,jessicaboys2photo © 2018, Jessica Hedges

by Ken Cook

I’ll tell this one straightforward and try not to leave undone,
the building of a friendship I watched while being spun.

The scene, a grassy horse trap on a crisp October day
after men had saddled up and rode out on their way.

I spied a cowboy on a mission, packin’ a halter big as he was.
Appeared to me, from his pint size, his plan had tall size flaws.

How he’d catch a horse and get on put my mind in a fizzle,
but he was gathering props to complete his horseback puzzle.

If you’re barely tall as meadow grass and a horse is big and stout,
it takes a heap of cowboy try to make things all work out.

He hunted up two buckets, turned’em over on a bank,
disappeared down by the barn and found a narrow plank.

Board went on the buckets, step one was complete,
then hustled back up to the barn to get his horse a treat.

Tossed oats in a coffee can, couple handfuls so they’d rattle,
boldly walked out to the tank where I knew things would unravel.

Several horses came and went, each one drank their fill,
the little feller paid no mind, just stood there calm and still,

until a big black gelding raised his head and snuck a look,
boy shook the can, and that coax worked just like he’d set a hook.

One hoof, then another, not a trot but not a walk.
Gelding sensed just what was coming, even so he did not balk.

With a flat hand full of berries, lured that big head ever lower
’til Dad’s halter fell in place and in a flash the catch was over.

Horse finished all the oats, even the dribbles on the ground,
Lad calmly stroked his neck like a lost friend he’d just found

and I swear that horse just melted, how can youngsters be that smart?
Easy I guess, if all you do flows freely from your heart.

Now I couldn’t hear what he was sayin’, but while they both were walkin’,
his words just kept on coming and that kid went right on talking

until horse and he were standing at the board, set up for mounting,
and next thing I saw happening was the little guy was ridin!

I assume with one arm wavin’, he and his crew were gathering,
after that it took deciphering, but I figure he was sorting.

Next came some pretend roping, at this make believe ranch branding,
until the pairs were trailed to grazing, and his faithful steed quit walking.

A Folgers can brim full of oats lured a big head low once more,
halter off, kid rubbed his friend gently like before.

Then it happened, thing that got me, said I’d tell it straight,
Cowboy waved goodbye to that horse ‘til he reached the farthest gate.

I never interrupted them nor made my presence known
because what happens, between two good friends, is better left alone.

© 2018, Ken Cook
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Third-generation South Dakota cowboy and rancher Ken Cook told us he was originally inspired to write this poem by seeing  “The Best Gift,” by Western Horseman art director Ron Bonge.

Ken has a distinctive delivery style; you can download the audio of this poem here.

Ken comes from a long line of respected cowboys, and he and Nancy Cook continue that line with their offspring. Ken and Jay Snider collaborated on a highly praised book and CD, Passing it On, with drawings by Tyler Crow and Roger Archibald. Ken also has CDs of his poetry.

Find more about Ken Cook and more of his poetry at

Oregon poet, cowboy, photographer, businesswoman, and mom and wife of a cowboy Jessica Hedges shared this photo of her son, Cinch, with Joey, his grandfather’s old horse. Cinch carries on a great cowboy line. His grandfather is cowboy and writer Mackey Hedges (Last Buckaroo, Shadow of the Wind). Jessica Hedges’ “Branded in Ink by Jessica Hedges” company “serves the ag community through the art of storytelling on social media and beyond.” Her photography is available as prints, cards, and more. Find more at

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


conversationphoto by Dana Cook

by Ken Cook

What has not changed ol’ cowboy friend
Since you was young and men were men?

When horse not broke till nearly five?
Cow’s horns intact kept calf alive!

What has not changed in all your days,
Is nothin’ left of cowboy ways?

The wagon was your only home
And blackest eve Nighthawk did roam,

To hold ’em quiet with lullaby
And ride the ridge where coyotes cry.

What has not changed in all your days,
Is nothin’ left of cowboy ways?

When fences held a garden tight
And grass for miles a wondrous sight,

With horse and rope to branding fire
You burned the hide with one desire,

To live a life on Sandhills grass.
Tell me cowboy, has all that passed?

I’ll tell you boy what still remains
Of cowboy ways here on the plains.

By God you ride the same as me
And cows are cows near’s I can see.

I’ll tell you son what still survives
Of cowboy ways shines in your eyes.

Few teams are left and fence appeared
So Nighthawk sleeps but over years,

By God you rope and do it grand
‘Cause it’s your life, you’ve made your stand,

Which has not changed in all the days
You’ve kept alive a cowboy’s ways.

You fight back change to keep old ways
That every year make ranching pay,

So generations yet to come
Might live this life that we’ve begun.

They’ll saddle horse to work a cow
Here on this ranch like we do now.

© 2007, Ken Cook
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Ken Cook comes from a long line of respected South Dakota cowboys and has perpetuated that line with his offspring.

He tells that an interviewer’s question prompted the poem, “I spent nearly the entire interview talking about my Grandpa Frank Buckles and my kids and the changes in the cattle industry that have occurred over three generations…[the interviewer] asked the question, ‘Ken, what has not changed?’ I thought for a moment then replied, ‘Cows.’ The one thing that has not changed is the fact that cows are still…just cows. As I left the [interview] I pulled my pad and pen out of my pocket and wrote down the line ‘cows are cows.’And those three words prompted the creation of the dialogue between a grandpa and his grandson …For me, the poem has become ageless, with the passing of my Grandpa, my kids growing up, and now grandchildren of my own. This thing we
call ‘life on the ranch’ has a way changing with the seasons.”

Find more about the poem and about Ken Cook at

This photo of Ken Cook by Dana Cook is from a 2015 branding.


“Crash of Thunder” by Gary Morton; request permission for use

by Ken Cook

There’s nothin’ forged by mortal man,
Can measure full the gain,

When God swings wide ol’ heaven’s gate,
And sorts a day of rain.

No vessel on a sun-baked ranch,
Not dog dish, gauge or pail,

Can hold the flow and endless worth,
A soaker can unveil.

You’d barter with the devil sure,
If rain ‘gainst soul was bet,

‘Cause on both knees you’ve prayed for months,
With not an answer yet.

More natural than breathin’ air,
See every drop’s a gift,

All creatures livin’ feel the change,
When clouds begin to shift,

And thunderheads show in the west,
The breeze turns damp, not burned.

Your soul might be the devil’s toy,
But for now the sky has turned,

As lightning flashes, thunder screams,
Most cattle bunch to hide.

The horses race the barbed wire south,
They feel it deep inside.

Anticipation, same as you,
Heaven’s gate blows back,

A gully washer’s on its way,
The drought’s under attack.

So fill ’em up to overflowin’,
Each gauge and pail and dish,

The devil may have gained a soul,
But cowboy, you got your wish.

© 2007, Ken Cook
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without the author’s permission

We’re devoting this week to rain themes.

Third-generation South Dakota cowboy and rancher Ken Cook comments on his poem and the situation in his country:

Sakes alive she’s dry in parts of our country. Got our first good summer rain a week or so ago. Half a dog dish! I measure by the dish. Saves any lengthy discussions pertaining to who got a half, three quarters or ninety five hundredths. Come to think of it, that last one is close enough to an inch to call it an inch right? The dish also keeps me from exaggerating, as long as I beat the dog to the dish.

This poem began on a humorous path but took a turn the longer I traveled with it. It suits me.

My favorite piece about moisture comes from Daron Little’s 307 album. The song is “Rain,” masterfully crafted by Daron. “Sure could use a little rain.” He says it all right there.”

“Fill ‘er Up to Overflowing” is included on Ken Cook’s CD, Cowboys Are Like That.

Find more about Ken Cook and more of his poetry in our feature at

This great image, “Crash of Thunder,” a painting by noted cowboy artist, cowboy, and rancher Gary Morton, was a 2015 National Day of the Cowboy Art Spur at Find other poems inspired by the piece here.

Gary Morton comments on the painting’s inspiration, “Catching horses in the rope corral at the Bell. We were changing horses after making a big drive near the Beef pens. It had been threatening rain all morning. When it started, the thunder and lightning was plentiful. I don’t know a single cowboy that doesn’t get a little nervous when the lightning starts and the thunder crashes!”

Find our feature on Gary Morton at and visit his web site,




by Ken Cook

“Someday Daddy” is all she said,
One precious want surged ’round her head.
Tiny hands caressed my saddle,
Big blue eyes cried out it’s time for cattle.

You’re gonna make a hand Kasey,
Not waitin’ on someday.
Nothin’s lived by watchin’,
We’re gonna ride today.

From that day on we rode through life,
Ranch work, a man, our dance, his wife.
Now her first born craves cowboy ways,
And I will ride inside her days.

She’s gonna make a hand that girl,
Not waitin’ on someday.
No cowgirl lags back at the house,
We’re gonna ride today.

Memories explode, her Mom and I,
Swallowed hard and felt her anxious eye.
“Someday Grandpa” she clearly said,
I’ll catch her horse…for what lies ahead.

You’re gonna make a hand Shyanne,
Not waitin’ on someday.
Nothin’s lived by watchin’,
We’re gonna ride today.

© 2010, Ken Cook, used with permission

Ken Cook comes from a long line of respected South Dakota cowboys and has perpetuated that line with his and Nancy Cook’s offspring. He wrote this poem for his daughter, Kasey Jo Dawson, and her daughter, Shyanne. They appear on Ken’s recording of the poem on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Nine.

The poem was also inspired in part by an Art Spur at that featured the late, notable artist Joelle Smith’s painting,”She’s a Hand.” See the art, the poem, and other poems from the Art Spur here.

The photo above of another of Kasey Jo’s daughters, three-year-old Syerra Marie Dawson, was taken shortly before she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in May. She’s undergoing treatment and her prognosis is good. She’s tough. She has responded well to treatments so far, but still has some difficult procedures ahead. Follow her journey at her Caring Bridge site and help support the family through this GoFundMe page.

The photos below are of Syerra and her grandmother Nancy Cook and of Syerra and her two sisters.

Find more about Ken Cook and more of his poetry at

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