MICHAEL BIA by Chris Isaacs

Vietnam Memorial on Memorial Dayphoto by Carol Highsmith

 

MICHAEL BIA
by Chris Isaacs

You spent your childhood wild and free,
And none of us could then foresee
How you’d touch our lives, or to what degree.
We never knew you, Michael Bia.

You life was in the land and sky;
Vermillion cliffs and mesas high.
These were yours to occupy.
You were of Diné, Michael Bia.

You rode the bulls and rode them well,
But you wouldn’t leave the reservation’s Citadel
Though it was known you could excel.
Ah, you could ride ’em Michael Bia.

The White House called; you left your land,
And off you went to Viet Nam,
To a war you did not understand.
You did your duty, Michael Bia.

You fought with honor and with pride,
But before the fighting could subside
In that far off land, you died.
You gave the ultimate, Michael Bia.

At Window Rock in sixty-eight
They turned a bull out of the gate,
And his bell rang loud to reiterate
Our thank you, Michael Bia.

Diné, and white men, too
Stood and shed a tear for you;
And though your time on earth is through
May God keep you, Michael Bia.

Now often when I think of the past
Or cross that reservation vast,
Or see Old Glory at half-mast,
I think of Michael Bia.

Ya’at’eeh, Hastiin! (Ya-ta-hey, Has-teen!)

© 2001, Chris Isaacs, used with permission

(Chris notes: Diné is what the Navajos call themselves; it means “The People.”)

Chris Isaacs’ poem has become a Memorial Day Tradition for the BAR-D. See him recite this poem in a video from the 2017 Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering.

He writes about this poem in his award-winning book, Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs:

There are things that happen in our lives that we have absolutely no control over, which become a part of us forever. Such was the case with the poem about Michael Bia.

I got out of the U. S. Marine Corps in January of 1967 just as things were really starting to heat up in Vietnam. Michael Bia was leading the bull riding standings for the AIRCA when he was drafted and sent to Viet Nam just about the time I was discharged. He never came home.

In 1968 my wife Helena and I were at the Fourth of July rodeo in Window Rock, Arizona, where I was entered when something happened that haunted me for years. The Navajo tribe paid tribute to Michael Bia at that rodeo by taking his chaps and spurs and attaching them to a bull with Michael’s bull rope and then turning the bull loose in the arena during a moment of silence. Nothing has ever affected me quite like that short moment of tribute to a fellow cowboy/comrade-in-arms, and I have thought of it many, many times over the years…

The first time that I tried to recite it, I broke down and cried, which kept me from trying it again for quite a while. Then in 1997 at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering I was on the Veterans’ Session with Joel Nelson, Rod McQueary, and some others, and managed to get through the entire thing…I have had many Vets thank me for the poem, which means a great deal to me…I did a show near Washington, D. C. a few years ago, and made it to the Wall (the Vietnam Memorial) where I found Michael’s name…”

See a post with photos of Michael Bia on Chris Isaacs’ Facebook page.

Find Chris at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering August 6-8, 2020 in Prescott. The lineup includes Mary Abbott, Anderson’s, Sally Bates, Floyd Beard, Colt Blankman, Broken Chair Band, Dale Burson, Lola Chiantaretto, Dean Cook, Sam Deleeuw, Mike Dunn, Don Fernwalt, Linda Lee Filener, Rolf Flake, Belinda Gail, Jack George, Amy M. Hale, Audrey Hankins, Joni Harms, Randy Huston, Chris Isaacs, Gary Kirkman, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, Steve Lindsey, Mary Matli, Maxwell’s, Dave McCall, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Mark Munzert, Miska Paget, Abby Payne, Mike Prince, Rusty Pistols Reloaded, Makenzie Slade, Jay Snider, Dave Stamey, Gail Starr, Gail Steiger, Tom Swearingen, Duke Vance, Tom Weathers, and Ashley Westcott.

Find more about Chris Isaacs at cowboypoetry.com, and visit chrisisaacs.com for his books, cds, and complete schedule.

This 2006 photo of the Vietnam Memorial is by contemporary photographer, author, and publisher Carol M. Highsmith and included in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive at The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. The accompanying note tells, “Deliberately setting aside the controversies of the war, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the men and women who served when their Nation called upon them. The designer, Maya Lin, felt that the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service and their lives. She kept the design elegantly simple to allow everyone to respond and remember.”

The Highsmith Archive  notes that, “Highsmith, a distinguished and richly-published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Starting in 2002, Highsmith provided scans or photographs she shot digitally with new donations to allow rapid online access throughout the world. Her generosity in dedicating the rights to the American people for copyright free access also makes this Archive a very special visual resource.”

Find more about Carol Highsmith and her work at carolhighsmith.com and on Facebook at Carol M. Highsmith’s America.

Find a selection of Memorial Day poems at CowboyPoetry.com.

(Request permission for use of this poem; the photo has no restrictions on its use.)

HEROES OF OLD by Jay Snider

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HEROES OF OLD
by Jay Snider

The end of the trail is a cross we all bear.
We’re all branded the day of our birth.
Make no mistake, it’s the choices we make
plot the course that we ride here on earth.

With luck we have gathered up heroes
like our daddies and granddaddies did.
The face and name likely won’t be the same
as the heroes they knew as a kid.

What shall we do when our heroes are gone
and we’re thinking we’re here all alone?
It’s not courage we lack, so we’ll follow his track,
pull his hat down real tight and ride on.

If ever their trails be forgotten
all heroes may cease to exist.
The hats that they wore should be passed ever more
and new names must be scribed to the list.

It’s a task that is chocked full of danger
and cursed with the Devil’s own kiss.
Lift high up your cup for the kids looking up
are the targets we must never miss.

The tracks that we make, they will follow.
We must never veer from that trail.
Never give up the fight because right is still right.
That code they set down without fail.

Take care of the hat that you’re wearing.
Protect it as if it’s pure gold.
Don’t ever look back, place your hat on the stack.
That’s the makings of heroes of old.

© 2017, Jay Snider
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Oklahoma rancher, poet, and songwriter Jay Snider told us that he worked on this poem for some time after his father passed away, and while driving home from the Cochise Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2017, he finally put it together, pulling off the road several times to work on it. Jay’s father was a top roper and rodeo cowboy and his grandfather was a brand inspector for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

Jay Snider’s recent CD, Classic Cowboy Poetry: The Old Tried and True, showcases his fine reciting. Like some poetry time traveler, he delivers poems by Bruce Kiskaddon, Henry Herbert Knibbs, Will Ogilvie, Sunny Hancock, and others, to carry you back to time when, to quote Kiskaddon, “cattle were plenty and people were few.”

Back in 2007 in a Picture the West feature at CowboyPoetry.com, Jay wrote that this photograph showed his mother and his father “…with 7 of the 9 saddles he won through the years in the Senior Pro Rodeo Association and the National Old Time Ropers Association. His rodeo career began in the early 1940s and continued to rope steers up until the last couple of years. I’m sure he still can but prefers to coach his sons and grandsons from the chutes. That’s a blessing in itself. I have never known a better horseman than he.”

Last week Jay Snider took part in the Western Heritage Classics’ virtual “Cowboy Poetry Under the Stars.” Find his excellent presentation of a variety of poems at 29:45.

Enjoy his rendition of Sunny Hancock’s (1931-2003) “The Bear Tale” in a video from the Western Folklife Center’s 2011 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Find Jay at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering August 6-8, 2020 in Prescott. The lineup includes Mary Abbott, Anderson’s, Sally Bates, Floyd Beard, Colt Blankman, Broken Chair Band, Dale Burson, Lola Chiantaretto, Dean Cook, Sam Deleeuw, Mike Dunn, Don Fernwalt, Linda Lee Filener, Rolf Flake, Belinda Gail, Jack George, Amy M. Hale, Audrey Hankins, Joni Harms, Randy Huston, Chris Isaacs, Gary Kirkman, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, Steve Lindsey, Mary Matli, Maxwell’s, Dave McCall, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Mark Munzert, Miska Paget, Abby Payne, Mike Prince, Rusty Pistols Reloaded, Makenzie Slade, Jay Snider, Dave Stamey, Gail Starr, Gail Steiger, Tom Swearingen, Duke Vance, Tom Weathers, and Ashley Westcott.

See Jay later this year at the 30th annual Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering October 23-25, 2020 in Fort Worth. There are many activities there and other poet and musicians performing include Red Steagall, “Straw” Berry, Mikki Daniel, Bobby Flores, Kristyn Harris, R.W. Hampton, Jake Hooker, Teresa Burleson, Chris Isaacs, Jean Prescott, Dan Roberts, Leon Rausch, and Hailey Sandoz.

November 12-15, 2020, he’ll be in Amarillo at the WRCARodeo Finals. Stay tuned for more at that event at wrca.org.

Find more about Jay Snider at cowboypoetry.com.

(Request permission for use of this poem or photo.)

TWO BELOW THE HOCKS by Terry Nash

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TWO BELOW THE HOCKS
by Terry Nash

Catch two below the hocks
And then drag ‘em to the fire,
Work ‘em slow and easy,
Lest you stir the boss’ ire.

The family’s at the coals
With hot irons and vaccination.
Young and old, each has a job
In this timeless occupation.

The wives are in the kitchen
Cookin’ up a good-size spread.
Fixin’ beef and taters,
Dessert and homemade bread.

Catch two below the hocks,
Then bring ‘em slow and steady,
There ain’t no time to tarry
For the ground crew’s at the ready.

There’s a couple hundred calves to brand;
We’ll have ‘em worked by mid-day.
Turn each one out, mother him up
And know we’ve earned our pay.

We’ll wash up at the house,
Heap our plates to overflowin’
Then eat out in the shade
And grin ‘bout the calves growin’!

It’s a cowman’s rite of spring,
This brandin’ calves tradition;
A western “sport of kings,”
And an honored avocation.

So catch two below the hocks boys,
We’ll sing your praises loud-
We’re feedin’ America good red beef!
So set your horses proud!

© 2016, Terry Nash
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Colorado cowman Terry Nash’s poem was inspired by Marcia Molnar’s painting, “Dust n’ Dogies,” which graced the Arizona Cowboy Poets 2016 poster. The gathering has a long tradition of inviting poets and musicians to be inspired by its poster art and resulting works are presented at the gathering. (Their idea inspired Art Spur at CowboyPoetry.com.) See all the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering posters here.

Terry comments, “I was inspired to write the poem when I saw Marcia’s great painting. It made me think of our spring brandings and family and neighbors coming together to help each other. As a cowman, I also think it’s important to remind people we raise beef to feed the American people.”

Find Marcia Molnar’s work at thepaintedjournal.com.

Terry shared this photo and says, “I took the photo at the Jackson ranch branding, probably 2016. That’s retired school teacher Ed Blake on Cisco. It’s the first catch for them both.”

Terry is a frequent performer at gatherings across the West. His most recent CD is the award-winning A Good Ride. Find more about him at terrynashcowboypoet.com.

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

THE LONG HORN SPEAKS, by Bruce Kiskaddon

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THE LONG HORN SPEAKS
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

The old long horn looked at the prize winning steer,
And he grumbled, “What sort of a thing is this here?
He ain’t got no laigs and his body is big,
I sort of suspicion he’s crossed with a pig.
Now me! I can run, I can gore, I can kick,
But that feller’s too clumsy for all of them tricks.

They’re breedin’ such critters and callin’ em Steers!
Why the horns that he’s got ain’t as long as my ears.
I cain’t figger what he’d have done in my day.
They wouldn’t have stuffed me with grain and with hay;
Nor have polished my horns and have fixed up my hoofs,
And slept me on beddin’ in under the roofs.

Who’d have curried his hide and have fuzzed up his tail?
Not none of them riders that drove the long trail.
They’d have found mighty quick jest how fur he could jump
When they jerked a few doubles of rope off his rump.
And to me it occurs he would not look so slick
With his tail full of burrs and his hide full of ticks.

I wonder jest what that fat feller would think,
If he lived on short grass and went miles fer a drink.
And wintered outdoors in the sleet and the snow.
He wouldn’t look much like he does at the show.
I wouldn’t be like him; no, not if I could.
I caint figger out why they think he’s so good.

His short laigs and his white baby face—
I could finish him off in a fight or a race.
They’ve his whole fam’ly hist’ry in writin’, and still,
He ain’t fit fer nothin’ exceptin’ to kill.
And all of them judges that thinks they’re so wise,
They look at that critter and give him first prize.”

…by Bruce Kiskaddon, from Western Poems, 1935

Bruce Kiskaddon’s ten years of cowboying informs many of his works. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems. Find many more poems and more about Kiskaddon in features at cowboypoetry.com.

Colorado’s Valerie Beard recites “The Longhorn Speaks” on this year’s triple-CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon.

You can hear Valerie Beard’s recitation on an excellent episode of Cowboy Tracks radio from Nancy Flagg. The show highlights poets and musicians at the recent 32nd annual Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering.

Nancy comments after attending the event, “Prescott hits the trifecta of Gatherings: a well-run event in beautiful facilities with back-to-back top notch cowboy poets and singers.”

Among the included performers on the “Cowboy Tracks” show are Jay Snider, Mark Munzert, Trinity Seely, Duane Nelson, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Amy Hale Steiger, Chris Isaacs, Gary Allegretto, Floyd Beard, Dale Burson, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Gail Steiger, Terry Nash, and The Cowboy Way Trio.

Listen to the show here.

The above 2014 photo by Carol Highsmith is described, “Longhorn cattle on the George Ranch Historical Park, a 20,000-acre working ranch in Fort Bend County, Texas, featuring historic homes, costumed interpreters and livestock.” It is from the Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

At the Highsmith Archive, it notes that, “Highsmith, a distinguished and richly-published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Starting in 2002, Highsmith provided scans or photographs she shot digitally with new donations to allow rapid online access throughout the world. Her generosity in dedicating the rights to the American people for copyright free access also makes this Archive a very special visual resource.”

Find more about Carol Highsmith and her work at carolhighsmith.com and on Facebook.

This poem and photograph are in the public domain.

COW SENSE, by Bruce Kiskaddon

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COW SENSE
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

You have heard people a sayin’ “As dumb as a cow.”
Well they ain’t seen much cattle I’ll tell you right now.
A cow she knows more than some people by half;
She’s the only thing livin’ that savvys a calf.
A cow don’t know nothin? Well, how do you think
They suckle young calves and walk miles fer a drink?

You have watched an old cow; or I reckon you did,
If she’s got a young calf why she keeps it well hid.
She has planted it out where it jest caint be found,
And she won’t go near there if there’s anything ’round.
You just make that calf give a jump or a beller
And that old cow is there to charge into a feller.

If there’s several young calves in a bunch, you will find,
When their Ma’s go to drink they leave one cow behind.
And when they git full and come back to the bunch
She goes to git her a drink and some lunch.
You kin talk of day nurseries. I reckon as how,
They was fustly invented and used by a cow.

Perhaps you have noticed some times on a drive
With cows, men and hosses more dead than alive,
When you got near the water, as soon as they smelt,
Them old cows went fer it jest Hellity belt.
Then the drags was all calves but they didn’t furgit ’em;
When they drunk they come back and they shore didn’t quit ’em.

They let their calves suck and kept out of the rush,
So them calves didn’t git in the mud and the crush.
I’m telling you people without any jokes,
Cows make better parents than plenty of folks.
If folk thought the thing over, I reckon as how,
They wouldn’t be sayin’ “As dumb as a cow.”

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem is from Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1935 book, Western Poems; it also appeared in the Western Livestock Journal.

In the new triple-CD set from cowboypoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, New Mexico rancher, writer, and poet Deanna Dickinson McCall has a great recitation of “Cow Sense.”

Thanks to Rick Huff of the International Western Music Association for his review of the project in the current issue of the organization’s The Western Way. He writes, in part, “…If you are not already Kiskaddon-oriented, let this opportunity immerse you in what it really is to be– and see through the eyes and feel with the heart of–a cowboy. Highly
recommended.”

Wheaton Hall Brewer wrote, in his introduction to Western Poems, “…As the years roll on and history appreciates the folk-lore of the plains and ranges, these poems by a real cowboy will take on a deeper significance and mightier stature. When Bruce turns his pony into the Last Corral—long years from now, we all hope—he need feel no surprise if he hears his songs sung by the celestial cowboys as their tireless ponies thunder over the heavenly ranges, bringing in the dogies for branding at the Eternal Corrals. For poetry will never die.”

Find many more poems and more about Kiskaddon in features at cowboypoetry.com.

Colorado rancher and poet Terry Nash shares this photo taken in late June this year. The most recent International Western Music Association awards named Terry Nash the Male Poet of the Year and his “A Good Ride” was named Best CD of the year.

Just a few places to find Terry in coming months include the 32nd annual Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, August 8-10, 2019; New Mexico’s upcoming 6th annual Cimarron Cowboy Music and Poetry Gathering, August 22-25, 2019; and Colorado’s 4th annual Western Slope Cowboy Gathering, November 1-2, 2019.

Learn more about Terry Nash at CowboyPoetry.com and at terrynashcowboypoet.com.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this photo with this post, but please request permission for any other use. The poem is in the public domain.)

THE OLD COW MEN’S PARADE, by Sharlot Mabridth Hall

fourthrodeo

 

THE OLD COW MEN’S PARADE
by Sharlot Mabridth Hall (1870-1943)

The flags are flying, the bands are playing,
And there, down Gurley street
The big parade is coming —
Hark to the trampling feet!
Two hundred cow men riding,
Dressed out for holiday;
Ten-gallon hats and fancy shirts
And ‘kerchiefs bright and gay.

Two hundred horses prancing
As the riders whoop and yell;
And jingle of spurs and bridle chains
The noise and music swell.
There’s Ruffner on the sorrel,
His silver bridle shines;
And Doc Pardee comes riding
Down from the Munds Park pines.

And there’s the Beloat of Buckeye
Who twirls a winning rope;
Loge Morris and his juniors,
All on a swinging lope.
The Champies and Ed Bowman,
And all the medalled train
Come back to lift more honors
At Prescott once again.

They pass with jokes and laughter,
And shouting clear and loud,
Out to the big arena
To face the cheering crowd.
And some will rope for glory
And some will ride for gold;
And some will grappled bull-dogged steers
And win on a strangle-hold.

Down sweep the big sombreros
As the bow to the grandstand’s cheer;
But, look, as they ride to their places—
God! Look what’s coming here!
A long, long train of horsemen,
Yet never a hoof-beat sounds;
And never a dust-spurt rises
From the trampled sporting grounds.

A-breast, in martial order
They wheel and swing to place;
But their forms are thin and misty
And a shadow dims each face;
A pale and still battalion
In Stetsons, chaps, and spurs;
And they, too, bow to the grandstand—
But the picture swims and blurs.

Here are the men of Texas
Who made the Chisholm Trail,
Pointing their herds of long-horns
To the track of a steel-shod rail,
Heading their leaders northward
By a puff of engine smoke;
Betting their all on a market chance—
Thousands–or down, and broke.

Men who trailed the Long Trail
With steers for Idaho;
Men who drove their beef herds
To feed Geronimo.
Men who could buck a Norther,
Men who could fight a drouth;
Sitting their lean trail-horses,
Keen-eyed, and grim of mouth.

There’s Jim O’Neal from Date Creek
With his riders, dark and trim;
And close at this knee Juan Leyvas,
A stripling lithe and slim.
And Stuart Knight comes riding
With his smile and careless grace—
But a whirlwind whips down the beaten track
And a dust-cloud blurs each face.

Gone are the silent riders,
And only the sun beats down
On the trampled, barren arena
And the chute gates weathered brown:
They’ve ridden back to the Days That Were;
But before a play is made—
Three cheers for the unseen men who passed
In the old cow men’s parade.

…by Sharlot Hall, from her 1953 book, Poems of a Ranch Woman.

Sharlot Mabridth Hall (1870-1943) wrote about a Fourth of July event that still continues today, the Frontier Days Parade that takes place in conjunction with Arizona’s World’s Oldest Prescott Rodeo. The rodeo celebrates its 132nd anniversary this year and is happening now.

Families of many of those mentioned in the poem still live in the Prescott area today.

Sharlot Hall arrived in the Arizona Territory as a young girl. She wrote about those early days and continued to document her life and the stories and histories of Arizona in wrote essays, short stories, articles, and poetry.

Fiercely independent, she was the first Arizona woman to hold public office, serving as Territorial Historian of Arizona. In 1924, shortly after women won the right to vote, she was selected to take the state’s vote to Washington, D. C. Find more about her and more poetry in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.

With luck, you can hear Tom Weathers recite this poem at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. See an article from just a few days ago about Tom Weathers and the gathering, with audio.

This year the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering celebrates its 32nd anniversary, August 8-10, 2019 in Prescott. Headliners are Chris Isaacs, Trinity Seely and The Cowboy Way Trio (Doug Figgs, Jim Jones and Mariam Funke). Among the many other performers are Jay Snider, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Dave McCall, Valerie Beard, Floyd Beard, Gary Allegretto, Terry Nash, Mark Munzert, Mary Matli, Amy Hale Steiger, Gail Steiger, Dale Burson, Kay Kelley Nowell, Duane Nelson, Rolf Flake, Audrey Hankins, Mike Dunn, Thatch Elmer, R.P. Smith, and others. Find the complete schedule with all performers here.

Tickets are available now. See azcowboypoets.org for info.

Find poems and more for Independence Day at CowboyPoetry.com:
cowboypoetry.com/fourthofjuly.htm

This is image is by Seita, licensed from Shutterstock.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this photo with this post, but it must be licensed for any other use. The poem is in the public domain.)

THE OLD NIGHT HAWK, by Bruce Kiskaddon

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THE OLD NIGHT HAWK
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I am up tonight in the pinnacles bold
Where the rim towers high.
Where the air is clear and the wind blows cold,
And there’s only the horses and I.
The valley swims like a silver sea
In the light of the big full moon,
And strong and clear there comes to me
The lilt of the first guard’s tune.

The fire at camp is burning bright,
Cook’s got more wood than he needs.
They’ll be telling some windy tales tonight
Of races and big stampedes.
I’m gettin’ too old fer that line of talk:
The desperaders they’ve knowed,
Their wonderful methods of handling stock
And the fellers they’ve seen get throwed.

I guess I’m a dog that’s had his day,
Though I still am quick and strong.
My hair and my beard have both turned gray,
And I reckon I’ve lived too long.
None of ’em know me but that old cook, Ed,
And never a word he’ll say.
My story will stick in his old gray head
Till the break of the Judgment Day.

What’s that I see a walkin’ fast?
It’s a hoss a’ slippin’ through.
He was tryin’ to make it out through the pass;
Come mighty near doin’ it too.
Get back there! What are you tryin’ to do?
You hadn’t a chance to bolt.
Old boy I was wranglin’ a bunch like you
Before you was even a colt.

It’s later now. The guard has changed.
One voice is clear and strong.
He’s singin’ a tune of the old time range —
I always did like that song.
It takes me back to when I was young
And the memories come through my head,
Of the times I have heard that old song sung
By voices now long since dead.

I have traveled better than half my trail.
I am well down the further slope.
I have seen my dreams and ambitions fail,
And memory replaces hope.
It must be true, fer I’ve heard it said,
That only the good die young.
The tough old cusses like me and Ed
Must stay still the last dog’s hung.

I used to shrink when I thought of the past
And some of the things I have known.
I took to drink, but now at last,
I’d far rather be alone.
It’s strange how quick that a night goes by,
Fir I live in the days of old.
Up here where there’s only the hosses and I;
Up in the pinnacles bold.

The two short years that I ceased to roam,
And I led a contented life.
Then trouble came and I left my home,
And I never have heard of my wife.
The years that I spent in a prison cell
When I went by another name;
For life is a mixture of Heaven and Hell
To a feller that plays the game.

They’d better lay off that wrangler kid.
They’ve give him about enough.
He looks like a pardner of mine once did.
He’s the kind that a man can’t bluff.
They’ll find that they are making a big mistake
If they once get him overhet;
And they’ll give him as good as an even break,
Or I’m takin’ a hand, you bet.

Look, there in the East is the Mornin’ Star.
It shines with a firy glow,
Till it looks like the end of a big cigar,
But it hasn’t got far to go.
Just like the people that make a flash.
They don’t stand much of a run.
Come bustin’ in with a sweep and a dash
When most of the work is done.

I can see the East is gettin’ gray.
I’ll gather the hosses soon;
And faint from the valley far away
Comes the drone of the last guard’s tune.
Yes, life is just like the night-herd’s song,
As the long years come and go.
You start with a swing that is free and strong,
And finish up tired and slow.

I reckon the hosses all are here.
I can see that T-bar blue,
And the buckskin hoss with the one split ear;
I’ve got ’em all. Ninety two.
Just listen to how they roll the rocks —
These sure are rough old trails.
But then, if they can’t slide down on their hocks,
They can coast along on their tails.

The Wrangler Kid is out with his rope,
He seldom misses a throw.
Will he make a cow hand? Well I hope,
If they give him half a show.
They are throwin’ the rope corral around,
The hosses crowd in like sheep.
I reckon I’ll swaller my breakfast down
And try to furgit and sleep.

Yes, I’ve lived my life and I’ve took a chance,
Regardless of law or vow.
I’ve played the game and I’ve had my dance,
And I’m payin’ the fiddler now.

…Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem appeared in Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1924 book, and was revised for his 1947 book. The 45 variants are included in Bill Siems’ Open Range, which includes almost all of Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems. The above poem is the 1947 version.

Bill Siems writes, in another of his books, Shorty’s Yarns (the collected stories of Kiskaddon), about how this poem inspired him. His eloquent comments include how city people and ranchers might see each other, and, he comments on ranch people:

“…Besides feeding us, they are the stewards of our land and keepers of our connection with the natural world. They have come closest, after the Native Americans, to harmony with a landscape that is both beautiful and harsh. This harmony is a significant and difficult achievement, essentially in opposition to our romantic notions that are driven by need but not grounded in reality. It is one thing to love the land from a climate-controlled vehicle, but it is another to love it in the wind and sleet on horseback. Cattle as a backdrop for western entertainment are a world apart from cattle as living creatures that must be cared for and slaughtered. Standing with honesty and humility on such bedrock facts of life gives a person authority, however gently it may be asserted…this is the poem that first caught me up in Bruce Kiskaddon’s words…”

Find more about Kiskaddon, Open Range, and Shorty’s Yarns at CowboyPoetry.com.

In the new triple-CD set from cowboypoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, Bill Siems offers an introduction to Bruce Kiskaddon and top poets and reciters present over 60 Kiskaddon poems.

Chris Isaacs, cowboy, packer, poet, and humorist, recites “The Old Night Hawk” on MASTERS: VOLUME THREE.

Chris headlines at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, August 8-10, 2019 in Prescott. Other announced performers are headliners Trinity Seely and The Cowboy Way Trio (Doug Figgs, Jim Jones and Mariam Funke). Tickets are available now.

This stunning photograph is by cowboy, writer, and poet Amy Hale Steiger, who cowboys with her husband Gail Steiger in rugged country at Arizona’s Spider ranch. She comments, “We often make camp below this butte when we are working our Cottonwood Pasture. Late evening and early morning highlights the rock faces, and I can’t help but stand in awe.”

For a fine piece of writing about her cowboying life, don’t miss her recent “Feet to the Fire,” in the current issue of Contra Viento Journal.

Amy Steiger has acclaimed books: two novels, two essay collections, and a book of poetry.

Find more about her at her web site, amyhaleauker.com; on CowboyPoetry.com; on Instagram; and follow her on Facebook.

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