Book and Recording
Contacting Ray Lashley
About Ray Lashley
I was born and raised on a farm in the Missouri Ozarks at a time and place where horses or mules were about the only source of power and transportation. We raised cattle and hogs and feed for them. There was an "Open Range Law" in effect so our cattle had a lot of room to roam and a lot of places to hide. Tending them took a lot of our time.
At about age 14 I was on a short (60 mile) trail drive when the only way to move stock was by train or trail drive. There were no trucks or stock trailers.
I always did like working with horses better than with other types of stock. That's probably why I've been raising horses since 1970.
My first job for pay was driving a four-horse team to a log wagon.
I joined the Navy at 18 and found out that a man could make a living without working as hard as the stockmen back home, so I learned to spell "injuneer" and they let me be one. But, as they say, you can't take the country out of the boy so I managed to stay in touch with some part of the stock world (mostly horses) while I pursued a career as a weapon testing engineer.
From 1969 to 1994 we owned and lived on a twenty three acre place near the east shore of the Great Salt Lake raising Appaloosa horses. (One of them ran no worse than second in eight out of nine races and won five of them.) After we sold out in '94 we traveled some, then, in early '95, moved lock, stock and horses onto the five acre place in Grand Junction, Colorado, where we live now.
I've been invited to perform in the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering every year since it started in 1985 until 1995.
Without repeating a poem I can recite from memory something over 3 hours of poetry -- mostly cowboy poems by old poets.
Ray Lashley told us that he didn't mention the economic conditions that prevailed as he was growing up because...
Anybody caught being as poor as we were then would be thrown in jail now for making the economy look bad!
I was eight or nine years old when I drove that four-up to that log wagon and I got a whole thirty-five cents a day for doing it. We were substantially behind the time curve in that part of the world. Tractors were almost unknown -- automobiles were rare enough that we stopped work long enough to marvel at them on the one or two times a week one chanced to go by. It was not at all uncommon in that time and place for an eight-year-old to handle a team and work in the fields and woods...I feel extremely lucky to have grown up when and where I did -- even feel a little sorry for those who did not grow up where they could roam, when time permitted, through endless miles of open, wild woods and hills where there were lots of clear fresh streams with water so clean we drank it. Hunting for the table has a whole different level of intensity than hunting just to have a reason/excuse to get "out there." And how many can say that they have seen wool that had been sheared, boiled, carded, and spun into thread knitted into clothes, all by the same hands?
Ray Lashley tells more about his life and experiences in a chapter-long interview by Carol Edison in the excellent recent book, Cowboy Poets and Cowboy Poetry edited by David Stanley and Elaine Thatcher. Ray says that meeting Carol Edison was "a bonus I got for reciting at the number one Elko Gathering. We've been friends ever since."
The Pony Express Trail
(Read A Ride with Chief Joseph on the official trail ride site.)
Ray Lashley on the Chief Joseph Trail Ride
The Pony Express Trail
There's a trail across the nation
wending west from old Saint Joe.
It's marked with sign posts of the memories
of a brave time long ago
When the ringing, ripping hoof beats
of fierce-hearted, half-wild steeds
Sang the counter-point and rhythm
to bold riders' fearless deeds.
The trail departs Missouri
'cross the prairie wide and flat
Swings northwest into Nebraska
and Fort Kearney on the Platte
Keeps the North Fork of that river
almost up to the Divide
Veering southwest at the South Pass
through Wyoming's countryside.
It runs down through Echo Canon
Snyder's Mill and Mountain Dell
Through the streets of Salt Lake City,
Travelers Rest and by Rockwell.
It spans the lonely salt flats
then to Nevada's cool Deep Creek
And on to Ruby Valley Station
past Lone Mountain's lofty peak.
Onward, westward, still she plunges
by Sand Springs and Fort Churchill.
Desert Wells and Carson City,
Yanks, Split Rock, and Placerville,
To its Sacramento end,
two thousand miles out form the start,
The Pony Express Trail was etched
across a grateful nation's heart.
The recruitment advertisement
For the men to ride this trail,
To ride hot-blooded, flying ponies
With mochilas full of mail,
Called for skinny, wiry fellows
to be younger than eighteen
Willing to risk death daily
and to keep their morals clean.
Only expert riders wanted
only experts need apply
For the ponies won't be house pets
and risks taken will be high.
Also in this famous message,
words of which you may have heard,
Tucked down there near the bottom
it just said "orphans preferred."
And the expert riders answered,
bold-eyed, wiry, brave young men
Some were in the lowly home-spuns
some in shirts of worn buckskin.
Many orphans were among them
but all knew the face of strife
And several of them had not seen
the first sixteen years of life.
One hundred two their total number
one hundred two were chosen then
To write a blazing page in history
such as won't be seen again.
They bore the mail across the nation
as had not before been done
On the fleet, hard-running ponies,
galloping from sun to sun.
Through bitter Rocky Mountain blizzards,
scorching summer heat and dust
Through howling wind and rainstorms,
they were faithful to their trust.
Nor could Sioux or Paiute warriors
raiding, killing, on the route
Long delay these daring horsemen,
make them quite or turnabout.
From the spring of eighteen-sixty
to the fall of sixty-one
Across prairies, over mountains
men and horses raced and won.
Less than two years was its lifetime
less than two years its duration
And in that crucial time it helped hold
the West Country to the nation.
Close your eyes and see the horsemen
ghostly riders from the past,
Tearing down the rocky trails
and raising dust and coming fast,
Sitting easy in the saddle,
leaning some into the wind,
Watchful eye out for the dangers
that could wait 'round any bend.
Listen now, and hear the hoof-beats
over time from long ago
Hear the raiders' rifles thunder
and the thump of the war bow.
Fainter now, and fading, fading,
goes that pair who packed the mail,
Racing on and on forever,
down the pony express trail.
© February 1993, Ray Lashley
Guess he ain't so much to talk about
Jest another bronky horse.
Kinda handsome, kinda ornery
And was always mine, o'course.
Was my best mare that dropped him
In the pasture near the trees
With his pretty, spotted Appy coat
And wobbly, shaky knees.
He didn't much like bein' broke.
Seemed to think it real unjust.
More than once he'd bog his head
And put a rider in the dust.
But finally, with his lessons learned
Was just plain fun to ride
He'd a quick and catty, easy walk
And mountain eatin' stride.
He never was no house pet,
Not a horse to give a kid
But he sorta drew me to him
With the screwy things he did.
Like, I'd be workin' in the pasture
Doin' any sort o' chore
And he'd come and hang around me
Always out of reach, for shore.
Toot never knew what "quit" was
All he knew was try and try.
You put him at your toughest job
He'd likely get it done or die.
There's that time down in that canyon
With the snow up to his hocks,
Upstream blocked by sandstone bluffs,
Downstream, deadfall and big rocks.
Only way back to the campsite
On that cold and stormy day
Was up snow-covered canyon walls
There was just no other way.
I put him at that canyon wall
And touched my steel to him
He plunged and clawed and fought his way
Up to'ard the canyon rim.
A quarter mile that took an hour
Ten yards from stop to stop.
Then finally, tremblin, sweatin, blowin
Triumphant, on the top.
There were other times and things
I won't try to get into
Things that bind man to his horse
In the special way they do.
But if you're going where goin's
Tougher than a boot
You'll need a horse like my old horse
That ornery appy, Toot.
I remember times I thumped ole toot
And cussed him out real good
For some ornery sorta thing he did
Or, not doin' what he should.
I'll not say I'm awful sorry
'Bout the things I said or did.
He mostly knew he had it comin
Like a misbehavin' kid.
You see, he got into some barb wire
Cut a coronet clear 'round
Acute infection did the rest
Now he's six feet underground.
There are times I really miss him
Then tears flow and burn like fire
"Toot, you stupid b***ard,
Why'd you get in that damn wire?
© May 1988, Ray Lashley
Ray told us that this poem "...is about a horse I raised and lost to barbed wire when we lived over in Utah. I can't really say he was the best horse I ever owned, but he was tough and strong and I liked him and he liked me. I believe he would have tried to climb a tree if I'd asked him, but well after he was supposed to be broke he dumped people who tried to force him into doing something he just didn't much want to do.
"Tears come now as I remember the day I recognized he must be put down. While I was back east for a few days he got into a barbed wire gate that had been thrown onto the ground rather than being stood up along the fence and out of the way. The wire cut from just about the fetlock joint, down around the pastern and coronet band removing most of the skin. My good friend and neighbor, Ken Hammon, put him in a run on his place where he had shade, water and plenty of feed and had his vet tend to him. When I got home a couple of days later and went into the run, the infection was an ugly mess and he could barely stand to touch the ground with the hoof. There was no way to save either the hoof or the horse. Only one way to relieve his suffering. With the decision made, I had stood up and turned to go when I heard the three-legged shuffling behind me and then the low, low muted, short nicker. I stopped, not turning -- and there was his head bearing just a little weight on my right shoulder, his cheek pressing lightly on mine.
"Ken saw me hanging on to Ole Toot's neck, weeping. He came into the run and in a little while led me out, still trying to reassure me that there might be something to be done. But, of course, we both knew what had to be done. That night he put Ole Toot down for me."
Recording and Book
Western Poems is a compilation of Ray Lashley's previous audio tapes. Long recognized as a top reciter, this selection of mostly classic poems and some of his own works shows the depth and breadth of his talents and taste. Poems include:
"The Ballad of William Sycamore," by Stephen Vincent Benet
"Lasca," by Frank Desprez
"The Strawberry Roan," by Curley Fletcher
"The Droving Days," by Banjo Paterson
"The Spell of the Yukon," by Robert Service
"The Sierry Petes," by Gail Gardner
"Boomer Johnson," by Henry Herber Knibbs
"After the Roundup (When the Work's All Done This Fall)," by D. J. O' Malley
and many others, including his own "Toot," "A Ride with Chief Joseph," and "Flight from Powder River."
Western Poems is available for $16.50 postpaid from Ray Lashley, 2874 C 1/2 Road, Grand Junction, CO 81501
Ray told us that he decided to write the booklet Write Cowboy Poetry "after seeing and hearing what I think of as pretty easily helped but still commonly used distraction in the writing of Cowboy Poetry. It seems to me that there are a lot of things that we all know but have just never had an occasion to think about directly very much. They are things that, when they come up in a conversation, they sound familiar. If asked, we're apt to say, "Oh yeah, I know that," but on second thought, we realize we have never thought much about it. I think that writing should have a beginning, a middle and an end, like maintaining continuity and other things brought out in the booklet are probably of that nature. My intention in offering the booklet is to remind folks of things they already know."
Waddie Mitchell has said "I'm often asked by aspiring poets how I go about writing a cowboy poem...Now all I will have to say is, "Get a copy of Write Cowboy Poetry by Ray Lashley. It's easy to read and understand and just happens to explain how I write."
Write Cowboy Poetry, with illustrations by Ray Lashley and Laura Jane Herbert, is available for $7 postpaid from Ray Lashley, 2874 C 1/2 Road, Grand Junction, CO 81501
You can also read Ray Lashley's article "Preserving Cowboy Poetry" right here, in our feature about What is Cowboy Poetry.
Contacting Ray Lashley:
photo by Teddie Daley
Ray Lashley at Elko 2002
2874 C 1/2 Road
Grand Junction, CO 81501
Click here for a look at another way Ray Lashley spends his time (and uses his engineering training).
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