WHERE THE PONIES COME TO DRINK, by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

ponies52016

© 2016, John Michael Reedy

 

WHERE THE PONIES COME TO DRINK
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

Up in Northern Arizona
there’s a Ranger-trail that passes
Through a mesa, like a faëry lake
with pines upon its brink,
And across the trail a stream runs
all but hidden in the grasses,
Till it finds an emerald hollow
where the ponies come to drink.

Out they fling across the mesa,
wind-blown manes and forelocks dancing,
Blacks and sorrels, bays and pintos,
wild as eagles, eyes agleam;
From their hoofs the silver flashes,
burning beads and arrows glancing
Through the bunch-grass and the gramma
as they cross the little stream.

Down they swing as if pretending,
in their orderly disorder,
That they stopped to hold a pow-wow,
just to rally for the charge
That will take them, close to sunset,
twenty miles across the border;
Then the leader sniffs and drinks
with fore feet planted on the marge.

One by one each head is lowered,
till some yearling nips another,
And the playful interruption
starts an eddy in the band:
Snorting, squealing, plunging, wheeling,
round they circle in a smother
Of the muddy spray, nor pause
until they find the firmer land.

My old cow-horse he runs with ’em:
turned him loose for good last season;
Eighteen years; hard work, his record,
and he’s earned his little rest;
And he’s taking it by playing,
acting proud, and with good reason;
Though he’s starched a little forward,
he can fan it with the best.

Once I called him—almost caught him,
when he heard my spur-chains jingle;
Then he eyed me some reproachful,
as if making up his mind:
Seemed to say, “Well, if I have to—
but you know I’m living single…”
So I laughed.
In just a minute he was pretty hard to find.

Some folks wouldn’t understand it,—
writing lines about a pony,—
For a cow-horse is a cow-horse,—
nothing else, most people think,—
But for eighteen years your partner,
wise and faithful, such a crony
Seems worth watching for, a spell,
down where the ponies come to drink.

…by Henry Herbert Knibbs, from Songs of the Outlands, 1914

Here’s another outstanding classic poem for Cowboy Poetry Week.

Knibbs never worked as a cowboy, but he was a student of the West and his friendships, including one with cowboy, rancher, and writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes, informed his work. His poems are still often recited today, including this one and “Boomer Johnson,” “The Walking Man,” “Shallows of the Ford,” “So Long, Chinook!,” and others.

View poet and rancher Vess Quinlan reciting the poem here at the Western Folklife Center’s 2012 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. He introduces the poem saying that “I think Mr. Knibbs wrote this poem for anybody that’s ever been owned by a horse.”

Find more about Knibbs and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This beautiful photograph is by Montana photographer, songwriter, musician, and poet John Michael Reedy.

John Reedy has another claim to fame: he and Heather Reedy are the parents of the talented Brigid and Johnny Reedy, popular performers on gathering stages. Their recent CD, Handmade, showcases their impressive talents with poetry, original musical compositions, and traditional tunes. Find more about the CD at brigidreedy.com.

Brigid and Johnny Reedy also appear on the just-released MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, the poems of S. Omar Barker from CowboyPoetry.com.

See more impressive photography at John Reedy’s site and find more about him at CowboyPoetry.com and at his site, www.twistedcowboy.com.

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

MAKE ME NO GRAVE by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

donedwards

 

MAKE ME NO GRAVE
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

Make me no grave within that quiet place
Where friends shall sadly view the grassy mound,
Politely solemn for a little space,
As though the spirit slept beneath the ground.

For me no sorrow, nor the hopeless tear;
No chant, no prayer, no tender eulogy:
I may be laughing with the gods—while here
You weep alone. Then make no grave for me

But lay me where the pines, austere and tall,
Sing in the wind that sweeps across the West:
Where night, imperious, sets her coronal
Of silver stars upon the mountain crest.

Where dawn, rejoicing, rises from the deep,
And Life, rejoicing, rises with the dawn:
Mark not the spot upon the sunny steep,
For with the morning light I shall be gone.

Far trails await me; valleys vast and still,
Vistas undreamed of, canyon-guarded streams,
Lowland and range, fair meadow, flower-girt hill,
Forests enchanted, filled with magic dreams.

And I shall find brave comrades on the way:
None shall be lonely in adventuring,
For each a chosen task to round the day,
New glories to amaze, new songs to sing.

Loud swells the wind along the mountain-side,
High burns the sun, unfettered swings the sea,
Clear gleam the trails whereon the vanished ride,
Life calls to life: then make no grave for me!

…Henry Herbert Knibbs

The great troubadour and music historian @Don Edwards has created an outstanding song from this poem. It appears on his “Heaven on Horseback” album and you can listen here on YouTube.

It’s often noted that Henry Herbert Knibbs—known for poems such as “Where the Ponies Come to Drink” and “Boomer Johnson”—was not a cowboy. But Knibbs was not inexperienced with Western life.

Lee Shippey wrote about him in a 1931 article in the Los Angeles Times. He notes that Knibbs was born in the Canadian east, went to Harvard, and had a novel published while he was still a student there. He writes, “…when a man can come out of the East, handicapped by such an un-Western sounding name as Henry Herbert Knibbs, and become a man whose songs and stories are loved by the cow men and prospectors and adventurers of all the Western States, he must have something.”

He continues, “While still a young Canadian he tramped the great Canadian forests and all he asked was a canoe, a pack and a gun and he could supply himself with food and shelter. Later he came down into Maine and had a unwritten contract to supply several lumber camps with fresh meat. He was so successful in that business that a special game warden was assigned the task of catching him in some unlawful act.” He goes on to tell that the warden could never catch Knibbs doing anything wrong, and that Knibbs would sometimes lead him on wild chases. Then one day Knibbs found the warden in medical distress and nursed him back to health. The warden didn’t want to pursue Knibbs after that, and persuaded his superiors to call off the hunt. In fact Knibbs was offered a warden position, but he declined, as he had decided to head for California.

Knibbs headed West, and after some newspaper work, “He built himself a little covered wagon—a spring wagon with a canvas top on it—and set out to see California. For the better part of a year he jogged about, visiting many places where still motor cars cannot go, for good horses and a light wagon could take him to many places where there were no roads.”

It is noted that at the time of the column he had published a number of novels and that five of his stories were made into motion pictures. Shippey writes, “But it is probably that his poems will outlive his prose. For there are many western authors but few poets whose work really appeals to the men of plains and ranges, to cow men and prospectors and those who know life in that vanishing domain which is western in spirit as well as geographically.”

Find more about Knibbs at CowboyPoetry.com.

Find more about Don Edwards at westernjubilee.com and visit his site, donedwardsmusic.com.

Thanks to Kathy Edwards and Don Edwards for this photo of Don Edwards.

 

BOOMER JOHNSON by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

boomer

BOOMER JOHNSON
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

Now Mr. Boomer Johnson was a gettin’ old in spots,
But you don’t expect a bad man to go wrastlin’ pans and pots;
But he’d done his share of killin’ and his draw was gettin’ slow,
So he quits a-punchin’ cattle and he takes to punchin’ dough.

Our foreman up and hires him, figurin’ age had rode him tame,
But a snake don’t get no sweeter just by changin’ of its name.
Well, Old Boomer knowed his business – he could cook to make you smile,
But say, he wrangled fodder in a most peculiar style.

He never used no matches – left em layin’ on the shelf,
Just some kerosene and cussin’ and the kindlin’ lit itself.
And, pardner, I’m allowin’ it would give a man a jolt
To see him stir frijoles with the barrel of his Colt.

Now killin’ folks and cookin’ ain’t so awful far apart,
That musta been why Boomer kept a-practicin’ his art;
With the front sight of his pistol he would cut a pie-lid slick,
And he’d crimp her with the muzzle for to make the edges stick.

He built his doughnuts solid, and it sure would curl your hair
To see him plug a doughnut as he tossed it in the air.
He bored the holes plum center every time his pistol spoke,
Till the can was full of doughnuts and the shack was full of smoke.

We-all was gettin’ jumpy, but he couldn’t understand
Why his shootin’ made us nervous when his cookin’ was so grand.
He kept right on performin’, and it weren’t no big surprise
When he took to markin’ tombstones on the covers of his pies.

They didn’t taste no better and they didn’t taste no worse,
But a-settin’ at the table was like ridin’ in a hearse;
You didn’t do no talkin’ and you took just what you got,
So we et till we was foundered just to keep from gettin’ shot.

When at breakfast one bright mornin’, I was feelin’ kind of low,
Old Boomer passed the doughnuts and I tells him plenty:
“No, All I takes this trip is coffee, for my stomach is a wreck.”
I could see the itch for killin’ swell the wattle on his neck.

Scorn his grub? He strings some doughnuts on the muzzle of his gun,
And he shoves her in my gizzard and he says, “You’re takin’ one!”
He was set to start a graveyard, but for once he was mistook;
Me not wantin’ any doughnuts, I just up and salts the cook.

Did they fire him? Listen, pardner, there was nothin’ left to fire,
Just a row of smilin’ faces and another cook to hire.
If he joined some other outfit and is cookin’, what I mean,
It’s where they ain’t no matches and they don’t need kerosene.

…by Henry Herbert Knibbs

Henry Herbert Knibbs never worked as a cowboy, but he was a student of the West and his friendships, including one with cowboy, rancher, and writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes informed his work. His poems are still often recited today, including “Boomer Johnson” and “Where the Ponies Come to Drink,” “The Walking Man,” “Shallows of the Ford,” and “So Long, Chinook!”

Find more about Knibbs and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cook of SMS Ranch making bread in front of chuck wagon. Ranch near Spur, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.

Find a feature about noted photographer and teacher Russell Lee with a gallery of photographs at the University of Texas at Austin.

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

WHERE THE PONIES COME TO DRINK by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

ponies

WHERE THE PONIES COME TO DRINK
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

Up in Northern Arizona
there’s a Ranger-trail that passes
Through a mesa, like a faëry lake
with pines upon its brink,
And across the trail a stream runs
all but hidden in the grasses,
Till it finds an emerald hollow
where the ponies come to drink.

Out they fling across the mesa,
wind-blown manes and forelocks dancing,
Blacks and sorrels, bays and pintos,
wild as eagles, eyes agleam;
From their hoofs the silver flashes,
burning beads and arrows glancing
Through the bunch-grass and the gramma
as they cross the little stream.

Down they swing as if pretending,
in their orderly disorder,
That they stopped to hold a pow-wow,
just to rally for the charge
That will take them, close to sunset,
twenty miles across the border;
Then the leader sniffs and drinks
with fore feet planted on the marge.

One by one each head is lowered,
till some yearling nips another,
And the playful interruption
starts an eddy in the band:
Snorting, squealing, plunging, wheeling,
round they circle in a smother
Of the muddy spray, nor pause
until they find the firmer land.

My old cow-horse he runs with ’em:
turned him loose for good last season;
Eighteen years; hard work, his record,
and he’s earned his little rest;
And he’s taking it by playing,
acting proud, and with good reason;
Though he’s starched a little forward,
he can fan it with the best.

Once I called him—almost caught him,
when he heard my spur-chains jingle;
Then he eyed me some reproachful,
as if making up his mind:
Seemed to say, “Well, if I have to—
but you know I’m living single…”
So I laughed.
In just a minute he was pretty hard to find.

Some folks wouldn’t understand it,—
writing lines about a pony,—
For a cow-horse is a cow-horse,—
nothing else, most people think,—
But for eighteen years your partner,
wise and faithful, such a crony
Seems worth watching for, a spell,
down where the ponies come to drink.

…by Henry Herbert Knibbs, from Songs of the Outlands, 1914

Knibbs never worked as a cowboy, but he was a student of the West and his friendships, including one with cowboy, rancher, and writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes informed his work. His poems are still often recited today, including “Boomer Johnson,” “The Walking Man,” “Shallows of the Ford,” and “So Long, Chinook!”

Listen to poet and rancher Vess Quinlan reciting the poem here at the Western Folklife Center’s 2012 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. He introduces the poem saying that “I think Mr. Knibbs wrote this poem for anybody that’s ever been owned by a horse.”

Find more about Knibbs and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

Above is a 1913 photograph of a painting, “The Crossing,” by William Herbert “Buck” Dunton (1878-1936), from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Dunton was a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists. Find more on “The Crossing” here.

An article at the Smithsonian American Art Museum says, “Known to his friends as “Buck,” Dunton traveled extensively in the West as a young man, working as a ranch hand and cowboy.”

See an interesting cowboy painting of his that was identified on Antiques Road Show. The appraiser comments, “What’s interesting about this painting is that unlike his contemporaries, Dunton was really interested in the notion of the vanishing cowboy, so this is sort of the ‘Where have all the cowboys gone?’ A really terrific example of a West that was passing and changing and going to be very different from what he was to know.”

Find more about Dunton at buckdunton.com and dunton.org.

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

THE BRONCO by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

broncorem

 

THE BRONCO
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

The bronco’s mighty wild and tough,
And full of outdoor feelin’s:
His feet are quick, his ways are rough,
He’s careless in his dealin’s.

Each mornin’ he must have his spree,
And hand you plenty trouble
A-pitchin’ round the scenery
Till you are seein’ double.

Or mebby-so, you think he’s broke,
And do a little braggin’;
“Plumb gentle hoss!” he sees the joke,
And leaves—with reins a-draggin’.

Or, mebby-so, you think he’ll jump
That little three-foot railin’:
When all he does is stop and hump,
And stay—while you go sailin’.

But when his pitchin’ fit is done,
And ropin’, cuttin’, brandin’,
Is on the bill—I’ll tell you son,
He works with understandin’.

At workin’ stock he’s got his pride:
—Dust rollin’, boys a-yellin’—
He’ll turn your steer, and make you ride,
And he don’t need no tellin’.

Perhaps you’re standin’ middle-guard,
Or ridin’ slow, night-hawkin’:
And then your bronc is sure your pard,
At loafin’, or at walkin’.

Or, when the lightnin’ flashes raw,
And starts the herd a-flyin’,
He’s off to head ’em down the draw,
Or break your neck, a-tryin’.

A bronc he sure will take his part,
At gettin’ there or stayin’:
He’ll work until he breaks his heart,
Be he don’t sabe playin’.

He may be wild, he may be tough,
And full of outdoor feelin’s:
But he’s all leather, sure enough,
And he puts through his dealin’s.

….by Henry Herbert Knibbs, from Saddle Songs and Other Verse, 1922

Henry Herbert Knibbs wrote stories, poems and novels. He never worked as a cowboy, but he was a student of the West and his friendships, including one with cowboy, rancher, and writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes informed his work. His poems are still often recited today, including “Boomer Johnson,” “The Walking Man,” “Shallows of the Ford,” and “So Long, Chinook!”

Find more about Knibbs and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This image is from a c.1908 reproduction of an 1888 wood engraving by great Western artist Fredric Remington (1861-1909). It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.

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

BOOMER JOHNSON by Henry Herbert Knibbs

boomer

 

___

BOOMER JOHNSON
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

Now Mr. Boomer Johnson was a gettin’ old in spots,
But you don’t expect a bad man to go wrastlin’ pans and pots;
But he’d done his share of killin’ and his draw was gettin’ slow,
So he quits a-punchin’ cattle and he takes to punchin’ dough.

Our foreman up and hires him, figurin’ age had rode him tame,
But a snake don’t get no sweeter just by changin’ of its name.
Well, Old Boomer knowed his business – he could cook to make you smile,
But say, he wrangled fodder in a most peculiar style.

He never used no matches – left em layin’ on the shelf,
Just some kerosene and cussin’ and the kindlin’ lit itself.
And, pardner, I’m allowin’ it would give a man a jolt
To see him stir frijoles with the barrel of his Colt.

Now killin’ folks and cookin’ ain’t so awful far apart,
That musta been why Boomer kept a-practicin’ his art;
With the front sight of his pistol he would cut a pie-lid slick,
And he’d crimp her with the muzzle for to make the edges stick.

He built his doughnuts solid, and it sure would curl your hair
To see him plug a doughnut as he tossed it in the air.
He bored the holes plum center every time his pistol spoke,
Till the can was full of doughnuts and the shack was full of smoke.

We-all was gettin’ jumpy, but he couldn’t understand
Why his shootin’ made us nervous when his cookin’ was so grand.
He kept right on performin’, and it weren’t no big surprise
When he took to markin’ tombstones on the covers of his pies.

They didn’t taste no better and they didn’t taste no worse,
But a-settin’ at the table was like ridin’ in a hearse;
You didn’t do no talkin’ and you took just what you got,
So we et till we was foundered just to keep from gettin’ shot.

When at breakfast one bright mornin’, I was feelin’ kind of low,
Old Boomer passed the doughnuts and I tells him plenty:
“No, All I takes this trip is coffee, for my stomach is a wreck.”
I could see the itch for killin’ swell the wattle on his neck.

Scorn his grub? He strings some doughnuts on the muzzle of his gun,
And he shoves her in my gizzard and he says, “You’re takin’ one!”
He was set to start a graveyard, but for once he was mistook;
Me not wantin’ any doughnuts, I just up and salts the cook.

Did they fire him? Listen, pardner, there was nothin’ left to fire,
Just a row of smilin’ faces and another cook to hire.
If he joined some other outfit and is cookin’, what I mean,
It’s where they ain’t no matches and they don’t need kerosene.

…by Henry Herbert Knibbs, public domain

Henry Herbert Knibbs never worked as a cowboy, but he was a student of the West and his friendships, including one with cowboy, rancher, and writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes informed his work. His poems are still often recited today, including “Boomer Johnson,” “Where the Ponies Come to Drink,” “The Walking Man,” “Shallows of the Ford,” and “So Long, Chinook!”

Find more about Knibbs and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cook of SMS Ranch making bread in front of chuck wagon. Ranch near Spur, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.

Find a feature about noted photographer and teacher Russell Lee with a gallery of photographs from the University of Texas at Austin here.

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