THE WHITE MUSTANG
by S. Omar Barker (1894-1985)
Wherever rhythmic hoofbeats drum,
As galloping riders go or come,
Wherever the saddle is still the throne,
And the dust of hoofs by wind is blown,
Wherever the horsemen young or old,
The Pacing Mustang’s tale is told.
A hundred years on hill and plain,
With comet-tail and flying mane,
Milk-white, free, and high of head,
Over the range his trail has led.
Never a break in his pacing speed,
Never a trot nor a lope his need,
Since faraway days of the wagon train,
Men have followed his trail in vain.
A dozen horses spurred to the death,
Still he flees like a phantom’s breath,
And from some hill at horizon’s hem,
Snorts his challenge back at them.
A bullet drops him dead by day,
Yet white at night he speeds away.
Forever a thief of tamer steeds,
Stallion prince of the mustang breeds,
Coveted prize of the men who ride,
Never a rope has touched his hide.
Wherever the saddle is still a throne,
The Great White Mustang’s tale is known.
O Phantom Ghost of heart’s desire,
Lusty-limbed with soul of fire,
Milk-white Monarch, may you, free,
Race the stars eternally.
… © 1968 S. Omar Barker, from “Rawhide Rhymes,” reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker
S. Omar Barker’s spooky poem fits the post-Halloween mood.
Barker notes that Washington Irving (1783-1859) was the first to write about the “ghost horse of the plains.” In 1832, Irving traveled to Eastern Oklahoma, and wrote about it in his 1835 book, A Tour of the Prairies. In Chapter 20, “The Camp of the Wild Horse,” Irving writes:
…We had been disappointed this day in our hopes of meeting with buffalo, but the sight of the wild horse had been a great novelty, and gave a turn to the conversation of the camp for the evening. There were several anecdotes told of a famous gray horse, which has ranged the prairies of this neighborhood for six or seven years, setting at naught every attempt of the hunters to capture him. They say he can pace and rack (or amble) faster than the fleetest horses can run. Equally marvelous accounts were given of a black horse on the Brazos, who grazed the prairies on that river’s banks in Texas. For years he outstripped all pursuit. His fame spread far and wide; offers were made for him to the amount of a thousand dollars; the boldest and most hard-riding hunters tried incessantly to make prize of him, but in vain. At length he fell a victim to his gallantry, being decoyed under a tree by a tame mare, and a noose dropped over his head by a boy perched among the branches…
Find more at CowboyPoetry.com.
Irving is well known for his own ghostly story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” published in 1820. A bit of trivia: a 1922 silent movie version of the story, “The Headless Horseman,” starred Will Rogers.
Irving also has a connection with this image. This nineteenth century engraving, “Lassoing Wild Horses,” was made by by W. W. Rice from a painting by Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1822-1888). Darley illustrated many works by authors of the time and did the first illustrations for Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle.”
S. Omar Barker as described in Cowboy Miner Productions’ collection of his work, “…was born in the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico… a rancher, high school teacher, college professor, forest ranger, soldier, outdoorsman, and legislator… named after his father Squire L. Barker, but went by Omar, he often signed his books with his initials and trademark brand, ‘Lazy SOB.'”
Barker was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America (and twice the winner of their Spur Award) and was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum ‘s Hall of Great Westerners, the first living author to receive that recognition. His poems were frequently published by Western Horseman and appeared in many other publications. He published four collections of his hundreds of poems, edited many books, and wrote novels and non-fiction.
Rex Rideout has a great recitation of “The White Mustang,” with creative sound, on the “MASTERS: Volume Two: the poetry of S. Omar Barker” CD from CowboyPoetry.com.
The image is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.
(You can share this poem with this post, but any other use requires permission. The image is in the public domain.)