THAT LITTLE BLUE ROAN by Bruce Kiskaddon

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THAT LITTLE BLUE ROAN
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Most all of you boys have rode horses like that.
He wasn’t too thin but he never got fat.
The old breed that had a moustache on the lip;
He was high at the wethers and low at the hip.
His ears always up, he had wicked bright eyes
And don’t you furgit he was plenty cow wise.

His ears and his fets and his pasterns was black
And a stripe of the same run the length of his back.
Cold mornin’s he’d buck, and he allus would kick
No hoss fer a kid or a man that was sick.
But Lord what a bundle of muscle and bone;
A hoss fer a cow boy, that little blue roan.

For afternoon work or for handlin’ a herd,
He could turn any thing but a lizzard or bird.
For ropin’ outside how that cuss could move out.
He was to ’em before they knowed what ’twas about.
And runnin’ down hill didn’t faize him aytall.
He was like a buck goat and he never did fall.

One day in the foot hills he give me a break
He saved me from makin’ a awful mistake,
I was ridin’ along at a slow easy pace,
Takin’ stock of the critters that used in that place,
When I spied a big heifer without any brand.
How the boys ever missed her I don’t onderstand.
Fer none of the stock in that country was wild,
It was like takin’ candy away from a child.

She never knowed jest what I had on my mind
Till I bedded her down on the end of my twine.
I had wropped her toes up in an old hoggin’ string,
And was buildin’ a fire to heat up my ring.
I figgered you see I was there all alone
Till I happened to notice that little blue roan.

That hoss he was usin’ his eyes and his ears
And I figgered right now there was somebody near.
He seemed to be watchin’ a bunch of pinon,
And I shore took a hint from that little blue roan.

Instead of my brand, well, I run on another.
I used the same brand that was on the calf’s mother.
I branded her right pulled her up by the tail
With a kick in the rump for to make the brute sail.
I had branded her proper and marked both her ears,
When out of the pinions two cow men appears.

They both turned the critter and got a good look
While I wrote the brand down in my own tally book.
There was nothin to do so they rode up and spoke
And we all three set down fer a sociable smoke.
The one owned the critter I’d happened to brand,
He thanked me of course and we grinned and shook hands
Which he mightn’t have done if he only had known
The warnin’ I got from that little blue roan.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon, 1947, from “Rhymes of the Ranges”
Hal Cannon, retired Founding Director of the Western Folklife Center and currently a part of the acclaimed 3hattrio band, writes, in his introduction to Rhymes of the Ranges (1987), “Probably the most often recited of Kiskaddon’s poems is ‘The Little Blue Roan.” The editor of the Western Livestock Journal concurred, writing in a 1938 note about Kiskaddon’s work, that “Probably his ‘Little Blue Roan’ is the most popular.”

While the poem may have been overshadowed in recent years by others, what Hal Cannon had to say merits considering:

It tells of a cowboy about to brand an unmarked heifer. The cowboy tells how his little horse keeps watching some pinon trees in the distance as he prepares to put his brand on another man’s animal. The horse’s uneasiness makes him decide to brand the heifer with the same brand that is on her mother standing nearby. As he does, two cowmen emerge from the pinion, but, seeing that everything is right with the branding, they all sit for a sociable smoke. A potentially explosive situation has been averted by the warning from the horse.

The poem bursts with potential drama and emotion. Yet, it is so intensely understated that, to the casual reader, it might seem barely to hold together. It has great meaning only to someone who shared intimately the significance of a brand, the complicated ethics of cattlemen, cowboy language, and the love of a horse…This kind of shared knowledge is at the heart of folk art, for effective folk art depends most deeply on communicating the shared experiences of the group that produces it.

In his monumental collection of Bruce Kiskaddon’s poems (nearly 500), Open Range, editor Bill Siems also includes an earlier version of this poem, from Kiskaddon’s 1935 book, Western Poems.

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The late J.B. Allen’s recitation of “That Little Blue Roan” is included on MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, a 3-disc CD of Bruce Kiskaddon’s poems.

Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 2005 photograph, titled “Two Young Nakota Mares,” is by François Marchal and is from Wikimedia Commons.

The poem is in the public domain.