RIDIN’ FENCE by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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RIDIN’ FENCE
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Ridin’ along at a easy walk
with your steeples and hammer and pliers.
Keepin’ a watch fer the tracks of stock
or the weeds blowed up on the wires.
You’ll find some sign of coyotes, too,
and plenty of rabbit tracks.
And down in the wash some calves crawled thru
and scraped the hair off their backs.

You must fix the gate on the other side
along where the road goes through.
The past’rs big. It’s a good long ride
and they’s allus a heap to do.
You find a place where a big old bull
went through in a patch of oak.
They’s a picket out and some steeples pulled
and a couple of wires broke.

Some folks had camped at the Hillside spring,
been there for a couple of days.
The boss didn’t like that sort of thing.
They might kill a beef, he says.
Before you finish it gits plum dark.
You caint see to do things right.
So you pile up some rocks to make a mark
and ride on home in the night.

Fence ridin’ jobs aint allus snaps.
I never did call it fun.
The worst thing about it is perhaps
that yore never exactly done.
But any feller that’s got good sense
can figger the whole affair.
If nothin’ went wrong with a string of fence,
he wouldn’t be needed there.

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

In Bill Siems’ Shorty’s Yarns, a collection of Kiskaddon’s short stories, he includes a 1938 note from the editor of the Western Livetock Journal, where many of Kiskaddon’s poems and stories were printed:

“Answering the requests of many readers of Western Livestock Journal, Bruce Kiskaddon, famous cowboy poet, writes his autobiography. His book Western Poems has had tremendous sale. There is hardly a cattlemen’s meeting but what someone adds to the occasion by reciting a Bruce Kiskaddon poem. Probably his ‘Little Blue Roan’ is the most popular. Now we’ll let Bruce tell his own story.”

Kiskaddon writes, “My first work with cattle was down in southwest Missouri. I was twelve years old. Four of us, all about the same age, were day herding a bunch of cows on what unfenced country there was around that place. We had quite a lot of room and at night we put them in an eighty acre pasture. We four kids worked at it all summer. We rode little Indian horses and went home at night. Not much cow punching, that’s a fact, but it was big business to us. The talk of opening the Indian territory for settlement had started, and already the open country was beginning to be occupied by boomers’ camps. People were coming from everywhere to be ready for the opening. They were a mixed up lot….” Read the entire piece here.

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

This 1941 photo by Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990) is titled, “Range cattle behind fence on grazing land near Birney, Montana.” It is from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.

Read more about Marion Post Wolcott, known for her Depression-era photographs, and find more images at a web site designed by her daughter.

 

STARTIN’ OUT by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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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

This image is an original Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar page from March, 1942.

As mentioned in a previously-published calendar poem: 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.

 

FEEDIN’ TIME by Bruce Kiskaddon, 1878-1950

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FEEDIN’ TIME
by Bruce Kiskaddon, 1878-1950

You are warm in the cabin, and doin’ yore cookin’.
But you know that yore hosses are there, without lookin’.
It’s ‘long about time they come in to be fed,
And to be put away fer the night in the shed.

Both hosses and mules seem to have their own way
Of tellin’ exactly the time of the day.
And I’ve noticed besides they don’t often get lost,
Like some human bein’s you’ve happened acrosst.

Yore feet is so warm that you don’t like to go
And git yore boots wet, wadin”round in the snow.
But it’s feed makes ’em stout, and it’s feed brings ’em back;
So you pull on your boots, and you start makin’ tracks.

You pull down yore hat and you turn up yore collar.
You start fer the shed and the hosses both foller.
They are glad to see you, and I’ve generally found,
A man don’t git so lonesome with hosses around.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

 

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.

This image is an original Los Angeles Stockyards calendar page from December, 1953. The poem and drawing first appeared in the Western Livestock Journal in 1941.

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.

 

GHOST CANYON TRAIL by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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GHOST CANYON TRAIL
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

There are strange things told of spirits bold,
And the trail to Sante Fe,
There is many a tale of the Chisholm trail,
And the trail to Laramie.
But this is the tale of an obscure trail
That few men travelled on;
Where a spirit was known to ride alone,
‘Twixt the midnight hour and dawn.

It would wind and creep through canyons deep
And over the mesa wide.
The men who knew this trail were few,
Where the phantom used to ride.
At times was heard a careless word
Some drinking man let fall,
But ’twas held a joke by the rangeland folk,
That no one believed atall.

I learned the truth from a hard youth.
He was one of those reckless men
Who could ride in the lead of a night stampede,
Ot the dust of the broncho pen.
On a winter night when the stars were bright
And the dying moon was low,
He was holding his course on a jaded horse
And the pace that he made was slow.

The cow horse flinched and cringed, till the cinch
Was almost against the ground.
His quivering ears showed deathly fear
And the cow boy looked around.
He felt the thrill of a clammy chill,
As it travelled along his spine,
For he saw at his side a phantom ride,
With never a word or sign.

He kept his place, for he set his pace
To the cow boy’s jogging speed.
There came no sound on the frozen ground
From the tread of his phantom steed.
He showed a flash of a long moustache
And a tilted campaign hat.
There straight and strong with stirrups long
The phantom trooper sat.

They were all alone. And the pale moon shone
Through the ghost at the cow boy’s side.
His courage fled as he rode with the dead
Alone on the mesa wide.
No sign of flight, no show of fight
The buckaroo displayed,
For slugs of lead won’t hurt the dead,
Through the mist of a vapor shade.

With the mesa past they came at last
To a canyon wide and dark,
Where some stone huts stood in the cottonwoods
That had long been an old land mark.
Each ruined shack had a chimney black,
And a roofless crumbling wall.
A living spring was the only thing
That was useful to men atall.

The chilling breeze through the leafless trees,
Gave a dreary, dismal moan.
The trooper stayed in the ghastly shade
And cow boy rode alone.
Strange tales are head of what occurred
At that place in the years gone by,
Ere that restless soul of the night patrol
Rode under the starlit sky.

What the trooper knows, or where he goes,
Nobody has ever found.
But the tale is told of the lone patrol
By the older settlers ’round.
There’s a cow boy trim with a face that’s grim,
Will never forget that ride
On a winter night in the pale moon light,
By the phantom trooper’s side.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

Happy Halloween. Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem, with a bit of a tip of the hat to Robert Service, is from his 1947 book, Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems. Find many more Kiskaddon poems and more about him in features at CowboyPoetry.com.

Also catch the Halloween spirit with “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and the first-ever recording of it in 1949, by Burl Ives, here.

Find our links to other videos of the song, including renditions by Johnny Cash, Gene Autry (in a 1949 film trailer), Marty Robbins, Sons of the Pioneers, Chris LeDoux, Bing Crosby, Riders in the Sky, Jimmie Rodgers, Lorne Greene, Elvis, The Blues Brothers, the Outlaws, Judy Collins, at CowboyPoetry.com and find more poems in the spirit of Halloween there as well.

Texas local historian, ghost-tale-teller, poet, writer, and reciter Linda Kirkpatrick shared this fitting photograph, taken in July, 2014. Find more about her at LindaKirkpatrick.net.

 

ALONE by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

alone

photo © 2017, Jessica Hedges; request permission for use

 

ALONE
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 CowboyPoetry.com.

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 cowboypoetry.com; at her site,  jessicahedgescowboypoetry.com; at Instagram; and on Facebook.

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

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photo ©JeanPrescott

 

THE TIME TO DECIDE
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 CowboyPoetry.com.

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 CowboyPoetry.com.

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 CowboyPoetry.com; at her web site, JeanPrescott.com; and on Facebook.

WHEN THEY’VE FINISHED SHIPPING CATTLE IN THE FALL by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

sep2012photo by Terry Nash 

 

WHEN THEY’VE FINISHED SHIPPING CATTLE IN THE FALL
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 CowboyPoetry.com:

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 CowboyPoetry.com, and find his previous releases and more about him at his web site, terrynashcowboypoet.com.