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

Near Houston, Texas
John Yaws

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

recognized for his poem, A Cowboy Till I Die




A Cowboy Till I Die

My Wrangler jeans, and faded shirt-
My bullhide, roper boots.
A dirty, silverbelly hat,
Show my West Texas roots.

Although I may be fifty-
I still have itchy feet.
And long to spread my blankets,
Where the sky and mountains meet.

I rode a lot of bad ones,
Back when I was young.
I've dug my share of post holes,
And, Lord, the wire I've strung.

I've saddled before daybreak,
Turned 'em out when moon was high.
And breathed a lot trail dust,
Underneath the western sky.

I've blistered from the branding fire,
And froze while riding fence...
And turned down better paying jobs,
I didn't have no sense.

I wouldn't trade a minute,
Of my days of punching cows,
In a lot of ways I'm wishing
It's what I was doing now.

There's just something about getting up
To greet the newborn day.
Of catchin' up the saddle stock,
And feeding grain and hay...

They say I'm living in the past,
It's true. Do you know why?
No matter how I earn my pay,
I'm a cowboy till I die.

© 2003, John R. Yaws
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked John what inspired him to write this poem and he said, "I guess what moved me to write the poem was a trip I made to West Texas. I was watching the miles go by out near Sweetwater, Texas, and the landscape reminded me vaguely of northern Arizona, out between Winslow and Flagstaff...this started memories to boiling, and the poem was the result."



Previously, John Yaws was one of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

recognized for his poem, Last of the Breed



Last of the Breed

Thirty six years of hard labor--
And nothing to show for it all.
A wife and three kids who don't know him,
He's crippled from many a fall.

He used to be tall, lean, and handsome--
But middle age spread has set in,
He has no companion or lover--
He's outlived most all of his friends.

I guess that his brand reads "West Texas."
He'll turn fifty-one, first of May.
Footloose, a drifter, a throwback--
To the West and her wild, wooly days.

He hung up his spurs back in eighty--
When injuries made him too slow--
To make a good ride on the rough-stock,
That he rode in the Pro Rodeo.

Out back of the chutes you'll still find him,
With advice that the young ones won't heed.
It's more than a life it's a callin'--
And he's the last of the vanishing breed.

© 2001, John R. Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Leroy's Lament 

Ol' Leroy looked across the cab-said, "Jack, I've been a thinkin'"
I said, "Leroy, don't go talkin' that away!
It's cost us dadburn near as much trouble as your drinkin'
We durn shore don't need no more fines to pay!"

Said, "What I think we need to do, is find another livin'
This cowboy life ain't what it used to be--
It seems that we ain't gettin' back, e'en half of what we's givin-
And just last month we both turned forty three.

Jack, I guess that neither one of us has got a callin'
Cept breaking broncs and workin some man's cows--
The music that we love the most is hearin' cattle bawlin'
That's close to Heaven as this life allows.

I feel stove up when I roll out on these old frosty mornin's
And topping off gets harder all the time--
My belly churns to smell the stink, at brandin's and dehornin's
My cowboy skills have kinda lost their shine.

I said, "Leroy, you start doin this each time you get hung over--
We've thirty miles to drive back to the ranch.
Your mind'll change when we begin to smell the meadow clover--
You couldn't quit if you was give the chance."

There ain't no other way of life, for guys like me and Leroy--
We've both the name of bein' a top hand--
Until we play our string out, somewhere up on the rimrock--
I guess we'll keep on ridin' for the brand.

© 2001, John R. Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Leroy's Cadillac Story

I walked by Jack and Leroy,
Out by the breakin' pen...
They wuz leanin' watchin' sunset
As the day come to an end.
Leroy wuz a thinkin'
He said, "You know somethin', Jack?
I'd rather be a puncher
than to drive a Cadillac."
Now Jack just couldn't let it lay
He had to call his hand--
Cause they'd been saddle partners
On more than this here brand.
"There's lots a things that I don't know
And that's a mortal fact...
But this I do, and that's that you--
Ain't drove no Cadillac."
"A lot you know," says Leroy--
"I'll tell you...lemme see?
It must of been in sixty--
We met in sixty three...
I was breakin' broncs near Sheffield--
You know? Fort Stockton way?
I had this distant cousin
From Californiay.
He wuz comin' back from Houston
And stopped off at the ranch
To get to meet some kinfolks
As yet an unknown branch.
And fine!?! by gosh! that Coup de Ville
Was somethin' to behold!
Them leather seats a purty red
The wire spoked wheels wuz gold!
He thought I'd like to try her out--
Now, you know I cain't drive,
But me turn down a chance like that?
I couldn't!!! Man alive!
I wuz livin' out Old Ninety--
When it wuz two lane still--
When all them truckers dropped a gear
To go down Sheffield Hill.
I did real good where it was straight
My heart with pride wuz filled--
I didn't even see the sign
That warned about the hill!
A gradual left, a sharper right--
And Goodness Sakes Alive!!!
That Caddie went from forty
To doing Ninety five!
Around and down, down and around
Old cousin havin' fits--
they say the wreck ain't near as bad
Dependin' what you hits.....
I leveled out a hundred per
Tore up a mile of fence--
Side swiped my boss just out of town
He thought I'd lost my sense...
The Cadillac, the worse for wear
And cousin headed west...
If he had folks he hadn't met
He thought it for the best.
To leave the case just as it wuz
And not to meet the rest."
Now, Jack just looked at Leroy
Then headed for the gate...
Said, "Time we got some shuteye--
The hour's gettin' late."
They started in the bunkhouse--
I still was in the yard...
When they gripped hands,
Jack said, "Goodnight,
I'm glad you're still my pard."

© 2001, John R. Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Cowboy Up

Out behind the buckin' chutes--
Strappin' spurs of scuffed-up boots...
I guess I got to give her one more try,
They'll put my bull in Number three--
That means two fools ahead of me--
I'll "Cowboy-up," it's either do or die!

I'll pry apart my ridin' glove--
And rosin that old rope I love...
And dig down in my bag to find my bell--
I did real well three years ago--
But miles and spills will make you slow...
This year I'm just not doin' very well.

But a cowboy's life's the life for me--
Ridin' hard and livin' free...
A lot of work, and just a bit of luck.
They call it "goin' down the road"--
You either ride, or you get throwed...
But either way you have to "Cowboy-up."

Yep, "Cowboy-up"! it has to be--
And travelin' is my destiny...
I wired my entry fees to old Cheyenne
I hope I draw real good up there--
But if I don't who really cares?
I'll give the wheel of life just one more spin.

© 2001, John R. Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Tomorrow I'll Be Home

I rode out to the mesa, just to take a look around,
And there a few miles South of here, I saw the lights of town...
Why, I remember, pilgrim, I guess 'twas sixty-eight--
Weren't no one for a hundred miles, but me, an' Pete, an' Kate.

'Paches caught old Pete alone, down near the Creosote well--
By looks of what was left of him, his death was purely Hell.
An' Kate, she bore me three strong boys, 'fore she give up the ghost--
Of all the things the years have took, I miss my family most.

Comanches scalped my Billy, he had just turned seventeen--
An' Bob? He met a faster gun, one night in Abilene.
They wrote and told of Johnny's death, and, oh, the grief I felt...
He died there on that San Juan Hill, with Teddy Roosevelt.

The years have left me old and gray, a little stooped and bowed--
I stood my ground when I was young, I'll not go crawlin' now...
They say they're gonna take my land, I have no title right--
I bled for every acre, and I'm game for one more fight!

Some slick big-city lawyers say they're bound to bring me down.
I'll take the vultures with me, 'fore they put me in the ground--
One time they called us pioneers, when we were in our primes--
But now we're "cattle barons" and we've far outlived our times.

They'll be here with the daylight, with a briefcase, badge, and gun...
I thought I'd make my peace tonight, I'm way too old to run-
So, Lord, I'm sayin' thank you for the years that I have known--
And won't you tell my loved ones that tomorrow I'll be home.

© 2001, John R. Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



He Finally Made It Home
  (Sequel to Tomorrow I'll Be Home)

The vagrant breeze does stir his hair--
That's now grown thin and gray.
Caressing lines which crease his face...
As though to wipe away...
The hardship, grief, and worry--
Which carved each crevice deep...
Why! He looks ten years younger--
As if he were asleep.

His mattress is the Texas clay--
For which he slaved for years.
His bedspread is the new spring grass
Oft watered by his tears.
And on his feet, his Justin boots--
They used to be his pride...
It's only fitting, I suppose--
He wore them when he died.

And in his hand? Case-hardened steel--
He wore upon his hip...
He kept it rolled up in a trunk--
Until this final trip.
Concession to his loving wife...
Who'd proceeded him in death--
"Please, promise, Jack?" she whispered-
That was her final breath.

Last night up on the mesa--
As he stood beside the graves...
Of all but one of those he loved,
He lay beyond the waves...
He'd looked back down the trail of years,
As he had tamed the land.
With brute hard work, he'd claimed the place
And built a mighty brand.

He'd faced Indians, and rustlers--
And killers in the street...
He'd never bowed, nor was he cowed
Each challenge he did meet.
Till the crooked politicians--
Up in Austin, took a hand...
And with ink pens, and with law books
They finally took his land.

He met them at the main gate...
He said, "That's far enough--
There's not a man with sand to stand--
I've come to call your bluff."
Five rifles at one hundred yards--
Against one forty-four...
The rifles spoke, the silence broke...
Jack Ballard was no more.

It almost seems an eerie hush
Has fallen... sweet, serene--
His lips look like they're smiling...
As if somehow he's seen--
A light in ranch house window--
After riding long, alone...
Though to us hid, I believe he did--
He finally made it home.

© 2001, John R. Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



That's How I Want To Go

People often tell me-
There's an awful lot at stake.
For me to keep on taking,
All the chances that I take.

The say I'm getting older-
And slower when I ride-
I do not think they understand-
The way I feel inside.

If I can't give it all I have-
I will not ride at all...
They've all been telling me for years,
You're riding for a fall!

That may be true, I guess it is-
But there's one thing I know...
It's appointed for all men to die,
That's how I want to go.

I do not want to die in bed-
My body old and frail...
To be a burden on my kids-
Nor bore them with my tales.

I want to die as I have lived-
Footloose and fancy free...
Just roll me in a ditch somewhere-
And pile some dirt on me.

I think I'll keep on doing-
The one thing that I know...
If rodeo does kill me-
That's how I want to go.

© 2002, John Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.




When that foreman said he wouldn't buck,
I figured he should know...
Though he called cowboys, "buckaroos"--
And hailed from Idaho.

He said, "Rope, old Tex, that snip-nosed bay,
The pony's needin' rode."
I couldn't know the last five hands,
Who'd tried had gotten throwed.

I saddled up and cheeked the fool,
And found my leather chair.
That crazy bronc tried all he knew
To get me out of there.

He'd buck up hill, Then like as not,
Right off the other side.
That foreman laughed, and caterwauled--
And held his sides and cried.

He said, "Hey, Tex, he feels his oats--"
As he drug me 'neath an oak.
Then laughed, and said, "Where I come from,
We'd call that pony broke!"

The man who'd had the ranch was old,
He'd gotten sick, then died.
We were roping three years old,
To brand their wooly hides.

From can to can't we worked them cows,
A long, back-breaking day...
We'd brand 'em, swallow-fork their ears,
For very little pay.

But every time we'd gather cows-
My cows would get away...
All I could do, was try my best,
To ride that snip-nosed bay!

I have to say, that day I learned-
A Texan's sure to lose,
When the foreman that he's workin' for,
Calls cowboys, "buckaroos."

© 2003, John Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

We asked John how he came to write this poem and he told us: ...I was listening to a tape by Red Steagall and some of his stuff got me to thinking about an incident which occurred back in the spring of 1973 when I was doing day work in the Tehachapi, California area. An old rancher had died, and I got word at the feed store that they were gathering all the stock. So a friend of mine, Ken Bowen (if you looked up tenderfoot in the dictionary, Ken's name appeared beside it) and I hired out. The foreman was from Idaho, and made no secret of his low opinion of Texas in general, and Texas cowboys in particular. They gave me a dink that looked Morgan, had four white stocking feet, and a snip on his nose, and while they gathered cattle, I rodeoed. Some of those bulls would go nearly a thousand pounds, they hadn't been worked in about three years, and some of them had never seen a human being. I worked one day and drug up, because I knew me and old "Idaho" weren't going to "gee" and "haw," but it was the stuff of memories... 


Advice to Live By

I threw my riggin' in the truck,
Kicked the tire, and cussed my luck.
I hadn't made a dime in several days.
An old cowboy laughed at me,
And said, "Hey, kid! It's plain to see...
You haven't got  the grit to make it pay."

I clenched my fists, and turned on him-
He grinned, and said, "Hey listen, slim-
Why don't you take the fight out on the broncs?
Just suck it in, and cowboy up-
And you might have a change of luck...
And stay away from bars, and honky tonks".

"You have to make a choice, you see"?
He took a long hard look at me-
"You stack up right, to be a ridin' fool.
So dust your jeans, then get back on-
Enjoy youth before it's gone...
To play the game you have to know the rules".

He said, "You ride the ones you draw-
And don't turn out the worst outlaw.
Just take 'em as they come, and do your best.
Mark 'em out, and spur 'em hard-
No matter how you're stomped, or jarred...
'Cause that's the code we live by in the West".

That was thirty years ago,
Age and spills have made me slow...
I never even learned the old man's name.
But I learned the lesson well,
Rode my broncs, and truth to tell-
I'd advise these young cowpokes to do the same.

© 2004, John Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Ridin' for the Brand

I think of all the years,
And lonely miles which lie behind me.
A lot of brute-hard work, back when—
I was a younger man.

And how we would evaluate,
The man who worked beside me...
If he were just a hireling,
Or was riding for the brand.

We'd saddle long before the sun
Would top the east horizon...
And many times, well after dark,
We'd turn the ponies out.

Rain or shine, sleet or snow—
Work had a way of sizin'
And measurin' the man inside,
As well as that without.

If he would pull his share of work,
And never start complainin—
Breathe the trail dust of the drag,
And never cuss and moan.

His share of fencin', never shirk—
Nor balk when it was rainin'
He was the type of hand the boss,
Was likely to keep on.

That was the kind of man who made,
And shaped the place we live in.
Part and parcel with the place,
I call my native land.

If he could work from cain't to cain't—
And keep right on a givin'—
Friend, he was no hireling,
He was ridin' for the brand.

© 2004, John Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Comin' Out the Chutes

Sitting in a café, an old man said to me—
"I know you fer a cowboy that much is plain to see.
I bet you sure can fan a bronc, and ride a bad bull too.
You sure put me in mind of me, when I was young, like you."

I didn't give an invite, but he pulled up a chair—
And pulled an old, black Stetson off, revealing silver hair.
"I hail from up in Idaho. Not fur from Cor'd'lene— 
And asking for a bait of grub, shore goes agin the grain.

I used to ride the rough stock, and followed rodeo—
And made it to the Finals in '64, or so.
Age and breaks shore slowed me down, I fin'ly had to quit;
But lately I've give lots of thought to goin' back to it.

I think I've got a few more rides, perhaps one more go 'round,
I've know I'm old, I've got to try, before they put me down.
A few more miles I'd like to drive, fresh dirt beneath my boots,
I'd like to have a few more times, at comin' out the chutes."

I paid the tab, and left the tip; we walked across the floor—
I handed him a fifty, as we got to the door.
He grinned, and said, "I'm much obliged, I'll catch you in Cheyenne."
And climbed into his beat up truck, we never met again.

He more than paid the fifty back with his hard earned advice—
I know I've lived a fuller life, that's had a lot more spice.
A few more rides, a few more roads; new dirt beneath my boots—
Like him, I'd like a few more times, a'comin out the chutes.

© 2008, John Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

John told us: Basically, this poem came to me as I was reminiscing of advice that I had received from "older hands" back in my younger days. It does not represent a single occasion, but cumulative experiences, most of the advice I was given was good and I wish now that I had taken it.



Days of Working Cattle

"Powder River" working pens—

Rusty from disuse…

The squeeze chute’s sprung and open—

From years of hard abuse.


The branding oven’s rusted through,

The irons no longer there,

It’s heard it’s share of bawling cows—

The smell of burning hair.


The pasture fences all are gone—

The range been turned by plow.

The graze where I once rode and toiled,

All lies in peanuts now.


The cowboys all are growing old,

They’ve found some other trade,

But oft I sit and reminisce,

Here in the feeder’s shade.


I have to say I’m thankful,

For the memories of old…

The baking of the summer sun,

And riding in the cold.


The friendship of hard-working men,

Good horse-flesh ‘neath my saddle—

I would not sell my memories,

Of days of working cattle. 

© 2008, John R. Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


John told us, ""I was reading some cowboy poetry on the late Rod Nichols' poetry board, and one of the posts got me to thinking of a recent trip to the panhandle of Texas. I noticed what had at one time been a small cattle operation, the pens were in very poor shape, and the house had half fallen down. There was an old feeder not far off that had plowed and planted around. It reminded me of days long gone, and the poem was the result."




The prairie grass is short, and brown
The pastures, powder dry;
The stock looks like it’s losing weight—
A week short of July.

The April showers never came—
Nor thunderstorms in May,
“It’s likely to get purty dry”—
I heard one old rancher say.

Last year we got a foot of rain— 
An inch a month, broke down.
No wonder all the tanks are low,
And cracks form in the ground.

There hasn’t been a cloud in weeks— 
At least not from the west.
If there’s a hope for rain in June,
That direction is the best.

The unrelenting sun beats down,
The winds are from the south…
Until a real one comes along,
I’d sure call this a drouth.

“when it rains, it pours,” somebody said-
The same holds true with “dry”.
A man won’t likely clear a dime,
When he’s feedin’ in July.

The worse you need to cull your herd— 
The lower prices go…
You cain’t “give” a calf away,
Around San Angelo.

The grass is gone, the “pear” are scarce—
The “fifties” seen to that.
If there’s a thing the stock can eat,
I don’t know where it’s at.

The cattle business always was— 
A little “hand to mouth”
But it’s ‘financial suicide”
When the country’s in a drouth.

© 2008, John R.Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Things That I Have Learned

It’s been a lot of years now— 
Since last I punched a cow…
I have to think (for self esteem)
I still remember how.

I haven’t been astride a horse— 
In nigh as many years…
And I’ve almost forgot the sounds
Of buzzers and of cheers.

The man I shave each mornin’
Doesn’t look the way he did— 
My youthful pride and arrogance
The lines of age have hid…

I’ve learned “life ain’t all taking"— 
There’s more at stake than “me”— 
And bein’ broke and foot-loose,
Don’t equate with bein’ “free.”

I’ve learned “now” ain’t forever— 
Tomorrow’s gone too soon…
That a smart mouth isn’t “clever”
I was crazy as a loon…

I’ve outlived most my family…
I ain’t had many friends.
The road of life is shorter— 
And I wonder where it ends.

But I can take some solace— 
In the fact I made my way— 
And never asked for nothin’
But a chance to earn my pay.

And a place to spread my blankets— 
As I turned in for the night,
And for a man to mind his business
And to treat me half-way right.

Now I think of roads not taken— 
And the good advice I spurned…
So now I take my pen in hand— 
To write the things I’ve learned.

© 2008, John R. Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Don’t Ever Bare Your Heart

We would sit around the campfire—
Then we’d talk about our home…
About the youthful fun we’d had…
‘fore we began to roam.

We’d talk about the spreads we’d worked—
The men whom we’d called “Boss.”
The wrecks, near misses, things like that,
Our favorite saddle hoss.

We’d sing a song, or crack a joke—
Before we’d drift apar—-
We had just one unspoken rule—
“Don’t ever bare your heart!”

Don’t open up those heartaches—
Don’t talk about the dreams.
And he who laughs the hardest—
Is never like he seems…

We all have hidden things inside—
And things from which we run…
It may be things we didn’t do—
Or things we’ve said or done.

So pour some coffee, sit a spell—
But friend, before you start—
We have just one unspoken rule—
“Don’t ever bare your heart!”

© 2008, John R. Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

John told us, "I was thinking about life in a bunkhouse out in Arizona, when as a youngster I drifted, cowboyed, and saw a lot that I wouldn’t take money for. I remember the camaraderie of lonely men casually discussing life, and noticed how carefully the important, personal subjects were avoided. I am glad that I later married and settled down with my wife of thirty-six years, but I still think about it, and the lonely men I worked with."



A Cowboy's Life

Hear the clock alarming,
Two hours before the sun—
It’s said, and I believe it...
That our work is never done.

I drink my hot black coffee—
It’s too early yet to eat...
I have to catch the horses up
And trim old Blackie’s feet.

Walk out to the tack room
“Saddle house” it’s called—
Saddles on their “horses,”
And bridles on the wall....

I love the smell of leather
Sweat and saddle soap,
To feel a well oiled latigo—
A supple, cared-for rope.

There’s not a thing about this life
That isn’t great to me—
I like the wind upon my face—
I feel that I am free.

There’s not a cow that I can’t drive
Or horse that I can’t tame.
I am a cowboy, born and bred—
My only claim to fame.

Twelve to fourteen hours—
We slave out in the sun...
Popping brush and prickly pear
Each time one tries to run.

Head aches from the branding fire
The stench of hide and hair—
It’s not a thing you can describe
Unless a person’s there.

The work is hard and dirty—
The pay is poor at best....
If fame and fortune is your goal
You’ll never stand the test.

But if you have the wanderlust
Were born with itching feet—
A cowboy’s what you ought to be
The lifestyle can’t be beat…

© 2010, John R. Yaws, all rights reserved
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

John told us about the poem's inspiration: "A couple of months ago it was 'Trail Ride' time down here in East Texas. As I poked along behind one of the Trail Rides in my pickup and started mentally evaluating the cowboys and cowgirls along the road, it took me back to my working days and I had to smile and shake my head as I wondered how this crew would have shaped up in the setting of 'cain’t to cain’ts,' eating dust and manure, and the smell of burning hair and horn from branding fires and cauterizing irons. It was just another little spell of reminiscing."


Read John R. Yaws'

A Cowboy Christmas Eve in our 2007 Christmas Art Spur



About John Yaws:

Back in the early seventies and into the early eighties, I cowboyed in California, Arizona, and Texas. My love has always been for the Southwest. Much of my poetry is based on personal experience (with a liberal dab of poetic license thrown in) and experiences of friends, and bunkhouse tales I heard. Louis L'Amour was my favorite author, and like him, I want to be a good storyteller. I want my characters to live on in the minds of the readers long after they have forgotten the name of John Yaws. 'Nuff sed.  

We asked John why he writes cowboy poetry and he said: "I love the lifestyle, and believe that through poetry we can at least keep the ideal alive. While the cowboy may be declining in numbers, there are still a lot of the old boys that 'you can't see from the road' around. I write to keep my own memories fresh, and as a salute to them."

You can email John Yaws.



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