A COWBOY’S PRAYER
Charles Badger Clark, Jr. (1883-1957)
Oh Lord, I’ve never lived where churches grow.
I love creation better as it stood
That day You finished it so long ago
And looked upon Your work and called it good.
I know that others find You in the light
That’s sifted down through tinted window panes,
And yet I seem to feel You near tonight
In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains.
I thank You, Lord, that I am placed so well,
That You have made my freedom so complete;
That I’m no slave of whistle, clock or bell,
Nor weak-eyed prisoner of wall and street.
Just let me live my life as I’ve begun
And give me work that’s open to the sky;
Make me a pardner of the wind and sun,
And I won’t ask a life that’s soft or high.
Let me be easy on the man that’s down;
Let me be square and generous with all.
I’m careless sometimes, Lord, when I’m in town,
But never let ’em say I’m mean or small!
Make me as big and open as the plains,
As honest as the hawse between my knees,
Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains,
Free as the hawk that circles down the breeze!
Forgive me, Lord, if sometimes I forget.
You know about the reasons that are hid.
You understand the things that gall and fret;
You know me better than my mother did.
Just keep an eye on all that’s done and said
And right me, sometimes, when I turn aside,
And guide me on the long, dim, trail ahead
That stretches upward toward the Great Divide.
…by Charles Badger Clark Jr., 1906
Badger Clark wrote his best known poem while living on a ranch near Tombstone, Arizona. Katie Lee has written, “Of the hundreds of poems written about cowboys praying to the stars, this is probably the best…The language is true to his free-roving spirit and gives insight to the code he lived by—the things he expected of himself.”
In the late Katie Lee’s classic book, Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story, and Verse, she writes about “A Cowboy’s Prayer”: “Of the hundreds of poems written about cowboys praying to the stars, this is probably the best. I’ve heard any number of cowboys recite it, but have never heard one sing it. The language is true to his free-roving spirit and gives insight to the code he lived by—the things he expected of himself.” According to Austin and Alta Fife, Clark wrote it while living on a ranch near Tombstone, Arizona, and it was first published in “The Pacific Monthly,” in December, 1906.
Badger Clark’s collection of poems, Sun and Saddle Leather, was first published in 1915 and is still in print today.
Hal Cannon, founding Director of the Western Folklife Center includes verses from “A Cowboy’s Prayer” in his generous, inspiring keynote address from this year’s 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The recitation was by Owen Johnson, the opening prayer of the first gathering. There is much to absorb in this address, and don’t miss the word picture of “ten years out” by Baxter Black near the end.
Find much more poetry and more about Badger Clark, who became South Dakota’s Poet Laureate, in features at CowboyPoetry.com.
The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation holds Badger Clark’s papers and offers his books for sale.
This 1906 photo is of Badger Clark at his writing table, used with permission from Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, by Greg Scott.
(You can share this photo with this post. Please seek permission to use the photo in any other way. This poem is in the public domain.)