Vess_Quinlan-2018#5355-7x5,300photo © 2018, Kevin Martini-Fuller

by Vess Quinlan

The preacher picked us out of a stream
of National Western Stock Show enthusiasts
walking toward the entrance gates
on the icy sidewalk.
He approached spraying spittle,
pointed with a grimy hand,
and shouted loudly.
“Are you people of faith?
Do you believe Madam?”
Uh-oh, I thought,
nobody, but nobody shouts
at Grandma.

Later, over ice cream,
she said, “I’ve been thinking
about that sidewalk preacher
and what he said.
I should have stopped
and told him of our belief.
It is pure faith to turn bulls in with cows
and believe that, come spring, there will be
rambunctious white faced calves bucking
and bawling and butting heads.
When we bury tiny fragile seed
a quarter inch deep in dry soil
we believe a miracle of great lushness
will happen to feed us and our livestock.
Is that not faith?

“When hard times come,
we hang on like leeches
and believe that next year
it won’t hail out our wheat,
or rain on the alfalfa windrows.
Next year the cows will all twin
and we will be able to pay the bank.
Oh yes, I should have told him,
We believe and have great faith
because we are next year people.”

© Vess Quinlan
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Vess Quinlan, respected poet and storyteller, rancher and truck driver, includes this poem in “Letters from Leo” (2014), a limited-edition chapbook of poems and stories.

He told us that the poem contains many direct quotes from his grandmother. The idea of “next year people” was an expression that sprang from the Great Depression; Ken Burns mentions it in his documentary, The Dust Bowl. Vess Quinlan has written other poems about and inspired by his grandmother.

In the landmark book, Between Earth and Sky (1995), author Anne Heath Widmark writes, “The history of Vess’s family, on both sides, reflects the hardships small ranchers have endured in the this century in the West—the subject of some of the poems in Vess’s book, The Trouble with Dreams. During a cowboy poetry gathering in Grand Junction, Colorado, Vess told me that in the 1930s his grandparents on his mother’s side were driven off their land near Pueblo when became overextended buying breeding stock in the good-times twenties…”

Later she quotes him, “Once you destroy a culture, you can never get it back…The sense of place, the sacred, is where a people have lived and worked. Go back to where you lived as a child. What’s happening there is what’s happening to the sacred all over the world.”

That book also contains some of Vess Quinlan’s poetry and excellent photographs by Kent Reeves.

He recites his poem, “Barn Cats,” in a 2019 video from the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Find other recitations on their YouTube channel.

Last July Andy Hedges recorded an engaging interview with Vess Quinlan on his Cowboy Crossroads podcast.

Vess Quinlan has contributed over two dozen stories to RANGE magazine, where his work is featured frequently.

The above 2018 photograph of Vess Quinlan is by Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed participants of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. In 2019, an exhibit of his photographs was mounted at the gathering and throughout the town of Elko, Nevada, home of the gathering.

Now those portraits have been collected in a beautifully designed book, which includes four poems and more than 75 photographs, Portraits of the Gathering.

See the “Portraits of the Gathering” exhibit site, which also includes poetry by the included poets.

Find more of Kevin Martini-Fuller’s works at his site.

Thanks to Kevin Martin-Fuller for his generous permissions.

(Request permission for use of this poem or photograph.)

HABITAT by J.B. Allen

jb-allenkmfphoto © Kevin Martini-Fuller

by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)

We swaller our breakfast and saddle our mounts
By the light of the Milky Way’s glow,
Exuberance drawn from unquenchable founts
In the wake of the season’s first snow.

Cold wind fiercely tugs at my hat’s weathered brim
As we head where the blizzards are birthed,
Faint stars givin’ ground to the east’s glowin’ rim
As we ride saddles now loosely-girthed.

The hooraw subsides as the boss eases up
And we wait the words known from our youth,
Though protocol deems that we’ll not interrupt
Homage earned by those long in the tooth.

We start the day’s drive for the nine jillionth time,
Newly born as them calves ever’spring,
A delicate dance to the spur rowel’s chime
And the drum of the sage chicken’s wing.

That grouchy ol’ cook is a plumb-welcome sight
As dusk draws its cloak ’round the camp,
While the boss sets the guard for the crisp autumn night
By the light of that battered old lamp.

The night’s mighty short when you pull second guard,
Seems you barely git forty-odd winks
Till the wrangler’s a-bringin’ the hosses in hard
And you’re stretchin’ to work out the kinks.

The cycle continues as years slip away
Till we fin’lly let age take a hold,
Content with rememberin’ some near perfect day
And the horses that never git old.

It wasn’t a question of money to burn
Or livin’ on silk-stockin’ row,
Fer choices that’s made in yore heart won’t discern
What the bankers and businessmen know.

The hot summer days and the cold winter nights
Weave a web few attempt to explain,
Fer though some’ll stray t’wards the bright city lights,
Still the code and the feelin’ remain.

© 1997, J.B. Allen, used with permission from The Medicine Keepers (1997)
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Texan J.B. Allen was a working cowboy for over three decades. He was a frequent performer at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and also at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Nara Visa, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings.

His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998. The late Buck Ramsey, in his introduction to the book, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and states, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”

“Habitat” is the first poem in The Medicine Keepers. It was shared widely during Cowboy Poetry Week, with this 1994 video from the Western Folklife Center.

There’s another good audio recording at That site has audio poems and photographs of the poets. It is an outgrowth of an exhibit of noted photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller’s photographs that was mounted at the 2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and throughout the town of Elko, Nevada, home of the gathering.

This photo of J.B. Allen is in that exhibit, used here with the photographer’s permission. Kevin Martini-Fuller has photographed participants of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades.

Find more of Kevin Martini-Fuller’s photos at his site.

J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in a CD from, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs), with an introduction by Jay Snider.

Find more about J.B. Allen at

(Request permission to share this poem or photograph.)


wally-mcraekmfphoto © Kevin Martini-Fuller


by Wallace McRae

Critics claim we write doggerel. To them that’s a curse
As we whittle our ditties in tired meter and
Rhyming’s old fashioned—we’re stuck in the past.
Gotta strike for new heights to make our craft


How many rhymes can you unearth for “horse”?
We must find fresh pathways—carve out a new
Forego out worn metaphors—retire tired cliches
As unnumb cerebrums will uncover fresh

Of retelling the tales of our untrampled West
Like Ves, Paul, and Linda we’ll leave all the
In the dust of the drags in their quest of the muse
We’ll ride at the point and no longer

Those sound-alike words at the end of the line.
Our poems will sparkle, shimmer and
Ah! The critics will love us. We’ll be the rage
Academics will praise us as we mount a new

To convert the whole West to the joys of free verse
Oh, some will resist. They’ll grumble and
As they cling to tradition, bog down in the mire,
Get rimrocked, rough locked, or caught in the
……Gallagher electric fence.

But it’s “Root hog or die,” as the old-timers said
As reps with credentials sort the quick from
……those who gather celestial ranges and are now gone but not forgotten.
Yes! Convert! You wranglers who once tangled with rhyme
‘Cause rhyming ain’t worth a tin Roosevelt
……social program.

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

This is another poem in the week’s theme of “who we are missing at Elko.”

In a conversation with Wallace McRae last year, he mentioned that he thought this poem—which takes on free verse—was one of his best poems, and he gave us permission to share it.

Wally McRae is a third-generation rancher, with a 30,000 acre cow-calf ranch in Forsyth, Montana. He was the first cowboy poet to be awarded the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a recipient of the Montana Governor’s Award for the Arts, and has served on the National Council for the Traditional Arts.

He’s probably best known for his own least-favorite poem, “Reincarnation.”

Wally McRae has a poetry collection, Cowboy Curmudgeon and other poems, and a collection of stories, Stick Horses and Other Stories of Ranch Life. This poem, “Let’s Free Up Our Verse,” appears in The Anthology; Celebrating 30 Years of Wrangling Words from the Western Folklife Center, published in 2014 in celebration of the 30th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Find more about Wally McRae at

While Wally McRae may like to put forth a curmudgeonly exterior, as in the photograph by Kevin Martini-Fuller, his true character is quite the opposite.

Kevin Martini-Fuller has photographed the cowboy poets of the National Cowboy Gathering for 35 years. This photo is included in “Portraits from the Gathering,” a great project of last year’s 35th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which placed photos of poets with audio links around Elko, Nevada, during the event.

Also, check out some chronological portraits and more at the link for Kevin Martini-Fuller’s new project. Find more of his work at his site.


>>>>This is a schedule post while we’re on a break for the National Cowboy Gathering, returning February 4.

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

THE RED COW, by Larry McWhorter

Larry McWhorter002-72dpi
photo © Kevin Martini-Fuller


by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

“I almost put my rope on her once
But then I thought it through.
I had my day in the sun long ago
So I left her for someone like you.”

“Sounds to me like she run you off,”
I said to the silver-haired man.
“Why there ain’t a cowbrute anywhere
Too much for a hand worth his sand.”

We were talking ’bout the Ol’ Red Cow,
Legend ’round these parts,
And it’s been said she’d put fear and dread
In the punchiest cowboys’ hearts.

An old barren cow who’d escaped all the drives
Because she was big, mean and clever.
The manager said she was twelve years old.
The old man said she’d been there forever.

Now legends don’t scare a boy of nineteen
Who thinks he’s the pride of the nation
And I’m thinkin’, “Now, if I pen this ol’ cow
I’ll sure have a good reputation.”

“Where do I find this renegade beast?
This scarlet scourge of the prairie.
Why, I’ll lead the hussy through the bunkhouse door.
You’ll think she was raised on a dairy.

“I’ll bring her in and she’ll bear a grim
‘Cause she’ll know that she’s had her lickin’
For I’m a hand from the faraway land
Where the hoot owls romance the chickens.”

A gleam appeared in the old man’s eye
And he was grinnin’ a little too much.
“Why, I’ll tell you where the Red Cow lives
And while you’re gone I’ll carve you a crutch.

“Oh, and give me your address ‘fore you leave,
You’ll want me to write your folks.”
I left him there to amuse hisself,
I didn’t care for his little jokes.

The Sabbath sun caught me ridin’ Ol’ Gus
Sneakin’ through the brush like a ghost
‘Til we come to the mouth of the canyon
Where the outlaw had been seen the most.

We come upon on old dirt tank
‘Bout halfway up that draw
And standin’ there for her mornin’ drink
Was the biggest cow I ever saw.

Her horns weren’t ripped, she wore no brand
Her ears were long and slick
And I thought of a big ol’ rhinoceros
I’d seen in a Tarzan flick.

Well, I knew if I showed myself to her now
Back up the canyon she’d go
So I eased up high so’s I could drive her down
And I’d catch her in the big flat below.

Well, I cinched up a notch and shook out a loop
And pulled my hornknot tight,
Then I eased Ol’ Gus to the edge of the brush
And showed myself, ready to fight.

She jerked up her head when we come in the clear
And a startled look filled her eyes.
I had to grin for my little ruse
Caught the wily Red Cow by surprise.

She’s scared and confused with no place to hide.
I’ve wrecked her psyche, I think.
But she stood there, sized up her latest of pests,
Then calmly went back to her drink.

We sat there and stared at each other awhile
‘Til the Red Cow had drunk her fill
Then she stretched her back and ever so slowly
Started walkin’, towards me, up the hill.

Why her stride betrayed no fear at all.
It was like she’d been through this before.
‘Bout then I started to doubt my own smarts
And I pondered the Red Cow’s lore.

Her slow steady walk turned into a trot
And her mouth began to foam.
The closer she got the more that I wished
That me and Ol’ Gus had stayed home.

The walls of that canyon somehow looked steeper
And it looked a lot narrower too.
My perception had changed on a whole lot of things
And my brashness I started to rue.

I’d made my brag back at the ranch
‘Bout the worth of a man who would balk.
Now I found myself fallen victim
To my own yappin’ tongue’s foolish talk.

My moment of truth was on me now
And my smarts was fightin’ my pride.
The cow was locked in on me and Ol’ Gus–
Then my outlook was rectified.

The boss hadn’t sent me out here
On the wildcat venture, of such.
If she didn’t bother him then why should she me?
Hell, one ol’ red cow don’t each much.

Fifty feet ‘tween me and the cow
Another thought entered my mind.
There were many like me but this cow that I faced
Was one of the last of her kind.

Who was I to alter her fate?
Her freedom she’d fought long to keep.
Far be it from me to ruin her life.
Oh, I could pen her. But then could I sleep?

I cringed at the thought of a grinnin’ old man
And the scorn I would see in his eye,
But I knew I was right so I tipped my hat
As the famous Red Cow trotted by.

The old man was waitin’ when I rode in,
The bunkhouse door open wide.
“I got things ready for you and your cow!”
A stool and a pail stood inside.

Well he rode me hard and put me up wet
‘Til he seen that my pride was full peeled
But the scorn I expected he never showed.
He said, “Son, I know just how you feel.

“You ain’t the first to change his mind
After doubtin’ the Red Cow’s lore.
Few boys your age have dealt with her kind
But on her coup stick you’re just one more.

“There comes a time in every man’s life
When he’s forced to face his limitation.
Now you feel like a fraud but your judgment was sound
So, Son, you ain’t no imitation.

“Aw, you talked a lot but you took your shot,
Which is more than many have done.
She force fed you crow but that taste we all know
So welcome to the humbled ranks, Son.”

Well the years have gone by and I reckon she’s died,
I know I never saw her again.
But with all my heart I hope that ol’ girl
Never saw the inside of a pen.

And though she’s gone her legend lives on
And I’m proud to be part of her lore
For times have changed and the brute of her kind
Is rarely seen anymore.

The young sprouts now ask me ’bout the cow
And tight-throated I think of that day.
I recall my old friend and what he told me back then.
Then I grin at these pups and I say,

“I almost put my rope on her once
But then, I thought it through …..

© Larry McWhorter, used with permission
This poem should not be re-posted or reprinted without permission

A much loved and respected cowboy’s cowboy, poet, and musician, Larry McWhorter left behind an impressive collection of poetry.

He has commented on this poem, “I had a lot of fun writing and performing this one, especially the parts with the old man. Those old coots loved to give you enough rope to hang yourself with and then watch you trip over the slack before you could get to the tree.”

Texas songster, reciter and poet Andy Hedges gave a fine recitation of “The Red Cow” at the Western Folklife Centers’ 28th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. See it on their YouTube channel.

Larry’s friend, Texas singer and songwriter Jean Prescott produced an impressive double-CD album of his work in 2010, with his recitations and also recordings by some of his friends reciting his work, including Oscar Auker, Red Steagall, Waddie Mitchell, Andy Hedges, and others. Find more about that project at The CD is available directly from Jean Prescott at and at CD Baby and other outlets.

Find more poetry and more about Larry McWhorter at

This photograph of Larry McWhorter is by Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed the cowboy poets of the National Cowboy Gathering for 35 years. Check out some chronological portraits and more at the link for his new project. Find more of his photographs at his site.

>>>>This is a schedule post while we’re on a break for the National Cowboy Gathering, returning February 4.

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

Cowboy Poet Portraits in Tintype


Here’s a great, worthwhile project by Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed the cowboy poets of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Gathering for 35 years (over 40,000 images). Generous to a fault, few people have invested so many of their own resources as he has as he creates and preserves this important history. He could use some support for a new project.

He writes: “To celebrate my 35th year, of photographing Cowboy Poets, I will be making their portraits as a tintype (an antique photo process that dates from the 1860’s)…COWBOY POET PORTRAITS IN TINTYPE will add an ageless quality to the depth and the breadth of my already extensive archive and serve as a visual connection to the timeless quality of the portraits made during the beginning years of this project.”

Also at the link here, check out some chronological portraits (of Ross Knox, Waddie Mitchell, and Walt Cheney); learn a bit of the history of his work; learn about the book being created from the “Portraits of the Gathering”; and more.


A BEAR TALE, by Sunny Hancock

Sunny Hancock

by Sunny Hancock (1931-2003)

I was up in the Sycan Black Hills Camp
workin’ for old Z-Cross,
This was my own piece of country,
I was cook and crew and boss.
The afternoon of that year
was comin’ on as I recall,
Meanin’ summer’d hit the cap rock
and slid right down into fall.

The days was warm and pleasant
though the nights were kinda sharp.
I had a nice snug little cabin
to keep the cold wind off my tarp.
Aspen leaves was turnin’ yellow,
bees was buzzin round the hive,
And it was just one of them there days
when it was great to be alive.

So, I’m a-ridin’ along that mornin’
lookin’ out beneath my hat.
I thought I’d make a little circle
down through Silver Dollar Flat,
And maybe brand some big slick yearlin’
with the address of this farm,
Because I sure did need to limber up
my old stiff ropin arm.

I’d been just kinda’ travelin’
down this little open draw
When I came around a corner
and I’s amazed at what I saw.
I pulled my horse up, sat there a-gawkin’
and my eyes went plumb agog,
‘Cuz there’s a big old brindle he-bear
diggin’ ants out of a log.

My old heart commenced to poundin’
and I couldn’t get ‘nough air,
I knew I’d never have a better chance
to rope myself a bear.
I was trying to jerk my rope down,
my old horse began to dance.
Hell, old Bruin, hadn’t seen me,
he’s still busy diggin’ ants.

I got my rope tied hard and solid
so I said a little prayer,
Then I let out a cowboy war whoop
and I built right to that bear.
The old beast heard me comin’
and he beat it for the trees.
They weren’t no moss a-growin’ on him
and he sure did split the breeze.

But I pulled right in behind him
and like that bible story told,
I cast my bread upon the water,
and it came back a thousand fold!
Well, I pitched the slack right at him
and I turned my pony neat,
And I heard him grunt as he hit the ground
as I jerked him off his feet.

Then I towed him toward the timber
just the way it should be done.
Hell, there wasn’t nothin’ to it;
ropin’ bears is lots of fun.
In the timber I got busy
dodgin’ limbs and brush and such,
And I ain’t had time
to check up on my cargo very much.

I’m gonna start by breakin’ him to lead
or at least that’s what I hope.
Then I looked back and here that bear come
hand over hand right up my rope.
Well things sure started lookin’ different
so I tells him, “OK Bruin,
I’ll start payin’ more attention
to this little job I’m a doin’.

“I’ll just zig and zag and circle some
now you just follow me
‘Cuz you’re about to meet your maker
on some big old Jack Pine tree.”
Well I zigged and zagged and circled
but it seemed to no avail
And next time I checked,
old Teddy’s right behind my horse’s tail.

About that time, why, my old pony
made a funny little jump,
And that old bear he started climbin’
up my rope, across his rump.
I yelled and squalled and hollered
and I slapped him with my hat,
But that old bear was plumb determined;
he’s comin’ right up where I’m at.

You know, I’ve knowed a lot of people
in the hills and on the plains,
and nobody ever told me
I was over blessed with brains.
But it didn’t take no Einstein
with no special high IQ
Nor no call from God to tell me
what that bear was gonna do.

I know a coward’s way out’s a bad one
in most anybody’s book,
But that’s the only route left open now
so that’s the one I took.
I just bailed off and checked it to him,
but a big rock broke my fall.
Old boy, I said, it looks to me
like you just bought it all.

As they went crashin’ through the timber,
why, I realized, of course
That I’d just lost a damn good saddle
and the company’d lost a horse.
And how’s a man supposed to tell it
with the boss astandin’ there
You took a plumb good horse and saddle
and just gave ’em to a bear!

These thoughts and lots more like ’em
kept a-runnin’ through my mind
As I went limpin down that cow trail
tryin’ to leave that wreck behind.
My clothes was sorta tattered
and I’d lost some chunks of hide,
But my body wasn’t hurtin’
near as much as was my pride.

Then I heard a noise behind me
and the sound began to swell,
Back the way that I’d just come from
and I wondered what the hell?
Then I seen my horse a-comin’,
steppin’ lively down the slope
That old bear’s up in my saddle,
got a loop built, swingin’ my rope.

© 2002, Sunny Hancock, used with permission of the Hancock family
This poem should not be re-posted or reprinted without permission.

Respected cowboy and poet Sunny Hancock (1931-2003) left a great body of work, both humorous and serious poems, and countless friends. He appeared at the first National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1985, and returned over a dozen times. He cowboyed all over the western U.S. and settled in Lakeview, Oregon.

For a time, Sunny Hancock performed with fellow cowboys and poets Chris Isaacs and Jesse Smith as “The Cardiac Cowboys” and they made an excellent recording. He and Jesse Smith published a book of their poetry, Horse Tracks Through the Sage, in 2002.

Listen to Sunny Hancock recite his poem at “Portraits of the Gathering, a web site with the photos of Kevin Martini-Fuller, in an town-wide exhibit in Elko, Nevada, by the Western Folklife Center which pairs photos and poets and links to audio. This photo is by Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed gathering participants since 1986.

The poem is also on the MASTERS CD from, which includes the works of Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens.

There are many excellent recitations of the poem, including this one by Jay Snider from the 26th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Each year the Sunny Hancock/Leon Flick Memorial Cowboy Poetry Show remembers the two Lake County, Oregon poets while raising funds for a local cowboy crisis/scholarship fund.”

Find more about Sunny Hancock and read some of his poetry at

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

BLACK DRAUGHT, by Larry McWhorter


by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

“Good Lord, what a dink,” I thought as the boss
Said, “Put that black colt in your string.”
I’d rode lots of duds but none quite compared
To this pitifully ugly, poor thing.

Taylor, he read me just like the Good Book
And probably felt the same way
But his heart beat soft for children and colts
So he took a moment to say,

“Just give ‘im a chance to prove himself, son.
You asked that of me when you hired.
Find out his limits and bring ‘im on slow,
Don’t get him too mad or too tired.

“Just look at that eye all shiny and bright.
Now he won’t win a prize in a ring
But somethin’ about him I kinda like.
Out here show points don’t mean a thing.”

The boys were grinnin’ when I roped him out
And went to the pen that was round.
My face sure got red as I pulled up my cinch
When he squealed and fell to the ground.

And thus we began our rocky romance,
Not liking each other at all.
But somehow that horse was ready to go
When we started workin’ that fall.

I still hadn’t stuck a tag on him yet
But name ‘im I figured I’d ought.
There was but one thing he brought to my mind
So I dubbed him the title, “Black Draught.”

He’d put on some bone and muscle and fat
By the end of our third workin’ season.
The boys still grinned at my little black horse
But now for a different reason.

Ever alert, he was easy to teach.
A pretty good horse he had made.
One day he even out cut Taylor’s ace,
The cowboss then offered a trade.

I thought for a minute and then I said, “No.”
Although it sure made me feel good.
But Hell would freeze over and pigs would fly
‘Fore he packed another man’s wood.

In the evening after we’d stripped kacks and fed
He’d taxi me up to the house.
No saddle, or bit, just denim on hide
Then he with a hose I would douse.

I guess you could say we made quite a team
But friends, he was far from a pet.
If things was just right or I’d fall asleep
He’d still try to pile me off yet.

One day the heirs split up the old ranch
And though I’m not averse to change,
They’d started to ruin a good place in my mind
So I went in search of a new range.

The sad time had come for good friends to part ways
So I went to tell him good-bye.
I stroked his dark hide and felt a wet cheek.
I must have got sand in my eye.

He smelled of my arm and nipped at my shirt.
He’d not seen me like this before
But the realization had just hit me square
That we’d be together no more.

I’d been, seen and done a lot of new things
In the year since I left him behind,
But no matter how I pushed him away
He clung to my heart and my mind.

I met an old friend in Childress one night
And though it might have been tacky,
Before I asked of his wife and his kids
I said, “Tell me Dave, how’s ol’ Blackie?

A look I’d not seen come over his face,
He reached down and got me a beer.
His hand on my back, he led me away
And said, “Let’s go talk over here.

“A few weeks ago we had a big storm
That cloud was a terrible sight
The wind blew real hard, the thunder was loud,
The lightnin’ was flashin’ all night.

“We went out to feed the horses the next day
But Blackie, who always came first,
He didn’t show up with the rest of the bunch.
We started to fear for the worst.

“Taylor and I rode out there and found him.
He lay all alone on a hill.
And, Hoss, there’s no good way to tell you except
To say that he’s layin’ there still.

“A strange thing happened with that little horse.
He sure acted good with you there.
But after you left he turned for the worse.
It seemed like he just didn’t care.

“He’d linger outside the bunkhouse all day
Or aimlessly wander around.
I really think he was looking for you
But you was nowhere to be found.

“Boy, to see the way that little horse wilted,
It sure would have tore you apart.
I’ll always believe that quick lightnin’ bolt
Give rest to a poor broken heart.”

I stood there a while and let it soak in.
My little black horse had gone home.
I’ll always wonder if he’d be alive
If I’d fought that fool urge to roam.

Good horses abound and run through my dreams
But he’s the main memory I’ve got.
He wasn’t the best but he was my ace
And I sure do miss him alot.

If You should call me to ride your range, Lord,
And You have a works in the spring,
I’d sure take it kind, when you hand out the mounts
If Ol’ Blackie was stuck in my string.

© 2000, Larry McWhorter
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Here’s another “best of the best” from much loved and respected cowboy, poet, and musician, Larry McWhorter, who left behind an impressive collection of poetry.

In his book, Contemporary Verse by Larry McWhorter, he comments on this poem, “Ol’ Blackie is the horse who taught me not to judge a book by its cover. His winning personality and heart just kept saying, “Give me a chance and between us we’ll get it done.

“I’ll never forget how one day he really dug in and jerked a crippled Hereford bull into a trailer. There was some timing, leverage, and luck involved, but, still, that little horse didn’t know he was doing something impossible for someone his size….

“Blackie and I had been a lot of miles together and I think he liked me because I believed in him. This poem about him and other poems about him and other poems written about other horses by other poets is, I suppose, our way of getting to ride again.”

Listen to Larry McWhorter recite this poem on YouTube.

The first MASTERS (2017) CD from features recitations by Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens. Find more about it at .

Several years ago Jean Prescott produced an important CD, The Poetry of Larry McWhorter. The CDs include Larry McWhorter’s recorded recitations of his poetry, and eleven of his poems that were never recorded, recited by some of today’s top performers, including Red Steagall, Waddie Mitchell, Chris Isaacs, Andy Hedges, Gary McMahan, Dennis Flynn, Oscar Auker and Jesse Smith.

The CD is available from Jean Prescott at

Read more poetry by Larry McWhorter and more about him here at

This photo of Larry McWhorter is by top photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed participants of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. A current exhibit in Elko, Nevada has many of his photographs displayed around town along with poems by those pictured. See the “Portraits of the Gathering” exhibit site.

Find more of Kevin Martini-Fuller’s photos at his site.

Thanks to Andrea Waitley and Kevin Martini-Fuller for their kind permissions.

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