THE CREAK OF THE LEATHER, Bruce Kiskaddon

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THE CREAK OF THE LEATHER
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

It’s likely that you can remember
A corral at the foot of a hill
Some mornin’ along in December
When the air was so cold and so still.
When the frost lay as light as a feather
And the stars had jest blinked out and gone.
Remember the creak of the leather
As you saddled your hoss in the dawn.

When the glow of the sunset had faded
And you reached the corral after night
On a hoss that was weary and jaded
And so hungry yore belt wasn’t tight.
You felt about ready to weaken
You knowed you had been a long way
But the old saddle still kep a creakin’
Like it did at the start of the day.

Perhaps you can mind when yore saddle
Was standin’ up high at the back
And you started a whale of a battle
When you got the old pony untracked.
How you and the hoss stuck together
Is a thing you caint hardly explain
And the rattle and creak of the leather
As it met with the jar and the strain.

You have been on a stand in the cedars
When the air was so quiet and dead
Not even some flies and mosquitoes
To buzz and make noise ’round yore head.
You watched for wild hosses or cattle
When the place was as silent as death
But you heard the soft creak of the saddle
Every time the hoss took a breath.

And when the round up was workin’
All day you had been ridin’ hard
There wasn’t a chance of your shirkin’
You was pulled for the second guard
A sad homesick feelin’ come sneakin’
As you sung to the cows and the moon
And you heard the old saddle a creakin’
Along to the sound of the tune.

There was times when the sun was shore blazin’
On a perishin’ hot summer day
Mirages would keep you a gazin’
And the dust devils danced far away
You cussed at the thirst and the weather
You rode at a slow joggin’ trot
And you noticed somehow that the leather
Creaks different when once it gets hot.

When yore old and yore eyes have grown hollow
And your hair has a tinge of the snow
But there’s always the memories that follow
From the trails of the dim long ago.
There are things that will haunt you forever
You notice that strange as it seems
One sound, the soft creak of the leather,
Weaves into your memories and dreams.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

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, including this one, first published in his 1947 book, Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems.

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

It is one of the compelling features of cowboy poetry to hear how different reciters present a poem, particularly a poem as lyrical as “The Creak of the Leather.”

Vess Quinlan recites the poem at a Library of Congress Veterans History Project event that took place in November, 2019, and includes Jerry Brooks and Bill Jones. Find the video at here and the poem at 55:25. (It is of course worth listening to the entire webcast in which the poets talk about their introductions to poetry, recite poems, and more.)

Andy Hedges has a fine interpretation of “The Creak of the Leather” on one of his recent Cowboy Crossroads podcast, which also features an interview with singer and songwriter Corb Lund.

Gary McMahan has an equally fine recitation of the poem on the 2019 triple CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, which has over 60 tracks of the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, recited by voices from the past and from today’s top reciters and poets.

Linda Marie Kirkpatrick offers her unique interpretation of “The Creak of the Leather” on THE BAR-D ROUNDUP: VOLUME FIVE (2010) from CowboyPoetry.com.

The above 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cowboy on horse with equipment on cattle ranch near Spur, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Find a feature about noted photographer and teacher Russell Lee with a gallery of photographs from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

This poem and photograph are in the public domain.

COLD MORNIN’S, by Bruce Kiskaddon

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COLD MORNIN’S
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I been out in the weather since I was a boy,
But cold mornin’s is sumthin’ a man cain’t enjoy.
It makes me feel like I wanted to quit
When I ketch up my pony and thaw out my bit.

There ain’t any cow puncher needs to be told
That my saddle is stiff and the leather is cold.
The blankets is froze and the hoss shakes like jelly
When you the pull the old frozen cinch up on his belly.

He snorts and he’s got a mean look in the eye.
He is humped till the back of the saddle stands high.
He ain’t in no humor to stand fer a joke,
But I belt on my chaps and I light me a smoke.

There may be some trouble between me and him.
It is like goin’ into cold water to swim.
It gives me a sort of shivver and scare
But once I git started; well then I don’t care.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon, 1937

Kiskaddon has a number of cold weather poems, no doubt inspired by his cowboying years in Colorado. This poem appeared in the Western Livestock Journal and on the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar.

This year’s triple CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, has over 60 tracks of the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950), recited by voices from the past and from today’s top reciters and poets.

Find more about Bruce Kiskaddon at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photograph is from top cowboy poet, South Dakota rancher, and quilt champion Yvonne Hollenbeck. It was taken a few years ago, and she commented, “Ahh, the life of a ranchwife in South Dakota in winter. We just scooped two long lines of bunks (wet heavy snow) so we could feed the calves…That was just half of ’em in the picture. We feed ground feed into the bunks. I think there’s two rows of 11.”

Yvonne is headed to the Western Folklife Center’s 36th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 27-February 1, 2020 in Elko, Nevada. She joins a great group of poets, musicians, and others at this “granddaddy” of all gatherings. Go! And find more at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org.

Find more about Yvonne Hollenbeck at cowboypoetry.com/yh.htm and at yvonnehollenbeck.com.

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

A COWBOY’S NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

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A COWBOY’S NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

As one who’s been a cowhand since the wildcats learned to spit,
I’ve made some resolutions for the comin’ year, to wit:
Resolved, to ride a shorter day and sleep a longer night;
To never come to breakfast till the sun is shinin’ bright;
To draw a top-hands wages when they’re due or quit the job
And hunt a wealthy widow or an easy bank to rob.
Resolved, to quit the wagon when the chuck ain’t up to snuff,
To feed no more on bullet beans nor chaw on beef that’s tough.
Resolved, to straddle nothin’ in the line of saddle mount
That ain’t plumb easy-gaited, gentle broke, and some account.

Resolved, that when it blizzards and there’s stock out in the storm,
To let the owner worry while I stay in where it’s warm.
Resolved, that when it comes my turn next spring to ride the bogs,
I’ll don the bib and tucker of my town and Sunday togs,
And tell the boss, by gravies, if he craves to shed some blood,
Just try to make me smear ’em tailin’ moo-cows from the mud.
Resolved, that when a thunderhead comes rollin’ up the sky,
I’ll lope in off my circle to the bunkhouse where it’s dry.

Resolved, to do such ropin’ as a ropin’ cowhand must,
But never when the air ain’t free from cattle-trompled dust.
Resolved to show no hosses, and resolved, to swim no cricks;
Resolved, no dead-cow skinnin’, and resolved, no fence to fix.
Resolved, to swing no pitchfork, no pick, no ax, no spade;
Resolved to wear my whiskers—if I want to—in a braid!
Resolved, to take this New Year plenty easy through-and-through,
Instead of sweatin’ heavy like I’ve always used to do.

As one who’s been a cowhand since before who laid the chunk,
It may sound like I’m loco, or it may sound like I’m drunk
To make such resolutions as you see upon my list,
And others purt near like ’em that my mem’ry may have missed;
But gosh, they sound so pleasant to a son of saddle sweat!
And New Year’s resolutions—well, I never kept one yet!
So why make resolutions that bring furrows to your brow?
Let’s make ’em free and fancy—’cause we’ll bust ’em anyhow!

© 1966, S. Omar Barker, from Rawhide Rhymes, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker

Happy New Year, all!

S. Omar Barker  was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America, Inc. and many of his poems were published by Western Horseman. Find more about S. Omar Barker at CowboyPoetry.com.

Jay Snider recites this poem on MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, the poetry of S. Omar Barker.

This photograph is by Colorado rancher Terry Nash, taken in late 2013. Terry’s most recent CD is the award-winning, A Good Ride. Find more about him at CowboyPoetry.com and at his site, terrynashcowboypoet.com.

Find more New Year poems at CowboyPoetry.com.

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

STARTIN’ OUT, by Bruce Kiskaddon

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STARTIN’ OUT
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

When you have to start out on a cold winter day
The wind blowin’ cold and the sky is dull gray.
You blow on the bit till you take out the frost,
Then you put on the bridle and saddle yore hoss.

He squats and he shivers. He blows through his nose.
The blanket is stiff for the sweat is shore froze.
Then you pick up yore saddle and swing it up high,
Till the stirrups and cinches and latigoes fly.

The pony he flinches and draws down his rump.
There’s a chance he might kick, and he’s likely to jump.
He rolls his eye at you and shivers like jelly
When you pull that old frozen cinch up on his belly.

It is cold on his back and yore freezin’ yore feet,
And you’ll likely find out when you light on yore seat,
That you ain’t got no tropical place fer to set.
It is likey the saddle aint none overhet.

But a cow boy don’t pay no attention to weather.
He gits out of his bed and gits into the leather.
In the winter it’s mighty onpleasant to ride,
But that’s just the time when he’s needed outside.

…by Bruce Kisaddon

More than seventy-five years ago, Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem appeared in the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar.

As mentioned with previously-posted calendar poems: From 1936 through 1942, poet Bruce Kiskaddon and artist Katherine Field (1908-1951) collaborated on works for the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar and the Western Livestock Journal.

In 1939, Frank M. King, editor of the Western Livestock Journal, wrote,  “…Sometimes Bruce’s poems are mailed up there to Katherine in her mountain home, and pretty soon it comes back with a drawing that just fits the poem. Then for a change she sends her drawings over here to Los Angeles and Bruce squints them eyes over ’em that he used to use for spying out long eared calves up there on them Colorado and Arizona mountain ranges, and in a right short time he comes out with one of them poems that exactly matches the picture, so they make a good team for matching up pictures and poems.”

The two never met in person.

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

Kiskaddon has another poem that is also named “Starting Out,” and  Gail Steiger recitest it on this year’s triple-disc CD from CowboyPoetry.com, with over 50 Kiksaddon poems, recited by a great community of cowboy poets, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poems of Bruce Kiskaddon. Bill Siems contributes an introduction and a recitation of his own.

This poem is in the public domain and the illustration comes from our collection of Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar pages.

THE OLD TIME CHRISTMAS and MERRY CHRISTMAS, by Bruce Kiskaddon

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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!

We’re celebrating the 20th annual Christmas at the BAR-D.

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.”

Our 2019 triple-disc compilation, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poems of Bruce Kiskaddon, has poems recited by a great community of cowboy poets. CDs are offered to libraries across the West in Cowboy Poetry Week’s Rural Library Program. If you’d like your library to be included, email us.

Linda Marie Kirkpatrick recites “The Old Time Christmas” and Gail Steiger recites “Merry Christmas” on MASTERS: VOLUME THREE.

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

Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

(These poems are in the public domain.)

A COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS PRAYER, by S. Omar Barker

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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

We’re celebrating the 20th annual Christmas at the BAR-D.

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,” tells about 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.

The 2018 double CD, MASTERS: Volume Two, 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. Jim Cathey recites “A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer.”

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.

(You can share this photo with this post but please request permission for any other use.)

MEMO ON MULES by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

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MEMO ON MULES
by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

There ain’t no use in talkin’,
When a feller rides a mule,
He’s got himself a saddle mount
That’s mighty hard to fool.
Some horses step right in a bog
without a second glance,
But jassacks simply don’t believe
in takin’ any chance.

They’ll fool around a barbed wire fence
the same as horses, but
You purt near never see a mule
that’s got a barbed-wire cut.
You let a horse get to the grain,
he’ll founder on the stuff,
But mules, by instinct, seem to know
when they have had enough.

Some mules will spook and run away,
some throw a buckin’ fit,
But panicky is something that
they seldom ever git,
For when they pull a ruckus,
they are always plumb alert
To see that Mr. Jackass
never winds up gittin’ hurt.

Most cowboys think a jassack
is a plumb disgraceful mount,
And it is true that some of them
ain’t very much account
For anything but harness
or to tote a heavy pack,
And horses have some virtues
that a mule may often lack;

But ol’ Kit Carson rode a mule,
and other pioneers
Sure viewed a heap of country
over some ol’ hard-tail’s ears.
And all of them reported that
upon the longest trail,
The mule was one tough critter
that was never knowed to fail.

He’d stay plumb fat on grass so short
a horse would starve to death.
He never lathered easy
and was seldom short of breath.
Kit claimed his gait was easy
on the rider in the kack,
And that he’d always git you there
and always bring you back.

This ain’t no fancy eulogy
on big-eared saddle mounts,
But some oldtimers rode ’em,
and by most of their accounts
Of jassacks under saddle,
in the smooth or in the rough,
There seems to be some evidence
that mules have got the stuff!

…by S. Omar Barker, from Rawhide Rhymes; used with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker

S. Omar Barker was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America, Inc. and many of his poems were published by Western Horseman.

Award-winning poet and wilderness guide Sandy Seaton Sallee recites this poem on MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, a double CD of the poems of S. Omar Barker. It makes a great Christmas gift.

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Find more about S. Omar Barker at cowboypoetry.com.

Sandy Seaton Sallee shared this photo, in which she says she is, “in my most natural habitat, riding a mule.” She’s on Kahlua.

Sandy and Scott Sallee run Black Mountain Outfitters, located in the heart of Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone National Park in Montana and also Slough Creek Outfitters, offering world-famous Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout fishing. Find more about Sandy Seaton Sallee at blackmountainoutfitters.com and at CowboyPoetry.com.

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