wallyjbl_091607_Wally_0040_previewphoto © Jessica Lifland; request permission for any use.


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.


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.


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.)