BREED OF THE BRAVE
by S. Omar Barker (1894–1985)
The wind rode chill on the wings of snow
From a sullen northeast sky,
As the ice-fanged “norther” swooped to blow
Down the staked plains bare and high.
A young steer bawled and an old cow’s nose
Swung up to sniff the storm.
“Let’er rip!” said Bill, “Till the air’s plumb froze!
In town it’s snug an’ warm!”
“Let’er tear!” said Spud, “We’ve drawed our pay
At the toe of the old man’s boot!
Let his damn cows drift! For my part, I’m
A-foggin’ to town for a toot!”
Six men rode fast from the wind’s cold bite—
“I’m turnin’ back,” said one.
“Them cows’ll drift in the storm, come night.
You fellers go have your fun!”
Five men rode on, but the kid called Mac
Struck a lope for the southeast rim;
And the drifting cattle he cut them back
To a down-trail faint and dim.
To the canyon’s breaks down a narrow trail,
Out of reach of the norther’s breath,
He cut them back lest the knife-edged gale
Whip them over the rim to death.
But the ice-fanged wind bit sharp and deep,
And the drift came crowding fast;
And the kid called Mac fought hard to keep
Them turned ‘cross the norther’s blast.
All night on the sifty wings of snow,
All day, all night again,
Like a broom of death the wind swept low
Where the old man’s herds had been.
It was then five men left the warm saloons,
And grim they faced the gale.
The norther crooned its dying runes—
They found Mac riding trail.
For the sake of cows what man rides so—
Dead, to his saddle, bound?
On the great high plains where the northers blow
This breed of the brave is found.
© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission
According to a family biography, poet and writer S. Omar Barker’s parents set out for New Mexico in 1889, with “fifty-six head of cattle, twelve head of mares and colts, a yoke of oxen, two teams of horses and three covered wagons loaded to the top of the sideboards…”
Andy Hedges’ current Cowboy Crossroads podcast includes interviews with the late Georgia Snead, Barker’s grandniece and a devoted friend to cowboy poetry and with top cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell. Georgia Snead tells great stories about Barker and his wife Elsa and about Barker’s work. Waddie Mitchell reminisces about his introduction to Barker, the quality of his poetry, and his conversations with the poet.
The MASTERS: VOLUME TWO,the poems of S. Omar Barker CD from CowboyPoetry.com has over 60 tracks of Barker’s poetry, presented by many of today’s top reciters and poets—including individuals, siblings, couples, parents and their offspring—who bring forth Barker’s humor and humanity. Andy Hedges introduces the CD and the life of Barker.
Find more of S. Omar Barker’s poetry and more about him at cowboypoetry.com.
This c. 1881 photograph is from Picture the West at CowboyPoetry.com, in a submission by Nevada horseman and poet Daniel Bybee, about his family’s cowboy and ranching roots, from France to New Mexico.
His great uncle Fred was persuaded to record memories of his life before he died at age 95 in 1980. Dan writes, “He was a cowboy and a freight wagon driver in New Mexico, worked at a sawmill, worked the docks in San Francisco, and drove a cab there. When he was 11, he helped his parents and my grandfather drive 100 head of cattle and a remuda of horses from New Mexico to Oklahoma. He took a turn riding night hawk every night along with my grandfather who was 13. One of his uncles was killed in a gun fight when Fred was 5 [pictured on right]. After his family moved to Oklahoma, he returned to New Mexico to cowboy for a few years with his uncles.”
Find much more of the family’s story and more photos here.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and this photograph with this post, but for other uses, please request permission.)