photo by Carol M. Highsmith
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)
Yes, he used to be a cow hoss
that was young and strong and fleet
Now he stands alone, forgotten,
in the winter snow and sleet.
Fer his eyes is dim and holler
and his head is turnin’ gray,
He has got too old to foller—
“Jest a hoss that’s had his day.”
They’ve forgotten how once he packed ‘em
at a easy swingin’ lope.
How he braced his sturdy shoulders
when he set back on a rope.
Didn’t bar no weight nor distance;
answered every move and word,
Though his sides were white with lather
while he held the millin’ herd.
Now he’s stiff and old and stumbles,
and he’s lost the strength and speed
That once took him through the darkness,
‘round the point of a stampede
And his legs is scarred and battered;
both the muscle and the bone.
He is jest a wore out cow hoss
so they’ve turned him out alone.
They have turned him out to winter
best he can amongst the snow.
There without a friend and lonesome,
Do you think he doesn’t know?
Through the hours of storm and darkness
he had time to think a lot.
That hoss may have been forgotten,
but you bet he aint forgot.
He stands still. He aint none worried,
fer he knows he’s played the game
He’s got nothin’ to back up from.
He’s been square and aint ashamed.
Fer no matter where they put him
he was game to do his share
Well, I think more of the pony
than the folks that left him there.
….from “Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems,” 1947
We’re celebrating Bruce Kiskaddon this week.
Frank King wrote, in his introduction to Kiskaddon’s 1924 book, Rhymes of the Ranges (this poem was in the later edition), “Bruce Kiskaddon is a real old time cowboy, having started his cattle ranch experience in the Picket Wire district of southern Colorado as a kid cowhand and rough string rider and later on northern Arizona ranges… He is a natural born poet and his poems show he knows his business. The best cowhand poems I have ever read. His books should be in every home and library where western poetry is enjoyed.”
Cowboy and poet Jesse Smith’s recitation of “Forgotten” is included on the new triple-CD set, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poems of Bruce Kiskaddon” from CowboyPoetry.com.
Jesse Smith and the late Sunny Hancock collected their poems in a 2002 book, Horse Tracks Through the Sage, which is worth looking for. The late Larry McWhorter writes in an introduction, “…Sunny and Jesse are products of the old school who have been more miles on horseback before sunup or after sundown than most people have in broad daylight….When future generations seek to learn about the true cowboy life through the printed word, the poems and Sunny Hancock and Jesse Smith will be hard to ignore.” There are forewords by Baxter Black and Chris Isaacs.
Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Bill Siems contributes a biographical introduction to Kiskaddon on MASTERS: Volume THREE.
Find more about Kiskaddon in features at CowboyPoetry.com.
This 2012 photograph, titled, “A lone horse in hill country near the American River at Coloma in El Dorado County, California,” is by Carol M.Highsmith (carolhighsmith.com) and included in the Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about this photograph here.
Find the collection here, where it notes that, “Highsmith, a distinguished and richly-published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Starting in 2002, Highsmith provided scans or photographs she shot digitally
with new donations to allow rapid online access throughout the world. Her generosity in dedicating the rights to the American people for copyright free access also makes this Archive a very special visual resource.”
This poem and photograph are in the public domain.