BILL BURK’S Rx by Chris Isaacs


by Chris Isaacs

I saw Bill Burk the other day
And we stopped a while to visit.
He says, “I see you’re still packin’ them mules.
Your life’s ambition, is it?

I said, Bill, I think it’s a curse,
These cowboy boots and hats.
You try it once, you’re hooked for life,
And I really think that’s

“Kinda like a vow of poverty
Them monks and friars kae.
It sounds OK a-goin’ in,
But the rewards are all just fake.

“I day-work every spring and fall.
I feed some when it snows.
Then wrangle dudes all summer long,
And pack hunters till that slows.

“Shoe horses for everyone in town,
Till I can’t straighten up my back,
And still when tax time comes around
I’ve gotta go and hock my kack.

“There ain’t no money in it,
That’s for certain and for true,
But I just can’t seem to give it up.
There ain’t nothing else I want to do.”

Now, ol’ Bill, he mulled a bit
On this “condition” we both had.
He shook his head and then he said,
“I know the feeling, lad.

“It’s a sickness lad, that’s for sure;
You’ll have to wait till you die.
It’s worse than whiskey, weed, or dope,
And that’s the reason I

“Think they ought to make a vaccine for it;
Just give you a shot to keep you pure.
‘Cause once you get that ‘cowboyitis’
There dang sure ain’t no cure.”

© 2001, Chris Isaacs
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Cowboy, packer, and popular poet and humorist Chris Isaacs tells, in his book, Rhymes, Reasons, and Pack Saddle Proverbs, that, “I wrote this poem after a visit I had with my neighbor, Bill Burk. I had my horses and mules loaded and was at the Circle K gassing up when Bill pulled up and this conversation took place.”

Chris also shared this photo, and commented, “In some of the steep sided mesas and canyons we have sometimes found this is a good way to go up, easy on the horses and cowboys too. We always called it ‘tailin’ out.'”

See Chris next at the Spirit of West Cowboy Gathering in Ellensburg, Washington, February 16-18, 2018. Chris joins featured performers Wylie and Wild West, Trinity Seely, Lauralee Northcott, Thatch Elmer, Panhandle Cowboys, and Paul Wilson. Daytime performers include Tom Swearingen, Andy Bales, Duane Nelson, Barbara Nelson, Jane Bailey, Kathy Moss, David Anderson and Jenny Lynn, Joe Sartin, Rocking RW, Stan Kvistad, and TR Stewart. Find more at

Chris will also be a part of the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine, March 2-3, 2018.

Chris Isaacs collects stories in his new book, An Element of Truth. Red Steagall writes, “…Chris Isaacs is a master storyteller and poet. He will take you on some incredible journeys….” If you follow Chris on Facebook, you’ll see he’s been in a storytelling mode. Find more about Chris Isaacs in a feature at and at his site,

MICHAEL BIA by Chris Isaacs


photo by Carol M. Highsmith


by Chris Isaacs

You spent your childhood wild and free,
And none of us could then foresee
How you’d touch our lives, or to what degree.
We never knew you, Michael Bia.

You life was in the land and sky;
Vermillion cliffs and mesas high.
These were yours to occupy.
You were of Diné, Michael Bia.

You rode the bulls and rode them well,
But you wouldn’t leave the reservation’s Citadel
Though it was known you could excel.
Ah, you could ride ’em Michael Bia.

The White House called; you left your land,
And off you went to Viet Nam,
To a war you did not understand.
You did your duty, Michael Bia.

You fought with honor and with pride,
But before the fighting could subside
In that far off land, you died.
You gave the ultimate, Michael Bia.

At Window Rock in sixty-eight
They turned a bull out of the gate,
And his bell rang loud to reiterate
Our thank you, Michael Bia.

Diné, and white men, too
Stood and shed a tear for you;
And though your time on earth is through
May God keep you, Michael Bia.

Now often when I think of the past
Or cross that reservation vast,
Or see Old Glory at half-mast,
I think of Michael Bia.

Ya’at’eeh, Hastiin! (Ya-ta-hey, Has-teen!)

© 2001, Chris Isaacs
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.
(Chris notes: Diné is what the Navajos call themselves; it means “The People.”)

Chris Isaacs writes about this poem in his award-winning book, Rhymes, Reasons and Pack Saddle Proverbs:

There are things that happen in our lives that we have absolutely no control over, which become a part of us forever. Such was the case with the poem about Michael Bia.

I got out of the U. S. Marine Corps in January of 1967 just as things were really starting to heat up in Vietnam. Michael Bia was leading the bull riding standings for the AIRCA when he was drafted and sent to Viet Nam just about the time I was discharged. He never came home.

In 1968 my wife Helena and I were at the Fourth of July rodeo in Window Rock, Arizona, where I was entered when something happened that haunted me for years. The Navajo tribe paid tribute to Michael Bia at that rodeo by taking his chaps and spurs and attaching them to a bull with Michael’s bull rope and then turning the bull loose in the arena during a moment of silence. Nothing has ever affected me quite like that short moment of tribute to a fellow cowboy/comrade-in-arms, and I have thought of it many, many times over the years…The first time that I tried to recite it, I broke down and cried, which kept me from trying it again for quite a while. Then in 1997 at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering I was on the Veterans’ Session with Joel Nelson, Rod McQueary, and some others, and managed to get through the entire thing…I have had many Vets thank me for the poem, which means a great deal to me…I did a show near Washington, D. C. a few years ago, and made it to the Wall (the Vietnam Memorial) where I found Michael’s name…

Find more about Chris Isaacs at and visit

This 2006 photo of the Vietnam Memorial is by contemporary photographer, author, and publisher Carol M. Highsmith and included in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive at The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.The accompanying note tells, “Deliberately setting aside the controversies of the war, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the men and women who served when their Nation called upon them. The designer, Maya Lin, felt that the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service and their lives. She kept the design elegantly simple to allow everyone to respond and remember.”

Find more about the photo here.

The Highsmith Archive notes that, “Highsmith, a distinguished and richly-published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Starting in 2002, Highsmith provided scans or photographs she shot digitally with new donations to allow rapid online access throughout the world. Her generosity in dedicating the rights to the American people for copyright free access also makes this Archive a very special visual resource.”

Find more about Carol Highsmith and her work at and on Facebook at Carol M. Highsmith’s America. Find a selection of Memorial Day poems at