CowboyPoetry.com    Cowboy Poetry and Music and More at the BAR-D Ranch

JIM JOHN
(Kansas Jim)
Wichita, Kansas
About "Kansas Jim" John

 

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
Recognized for his poem, Flint Hills

 

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

 

About Kansas Jim John:

I'm a Kansas boy born in the Ozark border country of southeast Kansas. My dad was a railroader with the Santa Fe. When I was nine we moved to Wichita, a cowtown if there ever was one. Of course now it's a lot bigger, but it's still more town than city.

I've spent better than 50 years calling Wichita home and living in the midst of the old west. Since the pilgrims first landed we've been moving west. But, to me, the old west starts at the Kansas and Nebraska and Indian territories (all to become states) with Texas and then the trail drives north to Abilene and Wichita and Newton and Dodge City. These are the times that marked the start of the great surge West with all it's courage and excitement and violence.

Later the West came to be known as Arizona and Colorado and New Mexico and Wyoming and Montana and it just kept marching on to the coast. But the Great Plains were the first stop and formation point for the plainsman and the cowboy and the westerner.

I consider myself a plainsman which means to me someone who is most at home under a sky with unlimited horizons. I've adopted the handle "Kansas Jim" because I'm just mighty proud to be one.

We asked Jim why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he replied: 

I've been writing Cowboy Poetry for a few years now because I think that we need to keep the legends of the West. Unlike some poets I don't think that the really important part is the historical accuracy of the old west. I want us to remember and be inspired by the legend just as we're inspired by the legends of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

There were enough mean, vicious, cruel, dishonest westerners to go around. But eventually they lost out because, there were more hard working, straight talking, neighborly cowboys and ranchers and settlers that stood up for what was right and good and god fearing. Folks that helped each other, stood by their friends and fought through dust storms and cyclones and droughts and blizzards and floods and stood tall and proud. This is the legend of the cowboy that is worth celebrating and keeping.

I've been honored to be published in American Cowboy magazine and The Big Roundup. I was once even Cowboy Poet of the Month on the Notorious Clanton Gang site (December 1977).

You can email Jim John.

On the Trail

The latest CD by "Kansas Jim" John and "Guitar Charlie" MacCoy is titled On The Trail and features the music of Kansas Jim and Guitar Charlie. There are eight songs and two poems including the old standards "Red River Valley" and "Streets of Laredo"' songs by Jim and Charlie, including "The Spirit of the Cowboy," "A Long Way to Go," "Dancin' in Delano," "There's Church and There's Church"; a song by Charlie, "Thank You, Jesus"; and a special song from a poem by Linda Rowe with music by Charlie called "Huntsville Lament." The CD is rounded out with two poems by Jim, "The Horse," and "A Wanderin' Man" (featuring music and accompaniment by Charlie).

On the Trail is available for $13.00 postpaid from Jim John, 7603 E. Morris, Wichita, KS 67207. For each CD sold, $1.00 is contributed to Episcopal Social Services at Venture House - www.esswichita.org.

Contains the following cowboy poetry & music:

 1.  SPIRIT OF THE COWBOY
 2.  A LONG WAY TO GO
 3.  HUNTSVILLE LAMENT
 4.  THERE'S CHURCH AND THERE'S CHURCH
 5.  RED RIVER VALLEY
 6.  THE HORSE
 7.  STREETS OF LAREDO
 8.  DANCIN' IN DELANO
 9.  THANK YOU, JESUS
10.  A WANDERIN' MAN

"Kansas Jim" John &            Bookings: 1-316-684-0355
Guitar Charlie MacCoy                       1-316-721-0644

Along Gypsum Creek

The CD by "Kansas Jim" John and "Guitar Charlie" MacCoy, Along Gypsum Creek, features the cowboy poetry of Kansas Jim as well as the music of Guitar Charlie. There are 10 poems and two songs including "A Real Cowboy!," "Streets of Laredo," "Gentle Thoughts," "The Greatest Battle the West Has Ever Seen," "The Showdown," "The Flint Hills," "The Spirit of the Cowboy" (lyrics by Jim, music by Charlie), "Impatience," "Nicknames," "King of the Rocking Horse Cowboys," "Renegade Saddle," and "A Cowboy Blessing."

Price $12.00 plus $1.00 Shipping & Handling. Order from Jim John, 7603 E. Morris, Wichita, KS 67207.




Contains the following (semi-) immortal cowboy poetry & music:

 1. A REAL COWBOY!
 2  RENEGADE SADDLE
 3. STREETS OF LAREDO
 4. SHOWDOWN
 5. FLINT HILLS
 6. GREATEST BATTLE THE WEST HAS EVER SEEN
 7. SPIRIT OF THE COWBOY (lyrics by Jim, music by Charlie)
 8. NICKNAMES
 9. IMPATIENCE
10. KING OF THE ROCKING HORSE COWBOYS
11. GENTLE THOUGHTS
12. A COWBOY BLESSING

"Kansas Jim" John &            Bookings: 1-316-684-0355
Guitar Charlie MacCoy                      1-316-721-0644


Note: For each CD sold $1.00 is contributed to the Wichita Children's Home, an emergency shelter for kids - www.wch.org.

 


Along the Gypsum Creek

Includes:

A Real Cowboy
The Horse
Alone on the Prairie
Submissions
The Greatest Battle the West Has Ever Seen
El Paso Pete
Tallgrass Prairie Christmas
The Flint Hills
Cowboy Schwarz
Cowboys & Heaven
Nicknames
The King of the Rocking Horse Cowboys
Death Valley Dilemma!
Seasons on the Prairie
The Spirit of the Cowboy
Impatience
Spring on the Prairie
Friends or Enemies
The Old Drunk's Prayer
Face Off at Carbon Hill (by Grant W. John)
The Bombastic Bard of Busted Butte
The Showdown
Whether Fact or Fiction
The Renegade Saddle
Mean Grizzled, Crusty Old Cowhand
There's Church and There's Church
A Cowboy Holiday Wish
Rout of the Texas Rangers
Gentle Thoughts
A Cowboy Blessing
The Legend of Thunderfoot and Obadiah (story)

Available for $14 postpaid from:

 "Kansas Jim" John
7603 E. Morris
Wichita, KS 67207


KANSAS TERRITORIAL TIMES

Jim John is the editor and publisher of the Kansas Territorial Times, "A Newsletter for the Cowboy Poets, Pickers & Singers of Kansas." 

Jim writes "If you know of someone who might want to get a copy of this newsletter and poetizes, versifies, strums, hums, yodels, or sings about the old west or the new west, just let me know their name and email address and I’ll send one out to them."  You can contact Jim by email or write to him at: 

KANSAS TERRITORIAL TIMES
c/o "Kansas Jim" John
7603 E. Morris
Wichita, KS  67207


 

The Flint Hills

There's a simple kind of beauty
In the Flint Hills late at night,
When the moon shines on the bluestem grass
And there's not a tree in sight.

Just a'sittin round a campfire
And warmin' to its glow,
As the deep dark blue of nighttime
Covers the hills below.

You can see the rollin' prairie
Bathed in the moon's soft light
And the stars a'specklin' the midnight sky
Givin' beauty to the night.

And out there somewhere nearby
You'll hear a nightbird trill
And the lonely cry of a coyote
Upon some rollin' hill.

It's that evenin' quiet that frees us
From the daytime's work and toil
And our busy lives can rest a spell
Out on that ancient soil.

Yes, it's a simple kind of beauty
In the Flint Hills late at night.
When the moon shines on the bluestem grass
And there's not a tree in sight.

Copyright, 1997, Unpublished Work, James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked Jim about the inspiration for this poem and he told us: I fell in love with the Flint Hills when I was a teenager. They're thousands of acres that buffalo once grazed and are now grazed by cattle. Rolling hills and valleys covered by bluestem grass with an occasional tree here and there. But they're wide open. They inspire all my poems and my sense of the hardiness and rough and ready humor of the folks that settled these great plains.

This poem was the second cowboy poem I ever wrote and it's still one of my favorites. I often look at those rolling Flint Hills, barren of trees, and try to imagine those great herds moving across them like the slow, but inevitable movement of a glacier followed by the nomadic Indian tribes.

I also often wonder about what the settlers heading west thought when they looked at these open hills and saw them seemingly going on and on without end. Were they discouraged or inspired or just determined to cross them and
find the mountains and the ocean.

There are lots of explanations as to why the Kansas territory which included the front range of the Rockies became the state of Kansas without the mountains.  It's my belief that, deep down inside, Kansans are plainsmen and like to see the horizon run from eye level to eye level (north, south, east and west) and the mountains just interrupted that view. So, they weren't needed.

After all, we had the Flint Hills and they're high enough.

 

Jim John was previously

one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up
Recognized for his poem, Whether Fact or Fiction

 

 

Whether Fact or Fiction

"Historical accuracy's" the phrase that they use
To strip out both the myth and mystique.
To them a cowhand is some plain working stiff
Herding cows 'cross an old, muddy creek.

They're weathered and battered, bedraggled and worn
By the wind and the sun and the dust.
Their saddles are splitting, their boots all have holes
Their lariats are frayed and their spurs mostly rust.

The cattle are mangy and smelly and mean.
There's blizzards and hail storms and worse.
"To be a cowboy is no blessing,"  sez they.
"It's more like some nightmare-ish curse."

They are just hired hands only caring 'bout pay.
There ain't no Cowboy Code. No honor. No pride.
It was just getting by. No more than a job
That required someone who could rope and could ride.

They laugh at the silver screen cowboys
And their duds and their guns and white hat.
"It's all a big joke! They've got it all wrong!
Those screen writers don't know where it's at."

Now these folks who call themselves "debunkers"
Got the facts, but they miss all the best.
It's the legend that grows, not what everyone knows
That makes cowboys the Knights of the West.

And they think that unless you've worked cattle
A "cowboy poet's" something you'll never be.
Cause it's only the grime and the grind that's real.
There ain't no way that you'll ever see.

Here's some plain facts if you want to know them,
The cowboy and the old west is long dead.
What lives in our hearts and our souls and our minds
Is those tales still afloat in our head.

Like the stories of the knights of King Arthur,
It's the myth that lives on throughout time.
And it lifts us up and inspires our young folks
With it's moral so clear yet sublime.

There's a place here for all the historians
That separate the myth from the fact.
Still, after they're gone, the legend lives on
Helping everyone to know how to act.

2001, James H. John, Unpublished work
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked Jim about his inspiration for "Whether Fact or Fiction" and he replied: From time to time I come across sites that assert that we need to be historically accurate. That we should ignore the legend and the myth and just concentrate on the cowboy of the 1830's thru 1880's as they really were.

And there are sites that assert that if you don't own a ranch or work as a cowhand that you just don't really have a clue. Unfortunately the assumption is that without such credentials, you just don't have anything to say worth hearing.

As logical as that seems to be, it takes away a vital aspect of the impact of the cowboy on America. It skips the myth.

Now myth isn't a bad word. It's technical meaning is that it is a story or a tale that attempts to explain how things came to be as they are. It doesn't mean just a tall tale.

And I think that the legend of the cowboy was another attempt, like Arthur and Camelot and the knights of the roundtable to explain why there are those who live their lives by a moral code that makes the world a better place for us all.

I think that it is a singular honor that a "common man" (the cowboy) was a place where this myth could flourish and I think that we all can benefit from those 19th Century legends on their great stallions and their white hats as they stand against the crooked bankers and politicians and horse thieves and cattle rustlers.

Finally, I own no ranch. I live in an overgrown cowtown of old, Wichita. But, Shakespeare didn't live in Denmark or ancient Rome. Yet, he sought the meaning of life there.

I don't compare myself to Shakespeare. But I do believe that cowboy poets, both old and new, like Shakespeare and Hemingway and many others try through their words and their wit and, hopefully, sometimes their insight to show that life has meaning and joy and hope as well as pain and fear and drudgery. It's not important how we find it. Just that we do.



A Cowboy Blessing 

May your trails be smooth and easy
As you ride along your way.
May a glowing campfire greet you
at the end of every day.

May your saddle pals be true friends
Who'll stick through thick and thin.
May your mount be strong and sturdy
Yet still fast enough to win.

May you never be caught on a high point
When lightning fills the sky.
May you always be well down the trail
When a cyclone races by.

May your springs be filled with blossoms
And the winter's mild and clear.
May the summer's be bright and breezy,
The trees pretty when fall is here.

And when you ride in the final roundup
After doing the best you could,
May the Lord Himself ride up and say,
"Hey cowboy, ya clean up real good!"

Unpublished Work, Copyright 1998, James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


 

 

Alone on the Prairie

It's said that ridin' the Kansas plains
Can drive you crazy or make you wise.
It's got something to do with those wide open spaces
And those endlessly flowin' skies.

Astride your horse on some highpoint
Overlookin' those ancient Flint Hills,
A person comes close to the smell of the grass,
The hot sun and the winter chills.

There's a vastness here that fills your soul
As you ride cross this treeless earth.
It can strip away all your pretenses
And leave you with a new sense of worth.

You've got lots of time to think about things
Like sunsets and lightnin' and wind.
"Say, just why did God make us so tiny?
Do the high plains go on without end?

Is there really a Heaven or Hell?
Will there be horses either place?
Are cyclones devils or angels?
Can folks look at God - face to face?

Is being a cowhand a punishment
For some bad thing that we've done?
Or is it the greatest gift we can get
Under God's bright prairie sun?"

A persons got lots of time to think
Riding ‘neath those vast prairie skies.
Most likely it's what we learn ‘bout ourselves
That can drive us crazy or make us wise.


Copyright 1997, James H. John
Published in American Cowboy magazine in July/August of 1998
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

A Tallgrass Prairie Christmas

Old Santa could drive any team.
He was better than the best.
But that blizzard ragin' down below
Was puttin him to the test.

You see, the snow weren't exactly fallin'
It was blowin' from left to right.
The wind was whirlin' and swirlin'
On this most special night.

Out here on the open prairie
Winter can come and go.
This time it came with a vengence,
We was darn near buried in snow.

Santa was circlin' and circlin',
Goin' round and round and round,
Lookin' for the slightest chance
To get his team of reindeer down.

Cause, pardner, it was Christmas eve.
There was a town down there below
And Santa ain't the kind of guy
To be stopped by a few feet of snow.

He thought he just might be able
To sweep on down close by.
So he swung his sleigh in a sweeping turn
And headed down for a try.

That sleigh bucked and rocked somethin' awful
Santa reined his team to the right
And they fought and fought and struggled
To penetrate that blowing white.

It turned out they couldn't make it through
And they had to turn away.
But old Santa heard something down below
And knew he didn't need to stay.

It would'a been nice to have made it down.
But it had all clearly worked out.
Those folks down there in that town below
Knew what Christmas was all about.

You see what Santa heard in that blizzard
Let him know that all would be right,
For he heard those folks a'singin'-----
"Silent night ----- Holy night!
All is calm ------ All is bright!"

And old Santa proclaimed as he rose out of sight,
"Merry Christmas To All On This Most Holy Night!"

Unpublished Work, Copyright 1997, James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


 

A Real Cowboy!

They say I ain't much of a cowboy
And I reckon they could be right.
I'm really not a horseman
And I don't like to camp out at night.

I can't rope a cow or wrestle a steer.
I've never drank Redeye.
I hate warm beer,
But a soft bed at night, now that I hold dear.

I've never been bit by a rattlesnake
And I don't like to gnaw on a bloody, red steak.
Beans flavored with dust and soot from a fire
Just can't make my spirit soar higher.

Yeah, they say I ain't really a cowboy
And they're probably real close to right.
Cause my boots aren't always comfortable
And I can't wear my Levi's real tight.

I don't hang out with dance hall girls.
Stud poker was never my game.
I can't play the guitar or yodel
And "Slim" clearly ain't my nickname.

Herdin' cattle in blizzards don't sound like much fun
And I 'spect I'd just hurt myself with a gun.
I clearly ain't the strong, tall, silent type
That made sure the West was won.

But, I went to the Saturday movies
When I was just a boy
And I learned all the stuff that really counts
From Hoppy and Gene and Roy.

You've got to stand up
For the things that are right
And a cowboy don't let bad guys
Win without a fight.

You help out widows and orphans
Take care of the weak and the old.
A man never cheats in his dealin's
And his word must be good as gold.

You see, it ain't ropin' or ridin'
That makes a cowboy a man.
It's doin' the things that you know are right
And bein' the best you can.

So, they're wrong, I am a real cowboy.
I know that deep inside
And you can be a cowboy too
Although you don't rope or ride.

Just help out folks that need it.
Take troubles in your stride.
Bow your head in prayer to your maker.
Don't ever swell up with pride.

Live every day to its fullest.
Don't pretend that bad is good,
And even though you don't shoot or sing
You'll live like a cowboy should.


Unpublished Work, Copyright 1997, James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


The Greatest Battle the West Has Ever Seen

Many are the stories told 
    Of the gunfights of the West.
But no 45's or rifles were fired
    In the battle of the best.
  
I offer here a tellin'
    Of the mightiest clash of all
Where the only wounds inflicted
    Were some bruises from a fall.

It started off real simple like
    When Toby read a paper
It told about St. Louis
    And a seven story skyscraper.

Now that got ol' Tobe a'thinkin
    That we needed somethin' grand
To show the other buckaroos
    The "Rockin' J" was the best brand.

There weren't no need that he could see
    For buildin' somethin' tall.
'Cause out here on the open range
    40,000 acres was thinkin' small.

So ol' Toby jawed at Larry
    And Larry talked to Slim.
No one talked to Tiny
    Cause his light burned pretty dim.

But life is often strange
    And can take a funny turn
When a feller stands awaitin'
    And his thinkin' starts to churn.

So, it was Tiny that got things started
    As he waited at the outhouse door.
'This one-holer just won't do!
    We need us one hole more!"

Now ol' Tobe had him a vision,
    The greatest privy of them all.
It would have four separate holes
    One on every wall.

"Why, shoot, there'd be no waitin'
    To answer nature's call
A cowhand could just mosey in
    And pick his favorite stall."

But no sooner had they built it
    And the door was painted red.
Than the word came they was building
    A five-holer out at the McDonald spread.

This was gettin' mighty serious
    But these buckaroos was tough
And the Rockin' J set out to win
    A six-holer would be enough.

The McDonald spread responded.
    Their eight-holer was top-of-the-line.
But the "J" crew fired right back
    With one that seated nine.

The McDonald hands bellied up
    And built em one for ten,
But the Rockin' J weren't quitters
    They were sure that twelve would win.

But it didn't, not at all,
    McDonald built one for thirteen
The "J" hands built an eighteen-holer.
    The fight was turnin' mean.

Now this battle coulda gone on and on
    'Cept for a truth that is clear
A waddie is good at herdin' cattle
    But, he ain't no engineer.

And this privy had become quite a place
    For cowpokes to gather round
A place to tell a tall tale or two
    While comfortably sittin' down.

Many was the big ol' yarns
    Spun over that giant pit.
It could be where the phrase came from
    Bout sittin' round shootin' the --- (you know  what I mean)

But this structure was highly unstable
    And one day the floor started to sag
The cowpokes just ignored it
    Till their rear ends started to drag.

By then the whole thing was agroanin'
    And it was just plain to late.
With a SNAP- the whole darn thing collapsed
    Sendin' eighteen cowpokes to their fate.

They throwed some ropes down to 'em.
    At least that's what I was told.
But it was so dadburn slippery in there
    They just couldn't grab ahold.

They tried to tie em round themselves
    But they just kept slidin' thru
It's said those fellers spent nearly a day
    Down there in that sticky goo.

At last someone built a long ladder
    And those fellers climbed over the brink
But no matter how hard and how long they scrubbed
    They could never get rid of that stink.

It seems the fashion of grand outhouses
    Started dying that very same day.
Those mighty structures was abandoned
    To fall down and blow away.

Yup! That was an epic battle.
    One that won't be soon forgot.
When the McDonald crew and the Rockin' J
    Fought it out --- pot to pot.


Unpublished Work, Copyright 1997, James H. John      
        
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

The Horse

That decrepit, mangy old stallion
Could barely lift his head.
If I hadn't of heard him wheezing
I'd a swore that horse was dead.

He was battered, flea bitten and scarred.
Most likely barely could walk.
His shape was all bumpy and lumpy
Like old lard stuffed in a sock.

I didn't expect what Zeke said then,
"They say he ain't never been broke."
I looked that nag over one more time
To see if this was a joke.

"That old bag of bones can't be ridden?
They gotta be kidding Zeke!
I've ridden better horses than him
Every darn day of the week."

Zeke thought for a spell, then he said, "Well
Why not give old 'Flea-Bait' a try?
But be careful Slim, watch out fer him
Might be more than meets your eye."

He saddled that moth-eaten, flea bag,
Slapped him on his baggy rear,
Led him out, handed over the reins and said,
"Wait till I get clear."

I stood a moment staring at him.
I gave him the evil eye.
He wasn't scared, his nostrils were flared.
He was daring me to try.

I admit I had a second thought.
But my claim wasn't a brag.
So I gave the cinch an extra jerk
And leapt up on that old nag.

The very first impression I had
Was one of riding on air.
One look and the reason was very clear.
I was here. That horse was way over there.

I seemed to have left real sudden like
To take a tour of the sky.
As I hit the ground with an awful thud,
That nag winked with his one good eye.

I climbed back on that "lucky" cayuse
Cause I'm tough as tough can be.
So, when I learned I was in orbit
It came as a shock to me.

I took two full trips round the planet
Before I headed back down.
My tail end was still a smolderin'
When  I finally rejoined the ground.

O.K. - it could be that old flea bag
Was more than he seemed to be.
But I won't give up without a fight
It's come down to him or me.

Not one to give up, I leapt back on
Swung up on that old swayback.
Right away I knew I was airborne
The reins and stirrups were slack.

Ya know, the sky's kind of pretty-like
When you're flying upside down.
But landing like that gets a mite rough
When it's cactus covered ground.

Perhaps there's something bout that old nag
I hadn't noticed first time.
He couldn't run. He could barely walk.
Aside from those things, he's fine.

I started to climb up on him again
To ride him once and for all.
But then I thought, I'll just wear him out
What if that old beast should fall.

"Zeke, I guess that old nag's had enough,
I'll let him off easy this time.
I wouldn't want to crush his spirit.
That'd be an awful crime."

Well, old Zeke and I headed to town.
We hadn't had breakfast yet.
Then we wandered over to old Doc Smith's
To have my broken bones set.

I never saw old "Flea-Bait" again.
Some say that old stallion drowned.
But when I see some cowboy limping
I just know somehow -- He's around!

Unpublished Work, Copyright 1998, James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Seasons on the Prairie

It's turnin' mighty brisk out on the Rockin' J spread.
My hat is frozen solid to my pointy little head.
The left side of my handlebar mustache is broken off
And my favorite pony, Pete, has got an gaspin', rumblin' cough.

Yup, it's turnin' mighty cool upon these flat ol' Kansas plains.
My knees and ears and elbows got some terri-bubble pains.
I tried to warm myself up with some coffee in a cup,
But it busted out the bottom when it got all froze-dud up.

My lips got stuck together when I wet 'em with my tongue
And I think I got some frostbite at the bottom of my lung.
My visions pretty foggy from the ice upon my eyes
And it's getting' fairly cold when frozen clouds fall from the skies.

The water in the stock pond is as solid as can be
And there's thirty head of cattle in there trapped below the knee.
Why it's so cold on the inside of that drafty old ranch house
That it froze the dog and cat and even got the kitchen mouse.

But in truth I'm not complainin' bout the winter and the cold
I suspect that I'm just grousin' cause I'm turning mighty old.
You see, in the bright red oven sky while frying next July
I'll croak these words through split, cracked lips up at the cloudless sky,
"I know we've probably got around a full six months to go,
but, Lord I hope you hear me when I say-please let it snow!"


2001, James H. John, Unpublished work
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

The King of the Rocking Horse Cowboys

"I remember back when," my dad used to say,
"You and Tommy Thompson would play and play
In your cowboy gear and your floppy chaps
You'd saddle up about dawn every day."

And my thoughts would roll down the hall of time
That now stood in the way.
I'd see us again on those rocking horses.
Me on the paint and Tommy on the bay.

We were the kings of the rocking horse cowboys
At the tender young age of only three.
We were the kings of the rocking horse cowboys
And that's just what we wanted to be.

We always knew that we were gonna be cowboys.
We talked of it every single day.
There'd be ranges to ride and cattle to brand
And wolves that needed chasing away.

But the thing is that life's always changing
And when we two young lads were only eight
Tommy's dad died in a crash up near Goodland.
Then his family moved clear across the state.

We promised to stay in touch forever.
But he was a long long ways away.
Then my Grandpa died, left us his place
And we moved out to the ranch to stay.

So it turned out that I became a cowboy
Working with dad to make the old ranch pay.
Later my folks retired and got 'em a place
In town about ten miles away.

There was no need to be a rocking horse cowboy
We had real horses for my family and me.
All that faded far away as we lived from day to day
I was pretty much what I had always hoped to be.

Then one day I started cleaning out the hayloft
To try to throw some sad old junk away
And I came across an ancient, dirty, broken rocking horse.
I knew right away that thing was Tommy's bay.

I thought then about my long forgotten friend and saddle pal
And decided I was gonna track him down.
I'd heard twenty years ago he was living with his wife
Down near Wichita in a small suburban town.

I found his home address and I drove on down that way
To finally see that dear old friend of mine.
But what I found instead was his sad and troubled wife.
Seemed that Tommy was at the short end of his line.

Turned out he had a bad case of Alzheimer's
Though Tommy was only fifty three.
At the Shady Rest Nursing Home I finally saw my friend
It was clear he didn't know that it was me.

His face was so darn blank and awful empty.
Nothing could penetrate that stare.
But it seemed to me that he was really looking
At something else that simply wasn't there.

When I was leaving I had the start of an idea
I told the Shady Rest folks what I'd like to do.
Then I showed it all to Tommy's sweet wife, Susie,
And it turned out that she sure liked it too.

So I headed home and set right out to do it.
I worked every day from sun to setting sun.
Five long days I spent a'sawing and a'shaping
And at last that curious craftwork was all done.

I went out and loaded up my old horse trailer
Gave everyone that knew a quick phone call.
Then I drove down south to see my old friend Tommy.
I was hoping that it was really worth it all.

We went and put that thing upon the south deck
Where many of those folks would come and sit.
Then we went and got my old pal, Tommy Thompson.
That was one sight that I know I won't forget.

Those folks say they'd never seen a grin on Tommy.
There was even a twinkle in his eye.
Then he swung aboard that giant rocking horse
And rode out to meet the evening sky.

Now he's the King of the rocking horse cowboys
At the tender young age of fifty three.
Yeah, he's the king of the rocking horse cowboys.
That's all he ever wanted to be.

Post-script:

Tommy's gone now.
He passed away
Five years ago this very day.
But together someday
We'll ride heaven's highway.
Me on the pinto
                 and Tommy on the bay.

Unpublished Work, Copyright 2002, James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

The Mean, Grizzled, Crusty, Old Cowhand

On every big spread that I know of
There's an old codger as rough as a cob.
He complains from sunrise till bedtime.
You'd think he was hired for that job.

No smile ever creases that battered old face.
His beady eyes are always dartin' around.
His breath is like the stink of a half-dead skunk
And he's always working at putting somethin' down.

He's crippled from ropin and bronc-bustin', says he,
Soon he'll be shuffling around with a cane.
He complains about how much he's hurting
Even when he don't really feel much pain.

He swats at dogs, cats and small varmints.
He kicks 'em if they come too near.
When someone comes and asks for a favor
He pretends that he can't even hear.

No one's near as smart as we all were, says he,
Back 40 some short years ago
Nowadays they got no brains to speak of
And ain't he always said so.

He points out the high cost of medicine
And describes all the surgery he's had.
Whenever someone out complains him
He shows 'em his scars are real bad.

He grumbles at politicians and taxes
And explains how the country should run.
Cause everyone knows things were better
Back when he was just a clever young one.

Why them kids are just barely out of diapers
And they act like they're big and growed up.
But he's seen greater smarts in a boulder
Or even a three day old pup.

The country, says he, is a'sinkin real fast.
There's no way to save her we know.
But as she goes down he'll get one last chance
To say that he told us all so!

Man, that mangy old coot is disgusting.
He's as irritating as any man can be.
And he never goes near a mirror at all
Cause then he could see .......
that he's me.

2003, James H. John, Unpublished Work
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked Jim how he came to write this poem, and he told us: The story-line came from my step-dad (Tony Schwarz, who recently died). He
occasionally reminisced about his days as a cowboy up in Wyoming in the 30's and 40's. The character is much like one he described to me. He was an old hand that he'd met (he was fortunate not to work day to day with him) up in that neck of the woods. He was one of those folks that don't have any thing good to say about anything or anyone.

After talking about him for a while, Dad once reflected that we all needed
to watch out because, as we get older, we can find ourselves acting more and more like those folks.

I combined those thoughts with a statement that I'd once heard to the effect that we usually find most upsetting those things in others that we least like in ourselves.

 

The Renegade Saddle

I had just started out with real purpose
To drain me a bottle of Rye
When my old pard' Big Tom headed over.
I saw he had a glint in his eye.

"Well, now," said Big Tom, "It's easy to see,"
As he eyed my right arm in a sling,
"That you've tangled with some tough sitch-i-ation
To end up in that darn silly thing."

Now it had just been one real lousy day
And I was hurt, weary and pale.
I knew that Big Tom would keep snoopin' around
Unless I told him the whole darned tale.

So I said, "Thomas, you won't believe it.
This story will leave you in shock.
I was caught in a full-blown conspiracy
T'ween a saddle, a law and a rock."

I could see that Big Tom had taken the bait
As he downed his first pitcher of beer.
is big ears were pretty near quivering.
He was all perked up to hear.

"It started out", sez I, "in an odd way.
My saddle was not to be found.
Not in tack room or trailer or stable,
It just wasn't nowhere around."

"But, I found me a substitute saddle.
In the back of the tack room it sat.
When I slung it up on my shoulder
I spooked out a mangy black cat."

"In the corral I picked out ol' Buddy
And saddled up for the morning's ride.
We headed out to the south pasture
Just takin' the day in stride."

"We checked about three mile of fences
at a soft and easy pace.
Then when the sun was near overhead
I pointed Buddy back to the place."

"It was a nice ride, though I tell you,
the saddle was some short in the seat.
But being a cowboy I have to say,
It still beats using my feet."

"All went well till I got to the stable
And I started to swing on down.
That's when that old saddle tricked me
And dumped me back first toward the ground."

"I swear to you Tom that saddle was waitin'
They was all colludin' behind my back,
Cause just as my right boot cleared the cantle
Gravity let loose with a big sneak attack."

"In the stirrup my left boot was hung up.
I kicked loose with a moan and a groan.
I stuck out my right hand to cushion the fall
And it folded up as I hit solid stone."

"Well my right wrist was hurting somethin' fierce
And I guess I was thinking real slow,
Cause I kicked at that rock with my right foot
And darn near broke my big toe."

"Gravity yanked me back hard to the ground
And dislocated my left hip.
Course, I fell in some real fresh cow droppin's
As I heard my new Levi's rip."

"No, Tom, there was no doubt about it.
It was a plot as sure as can be.
That renegade saddle and the boulder was a'waiting
And they were led by the law of gravity."

There was silence while Tom drank his next pitcher.
He said, "Jim, your tale is as tall as can be.
The boss traded ol' Buddy near six months ago
And this mornin' you rode fence with me."

I jest smiled cause I knew now for sure that I had him
and I said, " Why - that's all true fact.
But this happened on this very day in May.
No matter that it was one year back."

Big Tom sat a'starin' at the crutch and my sling.
"Well, what about that? What's the deal?"

Sez I,

"I finally went and saw the doctor today after giving it a
fair chance to heal."

Copyright, 2004, Unpublished Work, James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written 

 

Jim told us: The poem  was inspired by a true incident. I did, in fact, take a fall dismounting (and looked mighty stupid in the process) and I did fold up my right wrist (not broken or cracked or chipped) and I did wait a while before giving in and going to see the doctor (more like a couple of weeks). But the rest of it is a little growth in the telling of the tale and I might have created some embellishments (like the crutch). I do, however, swear that I was subjected to a cowardly sneak attack by gravity.

 

There's Church and There's Church 

I was riding the Kansas prairie
Looking for a stray head or two
When a clapboard Flint Hills church tower
Came poking up into my view.

It surely was a right pretty place.
The building was painted bright white
Aglow with a shining radiance
It stood proud in  the summer light.

I swung down from my weary pony,
Tied him loose at the hitchin' rail.
I doffed my hat, scraped my boots and went in.
It was cool coming down from the trail.

That church had real nice stained glass windows
They were colorful and grand to see.
There were saints, apostles and angels
And Jesus come down from the tree.

But, as I looked around that chapel
Everything was covered in dust.
And the great cross upon the east wall
Was pitted and stained red with rust.

The pews were rotted and rickety.
The pulpit lay broke on it's side.
The floor planks were all warped and twisted.
Long ago - this church up and died.

I rode off a'saddened and thinking
Of what I read in the Good Book
Something bout "whited sepulchers."
Didn't give it a second look.

It faded quick from my memories
As the years went racing on past.
Till one day in old Fort Scott Kansas
I ran cross a church that would last.

It didn't have walls or fine windows.
There were hay bales instead of pews.
Under a wide sky and strong breezes
Folks praised, shared their faith and Good News.

I thought back to that whitewashed chapel
A monument taking up ground.
Compared to Cowboy Church in the open,
You guess where our Lord is best found.

Copyright, 2004, Unpublished Work, James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written 

 

Jim told us he was inspired by two incidents to write this poem. He said, "First was the discovery of an abandoned church up in the Flint Hills a long time ago. It was one of those rectangular country churches, painted white, that had probably once been home to a small congregation. As the rural populations shrank in favor of big towns and cities it was eventually left with a few and then, with the regular visits of death, none. It was still in good repair on the outside. I suspect a neighbor, farmer or rancher, felt something special toward it. Maybe a mother or aunt had once gone there. Years later I was in the area and noticed that the building was gone and there was no sign it had ever been there."

He said he worked on it a long while but didn't finish it until "In June I went to Fort Scott, Kansas, and spent the weekend at the Echoes of the Trail. On Sunday morning, after a stormy Kansas night of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, the morning dawned fresh and windy with  bright sunlight and clouds racing by. We went to Cowboy Church that next morning in the open, sitting on hay bales and camp chairs, with the smell of fresh coffee boiling, biscuits baking and sausage gravy making from three separate chuck wagons. We sang, we shared, we prayed and I knew that this was the final part of that poem..."  

 

Friends or Enemies

The dude strode by.
His head held high.
His boots were purple and red.
A bright green vest
Around his chest
A Stetson perched on his head.

He looked at Slim.
Said, "Hi," to him.
Nodded as he walked along.
Slim looked away,
Waited to say,
"That guy is totally wrong!"

"Why shoot!" said Slim
"Just look at him!
He ain't got no crap on his boots!
Look at that stride!
He clearly don't ride!
I'll bet he can't even shoot!"

"If I showed him a mule,
I'll bet that darn fool,
Would think him a thoroughbred!
A cowboy he's not!
He ought'a be shot!
He'll do less harm if he's dead!"

Slim finally ran down.
He looked at the ground
And waited for Big Tom to talk.
Tom rose to his feet,
Brushed off his seat,
And said, "Let's take a short walk."

They sauntered along
As Tom whistled a song
And stopped when they got to a Jeep.
That thing was filled up
With stickers and stuff
So bright they would wake ya from sleep.

"Save endangered buffalo!"
"Don't let the tallgrass prairie go!"
"Big sky country is the place for me!"
"No place like the West!"
"Cowboys are best!"
"Keep the Rockies wild and free!"

Then Big Tom spoke,
"You might think he's a joke
And surely, he ain't like you and me.
He weren't raised on the range,
To us, he's real strange.
But his heart's where it ought to be."

"He may be from back East.
That don't matter the least!
Cause his soul is in the West.
And it seems to me
That one day he could be
A cowboy--perhaps one of the best

  James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written 

 

Jim sent along some commentary with this poem:

It strikes me that many folks are so bound up in making sure everything meets the "rules" whatever the particular person defines them as being that they keep looking too narrowly at the whole matter.

I have already asserted in my poems, "A Real Cowboy," and "Whether Fact or Fiction" and "Friend or Foe" that there is room for a lot more folks at the table than many would allow. And for me, it all comes back to that sense of the adventure, the trailblazing, and the courage that opened the West up. That included all of our "Western Heritage" not just longhorns.

If we look closely at the people who listen and follow and become enthralled by "cowboy poetry" we find that it's a very broad spectrum of folks. Not just, as they often say, the "preaching to the choir" of farmers and ranchers and agricultural implement dealers and livestock truckers and giant
feedlot operators; but many, many others.

Those folks are the ones that still feel, somewhere in their bones, the call of the "West" which was a place peopled with Indians, mountain men, blacksmiths, prospectors, cattlemen, sheepmen, gunslingers, outlaws, bandits, prospectors, card sharks, drifters, saddle tramps, railroaders,
lawmen, cavalry troopers, etc.

All of these are rolled up into what the majority of the world thinks of when they say "cowboy." And they see a thread running through that of men and women that blazed trails, lived on the frontier as pioneers of all sorts in the midst of prairie fires and cyclones, stampedes (of buffalo as well as longhorns), blizzards, floods and droughts, scorching, bone dry summers, and freezing, deep drifted winters.

They don't really equate cowboy with agri-business and nothing more. And they all realize that, like me and you, the blood of these "cowboys" (who don't meet the specific requirements of a narrowly defined cowboy) runs in all of us. My great grandfather, Lewis A. John, was born in 1834 aboard the British sloop, Victoria, aboard ship from Wales to the United States. They settled in Ohio. In the Civil War he served as a master mechanic. He re-enlisted in 1864 at Vicksburg. He was captured and escaped twice. After the war he came to Kansas and help establish Dunlap, Kansas. He died at 101 in Chanute, Kansas, as one of the last surviving members of the Grand Army of the Republic. He worked as a blacksmith until the age of 94.

Some would say, that's got nothing to do "cowboys." But, it does because the majority of the population will label all these things as "cowboy." Perhaps they should say Westerner or Pioneer or Sodbuster or Settler or Criminal or Law Enforcement or ...  But, they don't. So, no matter what those who want to put a strict limitation on the word would like to see happen, it won't. The word cowboy is now a symbol for all of those things and more.

It's a symbol for BBQ and Chuckwagon cooking and a campfire (even at a YMCA campground in the suburbs of Chicago). And while they're really western style hats and boots, we call them cowboy boots and cowboy hats. We talk about ranch style houses and such. Cowboy is now way too big a term for the narrow definition to work.

But, there's one other thing that really makes it burst it's seams. And that's the thing that has come to be called the "Cowboy Way" or "The Code of the West." Where it came from isn't important. Whether it was created in dime novels or by Zane Grey or Hollywood or, just stolen from the code of the Knights of the Roundtable (Might for Right, etc.); it has come to represent a sense of moral striving that creates the "center" of the whole sense of "cowboy culture" and has a nobility to it that will outlive the reality of the "cowboy." It is the legend.

Way too soon ranching and farming will move from rural pursuits to corporate pursuits. Cattle won't roam the range. They'll be born, fed, processed and slaughtered on the totally consolidated and regulated feed farm/lot/packing plant. And it will be just another integrated, regulated, concentrated business. It bears an ever decreasing relationship to the open ranges of the
1850', 60's, 70's and 80's anyway.

So what will be left?

Our Western Heritage and I'm every bit as proud of it as the folks that live on a ranch in Montana.

God Bless

 

A Wanderin' Man


Riding down a lonesome trail
In the twilight of the day.
Don't know just where I'm goin',
But I know that I won't stay.

I spent thirty years a'wanderin
Over hill and over dale.
Owned and rode a dozen ponies.
Eleven died out on the trail.

I did some buffalo huntin'.
Sold meat to the railroad crew.
Those herds are nearly gone now
And the huntin' is all through.

I've ridden many a cattle trail
Pushin' steers to Wichita.
Saw my brother once in Abilene.
He told me 'bout Ma and Pa.

They'd headed towards Californy
With a wagon train going west.
The train went into Death Valley.
That's where Ma and Pa now rest.

Little sister Sue is married.
Got three boys as nice as could be.
The oldest one's called Ethan.
They named him after me.

There's the first star of the evenin'
Shining brightly in the west.
The birds are skitterin' all about
A'headin' for their nest.

I drank and danced in Dodge City.
Caroused some in Cheyenne too.
Never saved a single penny.
But I've wasted quite a few.

Some folks say that I've got nothin'
To show for my whole life.
No ranch out on the open range.
No children and no wife.

But they just don't understand
That life for me would be cold and pale.
If I wasn't cresting a mountain pass
To see what was down the trail.

I'll put one more mile behind me
And bed on down for the night.
Then rise when the star's are still shinin'
And head out with dawn's first light.

Reckon some day soon my life will play out.
I hope it's somewhere on high ground.
If you find me, please don't bury me.
Just prop me up so I can look around.

2005, James H. John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written 

This country was opened up from East to West...[except for Spaniards and Indians]...first by the trailblazers, the woodsmen, the pathfinders, the scouts, the plainsmen, the mountain men - most of them solitary men. Later they came to be called loners or drifters. I just call them wanderin' men. Fellows that wanted to see what was over the next hill, in the next valley, cross that river. I envisioned a man riding along at the end of the day reminiscing over his life maybe to himself, possibly to his pony. But, ultimately, not regretting it and looking forward to breaking camp early the next day.

I think that we all have some of the wanderer in us even though our family lived in the same place for generations. The particulars of writing this were inspired by my pard, Charlie MacCoy's, playing some music for me that he had written, liked, but didn't know what he could do with it. Turns out
that the words (spoken) and the music go very well together.


 

In July, 2003, Jim wrote: [This poem] talks of a special man, my Dad. He was raised in the small town of Holdredge, Nebraska, born in '25. When he got out of high school he headed to Wyoming to be a cowboy. He worked for a couple of spreads, the Flying E out of Glendo, Wyoming, owned by Harry Twiford, and he worked for George Mitchell out of Wheatland, Wyoming. He rodeoed some.  Bulldogging was his specialty.

As he got along in years he'd watch rodeos on TV, but he didn't want to go
to them because he couldn't ride in them. But he never forgot those years as a cowboy.

I'm speaking in the past tense because he's leaving us. He riding a nasty nag called pancreatic cancer. He's a hell of a rider, but it's just a matter of time now. I hope and pray that happy trails are awaiting him over the next cloud.

The poem was written in 1998 for his birthday. I just added the last verse.

 


Cowboy Schwarz

There's been many a famous cowboy
That's roamed the American West,
But one comes to mind, a special kind,
When I think of the very best.

No longer does he roam the plains
He ain't exactly tall and lean.
It's been years since he sat a saddle.
He's no longer hard and mean.

He ain't got no fancy handle
Like Ringo or Buffalo Bill.
His name was never at the top
Of some national rodeo bill.

But he'll always be the best one
Since the time of the western forts.
He's known around this old corral
As the cowboy Anton Schwarz.

I ain't never called him Pappy,
Seldom called him Dad.
Reckon that's because he weren't
The first one I ever had.

I mostly call him Tony
Sometimes it's just "old man".
But when it comes to cowboys
I'm surely his biggest fan.

He might think riding was real tough
Or wrestlin' big old steers.
But the deadly job of "stepdad"
Has aged him beyond his years.

Breaking a horse ain't nothing
Compared to being a Dad.
And even though he's my second one,
He's the best that I've ever had.

That's not to short my first Dad
He did what he could do.
But with over forty years on the job
It's a title Tony's earned too.

So here's a toast to my favorite cowpoke
He's better than Hoppy or Roy.
Cause he stuck in through thick and thin
And raised him this here cowboy.

He's leaving us now, riding away.
Astride a tall handsome bay.
When you see him, Lord, give him our love.
We'll meet around the campfire someday.

So long, Dad.

1998, revised 2003, James H. "Jim" John
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Sadly, on July 26, 2003, Jim told us "Dad was thrown at 2:35 AM last night. He slipped into a deep coma late last evening and finally moved on a few hours later." 

 

 

Read Jim John's A Cowboy Holiday Wish posted with Holiday 2004 poems

and

  A Tallgrass Prairie Christmas  posted with Holiday 2000 poems.

 

 

 


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