THE OLD NIGHT HAWK, by Bruce Kiskaddon

nighthawk2

 

THE OLD NIGHT HAWK
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I am up tonight in the pinnacles bold
Where the rim towers high.
Where the air is clear and the wind blows cold,
And there’s only the horses and I.
The valley swims like a silver sea
In the light of the big full moon,
And strong and clear there comes to me
The lilt of the first guard’s tune.

The fire at camp is burning bright,
Cook’s got more wood than he needs.
They’ll be telling some windy tales tonight
Of races and big stampedes.
I’m gettin’ too old fer that line of talk:
The desperaders they’ve knowed,
Their wonderful methods of handling stock
And the fellers they’ve seen get throwed.

I guess I’m a dog that’s had his day,
Though I still am quick and strong.
My hair and my beard have both turned gray,
And I reckon I’ve lived too long.
None of ’em know me but that old cook, Ed,
And never a word he’ll say.
My story will stick in his old gray head
Till the break of the Judgment Day.

What’s that I see a walkin’ fast?
It’s a hoss a’ slippin’ through.
He was tryin’ to make it out through the pass;
Come mighty near doin’ it too.
Get back there! What are you tryin’ to do?
You hadn’t a chance to bolt.
Old boy I was wranglin’ a bunch like you
Before you was even a colt.

It’s later now. The guard has changed.
One voice is clear and strong.
He’s singin’ a tune of the old time range —
I always did like that song.
It takes me back to when I was young
And the memories come through my head,
Of the times I have heard that old song sung
By voices now long since dead.

I have traveled better than half my trail.
I am well down the further slope.
I have seen my dreams and ambitions fail,
And memory replaces hope.
It must be true, fer I’ve heard it said,
That only the good die young.
The tough old cusses like me and Ed
Must stay still the last dog’s hung.

I used to shrink when I thought of the past
And some of the things I have known.
I took to drink, but now at last,
I’d far rather be alone.
It’s strange how quick that a night goes by,
Fir I live in the days of old.
Up here where there’s only the hosses and I;
Up in the pinnacles bold.

The two short years that I ceased to roam,
And I led a contented life.
Then trouble came and I left my home,
And I never have heard of my wife.
The years that I spent in a prison cell
When I went by another name;
For life is a mixture of Heaven and Hell
To a feller that plays the game.

They’d better lay off that wrangler kid.
They’ve give him about enough.
He looks like a pardner of mine once did.
He’s the kind that a man can’t bluff.
They’ll find that they are making a big mistake
If they once get him overhet;
And they’ll give him as good as an even break,
Or I’m takin’ a hand, you bet.

Look, there in the East is the Mornin’ Star.
It shines with a firy glow,
Till it looks like the end of a big cigar,
But it hasn’t got far to go.
Just like the people that make a flash.
They don’t stand much of a run.
Come bustin’ in with a sweep and a dash
When most of the work is done.

I can see the East is gettin’ gray.
I’ll gather the hosses soon;
And faint from the valley far away
Comes the drone of the last guard’s tune.
Yes, life is just like the night-herd’s song,
As the long years come and go.
You start with a swing that is free and strong,
And finish up tired and slow.

I reckon the hosses all are here.
I can see that T-bar blue,
And the buckskin hoss with the one split ear;
I’ve got ’em all. Ninety two.
Just listen to how they roll the rocks —
These sure are rough old trails.
But then, if they can’t slide down on their hocks,
They can coast along on their tails.

The Wrangler Kid is out with his rope,
He seldom misses a throw.
Will he make a cow hand? Well I hope,
If they give him half a show.
They are throwin’ the rope corral around,
The hosses crowd in like sheep.
I reckon I’ll swaller my breakfast down
And try to furgit and sleep.

Yes, I’ve lived my life and I’ve took a chance,
Regardless of law or vow.
I’ve played the game and I’ve had my dance,
And I’m payin’ the fiddler now.

…Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem appeared in Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1924 book, and was revised for his 1947 book. The 45 variants are included in Bill Siems’ Open Range, which includes almost all of Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems. The above poem is the 1947 version.

Bill Siems writes, in another of his books, Shorty’s Yarns (the collected stories of Kiskaddon), about how this poem inspired him. His eloquent comments include how city people and ranchers might see each other, and, he comments on ranch people:

“…Besides feeding us, they are the stewards of our land and keepers of our connection with the natural world. They have come closest, after the Native Americans, to harmony with a landscape that is both beautiful and harsh. This harmony is a significant and difficult achievement, essentially in opposition to our romantic notions that are driven by need but not grounded in reality. It is one thing to love the land from a climate-controlled vehicle, but it is another to love it in the wind and sleet on horseback. Cattle as a backdrop for western entertainment are a world apart from cattle as living creatures that must be cared for and slaughtered. Standing with honesty and humility on such bedrock facts of life gives a person authority, however gently it may be asserted…this is the poem that first caught me up in Bruce Kiskaddon’s words…”

Find more about Kiskaddon, Open Range, and Shorty’s Yarns at CowboyPoetry.com.

In the new triple-CD set from cowboypoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, Bill Siems offers an introduction to Bruce Kiskaddon and top poets and reciters present over 60 Kiskaddon poems.

Chris Isaacs, cowboy, packer, poet, and humorist, recites “The Old Night Hawk” on MASTERS: VOLUME THREE.

Chris headlines at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, August 8-10, 2019 in Prescott. Other announced performers are headliners Trinity Seely and The Cowboy Way Trio (Doug Figgs, Jim Jones and Mariam Funke). Tickets are available now.

This stunning photograph is by cowboy, writer, and poet Amy Hale Steiger, who cowboys with her husband Gail Steiger in rugged country at Arizona’s Spider ranch. She comments, “We often make camp below this butte when we are working our Cottonwood Pasture. Late evening and early morning highlights the rock faces, and I can’t help but stand in awe.”

For a fine piece of writing about her cowboying life, don’t miss her recent “Feet to the Fire,” in the current issue of Contra Viento Journal.

Amy Steiger has acclaimed books: two novels, two essay collections, and a book of poetry.

Find more about her at her web site, amyhaleauker.com; on CowboyPoetry.com; on Instagram; and follow her on Facebook.

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

A VISITOR, by Bruce Kiskaddon

visitor

 

A VISITOR
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Just take a good look at what’s gathered up here.
A bunch of six calves and a visitin’ steer.
He can’t be a father, he can’t be a mother;
Of course you can’t tell, he might be a big brother.

This steer he was probably goin’ somewhere.
When he noticed them calves and just wanted in there.
The ol cows has gone to the water to drink,
And the calves that’s awake is too young fer to think.

It is likely by now that this steer doesn’t know
Exactly what place he had started to go.
You can’t depend much on a steer that is true
Fer he don’t know himself what he’s aimin’ to do.

He is generally speakin’ an onsartin’ feller;
He might hide in the bresh, he might stand out and beller.
The cows and the bulls aint so likely to run
But when steers git stampeded it ain’t any fun.

Well, the steer is fulfillin’ his mission on Earth.
A slight operation soon after his birth,
Decided his fate and laid out his career;
He’s a whole lot of beef and that’s why he’s a steer.

… by Bruce Kiskaddon

Bruce Kiskaddon’s ten years of cowboying informs many of his works. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems.

This poem was among his last works. In 1949 he and illustrator Katherine Field (1908-1951) renewed their partnership, creating poems and illustrations for the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar, as they had done years before, 1936-1942. Kiskaddon died in 1950 and had written six-month’s worth of poems in advance. Field illustrated them all before her own death in 1951.

That information and almost all of Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems are included in Open Range by Bill Siems. Find more about Kiskaddon and more about Siems’ book in our Kiskaddon features.

In the new triple-CD set from cowboypoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, Bill Siems offers an introduction to Bruce Kiskaddon and top poets and reciters present over 60 Kiskaddon poems.

kiskv3mastersx

(This poem is in the public domain. The calendar image is from our collection.)

COW BOY DAYS, by Bruce Kiskaddon

cowboydaysx

 

COW BOY DAYS
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Can you recollect the country
That we knew in days gone by?
Where the prairie met the sunrise
And the mountains met the sky.
Where you rode through rugged canyons
And o’er rolling mesas wide
Or you crossed the wind swept prairie
On a long and lonely ride.

How your bits and spurs would jingle
And the only other sound
Was the creaking of your saddle
And the hoof beats on the ground.
Almost any where you landed
There was something you could do
You were happy in that country
With the people that you knew.

No the people wasn’t plenty
In the good old days of yore
But you always found a welcome
At most any cabin door.
You would get off of your pony
And you’d stretch and stomp your feet
When you got that invitation
“Better light a spell and eat.”

That was one of the traditions
Of the easy going West
You were just a drifting cow boy
But you were an honored guest.
No it wasn’t always funny
In them early days old pard
You was often out of money
And the work was plenty hard.

How you rode with Death behind you
When you milled the wild stampede
And you felt the lightning blind you
As you fought to bend the lead.
How you drifted with the blizzard
Till you got a fire lit
You was froze plum to the gizzard
By the time the storm had quit.

No you hadn’t no bay window.
Fact is you was soter lean
You had coffee and some biscuits
And some salty pork and beans
You could tell there had been cattle
In the water that you drank
And you swallered bugs and wigglers
At some muddy old ground tank.

When you landed at a bunk house
You was welcomed by the crew
But you have some recollections
How the bed bugs met you too
When you went to meet the round up
You can recollect some day
When you couldn’t find the wagon
Or your hosses got away.

When you went out greasy sackin’
In the summer in the hills
You was shoein’ brandin’ packin’
Cookin’ workin’ fit to kill
For there wasn’t any wagon
And you hadn’t any bunk.
Packed your bed on sweaty hosses
Lord the way them blankets stunk.

Now you tell it with a snicker
But it griped you then I’ll bet
Standing’ all night in a slicker
‘Cause your bed was wringin’ wet.
You was young and you was happy
You was never really sick
But you often travelled limpin’
When a leg got jammed or kicked.

Now old hurts come back and pain you
And you have some tender toes
That date back some forty winters
To the time your feet was froze.
You’ve a scar upon your forehead
That for years you packed around
Where some cranky tricky pony
Throwed you on the frozen ground.

Your eyes are dim and bleary
From the wind and dust and sun
And the time you got snow blinded
Didn’t seem to help ’em none.
Almost any old cow puncher
Has some fingers or a wrist
Busted when he tried to dally
And the saddle got his fist.

Things are not the way they once was
There has been a lot of change
Since the days of drives and roundups
When we worked the open range.
In the wide and grassy valleys
Where the cattle used to roam
There are irrigation ditches
And there’s farms and barns and homes.

Now there’s signals and there’s sign boards
Where we bedded cattle down
Where we met with other outfits
There are villages and towns.
Neon signs are blazin’ brightly
Where our camp fires glowed dim
Concrete bridges span the rivers
Where our hosses used to swim.

No, you haven’t made a fortune
And your hair is white. You’re old
But you wouldn’t trade your memories
Not for heaps of shinin’ gold.
And whenever you get lonely
You just hold a grand review
Of the places and the hosses
And the people that you knew.
You can hear the songs and stories
You can see the camp fires blaze
As you live again the glories
Of your grand old cow boy days.

…from Kiskaddon’s 1924 version in Rhymes of the Ranges

Here’s a lesser-known poem by the master, Bruce Kiskaddon. Kiskaddon’s ten years of cowboying informs many of his works. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems.

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Bill Siems also collected Bruce Kiskaddon’s short stories in a book called Shorty’s Yarns. Find more in the Kiskaddon features at cowboypoetry.com.

In Open Range, Bill Siems also includes a later poem by Kiskaddon, “Looking Backward,” which is nearly identical to “Cow Boy Days.” You can view both at CowboyPoetry.com.

Randy Rieman recites the last stanza of this poem, which he calls “Looking Back,” on his Where the Ponies Come to Drink CD. That recording is also on the new triple-CD set from cowboypoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, on which Bill Siems offers an introduction to Bruce Kiskaddon.

This c. 1904 photograph by W. D. Harper “…shows fourteen cowboys from the F.D.W. Ranch in New Mexico posed on a tree trunk.” It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here.

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

WHEN CONNORS RODE REP FOR THE LORD, by Bruce Kiskaddon

kiskv3mastersx

WHEN CONNORS RODE REP FOR THE LORD
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

One time they was givin’ a big work for souls.
They was plum over stocked so they say.
The owners all over that section was told
To come and help take ’em away.

The Devil he come and brought with him three hands
That was nearly as smart as their boss.
The was there representin’ the old Pitch Fork brand
Buck Connors was there for the Cross.

All three of them hands and the Devil was wise.
They thought they was runnin’ things, but,
Buck Connors he pulled his hat down to his eyes
And rode in and started the cut.

All four of them fellers sez never a word,
They figgered they might git a break.
They watch everything that come out of the herd,
But Buck never made a mistake.

When he finished his cut he rode up to the boss
And he sez, “Well I reckon I’m through.
I got everything that belong to the Cross
And I’m turnin’ it over to you.”

So the throw back went home to the ranch in the sky
And the Devil he never once scored.
Not even Old Satan hisself could get by
When Buck Connors rode rep for the Lord.

…Bruce Kiskaddon, from Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems (1947)
While putting this post together, the identity of Buck Connors (1880-1947) came to light. Buck Connors was an actor and narrated a popular Tim McCoy serial. The site at b-westerns.com/villan74.htm tells, “Buck was an Episcopal chaplain or minister—or, at least someone with deep religious beliefs. He was the chaplain of the 1930’s ‘Riding Actors Association of Hollywood,’ an early attempt at unionizing riders, stuntmen, etc. who desired safer working conditions as well as higher wages. He also did chaplain duties with the ‘Chuck Wagon Trailers,’ a group of western film heroes, character and support players who assembled a few times a year for a BBQ and to remember the ol’ days.”

When asked, Kiskaddon expert Bill Siems agreed that it was without a doubt that Connors is the man of the poem, and said that Kiskaddon, too, was a member of Chuck Wagon Trailers, as was Frank King, the Western Livestock Journal insider who brought Kiskaddon into the publication.

Noted reciter Ross Knox has a great rendition of this poem on his Make Me a Cowboy Again for a Day CD. He introduces it, commenting that there are a number of Kiskaddon poems that are “phenomenal pieces of work” that aren’t heard much.

Bruce Kiskaddon worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898 in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems. His poems are among the most admired and the most recited in the “classic” cowboy poetry canon.

So much of what we know about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

Ross Knox’s recitation of “When Connors Rode Rep for the Lord” and of another more obscure Kiskaddon poem, along with introduction to Kiskaddon by Bill Siems, are part of CowboyPoetry.com’s forthcoming triple-CD, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poems of Bruce Kiskaddon, to be released in late April for Cowboy Poetry Week.

You can receive a CD and the Cowboy Poetry Week Poster for a donation of $50 or more to the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry. Find more and a quick link for donating.

CDs will likely be $35 postpaid. Posters are never sold.

Find more about Ross Knox at cowboypoetry.com/rossknox.htm and see a recent video from Western Horseman by Jennifer Denison and Katie Frank here.

(This poem is in the public domain. The photo of Bruce Kiskaddon on the cover of MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poems of Bruce Kiskaddon, is licensed from the Aultman Collection, History Colorado.)

STARTIN’ OUT, by Bruce Kiskaddon

img445

 

STARTIN’ OUT
by Bruce Kiskaddon

When you have to start out on a cold winter day
The wind blowin’ cold and the sky is dull gray.
You blow on the bit till you take out the frost,
Then you put on the bridle and saddle yore hoss.

He squats and he shivers. He blows through his nose.
The blanket is stiff for the sweat is shore froze.
Then you pick up yore saddle and swing it up high,
Till the stirrups and cinches and latigoes fly.

The pony he flinches and draws down his rump.
There’s a chance he might kick, and he’s likely to jump.
He rolls his eye at you and shivers like jelly
When you pull that old frozen cinch up on his belly.

It is cold on his back and yore freezin’ yore feet,
And you’ll likely find out when you light on yore seat,
That you ain’t got no tropical place fer to set.
It is likey the saddle aint none overhet.

But a cow boy don’t pay no attention to weather.
He gits out of his bed and gits into the leather.
In the winter it’s mighty onpleasant to ride,
But that’s just the time when he’s needed outside.

…by Bruce Kisaddon

Seventy-five years ago, Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem appeared in the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar.

As mentioned with previously-posted calendar poems: From 1936 through 1942, poet Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950) and artist Katherine Field (1908-1951) collaborated on works for the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar and the Western Livestock Journal.

In 1939, Frank M. King, editor of the Western Livestock Journal, wrote,  “…Sometimes Bruce’s poems are mailed up there to Katherine in her mountain home, and pretty soon it comes back with a drawing that just fits the poem. Then for a change she sends her drawings over here to Los Angeles and Bruce squints them eyes over ’em that he used to use for spying out long eared calves up there on them Colorado and Arizona mountain ranges, and in a right short time he comes out with one of them poems that exactly matches the picture, so they make a good team for matching up pictures and poems.”

The two never met in person.

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

Kiskaddon has another poem that is also named “Starting Out,” and we look forward to having Gail Steiger’s recitation of that poem on the forthcoming multi-disk CD from CowboyPoetry.com, with over 50 Kiksaddon poems, recited by a great community of cowboy poets, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poems of Bruce Kiskaddon. Bill Siems will contribute and introduction and a recitation of his own.

This poem is in the public domain and the illustration comes from our collection of Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar pages.

PULLIN’ LEATHER by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

pullinleather

 

PULLIN’ LEATHER
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Yes, a cow boy has his troubles,
and he shore is out of luck,
Out a dozen miles from nowheres
and his hoss begins to buck.
And he picks a place to practice
on some mighty ugly grounds,
For you’d land amongst the cactus
if he ever got you down.

So you aim to keep a straddle
and you’ll ride him if you can,
‘Elst they’ll be a dehorned saddle,
or they’ll be a one armed man.
You don’t look like much vaquero,
he is floppin’ yore shirt tails.
You have lost yore old sombrero
and you’ve broke some finger nails.

People say that pullin’ leather
don’t show ridin’ skill.That’s true.
But you’d like to stick together
till the argyment is through.
When yo’re a slippin’ and a slidin’,
you’ll admit at all events
If it doesn’t show good ridin’
that it shows a heap of sense.

When yo’re throwed it ain’t so pleasant
with a dozen miles to walk.
No there ain’t nobody present,
and the hoss of course cain’t talk.
You are hangin’ on and prayin’.
You ain’t makin’ no grand stand.
You jest aim to keep a stayin’
and you’ll do the best you can.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem and its illustration by Katherine Field (1908-1951) appeared on the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar in October, 1938, and also in the Western Livestock Journal that year.

Kiskaddon and Field collaborated on works for the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar and the Western Livestock Journal from 1936 to 1942, when she had to stop working to take care of her ailing parents and her children. In 1949 they renewed their partnership. Kiskaddon died in 1950 and had written six-month’s worth of poems in advance. Field illustrated them all before her own death in 1951.The two never met in person.

Kiskaddon worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898, working in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area. He wrote many poems still read and recited today.

Find much more about Kiskaddon: many of his poems; a feature about Bill Siems’ monumental “Open Range” that collects nearly 500 of Kiskaddon’s poems; Siems’ collection of Kiskaddon’s short stories, “Shorty’s Yarns”; and more at CowboyPoetry.com.

Coming this spring from the BAR-D: A multi-disk CD with over 50 Kiksaddon poems, recited by a great community of cowboy poets, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poems of
Bruce Kiskaddon.

This poem is in the public domain and the illustration comes from our collection of Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar pages.

THE ARMY MULE by by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

armymule

THE ARMY MULE
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

Sometimes mules got in the army ’cause they’d pulled a wicked trick.
Had some trouble with a feller and the feller he got kicked.
That man’s neighbors joined in singin’, while the parson blessed his soul;
“Shall We Meet Beyond the River Where the Surges Cease to Roll.”

But the mule he liked the army when he got his trainin’ done.
And the soldiers didn’t seem to hold his past against him none.
For the packer and the “Skinner,” take ’em as a general rule,
Has a past a heap more shady than the average army mule.

No they didn’t starve or beat him, and he did his share of work.
They knowed how they ort to treat him and the mule he didn’t shirk
If you know the way to use him he’s a mighty handy tool,
And the people that abused him rank a lot below the mule.

There mebby is a stubborn streak that runs among the breed.
Don’t try to move a wheel mule up and work him in the lead.
That works in both directions and you buck the self same deal
If you try to make the lead mule back and work him on the wheel.

He will keep a heavy wagon movin’ right along the road.
In among the hills and mountains he will pack a heavy load.
He might light out for some reason that you never could explain,
But you’ll find him at the picket line in time to get his grain.

‘Course you have to be admittin’ that a mule has got his tricks.
He ain’t harmless like a kitten, and he means it when he kicks.
But you’ll find him mighty useful, and you’ll find he ain’t no fool,
If you chance to get acquainted with a real old army mule.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

Still thinking of veterans, here’s a tribute to the four-legged kind.

“The Army Mule” appeared in the Western Livestock Journal in 1943 and was included in the 1947 edition Bruce Kiskaddon’s Rhymes of the Ranges.

Western Livestock journalist Frank King wrote, in his introduction to Kiskaddon’s 1924 edition of Rhymes of the Ranges, “Bruce Kiskaddon is a real old time cowboy, having started his cattle ranch experience in the Picket Wire district of southern Colorado as a kid cowhand and rough string rider and later on northern Arizona ranges, especially as a writer for the late Tap Duncan, famous as a Texas and Arizona cattleman, and one time the largest cattle holder in Mojave County, Arizona, where Bruce rode for years, after which he took a turn as a rider on big cattle stations in Australia. All this experience is reflected in his western poems, because he has had actual experience in the themes he puts into verse, He had no college professor teach him anything. He is a natural born poet and his poems show he knows his business. The best cowhand poems I have ever read. His books should be in every home and library where western poetry is enjoyed.”

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

We are at work on MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon. We are honored that Bill Siems will tell about Bruce Kiskaddon in an introduction on the CD. Kay Nowell will recite “The Army Mule.” Stay tuned for more news. The double CD will be released for the 18th annual Cowboy Poetry Week, April 21-27, 2019.

This undated photo from The Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division is titled, “Pack mule of U.S. Army Signal Corps, used for carrying storage batteries for the field wireless telegraph.”

This poem and photograph are in the public domain.