BLACK DRAUGHT by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

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photos by Kevin Martini-Fuller

BLACK DRAUGHT
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.

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, used with permission

Here’s another “best of the best” for the 16th annual Cowboy Poetry Week 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.

This is one of four poems by Larry McWhorter on the new MASTERS CD. He also recites “Where the Ponies Come to Drink” by Henry Herbert Knibbs.

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 CowboyPoetry.com. The CD is available directly from Jean Prescott at jeanprescott.com and at CD Baby and other outlets.

Find more poetry and more about Larry McWhorter at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photo of Larry McWhorter 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.

More about Cowboy Poetry Week.

Thanks to Andrea Waitley for her kind permissions.

WAITIN’ ON THE DRIVE by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

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photograph by Kevin Martini-Fuller; request permission for use

WAITIN’ ON THE DRIVE
by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

It’s four o’clock when the cook’s bell calls,
Raisin’ cowboys up from their dreams.
I pull on my boots and watch the red dust
Come puffin’ up through the worn seams.

Spring works are on and we’re leavin’ ‘fore dawn
And we won’t strip our kacks ’til night.
As I jingle the horses I wonder
How the bunkhouse looks in daylight.

We’re met with growls from a grouchy old cook
As his “sacred shrine” we invade,
But the table’s stacked high with good steak and spuds
And fresh biscuits he has just made.

We’re no better thought of at the corral
Where the snorts guide our way through the dark.
“Ol’ J.J. today,” I hear David say,
Ol’ Dave’s ride will be no gay lark.

The strawboss aims true as we call our mounts,
Ropin’ horses his privilege for years
‘Cause he knows each horse in the stars’ murky light
By “skyin'” the tips of their ears.

Finally we’re mounted and ready to go
As the cowboss leads out the way.
We ride by the “wagon,” long since retired,
Just a relic of yesterday.

How many good meals were served from its box?
How many good hands called it home?
Though it’s been idle for ten years or more
The sight of it stirs young men to roam.

Ol’ cowboss, he come here just as a kid
Of sixteen short summers or so.
Raised choppin’ rows for his sharecroppin’ pa
‘Til he worked up the nerve to say no.

“I almost went home many times,” he’d say.
“Things was tough on buttons back then.
But I’d think of that hoe and that ten yard sack,
Them rough horses didn’t look so bad then.”

I’ve heard that old story a hundred times
From men showin’ frost in their hair.
Them cotton fields sure made lots of good hands
But I’m happy I wasn’t there.

These thoughts and more kinda flow through my mind
As I sit on this caprock so high.
I run my fingers through Black Draught’s dark mane
And watch the last star wave good-bye.

Shadows stretch out as Ol’ Sol makes his call
Climbing slowly up toward his domain,
And does away with the morn’s early fog,
Remnant of last night’s gentle rain.

Movement catches my eye from the west.
The herd filters out of the brush.
That outside circle’s sure comin’ ’round fast.
I’ll bet due to J.J.’s mad rush.

Cows callin’ calves and hoots from the boys
Are the only sounds that I hear.
Bob Wills’ old fiddle playin’ “Faded Love”
Ain’t as sweet to this cowboy’s ear.

Little white faces made bright by the sun
Bounce high with their tails in the air.
That little red calf’s chargin’ Jake and Ol’ Eight
Bawlin’, “Come on big boy, if you dare.”

And I think as I gaze on the South Pease below,
“I really get paid to do this.”
My wage is low next to that paid in town
But look what those poor townfolk miss.

Well, the herd’s gettin’ near the draw I must guard,
Like many before me have done.
If I don’t get there to head ’em off soon
They’ll sure have a long ways to run.

But ‘fore I drop off I draw a breath of crisp air,
The kind that brought Adam to life,
And I thank God that He made this feller that’s me
As I sit, waitin’ on the drive.

© Larry McWhorter, reprinted with permission
This poem should not be used without permission

The great, late poet and cowboy Larry McWhorter wrote that this poem was “…born from a nostalgia of the deep respect a cowboy has for his heritage. So many little ‘tricks of the trade’ which have been unnoticed or forgotten have played an important part in the development of the American cowboy as an individual.”

He added,”Riding and roping can be accomplished by almost anyone with little regard for anything except the enjoyment of the moment. I’d be willing to bet, however, there is not a ‘cowboy’ anywhere, who, upon performing the most obscure of tasks, doesn’t take a moment to remember the man, horse or situation which taught him those little ‘tricks,’ or feel those mentors looking over his shoulder.”

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.

Find a feature about the CD at CowboyPoetry.com. The CD is available from Jean Prescott at jeanprescott.com.

Read more poetry by Larry McWhorter and more about him at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photo of Larry McWhorter is by Kevin Martini-Fuller, and is a part of the forthcoming CD, Masters, from CowboyPoetry.com, which features recitations by Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens. It will be released this spring, in conjunction with the 16th annual Cowboy Poetry Week, April 16-22, 2017.

Kevin Martini-Fuller has photographed participants at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. See more of his work here.

Thanks to Andrea McWhorter Waitley for her kind permission for use of this poem.