THE MAN ON THE FENCE
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)
There’s a man that I would speak about, you see him every where.
He puts out conversations till he mangles up the air;
No matter what the subject is his idees are immense.
But he don’t go into action. He’s the man that’s on the fence.
When the owners ship out cattle they have all that they can do.
The buyers and the waddies they are mighty busy too.
Who explains the situation to a bunch of idle gents?
I needn’t tell no body, it’s the feller on the fence.
Who is that can tell you how a bronco should be rode?
Who is it laughs the loudest at a feller when he’s throwed?
Who tries to be sarcastic when he makes his wise comments?
Whose pants is full of splinters? It’s the man that’s on the fence.
Who is it puts a swagger on but never gits in trouble?
If he ever gits in danger who can vanish like a bubble?
Who can tell about a battle till he holds the crowd plum tense?
Though perhaps he’s never seen it; it’s the feller on the fence.
Who hollers at old timers as if they were his pals?
Who has set and spurred the splinters from a hundred odd corrals?
Who has spurred the gates and fence rails till the boys all know the dents?
It’s the man that’s always present. It’s the feller on the fence.
No, he ain’t no use fer nothin’ and he sure does eat a lot.
And he does a heap of talkin’ that would get a real man shot.
But the outfit tolerates him though he ain’t worth thirty cents,
Fer he’s really right amusin’ that there fellow on the fence.
And it helps an honest waddy when he’s done his best and failed;
Just to stop and look and listen at the feller on the rail.
Fer he knows down in his gizzard, if he’s got an ounce of sense,
That he’s done a durned sight better than the man that’s on the fence.
…Bruce Kiskaddon, from Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems, 1947
Bill Siems collected most of Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems in Open Range, and he collected many great Kiksaddon short stories in Shorty’s Yarns. In the latter, he quotes Kiskaddon from his autobiography:
[Tap Duncan’s Diamond Bar, 1922 -1924] was my last job with a cow outfit. My eyes were bothering me and I was getting gray. In short I found out I wasn’t young any more. Punching cattle in a rough country is not an old man’s job. That is if he really gets in and makes a hand. As you get older a bucking horse can outguess you mighty quick. You are not so active if you get a horse jerked down, or if one falls with you it stoves you up a heap worse than it did years ago. And you don’t go down a rope to many big calves before you get that all gone feeling, especially if you are about five feet five.
But I still like the smell of a camp fire and like to hear the creak of saddle leather and the rattle of spurs. And I like the smell of cows. Yes even if I can tell there have been cows in the drinking water, it don’t bother me much if the mixture ain’t too strong.
Find information about Kiskaddon, many poems, and information about both of Bill Siems’ books in our Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.
This 1939 photograph, “Cowboys sitting on corral fence. Roundup near Marfa, Texas,” by Russell Lee (1903-1986), is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
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.
We’re looking forward to bringing you a new recording, MASTERS: Volume Three, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon in 2019. The CD will be offered to rural libraries in Cowboy Poetry Week’s Rural Library Project, along with the 2019 Western art poster. Find more about the MASTERS recordings here.
(This poem and photograph are in the public domain.)