ALONE by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)


photo © 2017, Jessica Hedges; request permission for use


by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

The hills git awful quiet, when you have to camp alone.
It’s mighty apt to set a feller thinkin’.
You always half way waken when a hoss shoe hits a stone,
Or you hear the sound of hobble chains a clinkin’.

It is then you know the idees that you really have in mind.
You think about the things you’ve done and said.
And you sometimes change the records that you nearly always find
In the back of almost every cow boy’s head.

It gives a man a sorter different feelin’ in his heart.
And he sometimes gits a little touch of shame,
When he minds the times and places that he didn’t act so smart,
And he knows himself he played a sorry game.

It kinda makes you see yourself through other people’s eyes.
And mebby so yore pride gits quite a fall.
When yore all alone and thinkin’, well, you come to realize
You’re a mighty common feller after all.

…Bruce Kiskaddon

Bruce Kiskaddon worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898, working in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area.

This poem appeared in the Western Livestock Journal in September, 1937 and was reprinted in Kiskaddon’s 1947 Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems.

As we’ve told many times, Kiskaddon worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898, working in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area. He wrote many poems still read and recited today.

Find much more about Kiskaddon: many of his poems; a feature about Bill Siems’ monumental Open Range that collects nearly 500 of Kiskaddon’s poems; Siems’ collection of Kiskaddon’s short stories, Shorty’s Yarns; and more at

Andy Hedges has an excellent recitation of this poem on the latest episode of Cowboy Crossroads. It accompanies an interview with Hal Cannon, folklorist, musician, and Founding Director of the Western Folklife Center. Hal talks about his earliest experiences with cowboy poetry, the beginnings of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, his music, and more. All of the Cowboy Crossroads podcasts are good listening. Find them here.

Thanks for this recent photo to poet, writer, cowboy, and photographer-with-a-great-eye Jessica Hedges. She and her family live in Southern Oregon where her husband, Sam, cowboys. Just a few places you’ll find Jessica performing her poetry in coming months include the WSRRA Western States Ranch Rodeo Association Finals in Winnemucca, NV, November 2-5, 2017; Cowgirls Night Out at The High Desert Museum in Bend, OR, November 9, 2017; and the Cochise Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Sierra Vista, AZ, February 2-4, 2018.

Find more about Jessica at; at her site,; at Instagram; and on Facebook.

THE TIME TO DECIDE by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)


photo ©JeanPrescott


by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Did you ever stand on the ledges,
On the brink of the great plateau
And look from their jagged edges
On the country that lay below?

When your vision met no resistance
And nothing to stop your gaze,
Till the mountain peaks in the distance
Stood wrapped in a purple haze.

On the winding water courses
And the trails on the mountain sides,
Where you guided your patient horses
On your long and lonesome rides.

When you saw Earth’s open pages
And you seemed to understand
As you gazed on the work of ages,
Rugged and rough, but grand.

There, the things that you thought were strongest
And the things that you thought were great,
And for which you had striven longest
Seemed to carry but little weight.

While the things that were always nearer,
The things that you thought were small;
Seemed to stand out grander and clearer.
As you looked from the mountain wall.

While you’re gazing on such a vision
And your outlook is clear and wide,
If you have to make a decision,
That’s the time and place to decide

Although you return to the city
And mingle again with the throng;
Though your heart may be softened by pity
Or bitter from strife and wrong.

Though others should laugh in derision,
And the voice of the past grow dim;
Yet, stick to the cool decision
That you made on the mountain’s rim.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

“The Time to Decide” appeared in Bruce Kiskaddon’s first book, Rhymes of the Ranges, published in 1924. He wrote many poems still read and recited today. See features about him at

This beautiful photograph by Texas singer and songwriter Jean Prescott seems a perfect fit to Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem. The image is one of several that Jean shared in a
past Picture the West at

The photos were taken at workshops with David R. Stoecklein Photography. Jean comments on this one, “This was taken at a workshop in Mackay, Idaho in July of 2013. It was a spectacular evening for photos and we were high on the top ridge of the mountain range.”

Jean and Gary Prescott have a popular new release, Satisfied Hearts. Jean is known for her collaborations with poets, and the album album includes collaborations with Yvonne Hollenbeck, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Darrell Arnold, Chris Isaacs, the late Pat Richardson, Jeff Gore, Debra Coppinger Hill and Jay Snider. There are also selections by songwriters Randy Huston, Joyce Woodson, and others. One song is a tribute to the memory of Buck Ramsey and another features the late Ed Stabler’s arrangement of Henry Herbert Knibbs’ classic “Where the Ponies Come to Drink.”

Find more about “Satified Hearts” and Jean Prescott at; at her web site,; and on Facebook.


sep2012photo by Terry Nash 


by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Though you’re not exactly blue,
Yet you don’t feel like you do
In the winter, or the long hot summer days.
For your feelin’s and the weather
Seem to sort of go together,
And you’re quiet in the dreamy autumn haze.
When the last big steer is goaded
Down the chute, and safely loaded;
And the summer crew has ceased to hit the ball;
When a fellow starts to draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they’ve finished shipping cattle in the fall.

Only two men left a standin’
On the job for winter brandin’,
And your pardner, he’s a loafing by your side.
With a bran-new saddle creakin’,
But you never hear him speakin’,
And you feel it’s goin’ to be a quiet ride.
But you savvy one another
For you know him like a brother—
He is friendly but he’s quiet, that is all;
For he’s thinkin’ while he’s draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they’ve finished shippin’ cattle in the fall.

And the saddle hosses stringin’
At an easy walk a swingin’
In behind the old chuck wagon movin’ slow.
They are weary gaunt and jaded
With the mud and brush they’ve waded,
And they settled down to business long ago.
Not a hoss is feelin’ sporty,
Not a hoss is actin’ snorty;
In the spring the brutes was full of buck and bawl;
But they’re gentle, when they’re draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they’ve finished shippin’ cattle in the fall.

And the cook leads the retreat
Perched high upon his wagon seat,
With his hat pulled ‘way down furr’wd on his head.
Used to make that old team hustle,
Now he hardly moves a muscle,
And a feller might imagine he was dead,
‘Cept his old cob pipe is smokin’
As he lets his team go pokin’,
Hittin’ all the humps and hollers in the road.
No, the cook has not been drinkin’—
He’s just settin’ there and thinkin’
‘Bout the places and the people that he knowed
And you watch the dust a trailin’
And two little clouds a sailin’,
And a big mirage like lakes and timber tall.
And you’re lonesome when you’re draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they’ve finished shippin’ cattle in the fall.

When you make the camp that night,
Though the fire is burnin’ bright,
Yet nobody seems to have a lot to say,
In the spring you sung and hollered,
Now you git your supper swallered
And you crawl into your blankets right away.
Then you watch the stars a shinin’
Up there in the soft blue linin’
And you sniff the frosty night air clear and cool.
You can hear the night hoss shiftin’
As your memory starts driftin’
To the little village where you went to school.
With its narrow gravel streets
And the kids you used to meet,
And the common where you used to play baseball.
Now you’re far away and draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon
For they’ve finished shippin’ cattle in the fall.

And your school-boy sweetheart too,
With her eyes of honest blue—
Best performer in the old home talent show.
You were nothin’ but a kid
But you liked her, sure you did—
Lord! And that was over thirty years ago.
Then your memory starts to roam
From Old Mexico to Nome.
From the Rio Grande to the Powder River,
Of the things you seen and done—
Some of them was lots of fun
And a lot of other things they make you shiver.
‘Bout that boy by name of Reid
That was killed in a stampede—
‘Twas away up north, you helped ’em dig his grave,
And your old friend Jim the boss
That got tangled with a hoss,
And the fellers couldn’t reach in time to save.

You was there when Ed got his’n—
Boy that killed him’s still in prison,
And old Lucky George, he’s rich and livin’ high.
Poor old Tom, he come off worst,
Got his leg broke, died of thirst
Lord but that must be an awful way to die.

Then them winters at the ranches,
And the old time country dances—
Everybody there was sociable and gay.
Used to lead ’em down the middle
Jest a prancin’ to the fiddle—
Never thought of goin’ home till the break of day.
No! there ain’t no chance for sleepin’,
For the memories come a creepin’,
And sometimes you think you hear the voices call;
When a feller starts a draggin’
To the home ranch with the wagon—
When they’ve finished shippin’ cattle in the fall.

…from Kiskaddon’s 1924 version in Rhymes of the Ranges
Bruce Kiskaddon’s masterpiece is a well loved classic, in the repertoire of most serious reciters.

Hear top poet Waddie Mitchell recite it on YouTube.

Bruce Kiskaddon drew on his cowboying experiences for his poetry. Find much more about him in features at

This 2012 photo is by Colorado poet and rancher Terry Nash. He told us, “This was taken where we summer our cattle on Pinon Mesa, looking off the rim into Unaweep Canyon towards Gateway, Colorado.”

Terry can be found at events across the West, including the upcoming Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering (October 5-8, 2017) and the Western Slope Cowboy Gathering (November 2-4, 2017). Terry is also an invited poet to the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (January 29-February 3, 2018) and to the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering (March 2-3, 2018).

Look for his new CD, A Good Ride, coming soon. Find more about him at, and find his previous releases and more about him at his web site,

WRANGLIN’ by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)



by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

When you wake up in the mornin’ at the breakin’ of the dawn;
When you ketch the wrangler pony and you throw yore saddle on.
Startin’ out to git the hosses, watch fer tracks and travel slow.
You can’t always be so sartin jest which way they’re apt to go.

All the world begins to waken from the shadder of the night.
Little birds and hoot owls callin’ and the East is getting bright.
Then at last you find the hoss tracks, and you foller on their trail
Leadin’ up across a hog back, down into a grassy swale.

You can see yore hosses grazin’, little bunches here and there.
When they see that you are comin’ they look up and sniff the air.
They’re soon rounded up and started. Joggin’ in a ragged line,
As the shoulders leave the valleys and the sun begins to shine.

All the crew is out to meet you at the camp or the corrals,
And nobody but a wrangler, knows how good a breakfast smells.
You still recollect them mornin’s and I guess you always will;
When the mornin’ breeze was blowin’ and the sunlight hit the hills.

…Bruce Kiskaddon, 1940

This atmospheric poem by the great Bruce Kiskaddon appeared in the Western Livestock Journal in 1940 and also on the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar with an illustration by Katherine Field.

As we’ve told many times, Kiskaddon worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898, working in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area. He wrote many poems still read and recited today.

Find much more about Kiskaddon: many of his poems; a feature about Bill Siems’ monumental Open Range that collects nearly 500 of Kiskaddon’s poems; Siems’ collection of Kiskaddon’s short stories, “Shorty’s Yarns”; and more at

This 1910 photo by cowboy photographer Erwin E. Smith is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division. It is titled “The horse wrangler.” Find more about it here.

At the Amon Carter Museum, the largest holder of Smith photographs, they tell, “Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947) always wanted to be a cowboy and an artist. When he was a boy growing up in Bonham, a town in Fannin County in North Texas, the era of the great trail drives was over, and he feared that the old ways of the cowboy were disappearing. However, the legend and myth of the cowboy was just beginning. Popular literature, art by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, and the fledgling film industry promoted a romantic, yet often inaccurate, image of the cowboy. For his part, Smith resolved to honor the life of the cowboy by presenting as true a portrayal as possible.” See their on-line gallery of his works here.



Since every day is Labor Day in the ranching world, here’s a tribute to another sort of tireless worker:


author anonymous

There’s a union for teamster and waiter,
There’s a union for cabman and cook,
There’s a union for hobo and preacher,
And one for detective and crook.

There’s a union for blacksmith and painter,
There is one for the printer, of course;
But where would you go in this realm of woe,
To discover a guild for the horse?

He can’t make a murmur in protest,
Though they strain him both up and down hill,
Or force him to work twenty hours
At the whim of some drunken brute’s will.

Look back at our struggle for freedom—
Trace our present day’s strength to its source,
And you’ll find that man’s pathway to glory,
Is strewn with the bones of the horse.

The mule is a fool under fire;
The horse, although frightened, stands true,
And he’d charge into hell without flinching
‘Twixt the knees of the trooper he knew.

When the troopers grow old they are pensioned,
Or a berth or a home for them found;
When a horse is worn out they condemn him,
And sell him for nothing a pound.

Just think, the old pet of some trooper
Once curried and rubbed twice a day,
Now drags some damned ragpicker’s wagon,
With curses and blows for his pay.

I once knew a grand king of racers,
The best of a cup-wining strain;
They ruined his knees on a hurdle,
For his rider’s hat covered no brain.

I met him again, four years later,
On his side at the foot of a hill,
With two savages kicking his ribs,
And doing their work with a will.

I stroked the once velvety muzzle,
I murmured the old name again,
He once filled my purse with gold dollars;
And this day I bought him for ten.

His present address is “Sweet Pastures,”
He has nothing to do but eat,
Or loaf in the shade on the green, velvet grass,
And dream of the horses he beat.

Now, a dog—well, a dog has a limit;
After standing for all that’s his due,
He’ll pack up his duds some dark evening,
And shine out for scenes which are new.

But a horse, once he’s used to his leather,
Is much like the old-fashioned wife;
He may not be proud of his bargain,
But still he’ll be faithful through life.

And I envy the merciful teamster
Who can stand at the bar and say:
“Kind Lord, with the justice I dealt my horse,
Judge Thou my soul today.”


Most are familiar with this poem from respected horseman Randy Rieman’s outstanding recitation. Randy’s source for the poem was Songs of Horses, an anthology edited by Robert Frothingham (1865-1937) in 1920. (Find links to digitized versions of the book here.

We also found the same “No Rest for the Horse” poem under a different title, “To a Quiet But Useful Class,” in a 1902 edition of Life magazine. There is no author attributed in that instance, either. You can see the poem in that Life magazine in an edition that has been digitized by Google Book Search, on page 488.

This c. 1910 photo is titled, “Harvesting machine pulled by 32 horses in Spokane, Washington.” The photo is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more here.

This poem and photograph are in the public domain.

SHORTY’S SALOON by Johnny Ritch (1868-1942)


by Johnny Ritch (1868-1942)

By the trails to the Past, on the Plains of No Care,
Stood Shorty’s saloon, but now it’s not there,
For Shorty moved camp and crossed the Divide
In the years long dim, and naught else besides
A deep brand on Memory brings back the old place—
Its drinks and its games, and many a face
Peers out from the mists of days that are fled,
When Shorty stood back of his bar, there, and said,
“What’s yours, Pard?”

No fine drinks adorned that primitive bar,
Just “licker” was served, and that seemed by far
The properest stuff in a place, you’ll agree,
Where life flowed and ebbed like the tides of a sea,
Unfettered by care, unmeasured by time,—
Where Innocence formed its first friendships with Crime,
Where Bacchus’ wild court held ribaldrous sway,
And Shorty, on shift, stood waiting to say,
“What’s yours, Pard?”

Great herds from the South swept by on the trails,
And stages sped Westward, top-heavy with mails
For camps far beyond, where gold was the lust,
And freighters and “bull trains” send whirlwinds of dust
That scattered and spread far out on the plain,
And men from the wild, —hard men that sin’s slain
Had marked like a brand—all stopped there, you see,
And Shorty’s brief welcome to each one would be,
“What’s yours, Pard?”

And up from the vast, silent stretch of the range,—
From line camps and roundups, and all of the strange,
Lone places in Cow-land, men came there to play
In that drama whose artists all lived by the way;—
Their sky-line of life blazed crimson and gold,
For hope gave them wealth and youth made them bold
And strong in life’s strife to dare any task.
And “licker” was theirs when Shorty would ask
“What’s yours, Pard?”

They danced and they drank, and they sang that old song,
“I’m just a poor cow-boy, and know I’ve done wrong,”
While the click of the chips in the games that were played,
And the sob in the music the violin made
Rang out through the smoke that clouded the room,
For Joy held the top-hand and drink drowned all gloom
The future might hold for him who made gay, —
And life filled with sunbeams, when Shorty would say
“What’s yours, Pard?”

Some tragedies mark those trails to the Past—
Some lone, unnamed graves tell briefly the last
Of the story of those who lived ere the change
From that wild, free life of the Borderless Range,—
But Memory’s kind grasp holds gently the place,
Its drinks and its games-and many a face
Peers out from the mists of days that are fled,
When Shorty stood back of his bar, there, and said,
“What’s yours, Pard?”

… by Johnny Ritch

Johnny Ritch creates a vivid scene with his words in “Shorty’s Saloon.” Known as the “Poet of the Judith,” he was a camp cook, prospector, state legislator, and Montana State Historian.

The poem appears in Ritch’s 1940 book, Horse Feathers, with illustrations by Charlie Russell. In “Charles M. Russell: The Storyteller’s Art,” Raphael James Cristy writes that Ritch “…had come to Russell’s attention as the author of a melodramatic cowboy poem that aches with nostalgia, called ‘Shorty’s Saloon.’ Russell responded with a long illustrated letter and the gift of six watercolor paintings illustrating the poem.” One of those paintings is displayed with this post.

The last time we posted this poem, Andy Hedges commented that “Glenn Ohrlin recited it on his great album, A Cowboy’s Life.”

Randy Rieman recited “Shorty’s Saloon” at the Western Folklife Center’s 2014 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and you can watch that performance here (at about 32:00).

Find more about the poem at

Stanton Howe, Montana renaissance man, popular singer, songwriter, musician, entertainer, storyteller, writer, auctioneer, Model T authority, fiddle expert, host and producer of Montana Public Radio’s “Folk Show,” and photographer (our cover photo is his) shared much more information about Johnny Ritch and the poem in a reply to a previous post. Here are excerpts:

Johnny Ritch and Russell came to Montana about the same time and Ritch in the day may have been nearly as famous. He was a progressive and ambitious fellow, served some time in Helena and at the time this was published owned some theaters in Lewistown and Great Falls. His death was reported all over the state, he was apparently known from one end of Montana to the other…He was well known as a writer and was a contemporary of the great Montana poets Bob Fletcher and Wallace Coburn as well as artist Shorty Shope.

Stan shared a comment from the Governor about the death of Johnny Ritch:

News of the death of John B. Ritch will be received with deep regret in all sections of Montana, because he was known to every area where there is left a memory of the days of the cowboy and the cayuse and the open range, of which he wrote so forcefully in prose and poetry. He had held county and state positions, and in all of these he showed the competency, honesty and faithfulness which were characteristics of his whole life. John Ritch was a loyal and living citizen, and I am very sorry of his coming to the last roundup, as are thousands of his friends throughout the state.

Stan writes, “Copies of the book are available for not a lot of money. If you don’t have a copy,buy one. Study it…He was a fine writer and had a great command of rhythm and phrasing…”


THE SUMMER STORM by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)


by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

The clouds are a comin’ down over the flat,
The lightnin’ is startin’ to flicker.
It is time fer a cow boy to pull down his hat
And git buttoned up in his slicker.

The lightnin’ is shootin’ jest flash after flash,
The wind is a howlin’ and roarin’,
The thunder it shakes the whole earth with a crash
And the rain it comes down jest a pourin’.

The cattle have started to runnin’, the brutes,
Jest hark to ’em rattle their hocks.
The water comes in at the tops of yore boots,
You can feel it a soakin’ yore socks.

The boys is all busy and goin’ full speed,
They are tryin’ to git the steers millin’.
They git to the front and keep bendin’ the lead
To hold the whole shipment from spillin’.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon, 1936

This poem, illustrated by Katherine Field (1908-1951), first appeared in 1936 in the Western Livestock Journal and on the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards calendar.

Kiskaddon drew on his cowboying experience for his poetry.

As we’ve noted before:

As Bill Siems writes in his landmark book, Open Range, a monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry, “Western Livestock Journal was one of several interacting businesses clustered around the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards, all engaged in the raising, marketing, and processing of livestock. Almost as soon as the Journal started publishing illustrated poems, the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards began issuing its own series, featuring an illustrated poem and calendar printed on five by ten inch card stock, enclosed with its Monthly Livestock Letter. Beginning with January 1933, these monthly calendars continued in an unbroken series through 1959, using reissued poems after the deaths of Kiskaddon and Field.”

Kiskaddon and Katherine Field never met in person.

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from “Open Range.” Bill Siems also collected Bruce Kiskaddon’s short stories in a book called “Shorty’s Yarns.” Find more in the Kiskaddon features at