by Smoke Wade

We don’t summer at Chesnim’ these days,
Not since the For’ Service shut ‘er down;
They took away our permit to graze,
Now we pasture on the edge of town.

We don’t fall ride at Cold Springs anymore,
In the teeth of an early winter storm;
Or hitch our boots by the cow camp door,
And play cribbage inside where it’s warm.

We no longer winter by the Snake,
On benches carved below the rim;
The land was sold for the public’s sake,
To the For’ Service and to the BLM.

No, we don’t spring calve on Cactus Flat,
Since it sold to the State Fish and Game;
They say the chinook ain’t comin’ back,
And the cowman must carry the blame.

So, we gather now, at Third and Grand,
A beer garden after the parade;
And, here we’ll make one final stand,
Until this season begins to fade.

© 1994, Smoke Wade
This poem should not be re-posted or reprinted without permission

Popular emcee and cowboy poet Smoke Wade was raised on a remote Hells Canyon ranch. He’s written a number of stories about his ranching family for Picture the West and Western Memories at CowboyPoetry.com.

In an introduction to this poem, particularly timely today, he comments on the history of the area and about how the family’s way of life ended in the 1970s:

For ten thousand years, mankind lived along the banks of the Snake River in Hells Canyon, until 1877, when the United States Congress decided it was time to evict the residents of the canyon. They gave the order to the U. S Army, and under the command of General Howard, Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce people were forced to leave their homeland forever.

Over time the canyon once again became populated with outlaws, sourdoughs, miners, horse thieves, homesteaders, sheepherders and cattle ranchers, until almost one hundred years had passed. And then, Congress once again decided it was time to evict the residents of Hells Canyon. This time the order went down to the U. S. Forest Service and one by one the ranches fell, condemned, evicted and forced out, until today there is little sign left of what we once called home. And thus began our change of season.

One day, at a beer garden after the parade, I noticed a bunch of old cowboys hanging out—talking, remembering old times. It dawned on me that with the fall of the Hells Canyon ranches to the U.S. Forest Service, that these cowboys didn’t have a range to go back to. “A Change of Season” was spawned at that moment.

This photo is of Smoke Wade, age 15, leading a pack string.

Find some of Smoke Wade’s poetry and more about him at CowboyPoetry.com. Don’t miss his stories and photos in Western Memories.

Smoke hosts and produces the Cowboy Idol Competition at the Columbia River Cowboy Gathering and Western Music Festival (April 13-15, 2018) at the Benton County Fairgrounds in Kennewick, Washington. This is the competition’s 10th year, and the 15th anniversary of the Gathering.

Smoke writes in his media release:

The 10th season of Cowboy Idol is billed as The Reunion show. All contestants have competed before as Cowboy Idol contestants or People’s Choice award winners but have yet to win the title of Cowboy Idol.

The 2018 Cowboy Idol Poet contestants are: Smokey Culver, Texas; Dave Nordquist, Washington; Geoff “Poppa Mac” Mackay, Manitoba, Canada; and Duane Nelson, Oregon. The Cowboy Idol Musician contestants are: Charley Root, Washington; David Wilson, Washington; Janet Bailey, Oregon; and Lois Goodman & Einar Jensen, British Columbia, Canada. Lois & Einar are the 2017 People’s Choice award winners from the open mic sessions.

Find more information at columbiarivercowboygathering.com and on Facebook.