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.
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.