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FRENCH CAMP RED
aka Brad Smith
Elk Grove, California
About French Camp Red

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

 

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for his poem, The Dog Swamp Stranger

 

 

About French Camp Red:

French Camp Red gets his poetry somehow out via Brad Smith, "a boring guy with a wife and two kids living the American dream in Elk Grove, CA."

We asked Brad Smith to elaborate and he said:

Okay. Since you asked, I have to admit I’m not just in it for the money. Oh, sure, that part’s great (along with all the women it attracts), but I guess I have to confess my true motivations. Red would have wanted it that way.

I work in the construction business. I’m not a cowboy. Haven’t been one since my voice started cracking, my skin broke out, and girls came along and spoiled it all. Until then, I had the fastest gun, the toughest fists and the meanest mean-look of anyone on the block. I learned it all from watching television and movies, and acting it all out with my pards. Of course, none of that was very realistic. But what I also learned (I think) was a strong sense of what’s right and good versus what’s wrong and bad. And a strong opinion of which side I wanted to be on. I still believe straight shooters always win and I think all kids should get to watch the old cowboy shows in school now that they don’t have to learn to duck-and-cover anymore.

Anyway, I’ve lived here in the Big Valley most of my fifty-odd years and I’ve never even seen Barbara Stanwyck in person, let alone that blonde with the tight jeans. But every once in a while I feel like being a cowboy again, and it makes me want to write some stuff down. If that stuff rhymes and amuses me and there’s a place where I can e-mail it and no one tells me to stop, hell, I’m in hog heaven.

 

The Dog Swamp Stranger


I remember that chilly October midnight
When we rode side by side through the swamp
Through the low-hangin’ fog and the evil moonlight
After visitin’ town for a romp.

Our horses clip-clopped us a tap dancin’ tune –
Like they’s walkin’ on coffins or tombs.
And occasional light from a peek-a-boo moon
Lit their nostrils’ thick vaporous plumes.

I said to Ol’ Earl with a wisperin’, “Whoa,
I ain’t never seen Dog Swamp so foggy.”
And progress got painful an’ terrible slow
‘Cause the footin’ got treacherous’ boggy.

Now it happened to be that eventually
Me an’ Earl found ourselves overlookin’
A poor man, we agreed, what’s appearin’ to be
Down a path that he shouldn’a tookin’.

That cowboy was sittin’ there under his hat
And he’d made it to maybe mid-bog.
Then he sunk to his waist in a sneaky mud flat
No doubt hidden by darkness and fog.

We both told him, “Hey,” and he said, “Howdy do.”
And we offered to toss him a rope.
But to our great surprise he just sat in the goo.
He just sat there, then spit, then said: “Nope.”

So we asks him, “Why not?” as he sunk to his chest,
“You’re too young t’ be fixin’ t’ die.”
Then me and Earl sat, having made our behest,
And we waited to hear his reply.

“Now, I left me a wife back in St. Louie, Mo”
He explained with an unbalanced grin.
“And I left me another in Colorado”
Then he sunk in the mud to his chin.

“But to leave this poor filly jus’ wouldn’t be right,
No, not even if I had my druthers.
For she brung me this far without nary a fight,
N’ that’s more’n I can say for them others.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So we stared at the hat that still floated quagmired
As we passed it circuitously,
And we knew that the stranger we just seen expired
But for fortune was Ol’ Earl and me.

Brad Smith
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 



Earl Gits Mad

One time I saw ol’ Earl git so mad
His thin gray hair looked red agin’,
And that strange little vein on the side of his head
Liked t’ pop right out of his skin.

His hand, like a talon, clutched the butt of his gun.
His jaw grew incredibly tight.
His eyes glazed over in a steely stare
And I knew he was ready to fight.

He didn’t say nothin’ but it’s like I read his mind
And I knew there was only one way
To eliminate the carnage sure t’ fill the room
When that Peacemaker’d had its say.


So I took the last biscuit
Out of Tiny Barlow’s hand,
And I slowly moved it over
And I dropped it in the pan.

Then I slid it ‘cross the table
Back in front of Earl agin’.
He looked at me, his brow unfurled,
He gave a little grin...


Tiny Barlow laughed himself a nervous little laugh.
He coughed a cough, and wiggled in his seat.
He watched ol’ Earl pick the last biscuit up,
And slowly butter it complete.

Earl said, “Say there, Tiny, if it wouldn’t trouble ya none,
Would ya pass that jar of jelly over here?”
And we sat in silence as we watched ol’ Earl
Make the biscuit and the jelly disappear.

Brad Smith
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

The Wedding

Now I’ll tell you a tale you will think is a lie,
But I saw it myself with my own good eye.
It was back in eighty-eight - I remember it fine.
Who could forget that year, eighty-eight… eighty-nine?

All the cowboys were down on the main street of town
Where the cheap hotels and saloons gathered ‘round.
I was all hunkered down near the end of the bar
With a bottle of whiskey and a five-string guitar.

There was love in the air on that cold winter’s night
And the ladies and ‘boys was a wondrous sight.
The bouncin’ and shakin’ of bounteous cleavage,
The singin’ and slakin’ and copious weavage.

The strummin’ began and I looked ‘round to see
And to my great surprise saw the strummer was me.
The crowd grew less noisy and parted a bit
Then in staggered Earl lookin’ roughly like s***.

He was drunk and confused; he was out of his mind.
The pants he had borrowed put his shorts in a bind.
But he looked purdy good for a man what was doomed -
In a life with a wife he would soon be entombed.

On the other hand Carol stood calmly in pose.
One hand on hip, the other held a rose.
Rosy lips pouty, eyes sparkly and bright.
Earl had no doubt he would soon troth his plight.

The parson said magic words, making them one.
Earl kissed her, she kissed him and so it was done.
They climbed up the stairs, paused for one final kiss,
Then went down the hall to their consummate bliss.

                        ~~~~~~~~~

Come morning time Earl had to get on the trail,
So he loosened the reins he had tied to the rail.
When the cows were all sold he’d come back home to stay.
With a brave, frozen smile she watched Earl ride away.

Brad Smith
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

December Ride


It was Ol' Earl and me all alone on that day
When the sunshine was froze in the sky.
We plowed through the snow on our horses chest deep,
Both Ol' Earl and me wonderin' - why?

The wind tore our skin every place where it could
So we tried not to give it the chance.
And the sweat from our ridin' hard seeped through our clothes
'Til our saddles got stuck to our pants.

We were makin' our way up the canyon together
To gather the cattle around,
And then drive them the length of the river below
To some less inhospitable ground.

When we broke o'er the crest of a hoggyback ridge
We was freezing our asses clean off, an'
It suddenly hit us, we oughta retreat, thus
Avoidin' a frigidy coffin.

Now to move them cows down was the right thing to do, but
Me and Earl got our delicate side.
All them cows'll be there when the spring comes t' thaw-
Every brisket, and rump roast, and hide....

Brad Smith
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Eternal Reward

We was sittin’ a spell on a log by the crik,
Just talkin’ about life n’ death,
And the terrible feelin’ of helplessness
One would get from extreme lack of breath.

Dog Crik’d come splashin’ on down from the mountain
All hurryin’ and actin’ the fool.
Then rested awhile where we sat contemplatin’
By the banks of a crystal clear pool.

I says to my friend, I says, “Earl, tell me true.
Would you rather be plugged or cremated?”
“Neither,” says Earl with a coy little smile.
“I jus’ wanna be stuffed n’ probated.”

I told him, “For me, I would rather jus’ be
Slowly roast’ on a hick’ry wood far
‘Til there’s nothing but ashes left over, collected
And placed in a bright pewter jar.

Then if you would, please, take that jar to the man
What makes statues and sculptures and such,
And ask him to mix me with sand and cement
‘Til I’m supple, yet firm to the touch.

Tell him fashion me into a statue of Cupid
With arrow and bow pulled up tight
Then carry me here by the banks of the Dog Crik –
This wonderful splendorous sight.

Then rig me a flume from upstream a ways
To bring water eternal to me
So from then on I’ll stand at the edge of this pool
Shooting arrows all day while I pee.”

Brad Smith
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


The Pickle Jar

We was ridin' the Central Valley on our way to Monterey,
When we passed a small way station, an' me an' Earl agreed to stay
For a night or two of revelry while playin' the waitin' game -
Which was lucky on account of Jimmy just'd turned up lame.

The blessed San Joaquin rolled slowly past this valley town
That'd grown 'round Durham's Ferry and the miners comin' down
And the mule trains headin' up the hills with merchandise to sell
At cost plus meager markup (so to hear the merchants tell).

Now, every day we'd take a break and while the time away,
While every night we'd drink an' dance until the break of day.
Two days turned to ten and twelve, but still we didn't worry,
'Cause Jimmy needed time to mend, and we was in no hurry.

The summertime in San Joaquin was gener'ly hot as hell,
And the tendency in the afternoon was to stop and sit a spell.
And maybe sip some lemonade and watch the redtailed hawk
Turnin' slowly crafted circles over Mr. Durham's dock.

So slowly did the distant rumble build intensity,
That we nary even noticed 'til there wasn't time to flee.
The horsemen rode up on us - maybe six or seven strong -
Maybe more, I didn't count 'em, cause that would take too long.

Instead our gazes locked upon the leader of this pack,
From forty yards away we seen his eyes was lookin' back.
His steely stare and icy glare brought shivers to my spine,
Presumably to indicate our lives was on the line.

They rode right up to where we sat and when the dust'd settled
Jus' sat there in their saddles, neither discontent nor nettled
But jus' content to sit there while I's squirmin' in my chair,
These bandoleros, desperados didn't seem to care.
 
Some wore holstered side arms, and some had rifles sheathed,
And some had bandoliers around their necks and shoulders wreathed
All had many ways, I's sure, to end my life that day -
Some slow and dreadful methods. some nice, without delay.

But our eyes stayed focused, locked upon their deadly leader's eyes
And I remember tremblin', thinkin' it would come as no surprise
If Ol' Earl did some damn fool thing he knew he shouldn' oughta,
But instead he smiled an' raised his glass and asked him, "Limonada?"

The redtailed hawk screamed softly as it soared accipitrine
Above the searing afternoon beside the blessed San Joaquin.
A bead of sweat rolled slowly down my rigid jaw and hung there
Ten seconds, fifteen, twenty - with Earl's glass held in the air.

Hot as hell it was - that valley afternoon - without a breeze.
A lonely jay was screechin' somewhere out there in the trees.
I wished I'd never seen that town, nor heard that screechin' jay,
And I damned Earl's Jimmy goin' lame an' causin' us t' stay.

They say a fella's eyes can be the windows to his soul -
I seen a thousand evil deeds requirin' such a heavy toll,
But for every evil deed he done, he done it for a reason.
Freedom has a price to pay and Justice knows no season.

"Joaquin", his proud lieutenant gently broke the silent spell.
Then, for just a moment yet, we back in silence fell.
The Mexican relaxed a bit an' smiled a little smile.
He said, "Vamanos, amigos"
And the desperados slowly turned and rode off single file.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few days later we was leavin'.  Remember?  Monterey?
Jimmy's feelin' better'n it was time to make our way.
A cowboy only stands for so much comfort and distraction,
Then he lights for parts providin' more pastoral satisfaction.

Leavin' town we passed a troop of California Rangers,
'Bout a dozen ugly, mean and shifty lookin' strangers.
They was braggin' all about heroic deeds they'd done
And how they'd shot a vicious bandit, a killer Mexican.

They shot him squarely in the back while tryin' t' ride away,
Then they drug his worthless carcass to a spot where it would lay
Nice an' flat allowin' Cap'n Love an unobstructed swing
Of his mighty saber, keen and true - a most impressive ring.

They'd shoved the head in a pickle jar Ol' Cookie kept around
Then jus'n case it wasn't dead they made sure it was drowned
With some brandy that the Cap'n kept for moments such as this,
Then they passed the bottle all around 'em - jus' for emphasis.

So proudly was that pickle jar displayed upon their wagon,
But I couldn't hardly look at it an' keep myself from gaggin'.
The eyes were open wide, the skin was pale, the wild hair floated,
The nose was red and swollen and the lips severely bloated.
 
The wretched mouth was screamin' words defiantly obscene,
But it never made a sound beside the blessed San Joaquin.
Earl an' me exchanged a glance, in silence sat and wondered:
What sadly vessel'd soul had so sensationally blundered?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Through the years I've often wondered (some might call me strange):
Whether you're still ridin', mi amigo, on some Sonoran range?
Or whether you, my erstwhile friend, forever after are
Jus' watchin' life float merrily by Ol' Cookie's pickle jar.

Brad Smith
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


 

Earl's Back From Elko
(Of Poetry and Beans)

Giddy-up ol' timer -
Get back in the saddle.
Get back to work now,
It's time to skedaddle.

Poetry's fine if you
Know what it means,
But it don't make no money
And it don't buy no beans.

If you're out ridin' fence line,
Or helpin' brand cattle,
Or jus' lookin' busy so's the
Foreman won't tattle,

You can rhyme all you want
'Bout them cows bein' smelly,
But them fancy-pants words
Won't put beans in your belly.

So you sit by the far'
At the end of the day,
And you're eatin' them beans
After earnin' your pay,

And them cattle, like you,
(So you're finally thinkin'),
Are out there lowin' poetic
While you're sittin' 'round stinkin'.

Brad Smith
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

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