Christmas at the BAR-D

xmasbardplain

Welcome to the 18th annual Christmas at the BAR-D. We’ll be posting poems, classic, old, and new, throughout the season.

Find a collection of poems, first started in 2000, here.

There’s a Christmas/Winter Art Spur here, and Christmas submissions are welcome through Thursday, December 21, 2017.

See general submission information here.

holidaypoems_1105

New poems added often during the season.

Newest:

jsbringing500
Draggin’ the Tree,” by S. Omar Barker
journeywister
A Journey in Search of Christmas,” by Owen Wister
brchristmaswaltz
Christmas Waltz,” by Buck Ramsey

omalleyA Busted Cowboy’s Christmas,” by D.J. O’Malley

serenadereedy
Christmas Serenade,” by J.W. Beeson

nyreedy

‘Neath a Christmas Eve Sky,” by Rod Nichols

kiskoldtimechristmas

The Old Time Christmas” and Merry Christmas,” by Bruce Kiskaddon

Merry Christmas!

Selections from the 17th Christmas at the BAR-D:

Christmas at the Home Ranch,” by Bruce Kiskaddon
Seein’ Santa,” by Rod Nichols
A Charlie Creek Christmas,” by DW Groethe
A Christmas Thought,” by Slim McNaught
Here’s to the Cowboys,” by Pat Richardson
Christmas Beneath the Stars,” by Colen Sweeten
The Christmas Trail,” by Badger Clark
A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer,” by S. Omar Barker

 

coyoteartspur(Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, made possible by Carol M. Highsmith and the Gates Frontiers Fund Wyoming Collection within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Art Spur

“The Coyote Christmas Carol Choir,” by Marleen Bussma of Utah
“Christmas Song,” by Ol’ Jim Cathey of Texas
“Coyote Kin,” by Jean Mathisen Haugen of Texas
“Lonesome Coyote,” by Tamara Hillman of Arizona

 

Big Nevada Sky Christmas - Copy“Big Nevada Sky” © 2017, Lynn Kopelke from a reference photograph by Jessica Hedges

Submitted and Invited Poems

“The Wily Old Cow and Santa,” by Tim Heflin
“Cattle at Christmas,”  by Jo Lynne Kirkwood
“Untitled,” by Robert Dennis
“I Carried Mary,” by Andy Nelson
“The Star and the Sheepherders,” by Ron Secoy
“Cowboy Christmas Day,” by George Rhoades


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sittingonhill_framed_0402

neverforgotten_1118

Lost to us in 2017: Bonnie Hearn, Connie M. Patton, Stan Tixier, Bruce Crane, Bill Barwick, Kenny Krogman, Jim Dunham, Floyd Traynor, Ray Lashley, Nancy Thorwardson, Jim King, Gail T. Burton, and Ed Stabler.

lettheyuletide

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Please join the other generous supporters of the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry/CowboyPoetry.com and help keep it real:

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We work to keep it real at the BAR-D.

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The 2018 programs cannot go forward without your involvement. Please renew your support or make a first-time donation.

Give what you can: $20, $40, $100. Every donation is valued. At the $40 level and above, you’ll receive the 2018 CD and Cowboy Poetry Week poster. And, you’ll be helping to keep it real, to preserve and celebrate the vibrant life and art of the cowboying and ranching world. Next year is the BAR-D’s 19th anniversary. Please help keep the words and the work alive.

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THE OLD TIME CHRISTMAS by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

kiskoldtimechristmas

 

THE OLD TIME CHRISTMAS
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I liked the way we used to do,
when cattle was plenty and folks was few.
The people gathered frum far and near, and
they barbacued a big fat steer.
The kids tried stayin’ awake because,
they reckoned they might ketch Santa Claus.
Next mornin’ you’d wake ’em up to see,
what he’d been and put on the Christmas tree.

It was Christmas then fer the rich and pore,
and every ranch was an open door.
The waddy that came on a company hoss
was treated the same as the owner and boss.
Nobody seemed to have a care,
you was in among friends or you wasn’t there.
For every feller in them days knew
to behave hisself as a man should do.

Some had new boots, which they’d shore admire
when they warmed their feet in front of the fire.
And the wimmin folks had new clothes too,
but not like the wimmin of these days do.
Sometimes a drifter came riding in,
some feller that never was seen agin.
And each Christmas day as the years went on
we used to wonder where they’d gone.

I like to recall the Christmas night.
The tops of the mountains capped with white.
The stars so bright they seemed to blaze,
and the foothills swum in a silver haze.
Them good old days is past and gone.
The time and the world and the change goes on.
And you cain’t do things like you used to do
when cattle was plenty and folks was few.

… Bruce Kiskaddon, 1934

And here is another Kiskaddon poem, with a similar sentiment:

MERRY CHRISTMAS
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

We was whistlin’, we was singin’ on a winter afternoon;
The hobble chains and fryin’ pans was jinglin’ to the tune.
Fer we knew the day was Christmas and the line camp was in sight,
No, it wasn’t much to look at but it suited us all right.

We onpacked and we onsaddled, then we turned our hosses out;
We cooked lots of beef and biscuits and we made the coffee stout.
We et all we could swaller, then we set and took a smoke,
And we shore did work our memory out to find a bran new joke.

No, it wasn’t like the Christmas like the folks have nowadays—
They are livin’ more in comfort, and they’ve sorter changed their ways—
But I sorter wish, old pardner, we could brush the years away,
And be jest as young and happy, as we was that Christmas Day.

… Bruce Kiskaddon

 

Merry Christmas, all!

This image is an original Los Angeles Stockyards calendar page from December, 1954. The poem and drawing first appeared in the Western Livestock Journal in 1934. It was also included in Kiskaddon’s 1935 book, Western Poems.

Poet Bruce Kiskaddon and artist Katherine Field (1908-1951) collaborated on works for the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar and the Western Livestock Journal. The two never met in person.

Bruce Kiskaddon worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898 in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems. His poems are among the most admired and the most recited in the “classic” cowboy poetry canon.

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Bill Siems also collected Bruce Kiskaddon’s short stories in a book called Shorty’s Yarns.

Siems tells that Kiskaddon wrote an annual Christmas poem for the Chuck Wagon Trailers, a group organized in 1931 “by old-time cowboys who were Hollywood’s first stunt men and western stars.”

On The BAR-D Roundup: Volume 8, a double CD of classic and modern Christmas cowboy poetry, Jay Snider has an excellent recitation of “The Old Time Christmas” and Gail Steiger has a likewise great recitation of Kiskaddon’s “Merry Christmas.”

Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

 

Winter/Christmas Art Spur 2016-2017: “Pitchfork Winter”

pitchforkchristmas

Submissions are now closed.

Find the Winter-themed poems below by Marleen Bussma, Tom Swearingen, Jeff Campbell, and C.W. (Charles) Bell.

Find the selected Christmas-themed poems below by Michelle Turner, Jim Cathey, and Jean Mathisen Haugen.

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words…we know many that are worthy of a poem or a song. In Art Spur, we invite poets and songwriters to let selections of Western art inspire their poetry and songs.

Our 44th piece offered to “spur” the imagination is a special Winter/Christmas Art Spur, a 1923 photograph by Charles J. Belden (1887-1966) titled, “Work on cattle ranch, Z/T Ranch, Pitchfork, Wyoming.” It is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division. Find more about it here.

A biography at the Charles Belden Photography Museum web site notes, “The greatest contribution of Charles Belden to the Pitchfork Ranch was making it famous. In the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, Belden took pictures of the Pitchfork Ranch for newspapers in Los Angeles, Denver, Billings, Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, New York, and for National Geographic magazine…His technical abilities, combined with an unequaled knowledge of the cowboy and sheepman, allowed Belden to capture the true life and times of the Pitchfork Ranch from 1914 to 1940…He lived and worked on the Pitchfork and, in 1922, became a co-manager…”

Find the bio and more at the Charles Belden Photography Museum web site.

Find a collection of Belden photographs at the University of Wyoming‘s digital archive.

 

WINTER-THEMED POEMS

A PITCHFORK MORNING
by Marleen Bussma

The snow has wrapped its alabaster arms around the day
and squeezed all color from the summer’s generous display.
Sam sits atop his horse and pulls his neck inside his coat.
The snow-haze hid most things his eyes would recognize and note.

The raw wind keens and cries sad tones you cannot hear in town.
It beats the snow and sleet across Sam’s face, though he looks down.
Three hundred miles and thirty years ago he never knew
he’d still be punching cattle in this life he’s passing through.

Dark specks that move emerge from Jack Frost’s cloak that hides the hills.
The cattle come for feed brought in by wagons where it spills
atop the ground and spreads out like the Golden Fork Buffet.
Their greedy appetite will not give in to weather’s play.

Their backs are white and crusted with a blanket spun from sleet.
Their heads wear scarves designed by wind cut from an icy sheet.
Sam notices a cow that staggers, stumbles, slips on snow.
She goes down on her side while other cows don’t even slow.

Sam nudges Sadie to a trot to check the fallen cow.
He steps down from the saddle, tilts his hat so he can bow
his head into the wind that screams and threatens all who live.
“Just one mistake!” is shrieked by elements that won’t forgive.

The cow is blinded by a frozen mask stuck to her face.
She doesn’t try to struggle as Sam wipes away all trace
of glaze encrusted on her eyes, once sightless, shaded, still.
Sam carefully pulls frosty fragments with a cowhand’s skill.

His patient struggles to get up with energy renewed.
She joins the gather near the hay and makes her way to food.
As winter drags its frozen feet with cowboys on alert,
a warm chinook off eastern Rocky Mountains wouldn’t hurt.

© 2017, Marleen Bussma
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

pitchforkchristmassm

ONLY PLACE FOR ME
by Tom Swearingen

Cows are strung from here to Sunday,
Nose to tail all afternoon.
The herd snakin’ way to low ground,
Down the trail ‘went up last June.

Temp’rature is barely twenty.
With the wind chill it feels worse.
But I count it all a blessing
What most folks would call a curse.

To be all day on the gather
Bringing high-graze cattle down,
To still be a part of something
Not much understood in town.

To ride from can’t see to can’t see.
No need for a watch or clock.
To know I’m spendin’ my time well,
Working hard to raise this stock.

Riding ground that my father rode,
And his father rode before.
Not a lot of people these days
That can say that anymore.

‘Course days like this will test you some,
Winter gnawing at your core.
Reminding you there are reasons
Others don’t take on the chore.

The feeling long left from my hands,
And about gone from my seat.
Warmth just a dwindling memory.
Still some hours ’til home fire’s heat.

Today it’s snow and bitter wind,
Other times it’s sun and dust.
But regardless of conditions
Being here for me’s a must.

Because I’m right where I figure
Is the only place for me.
For a cowboy is what I am,
Cowboy’s what I’ll always be.

© 2017, Tom Swearingen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

pitchforkchristmassm

OLD MAN WINTER
by Jeff Campbell

The yuletide season’s over
It will soon be New Years Day
We all enjoyed a white Christmas
With more snow on the way

As I sit here in the saddle
I confirm the forecast right
While looking all around me
At a world cloaked in white

Santa may have gone back home
But Old Man Winter’s settled in
The horizon’s almost disappeared
Where does the sky begin?

The only demarcation
Of where prairie meets the sky
The long red ribbon of cattle
Drudgingly passing by

Workin’ the herd out of the wind
Patient and try not to rush
West down to Burgess Creek
And the shelter of the brush

This frozen task accomplished
Our work is still not through
Here in the dead of winter
There’s always more to do

Use snow to our advantage
Push it up against the fence
A barrier against the gales
Another refuge of defense

Chop logs like a lumberjack
To feed that old wood stove
Chop ice in the water tanks
Where the drinkin’ waters froze

Movin’ hay to the cattle
Make sure that they’re well fed
Bring in a shiverin’ calf
To warm up by my bed

Like the devil in summer
Old Man Winter blast the range
We never do defeat him
Just survive till seasons change

© 2017, Jeff Campbell
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

pitchforkchristmassm

LINE CABIN NIGHT
by C.W. (Charles) Bell

When the winds of winter freeze the surface of hill and plain,

With frozen icy weapons beat upon the window pane.

When the ground is deeply covered with drifts of whitest snow,

And the air so clear I see the ranch, way down there below.

That’s when I sit and listen to the north wind’s mighty roar;

The fire in the fireplace casts crazy shadows on the floor.

Outside it’s cold and darkness, while inside it’s warm and bright,

Settled down in solid comfort—I call it—Line Cabin Night!

© 2017, C.W. (Charles) Bell
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

pitchforkchristmassm

CHRISTMAS-THEMED POEMS

CHRISTMAS TRAIL
by Michelle Turner

The first snow of the season came in silent, and swift
A wet, sticky snow; too heavy to drift
Falling straight down, it stacked up real quick
Bad for the drovers, but good for Saint Nick!

“Well, Boys, It looks like we’re gonna be late.
The Christmas festivities will just have to wait.”
I sighed a small sigh, and then bowed my head,
“Give us this day, our daily bread”

The families back home were just joining hands
Praying for cowboys on frigid range lands
“Father in Heaven, we ask this of You
Push the blizzard aside; please let them get through”

I watched crystals of ice form on long pony tails
like Christmas tree tinsel decorating our trail
And heat-melted snow dripped over my mare
drizzled like caramel on a gingerbread square

The cattle were covered with coats of white flocking
My mind wandered home to an empty hung stocking
Clouds of hot breath from the herd blurred my view
As if looking through steam over mugs of hot brew

My thoughts were cut short by a cheer from the men
After wiping my eyes and then looking again
One single star peaked out from the skies
and I knew we’d be home for leftovers and pie

We secured all the gates and rubbed down our mounts,
then dragged our cold bones to the steps of the house
With the door bursting open, such commotion inside!
They all waited Christmas, ‘til the end of our ride.

© 2016, Michelle Turner
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without  permission.

pitchforkchristmassm

CHRISTMAS WISHES
by Jim Cathey

While I’m watchin’ them cows comin’ down in the snow,
Hankerin’ for some better times,
An’ the warmer wind breaks they’ll find down below,
I’m shore wishin’ for warmer climes!

It was comin’ on Christmas time of the year,
We’d hired on for winter brandin’,
An’ was shore ‘nuff proud to hunker down here,
Like Mary an’ Joseph way back when.

Shore now, you recollect the Christmas story?
‘Bout when Baby Jesus was born,
An’ that night with God in all His Glory,
Give us that very first Christmas morn,

Now I reckon as how life can shore be rough,
An’ it warn’t no different way back then,
Them ol’ boys herdin’ stock found it mighty tough,
But lookin’ back, they’d shore ‘nuff grin.

But when they heard them angels a singin’,
I ‘spect it spooked ‘em a good bit,
They figgered it was just bells somewhere a ringin’,
An’ they hunkered down, but didn’t quit.

Yeah, I ‘spect it was colder’n rocks in a heap,
That baby was wrapped up an’ warm,
An’ them dang shepherds with their flock of sheep,
Just plumb hunkered down in that storm.

Now that’s the same choice we make to be cowboys,
I guess, sorta like them three kings,
They chose to follow that star that promised joys,
About which them angels would sing.

Glory to the highest with peace an’ goodwill to all,
An’ them ol’ boys herdin’ their stock,
Scairt, but watchin’ out for ‘em, no matter how small,
Cow, horse, donkey, sheep in a flock.

An’ that baby, layin’ there in a manger,
Wrapped head to toe in swaddlin clothes,
A promise of eternal life to strangers,
After life an’ death, He arose.

Yep, that’s how Christmas musta got started,
An’ so we celebrate today,
While we thank the Good Lord for our paths He charted,
I ‘spect we should hit our knees and pray!

Lord, thank you for giving us Jesus on earth,
An’ for promisin’ life with you,
As we celebrate this wondrous birth,
Please allow our faith to renew.

An’ thank you for these critters in the snow,
That let us know the cowboy way,
An’ help us stay true, our faith all aglow,
Thank you Lord! In yore name we pray.

Well, I’m still watchin’ them cows comin’ down in the snow,
Hankerin’ for some better times,
An’ the warmer wind breaks they’ll find down below,
I’m shore wishin’ for warmer climes!

© 2016, Ol’ Jim Cathey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

pitchforkchristmassm

A COWBOY, CAMPFIRE AND A STAR
by Jean Mathisen Haugen

It was cold that winter night,
when I got caught out in the snow.
A blizzard came in from the west,
and how that wind did blow!
I’d been riding across the range
looking for a few stray cows,
trying hard to bring them in,
but the storm hit here and now.
I found shelter in a shallow cave
and built a warm campfire,
chewed on jerky and had some beans—
not all I would desire.
For this night was Christmas Eve
and I was there all alone—
no songs and surely no angels,
just the howl of the wild wind’s moan.
I used my saddle for a pillow
and had my soogans near,
crawled inside to get some sleep,
but sure wished I wasn’t here.
I drifted off into a dream
and then, in the middle of the night,
I heard some rustling in the brush
and it gave me a bit of a fright.
The storm had finally cleared.
I saw way off a’ ways afar
the streaming beams of high lonesome light
that were coming from a star.
Then I saw an angel fly by
and soon a flock of them were singing,
there just above the little cave
songs of joy and even bells were ringing.
The campfire should have gone out by then,
but the flames were dancing high,
brightening the lonely cave
and nearly bright as that star in the sky.
Then it was suddenly quiet
and I went back to sleep.
Near morning I crawled out at dawn—
and there was canned food in a heap,
along with fresh-cut firewood
and a tipi tent that was brand new.
I scratched my head, fixed coffee
and made a real strong brew.
And it was then I stumbled over
some feathers from real angel wings—
then I realized that was no dream—
I had really heard them sing.
I am old and crippled now,
but I can recall from years afar
the story of that long ago night
’bout a cowboy, a campfire and a star.

© 2016, Jean Mathisen Haugen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without  permission.

Thanks to all who participated.

pitchforkchristmassm

 

SUBMISSIONS

Poetry submissions were welcome from all, through Tuesday, January 17, 2017. Christmas-themed submissions were welcome by Tuesday, December 20, 2016).

Submissions are now closed.

 

Find previous Art Spur subjects and their poems here.

 

pitchforkchristmassm

THE OLD TIME CHRISTMAS by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

kiskoldtimechristmas

 

THE OLD TIME CHRISTMAS
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I liked the way we used to do,
when cattle was plenty and folks was few.
The people gathered frum far and near, and
they barbacued a big fat steer.
The kids tried stayin’ awake because,
they reckoned they might ketch Santa Claus.
Next mornin’ you’d wake ’em up to see,
what he’d been and put on the Christmas tree.

It was Christmas then fer the rich and pore,
and every ranch was an open door.
The waddy that came on a company hoss
was treated the same as the owner and boss.
Nobody seemed to have a care,
you was in among friends or you wasn’t there.
For every feller in them days knew
to behave hisself as a man should do.

Some had new boots, which they’d shore admire
when they warmed their feet in front of the fire.
And the wimmin folks had new clothes too,
but not like the wimmin of these days do.
Sometimes a drifter came riding in,
some feller that never was seen agin.
And each Christmas day as the years went on
we used to wonder where they’d gone.

I like to recall the Christmas night.
The tops of the mountains capped with white.
The stars so bright they seemed to blaze,
and the foothills swum in a silver haze.
Them good old days is past and gone.
The time and the world and the change goes on.
And you cain’t do things like you used to do
when cattle was plenty and folks was few.

… Bruce Kiskaddon, 1934

And here is another Kiskaddon poem, with a similar sentiment:

MERRY CHRISTMAS
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

We was whistlin’, we was singin’ on a winter afternoon;
The hobble chains and fryin’ pans was jinglin’ to the tune.
Fer we knew the day was Christmas and the line camp was in sight,
No, it wasn’t much to look at but it suited us all right.

We onpacked and we onsaddled, then we turned our hosses out;
We cooked lots of beef and biscuits and we made the coffee stout.
We et all we could swaller, then we set and took a smoke,
And we shore did work our memory out to find a bran new joke.

No, it wasn’t like the Christmas like the folks have nowadays—
They are livin’ more in comfort, and they’ve sorter changed their ways—
But I sorter wish, old pardner, we could brush the years away,
And be jest as young and happy, as we was that Christmas Day.

… Bruce Kiskaddon

 

Merry Christmas, all!

This image is an original Los Angeles Stockyards calendar page from December, 1954. The poem and drawing first appeared in the Western Livestock Journal in 1934. It was also included in Kiskaddon’s 1935 book, “Western Poems.”

Poet Bruce Kiskaddon and artist Katherine Field (1908-1951) collaborated on works for the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar and the Western Livestock Journal. The two never met in person.

Bruce Kiskaddon worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898 in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems. His poems are among the most admired and the most recited in the “classic” cowboy poetry canon.

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Bill Siems also collected Bruce Kiskaddon’s short stories in a book called Shorty’s Yarns.

Siems tells that Kiskaddon wrote an annual Christmas poem for the Chuck Wagon Trailers, a group organized in 1931 “by old-time cowboys who were Hollywood’s first stunt men and western stars.”

On The BAR-D Roundup: Volume 8, a double CD of classic and modern Christmas cowboy poetry, Jay Snider has an excellent recitation of “The Old Time Christmas” and Gail Steiger has a likewise great recitation of “Merry Christmas.”

Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

 

THE OLD TIME CHRISTMAS by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

kiskoldtimechristmas

 

THE OLD TIME CHRISTMAS
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I liked the way we used to do,
when cattle was plenty and folks was few.
The people gathered frum far and near, and
they barbacued a big fat steer.
The kids tried stayin’ awake because,
they reckoned they might ketch Santa Claus.
Next mornin’ you’d wake ’em up to see,
what he’d been and put on the Christmas tree.

It was Christmas then fer the rich and pore,
and every ranch was an open door.
The waddy that came on a company hoss
was treated the same as the owner and boss.
Nobody seemed to have a care,
you was in among friends or you wasn’t there.
For every feller in them days knew
to behave hisself as a man should do.

Some had new boots, which they’d shore admire
when they warmed their feet in front of the fire.
And the wimmin folks had new clothes too,
but not like the wimmin of these days do.
Sometimes a drifter came riding in,
some feller that never was seen agin.
And each Christmas day as the years went on
we used to wonder where they’d gone.

I like to recall the Christmas night.
The tops of the mountains capped with white.
The stars so bright they seemed to blaze,
and the foothills swum in a silver haze.
Them good old days is past and gone.
The time and the world and the change goes on.
And you cain’t do things like you used to do
when cattle was plenty and folks was few.

… Bruce Kiskaddon, 1934
And here is another Kiskaddon poem, with a similar sentiment:
MERRY CHRISTMAS
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

We was whistlin’, we was singin’ on a winter afternoon;
The hobble chains and fryin’ pans was jinglin’ to the tune.
Fer we knew the day was Christmas and the line camp was in sight,
No, it wasn’t much to look at but it suited us all right.

We onpacked and we onsaddled, then we turned our hosses out;
We cooked lots of beef and biscuits and we made the coffee stout.
We et all we could swaller, then we set and took a smoke,
And we shore did work our memory out to find a bran new joke.

No, it wasn’t like the Christmas like the folks have nowadays—
They are livin’ more in comfort, and they’ve sorter changed their ways—
But I sorter wish, old pardner, we could brush the years away,
And be jest as young and happy, as we was that Christmas Day.

… Bruce Kiskaddon
Merry Christmas, all!

This image is an original Los Angeles Stockyards calendar page from December, 1954. The poem and drawing first appeared in the Western Livestock Journal in 1934. It was also included in Kiskaddon’s 1935 book, Western Poems.

Poet Bruce Kiskaddon and artist Katherine Field (1908-1951) collaborated on works for the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar and the Western Livestock Journal. The two never met in person.

Bruce Kiskaddon worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898 in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems. His poems are among the most admired and the most recited in the “classic” cowboy poetry canon.

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Bill Siems also collected Bruce Kiskaddon’s short stories in a book called Shorty’s Yarns.

Siems tells that Kiskaddon wrote an annual Christmas poem for the Chuck Wagon Trailers, a group organized in 1931 “by old-time cowboys who were Hollywood’s first stunt men and western stars.”

On The BAR-D Roundup: Volume 8, a double CD of classic and modern Christmas cowboy poetry, Jay Snider has an excellent recitation of “The Old Time Christmas” and Gail Steiger has a likewise great recitation of “Merry Christmas.”

Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.
(These poems are in the public domain.)
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A COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS PRAYER by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

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A COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS PRAYER
by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

I ain’t much good at prayin’,
and You may not know me, Lord —
For I ain’t much seen in churches,
where they preach Thy Holy Word.
But you may have observed me
out here on the lonely plains,
A-lookin’ after cattle,
feelin’ thankful when it rains.

Admirin’ Thy great handiwork.
the miracle of the grass,
Aware of Thy kind Spirit,
in the way it comes to pass
That hired men on horseback
and the livestock that we tend
Can look up at the stars at night,
and know we’ve got a Friend.

So here’s ol’ Christmas comin’ on,
remindin’ us again
Of Him whose coming brought good will
into the hearts of men.
A cowboy ain’t a preacher, Lord,
but if You’ll hear my prayer,
I’ll ask as good as we have got
for all men everywhere.

Don’t let no hearts be bitter, Lord.
Don’t let no child be cold.
Make easy the beds for them that’s sick
and them that’s weak and old.
Let kindness bless the trail we ride,
no matter what we’re after,
And sorter keep us on Your side,
in tears as well as laughter.

I’ve seen ol’ cows a-starvin’ —
and it ain’t no happy sight;
Please don’t leave no one hungry, Lord,
on Thy Good Christmas Night —
No man, no child, no woman,
and no critter on four feet
I’ll do my doggone best
to help you find ’em chuck to eat.

I’m just a sinful cowpoke, Lord —
ain’t got no business prayin’
But still I hope you’ll ketch a word
or two, of what I’m sayin’:
We speak of Merry Christmas, Lord—
I reckon You’ll agree —

There ain’t no Merry Christmas
for nobody that ain’t free!
So one thing more I ask You,
Lord: just help us what You can
To save some seeds of freedom
for the future Sons of Man!

…by S. Omar Barker

S. Omar Barker earned more from the publication and uses of his “A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer” than from any other poem. A December 23, 1998 article by Ollie Reed Jr. in the Albuquerque Tribune, “Church on the Range,” comments on the poem:

In November 1962, New Mexico author S. Omar Barker received a telegram asking permission for his poem “A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer” to be read on the Lawrence Welk TV show.

Barker, a sunup-to-sundown, every-day-of-the-week professional writer for much of his more than 90 years, telegraphed back that for $100 they had a deal.

Back again comes a telegraph from the TV show’s agent asking if Barker would settle for $50.

“Fifty bucks no steak. Beans,” Barker wired in response on Nov. 26, 1962. “But will accept anyway to help TV poor folks.”

Jodie Phillips, wife of Barker’s nephew Bob Phillips, smiled as she pointed out copies of the telegrams pasted in a thick scrapbook put together by Barker himself….

“If he didn’t sell a poem, he didn’t eat,” Jodie Phillips said of Barker, who died in Las Vegas, N.M., in April 1985, just a couple of months shy of his 91st birthday.

Apparently the Welk show decided not to use the poem.

That was a rarity. Tennessee Ernie Ford and sausage king-country singer Jimmy Dean read it on national television, and it has been reprinted much more than 100 times in collections of Barker’s works, anthologies, magazines and Christmas cards.

Leanin’ Tree cards of Boulder, Colorado, has used the Barker verse…more years than not for more than two decades…

Jodie Phillips said she never heard Barker talk about what inspired him to write the Christmas prayer, but she thinks it’s based on his own brand of theology.

“There were no churches where Omar grew up,” she said. “He believed in God, and I think he had a very strong religious conviction. But he belonged to no sect. He never went to church services.”

The Jimmy Dean recitation of this poem is on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Eight, a double CD of Christmas cowboy poetry.

Barker was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America, Inc. and many of his poems were published by Western Horseman. He enjoyed signing his name with his brand, “Lazy SOB.” Find more of S. Omar Barker’s Christmas poems and more about him at CowboyPoetry.com.

In December, 2013 the S. Omar Barker estate let us know that this poem is now considered in the public domain.

This photo of Omar and Elsa Barker is courtesy of the S. Omar Barker estate. It may be familiar to some. It used to have a stain on it that was fixed by one of the best places on Facebook, Photo Restoration Free Service. Join the group to see the wonderful work they do, for free, for and by people around the globe.

 

THE CHRISTMAS TRAIL by Charles Badger Clark (1883-1957)

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THE CHRISTMAS TRAIL
by Charles Badger Clark (1883-1957)

The wind is blowin’ cold down the mountain tips of snow
And ‘cross the ranges layin’ brown and dead;
It’s cryin’ through the valley trees that wear the mistletoe
And mournin’ with the gray clouds overhead.
Yet it’s sweet with the beat of my little hawse’s feet
And I whistle like the air was warm and blue
For I’m ridin’ up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I’m a-ridin’ up the Christmas trail to you.

Oh, mebbe it was good when the whinny of the Spring
Had weedled me to hoppin’ of the bars.
And livin’ in the shadow of a sailin’ buzzard’s wing
And sleepin’ underneath a roof of stars.
But the bright campfire light only dances for a night,
While the home-fire burns forever clear and true,
So ’round the year I circle back to you,
Old folks,
Round the rovin’ year I circle back to you.

Oh, mebbe it was good when the reckless Summer sun
Had shot a charge of fire through my veins,
And I milled around the whiskey and the fightin’ and fun
‘Mong the mav’ricks drifted from the plains.
Ay, the pot bubbled hot, while you reckoned I’d forgot,
And the devil smacked the young blood in his stew,
Yet I’m lovin’ every mile that’s nearer you,
Good folks,
Lovin’ every blessed mile that’s nearer you.

Oh, mebbe it was good at the roundup in the Fall,
When the clouds of bawlin’ dust before us ran,
And the pride of rope and saddle was a-drivin’ of us all
To stretch of nerve and muscle, man and man.
But the pride sort of died when the man got weary eyed;
‘Twas a sleepy boy that rode the nightguard through,
And he dreamed himself along a trail to you,
Old folks,
Dreamed himself along a happy trail to you.

The coyote’s Winter howl cuts the dusk behind the hill,
But the ranch’s shinin’ window I kin see,
And though I don’t deserve it and, I reckon, never will,
There’ll be room beside the fire kep’ for me.
Skimp my plate ’cause I’m late. Let me hit the old kid gait,
For tonight I’m stumblin’ tired of the new
And I’m ridin’ up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I’m a-ridin’ up the Christmas trail to you.

… by Charles Badger Clark, Jr., from “Sun and Saddle Leather,” 1915
Badger Clark got his cowboying experience in Arizona. He became the Poet Laureate of South Dakota, where he was born and lived for most of his life. He wrote many lasting poems, and some found their way into song, including “The Old Cow Man,” “Riding’,” “Spanish is a Loving Tongue” and “To Her.”

The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation holds Badger Clark’s papers and offers his books for sale.

Find poetry and more in our features about Badger Clark at CowboyPoetry.com.

Cowboy troubadour—and national treasure—Don Edwards made a special recitation of this poem for the double-CD Christmas edition of The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Eight.

Hear Don Edwards sing “White Christmas” here  and “Christmas in the West” here.

Find more about Don Edwards at CowboyPoetry.com, at his site, donedwardsmusic.com, and on Facebook.

This 1906 photo is of Badger Clark at his writing table, used with permission from Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, by Greg Scott.