WAITIN’ ON THE DRIVE by Larry McWhorter

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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
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

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It’s the 19th annual Cowboy Poetry Week, and we’re sharing the best of the best.

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.”

The MASTERS (2017) CD from CowboyPoetry.com features recitations by Larry cWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens.

Several years ago Jean Prescott produced an important project, 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 jeanprescott.com.

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

Thanks to Jean Prescott for this photograph and to Andrea McWhorter Waitley for her kind permission for use of this poem.

(Request permission to use this poem or photo.)

THE RED COW, by Larry McWhorter

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photo © Kevin Martini-Fuller

 

THE RED COW
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 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 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.)

THE REAL THING, by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

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THE REAL THING
by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

Have you ever saddled up a horse
You didn’t want to ride,
And gone out where you didn’t want to go?
It’s not a subject much discussed,
This unromantic side,
And only understood by those who know

That empty hollow feeling felt
Of staring at the dark
While hoping that the worst he’ll do is buck.
But you get paid to ride the kind
Who’d rather bite than bark.
You sigh and turn and pray to God for luck.

Have you ever drained the final drop
Out of your coffee cup
While staring at the wind-whipped, driving snow?
You’re warm right now, but that’ll end
By time you’ve saddled up
And then you’ll get the chilling horseman know

Of stinging ears and fingertips
While cold, like novocaine,
Numbs your toes, yeah, you know how it feels.
The cramping in your arches makes
You grit your teeth in pain
‘Til you dismount and walk upon your heels.

Have you ever had your arm so tired
From doctoring all day
You find it hard to build another loop?
You used to think you liked to rope
When it was done for play,
But now you find you’ve come to dread the droop

Of ears or runny eyes and limps.
It never seems to end.
You almost hate ’em just because they’re sick.
But there before you stands one more
There’s no choice but to tend.
You ask your worn out horse for one more lick.

Have you ever felt the urge to quit,
But gone on anyway
And followed through on nothing else but pride?
That’s how it has to be sometimes
When work outweighs the pay,
And you’re not there on just a “whimsy” ride.

You do it even when you know
It’s gonna hurt like hell,
You do it even though you post no score
Except the one inside yourself
Which makes you do things well.
You do it for the men who rode before.

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

The great, late cowboy Larry McWhorter was certainly an authority on “real.” In his 2000 book, Contemporary Verse by Larry McWhorter, he introduces this poem, writing, “As Vess Quinlan would say, ‘This one is more for the ‘ins” thans the ‘bys”…there are certain things only men of the saddle understand and know.”

But it has a universal message, like so many of his poems.

Listen to Red Steagall recite this poem. The recitation is from an important project that popular singer and songwriter Jean Prescott produced, The Poetry of Larry McWhorter. It includes 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 who were his friends, including Waddie Mitchell, Chris Isaacs, Andy Hedges, Gary McMahan, Dennis Flynn, Oscar Auker and Jesse Smith.

The first-in-the-series MASTERS (2017) CD from CowboyPoetry.com features recitations by Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens.

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

Thanks to Jean Prescott for this photograph of Larry McWhorter and to Andrea Waitley for her kind permission for the use of this poem.

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

MASTERS CD Series

 The Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry produces compilation CDs of classic and contemporary poetry recitations. The CDs are offered to libraries in the Center’s Cowboy Poetry Week Rural Library project, given as premiums to the Center’s supporters, and available to the public.

The current CD series is MASTERS.

Coming in 2020:  MASTERS: VOLUME FOUR, the poetry of Badger Clark.

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MASTERS: VOLUME THREE contains over 60 tracks in a three-disc CD of the poetry of  Bruce Kiskaddon. Voices from the past and from today’s top reciters and poets celebrate cowboy poetry’s popular classic poet.  Kiskaddon expert Bill Siems introduces the CD.

Find more about MASTERS: VOLUME THREE here.

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MASTERS: VOLUME TWO (April, 2018) contains over 60 tracks in a double CD of the poetry of S. Omar Barker. Many of today’s top reciters and poets—including individuals,  siblings, couples, parents and children—bring forth Barker’s humor and humanity. Andy Hedges introduces the CD.

Find more about MASTERS: VOLUME TWO here.

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The first CD in the series. MASTERS (2017), includes the works of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens, reciting their poetry in recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs). Jay Snider introduces the CD.

Find more about MASTERS (2017) here.

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Previous to the MASTERS series, the Center produced ten volumes of The BAR-D Roundup.

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The Center’s Cowboy Poetry Week celebration—recognized by unanimous U.S. Senate resolution—is held each April during National Poetry Month. Each year, a compilation CD and the celebration’s poster—by Shawn Cameron in 2019; by Clara Smith in 2018; by Jason Rich in 2017; by Gary Morton in 2016; by Don Dane in 2015; by Jason Rich in 2014; Shawn Cameron in 2013; by R.S. Riddick in 2012, Duward Campbell in 2011, Bill Owen in 2010, Bob Coronato in 2009; William Matthews in 2008; Tim Cox in 2007; and Joelle Smith in 2006—are offered to libraries in the Center’s Rural Library Project. The outreach program is a part of the Center’s commitment to serve rural communities and to preserve and promote our Western heritage.

We need your support to continue and expand these programs. Join us and be a part of it all.

 

ODE TO THE CALF CRADLE, by Larry McWhorter

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ODE TO THE CALF CRADLE
by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

Modern day ranchers are doohickied up
But some gadgets do come in handy.
To have a truck and a trailer with you
On the back side at sundown is dandy.

Them feeders you see on flatbeds now
Sure beat them hundred pound sacks,
Round bales are moved with tractor and winch,
These all save on cowboys’ backs.

The makers of these should see paradise,
St. Pete, let them in if you’re able.
But the fires of Hell won’t be hot enough
For the man who made the calf table.

That heavy, clangin’, foul lookin’ trap
That eats cowboys’ fingers for lunch,
I think it’s alive, for I’ve seen it grin
When my hand it got its chance to crunch.

Oh for the days when the brandin’s were pure,
When the dragger and horse were the kings.
The brandin’ pen was a field of honor
Before that nut forged them foul things.

I’m sure that honyock really meant well.
We all have to do things to cope.
But on their best day, there’s no way they’re faster
Than an old gray haired man with a rope.

The years bring on change and the old ways must fall,
“Efficiency” rules now, I guess,
But that man and his cradle are doing away
With the job that the cowboy loves best.

Now, I’m not one to wish bad luck,
I’ve no use for witch doctor’s powers.
But I hope that feller lives a thousand years
With a case of incurable scours.

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

The last time we shared this poem, Colorado rancher and poet Terry Nash suggested that it would be a good follow-up to Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem (posted Monday) “The Brandin’ Corral.” Thanks to the generous permission of Andrea Waitley, it is a pleasure to share it. As she commented, it is a poem that working cowboys love.

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

Larry McWhorter wrote about this poem in his book, Cowboy Poetry: Contemporary Verse by Larry McWhorter (2000):

I remember Dad telling me about a prospective buyer looking over the ranch he now runs. After an extensive tour of the place, the buyer asked where the calf table was. Dad replied, “I loaned it to a neighbor on the condition he never bring it back!”

I am of the opinion that the only people who don’t enjoy branding calves by dragging them to the fire are a) people who have never been where it was done right or b) people who are not good at it.

I realize circumstances dictate a lot of situations. However, I would almost prefer to be fencing or pulling a windmill to working a calf table. It’s about the same thing to me.

The works of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens are featured in the first MASTERS CD (2017) from CowboyPoetry.com. They recite their poetry in recorded poems, “live” performances, and also recite other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs). Jay Snider introduces the CD.

Larry McWhorter’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.

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

This photo comes from Terry Nash; it’s his current Facebook cover photo. Find more about Terry at CowboyPoetry.com and at his site, terrynashcowboypoet.com.

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

BLACK DRAUGHT, by Larry McWhorter

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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.

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 CowboyPoetry.com 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 jeanprescott.com.

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

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.)

 

JOHNNY CLARE by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

larrymcw

JOHNNY CLARE
by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

In north central Oklahoma
In the land known as the Osage,
The spring and early summer
Rest so easy on the eye.
Where the lush, green, rolling carpet
Marks the passing of Mariah
As she dances, sometimes gently
With the clouds which dot the sky.

Much like a ballerina
She pirouettes and leaps
Across her stage of prairie
And she seems to never pause
While high above the scenery
A hawk critiques the drama
While voicing his approval
Flapping wings in mute applause.

The deer, the birds, the woodchuck
Bear witness from their browsing
As they share their home with cattle,
The stewards of this land,
Who took the place of buffalo
In harvesting the bluestem
After they themselves were reaped
When progress dealt death’s hand.

Should you travel through this country
Heading west toward Ponca City,
Fifteen miles out of Pawhuska
On the highway state funds pave,
Some fifty yards or so due south
Of tar and asphalt ribbon
Amid the grass wild roses grow
And there you’ll find a grave.

It once lay on the open plain
Surrounded by tall bluestem.
There’s now a trap with shorter grass,
Well kept, devoid of weeds.
It seems so humble at first glance,
Steel fence, a cross of concrete.
‘Til close examination shows
A cast-iron plaque which reads:

“Johnny Clare
May 1890–May 1910
Cowboy employed by Dr. Hall
Thrown from his horse and
Killed at this spot
Courtesy, Continental Oil Company.”

To be a cowboy was the call
This young man gladly answered.
He’d not trade lots with anyone.
In life he’d found his pearl.
He loved to ride and rope rough stock
To test his skill and courage,
To polish up the dance floor
With a smiling blue eyed girl.

Young Johnny lived the cowboy’s life
And lived it to the fullest.
His pride would let no brute escape
As long as he drew breath.
So he thought not of consequence,
And outlaw steer his quarry,
And on the warm, spring, Osage day
He died a cowboy’s death.

Dwight Barnard was the man who found
Young Johnny’s prostrate body,
He’d tried to crawl but soon succumbed
To sun and broken bone.
From pulling grass out by the roots
His hands were torn and bloody.
Wild with pain he’d pawed the ground,
Afraid to die alone.

The horse he’d rode still stood nearby,
The outlaw steer stood with him.
A stout length of manila hemp
Was stretched between the pair.
There were no human witnesses
To relay what had happened.
The truth now lives with God above
And died with Johnny Clare.

A tinker happened by the way,
And saw a small crowd gathered.
The group was friends and comrades
Of this young man who’d been slain.
He reached into his wagon box,
Produced a tarp of canvas,
With wagon sheet for coffin,
To rest the lad was lain.

A short time later, lore maintains,
A buckboard journeyed out there.
It carried Johnny’s mother
To his final resting place.
Her black dress blowing in the wind,
It’s said she stood for hours,
Praying and remembering,
As tears streamed down her face.

Beneath the rich, black Osage sod
Her precious son was buried.
The one to whom she’d given life
And nourished from her breast.
And though her sorrow knew no bounds,
There was one consolation,
At least she could die knowing
Where her Johnny lay at rest.

How many young men like her son
Have gone to seek their fortune?
Their siren call a lowing herd,
The whispering prairie wind,
Which beckoned to the spirit
Of the ones who tamed the West.
Who left their loved ones wondering
If they’d ever meet again.

How many young men like her son
Met death upon the prairie?
Their flesh preceding bleaching bone
In melding with the sod.
So let us think of Johnny’s grave
As everlasting tribute
To those unfound whose dying gasps
Were heard by none but God.

In north central Oklahoma
In the land known as the Osage,
The spring and early summer
Rest so easy on the eye.
The lush, green rolling carpet
Covers Johnny Clare, young cowboy.
But his spirit’s free and dancing
With Mariah in the sky.

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

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

Listen to Larry McWhorter reciting this poem here.

He wrote about his inspiration for “Johnny Clare” in his book, Cowboy Poetry: Contemporary Verse, where these words are accompanied by a photo of him at Johnny Clare’s gravesite:

Having been in numerous wrecks and tight spots I have to give thanks to God for protecting me through all of them. Through His grace there was always someone close by the times I was badly hurt.

Anyone who has ever had an angry cowbrute on the end of the their rope knows how fast things can get out of hand. A wreck can occur so quickly you don’t even have time to be scared until it’s over.

Don Wells of Pawhuska, Oklahoma gave me a rough outline of this story and told me where the grave was. Having found the spot, I stood there scanning the surrounding area trying to picture how it might have looked nearly 80 years before.

A genuine chill went through my body as I thought of how Johnny must have felt; unable to move and knowing he might not be found or even missed for days.

I visited with an old Osage Indian who was ten years old when the tinker in the poem came to town with the story. His information was invaluable.

Find more to the story and photographs at CowboyPoetry.com, where there is also more about him and his poetry.

The works of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens are featured in the first MASTERS  Volume 1 CD (2017) from CowboyPoetry.com. They recite their poetry in recorded poems, “live” performances, and also recite other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs). Jay Snider introduces the CD.

Larry McWhorter’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 and at jeanprescott.com.

This photograph is courtesy of Jean Prescott.

Thanks to Andrea Waitley for her generous permissions.

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