THE REAL THING, by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)


by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

Have you ever saddled up a horse
You didn’t want to ride,
And gone out where you didn’t want to go?
It’s not a subject much discussed,
This unromantic side,
And only understood by those who know

That empty hollow feeling felt
Of staring at the dark
While hoping that the worst he’ll do is buck.
But you get paid to ride the kind
Who’d rather bite than bark.
You sigh and turn and pray to God for luck.

Have you ever drained the final drop
Out of your coffee cup
While staring at the wind-whipped, driving snow?
You’re warm right now, but that’ll end
By time you’ve saddled up
And then you’ll get the chilling horseman know

Of stinging ears and fingertips
While cold, like novocaine,
Numbs your toes, yeah, you know how it feels.
The cramping in your arches makes
You grit your teeth in pain
‘Til you dismount and walk upon your heels.

Have you ever had your arm so tired
From doctoring all day
You find it hard to build another loop?
You used to think you liked to rope
When it was done for play,
But now you find you’ve come to dread the droop

Of ears or runny eyes and limps.
It never seems to end.
You almost hate ’em just because they’re sick.
But there before you stands one more
There’s no choice but to tend.
You ask your worn out horse for one more lick.

Have you ever felt the urge to quit,
But gone on anyway
And followed through on nothing else but pride?
That’s how it has to be sometimes
When work outweighs the pay,
And you’re not there on just a “whimsy” ride.

You do it even when you know
It’s gonna hurt like hell,
You do it even though you post no score
Except the one inside yourself
Which makes you do things well.
You do it for the men who rode before.

© 2000, Larry McWhorter, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

The great, late cowboy Larry McWhorter was certainly an authority on “real.” In his 2000 book, Contemporary Verse by Larry McWhorter, he introduces this poem, writing, “As Vess Quinlan would say, ‘This one is more for the ‘ins” thans the ‘bys”…there are certain things only men of the saddle understand and know.”

But it has a universal message, like so many of his poems.

Listen to Red Steagall recite this poem. The recitation is from an important project that popular singer and songwriter Jean Prescott produced, The Poetry of Larry McWhorter. It includes Larry McWhorter’s recorded recitations of his poetry, and eleven of his poems that were never recorded, recited by some of today’s top performers who were his friends, including Waddie Mitchell, Chris Isaacs, Andy Hedges, Gary McMahan, Dennis Flynn, Oscar Auker and Jesse Smith.

The first-in-the-series MASTERS (2017) CD from features recitations by Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens.

Read more poetry by Larry McWhorter and more about him at

Thanks to Jean Prescott for this photograph of Larry McWhorter and to Andrea Waitley for her kind permission for the use of this poem.

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

In Our Thoughts: Dennis Gaines (1954-2019)

dennisgainesjldxxphoto by Jeri Dobrowski

Sadly, Dennis Gaines died December 26, 2019. He will be missed by his many friends and family.

Jean Prescott tells us, “Dennis requested that there be no formal service after his passing. He asked that his body and organs be donated to A&M for research, but did not meet the criteria because he was too tall. He will be cremated and on Memorial Day his ashes will be spread over the family property near Buffalo Gap, Texas, where his mother’s ashes were spread. Friends are invited to attend.”

Condolences can be left at Callaway-Jones.



Previous posts:

October 26, 2018

Yesterday, Dennis Gaines told us that he is feeling better than he had been since his recent diagnosis, and with pain control and treatment, he is doing much better than he was a few weeks ago when his illness was announced.

Read his poem, “The Spandex Cowboy,” here.


From Jean Prescott, October 18, 2018:

We have a friend in need, folks. And, we all want to help.

Well known, award winning cowboy poet, humorist and storyteller, Dennis Gaines has been diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. He has been running a ranch in Texas for the past three years, but is no longer able to work.

There will be a “Stay-at-Home Benefit” on Judy James’ Cowboy Jubilee radio program with an accompanying “Quiet Fund” to raise funds for Dennis on Saturday, October 27th, from 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM, on KMQX 88.5 FM out of Weatherford, Texas.

Here’s how it works: While being aware of the need to help folks around us who are experiencing trials or tragedy, the concept of the Stay-at-Home Benefit Concert has been developed by DJs Jim and Andy Nelson with the help of

This is a special concert which you can listen to from the comfort of your home and enjoy without spending any money. With that in mind, you are free to donate any amount of money that you may have spent in travel, food, tickets and lodging to this worthy cause through what we call the Quiet Fund.

With the Quiet Fund, you can give any amount by mail or credit card, and the recipient is sent the funds with donor names, but not the amounts given. You can also chose to remain anonymous. Please put Dennis Gaines name in the notes/memo. Only Linda Kirkpatrick, who oversees the fund, knows the names of donors and the amounts of donations. She does not share that information with anyone else.

Here is how you can listen if you are not in the Weatherford, TX, area. Download the “tunein” app on your cell phone or your computer. Put in KMQX 88.5. CHUCK FM will pop up and you can listen to the concert in the comfort of your own home or vehicle.

Remember to say a prayer for Dennis and be generous with your donation. God Bless.


From October 10, 2018:

Thanks to Teresa Burleson for sharing this sad news, from Steve Conroy of the Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering:

Cowboy, poet, and storyteller Dennis Gaines is “dealing with serious cancer…Please keep Dennis in your prayers and if you have an opportunity, send him a note or give him a call.”

Find more about Dennis at




by S. Omar Barker (1894-1985)

I heard an oldtime cowboy swappin’ off some drawlin’ talk
about them nags men used to ride, who didn’t like to walk.
He spoke of them as “hosses,” so I up and asked him why
he didn’t call them “horses.” Well, a gleam come in his eye,
and here is what he told me—be it right or be it wrong—
some salty information that I’d like to pass along:

“You go out to the race track or some modern ridin’ school,
And what you’ll find ’em ridin’ there is horses, as a rule.
You’ll see ’em wrapped in blankets when they raise a little sweat,
And bedded in warm stables so they won’t git cold or wet.

“Their saddle is a postage stamp; they’re combed and curried slick:
Their riders bobble up an’ down like monkeys on a stick.
Them purty tricks are horses, son, but that there ain’t the word
We used to call them shaggies that we rode behind the herd.

“They might not be so purty, but they stayed outdoors at night.
They maybe weighed 900 pounds—all guts an’ dynamite.
They took you where you had to go an’ always brought you back,
Without no fancy rations that you purchase in a sack.

“They loped all day on nothin’ but your two hands full of grass.
On a Stetson full of water they could climb a mountain pass.
They swum you through the rivers an’ they plowed you through the sand—
You an’ your heavy saddle, an’ they learned to understand

“Which end of the cows the tail was on, till all you had to do
Was set up in the saddle while they did the cow work, too!
Sometimes they sorter dodged your rope, sometimes they bucked you high,
But they was sure the apple of the oldtime cowhands eye!

“These stable-pampered critters may be horses sure enough,
But them ol’ cow range hosses, they was born to take it rough.
So that’s the way they took it, till they earned a tougher name
Than these here handfed horses, all so delicate an’ tame.

“So you can have your horses, with their hifalutin’ gloss—
I’ll take four legged rawhide—or in other words, a hoss!”

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker from Songs of the Saddlemen, 1954

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… named after his father Squire L. Barker, but went by Omar.

It’s told that Barker enjoyed signing his name with his brand, created from his initials and laid sideways for “Lazy SOB,” but, that it was his brand is not accurate. In an article written by Barker for Hoofs and Horns magazine, Barker introduces himself, “This S.O.B. (my initials, not my ancestry) has never claimed to qualify as a sure ‘nough cowboy.” Later in the article, he comments, “Incidentally, when I applied for (Lazy S O B) for our cattle brand, they wrote back that some other S O B already had it. So we had to be satisfied with (Lazy S B).” (Thanks to Andy Hedges for sharing the article, which he received from Vess Quinlan, who received it from Joel Nelson who received it from Kay Nowell.)

Last year we released MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, the poetry of S. Omar Barker, with over 60 tracks on a double CD, with many of today’s top reciters and poets—including individuals, siblings, couples, parents and their offspring—who bring forth Barker’s humor and humanity. Paul Zarzyski  does a great recitation of this poem on the CD. Andy Hedges introduces the CD and the life of Barker.

2018_MastersCD_Cover_700X700 (2)

Barker was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America (and twice the winner of their Spur Award) and was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum ‘s Hall of Great Westerners, the first living author to receive that recognition. His poems were frequently published by Western Horseman and appeared in many other publications. He published four collections of his hundreds of poems, edited many books, and wrote novels and non-fiction.

Find more poetry and more about S. Omar Barker at

This photo of S. Omar Barker is courtesy of the estate of S. Omar Barker.

(You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please seek permission for any other uses.)

TALENT, by Rod Nichols


by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)

Lord knows why the boss ever hired him,
he wuzn’t what you’d call a hand,
he stayed in our way or in trouble,
not much of a cowboy that man.

I think that the boss would’ve fired him,
just waited to find the right way,
til after our supper one evenin’
he took a mouth-organ and played.

It might have been Red River Valley
or Down In The Valley so low
or Kathleen or Come To The Bower,
to this day I don’t rightly know.

But that doesn’t really much matter
cause whatever tune that he played,
when that rascal pup started playin’
we all wuz right glad that he’d stayed.

Have you felt the warm wind on the prairie,
the soft mourning call of a dove,
then you may have some sort of feelin’
for what we wuz all thinkin’ of.

The cares of the day soon forgotten,
they vanished without any trace,
there wuzn’t an hombre among us
without a big smile on his face.

The Lord gives to each man a talent
to use or to hide as he may,
there wuzn’t no doubt ’bout his talent
whenever that feller had played.

Lord grant me just one little favor,
please help me a bit now and then,
to call on just half of such talent
to shine as a light before men.

© 2002, Rod Nichols
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Texas poet Rod Nichols left many gems. He is greatly missed by his many friends. He wrote this poem soon after September 11, 2001, when he told us he had sensed a growing interest in cowboy poetry and music, and wrote, “… Here is one more that speaks to the use of the talents that the Good Lord has given us all whatever they may be.”

Find more about Rod Nichols at

This 1937 photograph by noted Depression-era documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) is titled, “The Texas cow-puncher in town for the day. The ranch for which he works is 90 miles away, and the road which leads to it passes one house on the way. Van Horn, Texas.”

The photograph is from the digital collections of the New York Public Library. Find more about it here.

Find more about Dorothea Lange in many sources, including a biography from Ken Burns’ film, The Dust Bowl,  at PBS.

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

OCTOBER’S EARLY SNOW by Dennis Russell


by Dennis Russell

I search as I ride while my horse’s hooves glide
In October’s early snow.
We’re prowlin’ quite wide as the heifers all hide
From this winter’s first big show.

It’s been a week now we cut calves from our cows.
In their eyes it don’t seem right.
I still can recall the cow’s lone distant bawl.
She worried on through the night.

With weaning all done as calves look for warm sun
Their whole world is turning white.
Well how could they know as the grass turns to snow
That this day’ll end up all right?

We ride up this way in the fall every day
To check calves and breathe fresh air.
My horse stops to drink as his feet slowly sink
In the stream. He takes his share.

My thoughts stray off course while I doze on my horse
As we prowl without true goal.
It’s this time of year that a man can think clear
When his heart is near his soul.

With a gentle push past tall trees and oak bush
Cold young calves will start downhill.
We’ll wind on around with the heifers all found
T’where it’s warm. They’ll shake this chill.

Calves will find good grass. There is none they will pass.
Oh my Lord! A grand ol’ sight.
This bunch will sleep sound in the soft grassy mounds.
They’ll be safe and warm tonight.

© 2017, Dennis Russell
This poem should be reposted or reprinted without permission


New Mexico rancher Dennis Russell’s bio tells that he “…blends his original western poems and songs as well as sharing some of the classics at campfires or cowboy gatherings.”

He includes “October’s Early Snow” on his new CD, New Mexico Stray. The track notes tell, “In the dry years we used to leave our cattle in the mountain pastures as long as there was grass, even into the late fall and “October’s Early Snow.”

The subtitle of the CD is “A collection of music and poetry I hold close to my heart,” and he comments, “Every song, poem, or story that is put on paper or dedicated to memory is created from the tracks of a trail already ridden. As for me, I’ve crossed many trails with many tracks. Some are quite simple to read, while others, are still not understood to this day. And yet they all make up what I am in my heart.” New Mexico Stray is a mix of original and classic poetry and music, and you can listen to full tracks at his web site.


The title of the CD refers to Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem of the same name. Dennis Russell’s recitation of that poem is on his CD and on the new triple CD from, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon.

Dennis is the founder of New Mexico’s annual Cimarron Cowboy Music and Poetry Gathering held at the Philmont Scout Ranch. The 6th annual event takes place August 22-25, 2019.

Scheduled poets and musicians include Floyd Beard, Valerie Beard, Broken Chair Band, Dale Burson, Don Cadden, Cowboy Way, Danner Hampton, Randy Huston, Jill Jones, Peggy Malone, Deanna Dickinson McCall, Terry Nash, Claudia Nygaard, Dale Page, Dennis Russell, Rocky Sullivan, Rod Taylor, and Barry Ward.

Find more about Dennis Russell at and at his site,

The above photo of Dennis Russell was taken by Dale Page in Redwing, Colorado. The photo below is by Valerie Beard.

Dennis Russell by Valerie  May of 2019.jpg


Celebrate the NATIONAL DAY OF THE COWBOY, Saturday, July 27, 2019


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




by Baxter Black

There’s a hundred years of history and a hundred before that
All gathered in the thinkin’ goin’ on beneath his hat.
And back behind his eyeballs and pumpin’ through his veins
Is the ghost of every cowboy that ever held the reins.

Every coil in his lasso’s been thrown a million times
His quiet concentration’s been distilled through ancient minds.
It’s evolution workin’ when the silver scratches hide
And a ghostly cowboy chorus fills his head and says, “Let’s ride.”

The famous and the rowdy, the savage and the sane
The bluebloods and the hotbloods and the corriente strain
All knew his mother’s mothers or was his daddy’s kin
‘Til he’s nearly purely cowboy, born to ride and bred to win.

He’s got Buffalo Bill Cody and Goodnight’s jigger boss
And all the brave blue soldiers that General Custer lost
The ghost of Pancho Villa, Sittin’ Bull and Jessie James
All gathered by his campfire keepin’ score and takin’ names.

There’s every Royal Mountie that ever got his man
And every day-work cowboy that ever made a hand
Each man that’s rode before him, yup, every mother’s son
Is in his corner, rootin’, when he nods to make his run.

Freckles Brown might pull his bull rope, Casey Tibbs might jerk the
Bill Picket might be hazin’ when he starts to turn the crank.
Plus Remington and Russell lookin’ down his buckhorn sight
All watchin’ through the window of this cowboy’s eyes tonight.

And standin’ in the catch pen or in chute number nine
Is the offspring of a mountain that’s come down from olden time
A volcano waitin’ quiet, ’til they climb upon his back
Rumblin’ like the engine of a freight train on the track.

A cross between a she bear and a bad four wheel drive
With the fury of an eagle when it makes a power dive
A snake who’s lost its caution or a badger gone berserk
He’s a screamin’, stompin’, clawin’, rabid, mad dog piece o’ work.

From the rollers in his nostrils to the foam upon his lips
From the hooves as hard as granite to the horns with dagger tips
From the flat black starin’ shark’s eye that’s the mirror of his soul
Shines the challenge to each cowboy like the devil callin’ roll

In the seconds that tick slowly ’til he climbs upon his back
Each rider faces down the fear that makes his mouth go slack
And cuts his guts to ribbons and gives his tongue a coat
He swallows back the panic gorge that’s risin’ in his throat.

The smell of hot blue copper fills the air around his head
Then a single, solid, shiver shakes away the doubt and dread
The cold flame burns within him ’til his skin’s as cold as ice
And the dues he paid to get here are worth every sacrifice

All the miles spent sleepy drivin’, all the money down the drain
All the “if I’s” and the “nearly’s,” all the bandages and pain
All the female tears left dryin’, all the fever and the fight
Are just a small downpayment on the ride he makes tonight.

And his pardner in this madness that the cowboys call a game
Is a ton of buckin’ thunder bent on provin’ why he came
But the cowboy never wavers he intends to do his best
And of that widow maker he expects of him no less.

There’s a solemn silent moment that every rider knows
When time stops on a heartbeat like the earth itself was froze
Then all the ancient instinct fills the space between his ears
“Til the whispers of his phantoms are the only thing he hears

When you get down to the cuttin’ and the leather touches hide
And there’s nothin’ left to think about, he nods and says, “Outside!”
Then frozen for an instant against the open gate
Is hist’ry turned to flesh and blood, a warrior incarnate.

And while they pose like statues in that flicker of an eye
There’s somethin’ almost sacred, you can see it if you try.
It’s guts and love and glory—one mortal’s chance at fame
His legacy is rodeo and cowboy is his name.

“Turn ‘im out”

© 1986, Baxter Black

This often-requested poem was featured in the 1994 movie 8 Seconds, about the legendary Lane Frost (1963–1989). Frost was named PRCA World Champion Bull Rider at age 24 in 1987. In 1989 he died in the arena at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo.

In the movie, the poem is called “Cowboy is His Name.” A site, which is no longer active, tells, “Near the end of the movie “8 Seconds,” Lane, Tuff and Cody are flying over the Cheyenne arena, and Cody reads a poem entitled ‘Cowboy is His Name.’ That poem is really a shortened version of the poem ‘Legacy of a Rodeo Man’ by Baxter Black.”
View an archived version of the site with the poems here.

Find articles here devoted to the life of Lane Frost, which were written on the 25th anniversary of his death in 2014.

Baxter Black’s official bio describes him as “a cowboy poet, former large animal veterinarian and entertainer of the agricultural masses.” In the introduction to his recent book, Poems Worth Saving, which includes “Legacy of the Rodeo Man,” Baxter Black comments, “I have been blessed by the good Lord to live in the company of folks I admire and care about. People of the land, I give you my hand, you’re the salt of the Earth, Amen.”

He recites Bruce Kiskaddon’s “They Can Take It” on the new MASTERS: VOLUME THREE triple CD from and S. Omar Barker’s “Cowboy Saying” on MASTERS: VOLUME TWO.

This message comes from Baxter’s office, a policy announcement: “Since Baxter Black is no longer doing live performances, there are inquiries about others using his material in their performances. His policy is that anyone is welcome use his material in appropriate occasions, including non-profit or paid-for performances. He requests that the poems or stories be performed the way they are written, allowing for editing of length if needed. Please give the author credit.”

His office adds that no one, for any reason, has permission to include his work “on cds, books, or dvds…or to try to sell it in any manner, including online.”

Find more about Baxter Black at and find much more, including a weekly column, at

This image, titled “Baxter Ahorseback,” by Vaughn Wilson, is courtesy of Baxter Black.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but request permission for any other use—except recitation.)



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
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without 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.

Buck Ramsey (1938-1998), in his introduction to The Medicine Keepers, wrote of J.B. Allen, “More than most cowboys, he held to the ways and memories…thought and talked the old lingo” and stated, “…in my opinion he is the best living writer of traditional cowboy verse.”

J.B. Allen’s poetry is featured in the first MASTERS CD from (2017) along with the work of Larry McWhorter, 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.

Find more about J.B. Allen at

Top Texas artist Duward Campbell created this painting of his good friend J.B. Allen and his horse, Pilgrim, in 2005. We were proud to have it as the art for the 2011 Cowboy Poetry Week poster from Find more about it here.

Thanks to Margaret Allen for her generous permissions.

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