THE HIGH STEPPING KIND by Sunny Hancock (1931-2003)

Hancock Sunny '01-B&W-FINAL-5x5.jpgphoto by Kevin Martini-Fuller

 

THE HIGH STEPPING KIND
by Sunny Hancock (1931-2003)

I was born in the depression
back when times was kind of bad.
Guess I learned the occupation
of cow punchin’ from my dad
Down yonder in the “cedar breaks”
on a “greasy sack” outfit
That was mostly held together
by just work, and hair, and spit.

Back in that stage of history,
at least in my part of the west,
About the time they got you weaned,
why, it was time to leave the nest.
One man was all the labor
those little outfits seemed to need
And a kid my age was nothin’
but another mouth to feed.

Of course that suited me OK
‘cause school seemed pretty slow
And I thought I’d learned most everything
a man had ought to know.
I knew that punchin’ cattle
was the place I’d make my stand
Because by that time I had figured out
that I was quite a hand.
Jobs there were a plenty.
You could find them by the score,
‘Cause we was right there
in the middle of the second world war.
So most outfits was glad to furnish you
with meat and beans
With all the cowboys in the army,
or the navy, or marines.

I hit a salty outfit
I’d heard was rougher than a cob.
The boss said, “Sure, unload your saddle, kid;
you’ve found yourself a job.”
When he talked about the horses
I thought he must have read my mind
Because he asked me
if I could ride that old “high steppin’” kind.
Well, sir, I then informed him
in a voice not meek nor small
That that’s the kind
I figured suited me the best of all.
I said I liked ‘em energetic
and so that’s the kind I’d pick
Because I was built plumb forked,
kinda like a witchin’ stick.

This outfit had been a breeding up
their horses quite a spell,
And they raised the kind
they figured suited these parts pretty well.
You see, they needed something big
and stout, but also they’d allow
That he must have speed and quickness
for to catch and work a cow.
So they got some thoroughbred remount studs
to start this herd of theirs,
And then bred ’em to a bunch
of big old feather-legged Percheron mares.
I’ll tell you, they was catty
and would near outpull a truck.
They could make them long old circles,
and they sure knew how to buck.

Next mornin’ we had breakfast
quite awhile ahead of dawn.
Boss led me out a horse
and said his name was Leprechaun.
And the reason that they’d named him
that, he said was pretty clear,
‘Cuz if you didn’t take his head right quick
it just might to disappear.

So while you’re riding out today,
why just keep a looking around
You’ll see a bunch of little holes
that’s been punched into the ground.
They wasn’t made by badgers
nor by prairie dogs he said,
And they’re just about the same size
as a braggin’ cowboy’s head.

And this old pony, Leprechaun,
he muttered through his nose,
Is probably responsible
for a-quite a lot of those.
Well, I rode that horse that mornin’
down through draws and over knolls.
We didn’t gather many cattle
but we sure drilled lots of holes.
And every day you had to watch it
’round the rope corral, you see,
When we caught horses it was rainin’
and it was mostly rainin’ me.
All them other cowboys got to followin’ me around,
and… do you know why?..
They figured I’d been busy
takin’ lessons “how to fly.”

It was just plumb entertaining,
and I heard one feller say
That he allowed as how
that I was flying further every day.
Another boy piped up then
with a Sunday school smirk,
and said, “Kid, your flyin’s really somethin’,
but, Man, them landings need some work.”

Then the conversation
took another nasty little twist
When the cook said he thought
he’d maybe add some bird seed to his list
‘Cuz if I really started flyin’,
and it seemed as if I might
He could scatter some along the ground
for the times I chose to light.
I don’t know why I didn’t quit,
I know wasn’t pride
Hell, I’d lost all that
when I couldn’t find no horses I could ride.
Nor the reason wasn’t all them
wrecks and spills I took;
I was either bruised or peeled up
some most anyplace you’d look.

I guess the reason was
that if I didn’t stick around
And let ‘em run me off
I knew I’d never live it down.
So when I thought it over
why, I reckoned as of how
I’d called the dance tune
so I guessed I’d pay the fiddler now.
But no matter what you’re doin’,
even if it’s hard or rough,
You’re bound to get some better
if you practice long enough.
And let me tell you, pardner,
down among them rocks and cactus
Them old ponies was a-making sure
I got a lot of practice.

But then one morning early,
why, I pretty nearly crowed
When a big black horse took to me
and I finally got one rode.
I guess it weren’t no time for crowin’
‘cause I heard one feller drawl
Old Hoss thought there was four or five up there
and he couldn’t throw ‘em all.

Then the jigger boss he said to me,
with a sorta sideways glance
You quit whippin’ on them horses’ heads
with the ass end of your pants
But an horse took to me one day
out on the roundup ground.
And someone said, watch it kid,
your ass is gettin’ out of round.

So my luck had got some better
and it seemed that as of late
I didn’t spend all my time
clutterin’ up the real estate.
When they pulled the wagon in that fall,
it was snowy, cold, and damp
And I asked the boss what the chances was
of a winter job in camp.

The old boy looked me over
kind of searchin’ like and slow,
And I figured from the look I got
he was ’bout to tell me no.
But he scratched his head a little,
then he bit him off a chew.
Then he said, “Well now, young feller,
I’ll just tell you what I’ll do.

“I’ve got a camp still open over
on the Peach Springs side,
And I might just let you have it
and some horses you can ride.
Because you just might make a cowboy,
or at least that’s my suspicion
So I’ll keep you through the winter,
only just on one condition.

“You see, this or any outfit
that a man is apt to find
Is always gonna have a few
of that old high steppin’ kind.
But I want you to promise me
that when you go down the pike
You’ll never tell nobody else
that that’s the kind you like.”

I kinda looked down at my boot toes
and I nodded my ascent.
And I’ve been to lots of outfits since,
but no matter where I went
I just tried to ride what they drug out to me
and not to pay no mind,
But I never told ‘em,
“Yeah, I like that old high steppin’ kind.”

…Sunny Hancock
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

South Dakota rancher, poet, and musician Robert Dennis reminded us of this poem by the late Sunny Hancock.

Sunny Hancock, in his book, Horse Tracks Through the Sage, a collection of his poems and Jesse Smith’s poems, writes about this poem, “This is a true story. I left home when I was pretty young and this is kinda the way things happened. I see kids around now at the age I was then and most of them still need a babysitter when the folks are gone.”

Sunny Hancock’s best-known poems include “The Bear Tale” and “The Horse Trade.” Our 2014 Facebook post of “The Horse Trade” continues to be one of our most viewed posts.

Sunny Hancock cowboyed all over the western U.S. and after he retired, he and his wife Alice settled near Lakeview, Oregon. He was invited to the first Western Folklife Center National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1985. He was a part of many other gatherings and he received the Gail Gardner Award from the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. 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.

Today there is an annual Sunny Hancock/Leon Flick Memorial Cowboy Poetry Show that honors the poets’ memories and raises funds for a local cowboy crisis/scholarship.

The poetry of Sunny Hancock is featured in the first MASTERS CD from
CowboyPoetry.com, along with that of the late Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens.

Find more of Sunny Hancock’s poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photo of Sunny Hancock is by top photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed participants of Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. Find some of those photos at his site.

Kevin Martini-Fuller will have a special exhibit of his work at the upcoming 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 28, February 2, 2019. Find more about the event at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org.

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

KINDRED SPIRITS by J. B. Allen (1938-2005)

Allen, J.B. #551-'03-5x5

photo ©  Kevin Martini-Fuller

KINDRED SPIRITS
by J. B. Allen (1938-2005)

The spotted heifer missed the drive
and spent the winter free,
‘Though freedom’s price was willow bark
then sprigs of filaree
That finally showed beneath the snow
before her strength played out.
And green-up brought a fine bull calf
to teach the maverick route.

They fattened on the meadows
of the high Sierra’s flanks
In the company of a maverick bull
that drifted from the ranks
Of cattle across the great divide
turned loose to make their way
And lost amongst the canyons
that were strewn in disarray.

The offspring of this union
proved a wily beast,indeed,
Endowed with instincts from the wild
and blessed with wond’rous speed
That proved a worthy challenge
to the punchers in the hills
Who through the hills spun hairy tales
of wildest wrecks and spills.

But though the issue from the two
was sometimes trapped or caught,
These two ol’ wily veterans
still practiced what they taught,
Spent the winters running free
within their secret haunt
Which held enough to see ’em through
emergin’ weak and gaunt.

For years ol’ Utah searched the range
in futile quest for sign
Of where they spent the winter months a
and somehow get a line
On how they made it every year
and brought a calf, to boot,
‘Til fin’lly one cold, dreary day
it fell to this old coot

To happen on their winter park,
hid out from pryin’ eyes,
And to this day ol’ Utah holds
the key to where it lies.
The kindred spirit, shared by all,
who seek the higher range
Could not betray that cul-de-sac
to folks just bent on change

With no respect for mav’rick ways
or independent thought,
And not one frazz’lin’ idee
of the havoc being wrought
By puttin’ things on schedule,
be it work, or man, or cow,
Till ways that make for bein’ free
are bred plumb-out somehow.

Old Utah turned and trotted off,
to let those old hides be.
His heart a-beatin’ lighter
just a-knowin’ they were free.

© 1997, J.B. Allen
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted 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.

J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in a 2017 CD from CowboyPoetry.com, 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.

Andy Hedges, songster and host of COWBOY CROSSROADS  comments on the CD, “This album represents four of the finest poets to ever come out of cowboy culture. We are not likely to see their kind again and the world should be grateful to Cowboypoetry.com for preserving their voices.”

There’s now a second volume of MASTERS, with the poetry of S. Omar BARKER. The CDs are offered to rural libraries across the West in the CowboyPoetry.com outreach Rural Library Program, a part of Cowboy Poetry Week. They are also given as a thank-you to our supporters and are available for purchase. Find more about both MASTERS CDs here.

This photo of J.B. Allen is by top photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed participants of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. Find some of those photos at his site, http://kevinmartinifuller.zenfolio.com/all-photographs.

Thanks to Margaret Allen for her generous permissions.

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

>>>This is a scheduled post. We’re on a (rare) break, through May 23. There will be scheduled posts, but we won’t be able to fill orders or to respond quickly to email.<<<

THE HORSE TRADE, by Sunny Hancock (1931-2003)

Sunny Hancock

THE HORSE TRADE
by Sunny Hancock (1931-2003)

I traded for a horse one time,
he wouldn’t take no beauty prize;
A great big long-eared, blue roan gelding,
not too bad for weight or size.
I had to make some tough old circles
and this trader guaranteed
This horse would show me lots of country
and not need too much rest or feed.

He said “Now this here ain’t no kids’ horse
but he’ll pack you up the crick,
He will bump up on some occasions
and he has been known to kick.
I wouldn’t trade him to just anyone
without having some remorse
But if you’re a sure enough cow puncher,
mister, he’s your kind of horse.

I stepped on that horse next mornin’;
he began to buck and bawl.
That trader maybe hadn’t lied none,
but he hadn’t told it all.
Because we sure tore up the country
where he throwed that equine fit
And I almost ran out of hand holds
by the time he finally quit.

I guess that musta’ set the pattern;
things just never seemed to change,
Although I showed him lots of country,
every corner of the range.
But every time I’d ride that booger,
why, he’d keep me sittin’ tight.
I knew I’d make at least three bronc rides
‘fore he’d pack me home that night.

Which woulda been OK
with lots of horses that I knowed.
But that old pony had my number;
I’d just barely got him rode.
And the thing that really spooked me
and put a damper on my pride
Was he was learning how to buck
faster than I was learnin’ how to ride.

I pulled into camp one evening;
it was gettin’ pretty late.
I see this grey horse in the corral
and there’s a saddle by the gate.
I looked that grey horse over
and I sure liked what I seen,
Then this kid showed up around the barn;
he musta been about sixteen.

He said he’d lamed that grey that morning
coming down off the granite grade,
And he wondered if I had a horse
I’d maybe like to trade.
He said he didn’t have the time to stop
and rest and let him heal,
And since that beggars can’t be choosers,
he’d make most any kind of deal.

When a feller’s tradin’ horses,
why, most anything is fair,
So I traded him that blue roan
for his grey horse then and there.
But them my conscience started hurtin’
When I thought of what I did,
To trade a “fly blown” dink like that
off to some little wet-nosed kid.

So next mornin’ after breakfast,
why, I tells him, “Listen lad,
If you want to know the truth,
that trade you made last night was bad.
That old blue horse is a tough one,
bad as any one you’ll see.
He’ll kick you, strike you, stampede.
He’s a sorry SOB.

“It’s all I can do to ride him
and I’ll tell it to you straight,
I think you’ll be awfully lucky
just to ride him past the gate.
There’s two or three old horses
out there in the saddle bunch.
They ain’t got too much going for ’em
but I kinda got a hunch

“They’ll probably get you where you’re going
if you just don’t crowd ’em none,
But damn, I hate to see you ride
that blue roan booger, son!”
He said, “I told you there last night
I’d make most any kind of trade,
And I appreciation your tellin’
what a bad mistake I made.

“But my old daddy told me when you’re tradin’
that no matter how you feel,
Even if you take a whippin’
that a deal is still a deal.
That horse, you say has lots of travel,
and he’s not too bad for speed.
Well, sir, I’m kinda’ in a tight
and that’s exactly what I need.

“I traded for him fair and square
and damn his blue roan hide,
When I pull outta’ here this morning,
that’s the horse I’m gonna ride.”
I watched him cinching up his saddle
and he pulled his hat way down,
Stepped right up into the riggin’
like he’s headed straight for town.

Stuck both spurs up in his shoulders,
got the blue roan hair a-flyin’
Tipped his head straight back and screamed
just like a hungry mountain lion.
You know, I’ve heard a lot of stories
’bout the bucking horse ballet.
I’ve heard of poetry in motion,
but the ride I saw that day

Just plumb complete defied description
though I can see it plain,
Like it had happened in slow motion
and was branded on my brain.
I don’t suppose I could explain it
to you even if I tried.
The only thing that I can say is,
by the saints, that kid could ride.

He sat there plumb relaxed
like he was laying home in bed,
And every jump that pony made,
that kid’s a-half a jump ahead.
When it was over I decided
I could learn a few things still,
And I said, “Son, I’m awfully sorry
I misjudged your ridin’ skill.”

He just said, “Shucks, that’s OK, mister,”
as he started on his way,
“But if you think this horse can buck,
don’t put your saddle on that grey.”

© 2002, Sunny Hancock, used with the permission of the Hancock Family

It’s Cowboy Poetry Week, and what better way to celebrate than with this all-time favorite poem. Sunny Hancock, a “cowboy’s cowboy,” was at the first Westerm Folklife Center cowboy poetry gathering in 1985 and was a regular participant for many years. He cowboyed all over the western U.S.and when he retired, he and his wife, Alice, lived outside of Lakeview, Oregon. They were friends and inspirations to many.

The first volume of the MASTERS (2017) CD from CowboyPoetry.com has a recording of Sunny reciting this poem, and others, in front of a live audience at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Gary McMahan tells the poem with music, and you can listen to the entire piece at his site.

Lake County, Oregon’s annual Sunny Hancock/Leon Flick Memorial Cowboy Poetry Show​ (this year July 27, 2018) “… has become an annual cowboy poetry show to remember Lake County poets Sunny Hancock and Leon Flick while raising funds for a local cowboy crisis/scholarship fund…”

Find more about Sunny Hancock at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photo of Sunny Hancock is by top photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed participants of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. Find some of those photos at his site.

(A September, Facebook 2014 post of this poem became our most popular post ever, with currently over 2.6K Likes, and over 7,000 shares. People continue to Like and comment on that post.

We’re not fixated on numbers, but it’s great to see that the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry just crossed the 10,000 Likes marker for its Facebook page, during Cowboy Poetry Week.)

Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but permission should be obtained for any other use.

TRACKS THAT WON’T BLOW OUT by Ray Owens (1934-2007)

Owens, Ray #799-7x5-72

2006 photo by Kevin Martini-Fuller

 

TRACKS THAT WON’T BLOW OUT
by Ray Owens (1934-2007)

I didn’t know him all that long
And maybe not that well
‘Cause how good you really know someone
Is sometimes hard to tell.
But on this one thing I’m certain
There ain’t the slightest doubt
He made some footprints in my mem’ry
And left some tracks that won’t blow out.

She was someone extra special
When I met her, way back then
Over forty years has passed now
But I can still remember when
She was young and shy and smilin,’
The prettiest thing for miles about
That mem’ry still walks through my mind
Leavin’ tracks that won’t blow out.

There’s been a lot of happ’nin’s
I remember through the years
Times my cup was runnin’ over
And some times that brought some tears.
It’s gettin’ on toward evenin’ now;
The sunset could be soon
But somehow I’m still feelin’
Like it’s early afternoon.

I guess that’s ’cause of bein’ blessed
With havin’ lots of friends
And some understandin’ family
On whose love I can depend.
If I was gonna make the trip again
And travel the same route
I’d maybe try a little harder
To leave some tracks that won’t blow out.

© 1996, Ray Owens, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

New Mexico poet Ray Owens, a lifelong student of poetry and the West, is greatly missed by so many friends, fans, and family. A quiet gentleman, he appeared at gatherings across the West, including the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the @Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, the National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration, the @Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering, and appeared at the @estern Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2006. Red Steagall often recites his poetry on his Cowboy Corner radio show.

Ray Owens’ poetry (recorded at the National Cowboy Gathering) is featured in a new CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, and Sunny Hancock. 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.

The CD’s introduction quotes Ray Owens, “all four have left ‘tracks that won’t blow out.’”

MASTERS has been offered to rural libraries across the West in the CowboyPoetry.com outreach Rural Library Program, a part of Cowboy Poetry Week. It was also given as a thank-you to our supporters and is available for purchase. Find more about MASTERS here.

Find more about Ray Owens at CowboyPoetry.com and at RayOwens.net.