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TO BE A TOP HAND by Georgie Sicking (1921-2016)

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TO BE A TOP HAND
by Georgie Sicking (1921-2016)

When I was a kid and doing my best to
Learn the ways of our land,
I thought mistakes were never made by
A real top hand.

He never got into a storm with a horse
He always knew
How a horse would react in any case and
Just what to do.

He never let a cow outfigure him,
And never missed a loop.
He always kept cattle under control
Like in a chicken coop.

He was never in the right place at the wrong time,
Or in anybody’s way.
For working cattle he just naturally knew,
When to move and when to stay.

I just about broke my neck tryin’,
To be and to do,
All those things a good cowboy,
Just naturally knew.

One day while riding with a cowboy,
I knew was one of the best,
For he had worked in that country for a long time,
Had taken and passed the test.

I was telling of my troubles,
Some bad mistakes I made.
That my dreams of being a top cowboy,
Were startin’ to fade.

This cowboy looked at me and said,
With a sort of a smile,
A sorry hand is in the way all the time,
A good one just once in a while.

Since that day I’ve handled lots of cattle,
And ridden many a mile.
And I figure I’m doin’ my share if I get in the way,
Just every once in a while.

© Georgie Sicking, from Just More Thinking
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Much-loved cowboy and Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame inductee Georgie Sicking would have turned 96 this year. A great inspiration to many, she is dearly missed.

In the impressive book, Tough by Nature by Lynda Lanker, Georgie Sicking tells that she was the only woman who ever drew pay on Arizona’s Oro Ranch, where she worked during World War Two. She preferred to be called a “cowboy,” not “cowgirl.”

She is quoted in Tough by Nature, “Some people had the idea that all you had to do to be a cowgirl was put on a pretty dress and a pair of boots and a big hat and get a faraway look in your eyes…and you’re a cowgirl. They’ve been kind of hard to educate.”

Of Ridin’ & Rhymin’, the award-winning documentary about Georgie Sicking by Greg Snider and Dawn Smallman of Far Away Films (www.farawayfilm.com), Hal Cannon, Founding Director (retired) of the Western Folklife Center, comments, “Georgie Sicking is why ‘to cowboy’ is best used as a verb to explain a work, a life, and a big open land. This film captures her level gazed life in such a powerful way that it defines the American West.” See a clip here.

Find much more about Georgie Sicking and more of her poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photo of Georgie Sicking graces the cover of The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Five from CowboyPoetry.com. The circa 1940 photo was taken at a carnival on her first date with the man who became her husband (photo courtesy of Georgie Sicking and Dawn Smallman).

This is a scheduled post. We’re on a break until May 25.

MORNING ON THE DESERT by Katherine Fall Pettey (1874-1951)

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MORNING ON THE DESERT
by Katherine Fall Pettey (1874-1951)

Morning on the desert,
and the wind is blowin’ free,
And it’s ours jest for the breathin’,
so let’s fill up, you an’ me.
No more stuffy cities
where you have to pay to breathe—
Where the helpless, human creatures,
throng, and move, and strive and seethe.

Morning on the desert,
an’ the air is like a wine;
And it seems like all creation
has been made for me an’ mine.
No house to stop my vision
save a neighbor’s miles away,
An’ the little ‘dobe casa
that berlongs to me an’ May.

Lonesome? Not a minute:
Why I’ve got these mountains here;
That was put there jest to please me
with their blush an’ frown an’ cheer.
They’re waitin’ when the summer sun
gets too sizzlin’ hot—
An’ we jest go campin’ in ’em
with a pan an’ coffee pot.

Morning on the desert!
I can smell the sagebrush smoke;
An’ I hate to see it burnin’,
but the land must sure be broke.
Ain’t it jest a pity
that wherever man may live,
He tears up much that’s beautiful,
that the good God has to give?

“Sagebrush ain’t so pretty?”
Well, all eyes don’t see the same;
Have you ever saw the moonlight
turn it to a silv’ry flame?
An’ that greasewood thicket yonder—
well, it smells jest awful sweet
When the night wind has been shakin’ it;
for smells it’s hard to beat.

Lonesome? well, I guess not!
I’ve been lonesome in a town.
But I sure do love the desert
with its stretches wide and brown;
All day through the sagebrush here,
the wind is blowin’ free.
An’ it’s ours jest for the breathin’,
so let’s fill up, you and me.

…by Katherine Fall Pettey, from “Songs from the Sage Brush,” 1910
For many years, this poem was printed on postcards and reproduced with the comment,”Found written on the door of an old cabin in the desert.” With some detective work and some luck, we found the author was Katherine Fall Pettey. Through her brother, she had ties to the Teapot Dome scandal, Billy the Kid, and Pat Garrett.. She lived the last decades of her life in a mental institution. Find more in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.

Jerry Brooks, through her outstanding recitation, is responsible for bringing “Morning on the Desert” to audiences.

This photo by Carol M. Highsmith is titled, “Old west deserted cabin in Utah” and is from the “Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive,” The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about the photo here.

The Highsmith Archive notes that, “Highsmith, a distinguished and richly-published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Starting in 2002, Highsmith provided scans or photographs she shot digitally with new donations to allow rapid online access throughout the world. Her generosity in dedicating the rights to the American people for copyright free access also makes this Archive a very special visual resource.”

Find more about Carol Highsmith and her work at carolhighsmith.com and on Facebook.

This is a scheduled post. We’re on a break until May 25.

COW SENSE by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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photo © 2016, Betty K. Rodgers

 

COW SENSE
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

You have heard people a sayin’ “As dumb as a cow.”
Well they ain’t seen much cattle I’ll tell you right now.
A cow she knows more than some people by half;
She’s the only thing livin’ that savvys a calf.
A cow don’t know nothin? Well, how do you think
They suckle young calves and walk miles fer a drink?

You have watched an old cow; or I reckon you did,
If she’s got a young calf why she keeps it well hid.
She has planted it out where it jest caint be found,
And she won’t go near there if there’s anything ’round.
You just make that calf give a jump or a beller
And that old cow is there to charge into a feller.

If there’s several young calves in a bunch, you will find,
When their Ma’s go to drink they leave one cow behind.
And when they git full and come back to the bunch
She goes to git her a drink and some lunch.
You kin talk of day nurseries. I reckon as how,
They was fustly invented and used by a cow.

Perhaps you have noticed some times on a drive
With cows, men and hosses more dead than alive,
When you got near the water, as soon as they smelt,
Them old cows went fer it jest Hellity belt.
Then the drags was all calves but they didn’t furgit ’em;
When they drunk they come back and they shore didn’t quit ’em.

They let their calves suck and kept out of the rush,
So them calves didn’t git in the mud and the crush.
I’m telling you people without any jokes,
Cows make better parents than plenty of folks.
If folk thought the thing over, I reckon as how,
They wouldn’t be sayin’ “As dumb as a cow.”

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem is from Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1935 book, Western Poems; it also appeared in the Western Livestock Journal.

Wheaton Hall Brewer wrote, in his introduction to Western Poems, “…As the years roll on and history appreciates the folk-lore of the plains and ranges, these poems by a real cowboy will take on a deeper significance and mightier stature. When Bruce turns his pony into the Last Corral—long years from now, we all hope—he need feel no surprise if he hears his songs sung by the celestial cowboys as their tireless ponies thunder over the heavenly ranges, bringing in the dogies for branding at the Eternal Corrals. For poetry will never die.”

Find many more poems and more about Kiskaddon in features at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photograph is by Idaho photographer and filmmaker Betty K. Rodgers.

Betty K. Rodgers is co-producer (with Ken Rodgers) of I Married the War, a documentary-in-progress about the wives of combat veterans. They also created the award-winning film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor,” about Ken Rodgers’ company of Marines during the siege of Khe Sanh in the Vietnam War. Find more about Betty K. Rodgers in a feature at CowboyPoetry.com. Find more about I Married the War at imarriedthewar.com and on Facebook, and more on “Bravo!” at bravotheproject.com and on Facebook.

This is a scheduled post. We’re on a break until May 25.

BOOMER JOHNSON by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

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BOOMER JOHNSON
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

Now Mr. Boomer Johnson was a gettin’ old in spots,
But you don’t expect a bad man to go wrastlin’ pans and pots;
But he’d done his share of killin’ and his draw was gettin’ slow,
So he quits a-punchin’ cattle and he takes to punchin’ dough.

Our foreman up and hires him, figurin’ age had rode him tame,
But a snake don’t get no sweeter just by changin’ of its name.
Well, Old Boomer knowed his business – he could cook to make you smile,
But say, he wrangled fodder in a most peculiar style.

He never used no matches – left em layin’ on the shelf,
Just some kerosene and cussin’ and the kindlin’ lit itself.
And, pardner, I’m allowin’ it would give a man a jolt
To see him stir frijoles with the barrel of his Colt.

Now killin’ folks and cookin’ ain’t so awful far apart,
That musta been why Boomer kept a-practicin’ his art;
With the front sight of his pistol he would cut a pie-lid slick,
And he’d crimp her with the muzzle for to make the edges stick.

He built his doughnuts solid, and it sure would curl your hair
To see him plug a doughnut as he tossed it in the air.
He bored the holes plum center every time his pistol spoke,
Till the can was full of doughnuts and the shack was full of smoke.

We-all was gettin’ jumpy, but he couldn’t understand
Why his shootin’ made us nervous when his cookin’ was so grand.
He kept right on performin’, and it weren’t no big surprise
When he took to markin’ tombstones on the covers of his pies.

They didn’t taste no better and they didn’t taste no worse,
But a-settin’ at the table was like ridin’ in a hearse;
You didn’t do no talkin’ and you took just what you got,
So we et till we was foundered just to keep from gettin’ shot.

When at breakfast one bright mornin’, I was feelin’ kind of low,
Old Boomer passed the doughnuts and I tells him plenty:
“No, All I takes this trip is coffee, for my stomach is a wreck.”
I could see the itch for killin’ swell the wattle on his neck.

Scorn his grub? He strings some doughnuts on the muzzle of his gun,
And he shoves her in my gizzard and he says, “You’re takin’ one!”
He was set to start a graveyard, but for once he was mistook;
Me not wantin’ any doughnuts, I just up and salts the cook.

Did they fire him? Listen, pardner, there was nothin’ left to fire,
Just a row of smilin’ faces and another cook to hire.
If he joined some other outfit and is cookin’, what I mean,
It’s where they ain’t no matches and they don’t need kerosene.

…by Henry Herbert Knibbs

Henry Herbert Knibbs never worked as a cowboy, but he was a student of the West and his friendships, including one with cowboy, rancher, and writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes informed his work. His poems are still often recited today, including “Boomer Johnson” and “Where the Ponies Come to Drink,” “The Walking Man,” “Shallows of the Ford,” and “So Long, Chinook!”

Find more about Knibbs and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cook of SMS Ranch making bread in front of chuck wagon. Ranch near Spur, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.

Find a feature about noted photographer and teacher Russell Lee with a gallery of photographs at the University of Texas at Austin.

This is a scheduled post. We’re on a break until May 25.

WHERE THE PONIES COME TO DRINK by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

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WHERE THE PONIES COME TO DRINK
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

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

Knibbs never worked as a cowboy, but he was a student of the West and his friendships, including one with cowboy, rancher, and writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes informed his work. His poems are still often recited today, including “Boomer Johnson,” “The Walking Man,” “Shallows of the Ford,” and “So Long, Chinook!”

Listen to poet and rancher Vess Quinlan reciting the poem here at the Western Folklife Center’s 2012 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. He introduces the poem saying that “I think Mr. Knibbs wrote this poem for anybody that’s ever been owned by a horse.”

Find more about Knibbs and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

Above is a 1913 photograph of a painting, “The Crossing,” by William Herbert “Buck” Dunton (1878-1936), from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Dunton was a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists. Find more on “The Crossing” here.

An article at the Smithsonian American Art Museum says, “Known to his friends as “Buck,” Dunton traveled extensively in the West as a young man, working as a ranch hand and cowboy.”

See an interesting cowboy painting of his that was identified on Antiques Road Show. The appraiser comments, “What’s interesting about this painting is that unlike his contemporaries, Dunton was really interested in the notion of the vanishing cowboy, so this is sort of the ‘Where have all the cowboys gone?’ A really terrific example of a West that was passing and changing and going to be very different from what he was to know.”

Find more about Dunton at buckdunton.com and dunton.org.

This is a scheduled post. We’re on a break until May 25.

THE BLACK BEAUTY by Johnny Schneider (1904-1982)

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THE BLACK BEAUTY
by Johnny Schneider (1904-1982)

I’ll tell you a story of a thing that makes me blue.
Please listen for a moment, for the words I speak are true.
For two years I’s been riding and scheming for to get—
My hands upon a beauty that no one will ever get.

I’d caught many a wild horse and never failed until,
I started on this youngster at the foot of Rocky Hill.
He was nothing but a baby, when first I saw him there—
Standing by his mother, a little old grey mare.

And when he’d grown from colthood to a big strong handsome black
There was always by his hoofprints, the little old grey mare’s track.
I lay awake many a night, trying to scheme a way
For to make a big black beauty, be my saddle horse some day.

But this beauty always dodged them ‘spite all that I could do.

Til one day I dug a pit—down by the waterside,
I covered it over with sticks and leaves and climbed a tree to hide.
I hadn’t been there very long; the sun was shining still,
When I saw the couple coming thru the rocks up on the hill.

And as they came down closer to the waterside,
The old mare done the leading and the black stayed close beside
Another step was all it took till she’d be in the pit.
She bowed her head and snorted and then stepped back a bit.

She turned her head as if to say—there is danger here my son.
And at the twinkle of an eye, my right hand grasped my gun.
I jerked it from its holster, for now I knew the truth;
I’d never catch the beauty with the old mare running loose.

I peeked out thru the branches—drew a fine sight on my gun,
My finger clutched the trigger, and the old mare’s days were done.
The great black reared straight in the air then sort of settled down
And stretched his long keen neck to smell the blood upon the ground.

He blew a loud shrill whistle, his nostrils flaming red,
And with his sleek foreleg he stroked—his mother lying dead
Then a sudden fear seemed to seize him and he whirled and with a bound—
Crashed into a pine tree than sank back to the ground.

I climbed down thru the branches and ran to where he struck,
And lifting up his small keen head I found he broke his neck.
I knew that I was beaten as they both laid cold and still—
I laid the beauty’s head back down and started up the hill.

My heart was sure heavy with the whole thing on my mind,
For now I knew the very truth—the black had been born blind.

© 1923, Johnie Schneider, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Johnie Schneider (1904-1982) was the first official World Champion Bull Rider. This memorable poem is included with more about his life in the “Rodeo Roots” collection of articles at CowboyPoetry.com by rodeo historian, poet, and National Cowgirl Hall of Fame honoree Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns.

An entry on the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame web site tells that Johnie Schneider “… had a soul of a poet and the heart of a cowboy. He began rodeoing in 1923 and quickly established a reputation as one of the most versatile performers around.” Johnie Schneider is quoted, “The best thing about rodeo was that it gave a lot of us a start in life. There weren’t many options back then for a fellow trying to make it.”

Find more about him at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1931 photo of Johnie Schneider is courtesy of Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns and the Schneider family.

This is a scheduled post. We’re on a break until May 25.

THE DUDE WRANGLER by Gail I. Gardner (1892-1988)

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THE DUDE WRANGLER
by Gail I. Gardner (1892-1988)

I’ll tell you of a sad, sad story,
Of how a cowboy fell from grace,
Now really this is something awful,
There never was so sad a case.

One time I had myself a pardner,
I never knowed one half so good;
We throwed our outfits in together,
And lived the way that cowboys should.

He savvied all about wild cattle,
And he was handy with a rope,
For a gentle, well-reined pony,
Just give me one that he had broke.

He never owned no clothes but Levis,
He wore them until they was slick,
And he never wore no great big Stetson,
‘Cause where we rode the brush was thick.

He never had no time for women,
So bashful and so shy was he,
Besides he knowed that they was poison,
And so he always let them be.

Well he went to work on distant ranges;
I did not see him for a year.
But then I had no cause to worry,
For I knowed that some day he’d appear.

One day I rode in from the mountains,
A-feelin’ good and steppin’ light,
For I had just sold all my yearlin’s,
And the price was out of sight.

But soon I seen a sight so awful,
It caused my joy to fade away,
It filled my very soul with sorrow,
I never will forgit that day.

For down the street there come a-walkin’
My oldtime pardner as of yore,
Although I know you will not believe me,
Let me tell you what he wore.

He had his boots outside his britches;
They was made of leather green and red.
His shirt was of a dozen colors,
Loud enough to wake the dead.

Around his neck he had a ‘kerchief,
Knotted through a silver ring;
I swear to Gawd he had a wrist-watch,
Who ever heard of such a thing.

Sez I, “Old scout now what’s the trouble?
You must have et some loco weed.
If you will tell me how to help you,
I’ll git you anything you need.”

Well he looked at me for half a minute,
And then he begin to bawl;
He sez, “Bear with me while I tell you
What made me take this awful fall.

“It was a woman from Chicago
Who put the Injun sign on me;
She told me that I was romantic,
And just as handsome as could be.”

Sez he, “I’m ‘fraid that there ain’t nothin’
That you can do to save my hide,
I’m wranglin’ dudes instead of cattle,
I’m what they call a first-class guide.

“Oh I saddles up their pump-tailed ponies,
I fix their stirrups for them too,
I boost them up into their saddles,
They give me tips when I am through.

“It’s just like horses eatin’ loco,
You can not quit it if you try,
I’ll go on wranglin’ dudes forever,
Until the day that I shall die.”

So I drawed my gun and throwed it on him,
I had to turn my face away.
I shot him squarely through the middle,
And where he fell I left him lay.

I shorely hated for to do it,
For things that’s done you cain’t recall,
But when a cowboy turns dude wrangler,
He ain’t no good no more at all.

…Gail I. Gardner, from Orejana Bull; reprinted with permission of the Gardner/Steiger family; this poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Gail I. Gardner, born in Prescott, Arizona, was educated at Philip Exeter Academy and Dartmouth University. But he wanted to work as a cowboy, which he did for much of his life. He later became the postmaster of Prescott. His works are a solid part of cowboy poetry history.

Gardner is probably best known as the author of “The Sierry Petes (or Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail).”He wrote that now-famous piece in 1917. He continually battled the notion that the poem was “anonymous” or claimed by other authors. It became an immediate favorite, recited and put to music by others, quickly entering the realm of “classic.”

Find more poetry, photos, and more about Gail I. Gardner in our feature here.

For another great take on dude wranglers, read top singer and songwriter Dave Stamey’s recent piece, “The Dude Wrangler,” on Facebook.

This 1941 photograph,”Dudes and cowboy from Quarter Circle U Ranch at Crow Indian fair. Crow Agency, Montana” is by noted photographer Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990). A collection of her photographs at The Library of Congress  tells that she produced
more than 9,000 photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) from 1938 to 1942. Find more at a web site created by her daughter. Find more about the above photo here.
>>>>> This is a scheduled post. We’re on a break until May 25.