Featured at the Bar-D Ranch

Elko, 2009, by Jeri L. Dobrowski

About Wallace McRae
Books and Video



About Wallace McRae

Wallace McRae is a third-generation rancher, with a 30,000 acre cow-calf ranch in Forsyth, Montana. He is has been a part of nearly every National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. He was the first cowboy poet to be awarded the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a recipient of the Montana Governor's Award for the Arts, and has served on the National Council of the Arts.


Things of Intrinsic Worth

Urban Daughter

Reprinted from Cowboy Curmudgeon (1992)
with permission from Gibbs Smith, Publisher:

Boot Shopping
Malcolm and the Stranglers

Things of Intrinsic Worth

Remember that sandrock on Emmells Crick
Where Dad carved his name in 'thirteen?
It's been blasted down into rubble
And interred by their dragline machine.
Where Fadhls lived, at the old Milar Place,
Where us kids stole melons at night?
They 'dozed it up in a funeral pyre
Then torched it. It's gone alright.
The "C" on the hill, and the water tanks
Are now classified, "reclaimed land."
They're thinking of building a golf course
Out there, so I understand.
The old Egan Homestead's an ash pond
That they say is eighty feet deep.
The branding corral at the Douglas Camp
Is underneath a spoil heap.
And across the crick is a tipple, now,
Where they load coal onto a train,
The Mae West Rock on Hay Coulee?
Just black and white snapshots remain.
There's a railroad loop and a coal storage shed
Where the bison kill site used to be.
The Guy Place is gone; Ambrose's too.
Beulah Farley's a ranch refugee.

But things are booming. We've got this new school
That's envied across the whole state.
When folks up and ask, "How's things goin' down there?"
I grin like a fool and say, "Great!"
Great God, how we're doin'! We're rollin'in dough,
As they tear and they ravage The Earth.
And nobody knows...or nobody cares...
About things of intrinsic worth.

1989, Wallace McRae, All rights reserved.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

June, 2013

photo 2013, Carly Calhoun; the imagemay not be reprinted or reposted without the photographer's permission.

Wallace McRae and his ranching son, Clint, give voice to an urgent message in an important and impressive documentary in the making. "Things of Intrinsic Worth" is described as "a feature-length documentary film about the future of energy development, democracy, and the American West."

The filmmakers comment, "Things of Intrinsic Worth follows the McRaes as they struggle to save their ranch and the Tongue River Valley amidst the encroaching forces of coal production. The McRae's ranch sits in the epicenter of a battle over the power of corporations, government's role in protecting citizens and the environment, and the future of the climate. The film weaves together a story that travels from the grasslands of Montana, to the Pacific Northwest, to energy hungry Asia..."

The film project, by Carly Calhoun and Sam Despeaux, is seeking funding. A community of interested people is helping to spread the word by sharing the link here to the film's Kickstarter campaign. See a generous clip from the film, which includes Wallace McRae's recitation of his poem, from which the film takes its name: www.kickstarter.com/projects/110834781/things-of-intrinsic-worth



Urban Daughter

She says:

"I miss the sound the gate makes in the heifer calving lot.
'Til I was grown and gone, I didn't know it made a noise.
I guess I never realized that horses smell so good. I suppose
I was distracted by dolls, play-clothes and toys.

"The currants and the wild plums have such sweet scents when they blossom.
There are no cottonwoods that rustle where we live.
In the mornings in Tacoma the two-year-olds don't summon
Babies with their bawling. Sometimes I think I'd give

"A month's good city wages just to wander once again
On the creek bank as I gather a wild rosebud bouquet
For the table, Did you know that each rose has five frail petals?
I forgot about the curlews until I heard one call today.

"Maggie saw some antelope. She looked at me and them and whined.
She's too old to chase them now, I would suppose.
She reminded me of Angela. Antelope were her downfall.
She just vanished. Disappeared. And no one really knows

"I guess, what happened to her. Or did you know and never tell?
My job is going great. We've lots of friends.
You wouldn't think I miss that butte. We've got Mount Rainier,
But here you have horizons; the sky here never ends.

"I should get Mom's recipes, although I seldom cook much now.
Oh, the seafood's great. We ought to barbeque
More often. We both drive so far to work that it's
Hard to do the things we really want to do.

"My old bed seems so small. Where's my high school letter jacket?
Our first just keeps expanding. We've opened the new branch.
I may get another raise!...Oh, God! I miss you guys,
I miss Montana. Most of all, I miss the ranch."

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

Wallace McRae comments on the poem:

Our ranching culture is noted for being "Hell on horses and women." Our sons are expected to take over the ranch, while our daughters are encouraged to get an education, marry a non-cowboy and get the hell away from the ranch. Our oldest daughter, Allison, did just that. While she was back for visits, I began really listening to her as she reviewed her life, past and present. She is the writer of this poem. I just put it in meter and rhyme.

"Urban Daughter" appeared on the back cover of the 2005 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering program. A recording of the poem from the 2007 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is included on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Three, courtesy of the Western Folklife Center.




"What does Reincarnation mean?"
A cowpoke asked his friend.
His pal replied, "It happens when
Yer life has reached its end.
They comb yer hair, and warsh yer neck,
And clean yer fingernails,
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life's travails."

"The box and you goes in a hole,
That's been dug into the ground.
Reincarnation starts in when
Yore planted 'neath a mound.
Them clods melt down, just like yer box,
And you who is inside.
And then yore just beginnin' on
Yer transformation ride."

"In a while, the grass'll grow
Upon yer rendered mound.
Till some day on yer moldered grave
A lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by
And graze upon this flower
That once wuz you, but now's become
Yer vegetative bower."

"The posy that the hoss done ate
Up, with his other feed,
Makes bone, and fat, and muscle
Essential to the steed,
But some is left that he can't use
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground
This thing, that once wuz you."

"Then say, by chance, I wanders by
And sees this upon the ground,
And I ponders, and I wonders at,
This object that I found.
I thinks of reincarnation,
Of life and death, and such,
And come away concludin': 'Slim,
You ain't changed, all that much.'"

Wallace McRae, reprinted from Cowboy Curmudgeon (1992) with permission from Gibbs Smith, Publisher 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Boot Shopping

It seemed to me a simple thing since my socks was showin' through:
Turn my old boots out to pasture, and buy a pair--brand new.
Well, they built this cowboy K-Mart outa town there in the Mall,
Where I parked my Studdybaker after shippin' drys this fall.
I found the store right easy 'thout gettin' tromped or gored,
And this clerk with a complexion like he'd growed up 'neath a board
Is a-lurkin'at the boot pile an' he asks me, "Help you, sir?"
Seems he knows that I'm a live one so I answers back, "Why sure."
I tole him that my Hyers, that I'd had for thirty year,
Prob'ly was made faulty. And that I seen him sneer,
As he eyeballs how I'm shod. Then he dimples me a smile,
Says, "I can put you in exotics of the very latest style."
I snorts at his "exotics," tells him, "I'm a Hereford man,
But style sounds right 'cause, sonny, I'm an all-time ranahan."
He starts in crackin' critter skins outa boxes that's absurd.
Why, one has prolapsed puckers like it come off'n a bird!
There's lizzards, snakes and horny toads, crocodiles and eels,
Alligators, sharks; I'm feelin' faint. I staggers and I reels.
I tells that sucker, "Whoa! Call off them varmits from yer swamp.
I ain't about to put no foot in things I'm scairt to stomp!"

If yer gettin' yerself reshod, well, pardner, here's a clue,
Avoid them scaly crawlers that'll strike 'r bite 'r chew.
Ask that boot clerk, "Do you carry and kangaroos or camels?
Or somethin' in warm-blooded? I'm partial t'wards them mammals!"

Wallace McRae, reprinted from Cowboy Curmudgeon (1992) with permission from Gibbs Smith, Publisher 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Malcolm and the Stranglers

I'm a fair, upstanding citizen,
   honest, trustingly true-blue,
But one time in my secret past,
   I joined a vigilante crew.

We had trailed a herd to Colstrip
  where the N. P. had a yard
And punched 'em into rail cars
  It was hot and we worked hard.
My mother and Aunt Alice
  had fixed a scrumptious lunch
That the hands dispatched with relish
  after loading up the bunch.
My dad (or Uncle Evan) said,
  "Boys, lead our horses home.
We're hot 'n tired 'n sweaty;
  our backsides crave the foam
Of Chevrolet car seats, besides
  we'd be plumb insane
Not to post the buyer's check
  for the steers there on the train."
So, Duke took the reins of Peanuts
  and I led my dad's horse, Star.
We all hit the road for home,
  it wasn't all that far.
So as we're trotting homeward,
  right down the country road,
A car with California license plates
  scatters gravel as it slowed
To a sliding stop amongst us
  and this family scrambles out.
They starts to snappin' pictures
  'n quizzin' Mac what we're about.
Though Malcolm's long suit's bull----
  (plus an artful type of braggin')
He deals 'em straight til they inquire
  on the empty mounts we're draggin'.
"We just caught and hung two rustlers,
  t'other side of that divide,
and we're fetchin' to their widows
  these two broncs they usta ride."
"You kids get in the car right now!"
  the woman volunteers.
"These men are killers!  Don't look at them!
  And cover up your ears!"
The man backs up a step or two,
  "Is that legal?" he inquires.
"Far as I know," Mac says, and grins.
  "That's what the law requires."
"Are you lawmen then?" the dude asks Mac,
  as his knees begin to rattle.
"We're vigilantes," Malcolm says,
  "'N them b------ds stole some cattle."
"Could I take some camera pictures
  Of those rustlers in their tree?"
"Hell, they won't care," says Malcolm  
  "and its sure Jake with me."

Next week, in rolls a deputy
  whose demeanor's sort of tense,
With a tale about two murders;
  says he's seekin' evidence.
Well, Malcolm, he confesses,
  concludin' California folks
Ain't got no sense of humor
  when it comes to cowboy jokes.
But somewhere out in California
  there's photographic dossiers
Of Malcom and us Stranglers
  in our vigilante days.

Wallace McRae, reprinted from Cowboy Curmudgeon (1992) with permission from Gibbs Smith, Publisher 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Books and Video

  Stick Horses and Other Stories of Ranch Life (2009) is available from Gibbs Smith, Amazon, and other booksellers.

  Cowboy Curmudgeon (1992) is available from Gibbs Smith, Amazon, and other booksellers. 

  Things of Intrinsic Worth (1989) is out of print, sometimes available from Amazon used book sources.

  It's Just Grass and Water (1986) is out of print, sometimes available from Amazon and other used book sources.

  Up North is Down the Crick (1985) is out of print, sometimes available from Amazon and other used book sources.

  Wallace McRae also has a video, Wally McRae Live (More or Less), recitations of the poems in "Cowboy Curmudgeon," recorded at his ranch. It is available from Last Chance Recordings and sometimes available from Amazon and other sources.



Additional Links

Wallace McRae's work is included in many anthologies and compilation recordings.

He recites his poem, "Things of Intrinsic Worth," at the Western Folkife Center web site.

He is a part of a 2006 audio, video, and print feature on the PBS Online NewsHour, which also includes a profile and his poem, "Maggie."

Wallace McRae is the subject of a YouTube video by Joel Vetch, in which he recites his poem, "Things of Intrinsic Worth."







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