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Otego, New York
About Dennis Higgins



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.

About Dennis Higgins

I spent some early years in California but have mostly grown up and worked in upstate New York.  I studied at various schools in Oregon, England, Illinois, and New York. My training is as a mathematician and computer scientist, and I teach for the State University of New York.  

With my wife and two daughters I live on a small farm in Otego, New York, where we have horses, beef cows, and sometimes sheep and pigs.  Besides technical publications, I've written a number of short stories, (mostly about rock climbing), published in Ascent, The Climbing Art, Rock and Ice, and Aethlon. I have just finished my first novel which takes place in Cheyenne, New York City and points in between.




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