OL’ PROC, by Wallace McRae

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OL’ PROC
by Wallace McRae

Old-timers in the neighborhood
Would bandy words on who was good
At puncher jobs for hours on end when I was just a kid.
They’d get wall-eyed ‘n paw and bawl
And swear, “By damn I knowed ’em all.
If’n Josh he wasn’t best trailhand, I’ll eat my beaver lid!”

“Down and dirty, I’m the dealer
Old Bob Seward? Best damn peeler
Ever snapped a bronc out, jist give me one he broke.”
“Give you say? That’s what I heard.
You’re right that Bob’s a tough ol’ bird.
But better practice cactus pickin’ and work on your spur stroke.

Cain’t stay astraddle one of his his’n
When he pops the plug and goes t’ fizzin’
She’ll be adios caballo and howdy to the nurse.”
They’d move from bickering bronc peeler
To rawhide hands ‘n fancy heelers.
“Red Carlin?” “Young Mac Philbrick?” They’d testify and curse.

They’d analyze Link Taylor’s cuttin’:
“His bag-splittin’ way of calf denuttin’
Is pure askin’ for trouble, ‘sides he don’t cut by the sign.”
“You cut your calves by the moon?
Keep on night brandin’ and pretty soon
The sheriff’ll change yer address and you’ll be twistin’ hair
and twine.”

On they’d rave and postulate
‘Bout who was fair and who was great.
As they scratched brands in the hot dust, I’d never say a word.
But in their jousting verbal battle,
Among the boasts and barbs and prattle,
I sat in youthful judgment as they sorted out the herd.”

So, I came early to understand
The names of every good top hand.
In my scope of country, from hearing tough hands talk.
But when they’d crow and blow and boast
The one name that came up the most
Was a wily wild horse runner they simply called “ol’ Proc.”

“You boys jist start ’em. I’ll stop ’em.”
Old Proc’d say and then he’d chop ’em
Off at some escape route. He’d wheel ‘n bring them in.
“Proc thinks horse,” I’d heard them say,
And finally there came the day
That I would get to meet this fabled mounted paladin.

My mother’s father, John McKay,
Up and said on fine spring day
While I was staying with them, “Minnie, get your bonnet.”
“Let’s go up by Castle Rock
‘N see some country, visit Proc.
If you’re late, I’ll be upset. You can bet your life upon it.”

He never paused for her reply.
My grandma fussed around and I
Asked grandpa, “Is he the wild horse man?” “That’s him,”
my grandpa said,
As we ricocheted and bounced our way
In a tobacco-stained green Chevrolet
My grandpa told “Proc stories” and chewed and spit and sped.

From all the tales Grandpa told me
I felt like an authority
On this ranahan, Joe Proctor, who came north with Texas cattle.
His wife had been the JO cook.
But Proc had sparked and won and took
Her for his bride. They fought and won the homestead battle.

I couldn’t wait to meet Mr. Proc,
Whose peers all praised his ways with stock.
But when his calloused hand gripped mine, surprise hit me
in waves.
Those old cowboys who cut no slack
Deemed it unimportant Proc was black,
And wasn’t worth a mention that Joe Proctor’s folks were slaves.

© 1992, Wallace McRae
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

View Andy Hedges’ recitation of this poem at the Western Folklife Center’s 2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Earlier this year, Wallace McRae, third-generation Montana rancher and National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, told us about  this poem, which is based on a real person, Joe Proctor, who came up to Montana with Texas cattle. His grandfather talked about him, and told how he and his wife were the only Black people he ever knew.
There was a Black woman who was a cook at an area ranch, and Joe Proctor would ride over to visit her and they eventually married. Some of their descendants still live in the area. Wallace McRae’s grandfather would say that Joe Proctor was widely respected as “a heck of a hand.” Wallace McRae said that Joe Proctor died before he had the chance to meet him, and added that he took a bit of liberty in the poem.

Wallace McRae is most well known for his own least favorite poem, “Reincarnation.” A closer look at his work shows a body of serious work as well as his unique humor.

Find his stirring, masterful poem, “Things of Intrinsic Worth,” performed in 2013 and a part of To the West, a feature-length documentary work-in-progress by H. Paul Moon.

Wallace McRae has retired from public appearances. Find more of his poetry and more about him in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com. He relishes being known as “The Cowboy
Curmudgeon” (which is the title of one of his books). You can share this post, but please don’t otherwise use his poem without permission.

The Western Folklife Center’s 36th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (January 27-February 1, 2020) in Elko, Nevada will have a focus on the historic and contemporary culture of Black cowboys through performances, exhibits, films, and more.

Noted photographer and journalist Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) is most famous for her Depression-era photograph of a migrant woman, and she captured images of other migrants and workers, including cowboys.

This 1936 photo by Dorothea Lange is from The Library of Congress. It is captioned:

Bob Lemmons, Carrizo Springs, Texas. Born a slave about 1850, south of San Antonio, Texas. Came to Carrizo Springs during Civil War with white men seeking new range for their cattle. In 1865, with his master was one of the first settlers. He knew Billy the Kid, King Fisher, and other noted bad men of the border.

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

WE NEVER RODE THE JUDITHS, by Wallace McRae

wallyjbl_091607_Wally_0040_previewphoto © Jessica Lifland; request permission for any use.

 

WE NEVER RODE THE JUDITHS
for Ian Tyson, by Wallace McRae

We never rode the Judiths
when we were grey-wolf wild.
Never gathered Powder River,
Palo Duro, or John Day.
No, we never rode the Judiths
when their sirens preened and smiled.
And we’ll never ride the Judiths
before they carry us away.

Cowboys cut for sign on back trails
to the days that used to be
Sorting, sifting through chilled ashes
of the past.
Or focused on some distant star,
out near eternity,
Always hoping that the next day
will be better than the last.

Out somewhere in the future,
where spring grass is growing tall,
We rosin up our hopes
for bigger country, better pay.
But as the buckers on our buckles
grow smooth-mouthed or trip and fall
We know tomorrow’s draw
ain’t gonna throw no gifts our way.

And we never rode the Judiths
when we were grey-wolf bold.
Never rode the Grande Ronde Canyon
out north of Enterprise.
No we never rode the Judiths,
and we know we’re getting old
As old trails grow steeper, longer,
right before our eyes.

My horses all are twenty-some…
ain’t no good ones coming on.
The deejays and the Nashville hands
won’t let “… Amazed” turn gold.
We’re inclined to savor evening now.
We usta favor dawn.
Seems we’re not as scared of dyin’
as we are of growing old.

I wish we’d a’ rode the Judiths
when we were grey-wolf wild.
And gathered Powder River,
Palo Duro, and John Day.
But we never rode the Judiths
when their sirens’ songs beguiled
And we’ll never ride the Judiths
before they carry us away.

© 1992, Wallace McRae
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

 

Andy Hedges, in his current podcast—the 50th episode of Cowboy Crossroads—recites “We Never Rode the Judiths” as an introduction to his standout interview with the iconic Canadian songwriter, singer, and rancher Ian Tyson.

Tyson tells about his early music career and the other cowboy-influenced performers in Greenwich Village, including Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Peter La Farge, Harry Jackson, and others; Elko and the beginnings of his involvement with the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering; traditional cowboy songs; the genius of Bob Dylan and his influence on his own writing; the creation of “Four Strong Winds”; ageing, and much more. Don’t miss it.

andyian

Andy Hedges’ deep respect for cowboy music and poetry tradition informs all of his podcasts. He’s creating a precious oral history archive that includes interviews with Dave Stamey, Waddie Mitchell, Vess Quinlan, Ross Knox, Joel Nelson, Mike Beck, Corb Lund, Jerry Brooks, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Don Edwards, Michael Martin Murphey, and many others. Find them all here.

Wallace McRae, third-generation Montana rancher and National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow is most well known for his own least favorite poem, “Reincarnation.” A closer look at his work shows a body of serious work, thoughtful poetry.

For a wonderful look at this complex man, watch a recent Western Folklife Center video in which he “… tells a true story about Northern Plains ranching, with a moving tribute to a neighbor.”

His stirring, masterful poem, “Things of Intrinsic Worth,” performed in 2013 and a part of WESTDOCUMENTARY, a feature-length documentary work-in-progress by H. Paul Moon.

Wallace McRae has retired from public appearances. Find more of his poetry and more about him in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com. He relishes being known as “The Cowboy Curmudgeon.” You can share this post, but please don’t otherwise use his poem without permission.

The above photograph of Wally McRae is by popular photojournalist Jessica Lifland (jessicalifland.smugmug.comInstagram) as a part of her Cowboy Poetry Project. Other subjects to date include Sean Sexton, Andy Hedges, Jerry Brooks, Waddie Mitchell, Amy Hale Steiger and Gail Steiger, Rodney Nelson, DW Groethe, Elizabeth Ebert, Henry Real Bird, Doris Daley, Bimbo Cheney, Jack Walther, and Bill Lowman.

Jessica Lifland is one of the official photographers for the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Find her gathering photos and her Cowboy Poetry Project photos at jessicalifland.smugmug.com/Cowboy-Poetry-Project.

The photo of Andy Hedges and Ian Tyson is courtesy of Andy Hedges.

judith

This 1942 photograph by John Vachon (1914-1975) is titled “Lewiston, Montana (vicinity). Judith Mountains.” It is from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) collection at The Library of Congress.

Find an interesting video and more about the FSA collection at The Library of Congress “Documenting America, 1935-1943: The Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photo Collection,” loc.gov/rr/program/journey/fsa.html.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this post and photographs with this poem, but for other uses, request permission. The John Vachon photo is in the public domain.)

REINCARNATION, by Wallace McRae

reinc2019

REINCARNATION
by Wallace McRae

“What does Reincarnation mean?”
A cowpoke asked his friend.
His pal replied, “It happens when
Yer life has reached its end.
They comb yer hair, and warsh yer neck,
And clean yer fingernails,
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life’s travails.”

“The box and you goes in a hole,
That’s been dug into the ground.
Reincarnation starts in when
Yore planted ‘neath a mound.
Them clods melt down, just like yer box,
And you who is inside.
And then yore just beginnin’ on
Yer transformation ride.”

“In a while, the grass’ll grow
Upon yer rendered mound.
Till some day on yer moldered grave
A lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by
And graze upon this flower
That once wuz you, but now’s become
Yer vegetative bower.”

“The posy that the hoss done ate
Up, with his other feed,
Makes bone, and fat, and muscle
Essential to the steed,
But some is left that he can’t use
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground
This thing, that once wuz you.”

“Then say, by chance, I wanders by
And sees this upon the ground,
And I ponders, and I wonders at,
This object that I found.
I thinks of reincarnation,
Of life and death, and such,
And come away concludin’: ‘Slim,
You ain’t changed, all that much.'”

© Wallace McRae
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission
Wallace McRae, third-generation Montana rancher and National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow penned this modern classic. The NEA comments, in a bio,  that “Reincarnation” is, “…a poem destined to outlive him; it has already become part of oral tradition and is recited by cowboys around the country who have never met the author.”

See a fun video of Wallace McRae and Paul Zarzyski performing “Reincarnation” at the 2009 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Wallace McRae will tell you that “Reincarnation” is his least favorite of his poems. For a wonderful look at this complex man, watch a recent Western Folklife Center video in which he “… tells a true story about Northern Plains ranching, with a moving tribute to a neighbor.

For another aspect of his work, view his presentation of his stirring, masterful poem, “Things of Intrinsic Worth,” performed in 2013 and a part of WESTDOCUMENTARY, a feature-length documentary work-in-progress by H. Paul Moon at Vimeo.

Wallace McRae has retired from public appearances. Find more of Wallace McRae’s poetry and more about him in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 2012 photograph, titled, “A lone horse in hill country near the American River at Coloma in El Dorado County, California,” is by Carol M.Highsmith  and included in the Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Find the collection here, where it 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.”

allace McRae relishes being known as “The Cowboy Curmudgeon.” You can share this post, but please don’t otherwise use his poem without permission.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but any other use requires permission. This photograph is in the public domain.)

>>>This is a scheduled post. We’re on a break through September 20.

REINCARNATION, by Wallace McRae

reinc2

REINCARNATION
by Wallace McRae

“What does Reincarnation mean?”
A cowpoke asked his friend.
His pal replied, “It happens when
Yer life has reached its end.
They comb yer hair, and warsh yer neck,
And clean yer fingernails,
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life’s travails.”

“The box and you goes in a hole,
That’s been dug into the ground.
Reincarnation starts in when
Yore planted ‘neath a mound.
Them clods melt down, just like yer box,
And you who is inside.
And then yore just beginnin’ on
Yer transformation ride.”

“In a while, the grass’ll grow
Upon yer rendered mound.
Till some day on yer moldered grave
A lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by
And graze upon this flower
That once wuz you, but now’s become
Yer vegetative bower.”

“The posy that the hoss done ate
Up, with his other feed,
Makes bone, and fat, and muscle
Essential to the steed,
But some is left that he can’t use
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground
This thing, that once wuz you.”

“Then say, by chance, I wanders by
And sees this upon the ground,
And I ponders, and I wonders at,
This object that I found.
I thinks of reincarnation,
Of life and death, and such,
And come away concludin’: ‘Slim,
You ain’t changed, all that much.'”

© Wallace McRae, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission
Wallace McRae, third-generation Montana rancher and National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow penned this modern classic. The NEA comments, in a bio, that “Reincarnation” is, “…a poem destined to outlive him; it has already become part of oral tradition and is recited by cowboys around the country who have never met the author.”

See a fun video of Wallace McRae and Paul Zarzyski performing “Reincarnation” at the 2009 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Find Wallace McRae at the 24th annual Cowpoke Fall Gathering, November 8-11, 2018 in Loomis, California. He is featured along with Paul Zarzyski, Kristyn Harris, Larry Maurice, Bill Brewster, Jeff Severson, and The Heifer Bells. Visit cowpokefallgathering.com, where you can also learn about their school programs.

Wallace McRae will tell you that “Reincarnation” is his least favorite of his poems. For a wonderful look at this complex man, watch a recent Western Folklife Center video in which he “… tells a true story about Northern Plains ranching, with a moving tribute to a neighbor.”

For another aspect of his work, view his presentation of his stirring,  masterful poem, “Things of Intrinsic Worth,” performed in 2013 and a part of WESTDOCUMENTARY, a feature-length documentary work-in-progress by H. Paul Moon.

Find more of Wallace McRae’s poetry and more about him in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 2012 photograph, titled, “A lone horse in hill country near the American River at Coloma in El Dorado County, California,” is by Carol M. Highsmith and included in the Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The collection 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.”

Wallace McRae relishes being known as “The Cowboy Curmudgeon.” You can share this post, but please don’t otherwise use his poem without permission.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but any other use requires permission. This photograph is in the public domain.)

HIRED HAND by Wallace McRae

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HIRED HAND
by Wallace McRae

You know, some men just look like a cowboy,
Though you’d be hard-pressed to say why.
It may be their posture, or bearing,
Or the confident look in their eye.

Since I was needing some ranch help,
I tapped into the cowboy grapevine,
Where every saloon and each bunkhouse
Can transmit, or receive, on the line.

Later on, well, in rolls this pickup
With them buckin’ hoss Wyoming plates,
‘N the hat that the driver was wearing
Looks like a twin of George Strait’s.

There’s rawhide mudflaps on the outfit
And a big gooseneck ball in the back,
A bedroll, a basket-stamped A-fork,
The gun rack’s plumb festooned with tack.

On the windshield’s a Quarter Horse sticker
From clear back in seventy-seven.
“Mighty nice country,” ‘s the first words he spoke
“It sure looks to be a cow heaven.

“I was down at the sale barn in Sturgis
where I hears that yer needin’ a hand,
So I drives up through Belle Fourche and Lame Deer
Maybe thinkin’ to ride for yer brand.

“I’m no hell of a hand now, you savvy?”
(Here he offers a pinch of his snoose.)
“There’s lotsa good hands in the county
‘N I’m just a sorry excuse.

“But all I been’s just a cowboy.
I follered a cow all my life.
I guess if I’d been more aggressive
I’d maybe still have me a wife.

“I lost her ‘n them cows, I guess nine years ago.
She called losin’ our cows the last straw.
She called me a loser (probl’ly she’s right).
And moved back in with the mother-in-law.

“As a hand goes, I guess I’m just av’rage,
Or maybe a notch below that.
I’m partial t’wards lady-broke horses
that couldn’t buck off a man’s hat.

“Now some people brag on their ropin’
That can’t find their way outa town.
Me? If I can’t catch ’em runnin’
I keep chargin’ until they lay down.

“I’d say I’m a lousy horseshoer;
‘N machinery I don’t cotton to.
Do I drink? Well, I ain’t no abstainer
‘N I like to hoist me a few.”

He went on a-jokin’ and jobbin’
With a humorous gleam in his eye.
Damned if I didn’t right away find myself
Laughin’ and likin’ this guy.

I’d had it with all of them blowhards
With them buckles proclaimin’ them “Champ.”
He could roll out his bed in the bunkhouse’
Diogenes could hand up the lamp.

Here for damn sure was the last honest man,
Who was humble—devoid of all guile.
I figured that here was a cowboy
That could do it all…with a smile.

I was led like a poddy to slaughter.
I’m amazed, ‘n I bet you are, too.
The sumbitch was a liar I tell ya,
Ev’ry word that he told me was true!

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

Wallace McRae, third-generation Montana rancher and National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow shared “Hired Hand” in an excellent session at the recent Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Best known for one of his least-favorite poems, “Reincarnation,” he commented that this year at Elko he was sharing some of his lesser-heard poems and graciously gave us permission to share this one.

That said, see a fun video of Wallace McRae, along with his friend Paul Zarzyski performing “Reincarnation” at the 2009  National Cowboy Poetry Gathering:

For a wonderful look at this complex man, watch a Western Folklife Center video in which he “… tells a true story about Northern Plains ranching, with a moving tribute to a neighbor.”

For another aspect of his work, view his presentation of his stirring, masterful poem, “Things of Intrinsic Worth,” performed in 2013 and a part of WESTDOCUMENTARY, a feature-length documentary work-in-progress by H. Paul Moon.

Wally will turn 82 this month, and he says he doesn’t want to be reminded about it. He relishes being known as “the cowboy curmudgeon,” but his work is full of heart that belies any such characterization.

He is the author of a number of books: Stick Horses and Other Stories of Ranch LifeCowboy Curmudgeon, Things of Intrinsic Worth, It’s Just Grass and Water, and Up North is Down the Crick.

Find more of Wallace McRae’s poetry and more about him in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.

This untitled 1939 photo by Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985) is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Farm Services Administration (FSA). It is thought to be from the Quarter Circle U Ranch, Big Horn County, Montana.

Rothstein was a student of Roy Styker, who conceived the documentary photography project for the FSA. Find more about Arthur Rothstein here.

Find more about the photo here.

REINCARNATION by Wallace McRae

wallyrein

REINCARNATION
by Wallace McRae

“What does Reincarnation mean?”
A cowpoke asked his friend.
His pal replied, “It happens when
Yer life has reached its end.
They comb yer hair, and warsh yer neck,
And clean yer fingernails,
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life’s travails.”

“The box and you goes in a hole,
That’s been dug into the ground.
Reincarnation starts in when
Yore planted ‘neath a mound.
Them clods melt down, just like yer box,
And you who is inside.
And then yore just beginnin’ on
Yer transformation ride.”

“In a while, the grass’ll grow
Upon yer rendered mound.
Till some day on yer moldered grave
A lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by
And graze upon this flower
That once wuz you, but now’s become
Yer vegetative bower.”

“The posy that the hoss done ate
Up, with his other feed,
Makes bone, and fat, and muscle
Essential to the steed,
But some is left that he can’t use
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground
This thing, that once wuz you.”

“Then say, by chance, I wanders by
And sees this upon the ground,
And I ponders, and I wonders at,
This object that I found.
I thinks of reincarnation,
Of life and death, and such,
And come away concludin’: ‘Slim,
You ain’t changed, all that much.'”

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

Wallace McRae, third-generation Montana rancher and National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow penned this modern classic. The NEA comments, in a bio here, that “Reincarnation” is, “…a poem destined to outlive him; it has already become part of oral tradition and is recited by cowboys around the country who have never met the author.”

See a fun video of Wallace McRae, along with his friend Paul Zarzyski performing “Reincarnation” at the 2009 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry
Gathering.

Wallace McRae will tell you that “Reincarnation” is his least favorite of his poems. For a
wonderful look at this complex man, watch a Western Folklife Center video in which he “… tells a true story about Northern Plains ranching, with a moving tribute to a neighbor.”

For another aspect of his work, view his presentation of his stirring, masterful poem, “Things of  Intrinsic Worth,” performed in 2013 and a part of WESTDOCUMENTARY, a feature-length documentary work-in-progress by H. Paul Moon.

See Wallace McRae at the Western Folklife Center’s 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 29-February 3, 2018.

Find more of Wallace McRae’s poetry and more about him in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1941 photograph, “Ranch horse on grazing land near Lame Deer, Montana” is by noted photographer Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990). A collection of her photographs at The Library of Congress (www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/womphotoj/wolcottessay.html) tells that she produced more than 9.000 photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) from 1938 to 1942. Find more at a web site created by her daughter.

Find more about the photograph here.

Wallace McRae relishes being known as “The Cowboy Curmudgeon.” Do not use his poem without permission.