Cowboy Poetry and Music and More at the BAR-D Ranch

photo by Johnny Gunn

 Sparks, Nevada
About Hal Swift

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
Recognized for his poem, Ballad of Dogie Munroe


  About Hal Swift: 

Hal Swift came into this world in Speedway City, Indiana.  It was a week before Christmas, 1928--the 25th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur Wright's history-making flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  He was born Ralph Harmon Swift, but got the name Hal while working as a disc jockey at a radio station in Monterey, California in the early 1960s.  His boss didn't like the double "uff" in Ralph and Swift, so Hal held a contest with his listeners. There were over 200 entries--and the one who came in with the winning name went home with an unopened copy of  a long-play record album by Peter, Paul and Mary--taken, of course, from the station's library.

He had most of the childhood diseases available in 1935, right after he started the first grade.  Indiana didn't have kindergarten at that time. Because he was sick for so long, he had to start school all over again, and by the age of twelve was taller that most of his teachers--well, the lady ones, anyway.  He was a lieutenant in the school's traffic patrol, and played trumpet in the school band.  After two years in high school, his family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he took up string bass and became one of the country's youngest members of the American Federation of Musicians.  As such, he was privileged to work with many great musicians, including jazz guitarist, Howard Roberts, jazz pianist, Pete Jolly, and singer, entertainer, Marty Robbins.  At the time, though, Marty was still Martin Robinson.

In 1947, while in North Phoenix High school, Hal (still Ralph) got into broadcasting when a studio band he was playing with needed an announcer. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1948 and served as a shipboard Morse code radio operator while a member of the Japan occupation forces, and then during the Korean War.  After his honorable discharge in 1952 he went back into broadcasting and worked in stations from Mount Shasta to Monterey, California, then in Reno, Nevada. He worked in various areas of broadcasting, from the original disc jockey stuff, to being a reporter and news editor, a commercial writer and salesman, and a broadcast engineer.

When all of this excitin' stuff paled in 1977, he decided he'd become a minister, and do something really worthwhile in this world.  By January of 1991 he found he'd much rather be doin' the excitin' stuff, and went back into radio--and writing.  His writing interests turned to things Western, probably, he says, because by now--in addition to his home state--he'd lived in Arizona, Texas, California, Colorado, and Nevada.

As a youngster, going through all those childhood diseases, he got to read a lot.  He says, "In late 1933, maybe early 1934--somebody gave me a book titled, 'Demon Dick and Bunker Bill.'  It was based not-too-loosely on the song, 'Big Rock Candy Mountain.'  Do you remember that?" he says.  "Where the bluebird sings, by the lemonade springs, in the big rock caaan-dy mountain."  He says, "I don't recall the story line now, but I do recall I enjoyed the book a whole lot.  It was about five inches tall, maybe 17 inches wide, and about a quarter-inch thick.  The cover was cardboard, and the pages were similar to newsprint, only rougher, I believe.  The whole thing was done in rhyme, and was illustrated, like a comic book. I know the cover was in color, front and back, but I don't remember if the story page cartoons were in color.  Those pictures and rhythms are still in my head somewhere.   I kept the book for years.  I don't know where it is now--I think I gave it to one of our sons.  I'll have to ask.

"Around 1936-37 my mom took my little sister and me and moved to Phoenix, Arizona where we hoped my sister would be cured of asthma.  We only stayed a year, but we moved back to Phoenix in 1945.   My wife, Carol and I lived in Yuma, Arizona from 1982 to 1986.  So, I've lived in Arizona three times now. That first move, though, exposed me to some real, live cowboys--as well as a few real cowboy musicians--and just added to the interest Demon Dick and Bunker Bill had kindled in me."

Although he says he rode a little with some real cowboys, he never worked at it.   "I was never a cowboy wannabe," he says, "more of a cowboy could-a-been.  I had plenty chances, but I managed mostly to avoid 'em.  I decided not to let not working as a cowboy keep me from enjoying writing about them, though. He said he didn't know exactly how to respond when a radio friend named Bob Carroll asked him in an interview if he'd ever worked at being a cowboy.  He said, "Bob made it all right that I hadn't when he said, 'Arthur C. Clarke writes pretty good space stuff, and he never worked as an astronaut.' That Bob's okay."

He has a collection of poems, Cowboy Poems and Outright Lies, and a novel.

His novel, Ballad of a Small Town, is about 1864 Drytown, Utah Territory—now Wadsworth, Nevada—during the final year of the Civil War.  "The town was important," he says, "mainly because it was on the way to someplace else.  But it was, and still is, an interesting town."

With his wife, Carol, Swift currently lives in Sparks, Nevada, not too far from Drytown.  All three of their sons also live in Nevada. They're honored in Cowboy Poems and Outright Lies in a poem titled, Them Boys of Ours. Hal loves the West and is currently enjoying reading, and writing, about it.


We asked Hal why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he said:

Cowboy poems are ballads without a melody,  and I love reading—and writing—them.

I think one of the important things cowboy poetry does is to give Westerners, and non-Westerners alike, a chance maybe to understand how Westerners think--about life, about others, and about themselves.

In the cowboy poetry I write, I try to tell what cowboys and cowgirls think, feel, believe, and do. I write and talk about horses, and cattle, and people, and how they get along—or don’t. My poems and stories tell about the people who take care of the cowboys and cowgirls—the spouses, bosses, barbers, and sheriffs, the musicians, bartenders, storekeepers, and pastors, the blacksmiths, doctors, teachers and friends—and all the rest of the folks who make it possible for such folks as cowboys and cowgirls to exist, and to do their jobs, and to live their lives with some possibility of comin' out ahead.

I know... I live in a long-gone world of people who do something because, as the actor, Wilfred Brimley, used to say, "It's the right thing to do." I'm a simple man who grew up in simple times, that are reflected in the simple poems and stories that I tell.

In what I write, the good guys usually win out over the bad guys, and people and animals both tend to have interesting and sometimes quirky personalities. Love conquers all, and death is not the final answer. Although there may be an occasional fistfight or even a gunfight, nobody gets killed. Oh, people die, but they tend to do it in an heroic manner.

I get teased sometimes about being a prude and, yeah, I guess I am. But being this way, I never have to apologize for what I've written or said--most of the time. In what I write, there’s never any kissin’ or cussin’--meaning no sexual stuff, either human or animal. I write and talk about love, but in its highest expression, not its lowest. The programs I do don't contain any material you'd be embarrassed for your grandparents to hear--or your grandchildren, either, for that matter.

I don't deny that sometimes Life can be disappointingly dirty, bloody, low-down, mean and nasty. And I don't ignore how ornery people can be—cowboys and girls included. But it seems to me, there are plenty of folks who write and talk about that, I'm just not one of 'em. I choose, instead, to write and tell stories about how the orneriness can be thwarted, and how Good can maintain her status in the community.

Now, I will say, I like it when folks tell me they enjoy what I write. But, y'know what? When they don't, I figure it's merely a matter of taste, and it doesn't bother me one bit.


We asked Hal about his inspiration for his "Ballad of Dogie Munroe and he replied:

"Ballad of Dogie Munroe" got its start in Colorado.  I was talking with some cowboy friends in church there a few years ago, and I kinda got to kiddin' them about the caps a lot of 'em were wearing.  Feed stores give the caps away as a form of advertising.

Someone brought up the old joke:
"Why don't cowboys wear sneakers?" 
"Well, because all the feed stores give away is ball caps."

This led to my speculating about what would happen if a cowpoke walked into a bar and was mistaken for a farmer.  Now, you and I both know farmers and ranch folks get along very well but, take someone like the dude, Dwight, and set him down alongside someone like Dogie Munroe, and things just kinda happen, sometimes.

You can email Hal Swift: cjrhswift (at) 


Hal Swift was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame on August 20, 2005, recognized for his professional broadcasting career of 40 years.

Hal Swift Honored by Nevada Broadcasters Association

Hal Swift was one of thirty-nine radio and television people (plus one tv station) inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame Saturday, August 20, 2005, at the Green Valley Ranch Resort and Spa, in Henderson, Nevada.

Honorees received certificates of recognition and commendation from: U.S. Senators, Harry Reid and John Ensign; U.S. Congressmen, Jim Gibbons, and Jon C. Porter; Nevada Governor, Kenny Guinn, and Nevada Congresswoman, Shelly Berkley.

Nevada's Lieutenant Governor, Lorraine Hunt, attended and announced the names of the honorees, who were applauded and cheered by more than 300 friends, relatives and fellow broadcasters in the hotel's Estancia Ballroom.

Hal was recognized for some 40 years in the broadcast profession--a career that began in 1946, while he was still in high school--and included work in ad agencies, and at more than a dozen radio stations.

Nevada Broadcasters Association President, Robert Fisher, congratulated Hal for turning in, "the most humorous bio I've ever read."

Hal and his wife, Carol, made the trip in a 2005 Lincoln Town Car, rented and driven by sons, Brian and David.

Reflecting on the event, Hal says, "I'm grateful to all who joined in to make an old radio man feel good about himself and what he's done. It was a very heady experience."

A poster created by Hal Swift's sons to celebrate his induction into the Nevada
Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in August, 2005.


Ballad of Dogie Munroe

Lately I've noticed that some of my friends
Aint' lookin' like cowpokes as such
Now I kept my mouth shut when ball caps come in
But sneakers is dang near too much

A fellow come in the casino last night
An' set down by Dogie Munroe
He thought that Dogie's a farmer named Dwight
An' said he thought cowpokes was slow

An' Dogie said Yeah what exactly's that mean
The dude said you know, really dumb
The best o'the cowpokes that I've ever seen
Was jist a ol' rodeo bum

The next thing y'know there's a heckuva fight
The dude, he got punched in the jaw
An' Dogie'd of stood there and fought'im all night
But the bartender called in the Law

An' when they come in they all wanted t'know
Exactly who started the brawl
The dude said, that farmer, named Dogie Munroe
It's him was the cause of it all

Ol' Dogie said, you call me farmer once more
I'll kick yer ol' rear end so hard
Yer nose'll be bleedin' all over the floor
An' maybe all over the yard

The sheriff said Dogie, as most cowboys go
Yer not one t'go start a fight
I'd like you t'tell me, an' I'd like t'know
What started the trouble tonight

Dogie said this boy said cowpokes is slow
In fact he said cowpokes is dumb
I grant you I did it, I struck the first blow
An' poked at his eye with m'thumb

The sheriff said Dude, now you tell me what's true
You really say cowpokes is slow?
I jist cain't imagine a young pup like you
Would say that t'Dogie Munroe

The dude said most farmers don't get so upset
An' who the heck's Dogie Munroe?
The sheriff said out of the cowpokes I've met
Ol' Dogie's the toughest I know

The dude said, a cowpoke? No wonder he's swearin'
I thought he's a farmer I knew
But how would I know with them sneakers he's wearin'
Now ain't that a fine howdy-do?

The sheriff said sneakers and cowpokes don't mix
It matters not who you may meet
An', Dogie your troubles some day I cain't fix
With weird things like them on yer feet

When you wear them sneakers boy, somebody rude
Is gonna mistake who you are
They're gonna think you're a visitin' dude
Jist hangin' aroun' in the bar

Then he said to Dogie, Ol' Buddy, that's it
If you don't like gettin' took down
You gotta promise me yer gonna quit
A wearin' them sneakers t'town

An' Dogie said no one kin tell me t'quit
A wearin' these shoes on m'feet
Next thing that you know there'll be somebody say
What food that a cowpoke kin eat

And so ends the ballad of Dogie Munroe
A better man never drew breath
But wearin' them sneakers wherever he'd go
Was finally the cause of his death

© 2001, Hal Swift 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Phylo Jenks's Bath

One of the ways that we'd celebrate
When the Fourth of July come 'round
Was t'burn all our long-handled underwear
Right out on the desert ground

A lotta the cowpokes that I rode with
Would put 'em on in November
So takin' 'em off on the Fourth of July
Meant most of the boys'd remember

But Phylo Jenks he was somethin' else
He missed the Fourth one year
He wore his long-handles twenty-two months
His horse wouldn't let 'im git near

Y'cain't be a cowpoke without you kin ride
So he went out an' bought 'im a mule
He figgered a jackass wouldn't object
But this jackass was nobody's fool

When Phylo got on 'er the mule threw 'im off
An' he was extremely upset
T'have a ol' jackass refuse to be rode
Is as bad as it ever will get

Our wrangler said Phylo you surely do stink
An' if yer a wonderin' why
Maybe you'd oughta go out with the boys
'Cause today is the Fourth of July

An' Phylo said really I wouldn't of knowed
I never been good at the date
He walked to the desert an' when he got there
The boys said Hey, Phylo, yer late

The way that he smells said ol' Hiram McFee
I don't think that late's quite the phrase
Git outta them long-handles, do it right now
An' throw them things there on the blaze

The smell was so terrible no one could breathe
An' great was those pore cowpokes' wrath
They hoisted ol' Phylo right up in the air
An' someone yelled give 'im a bath

Well sir, they done it, an' he was impressed
An' on this thing you kin rely
Phylo will be at the head of the line
Right here the next Fourth of July

© 2001, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


That Cowboy Look

There's a old boy comes from where I'm at
Who started t'wearin' a cowboy hat
And he'd never been on a horse a day in 'is life

I stopped 'im once an' asked 'im why
An' he never so much as blinked a eye
When he said, I'm hopin' t'find m'self a wife

Wilberforce Weatherford's this boy's name
An' I asked 'im t'tell me about his game
An' he said wimmin he's met jist love that cowboy look

I said Yer kiddin', he said, I'm not
With a face like mine what chance've I got
T'find me a woman who's cute an' enjoys t'cook

I said, Now Wilberforce it's all wrong
To git a woman an' string 'er along
An' to let her think yer somethin' y'really ain't

He said, Hey lissen, I've played it straight
My wimmin won't go on a second date
An' they got all kinds'a reasons fer why they cain't

An' that's when Lottie from San Antone
Come trottin' up on a big ol' roan
An' says t'him, Hey Cowboy, let's go ride

Now, before y'know it, they fall in love
An' Wilberforce thanks the Lord above
That Lottie jist flat don't care about whether he lied

An' Lottie she grins like a cheshire cat
When Wilberforce wears that cowboy hat
She calls 'im Willie the Wrangler, an' rumples 'is hair

Then Wilberforce tol' me that Lottie's named Kitty
Who come out here from New York City
An' to tell ya the truth, them two make quite a pair

Lottie, er Kitty, bought the Peterson spread
Then next thing y'know, her an' Wilberforce wed
Says she fell fer Willie the Wrangler right off'a the bat

An' Wilberforce, he's jist fit t'be tied
Never thought that he'd find sich a wonderful bride
An' he swears it's because he was wearin' that cowboy hat

© 2001, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Country Aroma

The thing that I miss when I go t'the city
Amongst all that plastic an' chrome
Is how the air's different, it jist ain't right
I'd druther breathe air from back home

I know all the jokes about cowboys' boots
An' how their aroma's so strong
But y'breathe that aroma out there on the ranch
An' y'know that it's there y'belong

A lotta the dudes'll jist turn up their nose
Cause that country aroma will cling
But alfalfa an' sage plus that ol' cattle smell
To me is a comf'table thing

I've also noticed away from the ranch
When travelin' someplace afar
Y'meet another ol' boy wearin' boots
An you know right off who they are

Well, at least y'kin tell if they come from a ranch
Er if they been long in the city
An' then if they have an' they smell like a dude
 Y'try not t'show any pity

'Cuz they probably miss bein' out on the land
An' ridin' their horse through a herd
An' seein' the sky so blue an' so clear
That y' feel y'could fly like a bird

Now I ain't sayin' the city is bad
That no one should ever go visit
I'm only sayin' it smells kinda strange
That ain't too strong a claim, is it

But I'll tell ya this, that if I had my druthers
I'd sure do m'best not t'roam
Cuz the air in the city's too doggone weak
An' I'd druther breathe air from back home

© 2001, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


When The Hired Hands All Quit

One time I had friends who was workin' a ranch
The biggest in old Fish Lake Valley
Who come in one evenin' to set down to eat
An' found there's no food in the galley

A note from the cook said he'd hauled off an' quit
'Cause the boss wouldn't pay for the chow
He said that he'd cooked everything in the house
And nothin' is left to cook now

My friend and his buddies was truly upset
You cain't run a ranch without grub
Y'go out at dawn and you labor all day
An' you work yourself down to a nub

However, complainin' won't fill up your plate
For sure, somethin's gotta be done
Ol' Bob says alright you two come on with me
An' retched up an' got down 'is gun

He handed another to Bucky, m'friend
Let's git us a rabbit, he said
I'm lookin' at gittin' us somethin' to eat
An' then gettin' into m'bed

Bob said to Becky, his wife, Hon, you drive
We'll take the ol' blue flatbed Chevy
Bob and friend Bucky stood up in the back
While Becky drove off toward the levy

They hadn't gone far 'til a rabbit jumped up
Bob's flashlight had caught him a winner
He fired off a round an' that rabbit went down
Much smoother than later at dinner

They shot all their grub fer three more solid weeks
The rabbits was thinkin' of movin'
'Til Bucky, he said, that's enough of this stuff
There ain't nothin' here that's improvin'

They finally got their old boss on the phone
An' she said don't have such a fit
Why rabbit is good fer you, didn't you know
And that's when the hired hands all quit

© 2001, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Tortoises, Mustangs, an' Cows

July in the summer of two-thousand-one
It's Saturday out on the range
The ranchers are all in a meetin' in town
An' somethin' sure seems mighty strange

The ranchers are meetin' t'set up some plans
To protest the gover'mint's hold
On land that the ranchers've used many years
But there's somethin' that they ain't been told

Cowboys from Utah are out on the range
An' takin' a rancher's whole herd
The BLM says that the land is all theirs
An' that's the straight gover'mint word

They ride to another ranch, take cattle there
The ranchers are still paintin' signs
An auction is set up t'sell all the cows
T'pay off some trespassin' fines

One-hundred-forty-one years this's brewed
The gover'mint says it allows
They jist ain't no grazin' room left on the range
Fer tortoises, mustangs, an' cows

None a them things is that big of a deal
But both sides've taken a stand
An' what they been fightin' about in the courts
Is who is it owns all this land

The gover'mint says, Why it's our land, a course
The ranchers they all disagree
But takin' folk's cattle without they been judged
Seems mighty suspicious t'me

I'm hopin' that someday they'll figure it out
That cattle with no place t'roam
Is food that the public won't see at the store
An' steak that they'll never take home

© 2001, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Cowboy Football

A bunch'a us cowboys decided one year
T'have us a football game
But instead of us runnin' we'd each ride a horse
We're cowboys, so who kin y'blame

The passin' an' ketchin' they wouldn't be changed
Y'see, we was plannin' ahead
But fergit about tacklin' the man with the ball
We'd lasso the feller instead

We played the big game on a Thanksgivin' Day
Cuz all of us had the day off
The crowd that showed up was both rowdy an' loud
They'd come there t'smirk an' t'scoff

I guess the folks reckoned that we'd all git kilt
An' that's why so many turned  out
Oh, there was some bruises, a nose that got broke
But that's what's the game's all about

An' makin' a touchdown was jist lots'a fun
Y'jumped a big pile'a ma-noo-er
If yer horse got tripped, er you got roped
You'd fall, an' go plowin' right through 'er

We played fer four hours an' the score's seven-up
Then somebody hollers, Let's end it
Let's git our horses t'stomp on the ball
An' the team that kin bust it'll win it

Now, you never seen sich a fight in yer life
Why, even the horses had fun
But when that ball popped it jist plumb distappeared
An' we never did know who had won

Right up t'this day some ol' cowboys'll say
That that game was a heckuva show
An' as fer the winner that Thanksgivin' Day
It's prolly as well we don't know

© 2001, Hal Swift 
Bunkhouse Poems and Tall Tales (A new herd 'a poems)
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The Cowboy Way

There's some things that's wrong
An' there's some things that's right
At least, that's what I allus say
An' when y'kin tell it
An' choose what's the right
Yer livin' the Cowboy Way

Y'don't cheat at cards
Y'don't steal a man's drink
It's wrong t'make fun of a child
Y'don't stay a settin'
When ladies come in
Y'don't run around bein' wild

It's wrong t'shoot game
Jist t'see if y'kin
Y'don't pass off a coin that's a fake
It's right t'give praise
When y'see somethin' good
To admit when you've made a mistake

Y'don't sleep in church
Er sing hymns in a bar
Y'don't talk when another man is
Y'don't mistreat horses
Er laugh at a death
A Cowboy won't take what ain't his

It's right t'be truthful
T'say when yer wrong
Not put up yer gun lest y'clean it
It's wrong t'git drunk
An' t'fight with a friend
Er be bad an' then say y'don't mean it

Yes, some things is wrong
An' some things is right
That's what a real cowboy will say
An' when y'kin tell it
An' choose what's the right
Yer livin' the Cowboy Way

© 2001, Hal Swift 
Cowboy Poems and Outright Lies
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

(Inspired by Ranger Doug and The Riders in the Sky)

Apache Joe

On a cowboy's day off, well...he goes fer a ride
While other boys goes out on hikes
He don't need no reason t'take off an' go
He jist kinda rides where he likes

One day Roy Anselmo, m' buddy, he says
Tomorrow let's take us a ride
Go down t' South Mountain an' cook us some steaks
An' maybe take Jimmy an' Clyde

If they kin git off they'd sure make the trip fun
That Jimmy, he's really a kick
An' Clyde, tells a story that jist cain't be beat
Not even if you used a stick

So I said, it sounds like a good deal to me
What time do you want us to go
An' Roy said four-thirty, if you kin wake up
You think you kin ride 'Pache Joe?

I said why heck yes, he's a gentle ol' boy
You raised him yourself from a colt
He's a little bit clumsy, and tends to doze off
But he surely ain't likely to bolt

So things was all set for next morning t'ride
We'd all meet at Roy's place at four
We'd each bring a sack lunch to eat on the way
I'd buy us some cokes at the store

Ol' Roy had our horses all ready to go
But 'Pache Joe looked kind of murky
I joshed him, and talked to him, gave him some cake
And soon got him lookin' more perky

At four-thirty sharp we all passed through the gate
South Mountain glowed red in the sun
We walked for a while, til the others took off
But ol' 'Pache Joe wouldn't run

Our friends was all waitin' above Cactus Crick
They laughed when we come ridin' in
An' Jimmy an' Clyde got t'kiddin' around
And asked if I'd race 'em again

Why thank you I said I'll jist ask 'Pache Joe
But he jist ignored all the fun
He munched his alfalfa and seemed quite content
He had no intention to run

Watchin' the horses fill up on the grass
I asked when we planned to eat lunch
An' Roy said right after we're over this crick
There's shade up ahead is my hunch

We all mounted up and then jostled around
Decidin' who'd first make the jump
That settled we lined up and went one by one
I patted ol' Joe on the rump

The others had backed up and picked up some speed
Ol' Joe and me knew what it takes
We raced toward the crick and I braced for the jump
But, dang it, he slammed on the brakes

Now he might of stopped but I went on ahead
And landed with one awful splash
Ol' 'Pache Joe swayed on the edge of the bank
Then fell with a thunderous crash

My saddlebags flew through the late morning air
So slowly it all seemed a dream
My lunch and harmonica both were inside
Then all floated off down the stream

Now Jimmy and Clyde thought the whole thing a lark
And laughed 'til their sides nearly split
But settin' there wet from my head to my toes
I didn't think much of their wit

I finally got Joe to his feet and then out
And dried us off best as I could
I got in the saddle and said come on boys
That shade up ahead sure looks good

Now ol' Roy, and Jimmy, and Clyde shared their lunch
And I was quite grateful to all
We laid in the shade of a cottonwood tree
And mimicked a catbird's call

And Clyde wrote a poem about 'Pache Joe
As bashful as some sweet young wimmin'
Who given a chance t'jump over a crick
Would druther t'jist go in swimmin'

© 2001, Hal Swift 
Cowboy Poems and Outright Lies
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Cold Monday Mornin'

Alabama an'Tex, they was physical wrecks
After spendin' the weekend in Austin
Drinkin' fresh moonshine and havin' a time
With never a thought what it cost 'em

They git home Monday mornin' aroun' ten o'clock
An' they smell like they'd bathed in corn likker
Someone hollered out, The big spenders is back
An' the boss said, Too bad you weren't quicker

You boys've missed breakfast, I reckon y'know
An' six hours'a good honest work
But now that yer back I got plenty'a jobs
An' I know that y'won't want'a shirk

The boss said, You cowpokes both seem t'be fine
So I gotcha a job you kin do
They's eighteen er twenny fresh catfish out back
An' I'd like ya t'cook us some stew

Alabama said, 'Scuse me while I take a walk
I suddintly don't feel too good
Ol' Tex, he went green but he said, Yessir, Boss
I'd be glad t'help out if I could

He raised 'is chin, then, an' he turned an' walked off
An' went faster the further he got
I said, Boss, do you figger they'll cook up that stew
An' he laughed an' said, Oh I hope not

He said, It's real tough fer the cowboys that drink
I feel bad when they come draggin' in
But as boss, it's m'job t'git each one I kin
T'think twice't 'fore they do it again

One thing that I've learned about drinkin' I guess
An' I pass this along as a warnin'
Aint' no one more useless in this whole world
Than a drunk on a cold Monday mornin'

© 2001, Hal Swift 
Bunkhouse Poems and Tall Tales (A new herd 'a poems)
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Inspired by "Moonshine" by L. D. Edgar © 1984 Published and distributed by Western Heritage Studio Cody, Wyoming

The Ghost of Wilkerson Woods

Cranberry Mullins crashed in through the door
Hollered, Wake up an' gather roun'
I wanna tell ya what happint t'me
Jist now ridin' back here from town

It was long after midnight when he got us up
He was standin' there, shakin' an' white
Said Denver, our top hand, Set down if y'kin
An' tell us what happint tonight

Cranberry said, Well I come outta Shorty's
I'd had me three beers at the most
I was ridin' m'mare up through Wilkerson Woods
When I seen what I think was a ghost

Ain't that where Cougar Jim murdered that fella
Asked Leonard, the boy from Vermont
But nobody found 'im fer more than a year
Some say that he stayed there t'haunt

Cranberry said, That sure sounds right t'me
He wailed, an he sobbed, an' he cried
Beggin' me, please, t'come give 'im a hand
I couldn't of moved if I tried

Cranberry blushed as big Trapper McGee
Said, Sister, this thing was a hoax
Whoever it was, I'd of told 'im right off
That I wanted no part of 'is jokes

Then, ka-whoosh! the cabin's oil lantern blowed out
Then a crash,  and a deep-throated moan
Denver scratched up a match an' we seen that McGee
Had fainted an' dropped like a stone

It seems that this cowpoke that acted so brave
An'  claimed that the ghost was a lark
Was bluffin' us all like a horse-tradin' tramp
An' really was skeered 'a the dark

Denver blew out the match, an' we all hit the sack
Cuz nobody wanted t'face 'im
Next mornin' he'd left with his bedroll an' tack
An' none of us offered t'trace 'im

It's ugly t'watch a man shamed in that way
Why, he was the bravest we'd seen
But after that none of us mentioned 'is name
Though we think of 'im each Halloween

© 2001, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Condo Cowboy

This is the story of Mitchell Purdue
A Condo Cowboy I know
How he's retired from workin' the range
An' takin' a pace that's slow

He's a fella who's worked real hard
An' done it fer most of 'is life
But he's sold the ranch and moved t'town
Jist him an' his lovely wife

In '28 when Mitch was born
His folks was buildin' their nest
When he was two his Paw got fired
An' the family moved out West

The Great Depression hit ever'one
As it spread throughout the land
An' here on the ranch when Mitch was three
He become a real cowhand

He learned t'ride on a  big ol' mare
A roan that 'is paw'd bought
 That kid an' his horse'd sneak away
An ever time they'd both git caught

You prolly've heard me tell the tale
That's the mare that Mitch named Bill
Him an' Richard, his older  brother
Both of 'em laugh at it, still

Young as he was, his Paw made 'im work
To make 'im a real cowpoke
His Paw used t'call 'im My Little Man
An' he wasn't makin' no joke

His blisters turned to calluses
When Mitch, he was merely five
An' hard as he worked he thought 'is Paw
Was the greatest man alive

An' he probably was, when y'see how the boy
Grew up and later turned out
Why, that Little Man did a big man's work
As t'that they kin be do doubt

Oh, he had the usual teen-age stuff
An' he got took down a'course
But they's nothin' that youngster couldn't do
When y'got 'im up on a horse

I says, Here y'are a livin' in town
Don'cha miss the outdoor's call
No horses t'ride, no stables t'clean
No chores t'do at all

Watchin' while other folks does the work
Must feel a little bit strange
This life in a modern-day condo
Cain't be like life on the range

I says t'Mitch, Don't y'miss that life
He says, You don't want me t'lie
A course I do--I miss breakin' broncs, a makin' hay
An' drillin' wells that's dry

An' bein' up all night at calvin' time
Is way high up on m'list
An' gittin' up mornin's at half-past three
You kin bet that that'll be missed

Mitch looked out at the fresh mowed lawn
An' picked up a Zane Grey book
I said are you sure you don't miss the ranch
An' he gimme a funny look

He leaned back in 'is chair, an' propped up 'is boots
And tilted 'is cowboy hat
I miss it, m'friend, he says with a grin
But I like it right where I'm at

© 2001, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Cowboy's Wife

Now I ain't the world's toughest cowhand
I know that an' so do you
But m'wife thinks I kin do anythin'
An' sometimes I think so too

I never thought that we'd own a ranch
Er have all the rest that we've got
But boy we sure done it, an' done it up right
But only by workin' a lot

Some nights it's late when I git home
An' I'm jist plain wore out
But I see m'woman in the kitchen door
An' I feel like I wanta shout

That girl's been workin' while I was gone
A washin' an' ironin' an' such
An' all I've done is to mend some fence
An' it don't seem like so much

I love m'wife with all m'heart
But I haven't always shown it
Fer all I do she does twice't more
An' me, I've allus known it

Fer fifty years it's been like this
I bless the day I met 'er
We've raised three sons an' did right well
It jist don't git no better

When this sweet thing looks into m'eyes
An' asks fer my opinion
I feel like a king up on his throne
Who rules a great dominion

No, I ain't the world's toughest cowhand
Like I said, you know it, too
But with a wife who thinks I kin do anythin'
Sometimes I think so, too

© 2001, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Bull Ridin' Ain't Easy

It was jist afternoon
We'd finished our lunch
An' we all was agreeably full

I was standin' around
Tellin' some a the boys
How t'go about ridin' a bull

Then a stranger, he asked,
Any bull riders here
An' the fellas all pointed t'me

Well I laughed right out loud
Bein' kidded like that
But the stranger said, Well, Glory be

Now here I been lookin'
Fer a cowboy 'round here
Jist t'fill in fer one'a my men

He done broke both 'is knees
When he fell off a horse
An' I need someone bad t'fill in

Well I staggered a bit
At the thought of sich pain
An' I started t'say, Well I think...

When ol' Jimmy jumped up
An' said this is yer man
An' he nodded an' gimme a wink

Yeah, this here ol' cowpoke
Was jist tellin' us
What it takes t'go ridin' a bull

How y'jist gotta plan
When y'talk to the man
T'see which'a the critters y'pull

I said, Yessir I did
But I didn't mean me
I was sayin' what others should do

Why there's no way on earth
I'd git up on a bull
Cuz I'm jist a coward clean through

The stranger walked over
An' he looked in m'face
Said eight seconds is all that it takes

If y'stay on that long
Thirty dollars is yers
Stay on longer an' I'll raise the stakes

Now I gotta tell ya
It was startin' t'sound
Like a job that I really could do

I said, Yer gonna pay
Thirty dollars fer eight
An' how much if I add on a few

The stranger said, Well son
I believe in yer case
I'll make it ten dollars a second

You've convinced me, I said
I'm the man that you want
I've never hung back when fame beckoned

I kin tell you this now
That the ride is all done
I ain't never knowed sich a feelin

That thirty he mentioned
Fer stayin' on eight
Has taught me some things about dealin'

I stayed on fer seven
'Got throwed in the sand
An' I paid fer what I'd tried t'pull

An' you danged sure won't hear me
Tell anyone else
How t'go about ridin' a bull

© 2001,  Hal Swift, Bunkhouse Poems and Tall Tales
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

(Hal's book,
Cowboy Poems and Outright Lies, is available from SilverCreek Books and Music, and Hal wrote this poem in reaction their referring to him as a "legendary" Cowboy Poet. There's more about his book below.)

Legendary Cowboy Poet

What d'you like t'be called was the question
From m'two buddies, Big Reg and Larry
I said, Brian in Fort Worth, read some of m'poems
An' he calls me...Legendary

Now why do you reckon he'd say that, said Larry
He owe y'all some kinda money
'Course not, says Big Reg, you know that there Brian
It's his way a jist bein' funny

I argued, Not nearly as funny as you two
He meant ever word that he said
Larry said, Well, his words might be too strong
If it's me, they'd go right to m'head

I said, Ain't no chance that'll happen t'me
Won't  trouble me even a little
With m'kids on the one side, m'wife on the other
Why, I could git caught in the middle

If people, said Reg, called me words sich as that
I'd question if they really mean 'em
But I know how it is when two sides disagree
It ain't healthy t'git caught between'em

Larry said, Which of 'em thinks yer a legend
Er they don't an' then tries not t'show it
Oh, they all agree I'm a legend, I said
They jist ain't too sure I'm a poet

© 2001, Hal Swift, Bunkhouse Poems and Tall Tales
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



(Hal read The Big Roundup, the first anthology from, and sent along his unsolicited testimonial.)

Roundup Time!

Cowboy poets as a general rule
Kin tend t'be kinda rowdy
If y'want a' git 'em in one corral
It is one big job, Boy howdy

But Omar, an' Bucky, ol' Red an' Pearl
Have done it all in a book
An' if you like yer poems t'smell of sage
Y'wanta give this a look

The rules was strict, the standards was high
An' ever'one of 'em passed the test
The Bar-D Ranch has roped an' tied
The best herd of poems in the West

I cain't begin t'say alla the names
They's ever'one under the sun
But if you like poems that talk a' the range
Then this here book is the one

© 2001, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Warm Greeting

There's a haze in the hills that makes me squint
A hot wind carries the sagebrush scent
I look at the sky an' they's no hint
Of rain comin' anytime soon

The birds're so quiet I think they've died
An' the sun's so hot that the sand seems fried
I look all aroun' fer a place t'hide
Fer relief from the heat o'noon

I got a reason fer ridin' alone
It makes no diff'rence how I sweat an' moan
I'm ridin' slow cuz I feel ever bone
In m'body whenever I move

There's only one thing that could bring me here
Way out on the desert this time o'year
An' yeah, to m'credit I got no fear
But I sure got sumpin' t'prove

The train's comin' in with a man on board
Whose faded ol' photo I've long adored
An' there's thousands of thoughts that I've got stored
But I don't know how t'express 'em

This fella's been travelin' alla m'life
Ain't seen m'kids, never met m'wife
But the thing that's causin' me such great strife
Is how I orta address 'im

I git to the crossin' an' set real still
I'd like to leave but I lack the will
I hear the steam engine over the hill
Then it comes down through the draw

What kind of a greetin' does he expect
He wants t'come home, an' outta respect
I reckon I might as well be direct
So I hug 'im an'say...Howdy Paw

© 2001, Hal Swift, Bunkhouse Poems and Tall Tales
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Bear Etty-kette

M' good buddy, Smitty, he told me this tale
'Bout a ol' grizzly bear he once't met
He says he'd still be in that cold cave a' hers
If he hadn't knowed bear etty-kette

The way that he tells it he's ridin' one time
>From Drytown t'old Washoe City
He's up on 'is Morgan, a pack horse in tow,
Jist dreamin' along--you know Smitty

When all of a suddint the Morgan, he shies
Then backs up a bit, an' stops dead
Smitty squints 'is eyes an' gives a big yawn
An' stretches 'is arms 'bove his head

The pack horse in back of him's dancin' a jig
An' doin' his best t'turn 'round
Ol' Smitty, he's tryin' t'make 'em behave
And then hears a bone-chillin' sound

The sound that he hears is an animal's roar
From the bushes he sees a bear rise
Smitty grabs fer 'is rifle, an' starts t'take aim
But stops when he sees them big eyes

At Shorty's Saloon they's a hunter once't said
Talk soft when y'meet with a bear
Use etty-kette dealin' with beasts sich as these
Act kindly, an' treat 'em with care

Well, Smitty was willin' t'do what it took
So he says, Howdy ma'am, how are you
Miz Grizzly stood up on 'er hind legs an' stared
Cuz this was a strange thing t'do

Smitty had 'er attention, he seen that right off
So he says, Might I buy you a drink
The ol' grizzly mama was kinda took back
She jist didn't know what t'think

Smitty slowly dismounted, an' went to 'is pack
T'git somethin' out he'd jist bought
Mama bear was right there lookin' over his shoulder
T'see what it was that he'd brought

Smitty'd smartly decided that 'stead of his gun
He'd git out a bottle a' rye
Which is what he done, an' when he turned 'round
He's lookin' Miz Bear in th' eye

If  y'had yer druthers, he said, M'Dear
Who is it you'd ruther would pour
I'll gladly do it, he said with a smile
So he did, an' then offered 'er more

Now three bottles later, it's comin' on dark
An' cautious t'not raise her ire
Smitty pours 'er another an' gits 'er t'set
An' says, I'll jist build us a fire

Smitty then gits 'is cards, an' shuffles 'em good
An' says are y'up fer a hand
She thinks he means stand up, an' gives it a try
But they's no way that that bear could stand

I'll cut 'em, said Smitty, an' lays out the bet
The low card will stay, high will go
She snuffled, he shuffled, he laid out two cards
An' he got the high, her the low

From Washoe t'Drytown, the word was soon spread
That trav'lers should all be prepared
With bottles a' rye as they went back an' forth
To let that ol' bear know they cared

An' Smitty, sometimes, in Shorty's Saloon
Will tell this t'someone he's met
'Course, they buy the rye, while he tells 'em why
They need t'know bear etty-kette

© 2002 Hal Swift, Bunkhouse Poems and Tall Tales
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Inspired by a 1916 painting by Charles M. Russell
"When the nose of a horse beats the eye of a man"
The horse smelled the bear before the man saw it.

Goldarn Cat

Ever ranch has itself a Goldarn Cat
An' I really cain't say why it is
'Cept maybe it's somethin' that God's ordained
So the reason is gotta be His

Now I gotta tell ya these cats is tough
Y'don't wanta git in their way
They go where they feel like, do what they want
'Don't matter one bit what y'say

One Goldarn Cat at the Bar-D Ranch
Likes it when y'read 'im a poem
His eyes half shut, an' with a poker face
It's the reason that he's jist come home

Well, that, an' Ol' Lefty's a' hollerin' out.
Hey, Cat, I gotta poem fer you!
Ol Cat'll come pokin' his nose roun' the door
Sayin' what d'ya want me t'do

Lefty says, Set there an' listen t'this
A poem's jist come over the wire
An' Cat says, Well, all right if I gotta
Jist let me lay down by the fire

He'll lay there listenin' while somebody reads
His face kinda set in a scowl
He won't say nothin' if the poem's all right
If it ain't, he'll begin t'yowl

He's jist sayin', Lemme outta this place
Why're y'readin' this trash
Take me to the kitchen an' open the fridge
I'd like a taste a' that red flannel hash

An' now y'know why this Goldarn Cat
Is treated the way that he is
He's the one sayin' that a poem's bad er good
An' the reason is totally his

© 2002, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

To Lefty, an' Bucky, an' ever'one who has 
t'read these dang poems

(In its early days, had a story about a "goldarn cat.")



My First Rodeo

One day when I was about six-and-a-half
M'daddy said, Son, let's go
Now I was ready, but I said, where?
An' he said, the rodeo.

Rodeo? I said, an' I scratched m'head
Now what in the world is that?
M'dad said, Son, if y'wanta go,
Jist put on yer cowboy hat.

While we saddled up, Ma packed a lunch
An' filled up m'saddle bag
She put in m'blanket an' then she said,
Git goin' boy, don't you lag.

Now Dad was up on the big ol' roan
An' I took the sorrel mare
I didn't know where we planned to go
An' I didn't really care

We'd done our work, the weather was hot
An' we all jist kinda let down
That's when Dad said, C'mon, let's go
Now we're ridin' inta town

Dad didn't say much, well he never did
But he was excited, I knew
When we climbed the hill jist outside o'town
I could hear the hullabaloo

Dad, I said, what the world's that noise
He stopped an' he pointed toward town
That's the rodeo, boy, where y'prove yerself
Let's hurry an' git on down

I never seen such a show in my life
I couldn't believe m'eyes
Them boys was doin' what we done fer free
An' earnin' themselves a prize

Now that was sixty-odd years ago
It's hard t'imagine that
But I still like t'go to the rodeo
So hand me m'cowboy hat

© 2001, Hal Swift from Cowboy Poems and Outright Lies
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Lester Seen the Elephant

To be herdin' cattle
Fer months at a time
Kin tear up a cowpoke
That's still in 'is prime

It's Gawd-awful lonely
Jist you an' the herd
Some fellas come back
An' they cain't speak a word

After months all alone an'
Without no frills
Lester Little's come back from
The Pawnee Hills

But there's somethin's spooky
With the way he looks
An' I been noticin'
He never cooks

When it comes to a meal
He squats in the straw
Holds 'is food in 'is hands
An' eats everthin' raw

So I says to Lester,
What the world is wrong
You been actin' this way
Fer jist too blamed long

An he starts to laughin' an'
Slappin' his knee
I done seen th' elephant,
He whispers t'me

Th' elephant, I says,
Is that what you say
Big as Life, he says
An' he walked this way

He jumps to 'is feet
An' he stomps all around
The elephant, he says, was
Shakin' the ground

I heard things movin'
In the dark a' the night
Then, up on the mountaintop
I sees this light

I heard heavy wings
A whuppin' up the air
Then somethin' swoops down
An' carries off m'mare

 I jumps from m'bedroll
An' grabs up m'gun
An' that's when these banshees
Started havin' fun

A roarin' started up like
The beasts of Hell
Then I hear the ringin'
Of a great big bell

Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!
M'brains begin t'quiver
Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!
I couldn't help but shiver

Some black things is dancin'
Round my cold camp fire
An' all this together
Served t'raise my ire

I shakes out a loop
In my old riata
I didn't wanta fight
But knew I gotta

I lets out a yell
Like a Rebel platoon
An' I lassoes m'self
A big purple loon

I hogties that dogie in
Four seconds flat
An' that's when a black thing
Carries off m'hat

Yer makin' me mad
I hollars at the ghost
An' that blamed elephant's
Buggin' me the most

Lester was a actin' out
This whole dang thing
I was gettin' worried
What the end would bring

When I starts to shootin' he says
With a chuckle
That's when the whole thing
Started in t'buckle

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!
That bell was a total dud
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!
I yells, Yer done fer, Bud!

The ol' loon is cryin' a
Warblin' tune
He figgers he's a gonner
Purty doggone soon

But I loosen 'is piggin' string
An' let 'im go free
This critter ain't done
All that much t'me

But the elephant, now
He'd started it all
He knows what's a' comin'
An' begins t'bawl

But I got no pity fer
What he's done
I'd seen th' elephant
An' he's the one

Show him mercy...
There's no way that I shudda
Leave him roamin'...
There' no way that I could'a

Lester bowed his head, and
Covered up 'is face
I thought fer a minute he was
Gonna say Grace

But he starts to laughin' an'
Slappin' his knee
I seen th' elephant
He whispers t'me

Oh he's seen th' elephant
There ain't no doubt
This ol' boy knows
What it's all about

After months all alone
In the Pawnee hills
Lester Little's come home
An' he gives me th' chills

© 2002, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal adds:

I've come across two definitions for "Seeing the Elephant."  Both date from the 1800s into the 1900s, and both have to do with accomplishments, of sorts.

The first deals with the pride a fella would feel, bein' able to brag that he'd been to the Big City.  During those years, a lot of us lived in towns small enough that the circus we visited each summer didn't have any animals bigger than a mule, although I recall seein' a camel one time.  It was only the major circuses that visited the Big City, and it was with some degree of pride--and testimony to our sophistication--that we had "Seen the Elephant."  

Some folks, like the hands in poet Lanny Joe Burnett's "Going to See the Elephant" really had to go through some hard times to get to that Big City, and to see the popular pachyderm.

The second definition refers to someone who's spent too much time alone in the desert, the plains country or in mountain wilderness. Strange things happen when you're alone for long periods of time, under a sky that's so high and empty you feel like y'gotta load rocks in yer britches t'keep from fallin' up into it.  It can be especially bad at night. Like Lester Little, who represents all those unnamed men and women who have had experiences like his.  Some say these folks' stories are pure fiction, others call 'em outright lies.  But the way I feel is, "If you ain't been there, you cain't rightly say it didn't happen."

Clifford, the Cow-Herdin'  Cat

I seen strange things
Ever place I been
But the best was in
San Berdu

That's where I seen
This cow-herdin' cat
An' the wonders that
He could do

You wouldn't think
That a cat'd herd cows
Why he couldn't git up in
A saddle

But Clifford, the
Cow-herdin' cat didn't mind
All he wanted was t'jist
Herd cattle

So he worked on foot
Like a cow-dog does
He could sort 'em an'
Gather 'em in

Which went real good
Till he faced one bull
An' he orders 'im
Inta the pen

The bull says, No
I don't fear no cat
So y'better git outta
My way

Clifford says, Yeah,
Er what'll y'do
Y'gonna tromple me down
In the clay

The Bull gets mad
An' runs at the cat
But that Clifford, he jist
Steps aside

When Bull goes past
Clifford swings on board
An' he hollers, Hey, Baby
Let's Ride

Ol' Bull, he jumps
And whirls in a spin
But that Clifford jist
Digs in 'is claws

Then Bull starts buckin'
An' a yellin' with pain
This won't be one a'
Them draws

Doin' a sidestep
Bull goes fer the fence
T'wipe Clifford offa
His back

But Clifford don't buy it
He tightens his hold
An' says, You ain't gittin'
No slack

Playin' it cagey
Bull tries standin' still
An' then when he's ready

Cat reaches up,
Gits a mouthful of ear
An' Bull he cain't help but
Jist weep

Bull says, That's it,
I ain't got no more
I guess to be beat is
My fate

The Cat, he says, Good,
Rides 'im into the pen
Then jumps off an' slams shut
The gate

Outside, he leans
'Gainst the cor-ral fence
An' he pulls out a
Cuban cheroot

Now that's quite a ride
The cat says with pride
But I'm better gittin' on
In a chute

All right, I know
You think that I lie
But ol' Clifford, the
Cow-herdin' cat

In San Berdu,
Is the "Bull-Ridin' Champ"
Like it says on 'is
Bull-ridin' hat

© 2002, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Write, er Git Left Behind

When I started puttin' down words on paper
It was a novel I planned t'write
Never thought t'write no cowboy poems
I never even figgered I might

Then a cowboy friend, he up an' died
An' there was somethin' I needed t'say
So I set down here at m'big ol' Mac
An' jist started typin' away

Next thing y'know the words started t'rhyme
An' I found it was kinda fun
I'd wrote a cowboy poem that was good
But then couldn't stop at one

Now the things jist rattle aroun' in m'head
A doin' their best t'git free
But, one by one I'm gittin' 'em out
An' it's sure a puzzle t'me

I had no idea I could write sich things
Much less that people'd read 'em
But I git one done an' they's two more here
I hardly kin wait t'complete 'em

I'll be settin' aroun' not thinkin' a'much
Then somethin'll come t'mind
An' when the words to a poem start tumblin' out
I either write, er git left behind

My wife says I git in kind of a trance
An' write like a house afire
An' when I'm done I got a cowboy poem
With words that sometimes inspire

But sometimes they don't, they're jist plain funny
An' that's okay with me, too
So I'm a cowboy poet, an' like it er not
It's somethin' that I gotta do

© 2001, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The Cowboy That Nobody Wanted

At the railroad station one hot summer day
This ragged ol' cowpoke rides in
He's dusty an' sweaty an' smells like 'is horse
An' he looks to be older than sin

He climbs off an' comes over t'where we're at
An' he sez that he's seekin' a job
I sez, Seems t'me you're 'bout all worked out
An' he smiles an' sez, Folks call me Bob

I come up from Yuma, an' rode all the way
An' I spent ever cent that I had
If any you gents got a job I kin do
I'd sure be obliged, an' real glad

Jeramy Coolidge sez, I might be hirin'
Jist whatta you got on yer mind
Jake Miller chimes in an' sez, Hold on a bit
This feller is purty near blind

What'll y'do, have 'im bustin' yer broncs
This cowpoke is way past 'is prime
An' Bob sez, Now boys, I ain't askin' too much
Lest me bein' old is a crime

When it comes t'ranchin' I've done all they is
All I need is a chance fer a berth
T'do some real work, an' t'help someone out
That's all that I want on this earth

Some other cow bosses was part a' the group
But no one spoke up fer Ol' Bob
Jeremy allowed as how he'd changed 'is mind
So the ol' cowpoke still had no job

Jake Miller's wife, drove 'er buggy up then
T'meet with the train from Saint Lou
Jake was jist reachin' t'help 'er git down
When a switch engine whistled 'er crew

The Miller horse nearly jumped out of  'is skin
Miz Miller fell back in her seat
Ol' Jake lost 'is grip an' the horse took off
Right straight fer the sage an' mesquite

While we was all thinkin' about what t'do
Ol' Bob showed he wouldn't  be rattled
Before we could sort out the best way t'go
The ol' man jist up an' skedaddled

That cayuse a' his went straight t'full speed
He leaped right over the track
Bob got to the buggy, an' jumped off his horse
T'land on the runaway's back

Miz Miller was hangin' on, sayin' her prayers
An' Bob's doin' much the same thing
Then all of a suddent, the runaway stopped
An' it looked like Ol' Bob had took wing

He flew through the air, like he's shot from a gun
Then dropped like a sack full a' lead
Miz Miller was cryin' an' not hurt at all
But the cowpoke who saved 'er was dead

We buried Ol' Bob in the Miller's front yard
In the grave that he'd got fer 'is  berth
He was lookin' fer work, an' t'help someone out
An' that's all that he sought on this earth

Jake Miller, he planted a big shade tree
An' t'make sure Bob's not alone
Put a picnic table alongside 'is grave
Got a carver to make 'im a stone

The Cowboy that Nobody Wanted, it said
With thanks from 'is cowpoke brothers
Ol' Bob saved a life, when he lost his own
And changed about three dozen others

© 2002, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission



Phantom Herd

It was late in October, an' the wind it was cold.
I was camped where the river ain't deep.
I had wrapped myself up in what blankets I had,
but I still couldn't quite git t'sleep.

'Bout a quarter t'midnight, my fire'd burned low,
an' I reckoned it orta be stirred.
I got it goin' again, an' that's about when
I detected the sounds of a herd.

Dark as it was, I could tell they was movin'.
I knew by the ruckus they made.
I set up right now, cuz I sure didn't want
t'git trampled t'death where I laid.

I stirred up the fire in the hopes I'd be seen.
an' drew m'horse close jist in case.
If them critturs decided to trample this camp,
we could hightail it outta the place.

I remembered a hill that was off to the west,
a half a mile maybe, or less.
If these cowboys cain't see me, it's no good t'holler,
cuz they won't hear me, neither, I guess.

The sound of the cattle was lots louder now,
but I still couldn't tell where they's at.
I climbed in the saddle, an' urged m'horse on,
an' slapped at 'er flanks with m'hat.

Come mornin' I looked, an' the ground it was smooth,
which was counter to all I been taught.
A herd shoulda left plenty prints when it passed,
so I asked an old friend what he thought.

The old boy, he shivered, an' said kinda soft,
"They's two things y'need to remember.
They's times when things happen y'jist cain't explain,
an' today is the first of November."

© 2002, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Dreams of a Workin' Man

If you asked what I see in these Cow Country folks
I describe in my cowboy poems,
I'd tell you these folks are a part of our land,
who build families, and ranches, and homes.

These are the straight-mouthed, hard-muscled men,
who don't know the meaning of shirk.
I see their wives, and their children, too.
An' each knows the meaning of work.

The main reward that they get is the joy
in knowin' they're doin' what's right.
They get up early, an' they work all day,
an' they dream when they sleep at night.

But if you should ask 'em about their dreams,
they'd give you a questioning look.
They'd chuckle, maybe, an' then they'd say,
"Whatcha doin', you writin'a book?"

Now, they don't intend to be rude to you,
it's somethin' they don't understan'.
For why would anyone else give a hoot
for the dreams of a workin' man.

The thought has never occured to them,
how important their dreams can be.
Oh they got plans like anyone else,
but they're not for others t'see.

But if you could see 'em, you'd know the truth
of what makes this country so great.
These folks love freedom enough for all,
with no room t'spare for hate.

What do I see in these Cow Country folks?
It's a truth that oughta be known.
These folks hold the future of all mankind,
in the dreams that they call their own.

© 2002, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Wheelin' an' Dealin'

Billy Bob Bayless, a rancher I know,
found he needed a used pickup truck.
The one that he had, had give up the ghost,
had purely jist run outta luck.

So, Billy Bob goes down to Lucky Louie's,
who had 'im a used car lot.
He told ol' Lucky he'd jist look around,
"an' kinda jist see whatcha got."

He said that he'd like that there Forty-One Jimsy,
an' Lucky sez, "Excellent choice.
Jist lemme stop past my manager's desk,
an' pick up the pickup's invoice."

The sign on the truck sez it's Eight-hunnert dollars,
so Billy Bob writes out a check.
But Lucky, he sez, "Jist hold on a minute,
this ain't some old miserable wreck.

"This baby has extras, two special spotlights,
a modified four-speed box.
An' lookit them tires," he sez with a grin.
"This jewell's been a settin' on blocks.

So Billy Bob sez, "Okay, tell me the cost,
but I think this is almost a stickup."
Lucky sez, "One-thousand, two-hundred dollars, m'friend,
an' you got yerself a new pickup.

It wasn't long after Billy Bob gets a call,
Lucky's son's in the Four H now.
He's got 'im a project he's gonna work on,
but first, he must buy 'im a cow.

Billy Bob sez, "Okay, bring out yer boy,
an' both of ya come take a look.
I promise whatever one you decide on
I'll sell 'er right outta the book."

So that's what they done, they both come right on out
an' looked over ever last cow.
Eventually Lucky sez, "Okay, we found 'er.
We'll jist take 'er home with us, now."

But Billy Bob sez, "Now you boys hold yer horses.
I know that yer pleased with yer choice.
But I need t'stop past my office a minute
an' pick up a bovine invoice."

He brought it out an he started to readin',
an' this is the way the thing went.
"Yer basic cow will cost Five-hunnert dollars,
that is, if ya buy an' don't rent.

"That two-tone exterior is Forty-five more,
the extra stomach costs, too.
Her straw storage unit's a Hunnert an' twenny.
But wait, there's still more, we ain't through.

"Dual horns will cost you, oh, Forty-five dollars,
Upholstery has jist gone sky high.
I tell ya, the price on this cow is a steal,
but yer gettin' yerself a real buy."

Lucky sez, "Okay, I see what's a comin',
so what's it add up to by now?"
Billy sez, "One-thousand, two-hunnert dollars, m'friend,
an' you got yerself a new cow."

© 2003, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal told us: The idea for "Wheelin' an' Dealin'" came from our youngest son, Bucky.  He's the main man in my poem, When the Hired Hands all Quit.  Bucky's cowboyed for a while, and he's bought a couple or three pickups in his life... I liked the idea of the "little guy" winnin' one.  As much, and as often, as I've wanted to get even with a dude like this, myself, I've never been able to in my entire life. Anyways, not until I wrote this poem."


The Lonely Yearlings

The ranch where m'young friend Bucky worked
was owned by a gal from the city.
In fact, she'd inherited three whole spreads,
an' run 'em herself, more's the pity.

One mornin' our foreman called a meetin'  an' said,
"Git these heifers an' bulls sorted, men.
If we don't, all them yearlin's are gonna git mixed,
an' you know what¹ll come about then."

Bucky said, "Yeah, we'll git two-headed calves."
An' some'll have five er six legs.
We gotta keep them critters from mixin' it up
no matter how some of 'em begs."

So, that's what they did, they split 'em all up,
with a good strong fence in between.
The foreman said, "Dang, I'm sure glad that's done!
Them beasts is the wildest I've seen."

They all turned in an' got a good night's sleep,
then at dawn Bucky checked on the weather.
An' that's when he seen that them heifers and bulls
was now in one field all together.

He called the foreman to, "Come here an' look!"
An' the feller come real close to swearin'.
He waked up the owner, an¹ brought 'er outside,
an' noticed the smile she was wearin'.

He figgered she'd seen what'd happened out here,
then he jist plain asked 'er outright.
"Them yearlin's couldn't open that gate by themselves.
Did you come an' do it last night?"

"Why yes, dear boy," the ol' lady said.
"I opened the gate there between 'em.
They seemed so sad, an' was cryin' so bad,
but now they're the happiest I seen 'em."

"Ma'am," said the foreman, "We git jug-headed calves,
the fault is all yours an' yours only."
"Oh, don't be so grouchy," the ol'lady said.
"Them poor little critters was lonely."

© 2003, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal says: The lady ranch owner in this poem has since gone on, but there's a lotta cowboys -- cowgirls, too, for that matter -- who will never forget what it was like workin' for her.

For another look at how she ran things, you can read When the Hired Hands all Quit.



Saddle Dreamin'

Sometimes all alone when I'm on a good horse,
I have these lifelike dreams.
I don't know how, but I go lotsa places.
At least that's the way that it seems.

It's the rhythm of ridin' that gits in m'head,
and jist kinda rocks me t'sleep.
I find m'self flyin' way up in the sky,
or swimmin' in water that's deep.

When m'horse has a notion where it is she's headed,
and don't need no coaxin' from me,
I find m'self gittin' kinda light in the head,
with a buzzin' that sounds like a bee.

When I doze in the saddle I could be anywhere.
Why, once I was up on a cloud,
and a elephant flew right past m'face.
I waked m'self laughin' out loud

Another time, I thought that an angel was there,
and whisperin' into m'ear.
I danged near fell offa m'saddle that time,
when she gave me a ice cold beer.

Sometimes I wake up a noddin' my head,
and wonderin' jist where I'm at.
One time  I thought that a blue mountain jay
built a nest up on top a' m'hat.

I was bein' real careful t'not knock it off,
but then when I looked it was gone.
I figgered it out in no more than a minute,
when I stifled a great big yawn.

I'd been asleep in the saddle again,
and the sunshine was comf'tably  beamin'.
Yeah, time passes nice when they's some ways t'go,
and I'm ridin' and saddle dreamin'.

© 2004, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Colorado Dreams
A man came to visit the other day,
probably my favorite guest.
We went to my den, and poked up the fire,
and we both set down to rest.

He noticed a bottle on the mantel shelf,
said, "Don't get your feelin's hurt,
but it seems to me that bottle I see,
is filled up with plain old dirt."

"Isn't dirt," I said.  "That's a sample of
some good Colorado land.
Whenever I feel kinda down, you see,
I hold the thing in my hand.

"And when I do that, my mind wanders back
to places I'd like to be.
To things that I've done, to places I've gone,
and to folks I'd like to see.

"I can hear cattle, and voices of friends,
recall how I set a horse.
And pon'dring the way that it was, I feel,
maybe a touch of remorse.

Because never again will anything be
the way that it was back then.
I long for the chance to just have a day,
ridin' the land with a friend."

My guest said, "I know, and you can't go back
to somethin' that ain't no more.
But that little bottle's a magic key
that unlocks a special door."

"You got it," I said, "and when I need rest,
that bottle just fairly gleams.
Because it doesn't hold dirt, it holds memories  of
some good Colorado dreams."

© 2004, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


We asked Hal what inspired this poem and he told us: The death of my buddy, Duane Laeger, of Platteville, Colorado hit me pretty hard.  He was much too young to die.  He looked like a young Wilfred Brimley, the actor. Duane's widow, Colleen, asked me a while back if there's anything she could bring me of his that I'd like, and I told her, yeah, I'd like a little piece of the land that he ranched.  She brought it to me, in a vinegar bottle--with a glass stopper in the top of it. I put it on the shelf in the room I sometimes refer to as my den, and every now and then I look at it, and remember all the things we did, and the things I wish we'd had the chance to do. Just before I wrote the poem, a man I know, a law enforcement buddy, came by, saw the bottle, and asked me about it. The poem pretty much describes what happened. I miss ol' Duane, but I'll never forget 'im.


The Patriot
At the close of the day, an old cowboy sets
kinda quiet in the old porch swing.
Now and then he'll softly whistle a tune,
or maybe he'll start to sing.

Then he'll change his mind and waggle his head,
and close his eyes in thought.
He thinks of Korea, the war over there,
and some of the lessons it taught.

When his gaze wanders over to the nearby hills,
he recalls how they look when it snows.
He studies the flag that he raised this mornin',
how it moves when the west wind blows.

If you look real close you'll see that a tear
gives a hint of some inner strife.
His mind's eye's seein' the faces of friends,
who long ago left this life.

The flag waves gently in the sunset sky,
and the old man raises his chin.
In his mind he's hearin' the sound of drums,
and he waits for the tune to begin.

When it does, his step is strong and brisk,
as he marches out to the flag.
He stops and stands there, watchin' it wave,
wipes his eyes with a pocket rag.

He continues his march to the old corral,
where his Morgan comes over to talk.
He saddles him up, and climbs on top,
and heads him out for a walk.

On a hill, he wonders if the whole blamed thing
was worth all the friends he lost.
Headin' home, he knows down deep in his heart,
he too, would have paid the cost.

Yeah, he shared the peril, but he returned
to his home in the sand and the sage.
Then, back at his flag, he thanks all his pards
for lettin' him reach old age.

© 2004, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Our thanks to Hal Swift for sharing this poem for Veteran's Day, 2004, and to his friend Smitty for sharing the photo of their Navy days.

Hal told us "I didn't do anything especially outstanding during the Korean War. I just sat in a radio room aboard ship, sending and receiving Morse Code messages. I got a little 'dit-happy' as they used to say about us radio operators, but I didn't go through any of the hardships and danger the men and women on land did."


Sweet Desert Magic

My friends can tell you that I'm not the one
to be describin' a flower,
but I wish I could show you what I saw once
in the desert after a shower.

I was in Arizona sometime before spring
as far down south as could be.
I'd just been fired from the Double X Ranch,
and not yet feelin' quite free.

I'd no place to go, but I took my pay
and saddled my horse and rode.
I tried, but I just couldn't seem to get out
of my sad, self-pityin' mode.

I took the trail westward out toward the dunes,
where it's totally dry and barren.
Deep in my thoughts, I missed the clouds,
I just wasn't much really carin'.

The next thing I know, the rain's comin' down
like God is really upset.
I deserved it, I knew, so I just didn't bother
about me gettin' all wet.

I figured, Hey, if I can't hold a job,
there ain't much use in me tryin'.
Then, next thing you know, in all of that rain,
I hauled off and started to cryin'.

When the rain stops fallin', so do the tears.
It seems like I've ridden for hours.
My horse stops walkin', the sun comes out,
and that's when I see the flowers.

Where a while before, it was dry and brown,
the desert has now come alive.
Red flowers and yellow, and orange and blue,
all the colors that God can contrive.

I'll tell you the truth, I really was down.
I thought that my life was over.
Then next thing I know, all them flowers appear,
and I feel like I'm rollin' in clover.

From total despair, to a life without care
has taken an hour-and-a-half.
The idea I'd had that there's nowhere to go.
can now nearly make me laugh.

Gettin' fired from a job that I'd worked at for years
really hurt--to me it was tragic.
But since that day, when bad things happen,
I remember that sweet desert magic.

© 2004, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Uncle Jim Got to Carry the Flag

One stormy night Uncle Jim rode out
to find a calf that'd gone and strayed.
But savin' the calf,  he rode his horse off a cliff.
Next mornin' we found where they laid.

"My horse is dead," he said, "and I'm dyin' too.
so just take me home to my bed."
We did, an' I set in the chair alongside.
"Just talk to me, boy," he said.

I said, "Uncle Jim, do you remember
the parade you fought to get into?
When that dude from Reno tripped you up,
and said that he never meant to?"

Uncle Jim coughed, and squeezed my hand,
and he screwed up his face to smile.
"That dude," I said, "claimed a Clumsy like you
couldn't carry the flag a mile."

Jim tried to laugh, but he couldn't quite,
and I saw it there in his eyes.
I knew he was thinkin' how he'd put down
a dude more than twice his size.

It seems this dude thought that he's the one
that oughta go carry the flag,
settin' up front of the rodeo parade,
on his dolled-up broken-down nag.

But Uncle Jim and his Morgan stud
had carried that flag for years.
So he up and punched the dude in the nose,
and the feller broke out in tears.

"It's my job to carry that flag,"
Uncle Jim said loud an' strong.
"Up there in front on my Morgan stud,
that's the place where I belong!"

The dude, decided Uncle Jim was right,
and offered to buy him a beer.
But Uncle Jim said, "Not till after I'm done,
'cause parade time's just too near."

Now, here in his bed, a light brightened his eyes.
He was lookin' down Memory Lane.
Then the look went dim an' I knew right then
that he couldn't see past his pain.

I said, "Uncle Jim, I wish I could help.
Maybe take that pain to me."
But ever so slightly he shook his head.
Whispered, "No, that just can't be."

I leaned in closer so I could hear,
and he said with a trembly grin,
"I've carried the flag in my last parade.
I'll not get to do it again."

Then he looked up toward the top of his bed,
and I said, "What is it you see?"
He said, "My Lord! There's a big parade,
and the marshal's motionin' to me!

"He's got him a flag that's trimmed in gold,
and he wants me to come and carry it!
And my Morgan stud's already in line,
with my favorite saddle and lariat!"

Uncle Jim whispered, "I gotta go, boy,"
and let out a real deep breath.
I waited for another, but it never came,
'cause he'd joined that parade to death.

When I told the hired hands about the parade,
I said, "You know he'd not brag.
But they called him to ride right up in the front,
and Uncle Jim got to carry the flag."

© 2004, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal told us: This poem was inspired by the death of my old cowboy friend, Marbel Parker, of Greeley, Colorado.  It didn't come exactly this way, but I sat with him, and we talked until it was, as he said, "Time to go."  The recent death of my brother, Richard, brought back the memory of Marbel's death--as well as others--from my time as a clergyman.  I miss all of those old boys--a lot.


Cowpoke's Funeral

A cowpoke's funeral is different than most
For one thing there's poetry read
For cowpokes love poems and write 'em themselves
About all the things in their head

They tell about loved ones an' things that they've done
An' places they've been through the years
The horses they've rode, an' the friends that they've knowed
An' things that'll bring you t'tears

For cowboyin' jist ain't a safe way t'live
Yeah, cowpokes are quick on the mend
Most all have got hurt, sometimes really bad
But sometimes you'll lose a good friend

An' that's when you learn things that you never knowed
They all act like sister an' brother
These people will see what a family needs
An' quietly help one another

Some of the stories that people will tell
Bring tears that can help you to heal
While others'll make you jist laugh right out loud
No matter how sad you may feel

The names'll be different but one thing's fer sure
What comes through each time loud and clear
Is how there's a love that helps everyone through
It's something we all want to hear

An' then, of course, there's the riderless horse
Bringin' tears to everyone's eyes
They know their friend won't be ridin' again
At least not here under these skies

An' after each person has gone up an' spoke
The preacher man's said his last word
Someone'll say stay an' eat up if y'like
An' tell some more stories you've heard

Yeah, cowpoke funerals are different than most
For everyone's doin' their best
To jist be good cowpokes, I guess you could say
'Cause that's how it is in the West

© 2005, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.




Herdin' your cattle with a pickup truck
ain't nothing especially new.
But now there's a problem you gotta consider
before it's somethin' you do.

You know how you aim your pickup truck
at a balky cow's rear end?
With the hopes she'll jump and start to move,
when she gets the message you send?

Now today's pickups have airbags in 'em,
so there's somethin' you need to know.
When you bump that cow at just the right speed,
that airbag of yours will blow.

The thing explodes and breaks your cigar,
and causes your engine to stop.
The cow disappears in a brushy ravine,
where even a rabbit can't hop.

If you're lucky then, you can telephone in,
for someone to give you a tow.
But the boys at the garage all think it's funny,
and that only adds to your woe.

Ace, the mechanic, says, "You buyin' wholesale?
For you, it'd  be a lot cheaper.
That's three this month, and at retail prices
them things can't get much steeper."

You look down at him, laying under a car,
and you think about lettin' it fall.
But you shake your head and restrain yourself,
'cause this ain't his fault at all.

Ace says, "You better see Roy in Parts,
that boy's got airbags galore.
I tell you, since he's been runnin' the place
I just couldn't ask for more.

"You gonna be puttin' this in?" says Roy,
"Or you want old Ace to do it?"
"Now, Roy, I ain't no mechanic," you say,
"let Ace, if he'll ever get to it."

Roy says, "You know, your new pickup
aint' made fer herdin' cattle.
Your old Ford's better, 'cause the cows all moved
whenever they heard it rattle."

You look him straight in the eye and say,
"Just get that airbag installed.
And you tell Ace I got cattle to gather,
when he's done, I need to be called."

Roy says, "Will this be cash, or credit?
It'll cost eight-hundred, you know."
You let out a sigh, and then say, "Credit,"
'cause you know your bank account's low.

Five hours later, at Shorty's Lunchroom,
the call comes through from Ace.
You pay up your tab, and say goodbye
to the three folks left in the place.

At Ace's Garage, you pay old Roy,
and he hands you your ring of keys.
You're ready to leave and Ace says, "Listen.
Just one more thing, if you please.

"I don't want to have to go through this
ever dad-blamed time you come in.
Anything you bump more'n twenty-miles-an-hour?
That airbag'll dee-ploy again."

Just ten minutes later, an S-U-V,
that's painted to look like a flower,
stops right in your way, and you hit that sucker
at twenty-one miles-an-hour.

© 2005, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal told us this poem: ... is based on a story told by cowboy poet, writer, and storyteller, Bob Kinford, in his book, Cowboy Romance (of horsesweat & hornflies). 

I met Bob in Gardnerville, Nevada a while back, when we both were guests at an authors' day at the Carson Valley Museum.  We traded books, and just had a great time cuttin' up.


Goin' fer the Mail

One lazy summertime afternoon
I didn't wanta go out in the heat
I wanted t'find me a nice, cool place
T'set down an' t'put up m'feet

I wandered over t'the carriage house
Where the hayloft's my favorite spot
It's high enough up t'ketch me a breeze
An' I could doze if I liked, er not

The old dapple mare dozed standin' up
An' I did the same layin' down
Nobody bothered with where I was
'Cept a dog maybe, nosin' round

M'cousin, Verlin, he knowed where I was
An' purty soon comes strollin' in
He spots me up in the loft an' says
I figgered that's where y'been

An' I says, Yeah, whatcha got in mind
An' he sets 'imself down on a pail
Jist thinkin', he says, we could hitch up the mare
Take the buggy an' go git the mail

An' I says, Sure, it's somethin' t'do
It'll keep me from growin' moss
So Verlin says, pull the buggy outside
An' I'll jist bring out the hoss

We hitched 'er up an' give 'er some oats
Verlin went t'tell 'is maw
I declare, she says, I think both a' you boys
Are the laziest I ever saw

It's only a mile to the county road
An' another mile comin' on back
Next thing y'know when y'go git the mail
You'll want me t'pack you a snack

An' Verlin says, Say, that's a fine idea
Like maybe some cheese and some ham
I says, Don't go t'no trouble fer me
Jist a slice a' fresh bread an' some jam

We could still hear 'er laughin half-way down the lane
An' Verlin says, Well, Bud we tried
At least she give us a cool jug a' water
'Fore she hauled off an' run us outside

I pulled down m'hat, propped m'boots on the dash
An' leaned back in the buggy's big seat
I listened t'Verlin jist dronin' along
While some bugs sung a song in the wheat

Then Verlin says, Bud did you hear what I said
I yawned an' says, Ever last word
An' Verlin says, Yeah well you say that's the case
But tell me what was it y'heard

I said, You was sayin' how we'll both look back
An' we'll think of this warm summer day
An' laugh, on recallin' this horse an' buggy
An' the words that yer Ma had t'say

He says, I'm surprised you was list'nin' to me
You never once't let out a peep
An' I says, Why should I, the way you go on
So I jist pertended t'sleep

But yer right about one thing, it seems t'me
An' y'hit the nail right on the head
Days like this are the kind we'll remember
An' we'll treasure forever, I said

An' someday we'll gather our gran'children 'round
An' take turns at tellin' the tale
'Bout takin' the buggy on a warm summer day
Stedda walkin' t'go git the mail

© 2005, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal told us: My poem, "Goin' fer the Mail," describes what happened on a summer day in 1938, on my Uncle Roy and Aunt Myra Shepherd's place, in Muncie, Indiana.

Cousin Verlin is one of those boys that, bein' a couple years older than I am, I followed just about everywhere.  As in the poem, it was his idea to take the horse and buggy and go get the mail.

It was one of those times about which kids say, "We'll remember this day always."  I've remembered it for 68 years, but just now got around to writin' about it.

Verlin and his wife visited us a couple years back.  He's about 80 now, and still has that look in 'is eye that says, "Let's go find us somethin' to do."  He's the kind of a country cousin I could wish for everyone.


Rope Trick

I ain't much good at ropin'
Though I've done my share, I guess
But things sometimes jist don't go right
This much I will confess

It all goes back t'one bad day
When we was chasin' strays
The wind was blowin', rain come down
The sky was all a haze

My friend, John Shepherd, he dodged left
To head off three young steers
So I dodged right to block 'em there
In case they shifted gears

I dropped a loop on the one in front
John roped the one that followed
The third one slipped inta the crick
And jist layed there and wallowed.

Now John's young Morgan, and my old mare
Was hot with the frenzied chase
They spread apart and jumped the crick
And both picked up the pace

I think them steers had talked it out
Made plans for how they'd rule us
For suddenly they traded sides
A move designed to fool us

I blush to tell what happened next
I'd druther go to jail
My rope caught John's horse in the rear
And lodged beneath its tail

This broke the Morgan's train of thought
And brought him to a halt
Friend John, he landed with a thud
He said was all my fault

We had a fist fight then right there
The steers all runnin' wild
And folks still bring it up I guess
To jist get Ol' John riled

Now, as for me, I do my best
A roper not to be
And John he does his best as well
To not chase steers with me

© 2005, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This poem is inspired by Charles M. Russell painting, "A Mix Up," and is included in Hal Swift's book, Cowboy Poems and Outright Lies.  Hal included this link to an image of the painting at the Rockwell Museum.

Hal told us: The situation shown in "A Mix Up," is one Mr. Russell must've seen first-hand.  It is so much like some of the "Plans-Gone-Wrong" of me and my buddies in the 1940s that, when I saw it, I felt like I'd been there.  Not only did I feel like I had been there, but that I probably was the one who caused the "Mix Up."

Bein' the one responsible for everybody else's crashin' is an experience I'm all too familiar with.  Seems like, back in those days, I went around feelin' guilty and embarrassed an awful lot of the time. Now I can look back on those days, and merely feel embarrassed.


Blackie, the Horse-Ridin' Dog

What Blackie, my dog done, wasn't that much,
but it made him stand out from the rest.
Y'see, he liked to go horseback ridin',
and he could keep up with the best.

Each summer, my mom, and my sister, and me
would stay at a relative's farm.
My Uncle Will let Blackie take 'is first ride.
He said, "It won't do 'im no harm."

Blackie didn't set on a regular saddle,
an old gunny sack took its place.
But folks'd sure look when he went ridin' by,
with that great big smile on 'is face.

Now, he never could ride on a cuttin' horse,
his favorite just pulled a ol' plow.
But Blackie could ride on that horse all day,
or as long as the work would allow.

He couldn't get up by himself, of course,
so my cousin Raymond would help.
When Blackie decided he'd like to go ridin'
he'd go find Raymond and yelp.

Rosebud's the name of the horse he preferred,
and them two delighted to play.
Oh, Rosebud still worked, but when she didn't,
they'd meander around all day.

I took a photograph once of both of them dudes,
when Blackie's about to go ride.
He's settin' up there on Rosebud's back,
with a look of serious pride.

Blackie liked that photo so daggone much
that I let him have one of his own.
I put it next to his bed in Rosebud's stall,
alongside his favorite bone.

Blackie and Rosebud were such an attraction,
passin' traffic just naturally slowed.
There've been fifteen wagons, and buggies, too,
all parked by the fence at the road.

Blackie loved that place so much that my mom
said we ought to just let him stay.
So when we went home, Blackie stayed on the farm
so's him and Rosebud could play.

This thing went on for purt' nearly a year,
my dog and that horse bein' friends.
But, doncha know, that there comes a time
when something like this just ends?

One mornin' that winter, we got a long letter,
and I can remember it yet.
My Aunt Vin said that my two friends had died.
It's a day that I'll never forget.

She said two weeks before, Rosebud wouldn't wake,
no matter what all they'd do.
Blackie stayed by her side that day till she died,
the vet said because of the flu.

She said Blackie took sick then and stayed in that stall,
till they found him one mornin' there dead.
And they found that photo of him and his friend,
layin' right there, next to his head.

She said they buried Blackie, right next to Rosebud,
in this life, the friend he loved best.
Maybe what Blackie done wasn't all that much,
but he sure stood out from the rest.

© 2006, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Hal told us: Blackie and I used to sit and talk for hours. I learned all sorts of things from him. Then, he discovered he liked to ride horses, and I left him at my Uncle Will's place so he could do that. I never saw Blackie again.




The Big Parade

There's nothin' like a big parade
to get a town excited.
And when the rodeo's in town,
folks' interest is ignited.

For kids and grown-ups, old folks, too,
the excitement comes all sizes.
You pay your entrance fee up front
to help make up the prizes.

And all the clubs in town take part,
each plannin' their own entry.
They build their float then guard their work
with one old cowboy sentry.

But no one ever steals their plans,
I wouldn't now, would you?
They're too blamed busy with their own
to care what others do.

Of course the bands need tunin' up,
and march around the city.
And all the girls are sewin' clothes
to make themselves look pretty.

The horses know that somethin's up,
they're warshed six times a day!
And brushed and curried till they shine,
they don't know what t'say!

E Clampus Vitus comes to town
with all the tricks they carry.
Young couples often choose this day
to be the day they marry.

The people come from miles around
to see this annual treat.
And cheer the queen of this year's show
as she rides down the street.

And everyone's puffed up with pride,
a famous cowboy's picked to lead it.
This here's the rodeo parade,
there's nothin' that kin beat it!

© 2006, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal told us: I remember how, when I was a young man in Phoenix, Arizona, folks started getting ready for the rodeo months ahead of time. By opening day, you could feel the excitement in the air long before you heard the music or the sounds from the arena. I played tuba in one of the marching bands and, like everyone else, eagerly looked forward to the Big Parade.



The Drum Major

One spring day I hear a sound
that I've never heard before.
It sounds to me like the stomp of boots,
inside the barn on the floor.

The time is just about three A M,
not quite the hour to get up.
Along with the stomping sound, I hear
a voice sayin', "Hup, Hup, Hup!"

Reminds me of a sergeant I had,
marchin' us soldiers somewhere.
I peek through a crack in the ol' barn door,
an' all I can do is stare.

There, marchin' past all the horses' stalls
is Mitch, who owns this spread.
He's wavin' a cane back an' forth in the air,
up and down, an' over his head.

I listen close, an' he's hummin' a song,
like the Stars and Stripes Forever.
Well, I can't help it, I gotta know why
he's puttin' forth all this endeavor.

The barn door creaks when I open 'er up,
an' the boss quits marchin' right then.
He grins kinda sheepish, and says that he hopes
I won't be tellin' the men.

He says in high school, for ever' parade,
he's the drum major, leadin' the band.
He says the rodeo boss called 'im up last night,
an' asked if he'd give 'em a hand.

The feller who leads the rodeo band
got kicked by a horse yesterday,
and without a leader, the parade this year
just won't have a band to play.

"So I agree," says Mitch, "to do what I can
to make the parade a success."
I says, "Well, I'll just let the crew find out,
when they see you marchin', I guess."

So that's how it goes at this year's parade.
The boss is a sight to see.
Ever'one cheers when they see the band.
and Mitch is as cool as can be.

Us boys all cheer and give our boss
plenty reason for him to be pleased.
At six-feet-eight, and two-sixty-five,
ol' Mitch ain't one to be teased.

One of the things that impressed me a lot,
that I ain't reluctant t'say.
is the high school uniform Mitch used t'wear?
He can still get it on today.

When the next auction comes, Mitch's drum major trick
brings double the price for our herd.
And no one in town when they see us around
says even one negative word.

© 2006, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal told us: In 1944-45, I was the drum major at Ben Davis High School in Indiana, west of Indianapolis. 

One of my cowboy poet buddies speculated as to how I must've looked "walkin' like that," and I told 'im I NEVER "walked like that," I stomped and strutted--like Mitch in this poem, here.

I marvel at my youth at the time this was taken. I was sixteen.

Photo from the "Keyhole," 1945 annual of Ben Davis, Indiana High School. Our band, and the ladies and I, performed at school sports events, as well as for state fairs, and various holiday parades


Belagani Boy
To my friend and family doctor, Quinton Thomas, MD

I wanted to be a Navajo brave
when I was a little kid.
But it was somethin' that wasn't to be,
no matter what all that I did.

I was German and Irish, my parents said,
as well as English and Scot.
I had an Indian outfit and moccasins, too.
But Navajo? I was not.

Now, I felt lucky that some of my classmates
were Navajo boys through and through.
They let me hang out with 'em now and again.
which was somethin' it pleased me to do.

They even taught me some Navajo sayings,
"Haga oh nay-ay" was one.
They said it's the way that their folks say "So long,"
but I guess they were havin' some fun.

Well, yeah, I did notice that when I said it,
it brought a big laugh from the group.
But I didn't mind, 'cause it made me to feel
like I was part of the loop.

After seventy years I'm in the office
of a Navajo doctor I met.
On the way out the door I says "Haga oh nay-ay."
I can hear the ol' boy laughin' yet.

"What's so dang funny?" I asks my new friend,
and waited to hear what he'd say.
"Girls say Haga oh nay-ay," he tells me,
"the men always say Haga shay."

"Daggone it! Why didn't my buddies tell me?
Or at least to have give me a hint?"
And Doc says, "Oh, I guess they wanted
to save you embarrassment."

"Well, Doc," I says, "You could be right,
but then, you could be wrong.
Because I got a notion it's why they all laughed,
whenever I said 'So long."

© 2006, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal notes that "Belagani" is Navajo (Dine') for "white" and comments:

When I was 6 or 7-years-old, my family moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I had read about Indians since I was big enough to turn the pages of a book and, finding myself in the company of real, live Navajo youngsters at school, I wanted more than anything to be one of them. Some kind of school celebration came along--May Day, perhaps--and my mom made me the "Indian" outfit you see here.

From my Navajo school chums, I picked up some of their words and expressions. I didn't discover until seventy years later--from my family doctor--that the Navajo language (Dine') is, at times, gender specific. What I learned from them to mean "See you later," actually is the way girls say it. Boys say it differently. Allowing others to use the incorrect form of a word was--and, I'm told, still is--a form of practical joke some Navajos play on non-Navajos they like. The poem, "Belagani Boy" (white boy) tells it all.



The Room at the End of the Hall

Bucky says this is the unvarnished truth,
an' I sure can't say that he's wrong.
We've rode together on many a trail,
but on this one, I wasn't along.

There's lotsa places he says he's been cold,
but one place he says tops 'em all.
A bunkhouse in Elko was where it occurred,
in the room at the end of the hall.

He says he arrived kind of late in the day--
well, late for a cowpoke, y'know.
An old man named Lucas was given the job
of tellin' him where he should go.

Lucas says, "Well, y'go down this long hall,
on the left, to the very last door.
Go right on in, like you're in your own home.
and just put all your things on the floor."

Lookin' forward to sleep, Bucky goes to the room,
but he stops 'fore he goes on inside.
Whoever has lived in this place up to now
is someone who's lackin' in pride.

He says there's a hole in the room's outer wall,
the size of a waterin' trough.
The wind blowin' through it's so numbingly cold,
he shivers, and can't help but cough.

A snowdrift has purty much covered the bunk,
and dang near the whole floor as well.
Where the hole has come from, or the reason it's there,
is somethin' he says he can't tell.

But he figures if he's gonna get any sleep,
he'd better get started to cleanin'.
He shovels the snow back out through the hole,
then sees that the bunk bed is leanin'.

He gets hammer and nails and he fixes the bunk,
turns the mattress's drier side up.
Puts his bedroll on top, then looks for some coffee.
In the kitchen, he finds 'im a cup.

All of the ranch hands has now disappeared,
even old Lucas is gone.
So he takes his coffee and figures he'll wait
to dig out the story come dawn.

Breakfast is served at a quarter to four,
and the boys all grinned when he said,
"Kinda cool last night, in that room of mine,
but I had me a nice warm bed."

Lucas says, "Bucky, I'm glad that you did.
I never expected you'd stay."
Bucky says, "Well, there's just one little thing,
that did kind of get in the way.

"This drunk comes in and wakes me at midnight,
and starts goin' through all my stuff."
"Where is it?" he asks me. And I says, "Get out!
Or I'm gonna have to get rough!

"Well, he starts to cryin' like some drunks'll do,
and my patience is wearin' real thin.
I says, 'If you're lookin' for booze, take this.'
And I gives 'im my bottle of gin."

"The gin!" says ol' Lucas, "That's all that he wants!
That's what he's been tryin' to find!
That's why he's been hauntin' us all of these years!
I'm surprised that we all were so blind!"

Bucky says, "Hauntin'? You mean, like a ghost?
And Lucas says, "Yessir, it is.
The room that's now yours, at the end of the hall,
is the one that used to be his.

"There once was a bathtub that set by that wall,
where the hole is that lets the snow in.
This cowpoke named Louie, had a little mishap,
while makin' a batch of his gin.

"The mix and the tub they exploded one night,
and Louie was killed without warnin'.
We didn't find what had made all the noise,
till just before breakfast next mornin'.

"A couple of boys went to wake Louie up,
and that's when we seen he was dead.
We closed up the room and just left it alone,
and used other bedrooms instead."

"We buried the body, at least what we found,
expectin' that that would be all.
But sometimes at night we hear footsteps an' cryin'
when Louie is walkin' the hall."

"This Louie," says Bucky, "a short, chubby boy?"
And Lucas says, "Yessir, that's right."
"Well, then," says Bucky, "I guess that was him--
the drunk that I talked to last night."

Bucky picks up 'is coffee, hand shakin' so much,
you'd think that he's havin' a fit.
He drinks the cup dry, then he gets to his feet.
He says, "Listen up, Lucas...I quit!"

"I've a rule," he says, "that I don't bunk with ghosts,"
and sets down his cold coffee cup.
"I'd of told you before, but I just never figured
the subject would ever come up."

© 2007, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal comments, "This is a story our youngest son, Bucky, tells. It took place when his lady boss sent him to her Elko ranch, he says, 'For no good reason whatsoever.' This is the same lady boss who's featured in my poems, 'When the Hired Hands all Quit,' and 'The Lonely Yearlin's.'"



A Lotta People Don't Know That

When you talk about Woolies in the state of Montana,
it's Goatskin Chaps that you mean.
And Batwings are chaps that are long and flappy,
like the rodeo cowboys' you've seen.

A Bell Mare's considered a kindly old nag
that keeps other horses calmed down.
A Bronc is a horse that's never been broken,
and loves to just run all around.

What's true and what ain't is hard to pin down,
sometimes you don't know where it's at.
But lookin' for the truth won't hurt you at all,
and a lot of people don't know that.

A Broomtail's a horse that ain't worth much,
and they're mostly found out on the range.
A Buckskin's a yellow horse, with black mane and tail,
which to me seems a little bit strange.

A noseband with a headpiece is called a Bosal,
regardless of how you pronounce it.
Chuck Wagons, some say, got their name from Chuck Beef,
and you can take that as truth or renounce it.

There's a lot of deep secrets to unlock in this life,
and you may never get 'em all down pat.
But knowin' lotsa stuff don't mean that you're smart,
and a lotta people don't know that.

A Remada's a Car Port, where you park your pickup,
a Remuda's a string of horses.
A man alone in the desert sometimes'll go mad,
because of mysterious forces.

Real cowboys live by the Code of the West,
though I reckon some people don't think it.
Cafe', to some, means a place where you eat,
but most cowboys I know just drink it.

Learnin' how to live without makin' mistakes
can be tough to get down pat.
But ever'body you meet has made at least one,
and a lotta people don't know that.

A Singletree's where you hitch one single horse,
and a Doubletree's where you hitch two.
Vaquero is Spanish for a man who works cows,
but in English, we say Buckeroo.

A rope is somethin' ever' cowboy needs
and learns early the ways to throw it.
Love really does make the world go around,
and you're wise if you've come to know it.

Now rememberin' these things I've been tellin' you here,
won't hurt you or make you get fat.
To keep lookin' is the key, for the Truth is out there,
and they's a lotta people don't know that.

© 2007, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal comments: I was doing a program once at a museum, and noticed a doubletree hangin' on the wall. There was a label on it that said, "Yoke, used for oxen." I told the lady docent there was a mistake in the labeling of the thing, and she didn't believe me. I found other things there that also were mislabeled. A cabbage shredder, used in the making of sauerkraut, had a label that said its purpose was unknown. The lady didn't believe me about that one, either.

In my stage presentations, I started asking questions about various things you'll see around a ranch, and was surprised at the number of folks in my audiences who hadn't a clue about most of 'em.  I got to thinking about it, and decided to put my thoughts into rhyme.  The result was "A Lotta People Don't Know That."  And yeah, a little philosophy snuck in there too, but folks don't seem to mind. 
Leastwise, they haven't told me if they do.



If Only We'd Had Some Rain

At the end of last summer's wildfire season,
when I finally could ride into town,
I stopped in at Shorty's for somethin' cool,
and a rancher friend says, "Set down."

We jawed for a while, like old men do,
then m'friend, named Jim, starts t'cry.
Well, I was no small amount taken aback,
but a course I had t'ask why."

"I'm wore out," he says, "from just havin' spent
the last two weeks in the saddle.
The boys and me have been searchin' m'ranch,
and shootin' what's left of my cattle.

"You see," says Jim, "when the wildfires hit,
they burned up most of my herd.
What was left of the rest was burned so bad,
that we shot ever one that stirred.

"Puttin' them down was our only choice,
they were in such terrible pain.
And all of this mess could've been prevented
if only we'd had some rain.

After all that I've lost, there's no way I can meet
my mortgage-holders' demands,
so, I'm givin' the whole spread back to the bank,
as soon as I pay off my hands.

"There ain't one among us will ever forget
the effects of those wildfires' heat,
specially the coyotes that we had t'shoot,
'cause the flames had burnt off their feet."

Jim says, "Us humans ain't much better off,
for most of us this is the end.
Then he stands and says, "But talkin' helps some,
so thank you for listenin' m'friend."

© 2007, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal told us about the inspiration for this poem: "John Tyson, long-time reporter for KOLO 8 News in Reno, has spent almost the past two years covering the wildfires plaguing northern Nevada. This poem was inspired by John's on-the-scene report of the devastation caused by the wildfires in the Elko area. Although Shorty's Place, and the characters in the poem are fictitious, the rancher's experiences described in the poem are factual."

John Tyson is involved with the Reno Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering; he's pictured in a report from the 2006 event, with event coordinator Cheryl Park, here.



Cowboy Hog-Butcher
Another page from the true-life adventures of my son, Bucky

Bucky's the youngest cowpoke on the ranch
and because he is practically new,
feedin' the chickens and slopping' the hogs
are chores that he has to do.

Well, yeah, and cleanin' the barn, of course,
which he does with a smile on 'is face.
You know, all the chores that a youngster must do,
if it isn't his family's place.

When the boss shows Bucky a thousand-pound hog
and tells 'im to go in and catch it,
he enters the pen and closes the gate,
and, of course, he remembers to latch it.

He says he's glad he did, because that hog
did not intend to get caught.
And all were impressed with the muddy battle
that him and that monster fought.

The boss gives the kid a piece of lead pipe
and says, "Kill that hog when you get 'im."
The kid knows that pipe wouldn't kill that hog,
no matter how hard he hit 'im.

Bucky stays in the game, and the hog does the same,
till the kid says, "I quit, I'm done."
He says to the boss, "I don't care what you think,
but I hope you've enjoyed all the fun."

He heads for a shower, but turns and looks
when he hears a gunshot's sound.
The boss is grinnin, and his rifle's smokin',
and the hog's layin' dead on the ground.

Bucky says, "If I'd of known I couldn't catch that hog,
I'd of shot the beast, of course.
But I'll remember this lesson the next time you tell me
to go out and catch your horse."

© 2007, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal told us that this poem, "..., is based on another adventure of our son, Bucky, when he was workin' for that lady ranch owner who's the cause of all the trouble in my poems 'The Lonely Yearlings,' and 'When the Hired Hands All Quit.' She's gone now, but her memory lingers on in the minds of every hired hand who ever worked for her. The only difference between this story and others, is that this one involves the ranch manager, who was ever' bit as ornery as the boss lady was 'outta touch with reality.'"


Father Eagle
(Kwee Nah-Ah)

Hot and tired, I was lookin' for shade
on a summer day late in July.
Now I dunno why, I just happent t'look
straight up in the sparklin' blue sky.

I spotted an eagle about a mile up,
and maybe some six er eight more.
They all was just hangin' beneath a white cloud,
like a picture from the general store.

I saw no reason for why they was there.
I guess they's lookin' for game.
Then one by one, they all blinked right out,
as silently as they'd came.

An ol' Numa friend he just nodded 'is head,
and quietly pulled at 'is jaw.
"Kwee-Nah Ah is watching," he said with a smile.
"You're blessed with the vision you saw."

That weren't no vision I said to m'friend.
Them was real eagles up there.
"You Taibo are slow to get wisdom," he said.
"You're under the Great Eagles' care."

Oh come on, I said, what'd they want with me?
They's no Numas you'll find in my clan.
"A' course you’re not Numa." m'friend laughed and said.
You’re just a good-hearted ol' man.

"M'friend," he said, "Lissen, you've allus been strong,
but you’re old, and your hearin' is gone.
Father Eagle knows too, and he cares about you,
and he'll guard you from this moment on."

Well, I didn't believe what exactly he said.
Oh, I'm glad that there's someone who'll care.
But y' know, just this mornin' when I looked at the sky,
all them eagles was back hanging there."

© 2007, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Kwee-nah-ah, "Father Eagle"
Numa, "Paiute"
Taibo, "White person"

Hal comments: This is based on something that happened a few years ago. In northern Nevada, we have a lot of eagles, which I've always considered to be brown eagles. However, when I told my friend, Johnny Gunn, about this incident, he said that these are Golden eagles, not brown ones. I still see them overhead from time to time, but I still am not convinced they're watching over me. I suspect they're hunting for something—I don't know what—up there in that "sparklin' blue sky."



Blame it on Daylight Savin's Time

I remember once, back in Indiana,
when things started gettin' strange,
they’s a big discussion about the cause,
by the boys at the county Grange.

Strange things was happenin' to ever'one,
none of it really a crime.
But the general feelin' was it all was caused
by your Daylight Savin's Time.

One ol’ boy said that all of ‘is cows,
got picky about what they ate.
Another said his hens stopped layin’
‘cause bedtime come too late.

The hands missed breakfast because it was served
a long time before they woke.
The roosters crowed an hour before sunup,
and the pigs all thought it’s a joke.

The kids all had to get up in the dark,
an’ you know that weren’t no fun.
They was hundreds of things folks had to do,
and do ‘em without no sun.

Yeah, strange things happened to ever'one,
and it made no reason or rhyme.
But the general feelin' was it all was caused
by your Daylight Savin's Time.

© 2008, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Spanish Springs is Changin'

Spanish Springs is Old Nevada,
it's always been ranch land.
It's where a lot of my long-time pals
learned to be a good cowhand.

Three of them and me, last Saturday,
rode out through Spanish Springs.
And I gotta say I'm some put out
at how they're changin' things.

Some cattle's grazin' in the fields,
like maybe a couple of dozen.
But the way they're buildin' houses there,
the place is fairly buzzin'.

The cows look around them nervously,
maybe puzzled by the noise.
And hardly notice the shrill hoo-raws
of a group of rowdy boys.

The boys come from the new-built homes,
put up by the sub-dividers.
The new folks stare like they're some put out
by us common horseback riders.

But we're stayin' on the old sand trail,
and ignore the haughty looks,
of folks whose only outdoor life
has come from out of books.

A lady wearin' shorts and shirt
comes out to her new wood fence,
and lets us know she'd like us gone,
with sophisticated hints.

The four of us all smile at her,
and continue on our way.
We'd have stopped and spoke, but weren't quite sure
exactly what we'd say.

And when we get back to the barn,
we feel kind of like them cattle.
Like maybe we ought to go and fight,
but we know we'd lose the battle.

It's the last time we'll all saddle up,
and ride through Spanish Springs,
because we know just the four of us
can't stop how they're changin' things.

© 2008, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal told us, "This is a poem written from a feeling of frustration about what the subdividers are doing to the cow country of northern Nevada. Spanish Springs is old ranchland, just north of Sparks, where I live. Last I heard, there have been some fifteen thousand large, new, expensive homes built in the area. It's sad to see the ranches disappearing, and not be able to do anything to stop it."



The Cowpokes' Roll-Away Saloon

In the early history of the Golden West,
along the Arizona, Utah border,
there was only one bar where a thirsty cowpoke
could set down an' place 'im an order.

But north to south, Kanab to Fredonia,
the cowpokes' spirits was low.
Seems that lone saloon kept runnin' outta booze,
cuz the ol' freight wagon's so slow.

Some a the boys started stashin' their stuff,
so's to sneak a sip durin' the day.
But by late afternoon their off-key singin'
would allus give 'em away.

The cowpokes felt they was bein' held down,
an' it made 'em both mean an' cross.
An' they got no help from the old, married men,
whose wives seem to think they're the boss.

If you happened to be too close to the house
when y'stopped to wet yer whistle,
you kin bet one'd see ya, an' give you a look
like she maybe jist swallered a thistle.

Some men got fired, and their wives got upset,
and declared no more drinkin' at all.
But the drinkin' continued in all sorts a spots.
One boy had a bar in a stall!

Things only got worse as the days went by.
The men was all mopin' aroun',
'til someone suggested that they build another
saloon on the outskirts of town.

They decided the state line would be a good place,
an' they'd build it on rollers becuz
then they could move it if worse come to worse,
an' the womenfolk found where it was.

So that's what they did, the boys built their saloon,
south of town maybe four miles or so.
They built a road to it, on top of the dunes,
where the ladies weren't likely to go.

Kanab's side of the border's where they parked it first,
an' ever'thin' hummed along fine.
Then the gals found out, an' went to set it on fire,
but the men rolled it over the line.

"We're in Arizona!" the boys all hollered,
"so you better stop right where you're at!"
The women said, "Okay, but leave it right there.
Roll it back, an' it's gone, like that!"

Then Fredonia's ladies decided they'd give
their Kanabian sisters a hand.
The men tried to roll their saloon back north,
but the thing bogged down in the sand.

The Kanab ladies heard, an' come back on the run,
an' you knew that the drinkers'd lose.
The saloon couldn't roll, so it set there an' burned,
with thirty-six kegs fulla booze.

With alla that alcohol burnin' at once,
the flames was angry an' loud.
The ladies was dancin' an' singin' with joy,
til a shout went up from the crowd.

Seems some a the cowpokes had stayed with the booze,
an' was there when the ceilin' fell in.
A collection was took up to care fer the widders,
an' a prayer was said fer the men.

Where the tragedy happened is all desert now,
ghosts play in the light of the moon.
An' some folks say they hear off-key singin'
comin' from down on the dune.

© 2008, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal notes his poem is, "based on a true story, reported in the Southern Utah News, by editor Dixie Brunner, August 21, 2002 Special, Section p.8."

he story is recounted in a number of books and articles, many based on The Roll Away Saloon, Cowboy Tales of the Arizona Strip by Rowland W. Rider as told to Deirdre M. Paulsen from the Utah State University Press. There is an account here, where you can read an excerpt from The Proper Edge of the Sky: The High Plateau Country of Utah by Edward A. Geary.



A Fresh Loaf o'Bread

Ol' Marbel Parker, he told me this tale.
He said it took place in his youth,
when him and his dog wintered up in the hills.
He swears it's the absolute truth.

The winter was long, and yes it was cold.
It snowed 'till the barn disappeared.
And then somethin' happened that made 'im despair,
the somethin' that cowpokes all feared.

Spring was soon comin' an' he'd near run out
of fixin's fer bakin' his bread.
But he found enough and he set it t'rise,
as thoughts of the taste filled his head.

He coaxed it an' talked to it, sang it a song,
but that ol' dough never did rise.
So after three days he jist plumb throwed it out,
not knowin' he'd git a surprise.

It come when the snow had most gone from the yard.
He spotted the dough on the ground.
So he picked it right up and he dusted it off.
The sun had done wonders he found.

He took it inside and he fired up the stove,
and he says, "This will not go to waste."
Despite all the sand and the twigs and the grass,
he knew jist how good it'd taste.

His dog, Rocky Jim, soon got tired watchin' him,
as Marbel, he paced 'cross the floor.
And, oh it was nice when he cut that first slice!
The look of content his face wore.

Now, bread is still bread when you bake up a loaf,
no matter the tricks you employ.
But that loaf of bread was a blessing he said,
and somthin' he sure did enjoy

© 2008, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal comments: "A Fresh Loaf Of Bread" is an account of an experience told to me by
the late Marbel Parker, Colorado cowboy, Weld County Sheriff's Deputy, and one of my best friends. "Phylo Jenks's Bath" is another of Marbel Parker's tales. He says it's true, too.


Anvil Chorus

One of the things about the Fourth of July
that really filled my cup,
was when Uncle Lon fired an anvil off,
to wake ever'body up.

Each year at dawn on the Fourth of July,
he put an anvil on an old oak stump.
Folks'd come watch where he had it set up,
close to town, by the village dump.

Woody and his girlfriend Byrdie were there,
just kinda moonin' around,
and Woody said he figgered that anvil
must weigh more'n a hunderd pound.

I always wondered how Uncle Lon
packed the danamite under that thing.
But he said it's a secret he couldn't put out,
'cause it's part of the rites of Spring.

We'd stand watchin' till the mornin' sun
peeked over the hills beneath.
Uncle Lon'd yell, Fire! And we'd cover our ears
against a boom that'd rattle yer teeth.

That anvil sailed up like a bird let loose,
and I swear it just floated down.
But the dust it stirred when it finally hit,
sent a cloud halfway to town.

Yeah, my favorite thing about the Fourth of July,
that filled me with true elation,
was when Uncle Lon fired that anvil of his,
to start off the day's celebration.

© 2009, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal comments: Uncle Lon was married to my mom's younger sister, Lucy. They never had children, something Uncle Lon regretted. When Lucy died of "consumption," Uncle Lon began making children's toys in his blacksmith shop. Oh, he continued shoeing horses, and doing general blacksmith work, but rocking horses were his specialty of the toys he made. When I was around eight years old, I was sure I was going to be a blacksmith when I grew up. Instead, I became a musician and a writer. Uncle Lon's practice of "shooting the anvil," as he called it, to mark the beginning of the annual 4th of July celebrations, was the highlight of the holiday for a lot of folks. Especially all of us kids.

Horse Habits

Folks are quick to tell you that a horse is just a horse,
and I've never really tried to change their mind.
But I've seen horses actin' like some humans that I know,
and you can see it, too, if you ain't blind.

One horse that I remember back when I was just a kid,
would gladly let you come into his stall.
"Crowder" was his name, and if you didn't stay alert,  
he'd try to crowd you through the nearest wall.

"Limpy" was a horse that didn't like for you to yell.
I guess it made him think that he'd done wrong.
But a sugar cube and a kindly word would help him soon forget,
and he'd not continue limping very long.

A Morgan mare my grampaw had, always wanted to be first,
and if she weren't, she'd hang her head and pout.
If he let other horses leave the barn before that Morgan did,
there's nothin' he could do would coax her out.

My cousin Verlin has a horse that's drivin' him plumb crazy,
because she has this one annoying trait.
She stops along the trail to check out every little thing,
and everywhere that Verlin goes he's late.

Horses can be hard of heart, vindictive, and plain mean,
just like some human beings that I know.
Others can be humble, and courageous, strong and brave,
and take you any place you want to go.

I've seen horses take a mate and treat them with pure love,
a whole lot like a married man and woman's.
Horses have a lot of traits, that match those of their owners,
and maybe that's what makes them seem like humans.

Don't try to tell folks you've a horse who acts just like you do,
they'll never see the truth because they're blind.
When folks just shake their head and say, "A horse is just a horse,"
just walk away, they'll never change their mind.

© 2009, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



A Word from Our Sponsors

Clancy O'Farrell's a bull-ridin' man,
as famous as he can be.
Sponsors buy ads on the clothes that he wears,
and each of them pays him a fee.

Clancy is nicknamed "Iron Bottom" O'Farrell,
for the way that he stays on a bull.
His duds is all covered with sponsors' ads,
and ever square inch of them's full.

There's whiskey in back, and beer in the front,
and pretzels and jerky between.
There's an ad for cars, and some motor oil, too,
and more chrome tools than you've seen.

A westernwear outfit's bought space on his shirt,
he's even got ads on his hat.
A real estate company's right there on his chaps,
and I wonder who sold them on that?

A cycle shop bought 'em some ad space, too,
when young Clancy weren't usin' his head.
Their ads are all printed on pin-on buttons,
and all of them's made outta lead.

Well, it sure ain't bothered his ridin' any,
at least as far as I've known.
That is, till today, while he's up on a bull,
and "Iron Bottom" Clancy gets thrown.

The cheerin' stops, and we all hold our breath,
while he lays there, quiet as dirt.
We all cross our fingers and utter a prayer,
and wonder how bad the kid's hurt.

As bad as it looks, it turns out he ain't injured,
"Iron Bottom's" one tough little pup.
But them ads are so heavy the poor boy is wearin',
that he's gotta have help gettin' up!!!

© 2009, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal comments:

We have a lot of rodeos here in Nevada, and I've been noticin' that a lotta cowboys have sponsors. It seems to me that some have ads on just about every square inch of their clothing.

I got to thinkin' what would happen if the ads got so many and so heavy a cowpoke couldn't get up if he got thrown?

Only the names've been changed to protect my hide.


Cheaters Never Prosper

Young Homer McDuff was a kind-hearted boy,
whose girl-friend's a barrel-racin' queen.
And both of them kids was about the same size,
the cutest young couple you've seen.

In Greeley one summer in rodeo time,
the girl-friend, Penelope Pace,
come down with the woozies from somethin' she'd et,
and couldn't mount up for her race.

"Oh, Homer, this race is important!" she cried.
"But I just don't know what I should do!"
And Homer said, "Honey I wish I could help.
I wish I could ride, steada you."

Penelope says, with a glow on her face,
Why Homer, you could, you're my size!"
And Homer says, "Hold on a minute my dear!
You mean that I'd ride in disguise?"
"Why not?" says the lady.  "You know the routine.
In fact, it was you showed me how.
Some makeup and lipstick, and one of my wigs,
and you'd be an absolute wow!"  

Well, long story short, the boy does what she says.
And it all went accordin' to plan.
But he bowed to the crowd, and he took off his hat,
and that's when the wig hit the sand.

So the judges decided that right then and there,
they'd handle it all in one meetin'.
Penelope's out from right now through next year,
and Homer gets punished for cheatin'.

He's barred from the rodeo game for two years,
'cause, for cheaters there just ain't no room.
Except for one job that they said he could do,
with a long-handled shovel and broom.

© 2010, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Male barrel racers are more common in the Eastern U.S. The National Barrel Horse Association, headquartered in Georgia, was started by men. The Barrel Racing Blog comments, in a January 10, 2010 entry, "At this year’s AQHA Congress, the Top 6 fastest times and ten of the Top 15 in the coveted Wenger Sweepstakes Finals were men."


Collector's Item

Jim Landis and me were takin' a ride
in his just-bought pickup truck.
"I bought an antique rifle, too." he said.
"I can hardly believe my luck.

"It's an eighteen-sixty-six Winchester model,
the one with engraving," he said.
"That must've cost you a dollar or two,"
I says, as I shake my head.

"Well," he says, "It cost more'n this pickup,
but it's worth ever' doggone cent.
I borrowed on the truck to pay for the rifle,
so my bank account ain't that bent.

"The rifle," he says, "has never been fired,
which is why it's such a great buy.
It's just like the day it come outta the factory.
That's why its value's so high.

"You bought you a rifle, and won't ever shoot it?"
I says, as my voice nearly fails.
"If I shot it," says Jim, "I might as well use it
as a hammer for poundin' in nails."

"If I were you," I said, "I'd make sure that rifle
gets only the greatest of care."
"It's on the wall," Jim says, "above the fireplace.
Nobody will  bother it there."

At Jim's ranch, we go inside through the kitchen
where Cookie is busy cookin'.
We go into the parlor, and Jim stands there,
just scratchin' his head and lookin'.

There's a look of puzzlement on his face
as he stares at the fireplace wall.
The Winchester's gone, and there ain't nothin'
over the fireplace at all.

"If that rifle is stolen," Jim declares,
"I'll see that the thief gets caught!"
Then he hollers out loud, "Has anyone seen
the rifle that I just bought?"

Cookie comes in and says, "Yeah, I seen 'er,
but she shot to the left a bit.
So I cleaned 'er up, and zeroed 'er in,
an' what y'aim at now, you hit!"

© 2010, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Boot Repair Made Easy

There's a whole lot of things that a cowboy can learn
if he really gives a Texas Hoot.
An' one a the things we learned at our place,
was how t'fix a cowhand's boot.

We had all anybody ever could want
to fix up your boots real fast.
For starters, a tree stump, out by the barn,
that was topped with an iron boot last.

Now, a boot last looks like a cowboy's foot,
with the sole facin' up toward the sky.
You'd have several sizes a these little iron feet,
dependin' on the brand you'd buy.

'Course, y'got your leather for the heels an' soles,
then glue, an' some little bitty tacks.
There's a hard-nosed hammer that'd break your thumb,
if you wasn't real careful with your whacks.

To save yourself time, when you'd want t'get done,
y'hold the tacks in between your lips.
Then y'try not t'think about what might happen
if that boot tree ups an' slips.

All the hands on the ranch took turns at this,
an' some was better than others.
My work wasn't great, but y'back off an' look,
it was almost as good as my brother's.

You'd rough-cut the leather for the soles and heels,
then trim 'em once y'got 'em put on.
You'd polish up the boots when you got 'em all done,
then put 'em out t'dry on the lawn.

Now repairin' your boots ain't really that hard.
It's one of life's little-known facts.
But the thing t'remember when you're doin' the job,
is just don't swallow them tacks!

© 2010, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal comments: I remember walking the three miles to the hardware store to buy material for boot soles and heels, as well as glue and tacks. I felt very grownup when I told the owner of the hardware store that I was going to be repairing boots that afternoon. He said, "Well, don't swallow them tacks." I assured him that this wasn't a part of myplans.

I recall how, when I was part-way through putting soles on a pair of my brother's shoes, noticing Mom, peeking out the kitchen window. She caught me looking, and nodded with what I took to be some degree of satisfaction, at my being able to do such a grownup chore.

I was about ten years old at the time.

Good memories.

Country DJ

A country DJ’s job, when y’stop t’think,
is a specialized kind of art.
They’re in our lives ever doggone day,
and play an important part.

See? A lotta folks don’t realize
all the things that they’d be missin’
while doin’ the nasty chores they do,
if they never got to listen.

Cleanin’ out stalls, and shovelin' muck,
you forget what it means t’be dry.
A little country music and some happy talk
makes the time go flyin’ by.

Ridin’ fence by day, or circle by night,
can just bore a fella t’tears.
But music can help you t’pass the time,
and comfort your cattle’s fears.

Drivin' a truckload of cattle t'market
can put a good man to sleep.
But some country music can keep ‘im awake,
so he don’t wind up in a heap.

When the rent is due, and you’re feelin’ blue,
and there ain’t no reason or rhyme,
some country music can straighten you out,
and it will... most every time.

I’ll say it again, a country DJ’s job
is a specialized kind of art.
And for all they do, they’ve got my thanks,
from the bottom of my cowboy heart.

© 2011, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal comments:
"In some fifty years as a broadcaster, I've come to know a lot of 'Country DJs.' I've been one a time or two. This is a salute, of sorts, to all my brothers and sisters who play music for ranch folks."

Hal has been inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. Read about that above.


Grandad's Dandy-line Tea

They's somethin' my grandad used t'do,
us kids weren't supposed t'mention.
Our dad said he figures it's better if we didn't
attract "unwanted attention."

Probably best, if I start at the front
so you know what I'm talkin' about.
We'd all pick dandelions every summer,
as soon as the things come out.

Dandelions filled up one whole pasture,
to the south, where the crick runs through.
Afternoons each Saturday, all summer long,
we'd all turn out, and turn to.

We'd pick them things till the sun went down,
and put 'em in gunny sacks.
When Mom said to stop we'd groan and stretch,
to work the kinks out of our backs.

Dandelion greens were like wild spinach,
we'd pick enough to last weeks.
Mom said they're a food that comes from God,
"a gift to him that seeks."

We'd unload them sacks on our back porch,
and Mom'd clean greens for hours.
And when she did, Grandad'd pitch in,
then he'd make off with the flowers.

I asked Mom once what he did with them things,
and she says, "It's some kind of tea."
I says, "Dandy-line tea?" and Mom grins and says,
"That's what he claims it to be."

Of course, this means I gotta go look.
and check out this tea for myself.
In the tool shed I find them dandelion flowers
in pots and jugs on a shelf.

On the counter below, I find limes and cloves,
and oranges, and lemons and yeast.
On a gasoline stove, they was water boilin'.
I'd say ten gallons, at least.

Right about then, Grandad comes in,
and I says, "Are you makin' tea."
He says, "Well, kinda, but keep it a secret,
if y'will, as a favor to me."

He says, "This stuff is a beverage I make,
and dandy-line wine is its name.
It's the finest potion ever known to man,
all others is totally tame."

"Can I taste it?" I asks, and he says, "No,
this here is a drink for a man.
Wait a few years, and then come ask,
when you're all growed up you can.

"Meanwhile, I'll ask you to keep my secret.
Don't tell anyone what I'm makin'.
Dandy-line wine, is a priceless potion,
that stops all my joints from achin'.

"If word got out this'd cure the gout,
they'd be millions of folks at our door.
And Revuhnoo agents would take all we've got,
and your folks would wind up poor."

So I says, "Okay, then, I won't say a word,
I'll be quiet as an ol' church mouse."
Grandad says, "Good, I'd be pleased if you would,
no need to upset the whole house."

Now, I've held my silence for seventy years,
my Grandad's gone long ago.
So, I figure his secret's so old it can't hurt
to let somebody else know.

Y'see, Grandad's recipe just turned up
with a note that's addressed to me.
"Y'can make your own dandy-line wine," it says,
"but if anyone asks, it's tea."

© 2011, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal comments:
"My Grandad Swift was a rural carpenter. He built everything any farm or ranch ever could need or use. As far as I know, he had only one weakness, and that was Dandy-line Tea. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, our summertime excursions to pick dandelions were something the whole family took part it, and looked forward to."


Bovine Cowboy Poet

A bull I know recites cowboy poems
Which some folks think is strange
I expect it's because y'don't find such things
Among bulls that y'see on the range

On the day he was born, they named 'im Charles
An' quite early he come t'know it
Was 'is life's ambition when he growed up
T'be a famous cowboy poet

Well, he got invited t'recite one year
At a gatherin' in a western state
The cow boss said he didn't think he should
But Charles said yer jist too late

I got me a place t'sleep in the barn
An' they's ten er twelve poems I know
I reckon I got me as good of a chance
As anybody else in the show

The boss, he sez, Well, okay, if ya gotta
But them cowboy poets is tough
They not only know how t'dish it out
Them people kin really play rough

They was boys from Phoenix, and San Antone
An' a lady from New York City
They all come out with their rhymes a swingin'
An' some of it weren't too pretty

But Charles, he held 'is head up high
An' performed with a snort an' a grunt
He laid it down, an' he spread it aroun'
I tell ya, it was quite a stunt

That bovine poet, he really won big
Lissen close an' I'll tell y'how, boy
You've heard cowboy poets is all fulla bull
Well that bull was all fulla cowboy

© 2011, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal told us: A few years ago, I got to bouncing the idea for this poem back and forth between me, and Sam Jackson, and my son, Brian. I owe Sam for his experience with poetry and the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and Brian, for his experience with poetry, and cowboyin'. I forget now, who came up with what. But I think it was Sam who gave me the last line.


Jimmy's Valentine Poem

Jimmy, a friend, of mine tells this story
of a poem that he once wrote.
It's for a girl he seen in a local parade,
ridin' the Kiwanis' float.

He says she looks like an angel come down
to bless ever'body on earth.
And he decides he'll tell 'er first hand,
just what her visit is worth.

He figures that writin' a Valentine's poem
is maybe the best way to go.
So that's what he does, he takes pencil in hand,
and the words just literally flow.

"You are," he writes, "more beautiful than
a baby pig is to 'er mother.
Your face is sweeter than a fresh green onion,
when compared to any other.

"Your smile lights up the morning sky,
like a fire at brandin' time.
Your voice is softer than the belly of a calf,
whose parents have been judged prime.

"I gotta say, you're the purtiest gal
this cowpoke ever did see.
And, if you ever wanta go out on the town,
just put in a call to me."

Well, Jimmy, he sends his poem to the girl,
and waits by 'is phone for her call.
He just sets there, in front of 'er photo
that he's hung on the bunkhouse wall.

A week goes by, before the telephone rings,
but it's the beauty queen's mean ol' dad.
He says t'Jimmy, "Stay away from my daughter!
If ya don't I'm gonna hurt y'bad!"

Well, Jimmy is no small amount dismayed,
by this unseen turn of events.
And it hurts 'im deep—so deep in fact,
he ain't wrote another poem since.

And I've heard tell, that this beauty queen
has taken a serious vow, boys.
That whatever happens the rest of 'er life,
she ain't never datin' no cowboys.

© 2012, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal comments: When my wife, Carol, and I lived in Greeley, Colorado, I used to enjoy my conversations after Sunday church with two cowboy friends, Duane Laeger and Marbel Parker. Those two ol' boys were full of stories. I've rhymed several of them, such as: "Ballad of Dogie Munroe," "A Fresh Loaf o' Bread," "Uncle Jim Got to Carry the Flag," and "Phylo Jenks's Bath." All of them are here at the Bar-D. "Jimmy's Valentine Poem" is the latest one.


This poem is included in our collection of cowboy love poems.




Some things are different today in the West
than the way that they used to be.
For instance a person who’d abandon his horse,
is somethin’ that’s way beyond me.

Our county agent says it happens a lot.
Y’find a horse that someone’s set loose.
He’ll be wearin’ a brand of some outfit,
that I’d charge with major abuse.

I’ve seen these horses with ribs stickin’ out,
their heads hangin’ low and sad.
They’ve hardly got strength to be standin’ up,
their health is just that bad.

If you can find the owner, he’ll give you a line,
that’s as sorry as I’ve heard yet.
How, with hard times on us, he just can’t afford
to take his horse to the vet.

To make that horse suffer and die of starvation,
I consider a hangin’ offense.
And it would be if I was in charge of things,
and against it, there’d be no defense.

I know things are different today in the West
than the way that they used to be.
but a person who'd let his horse starve to death,
is somethin’ that’s way beyond me.

© 2012, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Hal comments, "Here's a poem I wrote recently, which addresses a practice that's developed over the past few years here in Nevada, and elsewhere. We have a large population of mustangs, which is augmented by horses whose owners have, for whatever reason, decided they no long want, or can, care for a horse, and take it out into the desert and abandon it alongside the road like some folks do with a chicken-killing dog. I'd like to see these people punished severely for the pain, suffering and death they callously visit on their horses. For more on the subject, this is a good site:


Something happens every year about now.
It's a most incredible thing.
Cowpokes notice, and the livestock as well.
It's the start of what we call Spring.

There's kind of a restlessness I see at first,
as the cows start millin' around.
The horses get frisky, and the ranch hands, too.
Good humor just seems to abound.

The whole blamed ranch starts to movin' around,
and there's smiles all over the place.
Some of the boys start to writin' down poems
an' go around with a grin on their face.

Folks walk straighter, it seems to me,
and say "Howdy" to all they meet.
Some cowpokes go 'round whistlin' songs,
almost dancin' on their feet.

Even the Cow Boss gets into the act,
and talks about fun stuff to do,
"Soon as calvin's done, and things slow down."
I've caught him whistlin', too.

The boss's wife gets out the iced cream maker
and starts to cleanin' the thing.
Yeah, good things are comin', I can feel it in m'bones.
It's the time of year we call Spring!

© 2014, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Daddy Was a Good One

Our daddy sure was a good one,
of that there ain't no doubt.
But tellin' folks that he loved 'em,
was somethin' he could not get out.

When I was just a youngster,
he's my hero, as you might guess.
Though he'd straighten me out in a minute,
just as quickly he would bless.

My daddy always worked real hard,
and he often was in pain.
But always he had time for me,
and he never did complain.

He could tell which tree a squirrel lived in,
just by lookin' at a leaf.
When Grammaw died I saw him cry,
from a heart that was filled with grief.

And, he told us boys that ladies
was a gift from God to man.
And treatin' them with great respect
was part of God's own plan.

My daddy showed his love for us
in a thousand different ways.
Though he wasn't much for talkin',
he was always quick to praise.

The last time that I saw my dad,
he was sick and in his bed.
I told him that I loved him then,
and "Back atcha," is what he said.

Yeah, our daddy was a good one,
of that there ain't no doubt.
But tellin' folks that he loved 'em,
was somethin' he could not get out.

© 2014, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal comments, "He was an Indiana farm boy, whose father was a country carpenter. He emulated his father in many ways, including his difficulty in expressing his love for family. This pretty much describes, not only my father, but his father, too." Hal also included a photo:

The poem is a part of our Father's Day collection.


Cabin on the Hill

I sold off the herd down in Carson town,
and headed toward Washoe and home.
I was feeling real good to be working again,
and not to be having to roam.

Although I was late getting out on the trail,
I wasn't too far off the mark.
I found us a shortcut that ran toward the east,
and thought I'd be home by dark.

I guess I must have dozed off in the saddle.
I waked to a rattlesnake's buzz.
I came to attention, and looked all around,
and had no idea where I was.

My trusted old Morgan had wandered a bit,
while the sun was still shining bright.
But now the shadows were lengthening out,
and I knew it would soon be night.

I said, All right, what I have to do,
is to find us a place to bed down.
I scolded myself for starting so late,
I should have just stayed in town.

We stumbled and grumbled as night came on
a miserable, wandering pair.
In a rocky hill I spotted some caves,
and maybe a grizzly bear.

We worked our way to the top of the hill,
and found an old cabin up there.
When no one answered I went inside,
and hoped that nobody would care.

One side of the room had a stall for a horse,
so I brought my old Morgan in, too.
I laid us a fire and I lighted it up,
and put on some coffee to brew.

I curried my horse, and gave him some oats,
plus a half a canteen of water.
'Made jerky soup in a bowl that looked
like it's shaped by a native potter.

As I looked around us it seemed to me
that everything there was old.
I figured the cabin was built years back,
by somebody looking for gold.

Be that as it may, it was time for bed,
so I spread out my roll by the fire.
I can't say how long till I was waked up
by the sound of a heavenly choir.

Now I've never waked up quite like that,
but just this once in my life.
And I saw I'd been joined by a little old man,
and a lady he said was his wife.

"I'm William Johnson," the old man said.
"This is Lorrie, my wife, and treasure."
I shook his hand, and told him my name,
and the old man said, "My pleasure."

By now, you can guess, I was wide awake.
I said I hoped it's okay
that I'd come inside, the way that I had.
It was night and we'd lost our way.

My host and hostess smiled at each other
and said, "Oh, we don't mind,
but maybe you'd answer a question or two.
That is, if you'd be so kind."

"Of course," I said, "just ask away.
it's something I kind of expected."
Mister Johnson said, "The president's job,
was Lincoln ever elected?"

"He was," I said, "in Sixty-One,
and again in Sixty-Five.
And then by dang he was shot to death
by the sorriest man alive."

The Johnsons wanted the whole sad tale,
though it brought them both to tears.
I assured them the killer'd been dead by now
for more than a hundred years.

Mister Johnson sighed, "So, it's been that long.
I knew it'd been a while.
But me and my wife, we got a good life,"
he said, and gave me a smile.

The old man said, "We were looking for gold.
Bought a mule and a couple of picks.
Took up prospecting, found some, too.
Not bad for a couple of hicks."

"But why," I asked, "do you live up here
in this cabin on the hill?
This place is so lonely it wouldn't take long
for me to get my fill."

"I'll tell you, Son," Mister Johnson said,
"we're both real comfortable in it.
This cabin on the hill is where we belong,
we wouldn't leave here for a minute."

My Morgan nickered, and I looked his way.
Miz Johnson was strokin' his nose.
She'd braided his mane, and on the left-hand side,
put a little red thornless rose.

"Anyone else try that," I said,
"he'd of knocked them right off their feet.
Johnson said, "She's Indian, you know,
horses love her 'cause she's so sweet."

"You must be tired." Miz. Johnson said,
"with no more sleep than you've had."
I allowed as how she was probably right,
and lay back down on my pad.

The next thing I knew, I heard song birds singin'.
I sat up and stifled a yawn.
I looked at my Morgan and said, "By golly,
I dreamed right through till dawn!"

I'd slept pretty well when you stop to consider
I'd had the ground for a bed.
I thought of the two old folks in my dream.
Their name was Johnson, they'd said.

I looked where I'd dreamed their cabin had been
and saw there was nothing there.
The old rock hearth where I'd built my fire
was nothing but dirt, and bare.

Before we left, I fed the Morgan,
and made me a good hot cup.
But I stopped dead still at something I noticed
when I went to saddle him up.

I hadn't seen it till just that minute.
How I missed it, God only knows.
But his mane was braided, and on the left-hand side,
was a little red thornless rose.

© 2013, Hal Swift
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Hal comments:

For years, the old Washoe City Post Office sat on the east side of what now is Nevada State Highway 395. Back when I traveled regularly between Reno and Carson City, I used to look at that old tumbled-down rock building, and to the desert on east of it.

Just looking, I could tell there was something strange and unusual about the land. To the eye, there was nothing on it. But to the imagination, it was filled with strange, and sometimes frightening things.

One night I dreamed I rode that barren land, and visited "the Cabin on the Hill." As I recall, I waked up at three o'clock in the morning and wrote down my dream experience before it faded from memory.



Read Hal Swift's 

tribute to his mother, which includes Hand-Me-Downs and Here's to Mom


My Friend Clarence in our Art Spur project


Charlie's Thanksgiving Prayer with Thanksgiving poems


Christmas Hayride with other 2006 Christmas poems


The Twinkle Dust Machine in our 2005 Christmas Art Spur project


Waco and the Old Guitar Player in our Art Spur project


Left Behind in our Art Spur project


I'll Never Ride Drag Again in our Art Spur project


The Sculptor and the Cowboy Poet in our Art Spur project 


First One to Daylight in our Art Spur project 


see Hal Swift's poem, Cowboy Poetry Week


see his Santy Claus is Truly Real in the collection of 2002 Holiday Poems 


see his Santy Claus Has a Rule, High Plains Christmas, Candles on the Christmas Tree, Santy's Christmas Trick, and Santy West in the collection of 2001 Holiday Poems


see his New Year's Eve in Austin posted with New Year's poems


his Christmas on the Trail, posted with 2003 Holiday poems


The Language of Christmas with 2004 Holiday poems



Ballad of a Small Town



Hal Swift's 2010 novel, Ballad of a Small Town is described:

The book takes its readers through one year in the life of 1864 Drytown, Utah Territory. The town is located 27 miles east of a major population center of the time, Lake's Crossing. Drytown now is Wadsworth, Nevada, and Lake's Crossing is Reno.

The stories are told from the viewpoint of Logan West, an Indiana newspaperman, whose wedding day ends in disappointment when his bride elopes with their best man. Embarrassed, Logan heads West and becomes an itinerant, banjo-playing journalist. In the process, he begins putting together the novel which, legend says, every reporter dreams of writing.

Eventually, his travels bring him to Drytown, where he accepts a job entertaining and waiting tables at Shorty's Place, a lunchroom which serves as a social center of sorts, not only for those who live in the town, but for those passing through it on the Overland Trail. Hal says that, while Logan's adventures are fiction, the backgrounds for them are historically accurate.

Ballad of a Small Town, published by Bottom of the Hill Publishing, is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book ($1.99) and in soft cover ($16.95) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble (with on-line order discounts), and other booksellers.

Dorman Nelson ( shares his review:

Didya ever sit at the end of the wooden porch of the five and dime and listen to the troupe of ol’ men windyin’ about their days of love, hardship, snow, rain, work and adventures? Did you laugh and wonder of the how, what and where with all the BS that seemed to emanate from those animated wrinkled ol’ farts?

After the first few stories they got more jumpy and agitated and laughed and cried with each ending, and pretty soon you didn’t mind the sweaty dirt, the splinters you were sitting on and didn’t see the paint peeling behind them, the cracked window or the screen door that never closed no more and you didn’t hear the wind kickin’ the stove pipe flap, or the squeaky wind mill way up there against the puff clouded blue sky….

You started seeing the town, people busy with their lives, Shorty, Stinky, Mrs. Riley, the Paiute clan. You could hear Logan strumming and hummin, see the giant fella afraid to woo his Maggie, a mule, the horse race, the best food in the west, and Drytown—full of characters you couldn’t make up for such a book.

Reading Ballad of a Small Town, Adventures of Logan West is sorta like a old locomotive when it was fired up and watching the steam shooshing out and the big wheel slipping around not quite getting a holt of the rail and around again and faster and THEN it got
traction and the train started moving slow now and then faster...the whistle blowing, the smoke billowing out and the train leaving the station at a walk, then a run, and on… tooting its way in the distance…you never ever forget seeing such a sight.

Same goes for each chapter lead in with a song; the first reading a slow linger while making out the characters as each are introduced. Visualization becomes a little more distinct and by the 4th or 5th chapter you are looking forward to seeing and sharing what every one is up to and how they would handle the next conundrum. The gossip expands, the adventure gallops, the town struts its stuff, the sheriff gets his man and so finally does Maggie McCoy get hers. Each day brings a new chapter and brings the town folk more closely knit with each miscommunication over mischief and mayhem, honor and braggadocio, human foibles and just plain honest human conditions.

The stage is set (so to speak), with a coach full of folks getting stopped by some music loving robbers, leading into our banjo pluckin’ hero Logan West sorta saving the day…and staying on in town. With a job comes making friends and enemies and how he handles each affair as best described by the ballad at the start of each chapter describing that particular timeline of the community’s ups and downs. Crows, cowpokes and marriage stride in along with Banker Voss and how he handles his financial quests. Hank’s livery stable, the Bath House, a naked parade, and Shorty’s lunchroom add more local flavor to the concoction and you will be wanting to visit to see for yourself. Thanksgiving, Christmas and a cougar round out the stories Hal Swift has set our trail to, and it is one eventful road I followed to Drytown.

© 2010, Dorman Nelson


Cowboy Poems and Outright Lies

Hal's Cowboy Poems and Outright Lies, has 25 original poems, plus a page that tells ya "What's True an' What Ain't."

"There are bushel baskets filled with humor in the 25 offerings, and several pint jars filled with tears as well.  A buckaroo's life can be generous, heartbreaking, sad, and filled with joy.   Swift is filled with empathy for the cowboy, for the cowboy's way, for all the traditions of the west, handed down by those who ride the trails, eat too many rabbits (see page 26), live life in all its gregariousness."  Johnny Gunn 

(Johnny Gunn is the editor of The Nevada Observer) 

You can also read Johnny Gunn's review right here.

The book is currently out of print.



(currently unavailable)

Bunkhouse Poems and Tall Tales


Dreams of a Workin' Man
The Good Guys
Hangin' on Tight
A Fresh Loaf o' Bread
Heavenly Pasture
Daredevil Donald McQuid
Colorado Dreams
The Cowboy Way as I See It
The Cowboy That Nobody Wanted
Cowboy Hog-Butcher
Country Aroma
Cowboy Farmers
Cold Monday Mornin'
Clifford, the Cow-Herdin' Cat
Condo Cowboy
Bull Ridin' Ain't Easy.
Kill 'im, Bob!
Lester Seen the Elephant.
Lonely Yearlings
Onion Samwitches

The CD is currently unavailable.


Campfire Poems and Twilight Tales


Cowboy Ain't a Cuss Word
Apache Joe
When a Cowboy Tips His Hat
That Cowboy Look
Bear Etty-kette
Cowboy Football
The Day Bo Broke His Horse
When the Hired Hands All Quit
Horses Are People, Too.
Heavenly Pasture
Jordan's Mexicatessen
A Word From Our Sponsors
Ballad of Dogie Munroe
Mistaken Identity
Murphy's Hot Springs
Odis and the Little Green Men
Blackjack O'Malley
Rope Trick
Saddle Dreamin'
Bovine Cowboy Poet
Huskies Like These
Brand Name Jacket
Uncle Jim Got to Carry the Flag
Sweet Desert Magic


The CD is currently unavailable.


Goin' fer the Mail

"Eighteen poems about growin' up on farms and ranches"


Goin' fer the Mail
All Tied Up
Teachin' a Turkey to Fly
Boot Repair Made Easy
Sister's Washin' Machine
Cinnamon Toast
Cow-Powered Aircraft Co, Inc
Porch Music
Saturday Night Shine
Butter-Makin' Day
The Rabbit that Barked
Always Room for One More
Springhouse Memories
Clod Fight

The CD is currently unavailable.

Holiday Poems


4th of July, Anvil Chorus
4th of July, Cap Gun in Church
4th of July, Fourth of July
Christmas, Candles on the Christmas Tree
Christmas, Christmas on the Trail
Christmas, First One to Daylight
Christmas, High Plains Christmas
Christmas, Santy Claus Has a Rule.
Christmas, Santy Claus Truly is Real.
Christmas, Santy's Christmas Trick
Christmas, The Language of Christmas
Easter, Hardboiled Eggs
Father's Day, Daddy Was a Good One.
Halloween, Cabin on the Hill
Halloween, Cowpoke's Roll-Away Saloon
Halloween, Ghost of Wilkerson Woods
Halloween, Halloween
Halloween, The Phantom Herd
Halloween, The Room at the End of the Hall
Memorial Day, The Patriot
New Year, New Year's Eve in Austin
Valentine's Day, Jimmy's Valentine Poem
St. Patrick's Day, Colorful Truckee River
Thanksgiving, Charlie's Thanksgiving Prayer
Veterans' Day, The Veteran

The CD is currently unavailable.


Waco Walmsley, Cowboy Curmudgeon


Intro to Waco Walmsley
Waco & Sioux & Tombstone, Too
Waco & Sioux Discuss Christmas
Waco & Sioux Discuss the Flu
Waco and Saint Peter
Waco and Sioux Go Shopping
Waco and the Drive-by Boombox
Waco and the Lions Club
Waco and the Old Guitar Player
Waco and the Parking Place
Waco and the Reporter
Waco Gets a Computer
Waco Gets Sioux a Kitten
Waco Goes Fishin'
Waco Goes to the Post Office
Waco Pays His Taxes
Waco Says Sioux is a Winner
Waco to the Rescue
Waco Visits the Senate
Waco Walmsley and Global Warming
Waco Walmsley Cowboy Curmudgeon
Waco Walmsley for President
Waco Walmsley's Mother
Waco's Airplane Ride
Waco's Native American Look
Waco's Night on the Town
Waco's One Dollar Watch
Waco's Physical Exam
Waco's Pickin' up Chicks
Waco's Thanksgiving Dream
Waco's Workout

The CD is currently unavailable.

What Was it Like, Back Then?


What Was It Like Back Then
Follow the Gleam.
A Bigger Table
Chicken Fishin'
Sugar and Kerosene
Scaredy Cat
Circus Days
Gimme a Hint
Homemade Iced Cream
The Crystal Set
Left Behind
Four-Part Singin'
Soda Crackers
A Handshake's All It Took
My First Rodeo
Somebody Else Got My Pony
When All the Leaves Have Fallen


The CD is currently unavailable.

In God's Hands

In God's Hands, released in December, 2005, includes Rod Nichols' original cowboy poetry recited by him, by Hal Swift, and by John Pickul; along with music and the singing of best-loved hymns by Mislette, The Singing Cowgirl and John Pickul; with additional fiddle accompaniments by Billy Curtiss.

Tracks include:

Old Rugged Cross
Softly and Tenderly
Cowboy Church
All My Trails
A Pinpoint of Light
I Come To The Garden
A Moment's Peace
Sagebrush in Heaven
Sweet Spirit
Unbroken Circle
Bunkhouse Fire
My Lord is Near
Bible in the Wind
Where Do I Go
Space in the Wall
Amazing Grace
In God's Hands

The CD is currently unavailable.




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