COW BOY DAYS
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)
Can you recollect the country
That we knew in days gone by?
Where the prairie met the sunrise
And the mountains met the sky.
Where you rode through rugged canyons
And o’er rolling mesas wide
Or you crossed the wind swept prairie
On a long and lonely ride.
How your bits and spurs would jingle
And the only other sound
Was the creaking of your saddle
And the hoof beats on the ground.
Almost any where you landed
There was something you could do
You were happy in that country
With the people that you knew.
No the people wasn’t plenty
In the good old days of yore
But you always found a welcome
At most any cabin door.
You would get off of your pony
And you’d stretch and stomp your feet
When you got that invitation
“Better light a spell and eat.”
That was one of the traditions
Of the easy going West
You were just a drifting cow boy
But you were an honored guest.
No it wasn’t always funny
In them early days old pard
You was often out of money
And the work was plenty hard.
How you rode with Death behind you
When you milled the wild stampede
And you felt the lightning blind you
As you fought to bend the lead.
How you drifted with the blizzard
Till you got a fire lit
You was froze plum to the gizzard
By the time the storm had quit.
No you hadn’t no bay window.
Fact is you was soter lean
You had coffee and some biscuits
And some salty pork and beans
You could tell there had been cattle
In the water that you drank
And you swallered bugs and wigglers
At some muddy old ground tank.
When you landed at a bunk house
You was welcomed by the crew
But you have some recollections
How the bed bugs met you too
When you went to meet the round up
You can recollect some day
When you couldn’t find the wagon
Or your hosses got away.
When you went out greasy sackin’
In the summer in the hills
You was shoein’ brandin’ packin’
Cookin’ workin’ fit to kill
For there wasn’t any wagon
And you hadn’t any bunk.
Packed your bed on sweaty hosses
Lord the way them blankets stunk.
Now you tell it with a snicker
But it griped you then I’ll bet
Standing’ all night in a slicker
‘Cause your bed was wringin’ wet.
You was young and you was happy
You was never really sick
But you often travelled limpin’
When a leg got jammed or kicked.
Now old hurts come back and pain you
And you have some tender toes
That date back some forty winters
To the time your feet was froze.
You’ve a scar upon your forehead
That for years you packed around
Where some cranky tricky pony
Throwed you on the frozen ground.
Your eyes are dim and bleary
From the wind and dust and sun
And the time you got snow blinded
Didn’t seem to help ’em none.
Almost any old cow puncher
Has some fingers or a wrist
Busted when he tried to dally
And the saddle got his fist.
Things are not the way they once was
There has been a lot of change
Since the days of drives and roundups
When we worked the open range.
In the wide and grassy valleys
Where the cattle used to roam
There are irrigation ditches
And there’s farms and barns and homes.
Now there’s signals and there’s sign boards
Where we bedded cattle down
Where we met with other outfits
There are villages and towns.
Neon signs are blazin’ brightly
Where our camp fires glowed dim
Concrete bridges span the rivers
Where our hosses used to swim.
No, you haven’t made a fortune
And your hair is white. You’re old
But you wouldn’t trade your memories
Not for heaps of shinin’ gold.
And whenever you get lonely
You just hold a grand review
Of the places and the hosses
And the people that you knew.
You can hear the songs and stories
You can see the camp fires blaze
As you live again the glories
Of your grand old cow boy days.
…from Kiskaddon’s 1924 version in Rhymes of the Ranges
Here’s a lesser-known poem by the master, Bruce Kiskaddon. Kiskaddon’s ten years of cowboying informs many of his works. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems.
Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Bill Siems also collected Bruce Kiskaddon’s short stories in a book called Shorty’s Yarns. Find more in the Kiskaddon features at cowboypoetry.com.
In Open Range, Bill Siems also includes a later poem by Kiskaddon, “Looking Backward,” which is nearly identical to “Cow Boy Days.” You can view both at CowboyPoetry.com.
Randy Rieman recites the last stanza of this poem, which he calls “Looking Back,” on his Where the Ponies Come to Drink CD. That recording is also on the new triple-CD set from cowboypoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, on which Bill Siems offers an introduction to Bruce Kiskaddon.
This c. 1904 photograph by W. D. Harper “…shows fourteen cowboys from the F.D.W. Ranch in New Mexico posed on a tree trunk.” It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.
(This poem and photograph are in the public domain.)