COW SENSE by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

cowsonroad

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)

pinnacaha

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)

kiskwetrope

 

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)

img273

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.

WINTER HOSSES by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

16123389_259464731148939_7069137765417353216_n

photo © Ken Rodgers; request permission for use

 

WINTER HOSSES
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

You wake up in the mornin’
and you get yore coffee made.
The thermometer is ten degrees
‘bove zero in the shade.
But when once you get the taste
of good strong coffee in your throat.
You don’t mind the frosty mornin’.
You don’t even wear a coat.

You do put on yore overshoes
fer wadin’ in the snow.
You fill up all three nose bags
and then yore set to go.
The hosses come a nickerin’
and snuffin’ from the shed.
Each one reaches fer the nose bag
when you put it on his head.

You go back into the shack
and git youre breakfast started cookin’.
But you don’t furgit the horsses.
You have got to keep a lookin’.
When they finish, you have got to take
the nosebags off their heads.
Or they’ll grab ’em off each other
and they’ll tear ’em all to shreds.

Hosses act a heap like humans,
and they ain’t so much to blame.
There is shore a lot of people
that is doin’ jest the same.
And it’s mighty hard to stop ’em
at the stunts they try to pull;
Gittin’ sassy and destructive
jest because their belly’s full.

So I reckon there is some one
that has got to take a hand.
Lookin’ after brainless critters
that don’t seem to onderstand.
There’s hosses, cows and people
that you dassent leave alone.
They’d go plum to ruination
if you left ’em on their own.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

Master poet Bruce Kiskaddon was a great observer of livestock and humans.

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

This impressive photograph is by documentary filmmaker, teacher, poet, writer, and photographer Ken Rodgers. Ken and Betty Rodgers are co-producers 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. Find more about I Married the War at imarriedthewar.com and on Facebook, and more on “Bravo!” at bravotheproject.com and on Facebook.

Find more about Ken Rodgers at CowboyPoetry.com  and here on Facebook. Follow his daily photo posts on Instagram.

THE BRONCO TWISTER’S PRAYER by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

8b24447r
THE BRONCO TWISTER’S PRAYER
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

It was a little grave yard
on the rolling foot hill plains:
That was bleached by the sun in summer,
swept by winter’s snows and rains;
There a little bunch of settlers
gathered on an autumn day
‘Round a home made lumber coffin,
with their last respects to pay.

Weary men that wrung their living
from that hard and arid land,
And beside them stood their women;
faded wives with toil worn hands.
But among us stood one figure
that was wiry, straight and trim.
Every one among us know him.
‘Twas the broncho twister, Jim.

Just a bunch of hardened muscle
tempered with a savage grit,
And he had the reputation
of a man that never quit.
He had helped to build the coffin,
he had helped to dig the grave;
And his instinct seemed to teach him
how he really should behave.

Well, we didn’t have a preacher,
and the crowd was mighty slim.
Just two women with weak voices
sang an old time funeral hymn.
That was all we had for service.
The old wife was sobbing there.
For her husband of a life time,
laid away without prayer.

She looked at the broncho twister,
then she walked right up to him.
Put one trembling arm around him and said,
“Pray. Please won’t you Jim?”
You could see his figure straighten,
and a look of quick surprise
Flashed across his swarthy features,
and his hard dare devil eyes.

He could handle any broncho,
and he never dodged a fight.
‘Twas the first time any body ever saw
his face turn white.
But he took his big sombrero
off his rough and shaggy head,
How I wish I could remember what
that broncho peeler said.

No, he wasn’t educated.
On the range his youth was spent.
But the maker of creation
know exactly what he meant.
He looked over toward the mountains
where the driftin’ shadows played.
Silence must have reined in heaven
when they heard the way Jim prayed.

Years have passed since that small funeral
in that lonely grave yard lot.
But it gave us all a memory, and a lot
of food for thought.
As we stood beside the coffin,
and the freshly broken sod,
With that reckless broncho breaker
talkin’ heart to heart with God.

When the prayer at last was over,
and the grave had all been filled,
On his rough, half broken pony,
he rode off toward the hills.
Yes, we stood there in amazement
as we watched him ride away,
For no words could ever thank him.
There was nothing we could say.
Since we gathered in that grave yard,
it’s been nearly fifty years.
With their joys and with their sorrows,
with their hopes and with their fears.
But I hope when I have finished,
and they lay me with the dead,
Some one says a prayer above me,
like that broncho twister said.

…from Bruce Kiskaddon’s Rhymes of the Ranges, 1924
Bruce Kiskaddon’s (1878-1950) poems are among the most recited works at gatherings. Kiskaddon worked as a cowboy from the time he was 19 until a serious accident about ten years later put an end to his riding. When he turned to writing he became known for his realistic works about cowboy and ranching life. Frank M. King, editor of The Western Livestock Journal, where many of his poems were printed, asserted that Kiskaddon was “the best cowboy poet who ever wrote a cowboy poem.”

Watch top cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell and outstanding balladeer Don Edwards perform the poem along with “Amazing Grace”in a 2013 performance at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering here.

“The Bronco Twister’s Prayer” was recited at Kiskaddon’s own funeral. Find the entire poem and features about Bruce Kiskaddon at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1942 photo by noted photographer John Vachon (1914-1975) is titled “Bannack, Montana. Graveyard.” It’s from the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA)/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs at the Library of Congress. See some interesting biographical information and photographs here. Find more about the photo here.

THE OLD TIME CHRISTMAS by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

kiskoldtimechristmas

 

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!

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.”

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

Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.