WATCHIN’ ‘EM RIDE, by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

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S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

Isom Like was seventy-odd
Straight in the back as a steel ramrod,
And the whiskers that growed on his leathery chin,
They bristled out instead of in.
Six growed sons had Isom Like:
Jake, Joe, John, Jess, Noah and Ike.

Ridin’ men was Isom’s sons,
Salty, straddlin’ sons-o’-guns.
Once a year they chipped in change
To pay for the best hoss on their range,
And held ridin’ to settle who
Should git that hoss when the show was through.

Nearin’ eighty was Isom Like:
“Pa,” said the son whose name was Ike,
“You’re stiffed up like an ol’ pine tree.
Better leave this to the boys an’ me!”
Ol’ Isom grinned his grizzled grin.
“Nope,” he says, “Just count me in!”

Seven broncs on the high pole pen,
Seven saddles and seven men . . . .
Ma Like watched as the show begun,
And when Jake straddled a dusty dun,
You guessed right off that her joy and pride
Was Jake, from the way she cheered his ride.

Jess spurred out on a big-foot bay.
Up on the fence you could hear Ma say:
“Ride him, Jess! Boy, kick him out!”
And you knowed right quick from the tone of her shout,
Of all six sons Ma Like had bore,
By this here Jess she set most store.

Joe clumb on and you heard Ma squall:
“Joe, you’re the ridin’est son of all.”
Noah an’ John purt near got piled–
But both was Ma Like’s favorite child.
Two broncs left, and the one Ike took
Bucked like the broncs in a storybook;
Pawed the moon and scraped the sky.
Up on the fence you could hear Ma cry:
“Boy, that’s ridin’ to suit my taste!
I got one son ain’t no panty-waist!”

One bronc left, a big blue roan . . . .
“Never mind, boys, I’ll saddle my own!”
Over the saddle Pa flung his shank,
Raked both spurs from neck to flank.
The big roan rose like a powder blast,
Buckin’ hard and high and fast,
But deep in the wood Pa Like set screwed,
Strokin’ his beard like a southern dude!
And every time that blue roan whirled,
Ma Like’s petticoats come unfurled.

Isom grinned and waved his hat,
And Ma, she squalled like a ring-tailed cat:
“Straddle him, Isom! Show your spizz!
Learn these buttons what ridin’ is!”
Throwed her bonnet high in the air,
Whooped and hollered and tore her hair:
“I got six sons and nary a one
Can ride like that ol’ son-of-a-gun!”
Yelled and cheered so dang intense
She fell plumb off of the high pole fence.
“Wawhoo, boys! Watch Isom spur!”
Isom’s six sons grinned at her.

Seven broncs and the ridin’ done . . . .
Nary a doubt but Pa had won!
“Sons,” says Ma, “are a mother’s pride,
But ol’ Pa Isom, he can ride!
The trouble is, you boys ain’t tough–
But you’ll learn to ride–when you’re old enough.”

(Based on a true incident related by the late Col. Jack Potter. Isom Like died at the age of 102.)

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker

Here’s a poem in anticipation of Father’s Day.

Keith Ward recites “Watchin’ em Ride” on our 2018 MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, a double CD celebrating S. Omar Barker’s poetry, with over 60 poems from many of today’s top poets and reciters.

Wyoming’s Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns, Cowgirl Hall of Fame honoree, poet, writer, day worker, and rodeo historian shared vintage family horse photos a while back in Picture the West at and an accompanying piece, “Horses Are My Heritage” in Western Memories.

She comments on this photo,”Dad had a bunch of mares and bought a registered Thoroughbred stallion from Eph Hogg who came to Wyoming from Kentucky. His head and neck are shown in this photo, they called him “Little Eph”; Dad’s at far right.”

When we asked her about pairing this poem with her photograph, Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns was pleased. She told us that while she was a columnist Rodeo Sports News, she was looking for a photo of a particular horse and was in touch with a man named Bill King from Kim, Colorado, whose family provided rodeo stock to the region. She writes, “As we corresponded Bill soon began to tell me of the manuscripts he wanted to get published. He had stories of not only the King’s (his father and several brothers who traded horses in every state, Canada, Mexico and Cuba in the 1800’s!) but also two other families deeply entwined with horses.

“He gave me the manuscripts to read. One family was the Like’s?—and in the Like family story was this poem of S. Omar Barker’s.

“Bill said the six Like boys and the old man each owned outfits and ran a lot of horses along the Cimarron River border country between New Mexico and Colorado; and that they truly did have this competition every fall when they gathered their horses to brand and cut. Bill’s story was that Barker had actually come out to Isom’s place one fall to observe the show, and wrote the poem from live inspiration. What he had in his manuscript was from a copy Barker gave to the Like’s when he wrote it.

Poets Valerie Beard and Floyd Beard live on one of the Like brothers’ original homesteads in Southeastern Colorado. Valerie told us that, “… a few years ago we saw the name, “Ike” chiseled into the cliff face just below our house. We were thinking that it was “Like” at one time and the “L” wore off even though it didn’t look like it. After getting familiar with the poem, it is all clear. Ike Like chiseled his name into the cliff face himself…”

J. Frank Dobie also wrote about the Like family in his book, The Longhorns. Find the poem and more about it at, where there is also much more about S. Omar Barker and more of his poetry.

Rhonda commented further on this photo, “The old man with the suspenders is Charlie McEndeffer, originally from Sterling, Colorado. They were a big ranching, cowboy family and Charlie was a magnificent, amazing horseman. I remember him very well from my early childhood, although by that time he was pretty stove up and I never saw him ride. He worked for my grandfather for years and he and Dad were breaking horses and baching in an old cabin on Robbers Roost Creek south of Newcastle when that photo was made…”

Rhonda is a great storyteller, and you can find her “Rodeo Roots” stories at; some of her poetry here; and more about her at her site,

Find more poems for Father’s Day and other special features at

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but any other uses require permission.)