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photo by Jerry Ellerman

 


About Linda Hasselstrom
Poetry
Books and Recordings
"Notes from a Western Life" blog
Contact Information

About Linda Hasselstrom:

I was born in Texas in 1943, moved to South Dakota in 1947, and lived there, with absences for college and other experiences, since. I began writing at nine years old, when I moved with my mother to my father’s ranch on the plains east of the Black Hills and got my first horse—there IS a connection between those two phrases. I’ve kept an almost-daily journal. Like most writers, I published a little as I worked for the degree that would give me "something to fall back on," as mother always said.

I graduated from the University of South Dakota with degrees in English and Journalism and worked a year on the night staff of the Sioux City Journal while finishing my senior year and one year of graduate courses. With my first husband, I moved to in Columbia, Missouri, where I taught Journalism at Christian (now Columbia) College, and received an M. A. in American Literature from the University of Missouri.

When I returned to South Dakota in 1971, I continued to write, as well as founding Sunday Clothes: A Magazine of the Fine Arts, with the help of grants from several agencies, including the South Dakota Arts Council. I also began operating Lame Johnny Press, an independent publishing house which published 23 books by Great Plains writers—but none I’d written. I derived great satisfaction and some financial support from the magazine and press, publishing the work of several hundred Great Plains writers and artists. 

continued...

Poetry

Keeping an Eye Out
Hands
Rancher Roulette

Priests of the Prairie
Death of the Last Cowhand

 

Keeping an Eye Out

      -for Hudson, who cowboyed for the Diamond A
        before going to work at the sale ring

The way we use ta break   HAWK!
ropin' horses was   PATOOEY!
if you wasn't too choosy
about the horse,    HAWK!
to saddle him up, git on, an   PATOOEY!
rope a steer.
About a thousand pound steer.
Tie the rope on the saddle horn   HAWK!
an then jump off.   SQUIRT!

The horse'd go one way
and the steer another.
Jerk that horse flat on his side.   HAWK!
About the second or third time   PATOOEY!
that horse got his feet
jerked out from under him
he started watchin the steer
the way he oughta. Yep.   HAWK!
When ya started workin' a horse
after that, he knew enough
to keep an eye out.   PATOOEY!

Pete Lemley, when he rode those
green broke horses,   HAWK!
he always carried a .45 strapped on his hip.
He didn't kill rattlesnakes
or coyotes.   SUCKUGGH--
Said he liked 'em cause they kinda   PATOOEY!
thinned out the hunters
that didn't keep an eye out.
Nope. Pete said he carried the .45
for one reason: the damn horse
might throw him an break his leg
down in the Badlands
and then run off.   SPIT!
He said he'd probably try crawlin' home,
but after two or three days
without water in the middle o' July,
he might decide it was his own fault
for not keepin' an eye out,
and he didn't wanta suffer any more.   PATOOEY!

© 2001, Linda M. Hasselstrom
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Published in Cowgirl Poetry: One Hundred Years of Ridin' and Rhymin'.  Ed. Virginia Bennett. Gibbs-Smith, 2001.


Hands

The words won't come right from my hands
in spring. The fields are full
of baby calves, tufts of hay, bawling cows.
My brain is full-but words won't come.
Sometimes when I'm in the truck,
leading heifers to spring grass, I find a stub
of pencil, tear a piece from a cake sack,
and make notes, listening to the curlews'
wolf whistle. A barb tore that knuckle,
when I shut a gate without my gloves. The blood
blister came when someone slammed a gate
on the branding table; I tore the fingernail
fixing a flat. The poems are in the scars,
and in what I will recall of all this, when
my hands are too battered to do it any more.

Instead of a pencil, my hands,
knotted like old wood, grip a pitchfork,
blister on the handles of a tiller. Slick
with milk and slobber, they hold a calf,
push the cow's teat into his mouth,
feel his sharp teeth cut my fingers-
another scar. My hands pour cake
for the yearlings, seed for the garden
to feed my family.

My hands become my husband's, weathering
into this job he chose by choosing me; my father's,
cracked and aged, still strong as when
he held me on my first horse. All night,
while the rest of my body sleeps, my hands
will weave some pattern I do not recognize:
waving to blackbirds and meadowlarks,
skinning a dead calf, picking hay seeds from my hair
and underwear, building fires. Deftly they butcher
a chicken with skill my brain does not recall.
Maybe they are no longer mine but grandmother's,
back from the grave with knowledge in their bones
and sinews, hands scarred as the earth they came from
and to which they have returned.

When my grandmother was dying, when
the body and brain were nearly still
for the first time in eighty years, she snatched
the tubes from her arms. At the end,
her hands wove the air, setting the table,
feeding farmhands, sewing patches. Her hands kept
weaving the air,
weaving the strands
she took with her
into the dark.

© 1985, Linda M. Hasselstrom
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Published in:

From Seedbed to Harvest: Vol. 1, American Farmer Series, 1985;
Prairie Winds, Vol. 6, #2, Issue 15, Fall 1986
Windbreak, 1987
Roadkill, 1987
As Far As I Can See, anthology, Windflower Press, 1989
Paperwork, anthology, Harbour Pub., PO Box 219, Madeira Park,
   BC, Canada, V0N 2H0, Summer, 1991
Dakota Bones: Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom, Spoon River
   Poetry Press, 1992
Cowboy Poetry Matters: From Abilene to the Mainstream, ed. by
   Robert McDowell. (Ashland OR: Story Line Press, 2000); p. 79-80.

 

 

Rancher Roulette

It's no trick to get killed ranching.
You might get a foot caught
in a stirrup when your horse bucks, get dragged
to death; that's what happened to my half brother.
He was riding that ridge to the south there;
his wife found him, after the storm.

Or tip the tractor over on a slope. Or forget
to turn off the power takeoff, and get your pants leg caught.
That happened to a neighbor, back in the forties.
By the time his kids saw the tractor circling,
he wasn't any bigger than a baseball.
Just wound him right around it.

Or you could get bit by a rattler, fixing fence.
I killed one with my shoe once, clean forgot
that left my foot sort of vulnerable.
Knew a fella ended up in a dam, drowned;
folks said he must have fell off his horse
and hit his head, but he was courting the daughter of a man
who didn't like him much.

A horse can kick you in the head;
you can get hit by a bull or stomped
by a cow that just calved. I got thrown from my horse
one time-well, more than that-but this one time
I was knocked out, and when I woke up
my head was between two rocks.
If I'd hit either one,
my head would have popped like a watermelon.

Knew a guy fell of the windmill once-
he was fixing it and the wind come up. Jammed his hips
up somewhere around his ears. I damn near drowned
trying to get a rope under a cow stuck in a mudhole.
She thrashed around and pushed me under.
I finally lassoed her head and drug her out that way.
She died anyway; broke her back.

Freezing to death would be easy. After I fell
in the creek chopping ice I damn near died
before I could get fifty feet to the pickup.
It makes a person wonder if there ain't some other way
to make a living. I heard the other day lightning
struck a fella's place on his fifty-fourth birthday,
killed fifty-four cows standing under a tree.

He said, "I hope I don't live to be a hundred;
I can't afford it."

© 1987, Linda M. Hasselstrom
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Published in:

Roadkill, 1987
Buckaroo: Visions & Voices of the American Cowboy, edited by 
   Hal Cannon & Thomas West; CD selection, Callaway BoundSound, 
   Simon & Schuster, 1993, p. 69.
Dakota Bones: Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom, Spoon River 
   Poetry Press, 1992
South Dakota Magazine, March/April 1996, Vol. 11, # 6, p. 46.
Graining the Mare: The Poetry of Ranch Women, ed. Teresa Jordan, 
   Gibbs Smith, 1994, pp. 68-69.

Read by Garrison Keillor on his public radio show, Minnesota Public 
   Radio, April 22, 1996

Priests of the Prairie

Whispering practical prayers for the dead,
the brotherhood meets in choir.
Girdled in righteousness, bony backs straight,
circling the funeral pyre.
Their dusty black tunics hang flat on their bones,
shoulder to shoulder they stand.
Tonsured heads wobble on scraggly necks
as they pray in the pastureland.
From out of the West, the priesthood has come,
cloaks shining black in the sun,
to gather around this altar of flesh
until their communion is done.
Their eyes see forever—and somewhat beyond;
eternity, and a square meal.
The Brothers of Buzzard are worshiping lunch,
devouring the finest of veal.

© 2004, Linda M. Hasselstrom
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Published in:

Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion, edited by Virginia Bennett; Gibbs-Smith, 2004

 

Death of the Last Cowhand
  For Hobie Morris, after all this time

I'm pretty sure Tom Blasingame
was dressed at sunrise that December morning
on the Texas plains. Sipped
his coffee hot while Eleanor made breakfast.
Finished off a second cup,
pecked her on the cheek and pulled his hat
down tight. He saddled up the colt,
a three-year-old, and raised a hand as he
rode off. Likely she was watching
from the kitchen window. He headed out
toward Palo Duro Canyon, thinking
how he'd stayed there at the Campbell Creek Camp
nine miles south all week when he
first married Eleanor. She settled down
in town until he got a house
fixed at the ranch.
                  He figured he could check
the windmill, teach the colt his manners.
Be sure that the sucker rod was holding firm.
The bay colt snorted once or twice,
crow-hopped and mouthed the bit, but nothing out
of line. The sun shone warm on Tom's
lean back but he stayed cagey, minding how
the colt's ears flickered back and forth.
He may have smiled a little, thinking back
to other horses, a lot of other nags.
At ninety-one, he couldn't count
them all but he'd been working on that ranch
nearly sixty years, breaking
horses, chasing cows, doing work
he loved. Hadn't left the place
since he came back from Arizona, nineteen
and thirty-four.
                 The JA hands
found him just past sunset, stretched out
on the prairie grass, boots on,
hat across his face. The horse stood guard.
Old Tom had not one scratch or bruise.
The hands who found him figured he'd be proud
he wasn't pitched. "Must have known
he was in trouble," said the cattle foreman.
One man headed back to take
the word to Eleanor while others brought
him in. I wonder if they did
it right, slung him over his own saddle
for his last trip home. Or went
and got a pickup. Later Eleanor told
a newsman she had never seen
a bunch of cowboys cry before. They all
sat with her on the porch recalling
Tom, and how he pulled his weight right up
until the end. Every one
agreed that Tom had won the hand, gone out
the way he wanted. A cowboy all
his life, Tom knew, they figured, when he saw
the Horseman coming, who he was.
He would have recognized the silhouette—
the hood he wears, no proper hat.
He'd see the great sharp scythe, and know the horse—
may have rode him years ago.
Know the bay colt couldn't run as fast.
Still, he took his time, dismounting
so he wouldn't scare the colt. Dropped
the reins in case the bay ran off.
He may have met the Horseman on his feet, or lay
down on the sod he never had
to plow. They couldn't tell. But either way,
Tom Blasingame has died the way
he lived and all of us have cause to miss him.

© 2000, Linda M. Hasselstrom
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Published in:

Bitter Creek Junction, High Plains Press, 2000

Western Folklife Center, 2-CD set to celebrate 25th Anniversary of National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, from 2005 performance. Royalties donated to Western Folklife Center. One-time use only of performance only.
 

Linda Hasselstrom told us about an experience she had after performing this poem at the Western Folklife Center's National Cowboy Poetry Gathering:

After I did that poem, when I was going into the Stockman's for breakfast the next morning, I met a man—Eddy Cole, who has a saddle shop in Amarillowho complimented me on the poem and then said he has Tom's chaps. When Tom came in to order new chaps, Eddy asked him what he was going to do with the old ones, and Tom said, "Throw em away I guess," so Eddy got them and they are hanging in his saddle shop.
 
He said Tom was not tallhe held his hand out at a height I'd say was 5 foot or less. He said, "Those Texas Rivers can come up fast, you know, and when most fellas came to the river and had to cross, they'd look both ways, roll a smoke, look both ways again, smoke some moreTom would ride up to the edge, look both ways, and ride across without hesitation."
 
[The story] illustrates one of my favorite things about the gathering: that when you write something down, that's not the end of the story. It can go on and on. I met Tom's daughter a few years ago, but didn't get her name and address. The gathering, or really perhaps cowboy poetry, specializes in true stories and therefore real people were involved and can turn up and talk about the story. Even if the stories aren't literally true, they adhere to truth enough to spark reminiscence.

I was so stunned when Tom's daughter spoke to me that I failed to get her address, but I'd love to hear from her and tell her thanks for listening to the poem.

Linda Hasselstrom's powerful recitation of the poem is on her CD, Bitter Creek Junction, and on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume 6. It is also included in her book, Bitter Creek Junction.
 

Tom Blasingame by JoNell Richardson, http://richardsonwatercolors.com
© JoNell Richardson, www.richardsonwatercolors.com;
reproduction without the artist's permission is  prohibited
Tom Blasingame

We are honored to have permission to share this painting of Tom Blasingame by Texas artist JoNell Richardson. Daughter of a cowboy, she told us that the husband of one of her painting students is named after Tom Blasingame. View the image here at her site, www.richardsonwatercolors.com.

JoNell Richardson's paintings are also shown at the CrippleTree Studio and Gallery in Argyle, Texas.

 

Books and Recordings

Read about Linda Hasselstrom's publications and recordings
at her Windbreak House web site, where you can order her books directly.

 

Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, 2011,  by Twyla M. Hansen and Linda M. Hasselstrom, The Backwaters Press

No Place Like Home, 2009, University of Nevada Press

  Crazy Woman Creek, co-editor, 2004, Mariner Books, division of Houghton Mifflin

lhbetbk.jpg (38058 bytes)  Between Grass and Sky: Where I Live and Work,2002, University of Nevada Press

  Woven on the Wind: Women Write About Friendship in the Sagebrush West co-editor, 2001, Houghton Mifflin

  Bitter Creek Junction, poetry collection, 2000, High Plains Press  (also available on audiotape)  Winner of the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Museum.

  Feels Like Far, 1999, The Lyons Press (softcover, 2001 by Mariner Books, division of Houghton Mifflin)

  Bison, Monarch of the Plains, co-author, 1998, Graphic Arts Center Publishing 

  Leaning into the Wind: Women Write from the Heart of the Westco-editor, 1997, Houghton Mifflin

  The Roadside History of South Dakota,1994, Mountain Press Publishing Co. 

  Dakota Bones, poetry collection, 1993, Spoon River Poetry Press, PO Box 6, Granite Falls, Minnesota 56241 (Includes the entire texts of Roadkill (1987) and Caught by One Wing (1984) along with new poems)

  Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land, 1991, Fulcrum, Inc.

  Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains, 1987, Barn Owl Books, PO Box 7727, Berkeley California 94707

Roadkill, poetry collection, 1987, Spoon River Poetry Press, PO Box 6, Granite Falls, Minnesota 56241 (included in the later Dakota Bones, 1993)

  Going Over East: Reflections of a Woman Rancher, 1987, Fulcrum, Inc. 

Caught by One Wing, poetry collection, 1984 (re-issued in paperback in 1990) Spoon River Poetry Press, PO Box 6, Granite Falls, Minnesota 56241 (included in the later Dakota Bones, 1993)

  Journal of a Mountain Man: James Clyman, 1984, Meredith and Win Blevins  (See more about the book and other Mountain Man/Rendezvous/Muzzle-Loading information, including photos, here, at Linda Hasselstrom's Windbreak House site.)


 

 

   

 

Read Linda Hasselstrom's 2012 article, "Cowboy Poetry in South Dakota"

and

her 2005 review of Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, edited by Greg Scott

and

her report on the first annual Badger Clark Memorial Society Western Prose and Poetry Writers Workshop, held in Custer, South Dakota, in September, 2006

 and

Linda has a fancy jacket she wears to events such as the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering; she has tied all kinds of western odds and ends into the fringe, including a cufflink from Wally McRae and, after the 2015 Gathering, his tooth (!). Linda has a blog about the jacket and separately, there's a brief video of Linda talking about the jacket, which lets you hear the jingle jangle.




 


Photo by Nancy Curtis

About Linda Hasselstrom (continued from above):

By 1984, the magazine had survived several serious financial crises, including my divorce from my first husband and remarriage, but was still not self-supporting. I received hundreds of submissions of work for both the magazine and press from all over the country, and had little time to write. During that year, I edited and published an anthology of South Dakota writers, with help from SDAC. I edited  Journal of a Mountain Man: James Clyman for Mountain Press of Missoula, MT, and my first book of poems, Caught By One Wing, was published by a San Francisco letterpress. At the end of that year, I received a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. This combination of events solidified my decision to suspend operation of the press to spend more time writing.

I learned a lot about regional literature while operating the press, and miss no opportunity to encourage teachers and the public to explore regional writing and art, and to appreciate our native cultures. I think contemporary regional literature can be a powerful tool for teachers and citizens, encouraging our children to appreciate their region, to remain there, and to value the Great Plains for its uniqueness--rather than turning it into an imitation metropolis.

I began writing Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains from the journals I have kept since I was nine years old. After rejections from 24 publishers it was published by a one-woman press in Berkeley, CA in early 1987. Reviewed widely and well, the book got notices in The New York Times Review of Books and Ms. magazine, and was accepted as the alternate selection by Doubleday book club. A book of essays, Going Over East: Reflections of a Woman Rancher, won the first American Writing Award by Fulcrum, Inc., including publication in hardbound in September, 1987. Roadkill, poems primarily about my rural experiences, was published in 1987 by Spoon River Poetry Press, and sold so well that Spoon River reprinted my first book of poetry, Caught by One Wing in 1990.

The ranch where I lived and worked cattle provided a large part of my financial support, but demanded year-round work. I began doing fewer workshops and less teaching and cut back on active participation in environmental and social organizations in order to have more time to write; I was more effective as an environmentalist by writing instead of lobbying.

A journal of my activities during the spring following the death of my second husband, George R. Snell, was featured in the July 1989 issue of LIFE magazine, with photos by Jeff Jacobson, a nationally-known photographer. I was named South Dakota's Author of the Year by the Hall of Fame in 1989; that year I received the Governor's Award for Distinction in Creative Achievement, and used the award ceremony in the capitol rotunda as an opportunity to call upon the governor and other elected officials to preserve South Dakota's natural resources.

In late 1991, Fulcrum published my second collection of essays on the environment, with poems, titled Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land. Dakota Bones, a collection of poems including my first two books plus about thirty new verses, appeared in 1993 from Spoon River and The Roadside History of South Dakota was published in 1994 by Mountain Press.

Encouraged by the acceptance of work I had feared might never be published, or find a wider readership, I began studying and writing about rural and ecological problems from my own experiences in the Great Plains. As my knowledge expanded, I encouraged ranchers and farmers in better practices to help keep more rural people employed in agriculture. I wanted to help inform the American public about the ruinous costs to all of us of the kind of development we've seen in agriculture over the last fifty years.

This writing, I believe, is as closely connected to more "artistic" writing--fiction and poetry--on environmental problems, giving me an opportunity to use my ranching background in educating others about important problems. I see the plains as the final frontier, and in danger of utter destruction if it serves more populous areas only as an energy reservoir, source of labor, and waste repository.

I believe one's work should complement the rest of one's life, and blend smoothly into a whole that keeps the physical body healthy while also working the mind.

I work to bring my life into a circle: writing things I can respect, publishing work I respect, laboring at riding, branding, gardening, taking care of the land, and doing it all with an awareness of how those things fit together. More and more, as I grow older, I feel that it is important to keep my roots in this arid soil, to learn from it all I can, in order to continue to grow as a writer and as a human being.

A new collection of my sixteen connected true stories about losing, and regaining, the family ranch, Feels Like Far, was published by The Lyons Press in 1999. High Plains Press published a Bitter Creek Junction, poems, in 2000.

In 1997, along with Gaydell Collier and Nancy Curtis, I edited the anthology Leaning into the Wind: Women Write from the Heart of the West. I also wrote the introduction. The nonfiction anthology was published by Houghton Mifflin and reprinted three times in cloth before the paper edition appeared in May, 1998. The three editors’ second anthology, Woven on the Wind: Women Write About Friendship in the Sagebrush West, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2001. A third anthology, Crazy Woman Creek, featuring more than 150 Western women writing about their place in Western communities, is scheduled for publication in 2004.

Rodney Nelson, writing in Dakota Arts Quarterly, once said, "She can deliver a calf and a poem on the same day--after mending a fence." I like that statement, and believe something similar could be said of many farm and ranch women, who choose to be where we are because we love the wide land, the independence, even the occasional harshness of the prairies.

In 1992, due to my father's illness, I was forced to leave the ranch, I moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming. My father died in August, 1992, and I spent four years untangling business affairs and arranging for my mother's care. My mother died in 2001.

I now own the ranch, but no cattle. The land is rented to a neighbor. This abrupt dislocation means I am no longer responsible for the day-to-day operation of the ranch. But I have a fresh prospect.

In 1996, I began operating my ranch home—now called Windbreak House—as a writing retreat and base for teaching women writers. Since I winter in Wyoming, commuting to the ranch to teach, I write from a changed perspective, but am still rooted in arid southwestern South Dakota.

In 2001, with the Great Plains Native Plant Society, I dedicated the Claude A. Barr Memorial Great Plains Garden. The garden will preserve white penstemon, red globe mallow, lanceleaf bluebells, golden pincushion cactus and dozens of other native plants on 350 acres of my ranch. By the end of 2002, the society hopes to survey and label many of the plants, install pathways, and open the site to the public.

Additional biographical information can be found in the following sources:

Contemporary Authors, Gale Research (835 Penobscot Building, 645 Griswold St., Detroit MI 48226-4094), Vol. 153, pp. 144-145, 1996.

American Nature Writers, editor John Elder; written by Kathleen Danker, Vol. 1, "Edward Abbey to John McPhee," pp. 337-348; Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997.

Dictionary of Midwestern Literature Volume 1: The Authors, ed. Philip A. Greasley, Indiana University Press, 2001.

Such News of the Land: U.S. Women Nature Writers, ed. Thomas S. Edwards and Elizabeth A. De Wolfe; University Press of New England (Hanover NH), 2001.

 


 

In 2012, we asked Linda Hasselstrom to tell us about her brand, which is a part of her scarf slide in the image above. She writes:

My father's brand, and his father's, was -99, which represented 1899, the year Charlie (originally Karl) Hasselstrom came to South Dakota and proved up on his homestead. He had worked for some time for a cousin in Iowa who paid his passage from Sweden, a common practice in those days.

Originally the brand was 99—but someone with a running iron turned it into an 88 so he got a steel bar and burned a very long bar in front of it to keep people from stealing the cattle.

So when I started thinking of a brand, I wanted something that spoke of this country. Some of the immigrants who came west with Hasselstroms had had a hat brand—a bar, half circle, bar.

I tried to register that with the brand board.

No, they said, it has to have two elements.

So I put the hat on a rail—and they still turned it down.

By that time it was branding season and I needed a brand. I said, "OK, assign me one."

And I got an H and an upside down heart.

What the heck do you call a brand like that?

I call it Heartbreak Hotel.

My partner, Jerry, had a silversmith in Cheyenne, Wyoming, make the brand for me as a scarf slide last Christmas, and bought me the spiffy red scarf to go with it.

Contact Information

P O Box 169; Hermosa SD 57744-0169
(605) 255-4064

 

See our feature about Linda Hasselstrom's Windbreak House writing retreats here.

On the web: www.windbreakhouse.com

 

www.cowboypoetry.com

 

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