A CHANGE OF SEASON
by Smoke Wade
We don’t summer at Chesnim’ these days,
Not since the For’ Service shut ‘er down;
They took away our permit to graze,
Now we pasture on the edge of town.
We don’t fall ride at Cold Springs anymore,
In the teeth of an early winter storm;
Or hitch our boots by the cow camp door,
And play cribbage inside where it’s warm.
We no longer winter by the Snake,
On benches carved below the rim;
The land was sold for the public’s sake,
To the For’ Service and to the BLM.
No, we don’t spring calve on Cactus Flat,
Since it sold to the State Fish and Game;
They say the chinook ain’t comin’ back,
And the cowman must carry the blame.
So, we gather now, at Third and Grand,
A beer garden after the parade;
And, here we’ll make one final stand,
Until this season begins to fade.
© 1994, Smoke Wade, used with permission
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission.
Popular emcee and cowboy poet Smoke Wade was raised on a remote Hells Canyon ranch. He’s written a number of stories about his ranching family for Picture the West and Western Memories at CowboyPoetry.com.
In an introduction to this poem, particularly timely today, he comments on the history of the area and about how the family’s way of life ended in the 1970s:
For ten thousand years, mankind lived along the banks of the Snake River in Hells Canyon, until 1877, when the United States Congress decided it was time to evict the residents of the canyon. They gave the order to the U. S Army, and under the command of General Howard, Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce people were forced to leave their homeland forever.
Over time the canyon once again became populated with outlaws,sourdoughs, miners, horse thieves, homesteaders, sheepherders and cattle ranchers, until almost one hundred years had passed. And then, Congress once again decided it was time to evict the residents of Hells Canyon. This time the order went down to the U. S. Forest Service and one by one the ranches fell, condemned, evicted and forced out,
until today there is little sign left of what we once called home. And thus began our change of season.
One day, at a beer garden after the parade, I noticed a bunch of old cowboys hanging out—talking, remembering old times. It dawned on me that with the fall of the Hells Canyon ranches to the U.S. Forest Service, that these cowboys didn’t have a range to go back to. “A Change of Season” was spawned at that moment.
This photo is of Smoke Wade, age 15, leading a pack string.
Smoke hosts and produces the Cowboy Idol Competition at the Columbia River Cowboy Gathering and Western Music Festival (April 14-16, 2017) at the Benton County Fairgrounds in Kennewick, Washington.This is the competition’s 9th year, and the 14th anniversary of the Gathering.
Competitors have been chosen for Cowboy Idol: poets A. K. Moss, OR; Dick Warwick, WA; Linda Nadon, Saskatchewan, Canada; and Terry Raff, ID; and musicians Paul Larson, SD; Pat Threewit, ID; Ed Wahl, BC, Canada; and Last Ride (Duo) featuring Randy Berg and John Lazzarini, ID.
Find a complete media release from Smoke Wade here.
Performers at the Columbia River Cowboy Gathering include Gary Allegretto, Billy Dean, Lacy J. Dalton, and Mike Morgan.