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