HABITAT by J.B. Allen

jb-allenkmfphoto © Kevin Martini-Fuller

HABITAT
by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)

We swaller our breakfast and saddle our mounts
By the light of the Milky Way’s glow,
Exuberance drawn from unquenchable founts
In the wake of the season’s first snow.

Cold wind fiercely tugs at my hat’s weathered brim
As we head where the blizzards are birthed,
Faint stars givin’ ground to the east’s glowin’ rim
As we ride saddles now loosely-girthed.

The hooraw subsides as the boss eases up
And we wait the words known from our youth,
Though protocol deems that we’ll not interrupt
Homage earned by those long in the tooth.

We start the day’s drive for the nine jillionth time,
Newly born as them calves ever’spring,
A delicate dance to the spur rowel’s chime
And the drum of the sage chicken’s wing.

That grouchy ol’ cook is a plumb-welcome sight
As dusk draws its cloak ’round the camp,
While the boss sets the guard for the crisp autumn night
By the light of that battered old lamp.

The night’s mighty short when you pull second guard,
Seems you barely git forty-odd winks
Till the wrangler’s a-bringin’ the hosses in hard
And you’re stretchin’ to work out the kinks.

The cycle continues as years slip away
Till we fin’lly let age take a hold,
Content with rememberin’ some near perfect day
And the horses that never git old.

It wasn’t a question of money to burn
Or livin’ on silk-stockin’ row,
Fer choices that’s made in yore heart won’t discern
What the bankers and businessmen know.

The hot summer days and the cold winter nights
Weave a web few attempt to explain,
Fer though some’ll stray t’wards the bright city lights,
Still the code and the feelin’ remain.

© 1997, J.B. Allen, used with permission from The Medicine Keepers (1997)
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Texan J.B. Allen was a working cowboy for over three decades. He was a frequent performer at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and also at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Nara Visa, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings.

His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998. The late Buck Ramsey, in his introduction to the book, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and states, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”

“Habitat” is the first poem in The Medicine Keepers. It was shared widely during Cowboy Poetry Week, with this 1994 video from the Western Folklife Center.

There’s another good audio recording at portraitsofthegathering.org. That site has audio poems and photographs of the poets. It is an outgrowth of an exhibit of noted photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller’s photographs that was mounted at the 2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and throughout the town of Elko, Nevada, home of the gathering.

This photo of J.B. Allen is in that exhibit, used here with the photographer’s permission. Kevin Martini-Fuller has photographed participants of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades.

Find more of Kevin Martini-Fuller’s photos at his site.

J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in a CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs), with an introduction by Jay Snider.

Find more about J.B. Allen at cowboypoetry.com.

(Request permission to share this poem or photograph.)

I’D LIKE TO BE IN TEXAS FOR THE ROUNDUP IN THE SPRING traditional

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I’D LIKE TO BE IN TEXAS FOR THE ROUNDUP IN THE SPRING
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In a lobby of a big hotel in New York town one day,
Sat a bunch of fellows telling yarns to pass the time away.
They told of places where they’d been and all the sights they’d seen,
And some of them praised Chicago town and others New Orleans.

I can see the cattle grazing o’er the hills at early morn;
I can see the camp-fires smoking at the breaking of the dawn,
I can hear the broncos neighing I can hear the cowboys sing;
Oh I’d like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.

In a corner in an old arm chair sat a man whose hair was gray,
He had listened to them longingly, to what they had to say.
They asked him where he’d like to be and his clear old voice did ring:
“I’d like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.

They all sat still and listened to each word he had to say;
They knew the old man sitting there had once been young and gay.
They asked him for a story of his life out on the plains,
He slowly then removed his hat and quietly began:

“Oh, I’ve seen them stampede o’er the hills,
when you’d think they`d never stop,
I’ve seen them run for miles and miles until their leader dropped,
I was foreman on a cow ranch—that’s the calling of a king;
I’d like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.”

There’s a grave in sunny Texas where Molly Deming sleeps,
‘Mid a grove of mossy live oaks a constant vigil keeps.
In my heart’s a recollection of a long, long bygone day
When we rode the range together like truant kids astray.

Her gentle spirit calls me in the watches of the night
And I hear her laughter freshening the dew of early light.
Yes I was foreman of a cow ranch–the callin’ of a king,
And I’d like to be in Texas for the roundup in the spring.

I’d like to sleep my last long sleep with Mother Earth for bed
And my saddle for a pillow, and the bright stars overhead.
Then I could hear the last stampedes, the songs the rivers sing
Way back down in Texas when they roundup in the spring.

…authorship uncertain

The authorship of “I’d Like to Be in Texas…” is uncertain. In the late Glenn Ohrlin’s The Hell-Bound Train, he writes, “Vernon Dalhart recorded ‘Roundup in the Spring’ on November 1, 1926… The song was first printed in sheet music copyrighted in 1927 by Lou Fishback (Fort Worth, Tex.); Carl Copeland and Jack Williams were listed as co-writers. The following year, the Texas Folklore Society printed an article by J. Frank Dobie, who claimed it was an old song he had obtained from Andy Adams.”

The Lomax’s include information from the Dobie article, writing that “…he found two lines in an unpublished play of Mr. Andy Adams. When he requested the full version, Mr. Adams sent him two stanzas and the chorus, which he had obtained fifteen years previously from W. E. Hawks, a ranchman now living in Burlington, Vt. However, he claimed to be responsible for most of the second stanza….”

Thanks to Stanton Howe who commented when we previously posted this piece, “Duane Dickinson sang the best version of this I ever heard. He included the last verse[s] which makes the song make much better sense.” The less frequently heard second- and third-to-last verses above are from “Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads” by John and
Alan Lomax. The final verse is more commonly heard. As with most folk songs, there are many variations.

Cowboy and poet JB Allen (1938-2005) recorded an outstanding recitation of this work at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The recording is on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Ten.

Top cowboy balladeer Don Edwards sings it in a video here and the great Buck Ramsey (1938-1998) sings the song here.

Find more about “I’d Like to Be in Texas” at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1929 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cowboys roping horses at roundup near Marfa, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs.

Russell Lee taught photography at the University of Texas, Austin, from 1965-1973, and is best known for his FSA photos. Find more about him at Texas State University’s Russell Lee Collection.

For some impressive photographs of Texas bluebonnets, check out Jason Weingart Photography,  where there is one dazzling photo that has been shared all over social media without attribution.

(This poem/song and posted photograph are in the public domain.)

ALCHEMISTS, by J.B. Allen

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ALCHEMISTS
by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)

Renie was different,
A spawn of the plains,
Whose family was wed to the plows,
For tall grass and horses
Kept callin’ his name
In the manner of monks chantin’ vows.

His brothers
Were more of the Percheron ilk,
Content with a slow, measured pace,
But far-flung horizons
Drew Renie’s young eye,
And thoughts of the wind in his face.

I saw ‘im last Friday
in Muldooney’s store
A-trailin’ two kids and a wife.
His spurs and big smile
‘Neath a weather-stained hat
Said he’d found where he fitted in life.

Do stars cross in heaven
When men are conceived
To single ’em out from the pack?
Imbued with the knowledge
Of cattle and land
Surveyed from a cowpony’s back?

They come from all over
To wagons and camps,
As green as the early spring grass,
A’follerin’ their dreams,
Much too real to ignore,
Forgin’ gold from plain pewter and brass.

© 1991, J.B. Allen
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

This poem by the late Texas cowboy J.B. Allen will speak to many.

Andy Hedges, on his most recent Cowboy Crossroads podcast,  quotes from the poem. It is not found in any of J.B. Allen’s books, but is on an old cassette tape, Kindred Spirits and also is included in Warren Miller’s 1994 book, Cattle, Horses, Sky, and Grass: Cowboy Poetry of the Late Twentieth Century.

J.B. Allen was a widely respected working cowboy for over three decades. He was a frequent performer at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, the Western Folklife Center’s  National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Nara Visa, and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings.

His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998. The late Buck Ramsey, in his introduction to the book, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and stated, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”

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J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in a CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs) with an introduction by Jay Snider.

Find more about J.B. Allen at cowboypoetry.com.

This c. 1906 photo, titled “Cowboy Looking for a Job,” is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Thanks to Margaret Allen for her generous permissions.

(Please respect copyright. To share this poem, request permission.)

COWBOY, by J.B. Allen

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COWBOY
by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)

A’settin a’horseback at the first rays of the sun,
on a cool late spring mornin’, ‘fore the brandin’ is done
is payment in full, for chores done and forgotten
through a winter of feedin’ and calves misbegotten.

The pay ain’t the reason for the work that we do.
It’s a feel for the land and the stock, that comes through
in the lives that we lead, and the character shown,
by the doin’ of jobs that will never be known,
except by ourselves, and the creature attended,
and the feelin’ that comes, when seein’ it mended.

I’ve known some ol’ boys, that were just downright mean,
but out on a roundup they surely were keen
to be on the spot, when the cattle were leavin’,
or up to their waists in the sand and a’heavin’
on a cow that had blundered out into a bog,
and then take their time to drag up a log,
to the keep the wood comin’ for the cook of the crew,
then watch the young heifers, till the calvin’ was through.

It’s easy to throw the word “cowboy” around,
but a real one is almighty hard to be found.

© 1990, J.B. Allen, from Water Gap Wisdom, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Texan J.B. Allen was a widely respected working cowboy for over three decades. He was a frequent performer at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and also at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Nara Visa, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings.

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J.B. Allen photo by Kevin Martini-Fuller

His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998. The late Buck Ramsey, in his introduction to the book, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and stated, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”

mastersfirst

J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in a CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs) with an introduction by  Jay Snider.

Find more about J.B. Allen at cowboypoetry.com.

We are pleased to debut the 19th annual Cowboy Poetry Week poster, with its striking art, “Ranch Water,” by Teal Blake). Find more about him and more of his work at tealblake.com and follow him at instagram.com/tealcokeblake.

The 19th annual Cowboy Poetry Week is celebrated April 19-25, 2020. The Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry inaugurated Cowboy Poetry Week in 2002 with initiatives to promote cowboy poetry and associated Western arts, to strengthen the community of poets and artists, and to make cowboy poetry more accessible to a wide audience.

Get your schools, libraries, and community involved! Perform your poetry, donate a book, share your knowledge during Cowboy Poetry Week.  In recent years, poets and others have created special social media posts and events for Cowboy Poetry Week. Share the poster!

Each year the Center produces a Western art poster and a compilation CD project, both of which are offered to hundreds of rural libraries through Cowboy Poetry Week’s Rural Library Program.

This year’s double CD, MASTERS: VOLUME FOUR, the poetry and song of Charles Badger Clark, Jr., will be released in June. It will include recitations by today’s poets; poems in Clark’s own voice; and, for the first time in one of these projects, songs that were created from Badger Clark’s poems. A full announcement is forthcoming.

(Posters are never sold. They are sent to libraries and given, along with the year’s CD, to donors of $50 or more. Join us! You’ll be supporting the Center and its programs and receive these gifts. There’s info here.)

Find more about Cowboy Poetry Week here and stay tuned for much more to come about the celebration.

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

MASTERS CD Series

 The Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry produces compilation CDs of classic and contemporary poetry recitations. The CDs are offered to libraries in the Center’s Cowboy Poetry Week Rural Library project, given as premiums to the Center’s supporters, and available to the public.

The current CD series is MASTERS.

Coming in 2020:  MASTERS: VOLUME FOUR, the poetry of Badger Clark.

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MASTERS: VOLUME THREE contains over 60 tracks in a three-disc CD of the poetry of  Bruce Kiskaddon. Voices from the past and from today’s top reciters and poets celebrate cowboy poetry’s popular classic poet.  Kiskaddon expert Bill Siems introduces the CD.

Find more about MASTERS: VOLUME THREE here.

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MASTERS: VOLUME TWO (April, 2018) contains over 60 tracks in a double CD of the poetry of S. Omar Barker. Many of today’s top reciters and poets—including individuals,  siblings, couples, parents and children—bring forth Barker’s humor and humanity. Andy Hedges introduces the CD.

Find more about MASTERS: VOLUME TWO here.

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The first CD in the series. MASTERS (2017), includes the works of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens, reciting their poetry in recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs). Jay Snider introduces the CD.

Find more about MASTERS (2017) here.

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Previous to the MASTERS series, the Center produced ten volumes of The BAR-D Roundup.

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The Center’s Cowboy Poetry Week celebration—recognized by unanimous U.S. Senate resolution—is held each April during National Poetry Month. Each year, a compilation CD and the celebration’s poster—by Shawn Cameron in 2019; by Clara Smith in 2018; by Jason Rich in 2017; by Gary Morton in 2016; by Don Dane in 2015; by Jason Rich in 2014; Shawn Cameron in 2013; by R.S. Riddick in 2012, Duward Campbell in 2011, Bill Owen in 2010, Bob Coronato in 2009; William Matthews in 2008; Tim Cox in 2007; and Joelle Smith in 2006—are offered to libraries in the Center’s Rural Library Project. The outreach program is a part of the Center’s commitment to serve rural communities and to preserve and promote our Western heritage.

We need your support to continue and expand these programs. Join us and be a part of it all.

 

KINDRED SPIRITS, J. B. Allen

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KINDRED SPIRITS
by J. B. Allen (1938-2005)

The spotted Heifer missed the drive
and spent the winter free,
‘Though freedom’s price was willow bark
then sprigs of filaree
That finally showed beneath the snow
before her strength played out.
And green-up brought a fine bull calf
to teach the maverick route.

They fattened on the meadows
of the high Sierra’s flanks
In the company of a maverick bull
that drifted from the ranks
Of cattle across the great divide
turned loose to make their way
And lost amongst the canyons
that were strewn in disarray.

The offspring of this union
proved a wily beast,indeed,
Endowed with instincts from the wild
and blessed with wond’rous speed
That proved a worthy challenge
to the punchers in the hills
Who through the hills spun hairy tales
of wildest wrecks and spills.

But though the issue from the two
was sometimes trapped or caught,
These two ol’ wily veterans
still practiced what they taught,
Spent the winters running free
within their secret haunt
Which held enough to see ’em through
emergin’ weak and gaunt.

For years ol’ Utah searched the range
in futile quest for sign
Of where they spent the winter months a
and somehow get a line
On how they made it every year
and brought a calf, to boot,
‘Til fin’lly one cold, dreary day
it fell to this old coot

To happen on their winter park,
hid out from pryin’ eyes,
And to this day ol’ Utah holds
the key to where it lies.
The kindred spirit, shared by all,
who seek the higher range
Could not betray that cul-de-sac
to folks just bent on change

With no respect for mav’rick ways
or independent thought,
And not one frazz’lin’ idee
of the havoc being wrought
By puttin’ things on schedule,
be it work, or man, or cow,
Till ways that make for bein’ free
are bred plumb-out somehow.

Old Utah turned and trotted off,
to let those old hides be.
His heart a-beatin’ lighter
just a-knowin’ they were free.
© 1997, J.B. Allen
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Texan J.B. Allen was a working cowboy for over three decades. He was a frequent performer at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and also at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Nara Visa, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings.

His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998. The late Buck Ramsey, in his introduction to the book, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and states, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”

J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in a CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs), with an introduction by Jay Snider.

Find more about J.B. Allen at cowboypoetry.com.

This photograph is by cowhand, writer, and poet Amy M. Hale Author, with a great photographic eye, who cowboys with her husband Gail Steiger in rugged country at Arizona’s Spider ranch. She comments on this photograph, “We rarely run anything through the chute, but this huge maverick bull came from down in the low country. We drove him out with gentle cows, sixteen miles. A quick brand in the chute and he’s free again.” Find more about her essays, novels, poetry and more at amyhaleauker.com; on CowboyPoetry.comFacebook, and Instagram.

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

>>>This is a scheduled post. We’re on a break through September 20.

REASONS FOR STAYIN’ by J.B. Allen

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REASONS FOR STAYIN’
by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)

“What’s the myst’ry of the wagon?
asked a townie, green as grass,
As he visited on a dreary autumn day.
Fer there weren’t a sign of romance
nor no waddies’round with class,
And he couldn’t see why one would want to stay.

“Well, don’t be askin’ me,” says Jake,
when asked that very thing,
“I’ve only been around here thirty years;
If I’d learnt some floocy answers
to the questions you-all bring
I’d not be tough as brushy outlawed steers!

“It’s a dang sight more romantic
in the bunkhouse, snug and warm,
When that winter wind
is blowin’ from the Pole
Than the livin’ at the wagon
through the same ol’ freezin’ storm
And the call of nature sends you for a stroll!

“The smell of beans and beefsteak
born in bilin’ coffee’s breath
Pulls a feller from them soogans,
clean and dry,
‘Stead of half-cooked food that drownded
so you’ll not git choked to death
As you look around and git to wonderin’ why.

“But I reckon, since you asked me,
it’s the challenge that you git
Testin’ what you got for gizzard
through the squalls,
And not just nature’s doin’s
but the kind that’s stirred a bit
When a cowboy, bronc, or critter starts the brawls.

“Take them fellers that’s a-squattin’
’round that soggy campfire there,
That big-uns done some time
for murder one,
But I’ll guarante you, feller,
when you think your flank is bare
You’ll hear his boomin’ laughter through the run.

“The scroungy-lookin’ half-breed kid
can ride a bear or lion,
Thought he mostly rides the rough-uns
for the boys.
Black Pete would rope the Devil
through a stand of burnt-out pine,
And Ol’ Dobb would mark his ears to hear the noise!

“What I’m gettin’ ’round to sayin’
is them boys will back yore play
Though their outside shore ain’t groomed
or show-ring slick;
It’s their innards that you count on
when you work for puncher’s pay,
And the reason why the wagon makes you stick.”

© 1997, J.B. Allen
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Texan J.B. Allen was a working cowboy for over three decades. He was a frequent performer at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and also at Nara Visa and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings. His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998.

Buck Ramsey (1938-1998), in his introduction to The Medicine Keepers, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and stated, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”

J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in the first MASTERS CD from CowboyPoetry.com (2017) along with the work of Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs), with an introduction by Jay Snider.

Find more about J.B. Allen at CowboyPoetry.com.

Top Texas artist Duward Campbell created this painting of his good friend J.B. Allen and his horse, Pilgrim, in 2005. We were proud to have it as the art for the 2011 Cowboy Poetry Week poster from CowboyPoetry.com. Find more about it here.

Thanks to Margaret Allen for her generous permissions.

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