teeth into my wrist.

The proper thing to do when you are bit
Is just stay calm and try to use your head.
Where strength has failed, resolve to use your wit.
I chose to scream and shake and stomp instead.

This brought to light more venison deceit:
A deer can box just like a kangaroo!
They’re twice as tall when standing on hind feet.
Their hoofs are quick, and sharp as razors, too.

The pros will say when some horse paws at you
He’ll chase you if you try to run away.
But this was not a horse, so what’d I do?
I screamed and ran, no matter what they say!

She knocked me to the ground and stomped my head.
I made a big mistake then, in my fear.
I moved and let her know I wasn’t dead.
That’s when she put a forefoot in my ear.

My moans through bloody lips caused her to pause
And punctuate her vict’ry with a kick.
I knew the fight was over then, because
She shucked my loop and went back to the lick.

I now know packin' salt's a risky game.
Next time I do it, I’ll be armed, of course.
Or I’ll stay home and work on something tame
Like tackin’ shoes on Boss’s outlaw horse.

© 2011, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Dale told us: The idea for this poem was related to me in story form. I changed it to iambic pentameter and elaborated on the details of the insane behavior of trying to rope wild animals. Having once tried to rope a pronghorn and failed miserably, I understood the childish perception that it would bring me fame. Like the cowboy in the poem, unintended consequences did not enter at all into my decision to try. My failure was a blessing in disguise, and I bear no scars of such foolishness. It was easy to invent a character for the roper in this poem; there's usually one in every outfit.

"At the End of My Rope" was featured as the Poem of the Week for the week of of May 18, 2011 at the Cowboys & Indians magazine web site. At the time, it was Dale Page's third poem to be accepted as the magazine's Poem of the Week.


Lodgepole Lullaby

Like a song without music or lyrics,
Or a verse without meter or rhymes,
Comes the wind through the tops of the lodgepoles
To remind me of places and times.

Back in nineteen and twelve I left Billings
On the Great Northern train up to Moore.
Then I hitched all my tools on a packhorse
And rode east to the land I’d filed for.

On that creek which we called the Box Elder,
I cut logs and I dug us a well.
In a cabin with views of the Judiths,
I was warm when the winter snows fell.

But the nights in that cabin were lonely
And I wrote you to join me up here
So you packed up and left Oklahoma
To live out on that empty frontier.

We were wed in a Lewistown chapel
And began our long life as a team.
We packed all that we owned in two wagons
And drove east to our land and our dream.

It was easy to fill up that cabin;
With just two chairs, a table, and bed.
But we envied no king with his castle;
We had land in Montana instead!

There the wind was our constant companion
Who showed up at the earliest light.
But we never once tired of its babblings
As it lulled us to sleep every night.

Once a month we would ride down to Winnet
And we’d talk of what might come to pass,
How we’d live out our lives on this prairie,
You and I and the God-given grass.

We cut hay for the cattle in winter
For when arctic winds brought in the snow
Which would drift near as high as the cabin
With the temper’ture twenty below.

We were lucky our land had some timber,
‘Cause the chips we picked up were soon burned.
But the old Garland stove kept us cozy
‘Til the Spring and Chinook winds returned.

Though we ate enough beans for an army,
There were dinners of antelope steak.
We kept all of our heifers each gather
And we banked what the steer calves would make.

But the time came when skies held no water
And our fields produced bushels of dust.
So we spent our last dollar on hay bales
While the wind sang of loss in each gust.

In the night when you thought I was sleeping,
I was praying we’d somehow get through.
As you turned from me, I heard you crying
For the dreams that would never come true.

So we left the with the wind in our faces
And we left without children or dreams,
Just the same two old wagons we came with
Pulled by two tired and starving old teams.

But they made it to land south of Cody,
Where we started all over again.
And we traded the dust of the homestead
For a new place with promise of rain.

Though we prospered down on the Shoshone,
When I think of that rough little shack
Where the wind sang a song in the lodgepoles,
I just wish we could somehow go back.

© 2012, Dale E. Page
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Dale told us about the poem's inspiration:  

In October, 2010, my cousin, Harvey Edwards, and I searched court records, obituaries, and maps to find our Great-Uncle Joe Maxey's homestead in Petroleum County, Montana. We found it north of Winnett on what is now BLM property.

Joseph Maxey was one of ten sons of an Oklahoma farmer. The other nine stayed in Oklahoma and farmed their entire lives. Uncle Joe rode a new railroad to Montana in 1913. He built a cabin on Box Elder Creek and in 1914 brought his young bride, the former Linnet Goff, to this one-room cabin. They stayed for over 23 years until the Dust Bowl and army worms drove them out.

Harvey and I were the first of our family to stand on Uncle Joe's homestead since they left in 1937. Uncle Joe had no heirs, and details of his life are sketchy. Our detective work found out what a great example he was of self reliance and hard work.

After leaving Montana, where Uncle Joe was a county commissioner as well as a stockman, they bought land along the South Shoshone River outside Cody, WY. We were able to talk to neighbors and to see the property along the river, half of which is now under water in a reservoir behind the Buffalo Bill Dam.

You can see a photo of Uncle Joe and Aunt Linnet here in Picture the West. By the time the photo was taken, Uncle Joe had built on another room. The foundation of his house and the rock-lined well are still in place. Uncle Joe's neighbor told me his land was considered the best property in the county. They ran a few cattle, cut their own hay along the creek, and always, as Aunt Linnet wrote in her diary, "had good horses to ride."

I composed the first verse of this poem while my cousin and I walked on the rocky, pine-covered ridge on the west side of their ranch.