HE TALKED ABOUT MONTANA, by Elizabeth Ebert (1925-2018

cowboygrabill

HE TALKED ABOUT MONTANA
by Elizabeth Ebert

He talked about Montana
For he’d worked there in his youth,
And you somehow got the feeling
That most of it was truth.
Talked about the things he’d done there,
Memories from a happy past.
Talked about Montana rivers
Running cold, and deep and fast,
About pines upon a hillside
And mountains rising high,
About the endless reaches
Of a blue Montana sky.

Said he left there at the war’s start,
Went to tell his folks good-bye.
Then there was a wartime wedding
To a girl who got his eye.
Said she’d keep the home fires burning,
‘Til the war was past and won,
Wrote her love to him in letters,
Sent him pictures of their son.
And the letters and the pictures
Helped him bear the death and blood.
And he’d dream about Montana
As he slogged through foreign mud.

They would buy a little ranch there,
And he’d teach the boy to ride.
It would be a bit of heaven,
With his family at his side.
But he came home to discover
Someone else was in his place.
She had found another lover.
It was more than he could face
For he was tired of fighting,
So he merely let them go.
It was then he started drinking,
Just to ease the pain, you know.

He’d work a month cold sober,
And then he’d draw his pay,
He was headed for Montana;
But the booze got in his way,
And he never made it out of town,
‘Fore the money all was spent
And he was busted flat again,
And he didn’t know where it went.
So he’d come back asking for his job.
And he’d hope you’d understand.
And you always hired him on again
For he was a darned good hand.

And he’d talk about Montana.
And you’d get a glimmer then,
Of the cowboy that he used to be,
And the man he might have been
Before the war and wife and whiskey
Had bent him out of shape.
Now the war and wife were history
And the whiskey was escape.
But he swore that he was going back
And he’d do most anything
For Montana sure was pretty
When it greened up in the spring.

Then he finally got an offer
To tend a band of sheep.
It was just for winter wages,
Barely paid his board and keep.
But it was in Montana,
So he was on his way,
He could stand to winter woollies,
He would work for little pay,
For he’d be there in the springtime
When the sky turned clear and blue,
And he’d go back to punching cattle
When his winter job was through.

Don’t know why he left the sheep camp,
Started walking into town,
Maybe he just needed whiskey
To wash the lonely down.
Quick come Montana’s blizzards.
Deep falls Montana’s snow.
And unforgiving are the winds
When they once begin to blow.
He’d come looking for his Paradise,
He hadn’t come to die.
But he froze upon a lonely road
‘Neath a cold Montana sky.

© 1997, Elizabeth Ebert, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

South Dakota’s much-loved poet, the late Elizabeth Ebert, was celebrated for her powerful writing as well as her quick wit and humor.

Baxter Black has said of her (and referring to this poem): “To say that I admire Elizabeth’s writing seems meager comment on her talent. She writes from inspiration with such graceful force it’s like her pen has power steering. There are so many first class pieces in her books, most contemporary cowboy poets would covet even just one so good in their armory. If her poems were mountains and the verses peaks, this would be the eagle soaring over all: ‘Before war and wife and whiskey/ Had bent him out of shape/ Now the war and wife were history/ And the whiskey was escape.'”

Listen to her recite this poem in a 1994 video, recently posted on Facebook by the Western Folklife Center.

Her long-time friend, South Dakota poet Yvonne Hollenbeck has an article about Elizabeth Ebert in the current issue of RANGE magazine, with photos and poetry. It begins, “The year was 1929 when four-year-old Elizabeth Summers penned her first poem. The country was headed into the Great Depression and and times were especially hard for farm families on the South Dakota prairie, but she constantly wrote verses noting the struggles as well as the good times experienced during her youth.”

Journalist Carson Vaughan wrote about Elizabeth Ebert in a February, 2017 American Cowboy profile.

Find more about Elizabeth Ebert at CowboyPoetry.com.

This iconic image, c. 1888, titled “The Cow Boy,” is by J.C.H. Grabill, a photographer from Sturgis, Dakota Territory. It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it at .

Grabill worked in Dakota Territory and The Library of Congress maintains an on-line collection of Grabill photographs.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but any other use requires permission. The photo is in the public domain.)

TRUE GRIT, by Elizabeth Ebert (1925-2018)

truegrit

TRUE GRIT
by Elizabeth Ebert (1925-2018)

The crowd had all left the rodeo ground,
Just a bunch of old cowboys were hangin’ around.
Hunkered down on rheumatic haunches,
With balding pates and protruding paunches,
Drinkin’ to the old days way back when
The horses were tougher and so were the men.
And every time that the jug went ’round
The toasts got longer and more profound.
“Here’s to the world’s best buckin’ horse!”
(That was Tipperary, of course.)
“To the Pony Express that carried the mail!”
“To Old Man Chisholm and his trail!”
To ranchers and rustlers and those in between,
To the rivers they’d crossed and the mountains they’d seen.

Then old Bill said, with a hearty burp,
“Let’s drink to the lawmen—to Wyatt Earp
And Morgan, and Doc, and that OK crew,
They were real brave men, but I’m telling you,
The man I remember most of all,
He weren’t no real lawman a’tall.
But that fellow from down at the picture show,
The one that had ‘True Grit,” you know.
I was a lawman once myself.
My guns are at home on the closet shelf,
But if I could ride for the law again
I’d ride in the hoofprints of John Wayne
When he played that Rooster Cogburn fellow.
Now there’s a marshall who wasn’t yellow,
With his reins in his teeth and his guns in his hand
He rode right into that outlaw band.
He was old like me, and tired and fat.
I wish I could make one ride like that!”

Then Ed said, “By pure Providence,
There’s a horse standin’ over along the fence
With a saddle that looks like a pretty good fit
And we’re here to judge if you’ve got true grit.
If you want that ride, you can make it still.”
Old Bill stood up, “By God, I will!
But Rooster Cogburn wore a patch,
And so to make it a fairer match
I’ll stick my glasses here in my pocket,
Then the ride will be square and you can’t knock it;
But when I take them off, of course,
You’ll have to point me toward that horse.
I was a lawman as you well know,
My guns are at home and I’ve told you so
But my pickup truck holds a twenty-two
And an old twelve-gauge, and I’ll make ’em do!”
So they helped him on and he sat up proud,
Said those famous words and he said ’em loud
And they sounded just like poetry.
Said, “Fill your hands, you S.O.B.!”

Then he struck the reins into his mouth
And he kicked that horse and they took off south.
He raised up the shotgun and fired a round,
The fellows they all hit the ground
While the pellets riddled the pickup truck
And the horse went into a crow-hop buck.
Bill might have stuck on, as like as not
He might have stuck on, but he plumb forgot,
Forgot that his teeth were the store-bought kind
And he wore ’em loose so they wouldn’t bind.
They slid from his mouth, still chewin’ that rein
And Bill came down in a world of pain.

His pocket was filled with shards of glass.
His teeth were scattered across the grass.
His hat was smashed and his Sunday clothes
Were spattered with blood from his busted nose.
But he staggered up—to their vast relief.
Said, “A gritty man don’t need no teeth
No glasses neither! You know darned well
He can spot a jug by his sense of smell!”
So they passed it around and they had to admit
John Wayne never had no truer grit.

© 1997, Elizabeth Ebert, used with permission, from Crazy Quilt

South Dakota’s much-loved poet, retired ranch wife Elizabeth Ebert, delighted audiences across the West. She died March 20, 2018, leaving many friends and loving family, and a great body of work.

Read Carson Vaughan’s obituary in the New York Times, “Elizabeth Ebert, ‘Grand Dame of Cowboy Poetry,’ Dies at 93,” and find more here.

Elizabeth Ebert had a wide range, creating memorable poems both serious and humorous. Baxter Black has said of her (and referring to her serious poem, “He Talked About Montana”): “To say that I admire Elizabeth’s writing seems meager comment on her talent. She writes from inspiration with such graceful force it’s like her pen has power steering. There are so many first class pieces in her books, most contemporary cowboy poets would covet even just one so good in their armory. If her poems were mountains and the verses peaks, this would be the eagle soaring over all: ‘Before war and wife and whiskey/ Had bent him out of shape/ Now the war and wife were history/ And the whiskey was escape.'”

Find more about her Elizabeth Ebert at CowboyPoetry.com.

After listening to the MASTERS: VOLUME ONE CD from CowboyPoetry.com, which includes the works of Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens, Elizabeth Ebert commented about three of the poets included, “…I sat at a book table one day with Larry and watched him draw horses and other animals on the white plastic table cloth. He was quite an artist and much too young to die. J.B. fascinated me as he reminded me of a corner post–straight, solid and unmovable. I could not believe that he never wrote down a poem until it was finished in his head, and never changed a word after it was written. And Sunny with that mean look he loved to startle people with when he was really such a sweet guy. We spent a lot of time with him and Alice at gatherings. Out at Prescott [ the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering] he asked if he could do ‘True Grit’ and it just seemed to fit him so well that I never recited it again until after he had died….He was certainly one of a kind.”

Find more about both MASTERS CDs here.

This c. 1922 photograph by the Bain News Service is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. It is described, “Cowboy riding bronco while other cowboys look on.” Find more about it here.

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

WHEN I LEAVE THIS LIFE by Elizabeth Ebert (1925-2018)

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
photo © 2015,  Jessica Lifland

 

WHEN I LEAVE THIS LIFE
by Elizabeth Ebert 1925-2018

When I leave this life as we all must do
…..And this prairie I’ve loved through the long, long years

There’s a single boon that I ask of you,
…..Don’t waste one precious day in tears.
Have a funeral if you feel you must
…..With the usual rituals for the dead,
A plain pine box, not satin-lined
…..But with a blanket, preferably in red.

No cloying masses of hothouse flowers,
…..Just a cluster of bright balloons, and then
No extolling of virtues I never had,
…..Just a simple prayer and a soft “A-men.”
Let the memories be of the happy times,
…..Let the sound of laughter grace the day.
Find an old cowhand with an old guitar
…..To yodel me joyfully on my way.

And later, whenever the time seems right,
…..On a sunny day from a greening hill,
Scatter my ashes into the wind.
…..Then I shall be part of the prairie still.

© 2006, Elizabeth Ebert, from Prairie Wife
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

There’s an empty place in the cowboy poetry world that won’t ever be filled: Yvonne Hollenbeck shared the sad news of the passing of beloved South Dakota poet and ranchwoman Elizabeth Ebert, 93, on March 20, 2018.

A Celebration of Life Service for Elizabeth Ebert will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 24, 2018 at the Calvary Lutheran Church in Lemmon, South Dakota. Find an obituary here.

Elizabeth Ebert introduced this poem in her book, Prairie Wife, writing, “Our youngest daughter has promised that when we die our ashes will be mixed together and scattered on this land that we love so well.” She reminded her family that yesterday would have been her 72nd wedding anniversary. Her husband S.J., about whom she wrote many great and varied poems, died in 2008.

Find some of her poetry at CowboyPoetry.com. Seek out her books and recordings.

Journalist Carson Vaughan wrote about Elizabeth Ebert in a February, 2017 American Cowboy profile, “The Grande Dame of Cowboy Poetry.” He quotes her devoted friend Baxter Black about the first time her heard her perform her poetry, “You could just see a flower growing there out of the rest of us standing around like weeds.”

This photograph by photojournalist Jessica Lifland was taken at the 2015 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. See more of her photos of Elizabeth Ebert in a wonderful collection from a forthcoming project here.