DRINKIN’ WATER by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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DRINKIN’ WATER
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, 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.”

 

A COWBOY FUNERAL by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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A COWBOY FUNERAL
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

There once was a cow boy funeral
that I many times recall,
a bad hoss killed a feller
on a beef work late one fall.
‘Twas a bleak day in November
when the air was cold and raw.
The clouds looked gray and ugly,
and the wind blew down the draw.

There was no automobiles then,
and we was far from trains
in that rugged piece of country
where the canyons break the plains.
We had to make a buryin’
to finish the affair,
well, the best time was the present,
and the closest place was there.

We hadn’t any coffin,
and there was no bell to toll.
We went up on a hill side
and we dug a narrow hole.
We wrapped him up inside his bed
and laid him in the shale;
his saddle onderneath his head,
to ride the last long trail.

We had no book where we could look
and read of from its pages.
No one was there to say a prayer,
or sing “The Rock of Ages.”
I recollect nobody spoke.
We didn’t care to talk.
We filled the hole and took a smoke,
and raised a pile of rock.

And when the thing was over,
it was soter like a dream,
how we helped the cook and wrangler
while they harnessed up the team.
We got the day herd movin’
and departed on our way.
And left that cow boy there to sleep,
till resurrection day.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

Many are familiar with Kiskaddon’s much-loved poem, “The Broncho Twister’s Prayer,” which was also recited at his own funeral. You can read it here.

This poem on the same subject is more obscure. It was published in the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards calendar, June, 1938, and also in the Western Livestock Journal. Both carried this illustration by Katherine Field (1908-1951). It also appears in Kiskaddon’s 1947 Rhymes of the Ranges book.

In his monumental collection of Bruce Kiskaddon’s poems (nearly 500), Open Range, Bill Siems writes, “Kiskaddon first worked with cattle and horses as a youngster in Missouri, but dated his start as a buckaroo to 1898, when at age nineteen he began taking entry-level jobs at ranches along the Purgatory River east of Trinidad [Colorado], in the district called Picket Wire, from the cowboy pronunciation of Purgatoire, the original name of the river. Early on he discovered an affinity for horses and an aptitude for working with them. He honed his equine skills by taking jobs with horsemen who were willing to teach him, and became known as a rough string rider in an era when such skill was highly respected. Driven by an appetite for travel that grew with the passing years, Kiskaddon wandered farther from home through a succession of cowboy jobs during the next several years, until a serious accident around 1906 left him temporarily unable to ride.”

Kiskaddon and artist Katherine Field collaborated on works for the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar and the Western Livestock Journal from 1936 to 1942, when she had to stop working to take care of her ailing parents and her children. In 1949 they renewed their partnership. Kiskaddon died in 1950 and had written six-month’s worth of poems in advance. Field illustrated them all before her own death in 1951.The two never met in person.

Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

 

A VISITOR by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Just take a good look at what’s gathered up here.
A bunch of six calves and a visitin’ steer.
He can’t be a father, he can’t be a mother;
Of course you can’t tell, he might be a big brother.

This steer he was probably goin’ somewhere.
When he noticed them calves and just wanted in there.
The ol cows has gone to the water to drink,
And the calves that’s awake is too young fer to think.

It is likely by now that this steer doesn’t know
Exactly what place he had started to go.
You can’t depend much on a steer that is true
Fer he don’t know himself what he’s aimin’ to do.

He is generally speakin’ an onsartin’ feller;
He might hide in the bresh, he might stand out and beller.
The cows and the bulls aint so likely to run
But when steers git stampeded it ain’t any fun.

Well, the steer is fulfillin’ his mission on Earth.
A slight operation soon after his birth,
Decided his fate and laid out his career;
He’s a whole lot of beef and that’s why he’s a steer.

… by Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem was among Kiskaddon’s last works. In 1949 he and illustrator Katherine Field (1908-1951) renewed their partnership, creating poems and illustrations for the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar, as they had done years before, 1936-1942. Kiskaddon died in 1950 and had written six-months’ worth of poems in advance. Field illustrated them all before her own death in 1951.

That information and almost all of Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems is included in “Open Range” by Bill Siems. Find more about Kiskaddon and more about Siems’ book at CowboyPoetry.com in our Kiskaddon features.

 

 

 

COW SENSE by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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photo © 2016, Betty K. Rodgers

 

COW SENSE
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

You have heard people a sayin’ “As dumb as a cow.”
Well they ain’t seen much cattle I’ll tell you right now.
A cow she knows more than some people by half;
She’s the only thing livin’ that savvys a calf.
A cow don’t know nothin? Well, how do you think
They suckle young calves and walk miles fer a drink?

You have watched an old cow; or I reckon you did,
If she’s got a young calf why she keeps it well hid.
She has planted it out where it jest caint be found,
And she won’t go near there if there’s anything ’round.
You just make that calf give a jump or a beller
And that old cow is there to charge into a feller.

If there’s several young calves in a bunch, you will find,
When their Ma’s go to drink they leave one cow behind.
And when they git full and come back to the bunch
She goes to git her a drink and some lunch.
You kin talk of day nurseries. I reckon as how,
They was fustly invented and used by a cow.

Perhaps you have noticed some times on a drive
With cows, men and hosses more dead than alive,
When you got near the water, as soon as they smelt,
Them old cows went fer it jest Hellity belt.
Then the drags was all calves but they didn’t furgit ’em;
When they drunk they come back and they shore didn’t quit ’em.

They let their calves suck and kept out of the rush,
So them calves didn’t git in the mud and the crush.
I’m telling you people without any jokes,
Cows make better parents than plenty of folks.
If folk thought the thing over, I reckon as how,
They wouldn’t be sayin’ “As dumb as a cow.”

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem is from Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1935 book, Western Poems; it also appeared in the Western Livestock Journal.

Wheaton Hall Brewer wrote, in his introduction to 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.

This photograph is by Idaho photographer and filmmaker Betty K. Rodgers.

Betty K. Rodgers is co-producer (with Ken Rodgers) of I Married the War, a documentary-in-progress about the wives of combat veterans. They also created the award-winning film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor,” about Ken Rodgers’ company of Marines during the siege of Khe Sanh in the Vietnam War. Find more about Betty K. Rodgers in a feature at CowboyPoetry.com. Find more about I Married the War at imarriedthewar.com and on Facebook, and more on “Bravo!” at bravotheproject.com and on Facebook.

This is a scheduled post. We’re on a break until May 25.

THE OLD NIGHT HAWK by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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photo © 2017, Amy Steiger

 

THE OLD NIGHT HAWK
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I am up tonight in the pinnacles bold
Where the rim towers high.
Where the air is clear and the wind blows cold,
And there’s only the horses and I.
The valley swims like a silver sea
In the light of the big full moon,
And strong and clear there comes to me
The lilt of the first guard’s tune.

The fire at camp is burning bright,
Cook’s got more wood than he needs.
They’ll be telling some windy tales tonight
Of races and big stampedes.
I’m gettin’ too old fer that line of talk:
The desperaders they’ve knowed,
Their wonderful methods of handling stock
And the fellers they’ve seen get throwed.

I guess I’m a dog that’s had his day,
Though I still am quick and strong.
My hair and my beard have both turned gray,
And I reckon I’ve lived too long.
None of ’em know me but that old cook, Ed,
And never a word he’ll say.
My story will stick in his old gray head
Till the break of the Judgment Day.

What’s that I see a walkin’ fast?
It’s a hoss a’ slippin’ through.
He was tryin’ to make it out through the pass;
Come mighty near doin’ it too.
Get back there! What are you tryin’ to do?
You hadn’t a chance to bolt.
Old boy I was wranglin’ a bunch like you
Before you was even a colt.

It’s later now. The guard has changed.
One voice is clear and strong.
He’s singin’ a tune of the old time range —
I always did like that song.
It takes me back to when I was young
And the memories come through my head,
Of the times I have heard that old song sung
By voices now long since dead.

I have traveled better than half my trail.
I am well down the further slope.
I have seen my dreams and ambitions fail,
And memory replaces hope.
It must be true, fer I’ve heard it said,
That only the good die young.
The tough old cusses like me and Ed
Must stay still the last dog’s hung.

I used to shrink when I thought of the past
And some of the things I have known.
I took to drink, but now at last,
I’d far rather be alone.
It’s strange how quick that a night goes by,
Fir I live in the days of old.
Up here where there’s only the hosses and I;
Up in the pinnacles bold.

The two short years that I ceased to roam,
And I led a contented life.
Then trouble came and I left my home,
And I never have heard of my wife.
The years that I spent in a prison cell
When I went by another name;
For life is a mixture of Heaven and Hell
To a feller that plays the game.

They’d better lay off that wrangler kid.
They’ve give him about enough.
He looks like a pardner of mine once did.
He’s the kind that a man can’t bluff.
They’ll find that they are making a big mistake
If they once get him overhet;
And they’ll give him as good as an even break,
Or I’m takin’ a hand, you bet.

Look, there in the East is the Mornin’ Star.
It shines with a firy glow,
Till it looks like the end of a big cigar,
But it hasn’t got far to go.
Just like the people that make a flash.
They don’t stand much of a run.
Come bustin’ in with a sweep and a dash
When most of the work is done.

I can see the East is gettin’ gray.
I’ll gather the hosses soon;
And faint from the valley far away
Comes the drone of the last guard’s tune.
Yes, life is just like the night-herd’s song,
As the long years come and go.
You start with a swing that is free and strong,
And finish up tired and slow.

I reckon the hosses all are here.
I can see that T-bar blue,
And the buckskin hoss with the one split ear;
I’ve got ’em all. Ninety two.
Just listen to how they roll the rocks —
These sure are rough old trails.
But then, if they can’t slide down on their hocks,
They can coast along on their tails.

The Wrangler Kid is out with his rope,
He seldom misses a throw.
Will he make a cow hand? Well I hope,
If they give him half a show.
They are throwin’ the rope corral around,
The hosses crowd in like sheep.
I reckon I’ll swaller my breakfast down
And try to furgit and sleep.

Yes, I’ve lived my life and I’ve took a chance,
Regardless of law or vow.
I’ve played the game and I’ve had my dance,
And I’m payin’ the fiddler now.

…Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem appeared in Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1924 book, Rhymes of the Ranges, and was revised for his 1947 book, Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems. The 45 variants are included in Bill Siems’ Open Range, which includes almost all of Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems. The above poem is the 1947 version of “The Old Night Hawk.”

Bill Siems writes, in another of his books, Shorty’s Yarns (the collected stories of Kiskaddon) about how this poem inspired him. His eloquent comments include how city people and ranchers might see each other, and, he comments on ranch people:

“…Besides feeding us, they are the stewards of our land and keepers of our connection with the natural world. They have come closest, after the Native Americans, to harmony with a landscape that is both beautiful and harsh. This harmony is a significant and difficult achievement, essentially in opposition to our romantic notions that are driven by need but not grounded in reality. It is one thing to love the land from a climate-controlled vehicle, but it is another to love it in the wind and sleet on horseback. Cattle as a backdrop for western entertainment are a world apart from cattle as living creatures that must be cared for and slaughtered. Standing with honesty and humility on such bedrock facts of life gives a person authority, however gently it may be asserted…this is the poem that first caught me up in Bruce Kiskaddon’s words…”

Find more about Kiskaddon, Open Range, and Shorty’s Yarns at CowboyPoetry.com.

This stunning photograph is by writer and ranch hand Amy Steiger (Amy Hale Auker) who cowboys with her husband@Gail Steiger in rugged country at Arizona’s Spider ranch. She comments, “We often make camp below this butte when we are working our Cottonwood Pasture. Late evening and early morning highlights the rock faces, and I can’t help but stand in awe.”

Look for Amy Hale Auker’s new book, Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs, from Texas Tech University Press this month. Find more about her at her web site, on CowboyPoetry.com, on Facebook,  and on Instagram.

 

A WET ROPE by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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A WET ROPE
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I will bet all your life you will never forget
The trouble you’ve had with a rope that was wet.
One day when your hoss was rode down to a walk
You cornered a gentle hoss close to a rock.

You throwed, but your rope was as stiff as a hoop.
So he just downed his head and backed out of the loop.
He was foxy. As soon as he saw the rope fall,
He just pulled out from there and he left you. That’s all.

That time you run onto an old moss horn steer
You’d been aimin’ to lead out fer over a year.
He was in some rough country just close to the valley,
You throwed and you ketched him and tried for a dally.

But the saddle and rope was both wet and you missed.
You blistered your fingers and battered your fist.
There was no chance. The ground was all muddy and slick,
And a wet muddy rope doesn’t tangle so quick.

Yes I reckon that you can remember a lot,
But it makes you so mad that it’s better forgot.

…Bruce Kiskaddon

Things have changed a bit in the 64 years since Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem was printed in the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards calendar, but it’s easy to imagine the scene.

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.

A recent article in a Western Horseman blog by William Reynolds focuses on Kiskaddon, and describes Kiskaddon’s style as, “…uniquely unromantic and undoubtedly authentic.”

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.” Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

 

THE BRAHMA STEER by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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THE BRAHMA STEER
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

What would the old time cowboy from the trails of yester year
Imagine was the matter if he met a Brahma steer?
That cowboy wouldn’t figger that the steer was real;In fact
He’d think he had too much to drink and gone plum off the track.

The sight of some big Brahma steer, his bump a standin’ high,
Without no horns, with droopin’ ears, and mulish lookin’ eye,
Would make an old hand figger if he’d ort to pull his gun,
Or ride up for a closer look, or turn around and run.

I reckon that there old time boy would figger ’twas a cross
‘Twixt a Jersey and a bison and a Palamino hoss.
The hands of fifty years ago would not have thought that now
The Brahma is more common than the old time longhorn cow.

There has been a lot of changes in ranges of the West;
They keep the sort of critters that they figger do the best.
We won’t likely live to see it but they’ll mebbe come a day
When they’ll give a cow a pellet equal to three bales of hay.

They won’t ship no stock to market, fer the aeroplane will land,
That will kill and skin and cook ’em and will take ’em off in cans.
They’ll have the hides all tanned and cured before they start fer town,
And they’ll make ’em into boots and shoes before they hit the ground.

Yes, there’s lots to the cow business that the old boys didn’t know
When they rode the old cow ponies over fifty years ago.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

An article, “Brahman Cattle,” at cattle.com tells about the American Brahman Breeders Association formed in Houston in 1924 and that, “Their first officially registered animal was named Sam Houston.”

Nearly 70 years have passed since this poem was printed on the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards calendar, January, 1948. It was illustrated by Amber Dunkerley (1893-1973), who illustrated Kiskaddon’s calendar poems from 1943-1948. The poem also appeared in Kiskaddon’s 1947 book, Rhymes of the Ranges.

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 CowboyPoetry.com.