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We started the Favorite Cowboy and Western Poems Project in conjunction with Cowboy Poetry Week, which we celebrate the third week of April each year, during National Poetry Month.  

We welcome your comments all year.  See Page 1 for more background information.

This is Page 2 of 5 pages of comments.  
The most recent comments are posted on Page 5.

The index of all poets and poems mentioned is on Page 1.

We invite you to tell us about your favorite classic or contemporary Western or Cowboy poem.  

Simply send an email and tell us:

  • the name of your favorite Western or Cowboy poem

  • the author's name

  • why it's a favorite

Be sure to include your name and email address. 

We're particularly interested in knowing why the poem is your favorite.

 

We welcome corrections and additions to our follow-up notes.  Email us.



Ray Owens contributed the following:

Ray Owens 

Ray_the_Poet.jpg (10268 bytes)

To answer honestly and fairly, I don't believe it's possible that I could name just one favorite poem.  In my opinion, there are simply too many really good ones.

I can say, however, that there are three poems which would certainly be on my list of all time favorites.  I've committed them to memory, but still, I like to just sit down and read them occasionally. All have this one thing in common--regardless of how many times I've read them, they never get old. Instead, they strike a responsive chord way down deep, and I'm grateful that the respective authors wrote them and left them for us to share.

Those three poems, in no particular order, are "The Creak Of The Leather" by Bruce Kiskaddon; "The Chuckwagon" by S. Omar Barker; and "The Quitter" by Robert W. Service.

If those of us who are writing Cowboy Poetry today would continually strive to achieve the quality of those three poems, some folks would sure have some pleasurable reading a hundred years from now.

  • You can read more about Ray Owens and some of his poetry here; he is an Honored Guest at CowboyPoetry.com

  • There is information about S. Omar Barker on page 1.

  • We have a feature with poetry here about Robert Service.  "The Quitter" is from Service's Rhymes of a Rolling Stone

The Quitter

When you're lost in the Wild, and you're scared as a child,
 And Death looks you bang in the eye,
And you're sore as a boil, it's according to Hoyle
 To cock your revolver and... die.
But the Code of a Man says: "Fight all you can,"
 And self-dissolution is barred.
In hunger and woe, oh, it's easy to blow...
 It's the hell-served-for-breakfast that's hard.

"You're sick of the game!" Well, now, that's a shame.
 You're young and you're brave and you're bright.
"You've had a raw deal!" I know -- but don't squeal,
 Buck up, do your damnedest, and fight.
It's the plugging away that will win you the day,
 So don't be a piker, old pard!
Just draw on your grit; it's so easy to quit:
 It's the keeping-your-chin-up that's hard.

It's easy to cry that you're beaten -- and die;
 It's easy to crawfish and crawl;
But to fight and to fight when hope's out of sight --
 Why, that's the best game of them all!
And though you come out of each gruelling bout,
 All broken and beaten and scarred,
Just have one more try -- it's dead easy to die,
 It's the keeping-on-living that's hard.


Our friend and poet Buckshot Dot (Dee Strickland Johnson), hard at work on a forthcoming book, contributed the following:

Buckshot Dot 

"Buckshot Dot" (Dee Strickland Johnson) at Prescott, 2001

Favorite poems that come to mind at once are "Where the Ponies Come to Drink" (Henry Herbert Knibbs) and "Granger's Daughter" (S. Omar Barker).  One of the best modern poets in my opinion is Elizabeth Ebert of South Dakota.  I'm also very fond of Bruce Kiskaddon's "The Old Night Hawk" and Barker's "Purt Near."

Buckshot Dot is:  

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

 

Tom Sharpe recites ""Where the Ponies Come to Drink" on Smithsonian Folkways' Cowboy Poetry Classics (2003).  See the cross-referenced index of poets, poems and reciters on this CD in our anthology index and read a review here. You can read more about the CD at the Smithsonian Folkways site.

 

You can read more about Henry Herbert Knibbs and read his poem, "Boomer Johnson," at the Cowboy Miner site:

Peggy Godfrey recites "Purt Near!" on Smithsonian Folkways' Cowboy Poetry Classics (2003).  See the cross-referenced index of poets, poems and reciters on this CD in our anthology index and read a review here. You can read more about the CD at the Smithsonian Folkways site.


Jay Snider contributed the following:

Jay Snider 

    
Seldom has cowboy poetry been discussed, at any length, without the name Kiskaddon being mentioned quite frequently nor can a crowd of diverse people be more mesmerized than by his poem "When They Finish Shipping Cattle In The Fall."

Jay Snider is:  

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

 


Howard D. Mallison contributed the following:

Howard D. Mallison 

I personally like Curley Fletcher's "The Strawberry Roan."  However, in the comment made by Joyce Mitich Taylor concerning her Father's version of the fourth line of the sixth verse - I really believe I prefer her Dad's (George Prell's) last line of: "And the map of Chihuahua all over his hip."

I believe this last line actually reads better and conveys the idea more fully than does the line about "...forty-four brand..."

To be more specific as to my reasons for liking the poem, (and my reasons closely follow the verses):

The poem tends to describe a person who is in touch with himself, one who has a straightforward view of his own abilities while having confidence in those abilities, and understands that accepting risks is an integral part of life.

He seems to feel, and is satisfied that, all challenges are not necessarily money related, although he always strives for the best outcome.

He earnestly sizes up the opposition with a view to weighing his chances of success and or failure.

He prepares himself and tries to take all the advantages he can get before starting to work.  He is alert to what tricks to look for and what abilities are likely to be inherent in the horse.

He is ready to give credit for the horses knowledge while accepting, and making light of, the possibility of his own failure to stay aboard.

What really strikes me is the almost double meaning of the whole poem.  If it were somewhat paraphrased in subject, it could be applied to ventures in everyone's everyday life and carry the message that one must have confidence, accept risks, take challenges, be earnest in actions, examine the opposition, be prepared for the work, be alert to possible failure, give credit and acknowledge ability to all, and, possibly more importantly -  be prepared for one's own mortality and physical limits in any endeavor.

For me, "The Strawberry Roan" is, at once, a very entertaining, well written poem, one that has implications and applications to various facets of life.

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


Don Gregory contributed the following:

I've been ponderin' just which of the classics is my favorite, and it's sure enough a chore to pick one, the first poem of this type I remember reading, is Robert Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee," when I was in the fourth grade. so it has to rate right up there, but the nod for the all-time favorite has to go to, "When They Finish Shipping Cattle In The Fall." The first time I heard it recited, and every time I've heard, or read it since, I actually can feel the melancholy, that must have been hangin' over Bruce Kiskaddon, when he wrote it..... No other poem has moved me quite like that one, and I surely hope someday, I can write a poem that reaches folks half as much as that one has reached me.

The contemporary poem I like the best, is Jeff Streeby's, "The Wild Crew." I read it the first time, in The Big Roundup, and have enjoyed reading it over, and over. It inspired me to write "The Midnight Rider's Song."  Probably I wasn't supposed to pick two, but couldn't help myself, they are both awesome poems...

Don Gregory is:

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

The Wild Crew

As I rode out just this morning,
There were Four Riders I did see
There in the clouds above Square Butte,
And They come ridin' straight at me.

One Rider forked a chestnut colt
that reared and squealed and blowed.
A buckskin mare, just hide and bones,
a Second Rider rode.

A Third bestrode a haggard black,
Gaunt, sick, and hollow-eyed,
And He used him hard with quirt and word,
And He spurred him, too, besides.

The Fourth One sat a pale horse,
And He seemed the One to note,
And when He looked me in the eye,
The bile rose in my throat,

For then I knowed each sev'ral one
That rode with that Wild Crew
And like They rode at me today,
Some day They'll ride at you.

And a killer rides the red horse
And the horse's name is War.
That buckskin mare, she's Famine,
That the Second Rider bore.

The Third, He topped Black Pestilence,
Vile sickness and disease.
The Pale Rider on the fleabit gray
Pinched Death between His knees.

And if that Rider speaks your name,
Your blood will turn to ice,
For the wages of your sins is Death
And Eternity's the price

To ride the Waste behind Them
And to wear the Devil's brand
For when you wear a heart so black,
You can't make God a hand.

Well, They rode on by and let me be
So's I could bring this tale to you,
But I know dang well I won't ride out
From a second rendezvous.

But when They come, you'll know Them now
They're outlaws- gallows bait.
They're somewheres, a-doggin' our back trail-

And don't you think They ain't.

Jeff Streeby

"The Wild Crew" has recently been released as a song entitled "Ride, Cowboy, Ride" on CD by Grammy-nominated Western singer/songwriter Ken Overcast of Chinook, Montana, under the Bear Valley Records label.

Jeff Streeby is an Honored Guest here at CowboyPoetry.com.  You can read his poetry and more about him here and read installments from his extraordinary work in progress, Sunday Creek, right here.  "The Wild Crew" is:

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


Debra Coppinger Hill contributed the following:

Debra Coppinger Hill

 

I have certain pieces that I read and re-read and share with everyone because I think they are shining examples present and past:

Contemporary:

Jeff Streeby, "The Wild Crew"
Doc Stovall, "The Soul of Ireland"
Jerry Warren, "The Price of Change"
Linda Kirkpatrick, "Conflict in the Frio Canyon"
Jay Snider, "The Pearly Gate"
Mike Puhallo, "Sacred Orb"
David Kelley, "Looking Down on Eagles"
G. Casey Allen, "Grass and Water--The Life of John Paul Slavens"
Jack DeWerff, "Old Buck"
Chris Isaacs, "Dying Breed"
Larry McWhorter, "Johnny Clare"
Dee Strickland Johnson (Buckshot Dot), "Dancing With Dad"
Donna Hatton, "Canyon Journey and The Return"

Traditional:

Robert Service, "The Men Who Don't Fit In"
Bruce Kiskaddon, "Bronco Twister's Prayer"
Buck Ramsey, "As I Rode Out on the Morning"

    and three poems from an 1868 teacher's text book:
Bayard Taylor, "The Bison Track" 
Thomas Buchanan Read, "The Emigrant's Song"
George P. Morris, "Life in the West"

I wish I could narrow it down...but these are all worthy pieces with great lessons that need to be shared. 

Debra Coppinger Hill is:  

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

 

Click for Cowboy Miner  

The poem is also included on his recording, "Wheat Pasture Dreamin'."

The Men Who Don't Fit In

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
  A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
  And they roam the world at will.
 
They range the field and they rove the flood,
  And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
  And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
  They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
  And they want the strange and new.
 
They say:  "Could I find my proper groove,
  What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
  Is only a fresh mistake.
 
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
  With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
  Who win in the lifelong race.

And each forgets that his youth has fled,
  Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
  In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
  He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
  And now is the time to laugh.
 
Ha, ha!  He is one of the Legion Lost;
  He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
  He's a man who won't fit in.

From "The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses"

The 1868 teacher's text book book was among many left me by my Grandmother, Meekee Gass.  The first page reads as follows:

Independent National Series
Fifth Reader
Containing
A practical treatise on elocution, illustrated
with diagrams; select and classified
readings and recitations; with
copious notes, and complete
supplementary index.

By J. Madison Watson,
Author of the National and the Independent Readers, Speller and Primers; The
Hand-book of Gymnastics; the Manual of Calisthenics; Tablets, etc.

A.S. Barnes & Company
New York, Chicago and New Orleans

Copyright 1868 J. Madison Watson

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

The book is very fragile and I am reminded how precious it must have been to have been preserved for so long.  My Grandmother always told me it had belonged to her Mother Clara Effie's sister Meade and she had no idea where she got it.  I am just glad to have it.

I find it very interesting that these pieces were written during the time period when "the West was Wild" and being settled. It is obvious in "The Bison Track" that the piece was written at a time when "tourist" buffalo hunting was coming into vogue.  I find it a little sad in "Life in the West" when they refer to a garden being preferable to the forest. "The Emigrant's Song" shows us how large and expansive they considered the West to be at the time.  Though there are no dates on individual pieces, the time frame is confirmed by the copyright...they had to have been written before 1868, but no telling how long.  There are many great pieces in it...several about the greatness of America.  I read it now and then to remind myself how precious words are and how eloquently they can be put together.  Though they are not, perhaps, what many would consider, "Cowboy Poems," I consider them to be so because of the time frame in which they were written and the subject matter. They are classic in my eyes and worthy to be called "Cowboy Poetry."

The Emigrant's Song

Bid adieu to the homestead, adieu to the vale;
Though the memory recalls them, give grief to the gale:
There the hearths are unlighted, and the embers are black,
Where the feet of the onward shall never turn back.
For as well might the stream that comes down from the mount,
Glancing up, heave the sigh to return to its fount;
Yet the lordly Ohio feels joy in his breast
As he follows the sun onward into the West.

Oh ! to roam, like the rivers, though empires of woods,
Where the king of the eagles in majesty broods;
Or to ride the wild horse o'er the boundless domain,
And to drag the wild buffalo down to the plain;
There to chase the fleet stag, and to track the huge bear,
And to face the lithe panther at bay in his lair,
Are a joy which alone cheers the pioneer's breast;
For the only true hunting-ground lies in the West!

Leave the tears to the maiden, the fears to the child,
While the future stands beckoning afar in the wild;
For there Freedom, more fair, walks the primeval land,
Where the wild deer all court the caress of her hand.
There the deep forests fall, and the old shadows fly,
And the palace and temple leap into the sky.
O, the East holds no place where the onward can rest,
And alone there is room in the land of the West!

Thomas Buchanan Read

An American painter and poet, was born in Chester Co., Pa., March 12, 1822.
A new addition of his poetical works in a collected form appeared in 1860.
His verse is musical and descriptions beautiful. He died May, 1872.

The Bison Track

   1.
Strike the tent ! the sun has risen; not a vapor streaks the dawn,
And the frosted prairie brightens to the westward, far and wan:
Prime afresh the trusty rifle-sharpen well the hunting spear;
For the frozen sod is trembling, and the noise of hooves I hear !

   2.
Fiercely stamp the tethered horses, as the snuff the morning's fire;
Their impatient heads are tossing, and the neigh with keen desire.
Strike the tent ! the saddles wait us-let the bridle-reins be slack-
For the prairies' distant thunder has betrayed the bison's track.

   3.
See ! a dusky line approaches: hark ! the onward surging roar,
Like the din of wintry breakers on a sounding wall of shore !
Dust and sand behind them whirling, snort the foremost of the van,
And their stubborn horns are clashing through the crowded caravan.

   4.
Now the storm is down upon us: let the maddened horses go !
We shall ride the living whirlwind, though a hundred leagues it blow !
Though the cloudy manes should thicken, and the red eyes' angry glare
Lighten round us as we gallop through the sand and rushing air !

   5.
Myriad hoofs will scar the prairie, in our wild, resistless race,
And a sound, like mighty waters, thunders down the desert space:
Yet the rein may not be tightened, not the rider's eyes look back-
Death to him whose speed should slacken, on the maddened bisons' track !

   6.
Now the trampling herds are threaded, and the chase is close and warm
For the giant bull that gallops in the edges of the storm:
Swiftly hurl the whizzing lasso-swing your rifles as we run:
See ! the dust is red behind him-shout, my comrades, he is won !

   7.
Look not upon him as he staggers-'tis the last shot he will need !
More shall fall, among his fellows, ere we run the mad stampede-
Ere we stem the brinded breakers, while the wolves, a hungry pack,
Howl around each grim-eyed carcass, on the bloody bison track !


Bayard Taylor

The noted American traveler and author, was born in Kennet Square, Penn.,
Jan. 11, 1825. While U. S. Minister to Germany he died at Berlin, Dec., 1878.

 

Life in the West

Ho ! brothers-come hither and list to my story-
   Merry and brief will the narrative be:
Here, like a monarch, I reign in my glory-
   Master am I, boys, of all that I see.
Where once frowned a forest, a garden is smiling-
   The meadow and moorland are marshes no more;
And there curls the smoke of my cottage, beguiling
   The children who cluster like grapes at the door.
Then enter, boys; cheerly, boys, enter and rest;
The land of the heart is the land of the West.

Talk not of the town, boys-give me the broad prairie;
   Where man, like the wind, roams impulsive and free;
Behold how its beautiful colors all vary,
   Like those of the clouds, or the deep rolling sea !
A like in the woods, boys, is even as changing:
   With proud independence we season our cheer;
And those who the world are for happiness ranging,
   Won't find it at all, if they don't find it here.
Then enter, boys; cheerly, boys enter and rest;
I'll show you the life, boys, we live in the West.

Here, brothers, secure from all turmoil and danger,
   We reap what we sow; for the soil is our own:
We spread hospitality's board for the stranger,
   And care not a fig for the king on his throne.
We never know want, for we live by our labor,
   And in it contentment and happiness find;
We do what we can for a friend or a neighbor,
   And die, boys, in peace and good-will to mankind.
Then enter, boys; cheerly, boys, enter and rest;
You know how we live, boys, and die in the West!

Geo. P. Morris


Ted E. Dennison contributed the following:

Ted E. Dennison 

TDCDcover.jpg (5465 bytes)

You know, no list would be complete without Curley Fletcher's "Strawberry Roan," as listed by several others, which was my very first exposure to Cowboy Poetry.  My father use to tell me that story when I was just a lad, then when I had a son he would tell him that story as well and I would have to say that's most likely why I started putting down my thoughts on paper.

With so many great poets & story tellers like Baxter Black, Biscuits O'Brien, and Red Steagall and so on, it is hard to choose just one favorite but currently I have to say I really enjoy Dennis Gaines. His "Palpation Altercation" is one I can listen to over and over again.  He paints a picture anyone can see, even if you have never been around cows.  I like it so much I got Dennis to allow me to learn and perform this 14-page adventure of Bovine Palpation. Here's to Dennis Gaines!  [See the note below]

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

Dennis Gaines comments: "Palpation Altercation" is truly a short story, written in prose form. I am a storyteller by nature and preference, and even my rhymed poems tend to tell a story, with plot, characters and resolution. I sure do appreciate the nod."


Susan Sevilla writes:

My favorite cowboy poem is by a cowgirl. It is "Love letters" by Linda Hussa. Read it and see for yourself.

"Love Letters" is included in her book Where the Wind Lives:Poems from the Great Basin  and also in Maverick Western Verse, edited by John Dofflemyer (links are to Amazon).  

 


This is Page 2....more comments on Page 3....


 

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  • the name of your favorite Western or Cowboy poem

  • the author's name

  • why it's a favorite

Be sure to include your name and email address.

We're particularly interested in knowing why the poem is your favorite.


 

  

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