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We were pleased to have a regular column about classic cowboy poetry by BAR-D editor Margo Metegrano published in Cowboy Troubadour, a publication that is no longer being published.

 

Below:

May-June, 2007: Henry Herbert Knibbs

March-April, 2007: Bruce Kiskaddon

January-February, 2007: Curley Fletcher

Fall, 2006: S. Omar Barker

Summer, 2006: Charles "Badger" Clark, Jr. 

 

 

See our list of classic cowboy poetry and related features here.

 

 

Cowboy Troubadour has ceased publication.

 

  

 


May-June, 2007

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Though he never worked as a cowboy, Henry Herbert Knibbs' (1874-1945) writing earned the respect of cowboys, and that appreciation endures. His poems—admired for their tales, vivid imagery, and musicality of language—are widely recited today at cowboy poetry gatherings. Among the most-frequently heard poems are "Where the Ponies Come to Drink," "Boomer Johnson," "Shallows of the Ford," and "The Walking Man."

Knibbs experts Tom Sharpe and Ronna Lee write in their introduction to Cowboy Poetry:Classic Rhymes by Henry Herbert Knibbs, (Cowboy Miner, 1999), "Though he never earned a dime as a cowboy, Henry Herbert Knibbs was known for his writing of western stories, novels, screenplays and poems, with his forte being the poems.  A few of these poems were remembered by the working cowboys and passed in verse and song along the trails...Most of his writing fell through the cracks and disappeared until the recent resurrection of
cowboy poetry, when the search for something new, or old and forgotten rekindled the interest in Knibbs' work." Sharpe tells that Knibbs spent a good amount of time in the Southwest, absorbing the culture and language. He admired and studied the work of his friend, New Mexico cowboy, rancher, and respected writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes.

The Cowboy Miner volume is the only modern collection of Knibbs' work. During his lifetime, Knibbs' poems were published in a number of volumes, including Songs of the Outlands: Ballads of the Hoboes and Other Verse (1914); Riders of the Stars: A Book of Western Verse (1916); Songs of the Trail (1920); Saddle Songs and Other Verse (1922); and Songs of the Lost Frontier (1930). Knibbs also wrote thirteen novels and many short stories.

"Where the Ponies Come to Drink" is possibly his best known serious poem. It is heard on a number of excellent recordings, including Randy Rieman's Where the Ponies Come to Drink; Dick Morton's Cowboy Classics; the late Larry McWhorter's Open Gate; the late J. B. Allen's Classics; and on Smithsonian Folkways' Cowboy Poetry Classics, recited by Tom Sharpe. The poem was put to music by Ed Stabler and is on his Long Roads, Legends And Lies recording. It is also sung by Charlie Camden on his 'Fore the Comin' of the Wire CD.

In 1919, celebrated illustrator and writer Will James drew a piece titled "Where the Ponies Come to Drink," now held by the Montana State Library. Could James have been inspired by Knibbs' 1914 poem?  No information about the connection has come to light, but the fellow Canadians were contemporaries. Both were friends of Eugene Manlove Rhodes, whose official papers at New Mexico State University contain correspondence with both James and Knibbs.

You'll find more information about Henry Herbert Knibbs, along with many of his poems and a link to the James' illustration at CowboyPoetry.com.



Where the Ponies Come to Drink

    Up in Northern Arizona
       there's a Ranger-trail that passes
    Through a mesa, like a faëry lake
       with pines upon its brink,
    And across the trail a stream runs
       all but hidden in the grasses,
    Till it finds an emerald hollow
       where the ponies come to drink.

    Out they fling across the mesa,
       wind-blown manes and forelocks dancing,
    Blacks and sorrels, bays and pintos,
       wild as eagles, eyes agleam;
    From their hoofs the silver flashes,
       burning beads and arrows glancing
    Through the bunch-grass and the gramma
       as they cross the little stream.

    Down they swing as if pretending,
       in their orderly disorder,
    That they stopped to hold a pow-wow,
       just to rally for the charge
    That will take them, close to sunset,
       twenty miles across the border;
    Then the leader sniffs and drinks
       with fore feet planted on the marge.

    One by one each head is lowered,
       till some yearling nips another,
    And the playful interruption
       starts an eddy in the band:
    Snorting, squealing, plunging, wheeling,
       round they circle in a smother
    Of the muddy spray, nor pause
       until they find the firmer land.

    My old cow-horse he runs with 'em:
       turned him loose for good last season;
    Eighteen years; hard work, his record,
       and he's earned his little rest;
    And he's taking it by playing,
       acting proud, and with good reason;
    Though he's starched a little forward,
       he can fan it with the best.

    Once I called him--almost caught him,
       when he heard my spur-chains jingle;
    Then he eyed me some reproachful,
       as if making up his mind:
    Seemed to say, "Well, if I have to—
       but you know I'm living single..."
    So I laughed.
       In just a minute he was pretty hard to find.

    Some folks wouldn't understand it,—
       writing lines about a pony,—
    For a cow-horse is a cow-horse,—
       nothing else, most people think,—
    But for eighteen years your partner,
       wise and faithful, such a crony
    Seems worth watching for, a spell,
       down where the ponies come to drink.

    by Henry Herbert Knibbs, from Songs of the Outlands, 1914


There's more poetry and information about hundreds of classic and contemporary cowboy poets, Western musicians, and others at CowboyPoetry.com's BAR-D Ranch.  It's an on-going gathering, with continuous news, features, event calendars, gathering reports, the best in classic and contemporary cowboy poetry and Western music lyrics, and a free email newsletter. 

The 2007 edition of The BAR-D Roundup: Volume II CD includes poems recited by Badger Clark, Randy Rieman, Joel Nelson, J. B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, Buck Ramsey, Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks, Virginia Bennett, Elizabeth Ebert, Paul Zarzyski, Doris Daley, Yvonne Hollenbeck, DW Groethe, Pat Richardson, Jay Snider, Darrell Arnold, Smoke Wade, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, Peggy Godfrey, Ken Cook, Don Kennington, Kent Rollins,  Janice Gilbertson, Rod Nichols, Diane Tribitt, and Jim Thompson, with a PSA by Andy Nelson, the CD's co-producer. Learn more at www.CowboyPoetry.com/cd.htm.

CowboyPoetry.com is a project of the non-profit Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry. People like you make the site and other Center programs such as Cowboy Poetry Week and the Rural Library Project possible through their tax-deductible contributions.  Please join us and be a part of it all. Celebrate the West!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

a version of this column first appeared in Cowboy Troubadour, May/June, 2007

See our separate feature on Henry Herbert Knibbs here.

 


 

March-April, 2007

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

 

Works by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950) are the favorites of cowboys, top reciters, and cowboy poetry readers and audiences. Kiskaddon worked as a cowboy from the time he was 19 until a serious accident put an end to his riding about ten years later. When he turned to writing, he became known for his realistic works about cowboy and ranching life. Frank M. King, editor of The Western Livestock Journal, asserted that Kiskaddon was “the best cowboy poet who ever wrote a cowboy poem."

Among his most well known and often-recited poems are “When They’ve Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall,” “The Broncho Twister’s Prayer,” “That Little Blue Roan,” “The Time to Decide,” “An Old Western Town,” and “Alone.”

Kiskaddon wrote nearly 500 poems, and a new, limited-edition book edited by Bill Siems, Open Range; Collected Poems of Bruce Kiskaddonsurely the most important contemporary cowboy poetry book published in recent times—includes Kiskaddon’s entire poetic output. The collection follows Siem’s impressive 2004 book, Bruce Kiskaddon, Shorty’s Yarns, the first collection of Kiskaddon's short stories. For information about both books, contact Old Nighthawk Press, 2521 S. Hatch St., Spokane, WA 99203, www.OldNighthawkPress.com.

Kiskaddon poems were published frequently in periodicals from the 1930s through the 1950s, the most notable being The Western Livestock Journal and the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendars. He published four books: Rhymes of the Ranges, 1924; Just as Is, 1928; Western Poems, 1935; and Rhymes of the Ranges and other poems, 1947. All of those books are now rare, and when available, garner high prices.

Two contemporary collections, also both out of print, are valued by Kiskaddon fans: Rhymes of the Ranges; A New Collection of the Poems of Bruce Kiskaddon, edited by Hal Cannon in 1987, and published by Gibbs-Smith; and Cowboy Poetry: Classic Rhymes by Bruce Kiskaddon, edited by Mason and Janice Coggin, published by their Cowboy Miner Productions in 1998.

Starting in April, 2007, CowboyPoetry.com will have a special one-month silent auction of one of  the limited leather-bound editions of the new Siems book, along with signed editions of the other two contemporary collections. 

“When They’ve Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall,” performed  by master reciter Randy Rieman, is included on the 2007 edition of The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Two CD from CowboyPoetry.com.

See CowboyPoetry.com for more information, and for Kiskaddon features, including many poems by Bruce Kiskaddon. 

When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall

Though you're not exactly blue,
Yet you don't feel like you do
In the winter, or the long hot summer days.
For your feelin's and the weather
Seem to sort of go together,
And you're quiet in the dreamy autumn haze.
When the last big steer is goaded
Down the chute, and safely loaded;
And the summer crew has ceased to hit the ball;
When a fellow starts to draggin'
To the home ranch with  the wagon—
When they've finished shipping cattle in the fall.

Only two men left a standin'
On the job for winter brandin',
And your pardner, he's a loafing by your side.
With a bran-new saddle creakin',
But you never hear him speakin',
And you feel it's goin' to be a quiet ride.
But you savvy one another
For you know him like a brother—
He is friendly but he's quiet, that is all;
For he' thinkin' while he's draggin'
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they've finished shippin' cattle in the fall.

And the saddle hosses stringin'
At an easy walk a swingin'
In behind the old chuck wagon movin' slow.
They are weary gaunt and jaded
With the mud and brush they've waded,
And they settled down to business long ago.
Not a hoss is feelin' sporty,
Not a hoss is actin' snorty;
In the spring the brutes was full of buck and bawl;
But they 're gentle, when they're draggin'
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they've finished shippin' cattle in the fall.

And the cook leads the retreat
Perched high upon his wagon seat,
With his hat pulled 'way down furr'wd on his head.
Used to make that old team hustle,
Now he hardly moves a muscle,
And a feller might imagine he was dead,
'Cept his old cob pipe is smokin'
As he lets his team go pokin',
Hittin' all the humps and hollers in the road.
No, the cook has not been drinkin'—
He's just settin' there and thinkin'
'Bout the places and the people that he knowed
And you watch the dust a trailin'
And two little clouds a sailin',
And a big mirage like lakes and timber tall.
And you're lonesome when you're draggin'
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they've finished shippin' cattle in the fall.

When you make the camp that night,
Though the fire is burnin' bright,
Yet nobody seems to have a lot to say,
In the spring you sung and hollered,
Now you git your supper swallered
And you crawl into your blankets right away.
Then you watch the stars a shinin'
Up there in the soft blue linin'
And you sniff the frosty night air clear and cool.
You can hear the night hoss shiftin'
As your memory starts driftin'
To the little village where you went to school.
With its narrow gravel streets
And the kids you used to meet,
And the common where you used to play baseball.
Now you're far away and draggin'
To the home ranch with the wagon
For they've finished shippin' cattle in the fall.

And your school-boy sweetheart too,
With her eyes of honest blue—
Best performer in the old home talent show.
You were nothin' but a kid
But you liked her, sure you did—
Lord! And that was over thirty years ago.
Then your memory starts to roam
From Old Mexico to Nome.
From the Rio Grande to the Powder River,
Of the things you seen and done—
Some of them was lots of fun
And a lot of other things they make you shiver.
'Bout that boy by name of Reid
That was killed in a stampede—
'Twas away up north, you helped 'em dig his grave,
And your old friend Jim the boss
That got tangled with a hoss,
And the fellers couldn't reach in time to save.

You was there when Ed got his'n—
Boy that killed him's still in prison,
And old Lucky George, he's rich and livin' high.
Poor old Tom, he come off worst,
Got his leg broke, died of thirst
Lord but that must be an awful way to die.

Then them winters at the ranches,
And the old time country dances—
Everybody there was sociable and gay.
Used to lead 'em down the middle
Jest a prancin' to the fiddle—
Never thought of goin' home till the break of day.
No! there ain't no chance for sleepin',
For the memories come a creepin',
And sometimes you think you hear the voices call;
When a feller starts a draggin'
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they've finished shippin' cattle in the fall.

by Bruce Kiskaddon,  Rhymes of the Ranges, 1924 


There's more poetry and information about hundreds of classic and contemporary cowboy poets, Western musicians, and others at CowboyPoetry.com's BAR-D Ranch.  It's an on-going gathering, with continuous news, features, event calendars, gathering reports, the best in classic and contemporary cowboy poetry and Western music lyrics, and a free email newsletter. 

The 2007 edition of The BAR-D Roundup: Volume II CD includes poems recited by Badger Clark, Randy Rieman, Joel Nelson, J. B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, Buck Ramsey, Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks, Virginia Bennett, Elizabeth Ebert, Paul Zarzyski, Doris Daley, Yvonne Hollenbeck, DW Groethe, Pat Richardson, Jay Snider, Darrell Arnold, Smoke Wade, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, Peggy Godfrey, Ken Cook, Don Kennington, Kent Rollins,  Janice Gilbertson, Rod Nichols, Diane Tribitt, and Jim Thompson, with a PSA by Andy Nelson, the CD's co-producer. Learn more at www.CowboyPoetry.com/cd.htm.

CowboyPoetry.com is a project of the non-profit Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry. People like you make the site and other Center programs such as Cowboy Poetry Week and the Rural Library Project possible through their tax-deductible contributions.  Please join us and be a part of it all. Celebrate the West!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

a version of this column first appeared in Cowboy Troubadour, March/April, 2007

See our separate feature on Bruce Kiskaddon here.

 


January-February, 2007

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

 

"Curley" Fletcher was born in San Francisco in 1892 and grew up in Bishop, California. His many occupations included cowboy, poet, musician, rodeo promoter, publisher, prospector, and actor (he appeared as a rancher in the movie "Gunsmoke," in 1947).

Fletcher's best-known work, "The Strawberry Roan," became popular everywhere, from bunkhouses to Hollywood. The influential 1930s songwriters and radio personalities Fred Howard and Nat Vincent ("The Happy Chappies") reworked the lyrics and the song quickly became one of the most-often recorded cowboy songs.

Hollywood did not suit Fletcher. John I. White, in his book, "Git Along, Little Dogies..." wrote about him, "In Hollywood's world of make-believe, the cowboy poet was out of his element and often an unhappy man. One day when he was fed up with the film capitol and lawsuits, he wrote me a letter which concluded with these nostalgic lines: 'Hell, I was born and reared here in the West. My earliest  memory is of cowmen and cattle. I spent my best years as a cowboy of the old school...And I still look back to long days and nights in the saddle, at $30 a month, as the happiest of my existence.'"

Among Fletcher's other well-known songs and poems are "The Saddle Tramp,""The Pot Wrassler," "The Saga of Borax Bill," "Yavapai Pete," "Wild Buckeroo," and "The Ridge-Running Roan," a takeoff on "The Strawberry Roan."

Fletcher published "Rhymes of the Round-up" in 1917, a now-rare little booklet with nine poems. His 1932 "Ballads of the Badlands" was a songbook, and much of his poetry is collected in his 1931 book, "Songs of the Sage" (there was a "reprint edition" of that book in 1986, edited by Hal Cannon and published by Gibbs-Smith).

Fletcher died in 1954.  


The Strawberry Roan

  I wuz hangin' 'round town just uh spendin' muh time,
  I wuz out of a job an' not makin' uh dime,
  When uh feller steps up an' he sez,
  "I suppose you're a bronc ridin' guy from the looks uh yure clothes."

  "Well yuh guesses me right, I'm a good un I claim,
  Do yuh happen tuh have any bad uns tuh tame?"
  An' he sez he's got one, an' uh bad un tuh buck,
  An' fer throwin good riders he's had lots uh luck.

  An' he sez that this pony has never been rode,
  That the boys that gits on him is bound to git throwed,
  Well, I gits all excited an' asks what he pays
  Fer to ride that old pony uh couple uh days.

  Well, he offers uh ten-spot—Sez I, "I'm yure man,
  'Cause the bronc never lived that I couldn't fan
  That no hoss never lived, nor he never drew breath
  That I just couldn't ride till he starved plum tuh death.

  Now I don't like tuh brag but I got this tuh say,
  That I ain't been piled up fer uh many uh day;
  And sez he, "Git yure saddle an' I'll give yuh uh chance,"
  So I gits in his buck-board an' drifts tuh his ranch.

  There I stays until mornin' an' right after chuck
  Then I steps out tuh see if that outlaw kin buck,
  An' I spots the corral an' uh' standin' alone
  There I sees this caballo, uh strawberry roan.

  An his laigs is all spavined, he's got pigeon toes,
  He's got little pig-eyes and a big Roman nose.
  He's got little pin-ears an' they touch at the tip,
  An' a double-square iron it was stamped on his hip.

  He wuzs yew-necked an' old with uh long lower jaw,
  I kin see with one eye he's uh reg'lar outlaw,
  So I puts on muh spurs an' I'm sure feelin' fine
  An' I turns up muh hat an' I picks up muh twine.

  Now I throws the loop on him an' well I knows then
  That before he gits rode I will sure earn that ten;
  Then I gits my blinds on an' it sure wuz uh fight,
  an' a-next comes my saddle an I screws it down tight.

  Then I up an' piles on him an' raises the blind,
  I am right in his middle tuh see him unwind,
  An' I spots the corral an uh stand-in' alone
  There I seems tuh quit livin' down here on the ground.

  And he goes toward the east an' he goes toward the west,
  An' tuh stay in the middle I'm doin' my best;
  Now he's sure walkin' frog an' he heaves uh big sigh
  And he only lacks wings fer tuh be on the fly.

  Then he turns his old belly right up tuh the sun
  An' he sure is a sun fishin' son uv uh gun,
  He's the worst buckin' bronc that I've seen on the range,
  He kin turn on a nickle and give yuh some change.

  While he's buckin' he's squealin' he sounds like a shoat,
  An' I tells yuh that pony has sure got muh goat;
  An' I claim that, no foolin' that bronc could sure step,
  An' I'm still in the saddle uh buildin' up rep;

  Then he hits on all fours an' he suns up his side,
  I don't see how he keeps from a sheddin' his hide.
  An' I loses muh stirrups an' also muh hat
  An' I'm grabbing the leather ez blind ez a bat.

  With a phenomenal jump then he goes up on high,
  An' I'm settin on nuthin' way up in the sky,
  An' it's then I turns over an' I comes back tuh earth,
  An' I lights in the tuh cussin' the day of his birth.

  Then I knows that the hosses I ain't able tuh ride
  Is some uv 'em livin—they haven't all died;
  But I bets all muh money thar's no man alive
  That kin stay with that bronc when he makes that high dive.

  by Curley Fletcher, from "Ballads of the Badlands," where it is labeled "The Original Strawberry Roan."


There's more poetry and information about hundreds of other classic and contemporary Cowboy Poets and Western musicians at CowboyPoetry.com's BAR-D Ranch.  It's an on-going gathering, with continuous news, features, event calendars, the best in classic and contemporary Cowboy Poetry and Western Music lyrics, and a free email newsletter. 

The BAR-D Roundup is a new cowboy poetry compilation CD from CowboyPoetry.com, which includes selections by Buck Ramsey, Red Steagall, Virginia Bennett, Larry McWhorter, Chris Isaacs, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Pat Richardson, and 20 others.

CowboyPoetry.com is a project of the non-profit Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry. Your contributions are tax-deductible. We're supported by people like you.  Please join us!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

a version of this column first appeared in Cowboy Troubadour, January/February, 2007

See our separate feature on Curley Fletcher here.

 


Fall 2006

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

S. Omar Barker (1895-1985) wrote some of the most widely-recited cowboy poems, including “Jack Potter’s Courtin’,” “’Purt Near!’,” “A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer,” “Bruin Wooin’,” and “Tall Men Riding.”

 

Barker, as described in Cowboy Miner Productions’ collection of his work, “was born in the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico... a rancher, high school teacher, college professor, forest ranger, soldier, outdoorsman, and legislator... named after his father Squire L. Barker, but went by Omar, he often signed his books with his initials and trademark brand, ‘Lazy SOB.’"

 

But Barker, a prolific writer, was anything but “lazy.” He was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America (and twice the winner of their Spur Award) and was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum ’s Hall of Great Westerners, the first living author to receive that recognition.  His poems were frequently published by Western Horseman and appeared in many other publications. He published four collections of his hundreds of poems, edited many books, and wrote novels and non-fiction.

Most performing poets have some Barker poems in their reciting repertoires, and some of the best contemporary recordings include renditions by Randy Rieman, Waddie Mitchell, Paul Zarzyski, Andy Hedges, and Dick Morton.

"Purt Near!"

They called him "Purt Near Perkins,"
   for unless the booger lied,
He'd purt near done most everything
   that he had ever tried.
He'd purt near been a preacher
   and he'd purt near roped a bear;
He'd met up with Comanches once
   and purt near lost his hair.
He'd purt near wed an heiress
   who had money by the keg,
He'd purt near had the measles,
   and he'd purt near broke his leg.

He'd purt near been a trail boss,
   and accordin' to his claim,
He'd purt near shot Bill Hickock—
   which had purt near won  him fame!
He'd purt near rode some broncs
   upon which no one else had stuck
In fact he was the feller
   Who had purt near drowned the duck!

Now mostly all the cowboys
   On the Lazy S B spread,
They took his talkin' with a grin
   And let him fight his head.
But one named Tom Maginnis
   Sorter told it to him rough:
"You're ridin' with an outfit now
   Where 'purt near' ain't enough!
We tie our lasso ropes to the horn,
   An' what we ketch we hold,
And 'purt near' is one alibi
   We never do unfold!
In fact, right now
   I'll tell you that no word I ever hear
Sounds quite so plain damn useless
   As that little pair: 'purt near'!"

That's how ol' Tom Maginnis
   Laid it out upon the line,
And like a heap of preachin' talk,
   It sounded mighty fine.
But one day Tom Maginnis,
   While a-ridin' off alone,
He lamed his horse
   And had to ketch some neighbor nester's roan
To ride back to the ranch on.
   But somewhere along the way
A bunch of nesters held him up,
   And there was hell to pay!

Tom claimed he hadn't stole the horse—
   Just borrowed it to ride.
Them nesters hated cowboys,
   And they told him that he lied.
The cussed him for a horsethief
   And they'd caught him with the goods.
They set right out to hang him
   In a nearby patch of woods.
They had pore Tom surrounded,
   With their guns all fixed to shoot.
It looked like this pore cowboy
   Sure had heard his last owl hoot!

They tied a rope around his neck
   And throwed it o'er a limb
And Tom Maginnis purt near knowed
   This was the last of him.
Then suddenly a shot rang out
   From somewhere up the hill!
Them nesters dropped the rope an' ran,
   Like nesters sometimes will
When bullets start to whizzin'.
   Tom's heart lept up with hope
To see ol' Purt Near Perkins
   Ridin' towards him at a lope.

"Looks like I purt near
   Got here just in time," ol' Perkins said,
"To see them nesters hang you!"
   Tom's face got kinder red.
"You purt near did!" he purt near grinned.
  "They purt near had me strung!
You're lookin' at a cowboy
   That has pert near just been hung!
And also one that's changed his mind—
   For no word ever said,
Can sound as sweet as 'purt near',
   When a man's been purt near dead!"

         © S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction
            without explicit permission is prohibited.

 

 

Of further interest:

Cowboy Poetry, Classic Rhymes by S. Omar Barker (ISBN: 0966209192) with an introduction by Elmer Kelton, is an excellent collection of Barker’s best poems, available from the publisher, the respected Cowboy Miner Productions (www.CowboyMiner.com).
 
Find more information and more poetry by S. Omar Barker (including the true story behind “Jack Potter’s Courtin’”) here at CowboyPoetry.com.

There's more poetry and information about hundreds of other classic and contemporary Cowboy Poets and Western musicians at CowboyPoetry.com's BAR-D Ranch.  It's an on-going gathering, with continuous news, features, event calendars, the best in classic and contemporary Cowboy Poetry and Western Music lyrics, and a free email newsletter. 

The BAR-D Roundup is a new cowboy poetry compilation CD from CowboyPoetry.com, which includes selections by Buck Ramsey, Red Steagall, Virginia Bennett, Larry McWhorter, Chris Isaacs, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Pat Richardson, and 20 others.

CowboyPoetry.com is a project of the non-profit Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry. Your contributions are tax-deductible. We're supported by people like you.  Please join us!

                                                                                                                                                                                                             

a version of this column first appeared in Cowboy Troubadour, Fall, 2006

See our separate feature on S. Omar Barker here.

 


Summer 2006

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

 

Charles "Badger" Clark (1883-1957) wrote a number of poems that remain popular today,  including “A Cowboy’s Prayer,” “The Glory Trail (High-Chin Bob),” “A Bad Half Hour,” “The Legend of Boastful Bill,” and  “A Border Affair (Spanish is a Loving Tongue).”

Many of Clark ’s poems have been put to music. “A Border Affair (Spanish is a Loving Tongue)” has been recorded by such diverse artists as Bob Dylan, Emmy Lou Harris, and Michael Martin Murphey. Among the recent songs created from his poems are the romantic “To Her,” by Wylie Gustafson of Wylie & the Wild West; and “Ridin’,” “The Old Cow Man,” and “The Christmas Trail” by Don Edwards. Some of the highly-regarded reciters of his work include Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks of Utah, Randy Rieman of New Mexico, Linda Hasselstrom of South Dakota, and Dick Morton of Colorado and Arizona.

Badger Clark’s father was a Methodist minister in the Dakota Territory. Clark grew up in the Black Hills and after a year of college, he went to Cuba to work on an agricultural colonization project

Two years later he returned to South Dakota where he had a variety of jobs, including work as a newspaper reporter. When he developed the symptoms of tuberculosis--a disease that had claimed his mother and brother--he was advised to relocate to a warm, dry climate. That lead him to the Arizona Territory in 1906, where he was hired as a caretaker for the Cross I Quarter Circle Ranch. 

Clark spent four productive writing years there, and he began writing poetry, saying that prose was inadequate to express his experiences. Clark wrote his step-mother regularly. She submitted some of his poems to the Pacific Monthly, and they were immediately accepted, launching Clark ’s reputation and publishing career.

When the Arizona ranch was sold, Clark returned to South Dakota. He lived there the rest of his life, writing poetry, short stories, and essays, and giving lectures. His first collection of poetry, Sun and Saddle Leather, published in 1915, has never gone out of print. He was named South Dakota ’s Poet Laureate in 1936, a distinction he held until his death in 1957.

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 complete;
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.

 

Of further interest:

The Badger Clark Memorial Society (www.badgerclark.org); PO Box 351, Custer, SD 57730) has comprehensive information about Clark , and offers editions of his poetry, biographical books, and other materials. The Society uses proceeds from sales for the re-publication of Badger Clark's books and for maintenance of “The Badger Hole,” the cabin in Custer State Park where Clark lived and wrote for thirty years.

Arizona historian Greg Scott edited the outstanding book, Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark (ISBN 1-931725-09-8) in 2005, which includes all of Badger Clark's short stories; poetry, including more than two dozen previously unpublished or long out-of-print poems; essays; letters; and photos. The book is available from the publisher, the respected Cowboy Miner Productions ( www.CowboyMiner.com).

Hot Springs, South Dakota holds an annual Badger Clark Hometown Cowboy Poetry Gathering (www.hotsprings-sd.com) each September. 

Find more information and more poetry by Badger Clark at CowboyPoetry.com: www.CowboyPoetry.com/badger.htm


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a version of this column first appeared in Cowboy Troubadour, Summer, 2006

See our separate features on Badger Clark here.

 


 

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