TRAILING THE HERD, by Smoke Wade  

swbranding Time

by Smoke Wade

They moved often then,
From warm winter grounds by the river’s mouth,
Where mothers gave birth,
On rocky hillsides that faced the sunny south.

Up steep trails, they moved,
Through saddles bathed in late spring showers,
Above the canyons filled with pine,
To mountain meadows with purple flowers.

Past green ponds, they moved,
Through huckleberries on the summit high,
Then swiftly down the Devil’s run.
To the land of endless sky.

Through rolling hills, they moved,
Down dusty lanes in August sun,
To fall pasture with ample room,
For cows to rest and calves to run.

Behind barbed wire, now they move,
There to fatten and to graze,
The winter grounds sit idle now,
Modern times with different ways.

Yes, they moved often then,
Through sumac gullies and mountain streams,
Before trailing the herd became a part,
Of our memories and dreams.

© 1991, Smoke Wade, used with 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

Smoke told us that when he wrote this poem, “I was trying to re-capture the memory of the days when we used to trail large herds of cattle out of the Hells Canyon of the Snake River as the herd followed the seasons. Those days are gone now along with the cattle ranches in Hells Canyon…”

He has commented, “The lifestyle of Hells Canyon cowboys was a way of life that was often considered to be thirty years behind the rest of the world. Lacking other forms of entertainment, stories, tall-tales and poetry were standard fare in the cow camp and they helped relieve boredom while on the trail.Often, the ‘telling’ was a way of recalling the significance of events, the lives of other cowboys, or perhaps the general history of the range we rode.

“After the fall of the Hells Canyon ranching industry, cowboy poetry was a natural way for me to recall the history of the life I once lived and the cowboys I had known…”

Smoke Wade shared this photo from a 1952 branding. He comments it is, “The old branding corral on Cactus Flat.Not a trace of the corral or the branding fire pits remains today. Read more about it here.

Find another poem and more about Smoke Wade, along with links to photos and stories at

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but for other uses, please request permission.)