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Brainerd, Minnesota
About Gary Wm. Midge


Ballad of the Badlands

The badlands whisper, their murmurs tempt my soul.
The lonesome, colored hills sing a wild refrain,
spinning tales of phantom riders from days long gone
who thunder over moonlit rimrock trails again.

Huge, shaggy bison still graze the land’s long grass,
unmoved by spectral sights, things we cannot see.
Unwitting witnesses to ghostly evening rides
of eternal cowboy’s souls long past set free.

Buried coal veins burn here, smolder deep below,
fired by nature’s violent mighty hand.
Her long, white-hot charges streaked from a dark sky
igniting the black rock fuel beneath the land.

The Little Missouri, muddy, alkaline, flows
fast athwart the grassy, sage-filled valley floor.
She wanders snake-like past ancient cottonwoods,
past ochre-hued rocks piled high along the shore.

Majestic, imposing buttes ascend tall and broad.
Unmoving dark fortresses stand strong, proud and true,
their rocky shoulders awash in silver starlight,
shadowed by mystical clouds of steely blue.

We newcomers wonder at cuts and draws, mazes
of steep, narrow paths that draw chest muscles tighter.
Specters on translucent mounts sweep boldly along,
racing bravely, gliding as one, horse and rider.

A sterling moon sheds its eerie, pale cool light
across the lonely badlands’ calm, apparent still.
Then ghostly riders venture along rimrock trails,
servants of destiny’s deep, unbowed eternal will.

They pound along Peaceful Valley’s sage-filled floor,
then back to the heights they fly, a wild, joyous band.
Now in unison turns each head, in search of him,
that bold spirit, one that leads when no other can.

A lone cry is heard, then wondrous shouts pierce the night.
Wild ghost horses rear skyward as gaunt riders
fight for control.  Moist eyes turn to a rocky peak,
to a bespectacled, grinning haunt, their bold leader.

He greets his roughriders, gloved hand extended,
lips spread wide apart. White teeth reflect the moonlight,
his thick moustaches droop and sag with tears that flow
down ruddy cheeks that shake and quiver in the night.

Silently he moves, assumes his rightful place.
Shoulders braced, palm high, forward looking, smiling,
Roosevelt joyously gives the awaited word
and the band rides on, this time with wondrous feeling.

The roughriders hammer through unknown canyons,
still faster they goad their wild, speedy horses
over eternal trails, enduring monuments
to the badland cowboys’ endless phantom forces.

Nowhere so fiery hot, yet ne’er a spot so cold.
Teddy loved this lonely, arid, barren place.
“Bully!” he shouts and waves to fast fleeting comrades,
a child’s pure joy always etched upon his face.

By day each of us may attend this vibrant land,
to observe, wander and cherish it as we might.
But to the gray, misty riders’ unearthly use
we resign the boulder-strewn hills at night.

The badlands whisper, their murmurs tempt my soul.
The lonesome, colored hills moan their wild refrain,
Spinning tales of phantom riders from long ago
who thunder over moonlit rimrock trails again.

Gary Wm. Midge
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



            The Old Homeplace

I’ve worked the old homeplace, this broken-down ranch,
nigh on to thirty years.
Mended fence, branded cattle, broken horses and such,
now I’m bored to tears.

Folks say there’s a wondrous world full of amazin’ sights
just waitin’ to be found
By a cowpoke like myself, who’s had more than his fill
chasin’ wild cattle around.

I got no family to keep me here.  Don’t have no kids,
never even had a wife.
My folks passed on years ago, since then this run-down
ranch has been my life.

I’ve never been nowhere out of state, hardly ever gone
beyond Hadley Springs.
Bet those new steel rails north of town could move me
along to better things.

I’ve chewed over it long enough, by God, time’s come
to leave this old grind.
Tomorrow mornin’ I’ll pack my bags and light on out,
leave the place behind.

Yup, I’ve decided to call it quits.  Come next week who
knows where I might be.
The Flyer could take me to Denver, maybe Salt Lake,
or even ‘Frisco by the sea.

It feels good to be out of this rut. The ties were broken
easier than I thought.
Now I’m done with this old place, life’ll be exciting
whether I like it or not.

Hold on!  Who’m I kiddin’?  I can’t just leave, can’t
cut and run this way.
That busted-down corral needs fixin’ and I never did
round up that stray.

Those fancy places’ll have to wait, of this old hoss
they’ll see no trace.
Bored?  Don’t take a genius to see there’s plenty to do
here on the old homeplace.

Gary Wm. Midge
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


The Stranger

I fetched my beer from the mahogany bar,
sauntered off toward the back of the room.
Every table seemed full, but I hadn’t got far
when an old cowboy waved from out of the gloom.

He had beckoned, so I took him for a friend,
but as I approached, he looked like a stranger.
I tried to place him and was at my wit’s end
though he gave me no call to expect danger.

So I gave him a nod and accepted his invite,
planted my rear smack-dab in the welcome chair.
Took a swig of my beer and studied a mite
this stranger with the short-clipped black hair.

A gray-blue haze hung heavy about his head,
shifted and swirled like a rotating shroud.
He lit another Camel, blew smoke, squinted and said,
“It’s peaceful here.  The music ain’t so loud.”

I gave the stranger my hand and told him my name,
but he said nothing, just smiled and sat stock-still.
So I pressed him a bit, thought he could do the same.
“Who are you, Mister?” I asked, hoping he had the will.

“My name ain’t important,” he said with a shrug.
“What matters is my life and that I live by a creed.”
He took a drag from the Camel and raised his mug,
“Son, you’re lookin’ at the goshdarn last of a breed.”

“What makes you so special?” I wanted to ask,
but politeness and respect kept my mouth shut.
Instead I leaned back and tried hard to relax,
gave the gent rope so he wouldn’t think me a mutt.

Little crow’s feet surrounded his pale gray eyes.
A playful smile danced lightly around his mouth.
“You know when to keep quiet.  That’s uncommon wise,
a trait I took for dead, like others that’ve headed south.”

“There ain’t many left like me, boy, no more than a few.
You’ll find us here and there, but spread Godawful thin.
Years back we were more, how many I’ve no clue.
But it was hard countin’ us then as whiskers on your chin.”

“This Dutton cowboy has broke broncs and punched cows
from the Sweetgrass Hills to them mountains over yonder.
I’ve lived high on the hog and slid back so blessed low,
just to be sittin’ here is proof of God’s great wonder.”

“I’ve rode for the brand from Billings to Babb and
guided city folks shootin’ lion in the hills.
Topped out on rodeo stock that was rank and bad
and I got broke hips and shoulders to prove it.”

“I stayed free ‘til fifty, but then I found the right gal,
so we moved quick, run off and got ourselves married.
She’s become my best friend and my lifelong pal,
though she smiles little lately because she’s worried.”

He looked ill at ease at my questioning glance,
took a swallow of Coors and lit another smoke.
“I’ll never ride again nor have another dance.
Diabetes will kill me, but my spirit can’t be broke.”

“I’ll drink, smoke, laugh and eat what I please ‘til I die.
Then I’ll go out in style, maybe tell a fine joke.
Fade away without remorse nor even a cry
and I hope Kath can laugh on the day that I croak.”

He lifted his mug, drained the last of the beer,
then mightily heaved himself out of the chair.
Crutches by the wall he struggled to draw near,
but a smile lit his face like he’d nary a care.

That tough old bird hobbled away on one leg,
where the other should have been I saw thin air.
He looked back with a grin, his head began to wag,
and he pretended to search the saloon far and near.

“By God,” he cried, “that dad-blamed leg’s late again,”
then spoke right at me in a mock-serious tone.
“If you sit here awhile it might clomp on by and then
you can hurry it up so this other won’t feel so alone.”

My mug lifted high in silent salute to the man,
His story had surely made my hard heart bleed.
He’d fought the good fight and proudly strode the land.
By sheer dumb luck I’d met the last of a breed.

2000, Gary Wm. Midge
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Espresso Blues

I swear that times have passed me by
with nary a whisper nor a hint.
I ain’t got no good reasons why,
but for sure my best days are all spent.

Why, just last Tuesday I went to town
and stopped into a joint for hot joe.
Now I’ve never felt like such a clown,
nor like a critter that’s so mean and low.

The small place had barely caught my eye
as I drove my old Ford down the road.
“The Crazy Bean” proclaimed the sign,
“fine coffees, teas, scones, bagels and rolls.”

I took no note of that other stuff,
this cowboy had java on his mind.
Into the “Bean” I strode quick enough,
“Gimme a large one, the hot, strong kind.”

The young gent at the bar looked cornfused,
“Yes, sir, but the variety I must know.
Cappuccinos and lattes are fine,” he mused,
“but if you want strong, then try espresso.”


I told him coffee would do the trick,
to which he replied, “very good.
There’s iced, hot, thin or quite thick.
Any would put you in a fine mood.”

“Some coffee!” I pleaded.  “Good hot joe
is what I came for, just plain old java.
“Yes, sir.”  Will that be amaretto,
raspberry creme or maybe Swiss mocha?”

“No flavors, pard, just the real things
is what will make this cowpoke happy.
I ain’t lookin’ fer them fancy drinks,
just java like was drunk by my pappy.”

“Okay, I got it, just plain coffee.
Now all I need to know is the grind.
From Columbia, Brazil or Hawaii?
There’s even some from the Argentine.”

At last I staggered out the door
without no cup in my shakin’ hand.
He’d showed me all his brews and more,
but he had nothin’ that come in a can.

So after my trip to “One Crazy Bean”
with this oldtimer you’ll have to agree.
Them newfangled shops might look slick and keen,
but they sure ain’t no place for me.

Gary Wm. Midge
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Josh had barely time to be a man
the day they led him to that tree.
Found him guilty of killin’ two guards
whilst committin’ armed robbery.

Cold-blooded the Rangers called it,
though I natur’ly had my doubts.
But both them men were surely dead,
I seen their restin’ place way down south.

Clear down in hot, dry West Texas
where them longhorns graze on sage.
Josh turned against his teachin’ there,
when he held up the El Paso stage.

Two years before he’d left the ranch,
had taken off to see the sights.
I hope he had himself some fun
‘fore he lost track of things that’s right.

Heaven holds little hope for me,
but my Peg’s a downright saint.
She showed Josh the narrow path
and taught him not to go astray.

There ain’t no way for us to know
what pushed that fine man across
the thin line between the lawless
and those whose lives ain’t lost.

Nobody in El Paso knew him
or so Captain Ben Dawson said.
They only knew he was their man,
to be hanged by the neck, ‘til dead.

Justice in the west is sure and swift,
but to my way of thinkin’ its fair.
If a body minds their own business
they’ll walk through life without a care.

It’s been years since Dawson’s letter
took me a thousand miles from home.
I brought Josh back to our little ranch,
not wishin’ his body to lie alone.

We found him a place south of the house
in a cool, shady grove by the stream.
At least Josh will always be with us,
though it still seems like a bad dream.

Now, my wife, it darn near kilt her,
he’d been her true pride and joy.
As for me, I try to harken
back to when he was a little boy

Each mornin’ I console myself
that after chores the night will come.
Then I’ll mosey to the cottonwoods
and visit Josh, our only son.

2000, Gary Wm. Midge
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

About Gary Wm. Midge

I call Brainerd, Minnesota home and it's where the boss and I have raised four brash upstarts. I'm descended from a long line of farmers and ranchers who've plowed fields and punched cows from Wisconsin to Montana, so my life-long interest in the American West is a natural.

The past several years I've been afflicted with a strange desire to tell my yarns with pen and paper (more accurately, PC and keyboard). I've completed several short stories, a contemporary action novel (unpublished), a novel of the American West (written under the pen name Will Garret and recently released by Publish America) countless poems and a few magazine articles for various national trade publications.

I am a member of the Western Writers of America (home of the prestigious Spur Awards) and currently serve as their "Ambassador" to the State of Minnesota. So if there's any of you Minnesota writers out there interested in membership, give me a holler at



The Burning Hills
by Gary Wm. Midge writing as Will Garret

From the publisher's description: Dakota Territory's colorful badlands and the boomtown of Medora stand poised between a frontier past and unprecedented growth, as historical giants Theodore Roosevelt and the Marquis de Mores build their empires. Across this vibrant stage marches a cast of compelling characters caught up in events that will define their lives. Jimmy Tolliver seeks adventure and becomes an unwitting accomplice to bank robbery and murder. Jed Tolliver hides a horrible secret from his family. Matt Winslow and a gang of cutthroats pursue a federal payroll and terrorize local citizens in the process. Laurie Magruder seeks romance on the lonely frontier. And Harlan Locke, an aging, merciless lawman, too stubborn to retire or change his methods, must decide Jimmy's fate, confront Jed Tolliver's past, and thwart Winslow's plans. Locke intends to get the job done, but his odds for survival aren't good.   ISBN: 1-59286-256-X, 212 pages, 6 x 9  $16.95

You'll find order information at Publish America (search for "Will Garret").



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