THE LESSON by Sally Harper Bates


by Sally Harper Bates

Leathered hands, arthritic and broken
Caressed the strings of the worn old saddle
Nails were split and callouses formed
As he pushed and pulled and pressed and reformed.

“This one’s for you,” was the message he gave
As his great-grandson watched, eyes ablaze
The admiration fair hung in the air
As I watched, and heard what passed twixt the pair

“Why do you do it like that, Grampa?”
“Just watch, and see, use your eyes and your brain.”
Was all the wrinkled old man replied
As he twisted and platted and measured again.

The razor sharp knife split the leather with ease
Then the second string was braided back through
And repeated to form the knot so tight
Then he shifted his weight on the wobbly stool.

The younger grew quiet, his eyes like a hawk
As he worshipped, and watched, and he gleaned
Not a word passed between as the lesson ensued
An old saddle re-made, and then cleaned.

“It’s yours now, young man. Keep it oiled and clean,
As you gather and ride to the cattle
One thing left to say, one thing I will add
Whatever may come, whatever may go,
don’t ever … sell your saddle.”

© 2018, Sally Harper Bates
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Sally Harper Bates grew up on ranches and worked on them, and the popular poet, storyteller, songwriter, and editor chose women with similar backgrounds for a richly varied new collection, Facing West; Voices of Western Women.


The poems, stories, and lyrics reflect the vibrant world of the working West. Sally Harper Bates writes in her introduction, “…The lines you will find herein are exemplary of culture, heritage, and traditions. Fears, hopes, dreams, suffering, and joy…I hear the voices of women in our beloved West,telling their stories, singing their songs, and setting their hearts down on paper.”

Contributors include Mary Abbott, Amy Hale Auker, Sally Harper Bates, Valerie Beard, Virginia Bennett, Sequent Bodine, Betty Burlingham, Shawn Cameron, Lola Chiantaretto, Cherie Cloudt, Jiminell Cook, Terry Crowley, Sam DeLeeuw, Daisy Dillard, Jody Drake, Bunny Dryden, Tandy Drye, Susan Gahr, Peggy Godfrey, Audrey Hankins, Jeanie Hankins, Roni Harper, Jessica Hedges, Sandy Heller, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Carole Jarvis, Randi Johnson, Sue Jones, Suzi Killman, Cindy King, Mary Matli, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Billie Jo McFarland, Charlotte Allgood McCoy, Bertha Monroe, Janet Moore, Kay Kelley Nowell, Evelyn Perkins, Karen Perkins, Jean Prescott, Jody Presley, Janet McMillan Rives, Darla Robinson, Perilee Sharp, Shirley Tecklenburg, Heidi Thomas, Frances Vance, Andrea Waitley, Carrol Williams, Jolyn Young, and Kip Calahan Young.

The cover of Facing West is a painting by Marless Fellows and design by Steve Atkinson. Other illustrations in the book are by Mike Capron and Lynn Brown.

Find more at Arizona Cowboy Connection on Facebook.

This photograph, “Detail of cowboy’s saddle. Roundup near Marfa, Texas,” is by Russell Lee (1903-1986) and is from The Library of Congress, part of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information collection.

Find a feature about noted photographer and teacher Russell Lee with a gallery of photographs from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but for other uses, request permission. The photograph is in the public domain.)