CHRISTMAS WALTZ by Buck Ramsey 1938-1998



by Buck Ramsey 1938-1998

The winter is here and the old year is passing,
The sun in its circle winds far in the south.
It’s time to bring cheer to a cold, snowbound cow camp,
It’s Christmas tree time of the year for the house.

Go ride to the cedar break rim of a canyon,
Down by where the river takes creek water clear,
And saddle-sleigh home us a fine shapely evergreen
Picked out while prowling the pasture this year.

While Fair strings the berries and popcorn and whatnots
And Ty braids the wreaths out of leather and vines,
Old Dunder, he whittles and whistles old carols
And fills them with stories of fine olden times.

He talks of a baby boy born in a cow shed,
All swaddled in tatters and laid in a trough,
Who, growing up, gave away all he could gather
And taught us that what is not given is lost.

It’s morning of Christmas and long before dawning
The camp hands are risen to ready the feast.
But with the fires glowing they don warm apparel
And go out to gaze on the Star of the East.

They cobbler the plums they put up back in summer,
They bake a wild turkey and roast backstrap deer,
They dollop the sourdough for rising and baking,
And pass each to each now the brown jug of cheer.

The dinner is done and they pass out the presents,
Their three each they open with handshakes and hugs,
Then Ty gets his guitar and Fred gets his fiddle
While Dunder and Fair laugh and roll back the rugs.

The tunes that they play melt the chill from the winter
As Dunder and Fair waltz and two-step along.
They play, sing and dance till the next morning’s dawning
Then all of the their slumbers are filled with this song.

© 1996, Buck Ramsey, used with permission.

Buck Ramsey’s work continues to inspire cowboy poets and songwriters. Called cowboy poetry’s “spiritual leader,” Buck Ramsey was a cowboy, poet, songwriter, musician, National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Award recipient.

See the Buck Ramsey Memorial Page on Facebook and find more poetry and more about Buck Ramsey at

A recording of Buck Ramsey singing “Christmas Waltz” was made in 1995. Buck Ramsey tells about his family’s shape-note singing and talks about the setting for his piece. Bette Ramsey comments about the recording: “Buck grew up in a singing family, and his sisters were well known for their gospel singing. We get a sense of what the Ramsey family sounded like as Buck is joined on this beautiful recording by his sisters Wanda, Ellen and Sylvia, and his younger brother Charles.”

The recording is on the 2-CD set, Buck Ramsey, Hittin’ the Trail, released by Smithsonian Folkways Records in 2003:

“Christmas Waltz” was printed in a small gift edition by Gibbs-Smith Publishers in 1996. It is out of print but used copies can be found.

Find more Christmas poetry throughout the season here at the 17th annual Christmas at the BAR-D.

THE CREMATION OF SAM McGEE by Robert W. Service (1874–1958)



by Robert W. Service (1874–1958)

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee,
where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam
’round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold
seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way
that he’d “sooner live in Hell.”

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way
over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold
it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze
till sometimes we couldn’t see,
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one
to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight
in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead
were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he,
“I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you
won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no;
then he says with a sort of moan,
“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold
till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ’tain’t being dead — it’s my awful dread
of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair,
you’ll cremate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed,
so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn;
but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day
of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all
that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death,
and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid,
because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say:
“You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you
to cremate these last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid,
and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb,
in my heart how I cursed that load!
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight,
while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows —
O God, how I loathed the thing!

And every day that quiet clay
seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent
and the grub was getting low.
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad,
but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing,
and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge,
and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice
it was called the Alice May.
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit,
and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry,
“is my cre-ma-tor-eum!”

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor,
and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around,
and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared —
such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal,
and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like
to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled,
and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled
down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak
went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow
I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about
ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said,
“I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked,”
then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm,
in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile,
and he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear
you’ll let in the cold and storm —
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee,
it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee

by Robert W. Service, 1907

Robert Service, an inveterate traveler and adventure seeker, was born in England and grew up in Scotland.

Service yearned to be a cowboy. He arrived in Canada the same year that gold was found in the Klondike, and did hire on as a cowboy for a bit on Vancouver Island. But soon he returned to the job he had trained for—banking—and that work led him eventually to the Yukon, when his bank transferred him there.

There he wrote stories of the prospectors and poems such as “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” His work met with immediate acclaim and his poetry remains widely read and performed.

Some of the tales he told were colored by his life in the West among cowboys, and the strong rhyme and meter of his work have inspired many cowboy poets.

Johnny Cash has a great rendition of the poem here.

A Wikipedia article with additional references, comments, in part:

Although the poem was fiction, it was based on people and things that Robert Service actually saw in the Yukon. The “Alice May” was based on the derelict sternwheeler the “Olive May” that belonged to the “BL&K” company and had originally been named for the wife and daughter of “Albert Sperry Kerry Sr.” Lake Laberge is formed by a widening of the Yukon River just north of Whitehorse and is still in use by kayakers.

For a period, Robert Service lived with Dr. Sugden in Whitehorse who recounted to him about being sent out to tend to a sick prospector. When Dr. Sugden arrived at the prospector’s cabin, he found the man dead and frozen stiff. Having no tools to bury him, Dr. Sugden cremated the prospector in the boiler of the Olive May and brought the ashes back to town….

Find more poetry and more about Robert Service at

This photograph, “Packers ascending the summit of Chilkoot Pass during the gold rush of 1898,” is credited to E. A. Hegg. It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.




by Slim McNaught

When northern lights are flashin’ bright
with shades of every hue
And fresh snow cover on the range
makes this whole world look new.
While ridin’ home beneath these lights,
lettin’ horse just pick his way,
You scan this world that looks so clean
and think of Christmas Day.

Now, you marvel how the world is touched
by nature’s evenin’ light
Each limb that’s piled up high with snow,
each post that’s capped with white.
And for the Christmas times a’ comin’
you smile and wish from here
That friends and family and folks afar
have a Christmas filled with cheer.

Then when you reach the home corral
with comforts waitin’ there,
You smell the smells of this, your world,
while horse enjoys his fare.
Your table waits with food and warmth
and family gives life reason,
Then from your heart comes many thanks
for another Christmas season.

© 2006, Slim McNaught
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author’s permission.

South Dakota poet and custom leather artist Slim McNaught’s poem is included in The BAR-D Roundup: Volume 8, a double-CD of classic and contemporary Christmas Cowboy Poetry.

Slim has engaging poetry books and an award-winning CD. Find more about him at; at; and on Facebook at Slim’s Custom Leather.




Illustration by Scott Nelson


by DW Groethe

It was Christmas in the badlands
An’ the moon was shinin’ bright—
So I figgered dear ol’ Santa
Wouldn’t need no exter light
When he come across the prairie
An’ down the coulees deep—
To drop me off my presents
While I was sound asleep—
—That’s what I get for figgerin’—
Once again I’se proven wrong
‘Cause I shoulda fixed that yard light
in the middle of my lawn.
Now—I knew the thing was history—
Heck, it burnt out in the spring
When I wacked it up a good one
With my alfalfa balin’ thing.

Still—it come as quite a shock
That night on Christmas Eve—
When a clatter did arise
An’ what my blood shots did perceive—
Eight tiny little reindeers
Stumblin’ ’round my yard
With about a million presents—
Some still bouncin’ mighty hard.
And layin’ in the middle,
With his suit so big an’ red,
Was none other than his elfness
Slowly shakin’ his old head.

Oh my lord!—I started thinkin’
Ain’t this the Cat’s Meow—
I’d best be gettin’ movin’
And I’d best be movin’ now!
‘Cause they’d smacked into that light pole
An’ it wasn’t fer no joke—
Looked like my chance fer presents
Had all gone up in smoke.
I’m halfway apoplectic
An’ sorry as can be
As I run like all the dickens
To help him to his feet.

I gets him kinda dusted—
Then we both eyeball the scene
Lookin’ pert near like a war zone,
If yer knowin’ what I mean.
Then’r peepers lit upon it—
What used ta be his sleigh—
An’ there weren’t no use denyin’
It had seen its better days.
I’m feelin’ real depressed
—Then I seen him drop his head—
I knew what he was thinkin’
So I quiklike thought—an’ said—

“Yer lookin’ kinda worried
But I tell ya what we’ll do—
A bit a wire an’ some nails
She’ll be flyin’ good as new.
We can take a couple fence posts
An’ bend ’em at the end
Then ya got yerself some runners
To get up an’ off again.
We’ll grab ‘r selves some planks
An’ nail ’em right around
What’s left a that ol’ chassis—
Heck—She’ll float right off the ground!”

Well—he paused an’ thought a bit—
Perked up—an’ said “Yer right!”
“But we’d best be gettin’ hoppin’
I got a fairly busy night!”
So faster than a twinklin’
I gets the parts we need—
An’ before ya even knowed it
We undone the dirty deed.

Then we gathers in the reindeer
Hitch ’em to the sleigh
An’ round up all the presents
Til’ they’re packed and stashed away.
An’ as he climbed aboard
He turned—Just like a shot—
Stopped an’ handed me some presents
An’ said—”I near forgot!”
I heard him when he hollered
As he flew on outa sight—
“Merry Christmas you old codger—
Next year turn on the light!”

© 1997, DW Groethe, used with permission

Montana ranch hand, poet, and picker DW Groethe creates an illustrated Christmas poem every year. This one is from his entertaining chapbook, A Charlie Creek Christmas & Other Wint’ry Tales of the West.

This illustration is by Scott Nelson. Among his many credits, Scott Nelson also has illustrated Rodney Nelson’s Wilbur’s Christmas Gift, and volumes of his Up Sims Creek columns (including a new one, just released) and Rodney’s daughter, photographer Annika Plummer’s new book, The Apple Story.

DW performs his poetry and music at venues small (which he really likes) and large. He’s appeared many times at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and has been invited to the National Traditional Council for the Arts’ National Folk Festival, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Library of Congress, and other places. Find more about DW Groethe at


Ken Blacklock 1937–2016


Suzanne Aardema send us the sad news of popular Alberta poet Ken Blacklock’s death. She wrote, “It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to inform you of the passing of Ken Blacklock, cowboy poet and all around good soul. On December 1 Ken passed away when the car he was diving hit two loose horses that were on the road near his home near Onaway, Alberta, Canada. He was the lone occupant of the vehicle.”

Find an obituary here, which states, in part:

It is with great sadness and much love that we say goodbye to Kenneth Raymond Blacklock (known as Smoke or Poet to many); father, grandfather and valued friend who passed away suddenly on December 1, 2016.

…An Albertan beginning to end, he was born on February 16, 1937 in Jasper Park, Alberta. Over a long and widely traveled life he was a Scout leader, truck driver, RCAF corporal, tax accountant, expeditor, storyteller, coal miner, blaster, cowboy poet, Folk Festival volunteer and many other endeavors where a quick mind, solid work ethic and willingness to try new things were an advantage.

A celebration of his life will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday the 17th of December 2016 at the Hope Christian Reformed Church located at 1004 Highway 16 Parkland County (corner of Highway 16 and Highway 779).

As an expression of sympathy, memorial contributions may be made in Ken’s name to the Canadian Diabetes Association or to The Royal Canadian Legion.

101 WAYS TO LOSE A CALF by Linda Nadon


by Linda Nadon

There’s a hundred ways to lose a calf, reckon we’ve all heard that before
But, when it comes to losin’ a calf, I can tell you ‘bout one more

It was calvin’ time, water was runnin’ and the sun was shinin’ bright
I headed out to check the cows, to make sure everything was alright

A little Red Angus cow had calved and she was lookin’ after her little guy
As I walked up, a ripple, in a bull hole behind her, caught my eye

I really couldn’t believe it ‘cause only his nostrils was stickin’ out
I reached in and grabbed a-hold, it was a new born calf, no doubt

I don’t know how long he was in there, I’ve no idea how he’d fallen in
I dragged him over to the little cow and she claimed him, reckon he was her twin

Momma cow was working him over good, I figured he’d soon get up and suck
It was warm and sunny, he’d be dry in no time, I couldn’t believe our luck!

I reckon we was ’bout half done calvin’ these twins would put us up by one
And momma cow definitely wanted them both, we was havin’ a real good run

Didn’t look like they needed my help at all, decided I might as well go
I thought, I’ll let “Mother Nature” do her thing I’ll come back in an hour or so

Ya see, I’ve been known to interfere, perhaps, on occasion, more than I should
But this time, I figured no help was required, things was going too good

When I returned, I couldn’t believe it that calf was stone, cold dead
He had suffocated, his brother had stumbled over and was laying on his head

Now a dozen “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” went racing thru’ my head that day
And now you’ve heard My story of how we lost a calf the 101th way

© 2016, Linda Nadon
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author’s permission.


Saskatchewan rancher Linda Nadon also sent these photos of twins, and told us, “This is a true story, unfortunately, it doesn’t have a happy ending. It does provide an accurate description of calving on the ranch. As a rancher, you never know when to interfere and when to leave things be. In this situation, I made the wrong call. I guess that’s ranching.

Linda Nadon has a recent CD, North of 54 Degrees.


It is described:

North of 54 is Linda’s debut CD which includes a sample of her own cowboy poetry. Linda and her husband, who she refers to as “my Larry,” raise beef cattle near Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada (which is located on the 54th parallel). Her poems are depictions of her many, and often humorous, experiences on the ranch. The critters and calamities associated with everyday life on the N7 Ranch provide a never-ending supply of poetry material. The CD also features songs performed by Linda and her children, Lacey and Landon. Her brother and producer, recording artist Rocky Lakner, also added musical accompaniment and her favorite song which he wrote and recorded some years ago. CD’s can be ordered directly from Linda at for $15.00 pp.

Find Rick Huff’s review here  where he comments, “I don’t recall coming away from hearing a CD by a poet who focuses on family ranching with more of a clear-cut sense of the family than this one provides…”

Find more about Linda Nadon at

SEEIN’ SANTA by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)


“Seein’ Santa” by Charles M. Russell, 1910
C. M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana  reproduced with permission


by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)

Ol’ Charlie sat with cup in hand,
“Hot coffee, that’s for me.
I’ll never touch another drop
of spirits, though I freeze.”

The bunkhouse crew now gathered ’round;
ol’ Chuck was talkin’ strange.
“What happened, son,” the foreman asked,
to bring about this change?”

The cowboy took another sip,
“Just let me ketch my breath.
You won’t believe what happened, boys,
but scared me half to death.”

“I’d been up in the north country,
and stopped by Miller’s shack.
We jawed awhile and afterwards,
I started headin’ back.”

“The wind was raw and bitter cold.
It had me in it’s grip.
I thought to warm my innards up,
and took a little nip.”

“When all at once against the sky
and down a cloudy draw,
a sight like nuthin’ on this Earth,
this frozen cowboy saw.”

“It were a sleigh, I swear it, boys,
and drawn by antlered deer,
a driver, too, in cap and fur,
and laughin’ loud and clear.”

“I’d never seen its likes before
nor nuthin half as strange;
That driver seemed to tip his cap
and called to me by name.”

“When that there rig flew over me
with driver, deer and sleigh,
I took one look at what I’d drunk,
and threw the rest away.”

“Then as they mounted to the sky,
I heard him clearly say,
‘Peace on the Earth, goodwill to men
on this most wondrous day.”

” I know you won’t believe me, boys,
but, how do you explain,
this lariat he left for me
that bears my given name?”

For there upon his saddle horn
a rope with leather bands
that bound the length at either end
to hold the woven strands.

And on one band, a message read
“To Charlie Russell, Hand.
A Merry Christmas to you, pard,
until we meet, again.”

© 2004, Rod Nichols, used with permission

Texas poet Rod Nichols wrote this poem for a Christmas Art Spur with this Russell image at

Rod Nichols is dearly missed by his many friends.

Find more about Rod Nichols and much more of his poetry at