USELESS QUESTION and TEXAS ZEPHYR by S. Omar Barker

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USELESS QUESTION
by S. Omar Barker

No Texan ever asks you where you’re from. In fact they say
He views such questions as but idle chatter.
Because if you’re from Texas, you will tell him anyway,
And if you’re not, it really doesn’t matter.

TEXAS ZEPHYR
by S. Omar Barker

To figure how hard the wind blows out on the Texas Plains,
You hang a fresh-killed beef up with a pair of logging chains;
And if, on the morning after, you find your beef’s been skinned,
And you have to ride to find the hide, there’s been just a little wind!

…poems courtesy of the S. Omar Barker Estate, used with permission.
These poems should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Though he hailed from New Mexico, S. Omar Barker seemed to know something about Texas. He was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America, Inc. and many of his poems were published by Western Horseman. Find more about him at cowboypoetry.com.

On MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, the poetry of S. Omar Barker, Texan Kay Kelley Nowell recites “Useless Question” and Texan Linda Marie Kirkpatrick recites “Texas Zephyr.”

Both Kay Kelley Nowell and Linda Kirkpartick are involved with new Texas gatherings.

Kay Kelley Nowell is part of the committee for the new Lone Star Cowboy Gathering in Alpine, Texas, formed by an energetic group of people in response to this year’s retirement of the venerable Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The event is scheduled for February 21-22, 2020. Visit their site for more information and stay tuned for more news here.

Linda Kirkpatrick is a part of the lineup for the first annual Winnsboro Cowboy Poetry Gathering at the Winsboro Center for the Arts, October 19, 2019. She’ll be joined by Lavern “Straw” Berry, Joe Dan Boyd, Teresa Burleson, Don Cadden, Bob Campbell, Allan Chapman, “Doc” Davis, Pipp Gilette, Chris Isaacs, Gary Robertson, Hailey Sandoz with Kristin Harris, Jay Snider, Doug Tolleson, and Conrad Wolfman.

And the Texas Hill Country Cowboy Gathering, started last year and already making its mark as a don’t-miss event, holds its second annual gathering November 8-9, 2019, in Fredericksburg. The lineup includes Mike Beck, Andy Hedges, Brigid and Johnny Reedy, Joel Nelson, Cowboy Celtic, Krystin Harris, Pipp Gilette, Sourdough Slim, Rodney Nelson,
and Mike Blakely.

This c. 1901 photograph by William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) is titled “A group of Texas cowboys” at The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection.

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

Events: Gatherings and More

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We welcome your event date and link for cowboy poetry and Western music events. Please send information at least several weeks before your event. Email us.

We regret that we can’t list individual performers’ or groups’ shows or “shows” that have just one or two performers or groups, including house concerts; those are too numerous for us to maintain. (We do welcome information for established venues with a roster of regularly-scheduled programs, even if those programs feature just one or two performers. The season’s schedule is welcome, at least several weeks before the season begins.)

We sometimes include other events of interest, such as rodeos and art shows.

We will consider separate blog posts with event information. Please send the announcement in plain text, not in graphic or pdf format. You can attach a logo, photo or graphic.

Be sure to include date, times, ticket information, a description, and performers’ names, along with contact information: a phone number, email address, or web link that can be posted.

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MY FATHER’S HORSES, by DW Groethe

myfathers2019photo © 2015, John Michael Reedy; request permission for use

MY FATHER’S HORSES
by DW Groethe

It must’ve been a day
for peace an’ reverie
When my father took a pencil in his hand
an’ scribed upon his notebook,
all the horses that he’d had
when growin’ up in West Dakota land.

I can see him sittin’, thoughtful,
soft smile in his eyes,
As the ponies pranced before him, once again.
Then he jotted each one down,
with a slow an’ careful hand.
Sometimes, horses, can count right up with kin.

Tobe, Frank an’ Muggins,
Daisy I an’ Daisy II,
(his mem’ry felt a breeze that stirred their manes.)
Charlie, Chub an’ Pearl
found their way up to the front
an’ back once more upon the dusty plains.

Prince I an’ II an’ Mike
come lopin’ lightly into view,
he penned their mem’ries, gentle on the page…
a-waitin’ an’ a thinkin’,
he was missin’…just a few
when Queen an’ May neared, nickerin’ thru the sage.

An’ finally, down the draw,
come Thunder, Buck an’ Bill
a’flyin’ like the wind an’ they was one.
then he eased back in his chair,
contemplatin’ all that’s there,
his gatherin’ of the old bunch was all done.

Yeah…it must’ve been a day
of peace an’ reverie,
in his office, at a desk of metal gray,
when the ol’ man made a tally
a-gatherin’ up his cavvy,
One last time, a-fore they slipped away.

© 2007, DW Groethe
This poem should not reprinted or reposted without permission

Eastern Montana ranch hand, poet, and picker DW Groethe told us about this popular poem’s inspiration, “Among the many things I inherited from my father was a box of items from his office desk. In it there was a handful of pens and pencils and a small pocket notebook…On the first page he’d written the names of sixteen horses…the horses he’d grown up with back in the twenties and thirties. I wish I could remember all the
stories he had about them. As it is, all I have is a page in an old worn notebook and a poem to honor their memories.”

DW performs his poetry and music at venues small and large. He’s appeared many times at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and has been invited to the the National Traditional Council for the Arts’ National Folk Festival, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Library of Congress, and other places. He has books and recordings. Find more about him at cowboypoetry.com.

This beautiful June, 2015 photograph is by John Michael Reedy, Montana photographer, songwriter, musician, and poet. Pictured along with the horses are his offspring, the impressively talented Brigid and Johnny Reedy. The young Reedys are just back from performing at the Montana Folk Festival. They perform at events across the West, including the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

See Brigid and Johnny Reedy at the 10th annual Lost N Lava ​Cowboy Gathering,  September 20-21, 2019 and they’ll be at the Texas Hill Country Cowboy Gathering, November 8-9, 2019 in Fredericksburg.

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

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

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU lyrics by Joel Nelson, music by Don Edwards

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photo © 1993, Kent Reeves, used with permission

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU
lyrics by Joel Nelson, music by Don Edwards

You rode the Goodnight-Loving
Went up the Chisholm too
You trailed three thousand to Kansas City
And you wintered with Teddy Blue
Here’s looking at you
Here’s looking at you

You rode with Ranger Goodnight
You helped him tame the land
You learned the Llano Estacado
Just as well as the back of your hand
When you rode for the brand
You rode for the brand

You’ve been three times to Sedalia
With a cook and six-man crew
You came dang near losing the herd and your hair
To a passel of renegade Sioux
But you saw it through
You saw it through

And you courted the dancehall beauties
‘Till they picked your pockets clean
If it happened once you let it happen twice
Up in Dodge and Abilene
And places between
Every place in between

From a heat wave in Palo Pinto
To the frostbite on Raton Pass
You looseherded cattle through a Southwestern drought
In the quest for water and grass
Alack and alas
Huntin’ water and grass

Then you trailed home the fittest survivors
When the word came of late summer rain
And you reveled in respite for weary riders
And three pounds a day in gain
The respite of rain
And three pounds of gain

You drove ‘em up to Montana
Over rivers swollen outta the bank
You started out helping the wrangler’s helper
But you rise right up through the rank
Through the dark and the dank
You rose through the rank

It was a poor way to make a living
And you threatened to quit—but then
When the herd bedded down at the shank of evenin’
You knew you’d do it over ag’in
Through the thick and the thin
You’d do it ag’in

Now a half-dozen generations
Have mourned your passin’ on
But you were just startin’ what still isn’t over
And your spirit saddles up in the dawn
For you are not gone
No you are not gone

We see you in the Steeldust
In the spark flyin’ offfa the show
Maybe we are here livin’ what you never dreamed of
But you lived what we never know
Here’s looking at you
Here’s looking at you

Here’s looking at you—Cowboy
Here’s looking at you.

© Copyright 2001, Joel Nelson, Night Horse Songs, BMI
These lyrics should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

This outstanding cowboy song (listen here) is the result of a collaboration between two of today’s most respected people in the cowboy poetry and music world: Joel Nelson and Don Edwards.

Here’s Looking at You” came from the pen of Joel Nelson, emerging as a song, not a poem. Don Edwards told of his friendly skepticism when Joel Nelson told him he had written a song that he wanted Don to hear. Don admitted he was thinking “A song? Joel’s a poet,” and before he knew it, there was another surprise: Joel pulled out his guitar. Don said at the time, “I’ve known Joel for twenty-five years, and I didn’t know he played the guitar.” His expectations weren’t high. But he went from skeptic to believer quickly.

What followed was what Don describes as a song of “marvelous purity, akin to the works of Don Hedgpeth, JB Allen, Badger Clark, Bruce Kiskaddon,” writers able to make words with “a hundred years wrapped into now.” Don said that he couldn’t get the song out of his mind, and he soon was in touch with Joel to talk about working with the song, saying that he didn’t want to do anything to take away from the near-perfect words. Don’s skillful arrangement makes it impossible to imagine any other tune working with the inspired lyrics.

“Here’s Looking at You” was recorded by Don Edwards on his Saddle Songs II, Last of the Troubadours album. You can listen to it here.  It was also featured last week on Jim and Andy Nelson’s Clear Out West (C.O.W.) radio show and is available in part 4 of the October 15, 2018 archive.

This collaboration was featured in 2008 in a column from CowboyPoetry.com, “Before the Song,” which appeared in the International Western Music Association’s magazine, The Western Way. Find much more about the song and the collaboration in the article here.

Find more about Joel Nelson at CowboyPoetry.com and visit donedwardsmusic.com for more about Don Edwards.

Joel Nelson appears at the Texas Hill Country Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Fredricksburg, Texas, November 8-10, and will be a part of the Western Folklife Center’s 35th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering January 28 – February 2, 2019. The lineup includes 3hattrio, Amy Hale Auker, Mike Beck, Geno Delafose & French Rockin Boogie, John Dofflemyer, Joshua Dugat, Maria Lisa Eastman, Mary Flitner, Jamie Fox & Alex Kusturok, Ryan & Hoss Fritz, Dick Gibford, DW Groethe, Andy Hedges, Brenn Hill, Tish Hinojosa, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Ross Knox, Ned LeDoux, Daron Little, Corb Lund, Carolyn Martin’s Swing Band, Sid Marty, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Gary McMahan, Waddie Mitchell, Michael Martin Murphey, Joel Nelson, Rodney Nelson, Diane Peavey, Shadd Piehl, Vess Quinlan. Halladay & Rob Quist, Henry Real Bird, Brigid Reedy, Randy Rieman, Jake Riley, Matt Robertson, Olivia Romo, Trinity Seely, Sean Sexton, Sourdough Slim, Dave Stamey, Gail Steiger, Colter Wall, Swift Current, and Paul Zarzyski. Find more at
http://www.nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org.

This c. 1993 photograph of Joel Nelson is by Kent Reeves, Cowboy Conservationist, 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 Joel Nelson, the book includes chapters with Buck Ramsey, Wallace McRae, Rod McQueary, Linda Hussa, John Dofflemyer, Shadd Piehl, Paul Zarzyski, Sue Wallis, Vess Quinlan, Henry Real Bird, and Drummond Hadley.

See a gallery of photos from the book on Facebook.

Find more about Kent Reeves at CowboyPoetry.com and at cowboyconservation.com.

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

THE TWISTER by Jay Snider

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THE TWISTER
by Jay Snider

If he bucks me off, he’ll have to shed his skin
Was the claim the twister made
He said,” There ain’t a bronc that’s drawed a breath
Can shake me loose from this Wade”

Strong words like those need provin’, son
Are you sure you’re up to the test
He said “Let’s catch one up, ya’ll stand aside
Watch this bronc rider do the rest”

Well, we were impressed by the twister’s sand
Thought, heck, this might even be fun
So we bunched ‘em up and circled ‘em round
And cut out the little red dun

He’s a spindly, sorta wild eyed colt
Long necked and a little light boned
But every puncher that had tried him before
In one jump, had been dethroned

“He’s bad as they come in these parts”, I said
The twister just shot me a grin
Said “Bad broncs are my business, if he bucks me off
He’ll have to jump right out of his skin”

So Charlie Bob roped him and snubbed him up close
Ole’ Slim got a mouthful of ear
It took Rusty and Bub and ole’ Jake to hold him
While the twister stacked on his gear

Then the twister stepped on, took a mighty deep seat
Charlie Bob pitched him his head
The colt went from round pen floor to tree top high
Then his north end went south instead

I’ve seen cowboys throwed higher and harder
But I can’t remember just when
And I reckon, Ole’ Snake, be a fittin’ name
Cause this colt just shed his skin

The twister, you see, learned his lesson well
‘Cause he now sings a different song
“It takes a plenty bad hombre to throw me off
But it sure don’t take him long”

© Jay Snider, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

This photo of popular Oklahoma rancher, poet, and reciter Jay Snider is from Lawton, Oklahoma, 1979. He told us that the bull “belonged to F&F Rodeo Company and was simply called #33.”

“Twister” is on Volume Nine of The BAR-D Roundup CD from CowboyPoetry.com.

Jay has a recent CD, Classic Cowboy Poetry: The Old Tried and True, which showcases his fine reciting. He delivers poems by Bruce Kiskaddon, Henry Herbert Knibbs, Will Ogilvie, Sunny Hancock, and others, to carry listeners back to time when, to quote Kiskaddon, “cattle were plenty and people were few.”

For a great look at how Jay Snider handles the classics, see a video of him reciting Sunny Hancock’s “The Bear Tale” at the 2010 Western Folklife Center National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Find Jay at Colorado’s 30th annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering, October 4-7, 2018.  Jay joins Dave Stamey, Floyd Beard, Curt Brummett, Kristyn Harris, Sam Noble, Ken Overcast, The High Country Cowboys, Vic Anderson, Mark Baker, Sally Bates, Colt Blankman, Jack Blease, Rick Buoy, Patty Clayton, The Cowboy Way, Sam DeLeeuw, Thatch Elmer, Nolan King, Jo Kirkwood, Susie Knight, Allora Leonard, Maria McArthur, Slim McWilliams, Doc Mehl, Dave Munsick, Gary Penney, Hailey Sandoz, Lindy Simmons, Gail Starr, Miss V – The Gypsy Cowbelle, and Washtub Jerry.

He’ll be at the Red Steagall Cowboy Poetry Gathering, October 26-28, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas along with Yvonne Hollenbeck, Red Steagall, “Straw” Berry, Mikki Daniel, Don Edwards, Bobby Flores, Kristyn Harris, Jake Hooker, Chris Isaacs, Jean Prescott, Dan Roberts, Leon Rausch, and Hailey Sandoz.

November 7-11, 2018, find him at the Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA) World Championship Ranch Rodeo in Amarillo, Texas, along with Adrian Brannan, Kevin Davis, Jeff Gore, Ross Knox, Chuck Milner, Caitlyn Taussig, and Rod Taylor.

Find more about Jay Snider at CowboyPoetry.com and at his web site, jaysnider.net.

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

CATTLE, by Berta Harte Nance (1883-1958)

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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
Hear Andy Hedges’ outstanding recitation of this poem on the current Cowboy Crossroads episode. The episode is part one of a riveting interview with respected cowboy, horseman, reciter, and poet Joel Nelson, made at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering earlier this year. Joel Nelson tells great stories about his earliest ranch memories; time spent with his father, who was a cowboy and deputy sheriff; and about his early cowboying work, including his time at the 06 Ranch; and other formative experiences.

The popular Cowboy Crossroads podcast, a growing, lasting archive of engaging interviews with those involved in the working West and beyond, includes episodes with Don Edwards, Gary McMahan, Waddie Mitchell, Randy Rieman, Dom Flemons, Mike Beck, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Hal Cannon, Andy Wilkinson, Jerry Brooks, Wallace McRae, Amy Hale Auker, Ross Knox, and others.

Find Andy Hedges next at the 9th Annual Lost N Lava Cowboy Gathering in Shoshone, Idaho on September 14-15. The lineup also includes Kristyn Harris, Brigid & Johnny “Guitar” Reedy, John Reedy, Lynn Kopelke, Panhandle Cowboys (Dave Fulfs & JB Barber), Tony Argento, Prairie Wind Coyote (Joseph Sartin & Little Joe McCutcheon), Open Range (Linda Hausler & Ric Steinke), Thatch Elmer and David Anderson.

Andy Hedges has many other performances coming up at interesting venues. See andyhedges.com for his schedule.

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 Texas Almanac, which includes more about her life and writings. In 1926, her book-length poem about Texas was published, “The Round-Up.” She had two other books of poetry published, and her work was included in many anthologies.

Find more about her and her poem at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1938 photograph, “Cattle range on the high plains of the Texas Panhandle,” is by noted Depression-era documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). It’s from The Library of Congress U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs.

Dorothea Lange is best known for her Depression-era photograph of a migrant woman. See that photos and others in a 2013 Picture the West at CowboyPoetry.com.

Find a brief biography of Dorothea Lange, a part of Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl, at PBS. The Museum of Modern Art has a gallery of photos.

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

BOOMER JOHNSON, by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

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BOOMER JOHNSON
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

Now Mr. Boomer Johnson was a gettin’ old in spots,
But you don’t expect a bad man to go wrastlin’ pans and pots;
But he’d done his share of killin’ and his draw was gettin’ slow,
So he quits a-punchin’ cattle and he takes to punchin’ dough.

Our foreman up and hires him, figurin’ age had rode him tame,
But a snake don’t get no sweeter just by changin’ of its name.
Well, Old Boomer knowed his business – he could cook to make you smile,
But say, he wrangled fodder in a most peculiar style.

He never used no matches – left em layin’ on the shelf,
Just some kerosene and cussin’ and the kindlin’ lit itself.
And, pardner, I’m allowin’ it would give a man a jolt
To see him stir frijoles with the barrel of his Colt.

Now killin’ folks and cookin’ ain’t so awful far apart,
That musta been why Boomer kept a-practicin’ his art;
With the front sight of his pistol he would cut a pie-lid slick,
And he’d crimp her with the muzzle for to make the edges stick.

He built his doughnuts solid, and it sure would curl your hair
To see him plug a doughnut as he tossed it in the air.
He bored the holes plum center every time his pistol spoke,
Till the can was full of doughnuts and the shack was full of smoke.

We-all was gettin’ jumpy, but he couldn’t understand
Why his shootin’ made us nervous when his cookin’ was so grand.
He kept right on performin’, and it weren’t no big surprise
When he took to markin’ tombstones on the covers of his pies.

They didn’t taste no better and they didn’t taste no worse,
But a-settin’ at the table was like ridin’ in a hearse;
You didn’t do no talkin’ and you took just what you got,
So we et till we was foundered just to keep from gettin’ shot.

When at breakfast one bright mornin’, I was feelin’ kind of low,
Old Boomer passed the doughnuts and I tells him plenty:
“No, All I takes this trip is coffee, for my stomach is a wreck.”
I could see the itch for killin’ swell the wattle on his neck.

Scorn his grub? He strings some doughnuts on the muzzle of his gun,
And he shoves her in my gizzard and he says, “You’re takin’ one!”
He was set to start a graveyard, but for once he was mistook;
Me not wantin’ any doughnuts, I just up and salts the cook.

Did they fire him? Listen, pardner, there was nothin’ left to fire,
Just a row of smilin’ faces and another cook to hire.
If he joined some other outfit and is cookin’, what I mean,
It’s where they ain’t no matches and they don’t need kerosene.

…by Henry Herbert Knibbs

Henry Herbert 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” and “Where the Ponies Come to Drink,” “The Walking Man,” “Shallows of the Ford,” and “So Long, Chinook!”

Find more about Knibbs and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This poem always brings to mind great cowboy cook, poet, storyteller, and television personality Kent Rollins, whose temperament is the opposite of Boomer Johnson. Kent and Shannon Keller Rollins take their restored 1876 Studebaker wagon to the National Crafts and Cowboy Festival, which happens September 12-October 27, 2018 at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.

Kent and Shannon will be at the festival October 3-27, and Kent also appears during the event in “An Evening on the Trail,” with Gunsmoke star and artist Buck Taylor.

Other performers during the festival include The Western Flyers, Syd Masters & The Swing Riders, Belinda Gail, The Home Rangers, and The Willis Clan.

This 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cook of SMS Ranch making bread in front of chuck wagon. Ranch near Spur, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.

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 here.

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