by Buck Ramsey 1938-1998
The winter is here and the old year is passing,
The sun in its circle winds far in the south.
It’s time to bring cheer to a cold, snowbound cow camp,
It’s Christmas tree time of the year for the house.
Go ride to the cedar break rim of a canyon,
Down by where the river takes creek water clear,
And saddle-sleigh home us a fine shapely evergreen
Picked out while prowling the pasture this year.
While Fair strings the berries and popcorn and whatnots
And Ty braids the wreaths out of leather and vines,
Old Dunder, he whittles and whistles old carols
And fills them with stories of fine olden times.
He talks of a baby boy born in a cow shed,
All swaddled in tatters and laid in a trough,
Who, growing up, gave away all he could gather
And taught us that what is not given is lost.
It’s morning of Christmas and long before dawning
The camp hands are risen to ready the feast.
But with the fires glowing they don warm apparel
And go out to gaze on the Star of the East.
They cobbler the plums they put up back in summer,
They bake a wild turkey and roast backstrap deer,
They dollop the sourdough for rising and baking,
And pass each to each now the brown jug of cheer.
The dinner is done and they pass out the presents,
Their three each they open with handshakes and hugs,
Then Ty gets his guitar and Fred gets his fiddle
While Dunder and Fair laugh and roll back the rugs.
The tunes that they play melt the chill from the winter
As Dunder and Fair waltz and two-step along.
They play, sing and dance till the next morning’s dawning
Then all of the their slumbers are filled with this song.
© 1996, Buck Ramsey, used with permission.
Buck Ramsey’s work continues to inspire cowboy poets and songwriters. Called cowboy poetry’s “spiritual leader,” Buck Ramsey was a cowboy, poet, songwriter, musician, National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Award recipient.
A recording of Buck Ramsey singing “Christmas Waltz” was made in 1995. Buck Ramsey tells about his family’s shape-note singing and talks about the setting for his piece. Bette Ramsey comments about the recording: “Buck grew up in a singing family, and his sisters were well known for their gospel singing. We get a sense of what the Ramsey family sounded like as Buck is joined on this beautiful recording by his sisters Wanda, Ellen and Sylvia, and his younger brother Charles.”
The recording is on the 2-CD set, Buck Ramsey, Hittin’ the Trail, released by Smithsonian Folkways Records in 2003: http://www.folkways.si.edu/buck-ramsey/hittin-the-trail/american-folk-country/music/album/smithsonian.
“Christmas Waltz” was printed in a small gift edition by Gibbs-Smith Publishers in 1996. It is out of print but used copies can be found.
Find more Christmas poetry throughout the season here at the 17th annual Christmas at the BAR-D.