GHOST CANYON TRAIL by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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GHOST CANYON TRAIL
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

There are strange things told of spirits bold,
And the trail to Sante Fe,
There is many a tale of the Chisholm trail,
And the trail to Laramie.
But this is the tale of an obscure trail
That few men travelled on;
Where a spirit was known to ride alone,
‘Twixt the midnight hour and dawn.

It would wind and creep through canyons deep
And over the mesa wide.
The men who knew this trail were few,
Where the phantom used to ride.
At times was heard a careless word
Some drinking man let fall,
But ’twas held a joke by the rangeland folk,
That no one believed atall.

I learned the truth from a hard youth.
He was one of those reckless men
Who could ride in the lead of a night stampede,
Ot the dust of the broncho pen.
On a winter night when the stars were bright
And the dying moon was low,
He was holding his course on a jaded horse
And the pace that he made was slow.

The cow horse flinched and cringed, till the cinch
Was almost against the ground.
His quivering ears showed deathly fear
And the cow boy looked around.
He felt the thrill of a clammy chill,
As it travelled along his spine,
For he saw at his side a phantom ride,
With never a word or sign.

He kept his place, for he set his pace
To the cow boy’s jogging speed.
There came no sound on the frozen ground
From the tread of his phantom steed.
He showed a flash of a long moustache
And a tilted campaign hat.
There straight and strong with stirrups long
The phantom trooper sat.

They were all alone. And the pale moon shone
Through the ghost at the cow boy’s side.
His courage fled as he rode with the dead
Alone on the mesa wide.
No sign of flight, no show of fight
The buckaroo displayed,
For slugs of lead won’t hurt the dead,
Through the mist of a vapor shade.

With the mesa past they came at last
To a canyon wide and dark,
Where some stone huts stood in the cottonwoods
That had long been an old land mark.
Each ruined shack had a chimney black,
And a roofless crumbling wall.
A living spring was the only thing
That was useful to men atall.

The chilling breeze through the leafless trees,
Gave a dreary, dismal moan.
The trooper stayed in the ghastly shade
And cow boy rode alone.
Strange tales are head of what occurred
At that place in the years gone by,
Ere that restless soul of the night patrol
Rode under the starlit sky.

What the trooper knows, or where he goes,
Nobody has ever found.
But the tale is told of the lone patrol
By the older settlers ’round.
There’s a cow boy trim with a face that’s grim,
Will never forget that ride
On a winter night in the pale moon light,
By the phantom trooper’s side.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon
Happy Halloween. Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem, with a bit of a tip of the hat to Robert Service, is from his 1947 book, Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems. Find many more Kiskaddon poems and more about him in features at CowboyPoetry.com.

Also catch the Halloween spirit with “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and the first-ever recording of it in 1949, by Burl Ives, here.

Find our links to other videos of the song, including renditions by Johnny Cash, Gene Autry (in a 1949 film trailer), Marty Robbins, Sons of the Pioneers, Chris LeDoux, Bing Crosby, Riders in the Sky, Jimmie Rodgers, Lorne Greene, Elvis, The Blues Brothers, the Outlaws, Judy Collins, at CowboyPoetry.com and find more poems in the spirit of Halloween there as well.

Texas local historian, ghost-tale-teller, poet, writer, and reciter Linda Kirkpatrick shared this fitting photograph, taken in July, 2014. Find more about her at LindaKirkpatrick.net.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this photograph with this photograph, but for other uses, please request permission from the photographer. The poem is in the public domain.)

THE WHITE MUSTANG by S. Omar Barker (1894-1985)

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THE WHITE MUSTANG
by S. Omar Barker (1894-1985)

Wherever rhythmic hoofbeats drum,
As galloping riders go or come,
Wherever the saddle is still the throne,
And the dust of hoofs by wind is blown,
Wherever the horsemen young or old,
The Pacing Mustang’s tale is told.

A hundred years on hill and plain,
With comet-tail and flying mane,
Milk-white, free, and high of head,
Over the range his trail has led.
Never a break in his pacing speed,
Never a trot nor a lope his need,
Since faraway days of the wagon train,
Men have followed his trail in vain.

A dozen horses spurred to the death,
Still he flees like a phantom’s breath,
And from some hill at horizon’s hem,
Snorts his challenge back at them.
A bullet drops him dead by day,
Yet white at night he speeds away.
Forever a thief of tamer steeds,
Stallion prince of the mustang breeds,
Coveted prize of the men who ride,
Never a rope has touched his hide.
Wherever the saddle is still a throne,
The Great White Mustang’s tale is known.

O Phantom Ghost of heart’s desire,
Lusty-limbed with soul of fire,
Milk-white Monarch, may you, free,
Race the stars eternally.

© 1968 S. Omar Barker, from Rawhide Rhymes, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker

S. Omar Barker’s spooky poem fits the mood for Halloween. Find more in that vein in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com (which also includes lots of links for “Ghost Riders in the Sky”).

Barker notes that Washington Irving (1783-1859) was the first to write about the “ghost horse of the plains.” In 1832, Irving traveled to Eastern Oklahoma, and wrote about it in his 1835 book, A Tour of the Prairies. In Chapter 20, “The Camp of the Wild Horse,” Irving writes:

…We had been disappointed this day in our hopes of meeting with buffalo, but the sight of the wild horse had been a great novelty, and gave a turn to the conversation of the camp for the evening. There were several anecdotes told of a famous gray horse, which has ranged the prairies of this neighborhood for six or seven years, setting at naught every attempt of the hunters to capture him. They say he can pace and rack (or amble) faster than the fleetest horses can run. Equally marvellous accounts were given of a black horse on the Brazos, who grazed the prairies on that river’s banks in Texas. For years he outstripped all pursuit. His fame spread far and wide; offers were made for him to the amount of a thousand dollars; the boldest and most hard-riding hunters tried incessantly to make prize of him, but in vain. At length he fell a victim to his gallantry, being decoyed under a tree by a tame mare, and a noose dropped over his head by a boy perched among the branches…

Find more related links in our Halloween feature.

Irving is well known for his own ghostly story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” published in 1820. A bit of trivia: a 1922 silent movie version of the story, “The Headless Horseman,” starred Will Rogers.

Irving also has a connection with this image. This nineteenth century engraving, “Lassoing Wild Horses,” was made by by W. W. Rice from a painting by Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1822-1888). Darley illustrated many works by authors of the time and did the first illustrations for Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle.”

S. Omar Barker as described in Cowboy Miner Productions’ collection of his work, “…was born in the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico… a rancher, high school teacher, college professor, forest ranger, soldier, outdoorsman, and legislator… named after his father Squire L. Barker, but went by Omar, he often signed his books with his initials and trademark brand, ‘Lazy SOB.'”

Barker was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America (and twice the winner of their Spur Award) and was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum ‘s Hall of Great Westerners, the first living author to receive that recognition. His poems were frequently published by Western Horseman and appeared in many other publications. He published four collections of his hundreds of poems, edited many books, and wrote novels and non-fiction.

The image is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.

(You can share this poem with this post, but any other use requires permission. The image is in the public domain.)

DEEP OCTOBER by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)

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Gathering the Creek” by  Tim Cox, used with permission

 

DEEP OCTOBER
by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)

There’s somethin’ ’bout the time of year
when fall is almost over,
September’s just a memory,
now lost in deep October.

The nights have changed from cool to cold
the trees from leafed to bare,
a breeze is now a cuttin’ wind
that hones the evenin’ air.

And overhead a muted light
casts shadows o’er the gloom,
like tricks upon All Hallow’s Eve
an orange October moon.

A melancholy, haunted place
this lonely trail tonight,
a grove of twisted, barren shapes
against that autumn light.

The sounds of evenin’ aren’t the same
no crickets, birds or frog,
instead a moan among the trees
or distant, mournful dog.

While overhead that muted light
casts shadows o’er the gloom,
like tricks upon All Hallow’s Eve
an orange October moon.

There’s somethin’ ’bout the time of year
when fall is almost over,
September’s just a memory,
now lost in deep October.

© 2007, Rod Nichols, used with permission

Rod told us, “‘Deep October’ was written after a ride one evening when the moon was almost orange in color. I was on a black Morgan that belonged to a friend of mine and I had to write this one when I got in.

Rod is forever missed by his many friends and family. Find more about him and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This beautiful image, “Gathering the Creek,” is by top Western artist Tim Cox. Tim Cox has a number of striking fall paintings, many available as prints. See them and many more at timcox.com. Thanks to Suzie and Tim Cox for permission to share “Gathering the Creek.”

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and image with this post, but for any other uses, please obtain permission.)

A COWBOY SEASON by Jo Lynne Kirkwood

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photo courtesy of Amy Steiger

 

A COWBOY SEASON
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 CowboyPoetry.com.

Find Jo Lynne Kirkwood at the Heber Valley Western Music and Cowboy Poetry Gathering (October 26-30, 2016). She’ll join other poets: Waddie Mitchell, Doris Daley, Andy Nelson, Jeff Carson, DW Groethe, Ross Knox, and Walt “Bimbo” Cheney; and musicians Michael Martin Murphey, Suzy Bogguss, Bar J Wranglers, The Highwaymen Live Tribute Band, Dave Stamey, Wylie & The Wild West, The Haunted Windchimes, Joni Harms, Belinda Gail, New West, Trinity Seely, John Wayne Schulz, Heifer Belles, Molly in the Mineshaft, Olivia Harms, Miss Devon and The Outlaw, Dansie Family Band, Kenny Hall, Ken Stevens & Jerye Lee, and the Heber Valley Orchestra.

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

Award-winning Writer, poet, and working cowboy Amy Steiger shares this recent photograph of bear and baby bear tracks taken by Gail Steiger. Both Steigers work on Arizona’s Spider Ranch, in the Prescott area.

See more of her photos on Instagram; follow her on Amazon for news about her forthcoming book and information about her novels and essays;
and visit her site .

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

WET BOOTS by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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WET BOOTS
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

A cowboy goes under a turrible strain,
When he tries to wear boots that’s been soaked in the rain.
He pulls and he wiggles, and after he’s tried,
He gits him some flour and sprinkles inside.

Then he gits him two jack knives; puts one in each lug
And he stomps and he pulls till his eyes start to bug.
Next he tries a broom handle—an awful mistake.
Which same he finds out when he feels the lug break.

The toes and the heels they bust out of his socks,
And it’s awful to hear how that cowpuncher talks.
He opens his knife and it shore is a sin,
Fer he cuts his new boots till his feet will go in.

I reckon, old-timer, you know how he feels.
You have kicked bunk house walls and the chuck wagon wheels.
And you know when yore older, there’s nothin’ to gain
From buyin’ tight boots if you work in the rain.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

We’ll dedicate this poem to the memory of cowboy, poet, and recite Rusty McCall, 1986-2013. It was one of the first poems he learned. Find more about Rusty, including great photos by Kevin Martini-Fuller at CowboyPoetry.com.

In the introduction to Kiskaddon’s 1947 book, Rhymes of the Ranges, Frank King writes, “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, especially as a writer for the late Tap Duncan, famous as a Texas and Arizona cattleman, and one time the largest cattle holder in Mojave County, Arizona, where Bruce rode for years, after which he took a turn as a rider on big cattle stations in Australia. All this experience is reflected in his western poems, because he has had actual experience in the themes he puts into verse, He had no college professor teach him anything. 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.”

This poem was included in Kiskaddon’s 1935 book, Western Poems. Find much more poetry and more about Bruce Kiskaddon in our features at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1940 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cowboy pulling on boots, rodeo, Quemado, New Mexico.” It’s from the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress. Find more about it here.

This poem and photograph are in the public domain.

THE BUYER’S TYPE by Floyd Beard

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THE BUYER’S TYPE
by Floyd Beard

I’m standing here pushing up a steer,
as I load the truck today.
Looks thick and fat from where I’m at,
as I send him on his way.

Yell out your bid, or wave your lid
as you catch the auctioneer’s cry.
Run up his price, you know he’s nice,
let ‘em know you want to buy!

You hope each spring that your cow’ll bring,
a calf of the buyers’ type.
So that next fall at the auctioneer ball,
they’ll all want to take a swipe.

I ain’t for gore but a bidder’s war,
‘tween buyers is mighty fine.
When they’ll bid once more, o’er the buyer next door,
and the calves they’re wantin’s mine.

Then I go inside and I strut with pride,
as I settle at the cashier’s till.
Weight tickets come down and they’re “times’ed” per pound,
and the gold my pockets fill.

What…I take the shrink? Is that fair ya’ think?
The commission is then pulled out!
And a feed cost’s there for two days of care,
boy that yardage is kinda’ stout.

Well they whittled my check, but then what the heck,
better get what I got to the bank.
Get your grubby mitts off my money you nits,
my ship came in and purt near sank.

Take out pasture cost and the ones I lost,
I’m barely gonna cover my bills.
Still owe the vet charge, and the feed bill’s large,
now I’m cuttin’ out most of my thrills.

Well the trucker’s paid and the mortgage made,
and repair bills paid at the shop.
Fuel’s laid in, mill’s pumping again,
propane sure took a big hop.

Well I’ll fix the roof next year and maybe see clear,
to get by on the tires I’ve got.
And I’ll burn more wood, and maybe I could,
patch the tank where it’s got the rot.

I’ll watch what I buy and if prices stay high,
I’ll get by for another year.
I’ll just be brave, use the heifers I save,
and try to not choke on fear.

If I squeeze real tight, I’ll make it alright,
and there ain’t no use to gripe.
But if I got any pull, I pray that ol’ bull,
will throw calves of the buyers’ type

© 2014, Floyd Beard, used with permission

This poem appears on popular Colorado rancher and poet Floyd Beard’s recent CD, Short Grass Country. The album includes original poems and recitations of classic poems by Luther Lawhon, E.A. Brininstool, Sunny Hancock, and Banjo Paterson. It’s all tied together with fine music by Butch Hause.

Floyd Beard comments on “Buyer’s Type” in the liner notes, “Cattlemen work in a year-long cycle. This poem marks the end of one cycle and beginning of the next. It also points out that ranches love their calves to sell high, but it is sure not all profit.”

Find Rick Huff’s review here, where he calls Short Grass Country a “collection of top-drawer cowboy thoughts and delivery.”

Find more about Floyd Beard at CowboyPoetry.com; at his web site; and on Facebook.

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

THE OLD DOUBLE DIAMOND lyrics by Gary McMahan

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THE OLD DOUBLE DIAMOND
lyrics by Gary McMahan

The old Double Diamond lay out east of Dubois
in the land of the buffalo
And the auctioneer’s gavel rapped and it rattled,
as I watched the old Double Diamond go.
Won’t you listen to the wind
Mother Nature’s violin.

When I first hired on the old Double Diamond
I was a dammed poor excuse for a man
Never learned how to aim,
well my spirit was tame
couldn’t see all the cards in my hand.
And the wind whipped the granite above me
and blew the tumbleweeds clean through my soul.

I fought her winters, busted her horses
I took more than I thought I could stand,
but the battle with the mountains and cattle
seems to bring out the best in a man.
I guess a sailor, he needs an ocean
and a mama, her babies to hold.

And I need the hills of Wyoming
in the land of the buffalo
Now shes sellin’ out, and I’m movin’ on
But I’m leavin’ with more than I came
‘Cause I got this saddle and it ain’t for sale,
and I got this song to sing

I got this a new range to find
and new knots to tie
in a country where cowboys are kings
I turned my tail to the wind,
and the old Double Diamond
disappeared into the sage.

Yay ee o-del o-hoo – dee

© 1975, words and music by Gary McMahan, used with permission

Gary McMahan’s widely loved song has been cited as one of today’s top cowboy songs by Western Horseman. It has been recorded by Chris LeDoux, Ian Tyson, and dozens of other artists. Gary tells about writing the song:

My dad was a cattle trucker and had hauled lots of cattle out of Dubois, Wyoming, for a fella named Ab Cross. Ab owned the grand old Cross Ranch outside of Dubois. Dad and Ab were good friends, and I became a friend of the Crosses as well.

I believe it was 1973 when Dad and I were up there in Dubois on a fishing trip. We stayed with the Crosses, and as we were getting ready to head out, Ab said, “You’re not leaving today, are you? The Double Diamond Ranch is going on the auction block today, and it’s kind of a big deal around these parts.” So Ab talked us into staying an extra day.

We all went to the sale and saw the fine old ranch go. There were a bunch of cowboys there who had just lost their jobs and were loadin’ up and moving out, all heading to what they hoped would be another cowboyin’ job somewhere. It struck my heart, and I thought this was kind of typical of what was going on in the West.

That next day on the drive back to Colorado, I wrote the basics of the song ‘The Old Double Diamond.’ I was living in Nashville at the time and over the next…I don’t know…nine months or so, I refined the song into the song you hear today.

It’s been cut I don’t know how many times by big names and small alike. I never tried to control who sang the song. I just let it have its head…I rarely meet a cowboy who doesn’t know the words to that song.

Listen to Gary McMahan’s rendition at his web site and see a video here.

Find an Ian Tyson version on YouTube and one by Chris LeDoux here.

Find more about Gary McMahan at CowboyPoetry.com; visit his site (where there are full-length versions of all tracks on all of his albums); and find him on Facebook.

Gary McMahan is portrayed on the cover of the new Real Singing Cowboys by Charlie Seemann, in a painting, “A Fine Old Martin,” by William Matthews. (Matthews has created designs for two Martin cowboy guitars. See a recent article here.)

Folklorist Seemann, executive director emeritus of the Western Folklife Center, comments in his preface, “I once asked the late Glenn Ohrlin what he thought made a good cowboy singer. He answered, ‘First, you gotta see how good they can ride.’ That is the premise on which I have based this book.”

The insightful volume celebrates the depth and breadth of talent of many top singers and songwriters from today’s real working West.

The book includes a deep, informative introduction to cowboy music. There are are profiles, with photographs and discographies, of 50 Western singers, songwriters, and musicians: Jesse Ballantyne, Mike Beck, Adrian Brannan, Dale Burson and Family, Lyle Cunningham, Jay Dalton, Kevin Davis, Stephanie Davis, Geno Delafose, Duane Dickinson, Juni Fisher, Brownie Ford, Ryan Fritz, the Gillette Brothers, DW Groethe, Wylie Gustafson, Kenny Hall, R.W. Hampton, Joni Harms, Kristyn Harris, Don Hedgpeth, Michael Hurwitz, Ken Jones, Walt LaRue, Chris LeDoux, Daron Little, Corb Lund, Gary McMahan, Chuck Milner, Michael and Dawn Moon, Rooster Morris, Glenn Ohrlin, Ken Overcast, Howard Parker, J Parson, Bob Petermann, Jean and Gary Prescott, Buck Ramsey, Luke Reed, Ray Reed, Brigid Reedy, Dave Schildt, Trinity Seely, Clyde Sproat, Dave Stamey, Gail Steiger, T.R. Stewart, Linda Svendsen, Caitlyn Taussig, Rod Taylor, Ian Tyson, Jessie Veeder, Johnny Whelan, and Hub Whitt.

The Real Singing Cowboys is available from booksellers and the publisher, Two Dot Press, an imprint of The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.

(Please respect copyright. You can share these lyrics with this post, but for other uses, please request permission.)