THE FENCE by DW Groethe

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THE FENCE
by DW Groethe

When it comes to vexation and ire
Nothin’ gets my dander higher
Than bein’ in the sticks
Tryin’ to fix
Hun’erd year old strands a wire.
They criss cross in jumbles an’ knots
In places God’s all but forgot
Hangin’ from posts
That gave up the ghost
Way back when Valentino was hot!

You can randomly pick any stretch
Of thirty odd feet an’ you’ll fetch
Ten distinct types of wire
Twelve knots and a choir
Of whatever the wind lets it ketch.
As a functionin’ tool—it’s a bust.
There’s no metal in here—it’s all rust
That with one careless stare
Will drop from the air
To the gumbo’s gray mud cracklin’ crust.

A tradition out here every spring,
Says you light out an’ fix the damn thing—
Tho’ any ol’ dope
Can see it’s past hope—
You still go and give ‘er a fling.
Soon you’ll hitch up two loose ends that’s fell
An’ click that ol’ stretcher until
It’s snug tight an’ fit
Ah—You know you should quit
But a little voice says—”What the hell!”—
So you give it just one tiny squeeze
The whole time yer sayin’—”Lord please—
If I can just click one more
You’ll see me Sunday for sure—
Heck!—I’m already down on my knees!”—

But a fool and his wire are soon parted
So yer settin’ right back where you started—
With a mouth full of cuss
An’ words blasphemous—
It’s no place fer them that’s weak hearted.

And rocks?—
The rocks here a thicker ‘n sin
So there’s posts that ‘r barely sunk in—
The fact that they’re there
Proves the power of prayer
Answers many a shaky Amen.
There’s willow an’ cedar an’ steel—
Stone Johnnies—But hey let’s git real
In this fencin’ game
Findin’ two posts the same
In a row—now that’s a big deal!

An’ when it comes to ranklin’ yer craw
Nothin’ beats coulees an’ draws
When it’s hot’r ‘n blazes
An’ there’s nothin’ that fazes
The bugs as they chew yer hide raw.
There’s no such a thing as just one—
They’re like clouds that blot out the sun—
Moskeeters an’ gnats
Flies—big as small cats—
That nothin’ on earth can outrun.

Eventu’ly you’ve had enuf fun
An’ you end up—back where you begun—
With fingers well crossed
You lie to the boss
“She’s like new—I got ‘er all done!”
Til next spring when it’s time to commence
This time honored ritual nonsense—
What strikes me as odd
Is that cows us an’ God
All pretend that the damn thing’s a fence!

© 2001, DW Groethe
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.

It’s the 19th annual Cowboy Poetry Week, and we’re sharing the best of the best.

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DW Groethe has been posting new and unpublished poems for Cowboy Poetry Week every day at Instagram.

Eastern Montana ranch hand DW Groethe performs his poetry and music at venues small (which he really likes) and large. He’s appeared many times at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and has been invited to the the National Traditional Council for the Arts’ National Folk Festival, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Library of Congress, and other places.

Find more about DW Groethe and his books and recordings at cowboypoetry.com. Follow him on Instagram.

This 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) titled “Fence construction on ranch near Marfa, Texas, is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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.

(Request permission for use of this poem. The photo is in the public domain.)

BOOMER JOHNSON by Henry Herbert Knibbs

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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

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It’s the 19th annual Cowboy Poetry Week, and we’re sharing the best of the best.

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.

This 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cook of SMS Ranch making bread in front of chuck wagon. Ranch near Spur, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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 photo are in the public domain.)

I’D LIKE TO BE IN TEXAS FOR THE ROUNDUP IN THE SPRING traditional

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I’D LIKE TO BE IN TEXAS FOR THE ROUNDUP IN THE SPRING
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In a lobby of a big hotel in New York town one day,
Sat a bunch of fellows telling yarns to pass the time away.
They told of places where they’d been and all the sights they’d seen,
And some of them praised Chicago town and others New Orleans.

I can see the cattle grazing o’er the hills at early morn;
I can see the camp-fires smoking at the breaking of the dawn,
I can hear the broncos neighing I can hear the cowboys sing;
Oh I’d like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.

In a corner in an old arm chair sat a man whose hair was gray,
He had listened to them longingly, to what they had to say.
They asked him where he’d like to be and his clear old voice did ring:
“I’d like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.

They all sat still and listened to each word he had to say;
They knew the old man sitting there had once been young and gay.
They asked him for a story of his life out on the plains,
He slowly then removed his hat and quietly began:

“Oh, I’ve seen them stampede o’er the hills,
when you’d think they`d never stop,
I’ve seen them run for miles and miles until their leader dropped,
I was foreman on a cow ranch—that’s the calling of a king;
I’d like to be in Texas for the round-up in the spring.”

There’s a grave in sunny Texas where Molly Deming sleeps,
‘Mid a grove of mossy live oaks a constant vigil keeps.
In my heart’s a recollection of a long, long bygone day
When we rode the range together like truant kids astray.

Her gentle spirit calls me in the watches of the night
And I hear her laughter freshening the dew of early light.
Yes I was foreman of a cow ranch–the callin’ of a king,
And I’d like to be in Texas for the roundup in the spring.

I’d like to sleep my last long sleep with Mother Earth for bed
And my saddle for a pillow, and the bright stars overhead.
Then I could hear the last stampedes, the songs the rivers sing
Way back down in Texas when they roundup in the spring.

…authorship uncertain

The authorship of “I’d Like to Be in Texas…” is uncertain. In the late Glenn Ohrlin’s The Hell-Bound Train, he writes, “Vernon Dalhart recorded ‘Roundup in the Spring’ on November 1, 1926… The song was first printed in sheet music copyrighted in 1927 by Lou Fishback (Fort Worth, Tex.); Carl Copeland and Jack Williams were listed as co-writers. The following year, the Texas Folklore Society printed an article by J. Frank Dobie, who claimed it was an old song he had obtained from Andy Adams.”

The Lomax’s include information from the Dobie article, writing that “…he found two lines in an unpublished play of Mr. Andy Adams. When he requested the full version, Mr. Adams sent him two stanzas and the chorus, which he had obtained fifteen years previously from W. E. Hawks, a ranchman now living in Burlington, Vt. However, he claimed to be responsible for most of the second stanza….”

Thanks to Stanton Howe who commented when we previously posted this piece, “Duane Dickinson sang the best version of this I ever heard. He included the last verse[s] which makes the song make much better sense.” The less frequently heard second- and third-to-last verses above are from “Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads” by John and
Alan Lomax. The final verse is more commonly heard. As with most folk songs, there are many variations.

Cowboy and poet JB Allen (1938-2005) recorded an outstanding recitation of this work at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The recording is on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Ten.

Top cowboy balladeer Don Edwards sings it in a video here and the great Buck Ramsey (1938-1998) sings the song here.

Find more about “I’d Like to Be in Texas” at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1929 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cowboys roping horses at roundup near Marfa, Texas.” It is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs.

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 some impressive photographs of Texas bluebonnets, check out Jason Weingart Photography,  where there is one dazzling photo that has been shared all over social media without attribution.

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

IT SORTA MAKES SENSE, Virginia Bennett

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IT SORTA MAKES SENSE
by Virginia Bennett

A friend of mine, (I’ll call him Pete)
was watching TV the other day.
He listened to some reporter,
believin’ all he had to say.
It was a “human interest piece”
tho’ some would call it fluff.
And, it showed a lot of fancy folks
with their poodles struttin’ stuff.

And, the reporter said, “It has long been
established as a scientific fact
that dogs look like their owners
and by data this has been backed.”
Well, Pete looked down at his old dog
lyin’ faithfully on the floor:
His tongue lolled out (the dog’s, not Pete’s)
as he laid there in full-snore.

His one good eye was swollen shut
from one of the milk-cow’s kicks.
He’d lost patches of his mangy fur
from diggin’ at his ticks.
A trophy brought home gallantly
from a coyote fight last week,
was one ear torn completely in half
and a new scar on his beak.

He had porky quills stickin’ out of his gums
he only had one dew claw…
And since the stud horse aimed just right
he drinks his toilet water through a straw!
Yes, Pete looked down, then looked at the screen
his cowboy mind in a muddled fog.
And said, “If it’s true that dogs look like their owners…
then, I gotta get a better lookin’ dog!”

© 2004, Virginia Bennett, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

We’re continuing with our theme of “who we’re missing at Elko.”

Cowboy, horsewoman, poet, musician, writer, and editor Virginia Bennett’s respected body of work is collected in her books and in a number of anthologies. This poem is included in her most recent book, In the Company of Horses. She’s the editor of two important collections, Cowgirl Poetry and Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion.

She was often a featured poet at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and other events until she suffered a serious horse-related injury over a decade ago.

Find some selections of her poetry and more about her and her publications in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com.

The above 1940 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986), titled, “Gold miner with his dog, Mogollon, New Mexico is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division.

See 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 .

>>>>This is a schedule post while we’re on a break for the National Cowboy Gathering, returning February 4.

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

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.