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We offer the poems below for solemn occasions and tributes.

We welcome additional suggestions and links. Email us.

Below:

Classic Cowboy Poetry

Badger Clark
A Cowboy's Prayer

Arthur Chapman
Men in the Rough

Bruce Kiskaddon
The Bronco Twister's Prayer
Thinkin' it Over

Henry Herbert Knibbs
Make Me No Grave
The Lost Range

Anonymous
The Great Round-up

Sharlot Hall
Beyond the Range

Contemporary Cowboy Poetry

Dee Strickland Johnson
Morning in the High Hills

Rod Nichols
Headin' In

Jay Snider
Four Little Words

Carole Jarvis
for Dan Jarvis

Jay Jones
Cowboys Forever
Angels in the Moonlight

There are poems offered by other poets and other suggestions listed below.


 

A Cowboy's Prayer
(Written for Mother)

Oh Lord, I've never lived where churches
        grow.
    I love creation better as it stood
That day You finished it so long ago
    And looked upon Your work and called it
         good.
I know that others find You in the light
    That's sifted down through tinted window
        panes,
And yet I seem to feel You near tonight
    In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains.

I thank You, Lord, that I am placed so well,
    That You have made my freedom so com-
        plete;
That I'm no slave of whistle, clock or bell,
    Nor weak-eyed prisoner of wall and street.
Just let me live my life as I've begun
    And give me work that's open to the sky;
Make me a pardner of the wind and sun,
    And I won't ask a life that's soft or high.

Let me be easy on the man that's down;
    Let me be square and generous with all.
I'm careless sometimes, Lord, when I'm in
        town,
    But never let 'em say I'm mean or small!
Make me as big and open as the plains,
    As honest as the hawse between my knees,
Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains,
    Free as the hawk that circles down the
        breeze!

Forgive me, Lord, if sometimes I forget.
    You know about the reasons that are hid.
You understand the things that gall and fret;
    You know me better than my mother did.
Just keep an eye on all that's done and said
    And right me, sometimes, when I turn
        aside,
And guide me on the long, dim, trail ahead
    That stretches upward toward the Great
        Divide.

Badger Clark, from Sun and Saddle Leather, 1922
This poem is in the public domain and does not require permission for use


 

Men in the Rough

Men in the rough—on the trails all new-broken—
     Those are the friends we remember with tears;
Few are the words that such comrades have spoken

     Deeds are their tributes that last through the years.

Men in the rough
—sons of prairie and mountain
     Children of nature, warm-hearted, clear eyed;
Friendship with them is a never-sealed fountain;
     Strangers are they to the altars of pride.

Men in the rough
—curt of speech to their fellows
     Ready in everything, save to deceive;
Theirs are the friendships that time only mellows,
     And death cannot sever the bonds that they weave.

Arthur Chapman, from Out Where the West Begins, 1917
This poem is in the public domain and does not require permission for use


 

The Bronco Twister’s Prayer

It was a little grave yard
   on the rolling foot hill plains:
That was bleached by the sun in summer,
   swept by winter’s snows and rains;
There a little bunch of settlers
   gathered on an autumn day
‘Round a home made lumber coffin,
   with their last respects to pay.

Weary men that wrung their living
   from that hard and arid land,
And beside them stood their women;
   faded wives with toil worn hands.
But among us stood one figure
   that was wiry, straight and trim.
Every one among us know him.
   ‘Twas the broncho twister, Jim.

Just a bunch of hardened muscle
   tempered with a savage grit,
And he had the reputation
   of a man that never quit.
He had helped to build the coffin,
   he had helped to dig the grave;
And his instinct seemed to teach him
   how he really should behave.

Well, we didn’t have a preacher,
   and the crowd was mighty slim.
Just two women with weak voices
   sang an old time funeral hymn.
That was all we had for service.
   The old wife was sobbing there.
For her husband of a life time,
   laid away without prayer.

She looked at the broncho twister,
   then she walked right up to him.
Put one trembling arm around him and said,
   "Pray. Please won’t you Jim?"
You could see his figure straighten,
   and a look of quick surprise
Flashed across his swarthy features,
   and his hard dare devil eyes.

He could handle any broncho,
   and he never dodged a fight.
‘Twas the first time any body ever saw
   his face turn white.
But he took his big sombrero
   off his rough and shaggy head,
How I wish I could remember what
   that broncho peeler said.

No, he wasn’t educated.
   On the range his youth was spent.
But the maker of creation
   know exactly what he meant.
He looked over toward the mountains
   where the driftin’ shadows played.
Silence must have reined in heaven
   when they heard the way Jim prayed.

Years have passed since that small funeral
   in that lonely grave yard lot.
But it gave us all a memory, and a lot
   of food for thought.
As we stood beside the coffin,
   and the freshly broken sod,
With that reckless broncho breaker
   talkin’ heart to heart with God.

When the prayer at last was over,
   and the grave had all been filled,
On his rough, half broken pony,
   he rode off toward the hills.
Yes, we stood there in amazement
   as we watched him ride away,
For no words could ever thank him.
   There was nothing we could say.
Since we gathered in that grave yard,
   it’s been nearly fifty years.
With their joys and with their sorrows,
   with their hopes and with their fears.
But I hope when I have finished,
   and they lay me with the dead,
Some one says a prayer above me,
   like that broncho twister said.

Bruce Kiskaddon, Rhymes of the Ranges, 1924 
This poem is in the public domain and does not require permission for use

This poem was recited at Bruce Kiskaddon’s funeral.


 

Thinkin' it Over

It's odd but there is one thing most people like to do.
To spend a while beside the grave of some one that you knew.
You do it when you've time enough to make a quiet ride.
To see the fleecy clouds above and watch the shadows glide.

You think of things he did and said, and of the ways he had.
And now to think that he is dead. It makes you feel plum sad.
It brings the old days back again, you live them one by one.
You think of things that happened then, and what you should have done.

They say there'll be a Judgment Day when dead men rise again.
So I suppose he'll have to stay just where he is till then.
But then you reckon that the one who made the world knows best.
He takes them when their work is done and lets them have their rest.

And when at last our strength has failed we make our last long ride.
We leave this world and take the trail across the great divide.
So when it's time to make the change we'll go where they have gone.
We'll meet them on another range somewhere in the beyond.

Bruce Kiskaddon, Union Stockyards Calendar poem 
This poem is in the public domain and does not require permission for use


Make Me No Grave

Make me no grave within that quiet place
   Where friends shall sadly view the grassy mound,
Politely solemn for a little space,
   As though the spirit slept beneath the ground.

For me no sorrow, nor the hopeless tear;
   No chant, no prayer, no tender eulogy:
I may be laughing with the gods--while here
   You weep alone. Then make no grave for me

But lay me where the pines, austere and tall,
   Sing in the wind that sweeps across the West:
Where night, imperious, sets her coronal
   Of silver stars upon the mountain crest.

Where dawn, rejoicing, rises from the deep,
   And Life, rejoicing, rises with the dawn:
Mark not the spot upon the sunny steep,
   For with the morning light I shall be gone.

Far trails await me; valleys vast and still,
   Vistas undreamed of, canyon-guarded streams,
Lowland and range, fair meadow, flower-girt hill,
   Forests enchanted, filled with magic dreams.

And I shall find brave comrades on the way:
   None shall be lonely in adventuring,
For each a chosen task to round the day,
   New glories to amaze, new songs to sing.

Loud swells the wind along the mountain-side,
   High burns the sun, unfettered swings the sea,
Clear gleam the trails whereon the vanished ride,
   Life calls to life: then make no grave for me!

Henry Herbert Knibbs
, from Songs of the Trail, 1920
This poem is in the public domain and does not require permission for use


 

The Lost Range

Only a few of us understood his ways and his outfit queer,
His saddle horse and his pack-horse, as lean as a winter steer,
As he rode alone on the mesa, intent on his endless quest,
Old Tom Bright of the Pecos, a ghost of the vanished West.

His gaze was fixed on the spaces; he never had much to say
As he jogged from the Rio Grande to the pueblo of Santa Fè;
He favored the open country with its reaches clean and wide,
And called it his "sagebrush garden—the only place left to ride."

He scorned new methods and manners, and stock that was under fence,
He had seen the last of the open range, yet he kept up the old pretense;
Though age made his blue eyes water, his humor was always dry:
"Me, I'm huntin' the Lost Range, down yonder, against the sky."

That's what he'd say when we hailed him as we met him along the trail,
Out from the old pueblo, packing some rancher's mail,
In the heat of the upland summer, in the chill of the thin-spread snow...
Any of us would have staked him, but Tom would n't have it so.

He made you think of an eagle caged up for the folks to see,
Dreaming of crags and sunshine and glories that used to be:
Some folks said he was loco—too lazy to work for pay,
But we old-timers knew better, for Tom was n't built that way.

He'd work till he got a grub-stake; then drift, and he'd make his fire,
And camp on the open mesa, as far as he could from wire:
Tarp and sogun and skillet, saddle and rope and gun...
And that is the way they found him, asleep in the noonday sun.

They were running a line for fences, surveying to subdivide,
And open the land for the homesteads—"The only place left to ride."
But Tom he had beat them to it, he had crossed to The Other Side.

The coroner picked his jury—and a livery-horse apiece,
Not forgetting some shovel—and we rode to the Buckman lease,
Rolled Tom up in his slicker, and each of us said, "So-long."
Then somebody touched my elbow and asked for an old-time song.

Tom was n't strong for parsons—so we did n't observe the rules,
But four us sang, "Little Dogies," all cryin'—we gray-haired fools:
Wishing that Tom could hear it and know that we were standing by,
Wishing him luck on the Lost Range, down yonder, against the sky.

Henry Herbert Knibbs, from Saddle Songs and Other Verse, 1922
This poem is in the public domain and does not require permission for use


 The Great Round-up

When I think of the last great round-up,
On the eve of eternity's dawn,
I think of the past of the cowboys
Who have been with us here and are gone. 
And I wonder if any will greet me
On the sands of the evergreen shore
With a hearty, "God bless you, old fellow,"
That I've met with so often before.

I think of the big-hearted fellows
Who will divide with you, blanket and bread,
With a piece of stray beef well roasted,
And charge for it never a red.
I often look upward and wonder
If the green fields will seem half so fair,
If any the wrong trail have taken
And fail to "be in" over there.

For the trail that leads down to perdition
Is paved all the way with good deeds,
But in the great round-up of ages,
Dear boys, this won't answer your needs.
But the way to green pastures, though narrow,
Leads straight to the home in the sky,
And Jesus will give you the passports
To the land of the sweet by and by.

For the Saviour has taken the contract
To deliver all those who believe,
At the headquarters ranch of His Father,
In the great range where none can deceive.
The Inspector will stand at the gateway
And the herd, one by one, will go by,

The round-up by the angels in judgment
Must past 'neath His all-seeing eye.

No maverick or slick will be tallied
In the great book of life in his home,
For he knows all the brands and the earmarks
That down through the ages have come.
But along with the tailings and sleepers
The strays must turn from the gate;
No road brand to gain them admission,
But the awful sad cry of "too late."

Yet I trust, in the last great round-up,
When the rider shall cut the big herd,
That the cowboys shall be represented
In the earmark and brand of the Lord;
To be shipped to the bright mystic regions
Over there in green pastures to lie,
And led by the crystal still waters,
In that home of the sweet by and by.

From Jack Thorp's 1921 Songs of the Cowboys, where it includes this preface: I first heard this song sung by Sally White, at Toya, Texas in 1909, although a slightly different version was published in my first edition of "Songs of the Cowboys." See our feature about this book here.

 


Beyond the Range

(Jack Martin died at dawn on July 12, 1925. Sharlot Hall wrote in her diary: "Never say of me that I am dead. Say that I have gone on an eternal prospecting trip.")

Now, here I cache the useless pack
     I nevermore shall need;
And here I take the Longest Trail
     Wherever it may lead.
Beyond the Range—beyond the range
     Oh, strong and sure and free!
I quest for more than life has brought
     And more than eyes can see.

Oh, desert skies and desert stars
     And desert trails I knew;
Brown peaks that hold the dream of gold,
     I turn no more to you.
Oh, nevermore I turn to you
     At dawn or set of sun

For campfire's light, or nuggets bright
     The golden day is done.

Now, stake for me a last, last claim
     And lay them there to rest
The trailworn feet, the weary hands,
     The still heart in my breast.
Earth's last prospecting trip is done,
     But somewhere, strong and sure,
My spirit seeks the Mother-lode
     Whose treasure shall endure.

Out, out beyond the farthest star,
     Beyond the last lone peak;
More fair than desert-born mirage
     The Glory Land I seek.
No monuments are on the trail,
     The way is dim and strange

But light of God is on the land
     That lies Beyond the Range.

by Sharlot Hall, from Poems of a Ranch Woman, 1953



Photo © 2004, by Jeri L. Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights


 

Morning in the High Hills

In the quiet of the morning
     when the sky is clear and white
and dawn's soft hush has slipped
     across the solitude of night,
When the last pale star has fallen
     and the East’s a rosy glow,
          streaked with lavenders and orchids
               with a touch of indigo.

When the colors all are blending,
     there is no defining each,
And the sun peeps up appearing
Like some plump and pinkish peach,
There is nothing quite so moving,
     quite so silent, quite so strange
          as the Lord's most recent wonder—
               birth of morning on the range.

I can't quite seem to fathom—
     I can't help wondering why—
I was placed amongst such beauty,
     all this solitude and sky.
Now, I see you ride before me,
          as my feet trod earthly sod,
I watch you vanish in the sunrise.
          Go with God!

© 1993, Dee Strickland Johnson, revised 2007

      Dee Strickland Johnson gives permission for the use of this poem for a personal ceremony.
      Please give the author credit when reciting or printing this poem

 


Headin' In

Some fellers favor sunup
just before their day begins,
while others favor eve'nin
when their day is at an end.

But this old cowboy's dif'rent
it's the way I've always been,
cause the time that gets me smilin'
is the time for headin' in.

With a day of work behind me
and before the sunset ends,
it's a quiet and peaceful feelin'
on the trail while headin' in.

There's a breeze that often comes up
as a warm, southwestern wind,
and a glow across the prairie
as I'm slowly headin' in.

Above a hawk is wheelin'
swoopin' down then up again,
as if he wants one final look
'fore he too is headin' in. 

My saddle pal don't say much
but he tells me with a grin,
he feels about the same as me
with our ponies headin' in.

Someday this'll all be over
just the prairie, grass and wind,
I hope He'll let me pass this way
when it's time for headin' in.

© Rod Nichols, All rights reserved
The late Rod Nichols gave permission for the use of this poem for a personal ceremony.
Please give the author credit when reciting or printing this poem

This poem was excerpted for inclusion in Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's book, The Lazy B


 

Four Little Words

Four little words have stuck in my mind
From the time I was just a small child
“There’s a good feller” is what he would say
When he talked of the men he admired

I remember those men he talked about
Sure ‘nuff cowboys, tough, but kind
They said what they meant and meant what they said
These men are getting’ harder to find

“There’s a good feller,” meant he was true to his word
That’s all you expect of a man
You knew for sure he was proud to meet you
By the genuine shake of his hand

“There’s a good feller,” meant you could depend
On this man no matter the task
Never got too tough, too cold, or too late
For his help, all you need do is ask

“There’s a good feller,” meant he had a light hand
Be it with horses or cattle or crew
He spent most of his life learning this cowboy trade
And he’d be honored to teach it to you

“There’ a good feller” meant don’t ask him to do
What ain’t on a true and honest track
He knows it’s easier to keep a good reputation
Than it is to try to build one back

“There’s a good feller,” meant he’s a fair minded man
He helped write cowboyin’s unwritten laws
He won’t ask you to do what he wouldn’t do
Yet knows, at times, the short end you’ll draw

“There’s a good feller,” meant, when he’s down on his luck
He can still hold his head way up high
‘Cause he did his best and gave it his all
He knows with faith and God’s help he’ll get by

“There’s a good feller”, just four little words
And their meaning won’t run all that deep
But when Dad would use ‘em to describe certain men
You knew they were at the top of the heap

“There’s a good feller”, just four little words
But they’ve always been favorites of mine
If after my trails end, my name’s brought up
“There’s a good feller” would suit me just fine

©  Jay Snider, All rights reserved
Jay Snider gives permission for the use of this poem for a personal ceremony. You can email Jay.
Please give the author credit when reciting or printing this poem


 

Dan Jarvis—February 14, 1926 - March 22, 2010
For my husband, my best friend, my cowboy

It's not the end of the trail for me,
I'm just headin' out to the light I see.
Beyond those mountains there's a soft glow;
It's gettin' brighter the closer I go.
It's like the beginning of a new day,
And the trail I'm followin' leads the way.
I feel sure there's friends and family ahead,
And they've set up camp on a brand new spread.
Yes, I can hear the voices callin' my name,
sayin', "Welcome Dan, sure glad you came,
This new range is special, you'll like it here,
There's grass for your horses, the streams are clear,
The cattle are gentle and never stampede,
And in every direction there's plenty of feed.
If you're thinkin' it sounds too good to be true,
it's not'cause the Boss made a promise to you.
If you'd ride for his brand, be honest and square,
He'd relive all your pain, and remove every care.
He was mighty pleased with your life on earth,
That you did your best, and proved your worth.
So step off your horse, and tied on up,
Your friends are all waiting to pour you a cup.
We'll talk about old days, as time allows,
'cause startin' tomorrow you'll be workin' cows!"

© 2010, Carole Jarvis

Carole Jarvis gives permission for the use of this poem for a personal ceremony.
Please give the author credit when reciting or printing this poem

 


 

Cowboys Forever

They say the cowboys' time spanned some twenty years
And their day has long since passed
That barbed wire now rides night herd
And the roundups run on gas

We hear that horses now are bred to ride
Not needed to work cattle
That cowboy gear is just for show
Like a rattlesnake with its rattles

As the lonely howl of the timber wolf
Has been replaced by the coyote's song
The tough young men who trailed the herds
In today's world don't belong

But out there on the prairies
In the canyons and the draws
You'll see horsemen herding cattle
And hear the branded mavericks bawl

You'll see horses hot and lathered
And the cowboys rope and tie
See the cooky's fire start smoking
As the long day starts to die

Just the sight of young men riding
Brings back images from the past
While they yet ride these memories
Until the final day will last

And high up in the heavens
Riding trails that have no end
On mustangs made of rawhide
Chasing thunder on the wind

Ride the cowboys of the legends
We record in verse and song
May their ride go on forever
And may I someday ride along

© 2001, Jay Jones,  All rights reserved
Jay Jones gives permission for the use of this poem for a personal ceremony. You can email Jay.
Please give the author credit when reciting or printing this poem


 

Angels in the Moonlight 

He was my friend and he lay dying
All alone, just me and him
But I knew no one could help him now
Because life's thread was getting thin

I'd built a campfire out of deadwood
Wrapped him in his soogan tight
Watched the campfire challenge darkness
As the sunset welcomed night

I put the coffee on from habit
Though I knew he couldn't drink
I hoped the smell would comfort him
Maybe give me time to think

The trip was one of many made
For twenty years and more
Just two old friends that fished high lakes
And watched the eagles soar

I'll never know what spooked his horse
He was mountain bred and born
But something made him rear and fall
Pinned my pard beneath the horn

His lungs were crushed past talking
But his eyes were still alert
As I eased his saddle 'neath his head
He tried to hide his hurt

I masked the tears that stormed my eyes
There was no time to cry
Somehow I had to find the strength
To watch my best friend die

I told him I was helpless
I had done all I could do
But I would stay with him until the end
Then the hidden tears came through

His hand moved slowly over mine
Then he raised one finger high
His gaze seemed fixed beyond the stars
As he pointed to the sky

His lips were slowly moving
And though they uttered not a word
I sensed that he was talking
To some presence I'd not heard

"Is it God that you are talking to,"
I asked, to try to understand
His head moved slightly sideways
As did the pressure from his hand

I looked upward where he pointed
But at first saw not a thing
Then I seemed to sense and feel the beat
Of something nearing on the wing

As the full moon cleared the rugged peaks
A lone owl gave its mournful call
Dark shadows stirred of things unknown
And I watched in silent awe

I recalled a phrase from long ago
Or was it whispered from the skies
"To behold an Angel on the wing
You must use your heart for eyes"

There was magic in that moonlit glade
I lost my fear of my friend's death
A look of peace replaced the pain
As he drew his final breaths

"Is it Angels," I asked quietly
A final nod, then all alone
I watched Angels in the moonlight
As they flew my old friend home

© 2002, Jay Jones,  All rights reserved
Jay Jones gives permission for the use of this poem for a personal ceremony. You can email Jay.
Please give the author credit when reciting or printing this poem

Jay Jones wrote this poem with hopes that it would help those in grief. You can read more about it here.

 


Poets have offered these additional poems:

Tribute To A Cowboy by Diane Tribitt 

Ride With Him Again by Lincoln Rogers

Cowpoke's Funeral by Hal Swift

A visitor suggests Carol Tallman Jones' "Where Good Mounts and Cowboys Go"


Jeri Dobrowski suggests "I Know You'll Miss This Man" by Baxter Black (in his Cowful of Cowboy Poetry Book)


 

 

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