THE TIME TO DECIDE by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)


photo ©JeanPrescott


by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Did you ever stand on the ledges,
On the brink of the great plateau
And look from their jagged edges
On the country that lay below?

When your vision met no resistance
And nothing to stop your gaze,
Till the mountain peaks in the distance
Stood wrapped in a purple haze.

On the winding water courses
And the trails on the mountain sides,
Where you guided your patient horses
On your long and lonesome rides.

When you saw Earth’s open pages
And you seemed to understand
As you gazed on the work of ages,
Rugged and rough, but grand.

There, the things that you thought were strongest
And the things that you thought were great,
And for which you had striven longest
Seemed to carry but little weight.

While the things that were always nearer,
The things that you thought were small;
Seemed to stand out grander and clearer.
As you looked from the mountain wall.

While you’re gazing on such a vision
And your outlook is clear and wide,
If you have to make a decision,
That’s the time and place to decide

Although you return to the city
And mingle again with the throng;
Though your heart may be softened by pity
Or bitter from strife and wrong.

Though others should laugh in derision,
And the voice of the past grow dim;
Yet, stick to the cool decision
That you made on the mountain’s rim.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

“The Time to Decide” appeared in Bruce Kiskaddon’s first book, Rhymes of the Ranges, published in 1924. He wrote many poems still read and recited today. See features about him at

This beautiful photograph by Texas singer and songwriter Jean Prescott seems a perfect fit to Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem. The image is one of several that Jean shared in a
past Picture the West at

The photos were taken at workshops with David R. Stoecklein Photography. Jean comments on this one, “This was taken at a workshop in Mackay, Idaho in July of 2013. It was a spectacular evening for photos and we were high on the top ridge of the mountain range.”

Jean and Gary Prescott have a popular new release, Satisfied Hearts. Jean is known for her collaborations with poets, and the album album includes collaborations with Yvonne Hollenbeck, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Darrell Arnold, Chris Isaacs, the late Pat Richardson, Jeff Gore, Debra Coppinger Hill and Jay Snider. There are also selections by songwriters Randy Huston, Joyce Woodson, and others. One song is a tribute to the memory of Buck Ramsey and another features the late Ed Stabler’s arrangement of Henry Herbert Knibbs’ classic “Where the Ponies Come to Drink.”

Find more about “Satified Hearts” and Jean Prescott at; at her web site,; and on Facebook.

GOOD CLEAN FUN by Rodney Nelson


by Rodney Nelson

I remember making hay with Dad,
We’d put it up in stacks—
Dad used to use a stackframe,
and filled it to the max.

Then sometimes, but not often,
he’d say “Rodney, you’ve the knack.
Grab a fork—I’ll lift you up,
and you top off the stack.”

Reluctantly, I’d take the fork.
He’d lift me up on top—
I’d stack that hay to 30 feet,
before he’d finally stop.

Then he’d drive up really close,
I could see him down beneath
As I stepped out on the pushoff
on the end of the stacker teeth.

He’d back up a little ways,
I hoped he’d try no tricks
But giving me rides on that farmhand,
was how he got his kicks!

Wasn’t long and I’d get mad.
I’d had these rides before—
He’d slide the pushoff almost in,
Then he’d run it out once more!

“Come on, Dad, let me down,
this really isn’t fair”
Then he’d point the teeth toward the ground
and leave me dangling in the air!

I could hear him laughing down below,
in hopeless choking mirth.
and I’d wonder if I’d ever again
put my feet upon the earth!

It was no use to argue,
Dad wouldn’t quite ’till he was done,
But I always, always wondered,
How could this be so fun?!

Well, our yard light burned out last year,
and since I’d run that farmhand all my life,
I knew we could fix it in a minute
if I could convince the wife!

Wasn’t easy to convince her,
she said a housewife was her role,
Though mad she was, she climbed aboard,
Took a ride to the top of the pole.

I said, “Sweetheart, I’m so proud of you”
when she fixed the light—
“And you’re especially lovely when you’re angry,
You really are a sight.”

“Let me down, you worthless cur,”
She was having a full-fledged fit—
I couldn’t pass up a chance like this,
So I drove around a bit!

GOOD, CLEAN FUN—I said to myself
as she called me a hopeless sap,
My grin got even wider
as I made another lap!

“Honey, just enjoy yourself
and isn’t it a fright—
It’s the first time that I’ve carried you,
since our wedding night!”

I finally shut the tractor off
Let her sit up there a while,
Promised her I’d let her down,
if she would only smile!

Oh it was fun—but there’s a problem,
I can see it now, I can …
It’s gonna’ take some might sweet talkin’
when that light burns out again!

© 1989, Rodney Nelson
This poem and photo should not be reposted or republished without permission.

North Dakota rancher, poet, columnist, and Senior Pro Rodeo champion Rodney Nelson recites this audience favorite in a video from the 2008 Western Folklife Center National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Rodney’s daughter-in-law Sara Nelson shared photos of Rodney’s grandson Haakon in a past Picture the West at

The photos were taken in August, 2014. Haakon was out in the hay field watching his father make some square bales and the baler popped out this little bale that was just his size. He was two at the time.

Find more about Rodney Nelson, some of his poetry, and information about his books and CDs at He writes the popular “Up Sims Creek”
column in Farm & Ranch Guide.

A COWBOY SEASON by Jo Lynne Kirkwood



photo by John Michael Reedy; request permission for any use. 


by Jo Lynne Kirkwood

Part III
(October — The Pasture Corrals)

In late autumn gnarled branches remember
their youth, and know they must die,
and at night they moan, and creak and cry out,
and bare tremblin’ limbs to the sky.

And in those lost hours ’til the dawnin’
hoot owls hunt, and predators roam,
and out riding nighthawk you look over your shoulder,
feelin’ fearful, and longin’ for home.

But a coyote’s been doggin’ your late season calves,
and near the tank a bear print was found,
and the fences need mending, better get to that soon,
‘fore your cattle stray off of your ground.

The wind stirs dry leaves in the shadows.
Is that a bruin, a hidin’ in there?
Or could be a cougar, warily watchin’—
Or nothin’ but restless night air.

“Aw, Come on,” you mutter, and shake at your shoulders.
“Grab hold, man. This ain’t no big deal.”
It’s just that October’s got you feelin’ spooked,
and out here the demons are real.

© 2001, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, used with permission

Perfect for the season, Utah storyteller and rural teacher Jo Lynne Kirkwood’s atmospheric four-part work, “A Cowboy Season” is a BAR-D favorite. Find the entire poem at

Jo Lynne Kirkwood has a fine book that collects her poetry, “Old Houses,” and recordings. Find more about her at, at her site; and on Facebook.

This intriguing photo, “Sandy,” is by Montana songwriter, poet, and photographer John Reedy. It is included in his book, This Place. The impressive photography in the book is accompanied by John Michael Reedy’s poems and songs. You can view the entire book here, where it is available from the publisher.

See our feature about John Reedy at, which includes more examples of his outstanding photography, and find more of his work and more about him at and



sep2012photo by Terry Nash 


by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Though you’re not exactly blue,
Yet you don’t feel like you do
In the winter, or the long hot summer days.
For your feelin’s and the weather
Seem to sort of go together,
And you’re quiet in the dreamy autumn haze.
When the last big steer is goaded
Down the chute, and safely loaded;
And the summer crew has ceased to hit the ball;
When a fellow starts to draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they’ve finished shipping cattle in the fall.

Only two men left a standin’
On the job for winter brandin’,
And your pardner, he’s a loafing by your side.
With a bran-new saddle creakin’,
But you never hear him speakin’,
And you feel it’s goin’ to be a quiet ride.
But you savvy one another
For you know him like a brother—
He is friendly but he’s quiet, that is all;
For he’s thinkin’ while he’s draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they’ve finished shippin’ cattle in the fall.

And the saddle hosses stringin’
At an easy walk a swingin’
In behind the old chuck wagon movin’ slow.
They are weary gaunt and jaded
With the mud and brush they’ve waded,
And they settled down to business long ago.
Not a hoss is feelin’ sporty,
Not a hoss is actin’ snorty;
In the spring the brutes was full of buck and bawl;
But they’re gentle, when they’re draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they’ve finished shippin’ cattle in the fall.

And the cook leads the retreat
Perched high upon his wagon seat,
With his hat pulled ‘way down furr’wd on his head.
Used to make that old team hustle,
Now he hardly moves a muscle,
And a feller might imagine he was dead,
‘Cept his old cob pipe is smokin’
As he lets his team go pokin’,
Hittin’ all the humps and hollers in the road.
No, the cook has not been drinkin’—
He’s just settin’ there and thinkin’
‘Bout the places and the people that he knowed
And you watch the dust a trailin’
And two little clouds a sailin’,
And a big mirage like lakes and timber tall.
And you’re lonesome when you’re draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they’ve finished shippin’ cattle in the fall.

When you make the camp that night,
Though the fire is burnin’ bright,
Yet nobody seems to have a lot to say,
In the spring you sung and hollered,
Now you git your supper swallered
And you crawl into your blankets right away.
Then you watch the stars a shinin’
Up there in the soft blue linin’
And you sniff the frosty night air clear and cool.
You can hear the night hoss shiftin’
As your memory starts driftin’
To the little village where you went to school.
With its narrow gravel streets
And the kids you used to meet,
And the common where you used to play baseball.
Now you’re far away and draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon
For they’ve finished shippin’ cattle in the fall.

And your school-boy sweetheart too,
With her eyes of honest blue—
Best performer in the old home talent show.
You were nothin’ but a kid
But you liked her, sure you did—
Lord! And that was over thirty years ago.
Then your memory starts to roam
From Old Mexico to Nome.
From the Rio Grande to the Powder River,
Of the things you seen and done—
Some of them was lots of fun
And a lot of other things they make you shiver.
‘Bout that boy by name of Reid
That was killed in a stampede—
‘Twas away up north, you helped ’em dig his grave,
And your old friend Jim the boss
That got tangled with a hoss,
And the fellers couldn’t reach in time to save.

You was there when Ed got his’n—
Boy that killed him’s still in prison,
And old Lucky George, he’s rich and livin’ high.
Poor old Tom, he come off worst,
Got his leg broke, died of thirst
Lord but that must be an awful way to die.

Then them winters at the ranches,
And the old time country dances—
Everybody there was sociable and gay.
Used to lead ’em down the middle
Jest a prancin’ to the fiddle—
Never thought of goin’ home till the break of day.
No! there ain’t no chance for sleepin’,
For the memories come a creepin’,
And sometimes you think you hear the voices call;
When a feller starts a draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they’ve finished shippin’ cattle in the fall.

…from Kiskaddon’s 1924 version in Rhymes of the Ranges
Bruce Kiskaddon’s masterpiece is a well loved classic, in the repertoire of most serious reciters.

Hear top poet Waddie Mitchell recite it on YouTube.

Bruce Kiskaddon drew on his cowboying experiences for his poetry. Find much more about him in features at

This 2012 photo is by Colorado poet and rancher Terry Nash. He told us, “This was taken where we summer our cattle on Pinon Mesa, looking off the rim into Unaweep Canyon towards Gateway, Colorado.”

Terry can be found at events across the West, including the upcoming Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering (October 5-8, 2017) and the Western Slope Cowboy Gathering (November 2-4, 2017). Terry is also an invited poet to the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (January 29-February 3, 2018) and to the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering (March 2-3, 2018).

Look for his new CD, A Good Ride, coming soon. Find more about him at, and find his previous releases and more about him at his web site,



by Andy Nelson

I’ve found a new way to keep up with my pards,
That seems to be all of the rage;
I revel in stalking my cowboy buddies,
From my very own Facebook page.

I’m the jigger boss of my own cyber wall,
A social media buckaroo;
I ride herd all over my internet range,
And all of my buddies do too.

I post and I poke and I tag and I like,
It seems that the fun never ends;
I share and I add and most all my replies,
Irritate most all of my friends.

I’m on the confuser first thing in the morn,
Asking for side pork recipes;
But holding a skillet of splattering grease,
Makes it real hard to take selfies.

With smart phone I go as I see to my chores,
And film the cat having kitties;
Then upload a clip of a silly bum lamb,
Nursing on the milk cows (udders).

I spend most of the morning passing along
Unsubstantiated rumors;
I ask a few pards about wart remedies,
And treatments for sarcoid tumors.

I don’t care much for the political posts,
Just like most all of the masses;
Pachyderm or burro, far as I’m concerned,
Both parties’ mascots are asses.

I get all jacked up when a notice comes in,
It might be my birthday, or not;
Then invite all my friends to join an event
Called, “My party that you forgot.”

I keep track of feed days with a status update,
I don’t do anything by halves;
And I make sure to post a new life event,
Each time that a mama cow calves.

The joke that I shared of the old spotted donk,
Didn’t much seem to offend me;
But the Appy folks and the mule skinnin’ crowd,
All of them want to unfriend me.

I get back to the house and upload some pics,
Of me with my new healer pup;
A cryptorchid horse colt, a prolapsed old cow,
And something the barn cat threw up.

I know my old pards will be waiting to hear,
About my ev’ning ablution;
So I share a quick pic of me in the tub,
With my new dandruff solution.

Then I jump in my long-johns, flop into bed,
And rehash my day on the run;
I’m worn to a frazzle but don’t understand,
Why I don’t get anything done.

© 2016, Andy Nelson
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Pinedale, Wyoming’s Andy Nelson is a second-generation farrier, cowboy poet, emcee, humorist, rodeo announcer, and co-host (with his brother Jim) of the popular syndicated Clear Out West (C.O.W.) radio show. This poem is included on his most recent CD, I Won.

Andy entertains at gatherings across the West, and next month he is headed to Utah’s 22nd annual Heber Valley Music & Cowboy Poetry Gathering, October 25-29, 2017. Other poets include Waddie Mitchell, Chris Isaacs, Jeff Carson, Sam DeLeeuw, R.P. Smith, Jake Riley, and Paul Bliss. Musicians include Riders in the Sky, Bellamy Brothers,  Bar-J Wranglers, Brenn Hill, R.W. Hampton, Sons of the San Joaquin, Sourdough Slim, Lon Hannah and San Joaquin Junction, Chris Peterson, Rollie Stevens, Joshua Creek, Many Stings, Dave and Jenny Anderson, Charley Jenkins Band, Jon Messenger, In Cahoots, Cold Creek, Carin Marie, Eli Barsi, Summer Brooke & Mountain Faith Band, Call of the West, Kristen H. Lloyd, John Wayne Schulz, Molly in the Mineshaft, and the Heber Valley Orchestra.

There are many special events, including the Cowboy Express Train, a mounted shooting competition, the Buckaroo Fair, Cowboy Brunch, and Cowboy Church. On the Free Community Night, Thursday, October 26, the cowboy poetry and cowboy music Chuckwagon and Cow Camp Stages are open to all.

This year’s poster features the art of Andy Thomas. Read more about him here on the gathering site; at his web site,; and on Facebook.

Find more about this year’s event at and on Facebook.

Find more about Andy Nelson at; at his web site,; at the Clear Out West (C.O.W.) website,, and the show’s Facebook page.


THE HELPMATE by Yvonne Hollenbeck


by Yvonne Hollenbeck

You say I look disgusted
but you took me by surprise,
and I suppose there was resentment
coming from my eyes.

Since that hired man left us
I’ve been more than just his wife;
I’m the helper by his side
as he continues ranching life.

I get the gates and scoop the bunks
and help with feeding hay,
and that is just the start
of all the jobs I do each day.

I’m right there for the calving
and I help with all the chores,
then try to catch my work up
when I get some time indoors.

You see, I run and jump
each time he gives a little yelp,
and it galls me that you ask
how he is doing “with no help.”

© 2014, Yvonne Hollenbeck
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Yvonne Hollenbeck is cowboy poetry’s most visible ranch wife, and her life gives her endless material. She is a sought-after performer at Western events, for her poetry and for her traveling program that includes the works of the five generations of quiltmakers in her family. She is a champion quilter.

Yvonne and and her husband Glen, a champion calf-roper, raise cattle and quarter horses on their ranch in Clearfield, South Dakota.

In fairness to Glen, the poem came about after he told Yvonne about someone who, even after Glen had said Yvonne was helping out, went on to ask how he did everything “with no help.”

This poem is in Yvonne Hollenbeck’s recent book, Rhyming the Range, which collects her original poems about her life on the ranch. The book includes the most requested poems from her two out-of-print books and all of her newest poetry. She also has a CD by the same name that includes many of those poems.

Next month, Yvonne heads to the Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering & Western Swing Festival, October 27-29, 2017 at the Forth Worth Stockyards National Historic District. Events include a ranch rodeo, invitational team roping, chuck wagon competition, wagon train/trail ride, and much more. Yvonne joins other poets and musicians, including Don Edwards, Jay Snider, Jean Prescott, Chris Isaacs, Dan Roberts, “Straw” Berry, Mikki Daniel, Bobby Flores, Kristyn Harris, Jake Hooker, Leon Rausch, Hailey Sandoz, and of course, the great Red Steagall.

Find more about the event at and on Facebook.

This photo, by Yvonne Hollenbeck, was taken last spring at the Hollenbeck ranch.

Find more of Yvonne Hollenbeck’s poetry at  and visit

Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering October 5-8, 2017, Durango, Colorado


Image: “Ten Below Zero” by Andrew Peters

From the gathering organizers:

Embrace Cowboy Culture and Humor at Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Oct. 5 -8th, 2017

Celebrate Durango’s ranching heritage with performances, motorless parade, train ride & more

Spectacular autumn foliage in the mountains, beautiful fall temperatures and cattle drives all signal it’s time to for the 29th annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The October 5 – 8th event celebrates the culture and stories of the American cowboy and ranching in southwest Colorado, creatively shared by more than 40 cowboy poets, storytellers and musicians.

“It’s the perfect opportunity to pull on your cowboy boots and hat, observe a really unique art form in action and enjoy all the incredible fall activities in Durango,” says Linda Mannix, coordinator of the second oldest event of its kind in the United States.

The celebration is held in Durango’s bustling downtown district and headquartered at the historic Strater Hotel, where evening performances are staged at the Henry Strater Theater. The theme this year is “cowboy humor” and the Premier Show on Thursday Oct. 5th is called “Laughing Stock” featuring four of the finest cowboy humorists in the West.  Other evening performances on Oct. 5th and 6th  at Henry Strater Theater showcase several top cowboy poets and musicians from around the country and take place at 6:00 and 8:00p.m.

Mannix advises enjoying all the great trails, attractions and activities in the Durango area during the day on Thursday and Friday and the many Gathering happenings on Saturday before savoring dinner at the many locally-owned restaurants downtown and attending the late shows. “We have tickets still available for the late shows, with the earlier shows already or nearly sold out. The Cowboy Comedy Revue on Saturday morning also promises to have people tipping their hats to the 15 performers sharing the funniest tidbits of ranch life.”

Another event on Friday with space still available is the popular Cowboy Poet Train on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The excursion runs from 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., winds through the mountains and beautiful fall scenery, and features performers on every coach and a barbecue lunch at Cascade Canyon.

New this year will be a screening of the  award-winning film, “Everything in the Song is True.” The film screens at 2:30pm in the Henry Strater Theater. This documentary follows the lives of three present day cowboys and one cowgirl in the American West. Tickets are $10 to benefit the 4-H and FFA Youth Programs.


Free Ways to Kick Up Your Heels

Start off Saturday morning with a real Cowboy Chuckwagon Breakfast on the corner of 5th St. and Main Ave.  Then stay right there to watch the large motorless Cowboy Parade at 10 a.m. on Saturday with horses, riders, wagons, walkers and even llamas and Longhorns, but no motorized vehicles.

From 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., free themed sessions of cowboy poetry and music are being held at Strater Hotel and other downtown locations.  Walk from room to room to hear cowboy music and poetry all day, at no charge.

Shows of Western art are on display at Wild Shots Gallery, Sorrel Sky Gallery and Toh-Atin Gallery throughout the weekend. At 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, the free Poster Session at Toh-Atin Gallery highlights  15 cowboy poets and musicians performing their interpretations of this year’s fine art poster “Ten Below Zero” by fine artist Andrew Peters. A print signing and artist’s reception follows from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.

Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering wraps up at the Strater Hotel with free performance “A Cowboy and His Creator” on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. with inspirational poetry and music by many of the weekend’s performers.

For a complete schedule, tickets, performer bios and more information, call 970.749.2995 and visit Also follow the event on Facebook.


Image: “Sammy” by Elizabeth Kinahan 

Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering focus on Cowboy Humor this year

Living a hard life, working outdoors with livestock and equipment, a cowboy’s life can take many twists and turns.  This year the 2017 Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering is focusing on cowboy humor.  How the cowboy finds humor from the funny side of the fenceline, which might include horse wrecks and ironic twists of fate.

Rancher and cowboy poet R.P. Smith from Nebraska, will lead a group of some of the finest humorists in the world of cowboy poetry.  Andy Nelson, Gary McMahan and Terry Henderson are featured in the Premier Show on Thursday October 5th titled “Laughing Stock” at the Henry Strater Theater.  Two shows, one at 6pm and one at 8pm, will highlight funny stories, poems and the comedic mistakes of living the cowboy life.

The Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering runs from October 5th to October 8th with a bent towards humor. Headquartered at the Strater Hotel, the Friday and Saturday evening shows feature humorists Otto Rosfeld, Floyd Beard, singers Trinity Seely, Pat Meade and others.  Saturday October 7th starts off with a real Cowboy Chuckwagon Breakfast at 7am on the corner of 5th St. and Main Ave. followed by the “motorless” Cowboy Parade at 10am with plenty of horses, riders, wagons and walkers.  After the parade, there is another “not to be missed” cowboy humor show, the Cowboy Comedy Revue at 10:30am in the Henry Strater Theater.

Free sessions of cowboy poetry and music on Saturday, will run from 10:30am to 4:30pm in the Strater Hotel, Lone Spur Cafe and Cerda 7.  A free session of poetry and music at  4:40pm at Toh Atin Gallery will focus on this year’s fine art poster, “Ten Below Zero” by artist Andrew Peters.

Cowboy hats and boots will be the norm in downtown Durango as the town goes “western” for the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering October 5th through the 8th.  Enjoy a wide variety of family-friendly shows and activities.  Complete schedule at or call 970-749-2995.