Featured at the Bar-D Ranch

Howard Parker
left behind many loving family members and friends,
July 20, 2004

 

For Howard

No disrespect is meant to Howard—nor to God—
    But not that mustached face beneath a halo's rim
Those flowing robes of white would hindrance be
    His boots and Stetson better suited him.

Give him a horse with wings to gallop past
    Those fancy mansions on a golden street
Somewhere far out to Heaven's prairie land
    A simpler place where all old cowboys meet.

To push back hats from weary, windburned faces
     To rest their well worn boots upon the rail
And talk of cattle—always talk of cattle—
    And wind and blizzard, and of drouth and hail

Spring rains, lush grass, long trails—and cattle—
     Both good and bad with humor and with wit,
A wit that boldly stares down trial and trouble
    Honed sharp upon the steel of cowboy grit.

Then someone sees guitar and calls for music
    The melodies float out upon the air
The lesser angels drop their harps to listen
    And all of Heaven knows that Howard's there.

© July 25, 2004, Elizabeth Ebert, reprinted with permission
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


 

Honored Guest


 

Some of Howard Parker's Poetry

Book and Recordings

The Celebration of Howard Parker's Life

Recollections, Photos, Poetry and More from Howard Parker's Friends

Pat Richardson
Yvonne Hollenbeck
Virginia Bennett
Elizabeth Ebert
Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
Willard Hollopeter
Ed Howard

The Western Folklife Center

Tri-State Old Time Cowboys Association Sign Dedication, June 2005




Special thanks to Yvonne Hollenbeck for helping to gather, prepare, and inspire much of the material 
for this tribute to her long-time friend Howard Parker 
and to Jean Parker for reprint permission for Howard Parker's poems

 

 Back to Honored Guests
Back on home

 

Some of Howard Parker's  Poetry

 

Horse Tradin'

The Cowboy Poet

Just Another Indian

All poems above © 1997, Howard Parker, reprinted with  permission from 
Poetry and Prose from Horsethief Crossing

hphorsethieves.jpg (4082 bytes)

and farther below, in material from the Western Folklife Center:

The Passin' of an Era

The Thermometer

 

Horse Tradin'

Well, a horse trader he showed up one day,
And he sure would wheel and deal,
For horses, saddles, bridle bits--
Anything he could buy or steal.

And I started thinking about Ol' Pal
And wonderin' what he'd bring.
He was cow-hocked and parrot-mouthed
And he just turned twelve this spring.

And anything that he could do,
He couldn't do too well.
I just happened to have him handy,
Out in the round corral.

Well the trader takes a look at him,
And Lordy, don't ya know,
He found some other things that's wrong,
That I didn't think would show.

Well, he'd make me an offer,
Then he'd take another chew,
And I'd talk about how dry it was,
And wondered what the hay would do.

Then finally we struck a deal,
Some later in the day.
And I've got the money in my hand
As I watch him pull away.

Then I got to thinkin'
About that ol' horse, ya see;
Wonderin' where he'd end up,
And who his new owner would be.

'Cuz if ya didn't want to rope him,
You better have some oats or corn.
And that ol' devil would still bog his head
On a cold December morn.

Well, they were gonna have an auction,
And it wasn't far away.
And I thought that I would drive over,
Not doin' much that day.

Well, the trader gave his testimony,
With Ol' Pal a-standin' there,
How, "he was plumb safe for anybody,
And you could catch him anywhere."

Then there was a lot of other things
I didn't know that he could do,
Like, "rope calves or steers off him,
Pick up buckin' horses, too!"

So when the biddin' started,
I just got right in the game.
And I guess I didn't know when to stop,
'Cuz the ringman called my name!

Well, I lost two hundred dollars,
But Ol' Pal is mine once more.
At least he's four years younger
Than he was the time before.

© 1987, Howard Parker, reprinted with  permission 
    from Poetry and Prose from Horsethief Crossing

This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

 

The Cowboy Poet

Oh, just to be a cowboy poet,
it seemed a dream come true;
to travel 'round the countryside
entertainin' folks like you.

To stand out there upon the stage
and know you've passed the test
with Wally, Buck and Baxter,
Waddie, Don and all the rest.

Just a-pickin' and a-grinnin'
with the likes of Tom and John,
swappin' songs with Jack and Gary
and to sing with Liz and Sean.

But I get a sinking feeling
as I pretend that I'm a star
while Jean's home moving cattle
'cause there's no water where they are.

Or like we're headed for Medora
on a bright and sunny day,
when we see some Cross L steers
as we pass by on our way

gathered 'round a giant cottonwood
and beneath it's leafy bowers,
but the grass they are a-grazin' on
didn't happen to be ours!

I live in terror that a blizzard
will strike some fateful day
while I'm whoopin' it up in Elko
a thousand miles away.

Oh, I still love the gatherings
and go to all that time allows,
but it's hard to be a cowboy poet
if you actually own cows.

© 1987, Howard Parker, reprinted with  permission 
    from Poetry and Prose from Horsethief Crossing

This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

 

Just Another Indian

Howard Parker wrote in 1987:

If you grew up close to a reservation, the way I did you would probably hear people say, "well that's just another Indian."

I went to high school with the American Horse boys and Joe could run the mile faster than anyone in the history of Gordon High.  Turns out he could run the mile faster than anyone in the history of the State of Nebraska and he went away on a University track scholarship.

I remember hearing broadcasts of Lincoln track meets, and when Joe turned for home, you couldn't even hear the announcer above the crowd, and you knew Joe had set another record.

What do you suppose it was like to hear the cheers of all those people and know that when you go back home, you will be "just another Indian?"

Yvonne Hollenbeck added in 2004:

I remember Joe American Horse and his whole family well.  They were a fine Indian family that lived across the street from us while their boys, Emmett and Joe attended high school in Gordon, Nebraska.  Joe won intercollegiate championships and was an Olympic contender in the mile run, and of course, a home town hero.  

Howard told the folks at the Arvada Gathering in 2004 how he came to write this poem.  He graduated from high school with Joe and they were friends for life.  He saw Joe one day when Joe was home on a break from college and asked him what he was planning to do after college.  Joe told Howard that he was going to pursue a law degree and would probably come back home and be just "another Indian."  That comment inspired Howard to write this poem.

(Incidentally, Joe American Horse did become a lawyer, returned to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where he practices law and was a former tribal chairman for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.  He is any outstanding citizen and respected not only in his Indian community, but that of the surrounding white communities as well.)

Just Another Indian

There was the smoke of many campfires
    somewhere back behind his eyes;
    and the blood of war chiefs running through his veins.
And somewhere in his dreams
     he still hunts the buffalo,
     or runs the Spanish mustang 'cross the plains.

He's a lineal descendant
    of a proud and warlike race
    that roamed the hills, and answered to no man;
Askin' nothing for their heritage
    but what the land would give
    and livin' free as part of nature's plan.

But reality returns to wipe
    the visions from his mind,
    and they vanish like the ghosts of Custer's fight.
Then he bums a cigarette
    from a stranger passin' by,
    then turns and disappears into the night.

So the whiskey and boarding school
    will finish up the work,
    that the Army Springfield rifle had begun;
A hundred years of progress
    shows us nature's grand design,
    has become just another Indian?

© 1987, Howard Parker, reprinted with  permission 
    from Poetry and Prose from Horsethief Crossing

This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

Book and Recordings 

 

Book:

  Poetry and Prose from Horsethief Crossing, Gordon, Neb., 1977.

Cassette Tapes:

The Modern Day Cowboy
Live and In Color
Half and Half

 

The Celebration of Howard Parker's life

 

 

 

On July 20, 2004 Yvonne Hollenbeck sent the sad news:  Howard Parker, a 4th generation rancher in the Nebraska Sandhills South of Gordon, Nebraska, died of an apparent heart attack while checking windmills on the family ranch.  Howard was well known as a poet, singer and musician, and had been featured at many of the large cowboy poetry gatherings in the country, including several trips to Elko.  Howard was a cowboy, not only working an entire lifetime on the family ranch where he was born and raised, but was many times the Nebraska State Champion Saddlebronc rider, later becoming a popular rodeo announcer throughout the Midwest.   Cards may be mailed to his widow, Jean Parker at HC 84, Box 40; Gordon, Nebraska  69343, and her phone number is 308/282-0593.  

The services were held Saturday, July 24, 2004. Jean Parker invited friends, poets and musicians to gather for lunch, and all gathered again for fellowship following the service. 


Yvonne Hollenbeck reported on the services:

The service was very nice.  I spoke on behalf of the entertainers and told how our parents were friends before I was born and that friendship was bonded by music.  When I was a little girl, my dad started a dance band and Howard and his brother, David, were in the band, plus a couple other good looking young men in the community.  I said that I wondered why all the high school girls were giving me so much attention (and that made folks laugh). Then I told how, when Elko started its gathering 20 years ago, that Howard was one of the first and most popular entertainers, and I stated that the Gathering at Elko spawned many Cowboy Poetry Gatherings across three continents.  When we started the one in Valentine, the first person I called was Howard.  In fact, I tore him away from a chore he really enjoyed... he was cleaning the chicken house.  We didn't have any money but Howard got Buck Ramsey, Skinny Rowland, Tom Hayden, Liz Masterson and Sean Blackburn and others to come and perform for practically nothing.  That jump-started the Valentine gathering, which is now one of the top gatherings in the country.  Then I told how respected and loved Howard was and read a few messages from Gary McMahan (Stan Howe read the poem that Gary sent), Jean Prescott, Elizabeth Ebert, Virginia Bennett, Hal Cannon, and Dick Warwick, and ended with Pat Richardson's poem and his  farewell message to Howard. Jean Parker loved it and so did the family.  Many folks commented on how they enjoyed the messages.  I've made a book of all the messages and poems for the family. The funeral was huge.  Afterward, folks went for lunch at the legion club in Gordon, and then Tom Heyden of Colorado went to the ranch and fixed a bonfire and they had a big jam session that night around the campfire.


From the official obituary:

Howard Parker, 68, of rural Gordon, Nebraska, died July 20, 2004, of natural causes.  Howard was born November 22, 1935, in Gordon, to Allen and Helen Goslin Parker.

Howard grew up on the family owned Cross L Cattle Company Ranch south of Gordon, along the Niobrara River.  He began his riding career at age two when his dad set him astride a spotted pony his granddad won in a raffle.  After graduating from high school, Parker cowboyed on the famous old Spade Ranch near Ellsworth, and then spent the next 20 years working for various cow outfits, playing in country bands, and rodeoing.  Howard served as president for the Nebraska State Rodeo Association competing in a variety of events.  He was one of the top saddle bronc riders of the 1960's winning the state championship in 1960, 1962 and 1963.

When Howard hung up his bronc spurs, he picked up his guitar and started blending his sounds and images of the Old West with the new.  With the help and support of his wife Jean, he operated the family ranch while traveling through the West reciting his poetry and singing his songs.  He was a featured performer at numerous cowboy poetry gatherings, entertained audiences across the country and even appeared on ABC's Good Morning America.  Howard recorded cassette tapes and CD's of original songs and poems; published a book of cowboy poetry and stories; and had his songs performed in such widely diverse places as South Africa, Ireland, and Carnegie Hall.

Surviving Howard at the time of his death are his wife, Jean, and three children:  son Chuck (Ron Murphy) of Lincoln; daughter Lex Ann (Russell Roach), grandson Alexander of Grand Island; and son Travis of Gering.  He is also survived by his two brothers, David (Rosalyn) of Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Pike (Dee) of Phoenix, Arizona.  Howard was preceded in death by his parents and an infant sister, Marilyn.

Memorial services were held on Saturday, July 24, 2004, at the Rushville High School Gym with Rev. Vonne Andersen officiating.  The family suggests memorial donations to the Tri-State Old Time Cowboys; the Panhandle Country Music Association; or the Alliance Rifle Club; and they may be sent to the First National Bank; P O Box 290; Gordon, NE  69343

Cicmanec-Chamberlain-Pier Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.

 

 

Recollections, Photos, Poetry and More from Howard Parker's Friends

Pat Richardson
Yvonne Hollenbeck
Virginia Bennett
Elizabeth Ebert
Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
Willard Hollopeter
Ed Howard

The Western Folklife Center

 

  Pat Richardson shared his poem:

Howard Parker

The deck has been shuffled, in life's big casino
the dealer has passed out the cards
My pal Howard Parker has cashed in his chips
an' I'm grievin'  for one of my Pards

He was a sure enough Bronc Ridin' Legend
he tried every bronc that he drew
Not one to complain of the hand he was dealt
he was "One of a Kind" in my view

He'd ear down a bronc while you saddled him up
makin' sure that things were just right
He'd help you up, when you really got down
an' he'd sure watch your back in a fight

But he wasn't as tough as he tried to let on
had a soft spot he kept out of sight
like in Arvada, when Yvonne told her poem
he cried like a baby that night

So here's to a Cowboy, Musician, an' Poet
who left a big crease in my mind
An' knowin' ol' Howard - he'll raise Hell in Heaven
but they'll let him - He's one of a kind

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


Pat Richardson and Howard Parker at Arvada, 2004
photo courtesy of Yvonne Hollenbeck 

 

 

  More photos from Yvonne Hollenbeck, from Arvada, 2004:

 


Leslie Keltner, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Pat Richardson, Pike Parker (Howard's
brother), Howard Parker and Jean Prescott

 


Howard Parker and Jean Prescott

 

Special thanks to Yvonne Hollenbeck for helping to gather and inspire much of the material 
for this tribute to her long-time friend Howard Parker.

 

 

  Virginia Bennett shared some recollections:

I think I took Howard Parker for granted. At least, I guess I always thought he'd be around. For me, he is one of the old guard in this cowboy poetry deal. And he will be sorely missed.

When I first started performing in 1988, I lived in Colorado, and the folks I'd see time and again at gatherings were Liz Masterson and Sean Blackburn, Sawyer Tom Hayden, Gary McMahan and Howard Parker. It seemed like you couldn't have a gathering without inviting Howard. His easy style and sense of character really made him a favorite not only with the folks in the audience, but to his peers, the other performers.

I remember once at Elko, at the Stockmens after a night show had concluded, Howard walked up to me with drink in hand and said, " Virginia, I wanted to tell you that you did really great tonight. And I didn't have to walk all the way over here to tell you that either! I could have stayed over there and ordered another drink!"

I knew he was letting me know where I stood in his priorities at that moment. I like that, when people speak honestly and from the heart without any facade or subterfuge. That was one thing about Howard, he was always "out there" for all the world to see!

My favorite photo of Howard that I've seen was taken by Lisa Griffin at one of the early Arvada gatherings. That photo is framed and on the wall with others at the old Pioneer Bar in Elko, Nevada. It's perfect there. Mine is not too far from him, so I feel like we are kinda keeping each other company from time to time.

The last time I saw Howard was in Arvada a few years back when I traveled there from Washington State. I was so pleased to see so many old friends from that area, and to see Howard. He came right up to me and gave me a copy of his book. That was the way he was.

One night, there was a late night jam session at the hotel, and I was playing my mandolin with Liz and Sean and Mike Fleming and others. Howard came in and since there were not any other available chairs, I told him he could sit on half of my chair. He did, and he borrowed my mandolin and played it superbly. I didn't even know he could play mandolin. Being able to sit that close and watch what he was doing profoundly influenced how I play today. I changed some of what I did, concerning mandolin pickin', that night. And it's hard to play mando now without thinkin' a little bit about Howard.

When I think of his poetry, I have to admit I first think of "Old Time Ranch Women."  Women anywhere know when they are in the presence of men who like women in general. I don't mean  they like them romantically or anything, but just that we know when we are around men who really don't honor women. Howard proved he respects what women can do when he put together "Old Time Ranch Women," especially that last, unforgettable line: "She damn sure didn't need John Wayne, he'd have just got in the way!"  I can hear Howard speaking that line right now as I write this! For me, it is one of the most memorable cowboy poetry lines ever!

And my husband Pete said the first thing that comes to his mind when thinking of Howard is his old-time radio show. His voice was simply perfect for the delivery of that!

I used one of Howard's poems in the book I compiled for the 20th anniversary of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko. The book was titled Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion, and I used Howard's poem, "Share and Share Alike." He called me last year and we discussed which poem to use. He said to use any one in the book that I saw fit. Let me tell you, that was a hard decision to make!!

My one regret is that I'm writing this now, and not to him when he could read it and respond and know what he meant to all of us in the cowboy poetry world. He was a big plus, a big addition to our world, and there will be an empty space that he has left behind. I'm glad, if it was what he wanted, that he died out on his ranch, doing what he loved to do, and that his wishes to not end up in some nursing home came true. But dang, I sure miss knowing he's out there, telling a good, dry-witted story, pickin' a tune, and reciting one of his poems.

And I want to convey my condolences to Jean and his family. There's nothing anyone can say to make it all better, but it might help to know that Howard was well loved, well respected, greatly missed.

Virginia Bennett

 

 

Elizabeth Ebert shared her poem:

 

For Howard

No disrespect is meant to Howard—nor to God—
    But not that mustached face beneath a halo's rim
Those flowing robes of white would hindrance be
    His boots and Stetson better suited him.

Give him a horse with wings to gallop past
    Those fancy mansions on a golden street
Somewhere far out to Heaven's prairie land
    A simpler place where all old cowboys meet.

To push back hats from weary, windburned faces
     To rest their well worn boots upon the rail
And talk of cattle—always talk of cattle—
    And wind and blizzard, and of drouth and hail

Spring rains, lush grass, long trails—and cattle—
     Both good and bad with humor and with wit,
A wit that boldly stares down trial and trouble
    Honed sharp upon the steel of cowboy grit.

Then someone sees guitar and calls for music
    The melodies float out upon the air
The lesser angels drop their harps to listen
    And all of Heaven knows that Howard's there.

© July 25, 2004, Elizabeth Ebert
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

  Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns shared her recollections:

Tri-State Country lost another good cowboy, and a great representative of the cowboy culture, when Howard Parker drifted to greener pastures from his Gordon, Nebraska, ranch on July 20th.

According to the moccasin telegraph he was out in his pasture checking water, and had a heart attack near a windmill where he'd stopped to fix a broken stick.  Dying with his boots on, doing what he loved and knew best of all - ranching - is exactly what Howard Parker would've chosen if he'd had a choice.

He rode some rank broncs in his younger years, and was greatly gifted as a poet and writer of cowboy ballads, but perhaps his greatest gift was that of entertaining.  Howard had the voice all men want, and a pure cowboy delivery of his great poems, stories and songs - all dedicated to keeping our history, culture and traditions alive.

The fact that he lived the life on a daily basis gave credence and authenticity to his performances, and he'll sure be missed around these parts.  Howard's memorial services were held July 24th in the high school
gym at Rushville, Nebraska.

One of our fondest memories of Howard is of his part in another memorial service, honoring the founder of Old Timer's Rodeo, Stan McKillip of Hyannis, Nebraska.  This was a few years back, at the rodeo arena there
in Hyannis.  Howard spoke honestly and fondly of Stan, sang one of his favorite hymns, and then sang his original song "Red's Bar & Grill."  He explained that when he first wrote the song, he ran it by Stan to see if he thought he should put it on an album he was cutting. Stan gave him a hearty thumbs-up, and he did.

I guess it was more special to us that day because the night before we'd participated in a "cowboy wake" for Stan at Red's place.  Stopping in there with Stan's son Kid, after visiting the mortuary, we ran into a lot of Stan's old friends and acquaintances.

I can't resist an old upright piano - always have to try them out and see how they sound - so while the guys were visiting I sat down and started to play a few old songs on the one there in Red's.

Next thing I knew somebody wanted to know if I could play "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," and then some Hank Snow music, then "Amazing Grace" and somethin' by Johnny Cash, and then "The Old Rugged Cross" and "In The Garden."

These good country people sang the ones they knew, and kept buying me drinks, telling stories and reminiscing about Stan, with some tears and a lot of laughter.  Before anyone realized it a couple hours had passed.

Stan had been honored, and a lot of grieving had been done as one after another spoke of their memories.  His life had been recalled, and celebrated.

Never having spent much time in bars, I was amazed at such a happening.   I guess I never knew you could play a hymn there.  But that's one of the things Howard Parker's song "Red's Bar & Grill" talks about, how it's the community social center and even the meetin' place of the local Christian Cowboys..

Howard left quite a legacy in his poems, songs, books, tapes and CD's. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

© 2004, Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns

 

 

  Willard Hollopeter shared his recollections from his For What It's Worth column:


A Cowboy, Poet, and Musician


What a shock it was when I received the phone call telling me that Howard Parker had died.    I don't believe I have known any one so full of life as this rough tough cowboy.

I have known Howard for a long time, back to when he was young and riding saddle broncs.

That was the time my brother Jack was riding bulls, both blamed good cowboys in their chosen events.

Howard was a three-time state saddle bronc champion.  Jack was runner up, two years running, but, because of injuries, never quite made it.

I knew Howard was a musician but I didn't know he was also a cowboy poet.  Back then I didn't know there was such a thing as cowboy poetry.  I came to know him later on as a good poet and a  singer of cowboy songs, many of them his own composition, and a well accomplished  musician with command of various instruments.  He has, through the years, been one of the most popular entertainers at Old West Days.

He was good at humor but what I remember Howard for most was his serious poems and songs.  You could tell he put his heart and soul into composing them.

I got to know Howard as a good writer and, despite his rough exterior, an intelligent deep thinking and compassionate person, and a person who was willing to give helpful advice to a young beginning poet as he likely did bronc riding tips to a novice rodeo cowboy.

When we started Old West Days, thirteen years ago, we were fortunate to have Howard on the board.  There wasn't any of us except him who knew anything about cowboy poetry gatherings, or any of the poets and musicians. Howard's knowledge was invaluable.  He and his wife Jean stayed on until we had gathered enough experience to run a smooth cowboy poetry gathering.

I will remember, for a long time, Howard Parker spurring a saddle bronc.  I'll remember him picking a guitar and singing a cowboy song.  I'll remember him spinning a yarn with his poetry, and I'll remember him playing
honky-tonk piano.  I'll remember him as a friend.

One thing about it, they broke the mold after Howard  Parker was made.

There will never be another quite like him.

We are going to miss you Howard.

© 2004, Willard Hollopeter

 

 

Ed Howard, Managing Editor Nebraska StatePaper.com shared his column:

 

He left us some verse that deserves to live on

Cowboy and Poet: Howard Parker Is Gone

 

By ED HOWARD
August 28, 2004

There ain't enough people like Howard Parker in this world.

He was one of those men whose passing brought feelings that I've not often known.

A tremendous, extraordinary human being is gone. The world truly is a poorer place because Howard Parker has passed away.Those who loved him will not know his like again.

Howard first shook my hand some many years ago at something that was then called – as best I can recall – The Tri-State Old Time Cowboys Association breakfast. Something like that.

A bunch of the best old boys who ever rode ornery horses to earn bow legs and measly wages were there. Howard was there, too. He sang and played the guitar. Later he let fly a poem or two.

Days later, he read a story I had written about the old timers' gathering. The lead went approximately like this:

'Much of the hair is gray, and some of the muscle is gone from those broad shoulders, but their eyes are still as clear as the blue sky that covers the land where they grew up as honest-to-God cowboys.'

 
Howard Parker liked to say "That's me on the left."
Howard read that piece, smiled the smile you couldn't mistake for any other, pushed that high-crowned Stetson back on his head and said: "Why, heck Ed'erd! You shoulda' been a writer!"

To get even, I eventually wrote a story about Howard, himself. The story was as flattering as it deserved to be, but I made him plenty antsy before its publication. This was accomplished by threatening to report on all manner of things he had said (over a libation or 12, or thereabouts) about bankers, politicians, wannabe cowboys who wore cardboard boots, gals he had knowed and horses he had rode (don't even think it), and how a Sandhills sunset could still choke him up. "I ain't ashamed of that, either ... I've seen sunsets that would bring tears to a glass eye!"

You had to hear it from other folks, but Howard had been one steely-eyed, leather-hide rodeo cowboy, having won enough buckles to put a sag in the bed of a half-ton pickup. Darn near.

He admired some of songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker's work, like Mr. Bojangles and some outlaw western tunes, but he never forgave that native New Yorker for having bumped him off the program at a cowboy poetry deal in Elko, Nevada. He wrote a not-very-good poem about JJW. "I do better when I write about things I really like."

Howard knew some famous people and lots of ordinary people and he often said that a lot of famous people were pretty ordinary, once you spent a little time with them. He numbered among them his friend, legendary folksinger Ramblin' Jack Elliot. Parker said that Elliot was walking, singing proof that "not all New Yorkers are calf slobber!"

His handshake came with a smile and you automatically had confidence in the honesty of both.

Horse Tradin' was one of the first poems I heard Howard recite. Later he sent me one of his cassettes, but naturally it didn't have Horse Tradin' on it. I called him and said I wanted that particular poem. He made a separate recording for me and sent it along. It opened with a message from Howard, saying he had just been given "a fancy new recording machine with all kinds of lights and buttons and whaddya' call 'ems on it," and saying he hoped it would work out. It did.

When we next talked on the phone, I told him I had made copies of that tape for several friends, and Howard said something like 'Any unauthorized reproduction of my work is greatly appreciated!'

Howard Parker is gone at the age of 68. The reality of it is gnawing at my guts and there is no other way to put it.

Damn! Howard, why'd you go? After all the times you opened the gate and made the eight, you were just too tough to cash out that way. But you died with your boots on. That much was fair. And it happened while you were checking on windmills. I remember, so distinctly, when you told me so many years ago about checking on windmills. It was somethng like: 'Now, that's a good question, now that you mention it. I don't know of none that has eloped, or missed a curfew.' You pondered a little more, and added `You gotta' watch 'em because their bigger n' steer wrestlers, have less conscience than a banker. And they can cause almost as much grief as either one!'

Reprinted below is that great poem, Horse Tradin'. I talked with Howard's ghost early this morning and received specific assurance that I still had permission to publish it here. Not only is it a good poem, it contains a mighty good and practical life lesson for anyone who has to do with horses, or plans to have to do with horses. By the way, it was July 20th when Howard passed on.

© 2004, Ed Howard.  Reprinted with permission from Nebraska StatePaper.com

 

  Steve Green, Archivist of the Western Folklife Center, shared the following:

 

Greetings from Elko,

Very sorry to hear the news about Howard Parker. The Western Folklife Center Archives has some materials relating to Howard.

He performed at the 1987 Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and his picture and a brief biographical sketch were printed in the program book for that year. Although submission files have been processed for the 1987 Gathering, no submission
materials have come to light from Howard for that year.

He applied to the 1989 and 1990 Gatherings and his submission materials for those years are on file in the archives (there are entries in the program books for those years as well). His address at the time was Horse Thief Corner,
Ashby, Nebraska. For the 1989 Gathering, Howard submitted three poems, one of which was "The Passin' of an Era," which goes as follows:

The Passin' of an Era

He was old when I first knew him
Or at least seemed old to me
And he didn't look at all
Like what a cowboy ought to be.

He didn't buy no fancy outfits
Like us young guys were want to do
Said, "Hell, this ol' Hamley will last as long
As what I figure to."

His string of mounts looked like the nags
In some old "Western Horseman" joke
But he could ride 'em all day and not be afoot
And they would pull till somethin' broke.

He wasn't much for poetry
Philosophy or song
Just said, "It's a great country to grow old in Kid
Cuz it sure don't take too long.

When you can drive six head of horses
And hardly touch a line
And they replace you with a tractor
Then you've plumb outlived your time.

Well, he didn't last much longer
When it come his time to go
They filled that little country church
And they stood out in the snow.

We knew just like the preacher said
That we'd all lost a friend
And watched the passin' of an era
For we'll not see his likes again.

© Howard Parker, reprinted with permission
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

When Howard applied to the 1990 Gathering he wrote the following about himself:

Dear folks,

I was raised on a ranch south of Gordon, born to a family that produced everything from preachers to bank robbers! (hope I fall somewhere in between).

Have worked on cow outfits all my life along with rodeoing and playing music (won the N. S. R. A. Saddle Bronc title 3 times). My wife Jean and I moved back to the ranch where I grew up last year and are in partnership on the Cross L Cattle Co.  

                                                                                   --Howard Parker

Howard submitted a couple of his earlier poems including "The Thermometer."

The Thermometer

The thermometer stood at thirty below
Powdered snow blew around in a fog
It was the kind of day that made a man wish
He'd been born a rich widow's dog!

The boys were all in the bunkhouse
Glad to be done for the day
With the horses unharnessed and eatin' their grain
And the cows belly-deep in good hay.

When an old pick-up comes rattlin' in
And the boss steps out to the ground
"What the hell is he doin' out on such a day like this
When he's got a nice house in town?"

Well, he thinks of some things still could be done
That don't even pertain to a cow
Like cleanin' the hen house, haulin' in straw
Or pitching some hay in the mow.

My God, the thermometer reads thirty below
The wind blowin' out of the east
Coldest day we've had all winter
"Not fit for man nor beast."

But the boss is a tough old-timer
He quotes them all chapter and verse
For no matter how bad the weather is now,
He remembers a damn sight worse.

So he sends 'em all out into the storm
Tells everyone just what to do
Then when he gets back in his pick-up and heads back for town
Well, the thermometer goes back to town too!

© Howard Parker, reprinted with permission
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

Here are a few excerpts from a letter Howard wrote in 1993:

Dear Hal and all the crew,

Got your letter and would sure like to get out to Elko one more time (have found that the more cows you have the less time is available to be a "cowboy poet"). You mentioned in your letter that in the last ten years, one in four people have left the ranch. I see that all the time. I hear people say "it sure is great to get on a good horse for a couple days again." Well, that's one of
the answers. If they have to get on that good horse at 2 in the morning on a 20 below March day to ride a pasture full of first calf heifers, then it's no fun!

Would like to be on one of the panel discussions you have, as a third generation rancher from cow country (Cherry County, NE has more cattle than any county in the U.S.), I think I have some qualifications. Enclosed are a couple of articles I have written. The "Black and White" is from the Grant Co. News, which won a best editorial award from the N. Press Assoc. The Wild Horse article is from High Country News. (If you think my style is too confrontational, then that's all right. I will just come out, recite, and keep quiet the rest of the time-- maybe.)

In the mean time, thanks a lot for the invite. Am looking forward to being in Elko again.

                                                                                             Your friend, Howard

 

The WFC Archives has the following Howard Parker tapes:

     The Modern Day Cowboy
     Live and In Color
     Half and Half
     (plus 2 home-recorded cassettes he submitted when applying for the Gathering in 1989 and 1990.)

There are a few photos of Howard as well, and a published book,  Poetry and Prose from Horsethief Crossing, Gordon, NE: The Ad Pad, © 1977.

Other materials may surface over time as work on processing the archives continues.

Best wishes to all,

Steve Green
Western Folklife Center


Tri-State Old Time Cowboys Association Sign Dedication, June 2005

From Yvonne Hollenbeck:

In the beautiful Winship Park at Gordon, Nebraska, a small ranching community in the Northern Panhandle, is a wonderful cowboy museum which was built by the Tri-State Old Time Cowboys Association.  The association was originally founded by many of the first ranchers to the tri-state area as well as several who had came up with Texas trail herds and electing to stay and establish ranches after the country was opened to homesteading.  The museum houses saddles, photographs, and memorabilia of these old cowboys, including those of the five generations of the Parker family, one of the foundation ranch families in the area.  Last July, Howard Parker, the 4th generation rancher of this clan, died suddenly and left a great void to this association as well as to the entire cowboy poetry and western entertainment family.  Last Sunday (June 12, 2005) a new sign in front of the museum was dedicated at the association's annual picnic.  This sign was purchased in memory of Howard Parker by a retired Long Pine, Nebraska, veterinarian and former rodeo contestant, Dr. Lyman White.


the late Howard Parker's wife, Jean, and son, Chuck Parker

 

 

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