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

Mt. Vernon, Washington
About Joyce Johnson


One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for her poem, Coming of Age



About Joyce Johnson:

I was raised on a farm in North Dakota and knew no other life until I married and moved to the big city of Detroit in 1941 just six months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  I had no idea where that was but like for so many others, it was to be an important part of my life.  We moved to the state of Washington in 1943 just two weeks before the birth of my first child and only son. I raised three children and am now a widow and a great, great grandma to be.  I started writing poetry when I lost my son in 1999, to record memories important to me.  Most of my poetry is based on fact and I have received much pleasure from my writings. My cowboy poetry is made up of recollections from my early years.


We asked Joyce why she writes Cowboy Poetry and she told us:

I write Cowboy Poetry because its simple style comes easily to me and my childhood rural heritage was closely linked to horses and cows and the hard life of the cowboy.

Cowboy poetry is as unpretentious, simple and honest as my background.  No one after reading a good cowboy poem will have to ask, "Now I wonder what the poet meant by that?"

I consider cowboy poetry an important link to our past.

You can email Joyce Johnson.


Coming of Age

My eldest brother, nine years old,
Thought he could break a horse.
Our mother strictly forbade him;
A mother's right of course.
Her young son mustered all his wiles,
Hoping he could sway her;
Unwilling to be defeated,
Vowed to disobey her.

He gathered a rope and bridle,
Went to the big corral.
He was there to break a wild colt,
With brothers there to yell.
My youngest brother, four years old,
Yelled,  "I'll tell Ma on you,
Unless you take me up there
And give me a ride too."

In his eagerness to hush him,
The young rider agreed
And lifted him to the bare back
Of that big, trembling steed.
Our father came in nick of time
To salvage little brother;
Then watched as his son rode that colt.
No one told our mother.

2003, Joyce Johnson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


We asked Joyce how she came to write this poem and she told us: The story of this poem "Coming of Age" was an oft repeated family tale. My oldest brother was driving a team and doing a man's job at 8 years of age, I am told.  I am sure he saw no reason why he could not take on the task of breaking a horse.  He had probably been tending to it since the day it was born.  These horses had been gentled by comradeship with my young brothers who loved them and perhaps it was not the tough task it sounds for the young boy who rode it for the first time. I have another story of this young fellow, which illustrates his resourcefulness and determination at an early age.  He was eight years old and attending a one-room country school. He had some sort of dispute with his teacher (some of these teachers were 8th grade graduates only, in these desperate early years.)  As he was unable to resolve the problem to his satisfaction, he marched over to his younger brother in the first grade aisle, bundled him into his coat and took him with him, hitched their horse to the buggy and drove several miles to another one-room school and enrolled both of them.  Then he went home and told our parents what he had done and somehow persuaded them to let him stay in the new school. I don't remember the young boy, he was ten years older
than I, but I knew well the gentle, strong willed man he became.

I have tried to keep these tales alive by writing them down, sometimes in the form of poetry.


The Novice

It's not so much the silver buckle,
Nor the honor of it all.
He wants proof his horse is worthy
Of that state-wide trailer haul.

Last night, while crossing the mountains,
There was quite a bit of snow.
With the trailer to maneuver
It had been a careful go.

His seasoned horse has stayed behind,
He hopes this one's a winner.
It's a contest for three year olds.
He feels like a beginner.

He sees the cow he wants to cut
And tells the little filly.
She misunderstands his signal,
The cows run willy-nilly.

Well, he really bombs in this class,
He won't recoup his money.
He gives the horse a gentle pat.
"We'll get the next one, Honey."

2002, Joyce Johnson 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Joyce says she wrote this poem "in honor of my son-in-law who is very much into cutting horses.  He spends almost every weekend in the summer time traveling to Eastern Washington for the classes. At this particular time he was entering his three year old in a futurity class.  As you see by my poem he didn't do so well in it, but it was a learning experience for her."

Of Cowboys and Indians

My confused, mortified mother
received this frantic call.
"Your boys are here buck naked,
completely in their all."
Mother had sent them out to play
quite properly attired.
How could she inform their father
on these sons he had sired?

Those active little ranch boys,
gone for a horseback ride,
because they were playing Indian
had cast their clothes aside.
With garments tied to the bridle,
their mounts had taken fright;
charging into the neighbor's yard
the lads dumped in their flight.

Standing there, those wretched boys
without a stitch to claim;
surprised neighbor and her daughters
all there to see their shame.

My mother hitched up the buggy
to go and fetch the two;
but to let them see her laughing
she knew would never do.
She kept her stern mother face on
and hauled her sons away;
making them stay inside the house
the rest of that long day.

My quartet of older brothers
and younger one made five.
Mom said the bearing was easy,
hard was keeping alive.
I don't know what she told Daddy,
I'm sure he'd much to say
to his two small and chastened sons
of their adventurous day.

2002, Joyce Johnson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Joyce tells us: I enjoy putting family stories into verse as a way of preserving them.  I had four older brothers and I have lots of stories of their exploits as youngsters on the North Dakota prairie.  


My little sister's only job
was herding the young cows
when they were turned on open range
as prairie law allows.
One day as she was lolling on
the bareback of her horse,
she fell and couldn't get back up.
She was too short of course.
My sis was only nine years old
and quite small for her age.
Having to walk a far piece home,
filled her with honest rage.

My brothers found a horse for sale,
half-pony, Sister's size.
They thought they'd buy if for her as
a nice birthday surprise.
The owner pulled no punches, said
the horse had thrown him twice.
My brothers bought him anyway,
a bargain at the price.
My brothers knew an ornery horse
was no kind of a joke;
but they had yet to see the mount
that just could not be broke.

They put the bit in Buster's mouth,
(that was his given name).
and all the time to put it in,
he stood there as if lame.
And then they tried the saddle, wow!
That horse just came alive.
He kicked and whirled and bucked and twirled.
Each brother took a dive.
They knew they had to tame him well
to be safe for little sister,
but every time they tried to ride
that bronc became a twister.

They put him in the big corral
as safest place to stay
to think about his orneriness
until another day.
About that time my sister came
and found him standing there,
a-munching hay and grinning too,
without a single care.
She knew at once he was for her
and climbed upon his back.
He kept on chewing, paid no heed
as if she were a sack.

My brothers stood with goggling eyes
a-gaping at the pair.
She dug in heels and Buster ran
and left them standing there.
From that day on my sister rode
her small horse everywhere.
She rode him slow, she rode him fast;
he didn't seem to care.
She had to ride him bareback, he
could not abide a saddle.
If he saw one coming towards him,
he'd quietly skedaddle.

When watching cows was boring, she
did headstands on his back.
He stood still so she wouldn't fall
and give her head a crack.
He bore her nonsense patiently
and wouldn't move a muscle,
but when the cows began to stray,
that little horse could hustle.
She took him to the county fair
and entered in the race.
No other horse of his small size
could match his winning pace.

They took the prize and Sister
was too modest to brag
to all the other riders who
had called her mount a nag.
It was haying time and Daddy
took on some extra hands.
With brawn, brains didn't matter much.
A rancher understands.
One new hand started boasting of
the broncos he had ridden.
Bragging 'round my brothers should
have been a thing forbidden.

It didn't take them long to brand
that young cowpoke a phony.
They hatched a plan to get him on
that little half/horse pony.
If a man bragged of horse savvy,
he'd better know his beans.
They'd all been breaking broncos since
before they hit their teens.
That evening when he brought the cows,
Buster was so mellow,
my brothers knew it was the time
to trick that boasting fellow.

They asked their prey if he would like
to ride the little horse
that seemed so very gentle and
he took the bait of course.
My sis got off and he got on
or such was his intention.
Buster remembered all the traits
those lads forgot to mention.
He gave one buck and that cowpoke
was hanging from his mane.
He almost had him shaken off
when he came down again.

Then  Buster noticed the barn door
was open just a skin.
He was wider than the opening
but still he wanted in.
He made a mad dash forward, just
a-heading for that crack.
He made it through, the buckaroo
was skinned right off his back.
The fellow was a sorry sight
a- lying in that muck.
He must of thought the world was done
or else lightning had struck.

Those rascals stood there laughing at
the gent so mortified.
then feeling sorry complimented
him for his fine ride.
My guilty brothers pitched in then,
helping to rub him down.
Cranked up the Ford and gave that
humbled man a ride to town.

2004, Joyce Johnson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Daddy didn't have much money
When he was starting out.
He raised young stock, he sold it
That's what ranchin's all about..

He was also raising sons it seems,
They'd had four in a row.
To keep stock and family prosperin'
Sure kept him on the go.

So when the cavalry announced
They needed mounts to ride,
My daddy had young horses
He could offer them with pride.

The army came, selected some
And hauled the bunch away.
My dad was pretty happy
For the money made that day.

But when he counted heads again
He felt a mite of shame.
One of the horses, "Teddy"
He'd let a young son claim.

Since son Charlie was only five,
Not old enough to ride,
Dad didn't know the wrong he'd done
Until the small boy cried.

My mama scolded, Charlie sobbed,
And both were mad at Dad.
He wished he'd thought before he sold
And made them feel so bad.

There was no bribe they offered him
The little boy would take.
They'd hear him crying in the night
As if his heart would break.

Now Daddy was a prayin' man
And not ashamed to pray
That God would help him make it up
To his small son some way.

My daddy was at his wit's end
When he received a call
Saying one horse would be returned.
He was a mite too small.

My daddy kept right on praying
On that long ride to town;
So hoping that it was "Teddy"
The army had turned down.

I just can see the grin he shared
With that small dappled gray.
Teddy was coming home again,
And he'd be home to stay.

This happened some before my time
So I can only guess
At the excitement in our home
And Charlie's happiness.

Charlie never owned another horse
His life was so entwined
With Teddy's, until he grew up
And left his horse behind.

Daddy vowed he'd care for Teddy
Until the day he died.
In a lifetime he could not forget
How his loved son had cried.

2004, Joyce Johnson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Joyce told us this happened during World War I and...:  I am in the process of writing memories for my family and this is one I wanted to preserve for them.  It seemed to be such a direct answer to my dad's prayer to make things up to his little son.  My dad raised four boys all older than me, their fifth child.  They were all horse lovers and when the foals were born they would take turns claiming them. Charlie favored Teddy over all of the others.  He lived to a ripe old age.  I even remember riding him once to help round up some cows and as he wasn't used to anyone but brother Charlie he didn't think much of my prowess as a rider.  He dumped me into a patch of thistles.  I was riding without a saddle and slid off pretty easily.

I wish I had a picture to go with this.  In those days there were not many made and of course Teddy and my dear dad and my brother are all gone.  But this is a story that was repeated to us many times, the miracle of Teddy's return from the Army.  My maiden name was Armey, so he came back from one army to another Armey.



Read Joyce Johnson's

Our Christmas Tree in our 2011 Christmas Art Spur


Moonlight Gathering in our 2010 Christmas Art Spur


Christmas Guests posted with other 2008 Christmas poems


A Cowboy's Christmas Eve in our 2007 Art Spur

Christmas Eve Ride posted with other 2007 Christmas poems


 Bringing Home Christmas in our 2006 Christmas Art Spur project


A Lonely Christmas posted with 2006 Christmas poems


Santa's Shadow in our 2005 Christmas Art Spur project


Santa Through the Years with 2005 Christmas poems


A Stormy Christmas Eve in our Art Spur project



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