DROUGHT OF SEVENTY-SEVEN
by John Dofflemyer
It was dry in the fall of seventy-six
and the cows were calvin’ in the dust,
nothin’ to see but acres of chips,
a drought year when cowmen went bust.
Their hides were rough ‘n’ just cover’d bone
‘n’ ribs caught most of your eye,
spindly calves seemed to wander alone
as if lookin’ for a place to die.
Cows were bringin’ two-bits a pound,
a hundred bucks less than the spring,
and all you could do, was throw hay on the ground,
and pray to God it would rain.
Their toes would clack like castanets
in the cloud that’d boil ’round your truck,
the bawlin’ skeletons and weak silhouettes
would bring tears to the drought of good luck.
Reckon Ma Nature’s showed me who’s boss,
as she’ll do some time and again,
but she’s never caused me half of the loss
that politicians create with a pen.
© 1989, John Dofflemyer, used with permission
California rancher and poet John Dofflemyer is Andy Hedges’ guest on the most recent Cowboy Crossroads podcast—the 41st in this excellent, not-to-be-missed series.
John Dofflemyer speaks to a sweep of modern history, from his young life in the turbulent ’60s, its music and politics, through the birth of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. He also reflects on his boyhood, the deep roots of his ranching family, and how he came to work on the ranch and later take on full responsibility. Throughout, his thoughtful and open-minded maverick spirit shines through, from his publication of Vietnam War poetry by the late Rod McQueary and William Jones to his views on environmental issues to the nature and forms of cowboy poetry.
“Drought of Seventy Seven” was one of John Dofflemyer’s earliest poems and was included in his first book, Dry Creek Poems (1989), where it appears all in lower case. The poem was collected in New Cowboy Poetry: A Contemporary Gathering, edited by Hal Canon (1990). A 2011 entry in Dry Crik Journal also includes the poem.
John Dofflemyer’s innovative periodical, the Dry Crik Review of Contemporary Cowboy Poetry, published fourteen print volumes, 1991-1994, and an electronic double volume in 2005. Find a comprehensive index at CowboyPoetry.com. Currently the Dry Crik Journal blog includes frequent poems, commentary, and photography.
The Cowboy Crossroads podcast with John Dofflemyer is the last of the series for this year. Don’t miss Andy Hedges’ fine recitation of a Charlie Russell Christmas poem. Find the podcast and many others here where you can listen to past interviews with Waddie Mitchell, Don Edwards, Jerry Brooks, Gary McMahan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Randy Rieman, Amy Hale Auker, Ross Knox, Dom Flemmons, Mike Beck, Hal Cannon, Andy Wilkinson, Wallace McRae, Amy Hale Auker, and many others.
John Dofflemyer returns to the Western Folklife Center’s 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 28 – February 2, 2019 in Elko, Nevada. The lineup includes 3hattrio, Amy Hale Auker, Mike Beck, Geno Delafose & French Rockin Boogie, John Dofflemyer, Joshua Dugat, Maria Lisa Eastman, Mary Flitner, Jamie Fox & Alex Kusturok, Ryan & Hoss Fritz, Dick Gibford, DW Groethe, Andy Hedges, Brenn Hill, Tish Hinojosa, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Ross Knox, Ned LeDoux, Daron Little, Corb Lund, Carolyn Martin’s Swing Band, Sid Marty, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Gary McMahan, Waddie Mitchell, Michael Martin Murphey, Joel Nelson, Rodney Nelson, Diane Peavey, Shadd Piehl, Vess Quinlan, Halladay & Rob Quist, Henry Real Bird, Brigid Reedy, Randy Rieman, Jake Riley, Matt Robertson, Olivia Romo, Trinity Seely, Sean Sexton, Sourdough Slim, Dave Stamey, Gail Steiger, Colter Wall, and Paul Zarzyski. Find more at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org and check out their YouTube channel for a great archive of cowboy poetry and Western music performances and more.
This c. 1993 photograph of John Dofflemyer by Kent Reeves appeared in the 1995 book Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West and is used with his generous permission. View a gallery of all of the book’s photos here.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but for other uses, request permission.)