by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)
They asked me “What’s a saddle?”
So I told ’em it’s a kack,
A rig of wood and leather
shaped to fit a horse’s back.
You set up in its middle
with a leg hung down each side,
Some horse meat in between ’em,
and that is known as “ride.”
I could have stopped right there,
of course, and saved a heap of steam,
But when they speak of saddles,
my old eyes take on a gleam,
For the saddle is an implement
that’s bred a breed of man
Who rides the range of history
plumb back to Genghis Kahn.
Two legs was all us humans had,
but men that wanted more,
They figgered out the saddle,
and its magic gave them more.
The Saracen, the Cossack,
the Arab and the knight,
The Mongol and the chevalier—
they all was men of might,
Because instead of walkin’
like a tamer breed would do,
They climbed up in a saddle
when they had a job in view.
King Richard was a saddle man,
and Sheridan and Lee,
And Grant and “Black Jack” Pershing—
just to mention two or three.
Remember ol’ Sir Galahad
of that there poet’s tale?
His pants was saddle-polished
while he sought the Holy Grail!
Of course them heroes never rode
no Texas applehorn,
But they’re the cowboy’s kinfolks,
just as sure as you are born.
They ask me, “What’s a saddle?”
It’s a riggin’ made to fit
A man (sometimes a woman)
in the region where they sit.
It’s made of wood and leather,
with a cinch that goes around
A chunk of livin’ horse meat
‘twixt the rider and the ground.
It’s just the apparatus
that a cowhand climbs upon
To start his day of cow work
at the chilly hour of dawn.
It’s just a piece of ridin’ gear
that, when it’s had a chance,
Has give the world some heroes—
while it polished up their pants!
© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker
We round out our week of S. Omar Barker poems with another good one that is not often heard recited.
It’s told that Barker enjoyed signing his name with his brand, created from his initials and laid sideways for “Lazy SOB,” but, that’s not a completely accurate story. In an article written by Barker for “Hoofs and Horns” magazine, Barker introduces himself, “…This S.O.B. (my initials, not my ancestry) has never claimed to qualify as a sure ‘nough cowboy.” Later in the article, he comments, “Incidentally, when I applied for (Lazy S O B) for our cattle brand, they wrote back that some other S O B already had it. So we had to be satisfied with (Lazy S B).” (Thanks to Andy for sharing this article, which he received from Vess Quinlan, who received it from Joel Nelson. We’ll try to track down the article’s date.)
Gail Steiger recited this poem in a great show about S. Omar Barker at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering a couple of years ago, organized by Andy Hedges.
The late Elmer Kelton wrote an introduction to to the 1998 Cowboy Miner book on Barker, and it is excerpted at CowboyPoetry.com. It begins,
“How can anyone begin to tell who S. Omar Barker was?
“The easy way would be to give the statistics: that he was born in a log cabin on a small mountain ranch at Beulah, New Mexico, in 1894, youngest of the eleven children of Squire Leander and Priscilla Jane Barker, that he grew up on the family homestead, attended high school and college in Las Vegas, New Mexico, was in his youth a teacher of Spanish, a high school principal, a forest ranger, a sergeant of the 502nd Engineers in France in World War I, a trombone player in Doc Patterson’s Cowboy Band, a state legislator and a newspaper correspondent.
“That he began writing and selling stories, articles, and poems as early as 1914 and became a full-time writer at the end of his legislative term in 1925. That he married Elsa McCormick of Hagerman, New Mexico, in 1927, and she also became a noted writer of Western stories….”
Find more about S. Omar Barker at CowboyPoetry.com.
This 1941 photo by respected photographer Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990) is titled, “Detail of saddle on cowhand’s horse at Ashland rodeo, Montana.” It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.
A collection of Marion Post Wolcott’s 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.
We thank the S. Omar Barker Estate for its generous permissions.