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 4 of 5
pages of comments.
The index of all poets and poems mentioned is on Page 1.
Yvonne Hollenbeck contributed the following:
My favorite Western or Cowboy Poem is "The Men Who Ride No More" by Joel Nelson of Alpine, Texas. The rhythm of the poem is perfect, and the text is chocked full of the stories of many, many old cowboys and those who, unfortunately, will be there someday. It certainly tugs on the heartstrings.
You can read more about Yvonne Hollenbeck and read her poetry here.
"The Men Who Ride No More" is included on Joel Nelson's Breaker in the Pen recording, the only Cowboy Poetry recording ever nominated for a Grammy Award. It is available from the Western Folklife Center store. Baxter Black has said that Breaker in the Pen "raised the bar for Cowboy Poetry for 1000 years."
Cindy Baker contributed the following:
"Going to See the Elephant" by Lanny Joe Burnett combines heritage with heartstrings as it feeds its reader a taste of the cattle drives that kept cowboys hungry for more. It's graphic; it's historical; and it's even whimsical --- the sing-song, repetitious ". . . north to Abilene to see the Elephant" adds continuity and rhythm.
Jean Mathisen contributed the following:
I'll put in my two bits. My favorite poem/song is "The Old Double Diamond" by Gary McMahan. I particularly like the poem because it is about a ranch in my part of the country and I have heard it sung many times and I always enjoy it as much as the first time I heard it.
Jean Mathisen is:
You can read more about Lariat Laureate runner up Jean Mathisen and some of her poetry here.
Tim Graham contributed the following:
My favorite poem would have to be "Sayin' Goodbye" by Les Buffham. This poem deals with what I refer to as a disease that is sweeping our country: the demise of the family-owned ranches and farms. Having grown up on a farm that is no longer in our family I can relate to the plight of the old man in this poem. When performing this poem you see it touch so many people as they relate to its story. I truly feel that this will be a classic one day. My heartfelt thanks to Les for such a wonderful poem.
The old cowman gets out of the pickup
walks back and slowly closes the gate
rests a weathered old hand on a fencepost there
to sort of minimize the shake
He looks off into the distance
at the mountains far away
no clouds hangin' there this mornin'
looks like it'll be a purty day
Then his gaze falls on the ranch house
the corrals and the blacksmith shop
That old creakin' windmill there
and the barn with the weather vane on top
Then to the hill behind the house
with the weathered picket fence
where long ago he'd laid to rest his folks
and he'd thought a lot about 'em since
Then to that other mound where recently
he'd said goodbye to a faithful and loving wife
who had given him three children
and all the best years of her life
Then to those flowers there strugglin' by the door
he'd tried hard to keep em goin'
but was more of a hand with the four legged things
and not much with those that were growin'
Then he goes to thinkin' about the kids
he'd hoped that one of them would stay
but guessed they'd found their own dreams
each one in their own way
And he really couldn't blame 'em much
cause ranchin' now days just wasn't the same
with all the scratchin' and the clawin'
just to play the bureaucratic game
Wasn't simple anymore
'n hard to find that feeling of a job well done
With all the pressure and the worry
anymore it wasn't as much fun
He's thinkin' how he'd like to stay right here
and just finish out his days
instead of movin' to a smaller place
where he'd have to learn new ways
But the work just keeps on pilin' up
and things are startin' to fall apart
can't afford no help and can't do much
since all that trouble with his heart
Then the old cowman shuffles back
climbs into the truck, starts it and puts it into gear
and as he pulls away, in the corner of each eye
there appears a little tear
He swerves to dodge a pothole
then he straightens out the truck
thinks he'd oughta bout make Denver
by dark with any luck
Then in the mornin' he'd sign all the papers
go back and get the rest of his stuff
say goodbye to the old place once more
and he knew it was gonna be tough
As he pulls out on to the main highway
the dust from his passing lingers there
it hangs for a little then slowly it settles
and fades in the still morning air
and that dust is sort a like that old cowman
seems like it too just wants to hang on
as another page from our history book
and another family outfit is gone.
© 1993, Les Buffham
Popular cowboy, poet and songwriter Les Buffham is our Honored Guest, and you can read more of his poetry here. He is the recipient of awards from the Western Music Association and the Academy of Western Artists.
"Sayin' Goodbye" is on Les's Just an Old Cowboy tape:
and on Tim Graham's "On the Trail" recording:
You can read more about Tim Graham and some of his poetry here at CowboyPoetry.com.
Tim Graham is:
Virginia Bennett commented:
Classic poet: Has to be Robert Frost. I was raised in an agricultural family in NH, and of course, required to memorize Frost in school. His "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" remains with me yet, and last year as I drove bobsled and teams at a northern resort, I had fun reciting that poem, coupled with my "Bells of December," to the riders on the sleighs.
I have a collection of Frost's work and find much of it to be too abstract for my tastes. But there is much of it that inspires me to write of commonplace things, things Frost found compelling, such a man on a train catching a glimpse of a man leaning in a doorway as the train passes through a community, or the mending of a stone wall separating a field and an orchard.
Frost's poem, "A Mood Apart," inspires me to try to write concisely, to capture something profound in few words. I have not yet achieved this, but I try.
Within the Western realm of classic poetry, I admire Robert Service and Henry Herbert Knibbs, whose work was first recited to me by Colorado poet, Vess Quinlan. I equally admire many others, including those women anthologized in my book Cowgirl Poetry (Gibbs Smith Publisher). S. Omar Barker, Bruce Kiskaddon, Badger Clark et al. cannot be beat for their lyrical and picturesque portrayals of a way of life. Service and Knibbs stand out for me in their poignancy and pathos of the outcasts, the lonely, the ne'er do wells in this world.
Contemporary poets continue to inspire me, as well. Rod McQueary's "For Woody" is a poem that graces the page and takes up residence within the heart. A piece that begins with a rivulet of water high in the mountains, gaining volume and speed until it reaches the field where an old horse named Woody grazes. The writer knows Woody will suffer through another winter because of his advanced age, but then he remembers the proud, brave horse as he was in the past, faults and all, and he puts his gun away as he notices the onset of Spring. McQueary's presentation of the poem remains in my memory as classic and priceless. What a gift of literature!
There are poems I have more recently become aware of, and these poems are perhaps somewhat obscure. Dee Strickland Johnson's (Buckshot Dot) "Herd A Passin" is one such poem. How sweetly, benignly Strickland captures the essence of a lonely little girl, being raised perhaps with stern parents and in a hard time. Such a piece is unforgettable for me. Another poem deserving of classic status is Johnson's "Fredonia." This poem has a Robert Frost-like quality to it that makes it unforgettable.
Humor is so important within the genre of cowboy poetry, and of course, many of Baxter Black's will live on forever. His "Vegetarian's Nightmare," "One More Year," "Selling Prewitt's Cow," and many many more are surely classics and will serve to keep his name alive on our lips and his voice ringing in our ears.
Rod McQueary's "Chicken Outfit" is another humorous poem that sticks with me as well. McQueary dreams of inheriting a chicken ranch and thus describes his adventures as he tries techniques used on cattle with eggs and hens!
And of course, the agreed upon modern classic, "Reincarnation" by Wallace McRae. We've heard it so often, it's become old hat to us, but it has to be believed that that particular poem will stand the test of time.
Virginia Bennett is:
You can read more about Virginia Bennett and some of her poetry here at the BAR-D. Virginia Bennett is the the editor of Cowgirl Poetry published by Gibbs-Smith, and we have a feature on that book here.
Rod McQueary is our Honored Guest. Our feature about him here includes the poems mentioned above, "For Woody" and "The Chicken Outfit."
See the Academy of American Poets' feature on Robert Frost here. The poem "A Mood Apart" is posted here. The Favorite Poem Project (in part an inspiration for our own collection, as described above) has "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" posted in text here and also available in a video recitation by the California student who selected it as her favorite.
We have a feature about Robert Service with poetry here.
Henry Herbert Knibbs was born in 1874, and Cowboy Miner Productions published a definitive collection of his work. You can read more about him and read his poem, "Boomer Johnson," at the Cowboy Miner site:
You can read Knibbs' "Where the Ponies Come to Drink" here.
Colorado poet Vess Quinlan's work can be found in anthologies (see our anthology index) including Maverick Western Verse, edited by John Dofflemyer (links are to Amazon); Cattle, Horses, Sky, and Grass: Cowboy Poetry of the Late Twentieth Century by Warren Miller, and the anthology edited by Hal Cannon, Cowboy Poetry, a Gathering, which grew from the Elko gatherings (click the image for an Amazon link, which includes more description):
We have several Christmas poems by S. Omar Barker, reprinted with permission from the Cowboy Miner book.
We have a feature about Bruce Kiskaddon with poetry here.
We have a feature about Charles "Badger" Clark with poetry here.
You can read more about Buckshot Dot and some of her poetry here; she is an Honored Guest at CowboyPoetry.com
We have a feature about Wallace McRae with poetry here, including Reincarnation (reprinted with permission from Gibbs Smith Publishing). The poem is included in the anthology edited by Hal Cannon, Cowboy Poetry, a Gathering, and the poem is also included in Wallace McRae's own book from Gibbs Smith Publishing (click the image for an Amazon link and full table of contents):
Pat Trembley, Executive Director of the Sagebrush Cowboyography Association commented:
I would like to nominate J. W. Beeson and "Rosie's Eagle" as one of my favorite Western poems. The poem tells the story of a young boy's curiosity about a golden eagle protecting a nest and how true love ran parallel between man and nature. J. W. is one of the finest poets around and I am proud to have him as a personal friend.
Pat Trembley helped put us in touch with J. W. Beeson, who gave us permission to post his poem, which you can read here. Pat is the Executive Director of the Sagebrush Cowboyography Association, sponsors of the acclaimed annual Cowboy Poetry Gather. The organization was started in Sheridan, Wyoming in 1993. Read more about them and their activities at the Sagebrush Cowboyography Association web site, including the Scott Redington award (one of the honorees is Nicole Legerski, whose poetry is here at CowboyPoetry.com).
Gary Crum commented:
Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson's "The Man from Snowy River" is one of the best cowboy poems ever written -- it spawned a popular song and two Hollywood feature films. Why all the attention to an old Australian horse and rider story?
First, because it has good characters in it: the crusty old man, running the show and too set in his ways; the talented, open-minded expert rider that stands up before the crowd for another rider less well known; and the plucky young man who shows his grit and unique skills after being labeled unfairly as a waste of time by just about everyone else.
Second, these three characters weave in and out of a dramatic story that flows as fast as the Man From Snowy River can ride. When he leaves the other riders at the crest and rides down that steep incline, the poet propels you over the side and down the dangerous mountainside too. As the thrill of that ride is hitting you, you also feel the complete vindication of the young rider and his lone advocate.
It is a rush.
Michael Henley commented:
When people who love this stuff start soundin' off, it's amazin' how many duplications there are. Red Steagall's "Born to This Land" speaks so directly to the sense of the land and how westerners both own it and belong to it. Bruce Kiskaddon's "Bronco Twisters Prayer" paints the kind of 'word pictures' all of us green poets wish we could. I know what the land looks like and the men and women and I can see the Bronco Fighters expressions and reverence. Being noted for a little left field leanin', I'd like to throw in Rudyard Kipling's "If." It was attached to my 16th birthday card along with a Matlock Rose hackamore and even though it was penned by a British Imperialist born in India, there's a lot of cowboys that wish they'd said it first.
Red Steagall is one of the best-loved and respected Cowboy entertainers. We have a feature on Red Steagall here, where you can read Born to This Land, which is also included in The Big Roundup. Do visit Red Steagall's Ranch Headquarters web site for much more about him and his work, and a mercantile with an excellent selection of quality poetry and music.
In an article, Cowboy Poetry -- The First Hundred Years, Dr. James S. Griffith, writes "...And beginning in the 1880's and '90's, a whole school of poetry of the out-of-doors was being published by such men as Rudyard Kipling in England and Robert Service in North America. So it appears that there were several models floating about for what became cowboy poetry..." Griffith first conceived the idea for what became the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, now presented annually by the Western Folklife Center.
Kipling was born in 1865 and died in 1936. You can read more about him at the Kipling Society web site. Following is his poem, If..., which the site says was included in a 1910 collection of his poems.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master;
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run--
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!
Michael Henley is:
You can read more of his poetry here at the BAR-D.
Achim Gutbrod of Kirchhain, Germany commented:
It's so hard to tell, which of the many great poems that I came to know in the last 15 years is my favorite. It is easy to say who my favorite poet is: despite of Baxter Black, S. Omar Barker, Carlos Ashley, Bruce Kiskaddon, Wallace McRae, Yvonne Hollenbeck (I could go on and on just listing the poets I like) there is but ONE Number One, and this is RED STEAGALL. He's got the reason and the rhyme to write great great poetry, and his reciting (of his own or other peoples' poems) is only matched by his singing and songwriting abilities.
And if I have to choose one of my many favorites as THE favorite poem this is very difficult. But okay: it's "McCorkle And The Wire" by Red Steagall. Spooky story with great meaning, crafted perfectly.
Carlos Ashley was the Texas Poet Laureate from 1949-1951. His book, That Spotted Sow and Other Texas Hill Country Ballads, now out of print, was first published in 1941.
Red Steagall recites Ashley's "Bob Sears' Chili Joint" and Baxter Black recites Ashley's "Epilogue" to "Jim Watkin's Barber Shop" 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.
We have a feature about Bruce Kiskaddon with more of his poetry here.
We have a feature about Wallace McRae with poetry here.
We're pleased to have the poetry of Yvonne Hollenbeck here.
Sammarah Kilmurray commented:
My favorite poem is "The Man from Snowy River" by Banjo Patterson because it is all about horses and I love horses.
Mike Dunn commented:
I was surprised not to see [listed yet] Red Steagall's, "The Fence That Me And Shorty Built"; Baxter Black's, "He Sang Little Joe The Wrangler"; And Waddie Mitchell's, "Belle of the Ball."
Yes, these are on the serious side but at different levels. I do have some favorite fun poems, like Omar Barker's, "Purt Near"; Wallace McRae's, "Reincarnation"; and ... Waddie Mitchell's, "Story With A Moral."
We have a feature on Red Steagall here, where you can read The Fence that Me and Shorty Built (President Bush's favorite Western poem). Do visit Red Steagall's Ranch Headquarters web site for much more about him and his work, and a mercantile with an excellent selection of quality poetry and music.
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.
You can read some of Mike Dunn's poetry right here at the BAR-D.
Elliot "Bug" McGowan commented:
"Legacy of the Rodeo Cowboy" by Baxter Black has to be my favorite poem of all time because being a bull rider and a ranch hand it just really hits home with me. I've probably read that poem a thousand times and it still gives me goose bumps every time I read it. Keep up the good work Mr. Black.
We have a feature about Baxter Black here and it has a link to his web site.
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