BOOMER JOHNSON, by Henry Herbert Knibbs

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photo © Shannon Keller Rollins; request permission for any use

BOOMER JOHNSON
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

Now Mr. Boomer Johnson was a gettin’ old in spots,
But you don’t expect a bad man to go wrastlin’ pans and pots;
But he’d done his share of killin’ and his draw was gettin’ slow,
So he quits a-punchin’ cattle and he takes to punchin’ dough.

Our foreman up and hires him, figurin’ age had rode him tame,
But a snake don’t get no sweeter just by changin’ of its name.
Well, Old Boomer knowed his business – he could cook to make you smile,
But say, he wrangled fodder in a most peculiar style.

He never used no matches – left em layin’ on the shelf,
Just some kerosene and cussin’ and the kindlin’ lit itself.
And, pardner, I’m allowin’ it would give a man a jolt
To see him stir frijoles with the barrel of his Colt.

Now killin’ folks and cookin’ ain’t so awful far apart,
That musta been why Boomer kept a-practicin’ his art;
With the front sight of his pistol he would cut a pie-lid slick,
And he’d crimp her with the muzzle for to make the edges stick.

He built his doughnuts solid, and it sure would curl your hair
To see him plug a doughnut as he tossed it in the air.
He bored the holes plum center every time his pistol spoke,
Till the can was full of doughnuts and the shack was full of smoke.

We-all was gettin’ jumpy, but he couldn’t understand
Why his shootin’ made us nervous when his cookin’ was so grand.
He kept right on performin’, and it weren’t no big surprise
When he took to markin’ tombstones on the covers of his pies.

They didn’t taste no better and they didn’t taste no worse,
But a-settin’ at the table was like ridin’ in a hearse;
You didn’t do no talkin’ and you took just what you got,
So we et till we was foundered just to keep from gettin’ shot.

When at breakfast one bright mornin’, I was feelin’ kind of low,
Old Boomer passed the doughnuts and I tells him plenty:
“No, All I takes this trip is coffee, for my stomach is a wreck.”
I could see the itch for killin’ swell the wattle on his neck.

Scorn his grub? He strings some doughnuts on the muzzle of his gun,
And he shoves her in my gizzard and he says, “You’re takin’ one!”
He was set to start a graveyard, but for once he was mistook;
Me not wantin’ any doughnuts, I just up and salts the cook.

Did they fire him? Listen, pardner, there was nothin’ left to fire,
Just a row of smilin’ faces and another cook to hire.
If he joined some other outfit and is cookin’, what I mean,
It’s where they ain’t no matches and they don’t need kerosene.

…by Henry Herbert Knibbs

We are winding up the 18th Cowboy Poetry Week with a favorite classic and a photo of an exemplary member of the modern cowboy tribe.

Henry Herbert Knibbs never worked as a cowboy, but he was a student of the West and his friendships, including one with cowboy, rancher, and writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes informed his work. His poems are still often recited today, including “Boomer Johnson” and “Where the Ponies Come to Drink,” “The Walking Man,” “Shallows of the Ford,” and “So Long, Chinook!”

Find more about Knibbs and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

Thanks to Shannon Keller Rollins for lending this striking photograph of cowboy cook, poet, storyteller, and television personality Kent Rollins, whose temperament is the opposite of Boomer Johnson. Among many other activities, Shannon and Kent take their restored 1876 Studebaker wagon to ranches and to events.

Kent and Shannon Keller Rollins have a great Youtube channel; a regular column in Western Horseman; and an information-packed site at kentrollins.com (sign up for the newsletter). Follow them also on Instagram and Twitter.

Word is that their best-selling cookbook,”A Taste of Cowboy,” is about to be followed with a new cookbook. Link up with them and stay tuned.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this photo with this post, but for other uses, request permission. This poem is in the public domain.)

REASONS FOR STAYIN’ by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)

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photo © Shannon Keller Rollins; request permission for any use.

REASONS FOR STAYIN’
by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)

“What’s the myst’ry of the wagon? asked a townie, green as grass,
As he visited on a dreary autumn day.
Fer there weren’t a sign of romance nor no waddies’round with class,
And he couldn’t see why one would want to stay.

“Well, don’t be askin’ me,” says Jake, when asked that very thing,
“I’ve only been around here thirty years;
If I’d learnt some floocy answers to the questions you-all bring
I’d not be tough as brushy outlawed steers!

“It’s a dang sight more romantic in the bunkhouse, snug and warm,
When that winter wind is blowin’ from the Pole
Than the livin’ at the wagon through the same ol’ freezin’ storm
And the call of nature sends you for a stroll!

“The smell of beans and beefsteak born in bilin’ coffee’s breath
Pulls a feller from them soogans, clean and dry,
‘Stead of half-cooked food that drownded so you’ll not git choked to death
As you look around and git to wonderin’ why.

“But I reckon, since you asked me, it’s the challenge that you git
Testin’ what you got for gizzard through the squalls,
And not just nature’s doin’s but the kind that’s stirred a bit
When a cowboy, bronc, or critter starts the brawls.

“Take them fellers that’s a-squattin’ ’round that soggy campfire there,
That big-uns done some time for murder one,
But I’ll guarante you, feller, when you think your flank is bare
You’ll hear his boomin’ laughter through the run.

“The scroungy-lookin’ half-breed kid can ride a bear or lion,
Thought he mostly rides the rough-uns for the boys.
Black Pete would rope the Devil through a stand of burnt-out pine,
And Ol’ Dobb would mark his ears to hear the noise!

“What I’m gettin’ ’round to sayin’ is them boys will back yore play
Though their outside shore ain’t groomed or show-ring slick;
It’s their innards that you count on when you work for puncher’s pay,
And the reason why the wagon makes you stick.”

© 1997, J.B. Allen, used with permission

Texan J.B. Allen was a working cowboy for over three decades. He was a frequent performer at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and also at Nara Visa and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings. His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998.

J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in a 2017 CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, J.B. Allen, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs), with an introduction by Jay Snider.

Andy Hedges, songster and host of COWBOY CROSSROADS comments on the CD, “This album represents four of the finest poets to ever come out of cowboy culture. We are not likely to see their kind again and the world should be grateful to Cowboypoetry.com for preserving their voices.”

MASTERS was offered to rural libraries across the West in the CowboyPoetry.com outreach Rural Library Program, a part of Cowboy Poetry Week. It was also given as a thank-you to our supporters and is available for purchase. Find more about MASTERS here.

Find more about J.B. Allen at CowboyPoetry.com.

This great photograph is by Shannon Keller Rollins, who, with popular chuck wagon cook, poet, storyteller, and television personality Kent Rollins, runs the Red River Ranch Chuck Wagon.

Shannon and Kent take their restored 1876 Studebaker wagon to ranches for spring and fall gatherings, to events, and they also cater weddings and corporate events. They hold a Red River Ranch Chuck Wagon Cooking School each fall; have a regular column in Western Horseman; and have a top-selling cookbook, A Taste of Cowboy.

Tune into their YouTube channel and keep up with Shannon and Kent at their site, kentrollins.com, where you’ll find news, a good blog, and a mercantile.

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

THE CUTTIN’ CHUTE by Linda Kirkpatrick and TEXAS ZEPHYR by S. Omar Barker

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THE CUTTIN’ CHUTE
by Linda Kirkpatrick

As the cowboy works the cuttin’ gate
There’s a few things he’s gotta know.
The first and foremost of these things
Is what must stay and what must go.

Now take that ole cow over there
The black with mottled face,
Why she ain’t calved in more than a year;
She’s got no business on this place.

So I’ll just cut her to the left
When she hits the cuttin’ gate,
So far of all the cows to go,
She’ll be number eight.

But when it comes to friends I know
And life is kinda in a tight
There is one thing fer darn sure,
I’ll cut you to the right.

© 2002, Linda Kirkpatrick, used with permission

Ranch-raised in Texas Hill Country, Linda Kirkpatrick is known for her poetry, recitations, writings about regional history, and chuckwagon cooking.

She wrote this poem for her friends Ginger and W. B. Patterson, who, like Linda, are from long-time Texas ranching families.

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Linda Kirkpatrick is featured on the new MASTERS: VOLUME TWO the poetry of S. Omar Barker double CD from CowboyPoetry.com. On it, she recites one of S. Omar Barker’s popular short poems:

TEXAS ZEPHYR
by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

To figure how hard the wind blows
out on the Texas Plains,
You hang a fresh-killed beef up
with a pair of logging chains;
And if, on the morning after,
you find your beef’s been skinned,
And you have to ride to find the hide,
there’s been just a little wind!

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker

Linda’s most recent book, Tales of the Frio Canyon, has traveled around the West and around the world, including Rome, Jerusalem, and beyond. Enthusiastic readers send her photos. This photo is from top cowboy cook Kent Rollins. Find more about Kent and Shannon Rollins and their Red River Ranch Chuck Wagon at kentrollins.com and see great things on their YouTube channel.

Find more about Linda Kirkpatrick, including her books and recordings at CowboyPoetry.com, and find her “Somewhere in the West” column in The Hill Country Herald.

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

THE CHUCKWAGON by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

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photo © Shannon Keller Rollins; request permission for use

 

THE CHUCKWAGON
by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

They asked me: “What’s this wagon
that we hear so much about.
Aren’t wagons simply wagons?”
Well, it kinder laid me out
To realize such ignorance
was still a-runnin’ rife
About cow country customs
and the facts of cowboy life.

And so I found a sunny place
and squatted on my heels
To try and make them savvy
that a double pair of wheels
Ain’t all that makes the wagon,
in the meanin’ of the word,
The way us cowboys use it
that have been out with the herd.

For a wagon ain’t The Wagon
on the roundup or the trail
Unless it totes a chuckbox
handy-like upon its tail.
This chuckbox is the cupboard
where the coosie keeps the gear
With which he wrangles rations
for the cowboy cavalier

Who comes in off the cow work,
like a farmer to his shack,
To save his hungry stummick
from a-growin’ to his back.
He may git whistle-berries
and shotgun-waddin’ bread,
It may be beef and biskits,
but it gits the cowhand fed.

Yer chuck ain’t all The Wagon means
to sons of saddle sweat.
It means dry clothes, a bed, a fire.
and somewhere he can set
To do what little talkin’
that the cowboy’s life allows
About the thoughts he’s thinkin’
while he’s out there with the cows.
It’s where his comrades bring him
when he’s sick or hurt or shot;
It’s his anchor, it’s his haven,
it’s the only home he’s got.
So when he throws his bedroll in
The Wagon for a “work,”
It means he’s swore allegiance
to a job he’ll never shirk.
You’ve heard of soldiers loyal
to the flags of regiments—
The cowhand’s flag’s The Wagon
and the brand it represents.

They asked me: “What’s The Wagon?”
It’s a thing words can’t explain,
Unless you’ve bedded ’round one,
under stars out on the plain.
Two lonesome riders passin’
pause to hail, like passin’ ships,
And “Whichaways The Wagon?”
Is the question on their lips.
So when a cowboy’s time has come,
St. Peter hears his hail:
It’s “Whichaways The Wagon?”…
And he points him up the trail!

…S. Omar Barker, from “Rawhide Rhymes,” used with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker

The second cowboy poetry gathering in 1986 at the Western Folklife Center included a tribute to S. Omar Barker by New Mexico historian Marc Simmons. He commented, “If any man deserved the title “Poet Laureate of the American West,” it was S. Omar Barker…Author of 2,000 poems and 1,500 short stories and novelettes (the first one published in 1914), he was a writer who drew inspiration from his bedrock acquaintance with the western range country. When Omar described cattle, bronc riders, or moonlight in a mountain meadow, the reader knew he was getting an authentic picture from someone who had ridden trails on horseback.

“….Molded by the hard knocks of a rural background, the younger Omar tried his hand at ranching, then went on to work as a forest ranger, high school teacher, state legislator, and briefly, a college professor. All the while he was churning out novels, stories, and poems that dealt with what he knew best—the land and the people of the Great West….”

Find more about S. Omar Barker in our features here:

Shannon Keller Rollins shares this great photograph. Shannon and Kent Rollins run the Red River Ranch Chuckwagon. They take their 1876 Studebaker chuck wagon for cooking on working ranches and at other locations and events “from bar mitzvahs to brandings.” Their popular book, A Taste of Cowboy: Ranch Recipes and Tales from the Trail, is filled with mouth-watering recipes, rollicking stories, and more of Shannon’s excellent photography. Kent is an award-winning cook and television personality as well as a popular storyteller and poet. He writes a regular column for Western Horseman.

Find them on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter . Visit KentRollins.com  for recipes, videos, a blog, A Taste of Cowboy, products, and much more.