WHEN YOU CHEEK HIM by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)


by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

You caint figger out what a broncho will do
He is bound to start trouble before you git through.
He might rair and fall backwards, and maybe he’ll run,
And maybe he’ll buck like a son of a gun.

Sometimes he may jest go a trottin’ around,
And there’s chances ag’in he might grunt and lay down.
He might go hog wild and shore beller and brawl,
And sometimes he will sulk and he won’t go atall.

You pull up your belt and you pull your hat tight,
Fer it shore sets a feller to thinkin’ allright.
But it isn’t no time to git skeery or weak,
When you grab the old horn and the hacamore cheek.

You make up your mind you will stay there and ride
If he bucks till the brand slips a foot on his hide,
For the worst time in ridin’ a broncho, I’ve found,
Is when your last foot is jest leavin’ the ground.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem appeared in the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar in February, 1936, along with its illustration by Katherine Field (1908- 1951).

According to Bill Siems’ Open Range, which includes almost all of  Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems, Frank M. King wrote an article about Katherine Field in the July 12, 1938 issue of Western Livestock Journal. King tells that she was a “natural,” without any formal training. He also writes of Kiskaddon and calls him a “natural” as well. He comments,
“Bruce is an old cowhand who just naturally thinks in rhymes. He never took no poem lessons, nor for that matter not many of any other sort of lessons, but he’s got ’em all tied to a snubbin’ post when it comes to building cowboy and range poetry…”

Find more about Kiskaddon in our features at CowboyPoetry.com.

Look for our MASTERS: VOLUME THREE CD of Kiskaddon poetry in the spring.

This poem is in the public domain and the calendar page is from our BAR-D collection.

RANCH MOTHER, by S. Omar Barker (1894–1985)


by S. Omar Barker (1894–1985)

She knows the keen of lonely winds
The sound of hoofs at night,
The creak of unwarmed saddles in
The chill before daylight,
The champ of eager bridle bits,
The jingle-clink of spurs,
The clump of boots—lone silence, too,
For cowboy sons are hers.

She knew the dust of cattle trails
While yet she was a bride,
And tangy smell of branding iron
Upon a dogie’s hide.
The yelp of coyotes on a hill,
The night hawk’s lonely croon,
The bawl of milling cattle: thus
Her cowcamp honeymoon.

Her hands are hard from laboring,
Her face is brown from sun,
But oh, her eyes are deep with dreams
Of days and duties done!
The hand of hardship forged her love
That first far rangeland spring.
Now he is gone its memory lives,
A gentle, deathless thing.

Her days knew little neighboring,
Less now, perhaps, than then,
Alone with years she gleans content:
Her sons are horseback men!

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar

Deanna Dickinson McCall is known for her fine recitation of this poem and we’re pleased to have it on recordings, including the latest MASTERS: Volume Two, the poetry of S. Omar Barker. Popular songwriter Jean Prescott put the poem to music on her Traditions CD.

Find much more about S. Omar Barker and his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1904 photo by W.D. Harper is titled “101 Ranch, Rita Blanco Cañon,” and described, “Photograph shows seven cowboys from the 101 Ranch near Dalhart, Texas, on horseback. A ranch house, outbuildings and corrals are in the background.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division.

We don’t know much about W.D. Harper, though he made many iconic photographs. This one also shows the photographer’s wagon in the background.

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

DRINKIN’ WATER, by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)


by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

When a feller comes to a pond or a tank,
It is better to ride out a ways from the bank.
Fer the water is clearer out there as a rule,
And besides it is deep and a little more cool.

And out toward deep water, you notice somehow,
You miss a whole lot of that flavor of cow.
You can dip up a drink with the brim of yore hat,
And water makes purty good drinkin’ at that.

You mebby spill some down the front of yore shirt,
But any old waddy knows that it doesn’t hurt.
There may be some bugs and a couple insecks
But it all goes the same down a cow puncher’s neck.

I know there is plenty of folks would explain
Why such water had ort to be filtered or strained.
Sech people as that never suffered from thirst.
Or they’d think of that later and drink it down first.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon, 1938

This poem seems a good follow-up to Waddie Mitchell’s “Story with a Moral.”

The poem, with its illustration by Katherine Field (1908-1951), appeared in the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards calendar and the Western Livestock Journal in 1938. The next year, it was included in “A Souvenir from ‘The Trading Post’ Golden Gate International Competition” (San Francisco, 1939).

We know these details thanks to the work of Bill Siems, who collected almost all of Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems and much information about him in his 2006 book, “Open Range.” Find more about Kiskaddon and more about Siems’ book at CowboyPoetry.com in our Kiskaddon features.

Wheaton Hale Brewer wrote, in his foreword to Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1935 Western Poems book, “…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 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.”

We’re looking forward to bringing you a new recording, MASTERS: Volume Three, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon in 2019. The CD will be offered to rural libraries in Cowboy Poetry Week’s Rural Library Project, along with the 2019 Western art poster. Find more about the MASTERS recordings here.

(This poem is in the public domain. The calendar page is from the CowboyPoetry.com collection.)

CATTLE, by Berta Harte Nance (1883-1958)


by Berta Harte Nance (1883-1958)

Other states were carved or born
Texas grew from hide and horn.

Other states are long and wide,
Texas is a shaggy hide.

Dripping blood and crumpled hair;
Some fat giant flung it there,

Laid the head where valleys drain,
Stretched its rump along the plain.

Other soil is full of stones,
Texans plow up cattle-bones.

Herds are buried on the trail,
Underneath the powdered shale;

Herds that stiffened like the snow,
Where the icy northers go.

Other states have built their halls,
Humming tunes along the walls.

Texans watched the mortar stirred,
While they kept the lowing herd.

Stamped on Texan wall and roof
Gleams the sharp and crescent hoof.

High above the hum and stir
Jingle bridle rein and spur.

Other states were made or born,
Texas grew from hide and horn.

…by Berta Hart Nance
Hear Andy Hedges’ outstanding recitation of this poem on the current Cowboy Crossroads episode. The episode is part one of a riveting interview with respected cowboy, horseman, reciter, and poet Joel Nelson, made at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering earlier this year. Joel Nelson tells great stories about his earliest ranch memories; time spent with his father, who was a cowboy and deputy sheriff; and about his early cowboying work, including his time at the 06 Ranch; and other formative experiences.

The popular Cowboy Crossroads podcast, a growing, lasting archive of engaging interviews with those involved in the working West and beyond, includes episodes with Don Edwards, Gary McMahan, Waddie Mitchell, Randy Rieman, Dom Flemons, Mike Beck, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Hal Cannon, Andy Wilkinson, Jerry Brooks, Wallace McRae, Amy Hale Auker, Ross Knox, and others.

Find Andy Hedges next at the 9th Annual Lost N Lava Cowboy Gathering in Shoshone, Idaho on September 14-15. The lineup also includes Kristyn Harris, Brigid & Johnny “Guitar” Reedy, John Reedy, Lynn Kopelke, Panhandle Cowboys (Dave Fulfs & JB Barber), Tony Argento, Prairie Wind Coyote (Joseph Sartin & Little Joe McCutcheon), Open Range (Linda Hausler & Ric Steinke), Thatch Elmer and David Anderson.

Andy Hedges has many other performances coming up at interesting venues. See andyhedges.com for his schedule.

In his 1941 book, “The Longhorns,” J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964) writes, “The map of Texas looks somewhat like a roughly skinned cowhide spread out on the ground, the tail represented by the tapering peninsula at the mouth of the Rio Grande, the broad head by the Panhandle. But ‘Cattle,’ by Berta Hart Nance, goes deeper than the map.”

Berta Hart Nance (1883-1958) was the daughter of a rancher, who was also a Confederate veteran, Indian fighter, and cousin of Jefferson Davis,” according to the Texas Almanac, which includes more about her life and writings. In 1926, her book-length poem about Texas was published, “The Round-Up.” She had two other books of poetry published, and her work was included in many anthologies.

Find more about her and her poem at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1938 photograph, “Cattle range on the high plains of the Texas Panhandle,” is by noted Depression-era documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). It’s from The Library of Congress U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs.

Dorothea Lange is best known for her Depression-era photograph of a migrant woman. See that photos and others in a 2013 Picture the West at CowboyPoetry.com.

Find a brief biography of Dorothea Lange, a part of Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl, at PBS. The Museum of Modern Art has a gallery of photos.

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



by Marleen Bussma

It’s forty miles from nowhere as the night wind sighs and sings.
It teases the thermometer that wavers, wilts, then wrings
all heat from sky and land that shivers, though it’s springtime’s start.
Now twenty-two below, the moon shines with just half a heart.

Cold Levis on the chair slip over long-johns warm from bed.
Kate staggers as she stumbles to get dressed and clear her head.
It’s 3:00 A.M. and time to check the calving shed’s penned herd.
She fights the wind through darkness. She’s the only thing that’s stirred.

Tonight she is the mid-wife with a flashlight’s extra eye.
It flicks across the red backs in the stalls they occupy.
Kate hears the heavy panting of a heifer hard at work.
She’s lying in the straw. Each quiver has become a jerk.

Kate’s witnessed birth a hundred times, a ranching genesis.
She cherishes the part she plays and doesn’t think of this
as business, but a way of life. She thrives on the demands,
the rhythm of the seasons, and hard work done with her hands.

The heifer bellows. Eyes are pools of panic, angst, and pain.
She thrashes with her head, casts spools of drool out to complain.
Two tiny cloven hooves appear and then a little nose.
A wet slick body slips out in the afterbirth that flows.

The heifer looks behind her with eyes wide in great surprise.
Kate grabs a gunny sack to briskly rub and scrutinize
this wet, dependent critter that begins to breathe and move.
Kate places it near mother’s nose and hopes she will approve.

The cow lows softly, gives a lick, then rises to her feet.
With hind legs first, the recent mother slowly stands to greet
and nuzzle, lick and nudge, all part of life’s age-old routine.
A wash-rag tongue caresses, laps, until the newborn’s clean.

As sturdy as a worn-out shoe, four fickle feet aspire
to get a grip then stand up stiff and firm, just like barbed-wire.
The jelly-legs give out and rest a minute on the ground.
He tries again and takes some steps to mother where he’s found

an udder filled with what he needs, an in-house drink buffet.
He gives a nose-bump, starts to suck, and lunch is on its way.
The sky is growing light and pushes darkness to the west.
Fatigue is etched around Kate’s eyes and shows that she needs rest.

She’s wearing blobs of cow-crud, splattered with mysterious spots,
decides to take a breather in the cow-shed where she squats.
Her eyes are closed. Her head leans forward with Mixmaster hair.
She’s dirty, rank, and smelly, but she’s sure her horse won’t care.

This ranch has been her life and she knows how to make it run.
A ride across the hills is gold, like dancing in the sun.
Kate shuns the busyness of town; just give her life that’s plain.
She’ll take this young calf’s romping and a summer’s inch of rain.

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

Award-winning Utah poet Marleen Bussma includes “She Saddles Her Own Horse” in her new collections of poems, Tales of the Trails. The poem received the “Best Western Poem” Spur Award from Western Writers of America.

Many roads are traveled in the wide range of themes in Tales of the Trails,  poems that come from today’s West as well as the Old West. Poems based on historical subjects include stories of “Blue,” Charlie Goodnight’s longhorn steer; “The Remarkable Ride of Two-Gun Nan,” about Nan Apsinwall, who rode horseback from San Francisco to New York City in 1911; about “Rattlesnake Kate” in a  tale from the Arizona Strip; and others. Pieces from today’s west look at rodeo, ranching, wildfires, and even Sasquatch. Photographs complement the poems.


See more of Marleen Bussma’s poetry at Cowboy Poetry.comon this blog; and at her site, marleenbussma.com.

Also at her site, find order information for Tales of the Trails, an earlier book, Is She Country?, and her recent CD, Saddle Up for Cowboy Poetry.

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


STRINGIN’ ALONG, by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)


Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

It’s nice to see a herd of cattle travelin’ in a string
With the riders workin’ easy on the point and on the swing.
If you keep the cattle stringin’ you can walk ’em quite a ways
But if you let ’em spread or bunch they’ll settle down and graze.

And if you keep a herd strung out there’s not so many lags,
And you ain’t makin’ distance if you have to “chouse the drags.”
The man that’s ridin’ on the lead should regalate the pace,
Then every critter mighty soon will find himself a place.

Any time they git to spreadin’ and you want ’em narrowed in;
If you take a lope up forward, then come walkin’ back ag’in.
If you meet your stragglers facin’, at a slow and easy walk,
It’s more good than all the racin’ and a lot of noisy talk.

And every critter gits his place you mighty soon will find
Where he ain’t afraid of critters that’s a walkin’ just behind.
If a man would think and reason he could see the way it feels
If some critter he is skeered of was a trompin’ on his heels.

Now there’s not much cattle trailin’ on the hills and on the plains.
They move the stock in motor trucks and on the railroad trains.
But I think of men and hosses and the trails I used to know,
When we moved a lot of cattle over fifty years ago.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

The next MASTERS CD from CowboyPoetry.com will feature the works of Kiskaddon. If you recite (or know of a recitation) of one of the lesser known Kiskaddon poems, email editor@cowboypoetry.com with suggestions for consideration.

Bruce Kiskaddon wrote many poems informed by his decade of cowboying.  Some of those poems are still heard often at gatherings today. There are many more (he published nearly 500) good poems that are not as well known. Some of the poems, like this one, have a degree of nostalgia.

Frank King wrote, in his introduction to Kiskaddon’s 1924 book, Rhymes of the Ranges:

Bruce Kiskaddon is a real old time cowboy, having started his cattle ranch experience in the Picket Wire district of southern Colorado as a kid cowhand and rough string rider and later on northern Arizona ranges, especially as a writer for the late Tap Duncan, famous as a Texas and Arizona cattleman, and one time the largest cattle holder in Mojave County, Arizona, where Bruce rode for years, after which he took a turn as a rider on big cattle stations in Australia. All this experience is reflected in his western poems, because he has had actual experience in the themes he puts into verse, He had no college professor teach him anything. He is a natural born poet and his poems show he knows his business. The best cowhand poems I have ever read. His books should be in every home and library where western poetry is enjoyed.

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.

This photograph is from ranchers and poets Valerie Beard and Floyd Beard. Valerie comments on the photograph, titled “On to Greener Pastures”:

We were helping the family move the cows that were calving later to another pasture where there would be more feed. It was such a beautiful day in beautiful country in the canyons of Southeastern Colorado.

Find more about Valerie and Floyd at floydbeardcowboy.com.

The photo was the featured image for a 2017 National Day of the Cowboy
Art Spur” at CowboyPoetry.com.

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

PANTS POLISHER, by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)


by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

They asked me “What’s a saddle?”
So I told ’em it’s a kack,
A rig of wood and leather
shaped to fit a horse’s back.
You set up in its middle
with a leg hung down each side,
Some horse meat in between ’em,
and that is known as “ride.”

I could have stopped right there,
of course, and saved a heap of steam,
But when they speak of saddles,
my old eyes take on a gleam,
For the saddle is an implement
that’s bred a breed of man
Who rides the range of history
plumb back to Genghis Kahn.

Two legs was all us humans had,
but men that wanted more,
They figgered out the saddle,
and its magic gave them more.

The Saracen, the Cossack,
the Arab and the knight,
The Mongol and the chevalier—
they all was men of might,
Because instead of walkin’
like a tamer breed would do,
They climbed up in a saddle
when they had a job in view.

King Richard was a saddle man,
and Sheridan and Lee,
And Grant and “Black Jack” Pershing—
just to mention two or three.
Remember ol’ Sir Galahad
of that there poet’s tale?
His pants was saddle-polished
while he sought the Holy Grail!

Of course them heroes never rode
no Texas applehorn,
But they’re the cowboy’s kinfolks,
just as sure as you are born.

They ask me, “What’s a saddle?”
It’s a riggin’ made to fit
A man (sometimes a woman)
in the region where they sit.
It’s made of wood and leather,
with a cinch that goes around
A chunk of livin’ horse meat
‘twixt the rider and the ground.

It’s just the apparatus
that a cowhand climbs upon
To start his day of cow work
at the chilly hour of dawn.
It’s just a piece of ridin’ gear
that, when it’s had a chance,
Has give the world some heroes—
while it polished up their pants!

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar

The late Elmer Kelton wrote an introduction to to the 1998 Cowboy Miner book on Barker, and it is excerpted at CowboyPoetry.com. It begins:

How can anyone begin to tell who S. Omar Barker was?

The easy way would be to give the statistics: that he was born in a log cabin on a small mountain ranch at Beulah, New Mexico, in 1894, youngest of the eleven children of Squire Leander and Priscilla Jane Barker, that he grew up on the family homestead, attended high school and college in Las Vegas, New Mexico, was in his youth a teacher of Spanish, a high school principal, a forest ranger, a sergeant of the 502nd Engineers in France in World War I, a trombone player in Doc Patterson’s Cowboy Band, a state legislator and a newspaper correspondent.

That he began writing and selling stories, articles, and poems as early as 1914 and became a full-time writer at the end of his legislative term in 1925. That he married Elsa McCormick of Hagerman, New Mexico, in 1927, and she also became a noted writer of Western stories….

The most recent MASTERS CD from CowboyPoetry.com has 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 their offspring—bring forth Barker’s humor and humanity.

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

This 1941 photo by respected photographer Marion Post Wolcott (1910- 1990) is titled, “Detail of saddle on cowhand’s horse at Ashland rodeo,  Montana.” It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A collection of Marion Post Wolcott’s photographs at The Library of Congress tells that she produced more than 9,000 photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) from 1938 to 1942. Find more at a web site created by her daughter.

We thank the S. Omar Barker Estate for its generous permissions.

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