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.)

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.)

WINTER PAST’ER by Bruce Kiskaddon

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WINTER PAST’ER
by Bruce Kiskaddon

The old time winter past’er was a good idee some how,
It worked a whole lot faster than the way they do it now.
Jest look the feed they have to haul. It really don’t make sense.
Them days one man could handle all they put inside the fence.

This work of feedin’ gits my goat. It worries me a lot.
Too cold to go without a coat, and with it you’re too hot.
You git the snow pushed off the stack and use a big hay knife.
You’re workin’ fit to break your back. No way to spend your life.

Of course on winter mornin’s when you had to chop the ice,
And ride a dozen miles of fence, it wasn’t jest so nice.
But then it had this new way beat, as near as I recall.
You bundled up your ears and feet and didn’t mind aytall.

We hear a lot of “Post War” talk. So when this scrap is through,
I’m hopin’ they will winter stock the way they used to do.
If once they git the world streamlined, I recokon mebbyso,
They will winter cows in past’ers like they used to years ago.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon, 1946

This poem appeared in the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards calendar 74 years ago.

Wheaton Hall Brewer wrote, in his introduction to Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1835 book, Western Poems, “…As the years roll on and history appreciates the folk-lore of the plains and ranges, these poems by a real cowboy will take on a deeper significance and mightier stature. When Bruce turns his pony into the Last Corral—long years from now, we all hope—he need feel no surprise if he hears his songs sung by the celestial cowboys as their tireless ponies thunder over the heavenly ranges, bringing in the dogies for branding at the Eternal Corrals. For poetry will never die.”

Find many more poems and more about Kiskaddon in features at cowboypoetry.com. Earlier this year we released a 3-cd collection, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon.

This 1943 photograph by John Collier, Jr., (1913-1992) is titled “Moreno Valley, Colfax County, New Mexico. Winter feeding on the Mutz ranch.” It is from The Library of Congress Farm Services Administration collection.

Collier had learning disabilities and hearing loss from a car accident when he was a young boy. He spent time learning from painter Maynard Dixon. Dixon was married to noted photographer Dorothea Lange at the time and she may have helped him get work as a photographer at the Farm Services Administration, which documented American life
during the Great Depression. He became an anthropologist and his book, “Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method” is still in use. Find a film about him at vimeo.com/ondemand/johncollier.

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

THEY CAN TAKE IT, by Bruce Kiskaddon

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THEY CAN TAKE IT
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Yes, it’s just a bunch of hosses
standin’ out there in the rain.
The reason they are doin’ it
is easy to explain.
There is no shelter handy,
so to travel ain’t no good;
And they wouldn’t go into a barn,
not even if they could.

It is just a little weather,
and they’re plenty used to that.
Like a cow boy in the open,
livin’ onderneath his hat.
All the hosses and the people
that has lived their life outside,
Seems to have a constitution
that can take it on the hide.

Without a bit of thinkin’
I could tell you right from here,
Of hosses livin’ on the range
as long as thirty year.
While the hosses that’s in stables,
and was always roofed and fed,
Lots of them before they’re twenty,
has been hauled off plenty dead.

So it seems the way with people,
and it seems the way with stock,
And the cedar grows the toughest
when it’s right amongst the rocks.
That’s why hosses, men, and women,
if they’re made of proper stuff,
Gits along a whole lot better
if they’re raised a little rough.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

 

Seventy-seven years ago, this poem appeared in the Los Angeles Stockyards calendar.

The great Baxter Black recites the poem on this year’s triple CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon  (think Christmas giving).

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From 1935 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. 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.

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

SHOVELING ICE OUT OF THE TROUGH, Bruce Kiskaddon

cowsjlk“Cows,” © 2017, Jo Lynne Kirkwood; request permission for use

 

SHOVELING ICE OUT OF THE TROUGH
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

It’s frosty in the mornin’ when you wake up in the shack.
When you roll out of yore blankets, makes the chill go up yore back.
By the time you’ve got yore breakfast it is nice and warm inside,
But it’s time to git a goin’. You must saddle up and ride.

There is thick ice every mornin’ and you’ve got to chop it off.
Ice is all right in a highball, but it’s no good in a trough.
If the cattle don’t git water it soon begins to show,
They don’t keep in good condition jest a lickin’ up some snow.

I read once in a paper what some wise perfessors think.
They claim it’s only water that us humans ort to drink.
I’m jest speakin’ fer the cowboys, and I reckon as a class,
They’ll drink nothin’ else but water, when perfessors lives on grass.

The cows and calves look sorry, a walkin’ through the snow,
With their backs humped up an shivverin’ and bawlin’ sorter low.
A cowboy’s life’s a tough one but I reckon anyhow,
I’d sooner be a cowboy than I would to be a cow.

….by Bruce Kiskaddon from “Western Poems,” 1935

This drawing, titled “Cows,” by Utah teacher, poet, artist, and storyteller Jo Lynne Kirkwood is the 2019-2020 Winter/Christmas Art Spur, the 51st Art Spur subject from CowboyPoetry.com. In Art Spur, poets and songwriters are invited to let selections of  Western art inspire their poetry and songs.

Art Spur submissions may be Winter- or Christmas-themed. All Christmas poems (Art Spur or not) are welcome through Thursday, December 19, 2020. Winter-themed Art Spur poems are welcome through Tuesday, January 14, 2020. Find more here.

Jo Lynne Kirkwood creates an impressive hand-crafted Christmas card each year, and this was her drawing for the cover of her 2017 card, accompanied by her poem, “Cattle at Christmas (or) Homage to Fake News.”

She has a fine book that collects her poetry, “Old Houses,” and recordings. Find more about her at cowboypoetry.com.

South Dakota rancher, poet, and musician Robert Dennis recites “Shoveling Ice Out of the Trough” on this year’s triple CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon  (think Christmas giving!).

Much of what is known about Bruce 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.

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