WE NEVER RODE THE JUDITHS, by Wallace McRae

wallyjbl_091607_Wally_0040_previewphoto © Jessica Lifland; request permission for any use.

 

WE NEVER RODE THE JUDITHS
for Ian Tyson, by Wallace McRae

We never rode the Judiths
when we were grey-wolf wild.
Never gathered Powder River,
Palo Duro, or John Day.
No, we never rode the Judiths
when their sirens preened and smiled.
And we’ll never ride the Judiths
before they carry us away.

Cowboys cut for sign on back trails
to the days that used to be
Sorting, sifting through chilled ashes
of the past.
Or focused on some distant star,
out near eternity,
Always hoping that the next day
will be better than the last.

Out somewhere in the future,
where spring grass is growing tall,
We rosin up our hopes
for bigger country, better pay.
But as the buckers on our buckles
grow smooth-mouthed or trip and fall
We know tomorrow’s draw
ain’t gonna throw no gifts our way.

And we never rode the Judiths
when we were grey-wolf bold.
Never rode the Grande Ronde Canyon
out north of Enterprise.
No we never rode the Judiths,
and we know we’re getting old
As old trails grow steeper, longer,
right before our eyes.

My horses all are twenty-some…
ain’t no good ones coming on.
The deejays and the Nashville hands
won’t let “… Amazed” turn gold.
We’re inclined to savor evening now.
We usta favor dawn.
Seems we’re not as scared of dyin’
as we are of growing old.

I wish we’d a’ rode the Judiths
when we were grey-wolf wild.
And gathered Powder River,
Palo Duro, and John Day.
But we never rode the Judiths
when their sirens’ songs beguiled
And we’ll never ride the Judiths
before they carry us away.

© 1992, Wallace McRae
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

 

Andy Hedges, in his current podcast—the 50th episode of Cowboy Crossroads—recites “We Never Rode the Judiths” as an introduction to his standout interview with the iconic Canadian songwriter, singer, and rancher Ian Tyson.

Tyson tells about his early music career and the other cowboy-influenced performers in Greenwich Village, including Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Peter La Farge, Harry Jackson, and others; Elko and the beginnings of his involvement with the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering; traditional cowboy songs; the genius of Bob Dylan and his influence on his own writing; the creation of “Four Strong Winds”; ageing, and much more. Don’t miss it.

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Andy Hedges’ deep respect for cowboy music and poetry tradition informs all of his podcasts. He’s creating a precious oral history archive that includes interviews with Dave Stamey, Waddie Mitchell, Vess Quinlan, Ross Knox, Joel Nelson, Mike Beck, Corb Lund, Jerry Brooks, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Don Edwards, Michael Martin Murphey, and many others. Find them all here.

Wallace McRae, third-generation Montana rancher and National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow is most well known for his own least favorite poem, “Reincarnation.” A closer look at his work shows a body of serious work, thoughtful poetry.

For a wonderful look at this complex man, watch a recent Western Folklife Center video in which he “… tells a true story about Northern Plains ranching, with a moving tribute to a neighbor.”

His stirring, masterful poem, “Things of Intrinsic Worth,” performed in 2013 and a part of WESTDOCUMENTARY, a feature-length documentary work-in-progress by H. Paul Moon.

Wallace McRae has retired from public appearances. Find more of his poetry and more about him in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com. He relishes being known as “The Cowboy Curmudgeon.” You can share this post, but please don’t otherwise use his poem without permission.

The above photograph of Wally McRae is by popular photojournalist Jessica Lifland (jessicalifland.smugmug.comInstagram) as a part of her Cowboy Poetry Project. Other subjects to date include Sean Sexton, Andy Hedges, Jerry Brooks, Waddie Mitchell, Amy Hale Steiger and Gail Steiger, Rodney Nelson, DW Groethe, Elizabeth Ebert, Henry Real Bird, Doris Daley, Bimbo Cheney, Jack Walther, and Bill Lowman.

Jessica Lifland is one of the official photographers for the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Find her gathering photos and her Cowboy Poetry Project photos at jessicalifland.smugmug.com/Cowboy-Poetry-Project.

The photo of Andy Hedges and Ian Tyson is courtesy of Andy Hedges.

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This 1942 photograph by John Vachon (1914-1975) is titled “Lewiston, Montana (vicinity). Judith Mountains.” It is from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) collection at The Library of Congress.

Find an interesting video and more about the FSA collection at The Library of Congress “Documenting America, 1935-1943: The Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photo Collection,” loc.gov/rr/program/journey/fsa.html.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this post and photographs with this poem, but for other uses, request permission. The John Vachon photo is in the public domain.)

CATTLE, by Berta Harte Nance

cattle2019

CATTLE
by Berta Harte Nance (1883-1958)

Other states were carved or born
Texas grew from hide and horn.

Other states are long and wide,
Texas is a shaggy hide.

Dripping blood and crumpled hair;
Some fat giant flung it there,

Laid the head where valleys drain,
Stretched its rump along the plain.

Other soil is full of stones,
Texans plow up cattle-bones.

Herds are buried on the trail,
Underneath the powdered shale;

Herds that stiffened like the snow,
Where the icy northers go.

Other states have built their halls,
Humming tunes along the walls.

Texans watched the mortar stirred,
While they kept the lowing herd.

Stamped on Texan wall and roof
Gleams the sharp and crescent hoof.

High above the hum and stir
Jingle bridle rein and spur.

Other states were made or born,
Texas grew from hide and horn.

…by Berta Hart Nance

In his 1941 book, The Longhorns, J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964) writes, “The map of Texas looks somewhat like a roughly skinned cowhide spread out on the ground, the tail represented by the tapering peninsula at the mouth of the Rio Grande, the broad head by the Panhandle. But ‘Cattle,’ by Berta Hart Nance, goes deeper than the map.”

Berta Hart Nance (1883-1958) was the daughter of a rancher, who was also a Confederate veteran, Indian fighter, and cousin of Jefferson Davis,” according to the Handbook of Texas, which includes more about her life and writings. In 1926, her book-length poem about Texas, The Round-Up, was published, She had two other books of poetry published,
and her work was included in many anthologies.

Andy Hedges recites the poem on a recent Cowboy Crossroads podcast that also includes an interview with Joel Nelson.

Linda Marie Kirkpatrick recites the poem on Volume Six of The BAR-D Roundup” from CowboyPoetry.com.

Find more about Berta Hart Nance and her poem at cowboypoetry.com.

This circa 1904 photograph by W.D. Harper is titled “Open range branding” and summarized, “Photograph shows cowboys branding cattle on the open range in the Texas panhandle.”

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

>>>This is a scheduled post. We’ll be back Monday.

THE OLD HANDS, by Vess Quinlan

vessquinlanphoto by P’let Tcherkassky

 

THE OLD HANDS
by Vess Quinlan

It’s good to set and listen
to their talk of long ago,
these men with skin like leather
and hair as white as snow,

to hear how the world was run
a little different then,
produced a tougher breed of cattle
and a rougher sort of men.

The cows were lean and ringy
and working ’em was hard;
you could melt a hundred head
and not get a pound of lard.

There were damn few gentle horses
like we’re used to now;
it don’t take much to figger horses
had to match with man and cow.

A horse was five or six years old
before they’d run him in;
the idea of starting colts
was considered wrong back then.

Their days were long and lonesome
and the camps were far away;
they got to town about once a month
to spend the hard earned pay.

But the thing you hear most often
is the whole damn deal was fun,
in spite of winter’s biting cold
and summer’s scorching sun,

In spite of rank and spoiled horses,
or maybe ’cause of them.
You wonder if you’d have made a hand
had you lived back then.

You say you wish the old days
would come rolling back around
to see who could stay the camp
and who’d go back to town.

A grey head shakes, “No son,” he says,
“Not that, leastways not to the letter.
We done some things the way we did
’cause we just didn’t know no better.”

© 1990, Vess Quinlan, from The Trouble with Dreams
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Colorado rancher, writer, storyteller, and poet Vess Quinlan has been described, “Vess Quinlan is an American Cowboy Poet, who is widely considered to be one of the most respected poets of his genre.” There is no argument with that.

Find more poetry by Vess Quinlan in our feature here.

In July 2019, Andy Hedges’ Cowboy Crossroads podcast aired an outstanding interview with Vess Quinlan. It is filled with thoughtful insights about work, cowboys, poetry, and people in general. You’ll hear about his family’s and his own history and learn something about his perseverance and the wisdom he’s gathered. Listen to the episode here.

Find Vess Quinlan’s recitation of his poem, “The Barn Cats” and find more video at the Western Folklife Center’s YouTube channel. Vess Quinlan has been a part of all but two of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gatherings.

The above photo of Vess Quinlan is by artist and friend-to-many Californian P’let Tcherkassky, taken at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. Find more about her at paulettespalette.net.

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(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photograph with this post, but for other uses, request permission.)

Vess Quinlan: Three Poems

vessquinlankr
photo © 1993,  Kent Reeves; request permission for reproduction; find more below

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POEMS

The Old Hands
Mamma’s Cowboy
The Soul of a Cowman

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THE OLD HANDS
by Vess Quinlan

It’s good to set and listen
to their talk of long ago,
these men with skin like leather
and hair as white as snow,

to hear how the world was run
a little different then,
produced a tougher breed of cattle
and a rougher sort of men.

The cows were lean and ringy
and working ’em was hard;
you could melt a hundred head
and not get a pound of lard.

There were damn few gentle horses
like we’re used to now;
it don’t take much to figger horses
had to match with man and cow.

A horse was five or six years old
before they’d run him in;
the idea of starting colts
was considered wrong back then.

Their days were long and lonesome
and the camps were far away;
they got to town about once a month
to spend the hard earned pay.

But the thing you hear most often
is the whole damn deal was fun,
in spite of winter’s biting cold
and summer’s scorching sun,

In spite of rank and spoiled horses,
or maybe ’cause of them.
You wonder if you’d have made a hand
had you lived back then.

You say you wish the old days
would come rolling back around
to see who could stay the camp
and who’d go back to town.

A grey head shakes, “No son,” he says,
“Not that, leastways not to the letter.
We done some things the way we did
’cause we just didn’t know no better.”

© 1990, Vess Quinlan, from The Trouble with Dreams
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

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MAMMA’S COWBOY

It’s been over fifty years
and mamma blushes like a teen,
red as a desert sunset,
when one of her brothers says,
remember the time Bearcat Bearden
fell in love with Marjorie,
hung around the telephone office
all winter just to walk her home.

I am a son amazed,
not to learn that mamma
had a boyfriend before dad
but at the idea of old Bearcat,
who would saddle a horse
to ride to the outhouse,
walking her home.

© 1990, Vess Quinlan, from The Trouble with Dreams
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

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THE SOUL OF A COWMAN

When we had enough of shopping,
grew tired of “Don’t touch that,”
“Behave yourself” and “Come back here”
little guy and I escaped, set off afoot
down a handsome tree lined street,
the best town offers with great white homes
and yards penned in by wrought iron.
Little guy took in the plenty grass,
and said, “Grandpaw where are all the horses?”
I swelled with pride to know that genes ran true
and the soul of a cowman was in that child;
barely two he damn sure knew what grass was for.
Then thoughts of pure clean genes running true
vanished in an old man’s grin of understanding.
Raised water short on our desert outfit,
the poor little buckeroo had never seen a lawn.

© 1990, Vess Quinlan, from The Trouble with Dreams
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

vessquinlanphoto by P’let Tcherkassky

Colorado rancher, writer, storyteller, and poet Vess Quinlan has been described, “Vess Quinlan is an American Cowboy Poet, who is widely considered to be one of the most respected poets of his genre.” There is no argument with that.

In July 2019, Andy Hedges’ Cowboy Crossroads podcast aired an outstanding interview with Vess Quinlan. It is filled with thoughtful insights about work, cowboys, poetry, and people in general. You’ll hear about his family’s and his own history and learn something about his perseverance and the wisdom he’s gathered. Listen to the episode here.

Find Vess Quinlan’s recitation of his poem, “The Barn Cats” and find more video at the Western Folklife Center’s YouTube channel. Vess Quinlan has been a part of all but two of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gatherings.

This favorite photo of the book Vess Quinlan carries with him was taken at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering  by Idaho photographer and filmmaker Betty K. Rodgers (imarriedthewar.com):

Quinlan Book B&W© 2010, Betty K. Rodgers; request permission for reproduction

The color photo up top of Vess Quinlan is by artist and friend-to-many Californian P’let Tcherkassky, taken at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. Find more about her at paulettespalette.net.

The circa 1993 photograph of Vess Quinlan at the top of this page is by Kent Reeves from the landmark book Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West, by Anne Heath Widmark, with photographs by Kent Reeves.

Kent Reeves writes in the book’s Acknowledgments, “…I owe my work in this book to all the poets who allowed me to interrupt their lives and who took me in for a few days. I do not feel that I ‘took’ these photographs; I believe that each poet gave them to me.” In addition to Vess Quinlan, the book includes chapters with Buck Ramsey, Wallace McRae, Joel Nelson, Rod McQueary, Linda Hussa, John Dofflemyer, Shadd Piehl, Paul Zarzyski, Sue Wallis, Henry Real Bird, and Drummond Hadley.

See a gallery of photos from the book here and find more about Kent Reeves at cowboypoetry.com, at his site cowboyconservation.com, and on Facebook.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photograph with this post, but for other uses, request permission.)

WHEN YOU’RE THROWED, by Bruce Kiskaddon

jmr816photo © 2016, John Reedy; request permission for use

WHEN YOU’RE THROWED
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

If a feller’s been astraddle
since he’s big enough to ride,
And has had to throw a saddle
onto every sort of hide;
Though it’s nothin’ they take pride in,
most of fellers I have knowed,
If they ever done much ridin’,
has at various times got throwed.

It perhaps is when you’re startin’
on a round up some fine day,
That you feel a bit onsartin’
’bout some little wall eyed bay.
Fer he swells to beat the nation
while yore cinchin’ up the slack,
And he keeps a elevation
in your saddle at the back.

He starts rairin’ and a jumpin’
and he strikes when you git near.
But you cuss him and you thump him
till you git him by the ear.
Then your right hand grabs the saddle
and you ketch a stirrup too,
And you aim to light astraddle
like a wholly buckaroo.

But he drops his head and switches
and he gives a back’ards jump.
Out of reach your stirrup twitches
and your right spur grabs his rump.
And, “Stay with him!” shouts some feller.
But you know it’s hope forlorn.
And you feel a streak of yeller
as you choke the saddle horn.

Then you feel one rein droppin’
and you know he’s got his head,
And your shirt tail’s out and floppin’
and the saddle pulls like lead.
Then it ain’t no use a tryin’
for your spurs begin to slip
Now you’re upside down and flyin’
and horn tears from your grip.

Then you get a vague sensation
as upon the ground you roll,
Like a vi’lent separation
twixt your body and your soul.
And you land again a hummick
where you lay and gap fer breath,
And there’s sumpthin’ grips your stummick
like the awful clutch of death.

Yes the landscape round you totters
when at last you try to stand,
And you’re shaky on your trotters
and your mouth is full of sand.
They all swear you beat a circus
or a hoochy koochy dance,
Moppin’ up the canyon’s surface
with the busom of your pants.

There’s fellers gives perscriptions
how them bronchos should be rode.
But there’s few that gives descriptions
of the times when they got throwed.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

Andy Hedges has a fine recitation of this cinematic poem in his current “Cowboy Crossroads” podcast. The episode (#47) includes a captivating interview with musician and songwriter Ned LeDoux, who talks about his ranch upbringing; his famous father, rodeo champion, singer-songwriter, and artist Chris LeDoux (1948–2005); and performs a new song, “The Next in Line.”

This poem was printed in Kiskaddon’s 1924 book, Rhymes of the Ranges, and John Lomax included a version of it in 1919 in Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp.

As we’ve told many times about Bruce Kiskaddon, he 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 classic poems.

In the new triple-CD set from cowboypoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, Randy Rieman recites “When You’re Throwed” and other top poets and reciters present over 60 Kiskaddon poems.

Find more in the Kiskaddon features at cowboypoetry.com.

This great 2016 photograph is by John Reedy, Montana photographer, songwriter, musician, and poet. John and his talented offspring, Brigid and Johnny “Guitar” Reedy, each recite Kiskaddon poems on MASTERS: VOLUME THREE.

See additional impressive photography at John Reedy’s site: reedy.photoshelter.com. Find more about him at cowboypoetry.com and visit twistedcowboy.com.

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

HORSEBACK MAN FOR HIRE lyrics by Joel Nelson

56422388_10157228903175859_8628109163269980160_nApril, 2019 photo of Randy Rieman, Joel Nelson, Sean Sexton,
and Andy Hedges, courtesy of Andy Hedges

HORSEBACK MAN FOR HIRE
lyrics by Joel Nelson

Twenty miles away the R.E.A.
Ran out of poles and wire
I earn my pay the cowboy way
I’m a horseback man for hire
Yipee-yi-yay
I’m a horseback man for hire

Where I was born every saddle horn
Had a rope tied hard and fast
All the boots were worn – all the shirts were torn
And we held on to the past
Yippee-yi-yay
We held on to the past

Now I take my turns and the mulehide burns
When I need to slip a coil
I play my gig in a double rig
I’m a grandson of the soil
Yippee-yi-yay
I’m a grandson of the soil

I’m no one’s fool – I’ve been to school
I’ve taken my degree
But the cattle bawl and the coyote’s call
Are the things that beckon me
They’re the things that call to me
So I step astride and I start my ride
While the sun is still asleep
I’m bonafide – I been certified
And my roots run mighty deep
Yippee-yi-yay
My roots run mighty deep

I don’t need to smoke your weed
To get me feelin’ right
Just a canvas bed to lay my head
When the stars come out at night
Yippee-yi-yay
With the dipper shinin’ bright

Bridge:
My thumbs ain’t flexed cause I don’t text
Your emails leave me cold
Go lick a stamp that’ll find my camp
On a letter I can hold
Yippee-yi-yay
Send a letter I can hold

I like a good book by my chair
I like hot tea by the fire
Where I can read without a care
When the wind – howls – through – the – wire
Cause I’m a horseback man for hire

Your gilded halls and shopping malls
Can’t hold me very long
So I quit the scene of fine cuisine
To be where I belong
Yippee-yi-yay
Out here’s where I belong

I got a darn good life and a darlin’ wife
She sets my heart on fire
She’s a pretty thing and she wears my ring
She’s horseback and for hire
Yippe-yi-yay
She’s a horseback girl for hire

When I cease to be you can bury me
Or build a funeral pyre
Just scatter my ash and divide my cash
With a horseback man for hire
Yippe-yi-yay
With a horseback man for hire

Bridge:

I need lots of space from the human race
I need solitude from the multitude
I need reverie on the lone prairie
These are things that – I – require
I’m a horseback man for hire
Yippee-yi-yay
I’m a horseback man for hire and
You can’t take it away
I’m a horseback man for…
Hire

© Joel Nelson, used with permission

Songster Andy Hedges’ rendition of rancher, horseman, and poet Joel Nelson’s lyrics is a standout on his new Shadow of a Cowboy album.

Western Horseman recently debuted the song and quoted Andy Hedges:

Joel Nelson wrote the lyrics to “Horseback Man for Hire,” and I heard him sing it a cappella…It stayed in my mind…I’m honored to be the first person to record it.

I believe Joel is one of the most important cowboy poets out there today. He’s a thoughtful writer, wonderful reciter, and a respected horseman and working cowboy.

Find the song and Western Horseman article by Jennifer Denison here.

Find more about Joel Nelson at cowboypoetry.com.

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Shadow of a Cowboy is as entertaining as it is authentic. Selections draw from the deep roots of traditional country, cowboy, folk, and Western music. The tracks stretch from Teddie Blue Abbott through Pete Seeger to Tucker Zimmerman and beyond as Andy Hedges interprets the past and creates new sounds.

When asked about the overall inspiration for this CD, he comments, “This record was a bit of a hodgepodge of songs that I had collected but I think a theme began to arise in that the songs came from a variety of sources and spanned several eras. I had a vision to do an album of songs that show that the cowboy music tradition has continued from the trail driving era to the 1920s-30s to the 1950-70s to the present day…”

That earliest period is represented by “The Ogallaly Song,” a traditional piece included in the classic We Pointed Them North book by E.C. “Teddie Blue” Abbott. Abbott writes, “I never counted the verses…but you could keep on singing it all night.” Hedges captures that sense.

An unbroken thread of connections among musicians and songwriters weaves through “Shadow of a Cowboy.” The title track, a song by Tucker Zimmerman, came to Hedges when he contacted Zimmerman about another of his songs, “Oregon,” also included in this project. Andy Hedges tells that he knew “Oregon” from Derrol Adams’ recording. He says, “Derroll Adams was Ramblin’ Jack’s old banjo playing partner and they traveled to Europe together in the 1950s.” Billy Faier, known for his work with Pete Seeger, has his “Song of the Cuckoo” included, and the tag at the end is from “912 Greens” by Ramblin’ Jack.

So much is packed into the ten tracks of Shadow of a Cowboy. The varied songs flow and  invite repeated listening. As in earlier projects, inspired, ethereal harmonies of Alissa Hedges add layers of interest to a number of her husband’s tracks. Designer Dirk Fowler’s spare and evocative art reflects the soul of the project.

Other songs include “The Horsetrader’s Song” by prolific songwriter and musician Jimmy Driftwood; Carter Family member Sara Carter and her husband A.P. Carter’s “Lonesome Pine Special”; and folksinger and rodeo cowboy Peter LaFarge’s vivid tale of “Iron Mountain.”

Two other outstanding tracks are the collaborations with two additional respected cowboy poets, John Dofflemyer and Waddie Mitchell. Andy Hedges says of “Tennis Shoes,” Dofflemyer’s tribute to a friend, “…I don’t believe that I changed a single word. The music came easily for this one.”

“Long Johns On,” from words written by Waddie Mitchell and further enlivened with a melody suggested by Alissa Hedges, is unforgettable fun. Really unforgettable; it has genuine–yet delightful–ear worm qualities. Find a video performance of it from the Western Folklife Center’s 2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

That humorous gem brings to mind the work of the late, great, beloved Glenn Ohrlin, music historian, performer, friend of Andy Hedges, and one of his heroes. Earlier this month, he paid tribute to him at the Ozark Folk Center. You can’t help but wish that Glenn Ohrlin was still around to hear “Long Johns On” and this entire album.

Someone once wrote about Glenn Ohrlin that he created “…a style that is at once powerful and understated.” And that comment could serve as well as a perfect description of Andy Hedges and the impressive Shadow of a Cowboy.

Find more at andyhedges.com and while you are there, be sure to tune into his “Cowboy Crossroads” podcasts, which are valuable and entertaining visits with cowboys, poets, musicians, and other representatives of the working West.

(Please respect copyright. You can share these lyrics and this photograph with this post, but for other uses, request permission.)

COWBOY LAUNDRY, by Rodney Nelson

rodneyandy.jpgRodney Nelson and Andy Hedges at the 2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering; photo courtesy Andy Hedges

COWBOY LAUNDRY
by Rodney Nelson

Brides-to-be have much to learn,
there’s more to marriage than joy—
especially if the mate she’s found
is a sure-nuff country boy.

She’s no doubt optimistic—
oblivious to her fate…
The dangers that will come to pass
she can’t anticipate.

She dreams of newborn colts and calves,
anticipation makes her grin—
But ranch life quickly dims these myths
and reality sets in.

There’s calves to work, cows to feed,
meals are often late.
Unpaid bills, and drought and dirt
are things she learns to hate.

It starts when “hubby” saunters in,
a guy she’s never seen unclean—
He’s reeking and he’s filthy,
and she thinks it’s kinda mean…

When he piles his duds upon the floor
and gives her a big squeeze,
says “I need clean clothes in the morning,
so wash these up, if you please.”

She’s gotta pick them off the floor,
though the thought makes her kinda sick,
She thinks she sees them crawling,
so she jabs ’em with a stick!

She’s gotta get them to the washer,
though it fills her heart with dread—
She shuts her eyes and throws ’em in…
lightness fills her head!

But like a dose of smelling salts,
the odor jolts this lass,
It’s made up of sweat, of grease, or crud—
and stuff that once was grass!

There’s pine-tar too, and branding smoke,
horse sweat and a drained abscess,
Diesel fuel and scouring calves,
and a shot of KRS.

But the task is still unfinished,
as she is well aware,
there’s one more chore, for on the floor,
lies her hubby’s underwear!

She’s seen some Hitchcock movies,
storms have caused her awful fright,
But nothing she has seen before
has prepared her for this sight!

An older, wiser ranchwife
would read them like a book—
she’d know he’d oiled the windmill,
and with another look…

She could see old Brownie had thrown him
by the telltale gumbo mud—
And he’d repaired another prolapse
’cause the front was stained with blood.

There are countless other stories
that a cowboy’s briefs could share
Like if he had been eating chili
or had a real bad scare!

But the new bride lacks the knowledge,
and in her frenzied state,
She grabs them with a plier
and shows them to her mate.

“Don’t jump to conclusions, Hon,
you know what that stain means…
I wasn’t careful where I sat
and it soaked on through my jeans.”

She just can’t quite believe it,
and she’s plum filled up with doubt—
She says “If what you say is true, my dear,
you wore this pair inside out!”

Oh, it won’t be long ’til scenes like this
will be common to the bride—
and countless other problems
she’ll learn to take in stride.

Yes, she’ll see her share of troubles
that the coming years will bring—
But if she can handle COWBOY LAUNDRY,
she can handle anything!

© 1995, Rodney Nelson
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Of all the poems that have appeared on the ten volumes of The BAR-D Roundup CDs from CowboyPoetry.com, this one by Rodney Nelson, North Dakota rancher, poet, columnist, and Senior Pro Rodeo champion, receives the most radio play. Rodney’s long-suffering wife has been the subject of some of his other poems and perhaps inspired this one.

Don’t miss his friend, popular poet and ranch wife Yvonne Hollenbeck’s own poetic response to this poem in the Tri-State Livestock News.

Rodney Nelson is featured in the current episode of Andy Hedges’ Cowboy Crossroads podcast. In the wide-ranging interviews Rodney talks about his rodeo career, his parents, his earliest connections to poetry, and the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (where the interview was recorded). He tells an amusing story about Wilfred Brimley, a touching story about his mother, and an inspiring story about his wife and the power of music.  Explore the 45 other episodes with Dave Stamey, Waddie Mitchell, Ross Knox, Joel Nelson, Mike Beck, Gary McMahan, Corb Lund, Jerry Brooks, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Don Edwards, Michael Martin Murphey, and many others.

Rodney Nelson writes the popular “Up Sims Creek” column in Farm & Ranch Guide and he has two volumes of collected columns. Find more about Rodney Nelson, some of his poetry, and information about more of his books and CDs at CowboyPoetry.com.

You can catch Rodney Nelson and Andy Hedges together at the second annual Texas Hill Country Cowboy Gathering, November 8-9, 2019, in Fredericksburg, Texas. They’ll be joined by Mike Beck, Brigid and Johnny Reedy, Joel Nelson, Cowboy Celtic, Kristyn Harris, Pipp Gilette, Sourdough Slim, and Mike Blakely.

Thanks to Andy Hedges for sharing this photograph from the 2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

(You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please request permission for any additional uses.)