A COWBOY FUNERAL
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)
There once was a cow boy funeral
that I many times recall,
a bad hoss killed a feller
on a beef work late one fall.
‘Twas a bleak day in November
when the air was cold and raw.
The clouds looked gray and ugly,
and the wind blew down the draw.
There was no automobiles then,
and we was far from trains
in that rugged piece of country
where the canyons break the plains.
We had to make a buryin’
to finish the affair,
well, the best time was the present,
and the closest place was there.
We hadn’t any coffin,
and there was no bell to toll.
We went up on a hill side
and we dug a narrow hole.
We wrapped him up inside his bed
and laid him in the shale;
his saddle onderneath his head,
to ride the last long trail.
We had no book where we could look
and read of from its pages.
No one was there to say a prayer,
or sing “The Rock of Ages.”
I recollect nobody spoke.
We didn’t care to talk.
We filled the hole and took a smoke,
and raised a pile of rock.
And when the thing was over,
it was soter like a dream,
how we helped the cook and wrangler
while they harnessed up the team.
We got the day herd movin’
and departed on our way.
And left that cow boy there to sleep,
till resurrection day.
…by Bruce Kiskaddon
Many are familiar with Kiskaddon’s much-loved poem, “The Broncho Twister’s Prayer,” which was also recited at his own funeral. You can read it here.
This poem on the same subject is more obscure. It was published in the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards calendar, June, 1938, and also in the Western Livestock Journal. Both carried this illustration by Katherine Field (1908-1951). It also appears in Kiskaddon’s 1947 Rhymes of the Ranges book.
In his monumental collection of Bruce Kiskaddon’s poems (nearly 500), Open Range, Bill Siems writes, “Kiskaddon first worked with cattle and horses as a youngster in Missouri, but dated his start as a buckaroo to 1898, when at age nineteen he began taking entry-level jobs at ranches along the Purgatory River east of Trinidad [Colorado], in the district called Picket Wire, from the cowboy pronunciation of Purgatoire, the original name of the river. Early on he discovered an affinity for horses and an aptitude for working with them. He honed his equine skills by taking jobs with horsemen who were willing to teach him, and became known as a rough string rider in an era when such skill was highly respected. Driven by an appetite for travel that grew with the passing years, Kiskaddon wandered farther from home through a succession of cowboy jobs during the next several years, until a serious accident around 1906 left him temporarily unable to ride.”
Kiskaddon and artist Katherine Field collaborated on works for the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar and the Western Livestock Journal from 1936 to 1942, when she had to stop working to take care of her ailing parents and her children. In 1949 they renewed their partnership. Kiskaddon died in 1950 and had written six-month’s worth of poems in advance. Field illustrated them all before her own death in 1951.The two never met in person.
Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.