PANTS POLISHER, by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)


by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

They asked me “What’s a saddle?”
So I told ’em it’s a kack,
A rig of wood and leather
shaped to fit a horse’s back.
You set up in its middle
with a leg hung down each side,
Some horse meat in between ’em,
and that is known as “ride.”

I could have stopped right there,
of course, and saved a heap of steam,
But when they speak of saddles,
my old eyes take on a gleam,
For the saddle is an implement
that’s bred a breed of man
Who rides the range of history
plumb back to Genghis Kahn.

Two legs was all us humans had,
but men that wanted more,
They figgered out the saddle,
and its magic gave them more.

The Saracen, the Cossack,
the Arab and the knight,
The Mongol and the chevalier—
they all was men of might,
Because instead of walkin’
like a tamer breed would do,
They climbed up in a saddle
when they had a job in view.

King Richard was a saddle man,
and Sheridan and Lee,
And Grant and “Black Jack” Pershing—
just to mention two or three.
Remember ol’ Sir Galahad
of that there poet’s tale?
His pants was saddle-polished
while he sought the Holy Grail!

Of course them heroes never rode
no Texas applehorn,
But they’re the cowboy’s kinfolks,
just as sure as you are born.

They ask me, “What’s a saddle?”
It’s a riggin’ made to fit
A man (sometimes a woman)
in the region where they sit.
It’s made of wood and leather,
with a cinch that goes around
A chunk of livin’ horse meat
‘twixt the rider and the ground.

It’s just the apparatus
that a cowhand climbs upon
To start his day of cow work
at the chilly hour of dawn.
It’s just a piece of ridin’ gear
that, when it’s had a chance,
Has give the world some heroes—
while it polished up their pants!

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

The late Elmer Kelton wrote an introduction to to the 1998 Cowboy Miner book on Barker, and it is excerpted at It begins:

How can anyone begin to tell who S. Omar Barker was?

The easy way would be to give the statistics: that he was born in a log cabin on a small mountain ranch at Beulah, New Mexico, in 1894, youngest of the eleven children of Squire Leander and Priscilla Jane Barker, that he grew up on the family homestead, attended high school and college in Las Vegas, New Mexico, was in his youth a teacher of Spanish, a high school principal, a forest ranger, a sergeant of the 502nd Engineers in France in World War I, a trombone player in Doc Patterson’s Cowboy Band, a state legislator and a newspaper correspondent.

That he began writing and selling stories, articles, and poems as early as 1914 and became a full-time writer at the end of his legislative term in 1925. That he married Elsa McCormick of Hagerman, New Mexico, in 1927, and she also became a noted writer of Western stories….

The most recent MASTERS CD from has over 60 tracks in a double CD of the poetry of S. Omar Barker. Many of today’s top reciters and poets—including individuals, siblings, couples, parents and their offspring—bring forth Barker’s humor and humanity.

Find more about S. Omar Barker at

This 1941 photo by respected photographer Marion Post Wolcott (1910- 1990) is titled, “Detail of saddle on cowhand’s horse at Ashland rodeo,  Montana.” It’s from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A collection of Marion Post Wolcott’s photographs at The Library of Congress tells that she produced more than 9,000 photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) from 1938 to 1942. Find more at a web site created by her daughter.

We thank the S. Omar Barker Estate for its generous permissions.

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



by Wallace McRae

“What does Reincarnation mean?”
A cowpoke asked his friend.
His pal replied, “It happens when
Yer life has reached its end.
They comb yer hair, and warsh yer neck,
And clean yer fingernails,
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life’s travails.”

“The box and you goes in a hole,
That’s been dug into the ground.
Reincarnation starts in when
Yore planted ‘neath a mound.
Them clods melt down, just like yer box,
And you who is inside.
And then yore just beginnin’ on
Yer transformation ride.”

“In a while, the grass’ll grow
Upon yer rendered mound.
Till some day on yer moldered grave
A lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by
And graze upon this flower
That once wuz you, but now’s become
Yer vegetative bower.”

“The posy that the hoss done ate
Up, with his other feed,
Makes bone, and fat, and muscle
Essential to the steed,
But some is left that he can’t use
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground
This thing, that once wuz you.”

“Then say, by chance, I wanders by
And sees this upon the ground,
And I ponders, and I wonders at,
This object that I found.
I thinks of reincarnation,
Of life and death, and such,
And come away concludin’: ‘Slim,
You ain’t changed, all that much.'”

© Wallace McRae
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Wallace McRae, third-generation Montana rancher and National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow penned this modern classic. The NEA comments, in a bio here, that “Reincarnation” is, “…a poem destined to outlive him; it has already become part of oral tradition and is recited by cowboys around the country who have never met the author.”

See a fun video of Wallace McRae, along with his friend Paul Zarzyski performing “Reincarnation” at the 2009 Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry

Wallace McRae will tell you that “Reincarnation” is his least favorite of his poems. For a
wonderful look at this complex man, watch a Western Folklife Center video in which he “… tells a true story about Northern Plains ranching, with a moving tribute to a neighbor.”

For another aspect of his work, view his presentation of his stirring, masterful poem, “Things of  Intrinsic Worth,” performed in 2013 and a part of WESTDOCUMENTARY, a feature-length documentary work-in-progress by H. Paul Moon.

See Wallace McRae at the Western Folklife Center’s 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 29-February 3, 2018.

Find more of Wallace McRae’s poetry and more about him in our feature at

This 1941 photograph, “Ranch horse on grazing land near Lame Deer, Montana” is by noted photographer Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990). A collection of her photographs at The Library of Congress ( tells that she produced more than 9.000 photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) from 1938 to 1942. Find more at a web site created by her daughter.

Find more about the photograph here.

Wallace McRae relishes being known as “The Cowboy Curmudgeon.” Do not use his poem without permission.