THE MAN ON THE FENCE by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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THE MAN ON THE FENCE
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

There’s a man that I would speak about, you see him every where.
He puts out conversations till he mangles up the air;
No matter what the subject is his idees are immense.
But he don’t go into action. He’s the man that’s on the fence.

When the owners ship out cattle they have all that they can do.
The buyers and the waddies they are mighty busy too.
Who explains the situation to a bunch of idle gents?
I needn’t tell no body, it’s the feller on the fence.

Who is that can tell you how a bronco should be rode?
Who is it laughs the loudest at a feller when he’s throwed?
Who tries to be sarcastic when he makes his wise comments?
Whose pants is full of splinters? It’s the man that’s on the fence.

Who is it puts a swagger on but never gits in trouble?
If he ever gits in danger who can vanish like a bubble?
Who can tell about a battle till he holds the crowd plum tense?
Though perhaps he’s never seen it; it’s the feller on the fence.

Who hollers at old timers as if they were his pals?
Who has set and spurred the splinters from a hundred odd corrals?
Who has spurred the gates and fence rails till the boys all know the dents?
It’s the man that’s always present. It’s the feller on the fence.

No, he ain’t no use fer nothin’ and he sure does eat a lot.
And he does a heap of talkin’ that would get a real man shot.
But the outfit tolerates him though he ain’t worth thirty cents,
Fer he’s really right amusin’ that there fellow on the fence.

And it helps an honest waddy when he’s done his best and failed;
Just to stop and look and listen at the feller on the rail.
Fer he knows down in his gizzard, if he’s got an ounce of sense,
That he’s done a durned sight better than the man that’s on the fence.

…Bruce Kiskaddon, from Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems, 1947
Bill Siems collected most of Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems in Open Range, and he collected many great Kiksaddon short stories in Shorty’s Yarns. In the latter, he quotes Kiskaddon from his autobiography:

[Tap Duncan’s Diamond Bar, 1922 -1924] was my last job with a cow outfit. My eyes were bothering me and I was getting gray. In short I found out I wasn’t young any more. Punching cattle in a rough country is not an old man’s job. That is if he really gets in and makes a hand. As you get older a bucking horse can outguess you mighty quick. You are not so active if you get a horse jerked down, or if one falls with you it stoves you up a heap worse than it did years ago. And you don’t go down a rope to many big calves before you get that all gone feeling, especially if you are about five feet five.

But I still like the smell of a camp fire and like to hear the creak of saddle leather and the rattle of spurs. And I like the smell of cows. Yes even if I can tell there have been cows in the drinking water, it don’t bother me much if the mixture ain’t too strong.

Find information about Kiskaddon, many poems, and information about both of Bill Siems’ books in our Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1939 photograph, “Cowboys sitting on corral fence. Roundup near Marfa, Texas,” by Russell Lee (1903-1986), is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Find a feature about noted photographer and teacher Russell Lee with a gallery of photographs from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

We’re looking forward to bringing you a new recording, MASTERS: Volume Three, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon in 2019. The CD will be offered to rural libraries in Cowboy Poetry Week’s Rural Library Project, along with the 2019 Western art poster. Find more about the MASTERS recordings here.

(This poem and photograph are in the public domain.)

THE LESSON by Sally Harper Bates

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THE LESSON
by Sally Harper Bates

Leathered hands, arthritic and broken
Caressed the strings of the worn old saddle
Nails were split and callouses formed
As he pushed and pulled and pressed and reformed.

“This one’s for you,” was the message he gave
As his great-grandson watched, eyes ablaze
The admiration fair hung in the air
As I watched, and heard what passed twixt the pair

“Why do you do it like that, Grampa?”
“Just watch, and see, use your eyes and your brain.”
Was all the wrinkled old man replied
As he twisted and platted and measured again.

The razor sharp knife split the leather with ease
Then the second string was braided back through
And repeated to form the knot so tight
Then he shifted his weight on the wobbly stool.

The younger grew quiet, his eyes like a hawk
As he worshipped, and watched, and he gleaned
Not a word passed between as the lesson ensued
An old saddle re-made, and then cleaned.

“It’s yours now, young man. Keep it oiled and clean,
As you gather and ride to the cattle
One thing left to say, one thing I will add
Whatever may come, whatever may go,
don’t ever … sell your saddle.”

© 2018, Sally Harper Bates
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Sally Harper Bates grew up on ranches and worked on them, and the popular poet, storyteller, songwriter, and editor chose women with similar backgrounds for a richly varied new collection, Facing West; Voices of Western Women.

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The poems, stories, and lyrics reflect the vibrant world of the working West. Sally Harper Bates writes in her introduction, “…The lines you will find herein are exemplary of culture, heritage, and traditions. Fears, hopes, dreams, suffering, and joy…I hear the voices of women in our beloved West,telling their stories, singing their songs, and setting their hearts down on paper.”

Contributors include Mary Abbott, Amy Hale Auker, Sally Harper Bates, Valerie Beard, Virginia Bennett, Sequent Bodine, Betty Burlingham, Shawn Cameron, Lola Chiantaretto, Cherie Cloudt, Jiminell Cook, Terry Crowley, Sam DeLeeuw, Daisy Dillard, Jody Drake, Bunny Dryden, Tandy Drye, Susan Gahr, Peggy Godfrey, Audrey Hankins, Jeanie Hankins, Roni Harper, Jessica Hedges, Sandy Heller, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Carole Jarvis, Randi Johnson, Sue Jones, Suzi Killman, Cindy King, Mary Matli, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Billie Jo McFarland, Charlotte Allgood McCoy, Bertha Monroe, Janet Moore, Kay Kelley Nowell, Evelyn Perkins, Karen Perkins, Jean Prescott, Jody Presley, Janet McMillan Rives, Darla Robinson, Perilee Sharp, Shirley Tecklenburg, Heidi Thomas, Frances Vance, Andrea Waitley, Carrol Williams, Jolyn Young, and Kip Calahan Young.

The cover of Facing West is a painting by Marless Fellows and design by Steve Atkinson. Other illustrations in the book are by Mike Capron and Lynn Brown.

Find more at Arizona Cowboy Connection on Facebook.

This photograph, “Detail of cowboy’s saddle. Roundup near Marfa, Texas,” is by Russell Lee (1903-1986) and is from The Library of Congress, part of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information collection.

Find a feature about noted photographer and teacher Russell Lee with a gallery of photographs from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

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

YOO-HOO by Jane Morton

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YOO-HOO
by Jane Morton

My mother always called, “Yoo-hoo,” so we would look her way.
She did it at the sale barn one cattle auction day.

Dad brought his cows to market there, as he did every spring.
He liked to watch the auction and his cattle in the ring.

Some Hereford cows were milling round, and others bawling loud.
The auctioneer was trying hard to stir the morning crowd.

My folks were in their usual seat where they had said they’d be,
And I had started toward them when my mother spotted me.

She jumped up quick and called, “Yoo-hoo,” and then she waved her hand.
She’d bid on thirty Herefords with our own CU brand.

The auctioneer looked toward my mom and gave a little nod.
A feedlot buyer raised her bid, and I was thanking God.

I didn’t dare to signal her for fear they’d think I’d bid,
And Mom had no idea at all of what she almost did.

So needing to get down there fast, I headed for the stair.
Then came another, “You-hoo Yo-ooooo,” that caught me unaware.

I’d almost closed the distance when my mother waved once more.
The auctioneer acknowledged her, the way he had before.

I watched the feedlot buyer as I slipped into my seat,
And when the fellow didn’t bid, my heart near ceased to beat.

My dad sat focused on the ring completely unaware
Of all the action going on right there beside his chair.

From up in back there came a bid, and I could breathe again.
I prayed the field had narrowed down to real cattle men.

I took Mom’s hand soon as I could and held it tight in mine.
I said, “How are you doin’, Mom?” She said, “I’m doin’ fine.”

Now Mom had been to auctions, and she knew what not to do.
Of course a real no no would have been to call, “Yoo-hoo.”

But Mom forgot herself that day and learned to her chagrin
How close she came to buyin’ back the cows that Dad brought in.

When Dad caught on he realized, as he had not before,
That thanks to Mom his cattle brought a buck a hundred more.

© 2008 revised, Jane Morton
This poem should not be reported or reprinted without permission

Jane Morton often writes about her family’s ranch history, which began with her great great grandfather, a circuit-riding Baptist minister who left Illinois and headed to Colorado in 1872. Generations later, her mother, Eva Lena Ambrose, was surprised to discover that her husband, a teacher and coach, was determined to return to the family farm that eventually became the family ranch. Her mother faced a hard life with dignity.

Jane Morton has award-winning books and a CD of her poetry. Don’t miss reading more of her poems about her family and their ranch history at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1939 photo by Russell Lee is titled, “Scene in cattle auction barn. Heifer is coming in from pen. San Augustine, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, part of the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Find more about it here.

Russell Lee taught photography at the University of Texas, Austin, from 1965-1973, and is best known for his FSA photos. Find more about him at Texas State University’s Russell Lee Collection.

YEP, by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)

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YEP
by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)

“It’s been awhile,” the cowboy said.
“Yep,” replied his friend.
“It must be nearly fifteen years.”
“Yep,” he said again.

“I guess you been a driftin’ some?”
“Yep,” his friend replied.
“I guess I’ve done about the same.”
“Yep,” the old friend sighed.

“Remember Shorty Winkleman?”
“Yep,” friend answered slow.
“I hear he up and passed away.”
“Yep,” he answered low.

“Sure looks like we may have some rain.”
“Yep,” his friend allow’d.
“Lord knows that we can stand relief.”
“Yep,” the other scowled.

“I guess you need to head on out?”
“Yep,” his friend intoned.
“I sure am glad we got to chat.”
“Yep,” the old hand droned.

The cowboy, after supper, said
he’d run into Ray.
The other boys now gathered ’round.
“What’d he have to say?”

“He said that it had been awhile,
nearly fifteen years.
he said that he had drifted some
workin’ with them steers.”

“He said he knowed ’bout Shorty’s death,
that it made him sad.
He figured we was in fer rain,
fer relief was glad.”

“He said he was a headin’ out,
glad we got to jaw.
Ol’ Ray is quite a talker, boys.
Beats all I ever saw.”

© 2003, Rod Nichols, used with permission
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

This poem is a perennial favorite.

Texan Rod Nichols left behind countless friends and countless good poems. Find more about him and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986)—which seems to fit the poem so well—is captioned, “Foreman of the SMS Ranch on left and old cowboy on the right waiting for dinner at the chuck wagon. Ranch near Spur, Texas.” It is from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more here.

Find a feature about noted photographer Russell Lee and a gallery of photographs from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History​ at The University of Texas at Austin​ here.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but any other use requires permission. The photo is in the public domain.)

THE BRONCO TWISTER’S PRAYER, by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

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THE BRONCO TWISTER’S PRAYER
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

It was a little grave yard
on the rolling foot hill plains:
That was bleached by the sun in summer,
swept by winter’s snows and rains;
There a little bunch of settlers
gathered on an autumn day
‘Round a home made lumber coffin,
with their last respects to pay.

Weary men that wrung their living
from that hard and arid land,
And beside them stood their women;
faded wives with toil worn hands.
But among us stood one figure
that was wiry, straight and trim.
Every one among us know him.
‘Twas the broncho twister, Jim.

Just a bunch of hardened muscle
tempered with a savage grit,
And he had the reputation
of a man that never quit.
He had helped to build the coffin,
he had helped to dig the grave;
And his instinct seemed to teach him
how he really should behave.

Well, we didn’t have a preacher,
and the crowd was mighty slim.
Just two women with weak voices
sang an old time funeral hymn.
That was all we had for service.
The old wife was sobbing there.
For her husband of a life time,
laid away without prayer.

She looked at the broncho twister,
then she walked right up to him.
Put one trembling arm around him and said,
“Pray. Please won’t you Jim?”
You could see his figure straighten,
and a look of quick surprise
Flashed across his swarthy features,
and his hard dare devil eyes.

He could handle any broncho,
and he never dodged a fight.
‘Twas the first time any body ever saw
his face turn white.
But he took his big sombrero
off his rough and shaggy head,
How I wish I could remember what
that broncho peeler said.

No, he wasn’t educated.
On the range his youth was spent.
But the maker of creation
know exactly what he meant.
He looked over toward the mountains
where the driftin’ shadows played.
Silence must have reined in heaven
when they heard the way Jim prayed.

Years have passed since that small funeral
in that lonely grave yard lot.
But it gave us all a memory, and a lot
of food for thought.
As we stood beside the coffin,
and the freshly broken sod,
With that reckless broncho breaker
talkin’ heart to heart with God.

When the prayer at last was over,
and the grave had all been filled,
On his rough, half broken pony,
he rode off toward the hills.
Yes, we stood there in amazement
as we watched him ride away,
For no words could ever thank him.
There was nothing we could say.
Since we gathered in that grave yard,
it’s been nearly fifty years.
With their joys and with their sorrows,
with their hopes and with their fears.
But I hope when I have finished,
and they lay me with the dead,
Some one says a prayer above me,
like that broncho twister said.

…from Bruce Kiskaddon’s “Rhymes of the Ranges,” 1924

Bruce Kiskaddon’s poems are among the most recited works at gatherings. Kiskaddon worked as a cowboy from the time he was 19 until a serious accident about ten years later put an end to his riding. When he turned to writing he became known for his realistic works about cowboy and ranching life. Frank M. King, editor of The Western Livestock Journal, where many of his poems were printed, asserted that Kiskaddon was “the best cowboy poet who ever wrote a cowboy poem.”

Watch top cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell and outstanding balladeer Don Edwards perform the poem along with “Amazing Grace”in a 2013 performance at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering here.

Texas writer and reciter Linda Marie Kirkpatrick recites the poem on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Three (2008) from CowboyPoetry.com.

“The Bronco Twister’s Prayer” was recited at Kiskaddon’s own funeral. Find the entire poem and features about Bruce Kiskaddon at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1940 photo by Russell Lee is titled “Grave on the high plains. Dawson County, Texas.” It’s from the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA)/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs at The Library of Congress. Find more about it here.

Russell Lee taught photography at the University of Texas, Austin, from 1965-1973, and is best known for his FSA photos. Find more about him at Texas State University’s Russell Lee Collection.

(This poem and photograph are both in the public domain.)

SADDLIN’ UP TIME by Andy Wilkinson

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SADDLIN’ UP TIME
by Andy Wilkinson

I never looked forward to the end of the day;
Or to evening, drab and melancholy-gray,
Or to featureless shadows of purple-to-black,
Or to work finished-up or simply put back
While the business of living slowly unwinds;
I was always awaitin’ for saddlin’-up time.

I slept of necessity, not pleasure and not
For the comforts of night, when the bosom of God
Cradled mortality in immortal dark,
Nor for the shroud of cool starlight whose spark
Like the lamp of the firefly silently chimed;
I took my pleasure in saddlin’-up time.

And I worried the hectic commotion of morn,
The commerce of mercantile and courthouse lawn,
The meetings and greetings on sidewalk and street
Where horseback-opinions and auguring meet,
And I argued their rhythms, swore at their rhymes,
But was playful as a pup, come saddlin’-up time.

For ’twas then before ever light angled to fill
The round corners, we’d clamor like wolves at the kill
With horse-talk our yap, with our nip and our bite
Latigo leathers snapping cinchas down tight
In the summer’s wet dew or the winter’s sharp rime
As we readied our horses at saddlin’-up time.

When the morning night air was marble we breathed,
Heavy and smooth and as cold as the breeze
That skitters across the new snow-covered plains,
One hand on the horn and the other, the reins
We stepped aboard stirrups, young bucks in our prime,
Salty as the Pecos at saddlin’-up time.

Though I’ve lived for this moment most all of my life,
Beginnings, not endings, put the edge on my knife;
And I’ve cursed too damn much and I’ve never prayed well
And it may be God figures to send me to Hell,
Riding drag for the Devil to pay for my crimes,
But I’m damned if I’ll go ‘fore saddlin’-up time.

© 1994, Andy Wilkinson, used with permission

 

This poem by respected poet, songwriter, singer, playwright, teacher, and editor Andy Wilkinson is a part of his “Wrangler award-winning Western folk opera of the dreams and visions of the legendary cowman, Charlie Goodnight” (titled Charlie Goodnight). His great-grandmother’s great-uncle was Charlie Goodnight. The late J.B. Allen recites “Saddlin’ Up Time” on the album.

Andy Hedges has his own fine recitation on the current “Cowboy Crossroads” podcast, with an extended interview with Andy Wilkinson, filled with engaging history and thoughtful, interesting stories about Charlie Goodnight and his times. Find the podcast and the previous gems of interviews of “music, poetry, and culture from the working cowboy West and beyond” here.

Another outstanding recitation of this poem, by Jerry A. Brooks, appears on her Shoulder to Shoulder CD and on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Seven.

Andy Wilkinson dazzled his audience with his keynote address at the 2017 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The presentation, which focused on the gathering’s theme of storytelling, was a celebration in brilliant poetry, with a few musical interludes. View a video to see why there was a clamoring for a printed version.

Now, the piece, Storyline, has been published by John Dofflemyer  at Dry Crik Journal. Find more, including Andy Wilkinson’s introduction and order information here.

Find more about Andy Wilkinson at CowboyPoetry.com and at his web site, andywilkinson.org.

This 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cowboy throwing saddle onto horse on cattle ranch near Spur, Texas.” It’s from the Farm Services Administration (FSA) collection at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.

Russell Lee taught photography at the University of Texas, Austin, from 1965-1973, and is best known for his FSA photos. Find more about him at Texas State University’s Russell Lee Collection.

For more on FSA photographs, see Charlie Seemann’s recent book, WAY OUT WEST: Photographs from the Farm Security Administration 1936-1943.

WHAT’S A BRONCO by S. Omar Barker

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WHAT’S A BRONCO
by S. Omar Barker

They asked me “What’s a bronco!”
since they seemed to crave to know.
I kinder chawed it over,
then I fed it to ’em slow.

“A bronc,” I says, judicious,
“which is what you mean, no doubt,
Is an equine son of cyclones
with the hairy side turned out.
His soul is filled with cockleburs,
and when this inward itch
bursts forth in outward action,
he is said to buck or pitch,
Which means he comes unraveled,
paws the moon to make it spin,
and agitates his muscles
like he aimed to quit his skin.

“One jump he views his belly,
and the next he chins the stars.
Was you ever kicked by lightnin’?
That’s the way his landin’ jars.
His color may be anything
from black to flea-bit roan;
a sorrel, bay, or chestnut,
he is still the devil’s own
until he’s been unspizzled
by some hairpin on his back
with two prongs hung acrost him
and their juncture in the kack.

“A pinwill or a r’arback
or a circlin’ pioneer,
The bronc’s a welcome widow-maker
when he throws himself in gear.
Though he’s the toughest red meat
you will ever come across,
If you’re man enough to ride him,
then you’ve got yourself a hoss!”

…by S. Omar Barker, from “Rawhide Rhymes; Singing Poems of the Old West,” (1968); reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker

Cowboy, poet, songwriter, and yodeler Gary McMahan does a great recitation of “What’s a Bronco” on the forthcoming double CD of S. Omar Barker’s poetry from CowboyPoetry.com (April 2018).

S. Omar Barker, as described in Cowboy Miner Productions’ collection of his work, “…was born in the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico… a rancher, high school teacher, college professor, forest ranger, soldier, outdoorsman, and legislator…” He was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America, Inc. and many of his poems were published by Western Horseman.

Find more about S. Omar Barker at CowboyPoetry.com.

The photo above is among those you’ll find in a new book, Way Out West: Photographs from the Farm Security Administration 1936-1943, Charlie Seemann, retired Executive Director of the Western Folklife Center.

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See our review here.

This 1940 photo by Russell Lee from FSA collection at The Library of Congress is titled, “Quemado, New Mexico. Bronc busting at the rodeo.” Find more about it at here.