CHRISTMAS BENEATH THE STARS by Colen Sweeten (1919-2007)



by Colen Sweeten (1919-2007)

The cattle were bedded down on the hill,
It was a peaceful sight that I saw.
The winter moon hung high in the sky
Casting shadows on the side of the draw.

The Christmas lights on the ranch house below
Sparked a thought of a night gone by.
When shepherds, watching over their flocks
Heard the message from the sky.

I stopped and looked at the stars above
And listened where all was quiet,
Then into my heart came the message
The angels delivered that night.

I stepped from the saddle, whispering aloud,
“Shepherds watching over their flocks.”
My mount rubbed his head on my shoulder
As he shifted his feet on the rocks.

The horse held his breath while we listened,
I could almost hear the heavenly choir.
Then the spirit bore witness once again
And burned in my heart like a fire.

Yes, the ranchers, herders and cowboys
Who work beneath the wide open sky,
Can understand how the shepherds felt
When they heard the voice from on high.

Let the rich and the powerful pity me,
Let the city folk think I am strange;
My silent prayer shall continue to be,
“Lord, thanks for my home on the range.”

© 1996 Colen H. Sweeten Jr., used with permission

Colen Sweeten had an enormous repertoire of poems, stories, wisdom, and humor. He always had a kind and cheerful word for all, and as he often said, so many friends that he “wasn’t even using them all.”

He appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1991, and you can watch a video of the performance, which also includes the late Rod McQueary, in a video here.

During his lifetime, Colen Sweeten was a part of every Western Folklife Center National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, except one.

Find more about Colen Sweeten and more of his poetry here at,  and also see tributes to him here.

This illustration is by popular poet, writer, musician, and songwriter Dee Strickland Johnson, known to all as “Buckshot Dot.” She illustrated her own poem, “A Cowboy’s Christmas Eve,” with this drawing. Her son Tim was the model. She comments, “Tim posed for that scratch board picture of the campfire cowboy. I had him standing there with his back to me for quite some time—took a while to get those rivets on the Levi’s.”

As the Johnsons’ many friends know, Tim was seriously injured in an accident on August 5, 2002. He is being cared for in Payson, Arizona. The family welcomes visits, cards, or emails.

The picture was the subject of an Art Spur at, and you see the resulting poems here.

Buckshot Dot has recordings, books of her poetry, books about Arizona history, books for children, and more. Find more about her at  and visit her web site,