TO BE A TOP HAND by Georgie Sicking (1921-2016)


by Georgie Sicking (1921-2016)

When I was a kid and doing my best to
Learn the ways of our land,
I thought mistakes were never made by
A real top hand.

He never got into a storm with a horse
He always knew
How a horse would react in any case and
Just what to do.

He never let a cow outfigure him,
And never missed a loop.
He always kept cattle under control
Like in a chicken coop.

He was never in the right place at the wrong time,
Or in anybody’s way.
For working cattle he just naturally knew,
When to move and when to stay.

I just about broke my neck tryin’,
To be and to do,
All those things a good cowboy,
Just naturally knew.

One day while riding with a cowboy,
I knew was one of the best,
For he had worked in that country for a long time,
Had taken and passed the test.

I was telling of my troubles,
Some bad mistakes I made.
That my dreams of being a top cowboy,
Were startin’ to fade.

This cowboy looked at me and said,
With a sort of a smile,
A sorry hand is in the way all the time,
A good one just once in a while.

Since that day I’ve handled lots of cattle,
And ridden many a mile.
And I figure I’m doin’ my share if I get in the way,
Just every once in a while.

© Georgie Sicking, from Just More Thinking, used with permission.
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Cowboy Poetry Week is a fine time to remember much-loved and much-missed cowboy and Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame inductee Georgie Sicking, who remains a great inspiration to many.

In Tough by Nature by Lynda Lanker, Georgie Sicking told that she was the only woman who ever drew pay on Arizona’s Oro Ranch, where she worked during World War Two. She preferred to be called a “cowboy,” not “cowgirl.”

She was quoted in Tough by Nature, “Some people had the idea that all you had to do to be a cowgirl was put on a pretty dress and a pair of boots and a big hat and get a faraway look in your eyes…and you’re a cowgirl. They’ve been kind of hard to educate.”

Of Ridin’ & Rhymin’, the award-winning documentary about Georgie Sicking by Greg Snider and Dawn Smallman of Far Away Films, Hal Cannon, Founding Director (retired) of the Western Folklife Center, comments, “Georgie Sicking is why ‘to cowboy’ is best used as a verb to explain a work, a life, and a big open land. This film captures her level gazed life in such a powerful way that it defines the American West.” Find a preview of this must-see film here.

Find much more about Georgie Sicking and more of her poetry at

This photo of Georgie Sicking graces the cover of The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Five from The circa 1940 photo was taken at a carnival on her first date with the man who became her husband (photo courtesy of Georgie Sicking and Dawn Smallman).

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

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



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

It’s 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 features recitations by Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens.

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

Read more poetry by Larry McWhorter and more about him at

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

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


THE WEST by Baxter Black



by Baxter Black

They don’t call it Death Valley for nuthin’
And coyotes don’t make a good pet
But livin’ out here with the griz and the deer
you pretty much take what you get

And the Rockies have shoulders like granite
They’re big and they make their own rules
So take what you need but you better pay heed
‘Cause the mountain don’t tolerate fools

And the wind is the moan of the prairie
That haunts and bedevils the plains
The soul stealin’ kind that can fray a man’s mind
Till only his whimper remains

You can stand in the canyon’s cathedral
Where water and sky never rest
And you know in your bones that the meek, on their own
Will never inherit the West

It’s wild and it’s wide and it’s lonesome
Where the dream of first blood still survives
And it beckons to those who can bid adios
To the comfort of 8 to 5 lives

So come all you brave caballeros
Cinch up and reach down inside
Till you feel the heat, then take a deep seat
‘Cause the West, boys, she ain’t broke to ride

© Baxter Black, used with permission

Who better to launch the 17th annual Cowboy Poetry Week with than Baxter Black, who put cowboy poetry on the map.

In his official bio, where he is described as “a cowboy poet, former large animal veterinarian and entertainer of the agricultural masses,” he comments, “My audience is my inspiration. Every cowboy, rancher, vet, farmer, feed salesman, ag teacher, cowman and rodeo hand has a story to tell, and they tell it to me. I Baxterize it and tell it back to ‘em! It doesn’t seem fair, does it?”

He recites S. Omar Barker’s “Cowboy Saying” on the new MASTERS: VOLUME TWO CD from

A few months ago, Baxter asked us to relay this message, a policy announcement: “Since Baxter Black is no longer doing live performances, there are inquiries about others using his material in their performances. His policy is that anyone is welcome use his material in appropriate occasions, including non-profit or paid-for performances. He requests that the poems or stories be performed the way they are written, allowing for editing of length if needed. Please give the author credit.”

His office adds that no one, for any reason, has permission to include his work “on cds, books, or dvds…or to try to sell it in any manner, including online.”

This version of “The West” comes from Poems Worth Saving, Baxter Black’s 2013 collection of 164 poems and stories.

Find more about Baxter Black at and find much more, including a weekly column, at

This photograph is courtesy of Baxter Black.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but request permission for any other use—except recitation.)



by Yvonne Hollenbeck

There’s been a lot of poems and songs
about those cattle drives,
but I’ve never heard a poem or song
about those cowmen’s wives.

Did you ever stop and wonder
about how those guys get fed?
Who boils that brew and cooks the stew
and bakes up all that bread?

Well, I know who and so do you,
so I wrote this little thing
’bout why I’d like to be in Texas
when we round up cows next spring.


In a kitchen in an old ranch house on a cold and autumn day,
sat a bunch of fellers telling yarns about the cowboy way.

They tell of places they have been and country they have seen.
One prefers the Badlands where the grass is never green,

while others tell their windy tales of Sandhills, lush and wet,
as they eat their eggs and pancakes ‘cause it soon is time to get

outside and saddle up their mounts and ready for the ride,
for the roundup is about to start. I too must get outside

and load up all the food and drink and pack it in my truck,
then find a place along the trail where they can stop for chuck.

I’m soon unloading food supplies…it’s not an easy deal
to feed those men while on the trail and plan for every meal.

And when the noon meal’s over, the work is never through;
you have to clean and pack and move the meal site all anew.

They’ll stop the drive at sundown and again they have to eat,
and then I start all over and I’m really getting beat!

They set up camp and bed ‘em tight, some men stay with the cattle;
I head on home to pack more food, for eating’s half the battle.

And while the men are fast asleep, I prepare tomorrow’s menu;
just two more days of rounding up and then this job will be through.

So when you hear those poems and songs about those cattle drives,
just think about the “unsung” ones…’bout the cowman’s wives.

With that I guess I’ll bid “good-bye” and say just one more thing:
I’d sure like to be in Texas when we round up cows next spring!

© 2008, revised, Yvonne Hollenbeck
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Popular cowboy poet and champion quilter Yvonne Hollenbeck delights audiences across the West. Here her latest book and CD are Rhyming the Range. Both collect her original poems. The book includes the most requested poems from her two out-of-print books and all of her newest poetry.

Yvonne is a part of the must-see film, Everything in the Song is True, Doug Morrione’s award-winning feature-length documentary “of four iconic western characters”: Gary McMahan, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Brice Chapman, and Greg Nourse. Find more about the film at and on Facebook.  It’s now available to stream at Amazon.

Find more about Yvonne Hollenbeck and her complete schedule, which includes quilting events, at

Find more of Yvonne Hollenbeck’s poetry at

This photo of twin bull calves was taken in 2016 at the Hollenbeck’s South Dakota ranch, where Yvonne and her champion calf-roper husband Glen raise cattle and quarter horses. Read a recent article about Glen, “Glen Hollenbeck: Still riding for the G2 Brand,” by Hannah Johlman at the Tri-State Livestock News.

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

ROUNDUP IN THE SPRING by Pat Richardson (1934-2016)



by Pat Richardson (1934-2016)

Ropes uncoil in the darkness,
whistle true an’ find their mark
Saddle up an’ snug yer hat down,
make a bronc ride in the dark
Ponies snortin’ in the darkness
hear the spur rowels as they ring
Horse an’ rider work the kinks out,
boys it’s roundup time, it’s spring

Miles away from camp by sunup
dew hangs silver on the grass
A lone mule deer at a distance
stops an’ freezes ’till yer passed
Make a circle change yer mount,
catch a fresh horse from yer string
Days an’ nights all blend together,
boys it’s roundup time, it’s spring

In the evening’ after supper
Bill starts singin’ way off key
But y’ know for some strange reason,
it sounds pretty good to me
In the bunkhouse he gets hushed
every time he tries to sing
But he’s getting’ songs requested
durin’ roundup in the spring

Longtime foes begin’ to visit,
swappin’ stories, lie, an’ brag
An’ the best hand in the crew
takes his turn at ridin’ drag
Every year I’m amazed,
longtime grudges take to wing
An’ the cowboys work together,
boys it’s roundup time, it’s spring

© 1998, Pat Richardson, used with permission

This week we’re celebrating spring.

The greatly missed Pat Richardson, California poet, artist, cowboy, and former Pro Rodeo Sports News cartoonist is better known for his humorous poems, but he wrote in a variety of styles. Occasionally he would write a more serious poem like “Roundup in the Spring” and completely break the mood with a humorous, unexpected last few lines.

Curly Musgrave (1943-2009), also greatly missed, turned this poem into a song called “Boys, It’s Roundup Time,” on his The Heritage CD.

Pat Richardson was known for his deadpan delivery of his humorous poems, and Baxter Black famously said of Pat Richardson’s poetry, “If you boiled cowboy poetry down to what’s worth savin’, this is what the stew would smell like.”

See Pat in action in a video from the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, where he was a frequent performer.

Find some of Pat’s poetry and more about him and his book and recordings at

This 1888 photo from South Dakota, titled “Branding calves on roundup,” is by John C.H. Grabill (1849-1903). It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Grabill worked in Dakota Territory and The Library of Congress maintains an on-line collection of Grabill photographs.

(You may share this poem with this post, but any other use requires permission. The photograph is in the public domain.)


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

nashmcwhorterphoto courtesy of  Terry Nash

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
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without with permission

Colorado rancher and poet Terry Nash suggested that this poem would be a good follow-up to Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem,  “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 loved 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 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

Find more poetry and more about Larry McWhorter at

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

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

RUBY, by Gary Robertson


by Gary Robertson

Ruby was born on the Home Place in ’32
Grandad told Daddy he could call her his own.
From the stories I’ve heard from my Daddy,
From that day on he was rarely alone.

Her mama, she worked ‘tween the traces
So Ruby would be left in the pen
By the time they had worked to the end of a row
That little filly would be right there with them.

Grandad said she was half Pinto ‘n half Whitetail deer
Cleared every fence that they had on the place.
Oh, he’d fuss ’bout just how ornery she was
But always with a smile on his face.

When it came time for breakin’ ‘n trainin’
Daddy swears she taught him how to ride
Still today when talks ’bout Ruby
His eyes, they just light up with pride.

See, they were playmates, ‘n buddies, ‘n partners
Each gettin’ so much more than they gave
They were young, they were strong, they were carefree
They were innocent, they were brave.

With his rifle, a sack lunch, ‘n a bottle of pop
They’d set out at the first light of day
‘Though he was a kid, there was work to be done
But still time for adventure ‘n to play.

Dad would ride Ruby, as he followed the cows
That grazed on the south railroad lease
Some days he was a drover on the Old Chisholm Trail
Some days, Tom Mix, keepin’ the peace.

Folks, Ruby gave him his first taste of freedom
She gave him her soul ‘n her heart
He gave her his dreams ‘n his boyhood
Took a war to pull them apart.

His first year away, he built airplanes
The next four, fightin’ the war.
By the time he got home, missed a third of her life
‘N maybe a few months more.

His first day back, he walked out to the trap
Whistled her up, ‘n let out a yell
She picked up her head, took a few halting steps,
Then came runnin’, like a bat out-a Hell.

Their reunion was sweet, but a short one
Time had done what Time always does.
Ruby was not part of “What’s yet to be.”
She was part of a life “That once was.”

The G.I. Bill, a walk down the aisle
Then us kids, a house, ‘n career
We’d only get back to the Home Place
A couple-a times a year.

But, the first horse that I rode was Old Ruby
Slid down her neck, when she bent down to eat
No, I wasn’t much of a horseman yet,
But in diapers, a feller can’t take a deep seat.

Today, my whole life revolves ’round horses
You could say I fell under the spell
That Ruby could weave ’round a young boy’s heart
Folks, it’s a magic she worked awful well.

When I was little, I wanted Grandad to say she was mine
Now, I know why that couldn’t be
I see that Ruby was still giving to my Daddy
When she lit this fire in me.

Ruby lived out her days on the Home Place
But, for me, her last chorus has yet to be sung
‘Cause in memories, ‘n stories, ‘n pictures
She and Daddy are forever young.

There’s a painting, up over the mantel
Made from a snap-shot, tucked there in the frame.
Shows Daddy a-horseback on Ruby
‘N he’s got him a handful of mane.

‘N she’s standin’ full up on her hind legs
Her fronts are pawin’ the air
You can see her joy, you can see his pride,
My God but they made-em a pair.

© 2005, Gary D. Robertson
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

California ranch manager Gary Robertson includes “Ruby” in his recent book, A Treasure Trove of Memories. The book tells, “Gary Robertson is from a family that has been in Oklahoma since Indian Territory days, when his mother’s people were ‘removed’ there on the Trail of Tears and his family arrived from Texas…” He comments, “The need I have to share my thoughts and experiences through verse and a lyric probably comes from my gene pool. With Texans and Indians in my background, I come from a long line of storytellers.”

This photo is of Gary and his father on Ruby.

Gary is a popular performer at events across the West, and you’ll find him at California’s 25th annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Gathering April 19-22, 2018. Other performers include Waddie Mitchell, Dave Stamey, Kristyn Harris, Almeda Bradshaw, Wylie and the Wild West, New West, Jon Chandler and Ernie Martinez, Hot Club of Cowtown, Honey County, Solo Flight Swing, Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress, Lon Hannah & San Joaquin Junction, Mikki Daniel, R. W. Hampton, The Messick Family, Savannah Burrows, Dust in my Coffee, The Cowboy Way, Joey Dillon, Wild Horse Singers and Dancers, Sourdough Slim, Joe Herrington, Dave Thornbury, David Rainwater, Kristyn Harris, Jerry Hall and Trick Shot, Ron Christopher, Nancy Lee, John Bergstrom, and Saddle Arts. Find more at

Gary Robertson received the 2016 Buck Ramsey Award for top male poet from the Academy of Western Artists.

Find more about Gary at; at his web site,; and on Facebook.