A COWBOYIN’ DAY, by Gary McMahan

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A COWBOYIN’ DAY
by Gary McMahan

Morning is just a thin line to the East
As you steps in the corral and captures a beast.
Cold saddle blankets, hey cock-a-doodle-doo—
Don’t buck now, you booger; you’ll break me in two.

Your head starts working on the last pass around;
Saddle horses are wrangled, draft horses cut out.
You shuts the gate and steps to the ground—
It’s hot, black coffee you’re thinking ’bout now.

Then it’s biscuits and gravy and eggs over light,
And the foreman’s wife is a beautiful sight.
Jokes and jabs and the cowboss’s orders,
A chew and a toothpick, and you’re out the door

To saddle the horse you’ll use for the day,
Makin’ sure your riggin’ has no extra play.
You steps aboard light with him all gathered up
’Cause you know first hand this critter can buck.

Ease him out at a walk and head north towards the dump.
You’ll be askin’ a trot when he loses his hump.
You hits a slow lope on the badger highway;
It’s a cool morning, blue-sky cowboyin’ day.

And the brooks are babbling down through the holes,
The meadowlarks sing the song in your soul,
And the wildflowers blaze any color you s’pose
As the smell of sagebrush and pine fill your nose.

Now the horse that you’re on is big, and he’s lean—
Quick, tough, smart, and a little bit mean.
His saddle’s no place for the meek or the green;
He’s a sho-nuff rip-snortin’ cowboyin’ machine.

And the place that you’re headed is pretty intense;
Continental Divide is the back fence.
There’s ten thousand acres of mountain and rock there
And twelve hundred head to check and to doctor.

And to make matters worse (or better, you think),
They’re all yearling heifers—unpredictable dinks.
They’ll run and they’ll hide ’til hell freezes twice
Then kick up their heels as you skate on the ice.

But this ain’t no colt, and you ain’t no kid,
So you whips out your rope and pulls down your lid,
And you climbs and cruises the sagebrush and aspen
’Til you finds you a cow brute what’s droopy and raspin’.

And maybe you’ll tag ’er ’fore she gits to the brush
And trip ’er and tie ’er in a big rush
And pack her with sulfa and penicillin.
She’ll turn for the better, good Lord a willin’.

Lots of footrot and pinkeye today,
But that don’t mean the boogers can’t play.
They’ve ducked and they’ve dodged ’til who laid a chunk,
But you managed to capture a pretty good hunk.

A line-backed old heifer with a sly side dart
Almost upset the whole apple cart,
And a bald-faced old bag sure slammed on her brakes
When we dived off a ledge and got in her way.

It’s the heat of the day now—sun’s straight overhead—
And you and your horse are packing some lead.
You hanker for rest and a biscuit or two,
And you figures you got that much coming to you.

Now your horse likes the grass that grows ’neath the aspen,
And the shade there is welcome as peace everlastin’.
So you finds such a place with a creek close by
To soothe the bruises of a hard ride.

You hobbles, unbridles him, loosens his girth
Then sets yourself down in the cool, green earth,
Surrounds your grub and drinks your fill
And takes a siesta way back in the hills.

Well, a catnap is all you require;
Still, you lay there and ponder your thoughts . . .
The world sure has its briars.
Take, for instance, this good old cow-hoss—

He was a wild-eyed, ring-tailed dandy.
Heck, they give up on him ’fore they give him to me,
But it’s the same for horses as it is for men—
He just needed a job and a kick in the shin.

Well the afternoon’s spent with the usual flair:
A close call here, a catastrophe there.
But still we saved more than a couple of hides;
That’s why we get paid for making these rides.

A storm blew through for about thirty minutes,
And you’d swear that Satan hisself was in it.
You’re sure glad your pony is seasoned plumb through—
Close lightning’s unloaded a few buckaroos.

You’re wet as a fish, but you ain’t gonna melt,
And the sun feels the best it ever has felt.
You’re all steamed up like an overdue freight,
But you’re dry as a duck time you get to the gate.

Now, there are those who thinks a cowboy’s a crude, ignorant cuss.
Truth is, we no-savvy them; they no-savvy us.
But there’s one thing that sticks in my mind
When a cowboy’s job cuts into sublime.

It’s when you and your horse form a leathery feather
And drift two, three yearlings out of a gather
And trail ’em up someplace they don’t want to go
When they’re needing a vet or what ever, y’know.

You set ’em just so when you go through a gate,
And don’t rile ’em up, for heaven’s sake.
Folks that have tried it say it’s kind of an art
To pen ’em in the home corral before dark.

And we’re trailin’ two of em home this night.
We’ll prolly ship the one; the other’ll be all right.
But one wrong move now the air’s turning cool,
And these two yearling heifers’ll make you look like a fool.

Punch ’em into the catch with a “whoop” and a smile.
You been walkin’ on eggs for the last two miles,
And if one woulda broke, the fur woulda flew—
No tellin’ when you’da got another crack at them two.

Your horse rolls in the dirt while you put up your tack,
Then savors his grain while you scratch his back.
It’s an evenin’ ritual you both enjoy;
You don’t covet nothin’ when you ride this ol’ boy.

An he heads for the timothy down by the lake
Whilst you saunters to the house for soup and steak
To mix it up with compadres and finish your pie
Like folks do when they’re satisfied.

When supper’s done, there’s little time for play—
You sleep hard all night if you work hard all day—
But ’fore you fall off your log to float in the air,
You may have time for a little prayer:

“Lord, I thank you for this cowboyin’ day.
I sure had me some fun a-earnin’ my pay,
And I like to think I put meat on the table
For a country that needs to stay fit an’ able.

“But a cow with no horse is boring as hell,
And a horse with no cows don’t ring my bell.
It’s a good life you gave me, these horses and cattle,
And I wanted to say thanks Lord for my day in the saddle.”

© 1986, Gary McMahan, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Cowboy, poet, songwriter, and yodeler Gary McMahan’s vivid “A Cowboyin’ Day” is a contemporary cowboy poetry standout.

In his book, Gary McMahan in Poetry and Song, he writes about it, “One of my favorite things is working cattle on a good horse in the high country. I used to do a considerable amount of it, and even though this poem doesn’t have a ‘Hollywood plot,’ a lot of ranch folk have told me how much they like it, especially those who’ve ever run a bunch of yearlin’s.”

At Gary McMahan’s singingcowboy.com, you can listen to “A Cowboyin’ Day” and the full-length tracks of all his albums of his music and poetry.

Gary is headed to the 30th annual Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Golden, January 17-20, 2019. The lineup includes Jerry Brooks, Jon Chandler, Connie Dover, Mark Gardner & Rex Rideout, Kristyn Harris, Carol Huechan, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Chuck Larsen, Gary McMahan, John Nelson, New West, Jean Prescott, Dave Stamey, Pop Wagner, Barry Ward, and Dick Warwick.

Gary told us, “Vess Quinlan and I started the Colorado Cowboy Gathering 30 years ago! I can’t believe it’s been 30 years. We wanted to have a gathering to go along with the National Western Stock Show here in Denver. We figured it would just dovetail right in with it. So we went to the state folklorist Bea Roeder and she really did the hard work of putting it together. Turns out, it was sparsely attended by the NWSS folks and loved by the people in and around Denver and Colorado. We have much to celebrate. Some great cowboy poets came outta Colorado, Bruce Kiskaddon, to give you one example.”

(Look for Gary’s recitation of two Kiskaddon poems on our forthcoming MASTERS: VOLUME THREE CD.)

Gary is also featured at the Western Folklife Center’s 35th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 28-February 2, 2019.

Find more about Gary at CowboyPoetry.com and at his site, singingcowboy.com.

This photo is by Bill Patterson, top gathering photographer, who has captured great views of so many of today’s performers and the essence of so many events. See some of his photos on Facebook.  The above photo is used with a different look in a recent article in about the Colorado gathering from 5280 magazine.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this photo and poem with this post, but any other uses require permission.)

THE HELPMATE, by Yvonne Hollenbeck

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THE HELPMATE
by Yvonne Hollenbeck

You say I look disgusted
but you took me by surprise,
and I suppose there was resentment
coming from my eyes.

Since that hired man left us
I’ve been more than just his wife;
I’m the helper by his side
as he continues ranching life.

I get the gates and scoop the bunks
and help with feeding hay,
and that is just the start
of all the jobs I do each day.

I’m right there for the calving
and I help with all the chores,
then try to catch my work up
when I get some time indoors.

You see, I run and jump
each time he gives a little yelp,
and it galls me that you ask
how he is doing “with no help.”

© 2014, Yvonne Hollenbeck, used with permission.
Yvonne Hollenbeck is cowboy poetry’s most visible ranch wife, and her life gives her endless material. She is a sought-after performer at Western events, for her poetry and for her traveling program that includes the works of the five generations of quilt makers in her family. She is a champion quilter.

Yvonne and and her husband Glen, a champion calf-roper, raise cattle and quarter horses on their ranch in Clearfield, South Dakota.

In fairness to Glen, the poem came about after he was the one who told Yvonne about someone who, even after Glen had said Yvonne was helping out, went on to ask how he did everything “with no help.”

This photo of Glen Hollenbeck is from 2017. Yvonne wrote, “Here’s a picture of a couple good ol’ boys. Glen stopped to visit Paddy’s Irish Whiskey at the 6666 Ranch at Guthrie, Texas, and thank him for the great addition to Glen’s G2 horse collection…I mean “horse program.”

This poem is in Yvonne Hollenbeck’s recent book, Rhyming the Range, which collects her original poems about her life on the ranch. The book includes the most requested poems from her two out-of-print books and all of her newest poetry. She also has a CD by the same name that includes many of those poems.

She has a busy cowboy poetry event schedule in the next few months:

Catch Yvonne this weekend at the 9th annual Black Hills Cowboy Christmas at the Historic Homestake Opera House in Lead, South Dakota, adjacent to Deadwood. She’ll be joined by Chuck Larsen, Trinity Seely, and others. Find more at .

Find Yvonne at the Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Golden, January 17-20, 2019. The lineup includes Jerry Brooks, Jon Chandler, Connie Dover, Mark Gardner & Rex Rideout, Kristyn Harris, Carol Huechan, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Chuck Larsen, Gary McMahan, John Nelson, New West, Jean Prescott, Dave Stamey, Pop Wagner, Barry Ward, and Dick Warwick.

She’ll be at the Western Folklife Center’s 35th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 28-February 2, 2019. See the roster of performers in our Monday post and find information at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.com.

Yvonne returns as a headliner to the 33rd annual Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine, February 22-23, 2019. The Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering lineup includes Apache Adams, Gary Allegretto, Amy Hale Auker, Eli Barsi, Floyd Beard, “Straw” Berry, Mike Blakely, Dale Burson, Don Cadden, Bob Campbell, Craig Carter, Zack Casey, Allan Chapman & Rodeo Kate, Justin Cole, High Country Cowboys, Doris Daley, Mikki Daniel, John Davis, Kevin Davis, Doug Figgs, Ray Fitzgerald, Rolf Flake, Ryan & Hoss Fritz, Belinda Gail, Pipp Gillette, Jeff Gore, Kristyn Harris, Andy Hedges, High Country Cowboys, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Randy & Hanna Huston, Chris Isaacs, Jill Jones & Three Hands High, Jim Jones, Linda Kirkpatrick, Ross Knox, Daron Little, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Pat Meade, Glenn Moreland, Terry Nash, Joel Nelson, Sam Noble, Kay Nowell, Jean Prescott, Gary Prescott, Mike Querner, Luke Reed, Randy Rieman, Gary Robertson, Trinity Seely, R.P. Smith, Jay Snider, Gail Steiger, Michael Stevens, Caitlyn Taussig, Rod Taylor, Doug Tolleson, Keith Ward, and Jim Wilson.

Find more of Yvonne Hollenbeck’s poetry at CowboyPoetry.com, and visit yvonnehollenbeck.com, which has her appearance dates, including quilt programs.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please request permission for any other use.)

CLIFF by Susie Knight

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CLIFF
by Susie Knight

The moon shines through his window.
He greets the mornin’s sounds.
He lights a flame beneath the pot
‘n throws in coffee grounds.

He’s old ‘n stiff in places
That ache each morn the same.
His lower back, his knees, ‘n hips;
Arthritis staked its claim.

He sets his jaw this mornin’
‘n pours a cup o’ joe,
Then takes some time to reminisce
’bout days from long ago.

The ranch he used to manage,
Not far from Valentine,
Was 60,000 acres
By 1969.

Top hand ‘n overseer,
He led the ranch’s crew.
Most times he managed twenty men
To delegate them through

The February calvin’s,
The brandin’s late in May,
The fences fixed all summer
Clear through till weanin’ day.

And, oh, the saddle horses
He rode each held a prize
There in his golden mem’ries
Secured behind his eyes.

But few will ever grasp it,
The life he’s lived ‘n known.
The calves he’s pulled from heifers;
Cesareans he’d sewn.

The hope of life each springtime
That wars against the curse
Of certain death from coyotes,
The cold, ‘n somethin’ worse…

…the older cows that weaken.
They’d just lay down ‘n die.
As labor’d overtake ’em,
He kept a watchful eye

‘n did his all to save ’em
To satisfy the boss.
Kept cattle profits in the black,
Preventin’ any loss.

He earned his compensation
For forty years or so,
’til one day in the winter when
He learned he’d been let go!

See…

…the boss had died a-sudden.
The ranch was gettin’ sold.
New corporation owners felt that
He was too dang old

To run the ranch the kinda way
(On paper) they saw fit.
Dazed ‘n numb, he headed west
To mend his soul that split.

He settled west of Denver,
Near foothills out o’ town.
A place where he could view the sky
From sunup till sundown.

Then, he perused the papers
To find a job or two.
But, workin’ in Home Depot or
McDonald’s wouldn’t do!

Persistent in his searchin’,
Stayin’ focused and on track,
He found a dandy full-time job
Where he’d remain horseback.

It’s at a little stable
In a thousand acre park.
He wrangles dudes on horseback rides
From dawn until it’s dark.

He doesn’t pay attention;
Their antics don’t disturb
As hoofbeats meld with heartbeats
In percussive, low reverb.

With one eye on his riders
And one eye in the past,
He’s found a way to reminisce
The life that didn’t last.

He never would ‘o guessed that
His path would go this way…
Guidin’ trail ridin’
For city folks at play.

He knows they’re on vacation;
They’re “cowpokes” for a while.
They have no clue who’s guidin’them
Behind that wrinkled smile.

He’d never brag ‘n tell ’em.
(That ain’t the Cowboy Way.)
He’s horseback still, ‘n will remain
Until his dyin’ day!

© 2014, Susie Knight
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Award-winning Colorado cowgirl poet, singer, songwriter, and horsewoman Susie Knight told us:

I met Cliff Andre in the spring of 2011 when I was hired to be the Kids’ Horse Camp Instructor for Bear Creek Stables in Morrison, Colorado. A quiet old cowboy, it took most of the summer for me to learn Cliff’s story. I watched him handle horses gently with seasoned wisdom. Once I learned that he ranched most of his life not far from Valentine, Nebraska (a mere 100 miles from my family’s ranch in Pine Ridge, South Dakota), I pried out of him these bits and pieces of his life’s story. To date, Cliff is 88 years young, still guiding trail rides and driving the team of Belgians for Bear Creek Stables’ private events.

She provided this photograph of Cliff and Hippie, taken in May, 2015.

Susie appears next at the Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Golden, January 19-21, 2018. This year’s headliners are Carin Mari Lechner and Dave Stamey, and featured performers are Vic Anderson, Eli Barsi & John Cunningham, Floyd Beard, Marty Blocker, Doris Daley, Sam DeLeeuw, Richard Elloyan & Steve Wade, Carol Heuchan, Susie Knight, Al “Doc” Mehl, Carin Mari, Dave Stamey, Rod Taylor & Don Richmond, Dick Warwick, Joyce Woodson, and the Flying W Wranglers. Find more at coloradocowboygathering.com.

Susie Knight’s latest CD is Fillin’ Tanks. Find her also at the Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering in Sierra Vista, Arizona, February 2-4, 2018.

Find more about Susie Knight at CowboyPoetry.com,  at her web site, susieknight.com and on Facebook.