OLD-TIME COWBOYS by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)



by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

Proudly they rode, those horseback men
Whose like we shall not see again,
Those cowboys of a day long gone
Who saddled broncs before the dawn
To ride the long day into night—
Clan cousins of the Ishmaelite.

Their marching music was the bawl
Of longhorn cattle, and the call
Of high adventure stirred their blood
To horseback pride and hardihood.

Dusty they rode. The salt of sweat
Was more to them than the alphabet,
And more the drum of a horse’s hoof
Than any fireside, field, or roof.

Partners of the wind, their spurs are rust
Their cattle trails long-settled dust,
But over their campfires’ ashened embers,
The steadfast northern star remembers
That proudly they rode, with ancient pride
Of all bold men and true who ride!

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker from Rawhide Rhymes; Singing Poems of the Old West

S. Omar Barker was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America, Inc. and many of his poems were published by Western Horseman. He enjoyed signing his name with his brand, “Lazy SOB.”

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

This c. 1904 photograph is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division. It is captioned, “Seventeen cowboys posed informally.” Find more about it here.

(You can share this poem with this post, but please request permission for any other uses. This photograph is in the public domain.)

REAL COWBOY LIFE by Gail I. Gardner (1892-1988)


by Gail I. Gardner (1892-1988)

You have read these cowboy stories,
About their life so wild and free;
I expect that you could tell me
What a cowboy’s life should be.
Oh, he rescues lovely maidens
And he shoots the rustlers down;
He wears a fancy outfit,
And he paints up every town.

You can see him in the movies,
He’s a high-falutin’ swell;
A-ridin’ wring-tailed pintos,
And always raisin’ Hell.
But now let me tell you somethin’
‘Bout this cowboy life so free;
It ain’t no bed of roses,
You can take a tip from me.

Now there ain’t no handsome cowboys,
Nowhere I’ve ever been,
For a real top-notch Buckero
Is just homlier than sin.
And all cowboys have their troubles,
A few of which I’ll name,
To show you that cowpunching
Is a mighty sorry game.

When the roundup starts in April,
The first job you undertake
Is to shoe up all your horses
Till you think your back will break.
Now then you can be a center,
Or a rimmy if you will;
It don’t make any difference,
You will have your troubles still.

When you take your dally-welties
You can lose a lot of hide,
But if you fail to get ’em,
You have shorely got to ride.
Or you tie her hard and solid,
And then throw away the slack;
If your steer should hub a saplin’,
You are shore to lose the pack.

When you get a wild bunch driftin’,
Straight down for the home corral,
There will somethin’ spook the leaders,
And your whole bunch go to Hell.
You build to an orejana,
For to tie him in a rush,
But your pony turns a knocker
And he throws you in the brush.

Then you long-ear’s in the thicket,
And your dogs have plumb give out,
So the only thing that you can do
Is to cuss and cry and shout.
As you ride away and leave him,
You can hear the critter bawl,
And you know some feller’ll git him
Before the rodeer comes next fall.

When you have a real hard winter,
And your cows all try to die,
You ride out every morning,
And to lift ’em up you try.
You can git one by the handle,
And you heave and lift and strain,
With a mighty awful struggle
You can tail her up again.

Oh, you try to leave her standin’,
But she charges you in high,
Then she breaks down in the middle
So you leave her there to die.
On the range there’s not a yearlin’
That is fat enough for meat,
And you are all burnt out on bacon,
And the beans ain’t fit to eat.

When you’ve cowboyed for a lifetime,
Here is all ’twill do for you:
Some busted ribs and shoulders
And a hip knocked down or two.
You have butted into cedars
Till your hair is hard to find,
And the malapais and granites
Have you all stove up behind.

If you ever have a youngster,
And he wants to foller stock,
The best thing you can do for him
Is to brain him with a rock.
Or if rocks ain’t very handy,
You kin shove him down the well;
Do not let him be a cowboy,
For he’s better off in Hell.

You may swear you’ll never ride again,
And know you will not fail,
Till you hear a cavviada
Come a-jinglin’ down the trail.
Then you pack up all your soogans,
And prepare to pull your freight,
For you know you’re just a cowboy,
And your head ain’t screwed on straight

© Gail I. Gardner, from Orejana Bull, used with permission

Gail Gardner was born in Prescott, Arizona. Though he was educated at Philip Exeter Academy and Dartmouth University, his true desire was to work as a cowboy, which he did. He also wrote memorable poems, many of which have been set to music, including his best-known work, “The Sierry Petes (or Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail).” He published some of his poems in his 1935 book, “Orejana Bull for Cowboys Only,” which was reprinted most recently in 1987.

In checking a fact (his middle name) we found his WWI draft registration. On it, he describes his profession as “ranching & cattle growing.” His middle name was Irwin.

Gail Steiger, Gardner’s grandson, recites “Real Cowboy Life” on his recent, well-received CD, A Matter of Believin’. Find that at his web site.

You can hear Gail Gardner’s own performance of “The Sierry Petes” on this week’s Clear Out West (C.O.W.) radio show.

The recording is from The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Ten, a double CD of top classic and modern poetry from CowboyPoetry.com.

This photo, ” Gail I. Gardner at the Devil’s Gate Rodeo Grounds, Skull Valley, “Round-up Time” in the 1920s,” is courtesy of the Gardner/Steiger family.

Find more about Gail Gardner and see many photos and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

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

THE COW BOY’S DREAM by Bruce Kiskaddon ( (1878-1950)



by Bruce Kiskaddon ( (1878-1950)

A cow boy and his trusty pal
Were camped one night by an old corral;
They were keeping a line on the boss’s steers
And looking for calves with lengthy ears.
The summer work was long since through
And only the winter branding to do.
When he went to rest there was frost on his bed
But he pulled the tarp up over his head;
And into his blankets he burrowed deep,
He soon got warm and was fast asleep.
He dreamed he was through with his wayward past
And had landed safe in Heaven at last.

A city was there with its pearly gate
And the golden streets were wide and straight
The marble palaces gleamed and shone
And the choir sang ’round the great white throne.
Outside there were trees and meadows green—
Such a beautiful range he had never seen,
Great rivers of purest waters flowed
Though it never rained nor it never snowed.

He stood aside on the golden street,
There were heavy spurs on his booted feet,
His bat wing chaps were laced with whang,
But he listened and looked while the angels sang.
He noticed he was the only one
With a broad brimmed hat and a big six gun.

So he said to a saint, “I’d shore admire
To be dressed like one of that angel choir,
Instead of these chaps and spurs and gun;
And I reckon as how it could be done.”
So they took him into a room aside
And they fastened wings on his toughened hide.
They fitted him out with a flowing robe,
Like the lady who looks in the crystal globe.
They gave him a crown and a golden harp
And the frost lay thick on the cow boy’s tarp.

He twanged his harp and he sang a while,
Then he thought of something that made him smile.
Said he “I reckon these wings would do
To show some mustangs a thing or two.
I’ll jump a bunch and I’ll yell and whoop,
I’ll kick their tails and I’ll flop and swoop;
I’ll light a straddle of one of the things,
And I’ll flop his flanks with my angel wings.
I’ll ride him bare-back, but if I fail,
And he bucks me off, I’ll simply sail.”
He hunted wild horses in his dream,
But all he found was the chariot team
That Old Elija drove in there,
And to pick on them would hardly be fair.

So he seated himself beneath a tree
And rested his crown upon his knee.
He watched the beautiful angels go
Flying and fluttering to and fro.
At last one landed and started to walk,
She came up close and began to talk.
She had lovely hair of golden brown
And was dressed in a flimsy silken gown.
She had dimpled cheeks, her eyes were blue,
And her fair white skin was beautiful too.

The cow boy gazed at the angel’s charms
And attempted to clasp her within his arms.
“Stop! Stop!” She cried, “Or, I’ll make complaints
To the great white throne and the ruling saints.”
So the cow boy halted I must confess
And failed to bestow that fond caress.

Said he, “Miss Angel,” It’s shore too bad.
This sort of a country makes me sad.
Where there ain’t no night and it’s always day,
And the beautiful ladies won’t even play.
When there’s wonderful houses and golden streets,
But nobody sleeps and nobody eats.
Them beautiful rivers, it’s sad to think.
There ain’t no hosses or cows to drink.
With all this grass a goin’ to seed
And there ain’t no critters to eat the feed.

“A man can’t gamble—There’s so much gold
He could pick up more than his clothes would hold.
What’s the use of the Judge and the great white throne
Where troubles or fights was never known?
I’m sorry miss but I’ll tell you true,
This ain’t no place for a buckaroo.”

Then she asked him about his former life
And learned he had never possessed a wife.
But this angel lady so sweet and nice,
Informed him that she had been married twice.
Her husbands had both been quiet men
But if she had it to do again,
She’d have to decide between just two.
A sailor boy or a buckaroo.
She seated herself upon his knees
And gave his neck such a hearty squeeze—
Just then they heard an excited call,
‘Twas a gray old saint on the city wall.

He flopped his robes and he waved his arm
Till the crowd all gathered in great alarm;
And then the cow boy stood alone,
Before the judge and the great white throne.
“What’s this?” the Judge of Creation cried.
“How come this fellow to get inside?
Age must be dimming St. Peter’s eye
To let a spirit like that get by.
Just look at his face with its desert brown,
And his bandy legs ‘neath his angel gown.
He’s a buckaroo, I know them well,
They don’t allow them even in Hell.
He hasn’t been here a half a day
And he started an angel to go astray.
We can’t permit him to stay atall.
Just pitch him over the outside wall.”

So the saints and the angels gave him a start
And he went toward the Earth like a falling dart.
He never remembered the time he lit
For he wakened before the tumble quit.
The winter wind blew cold and sharp
And the frost lay thick on the cow boy’s tarp.

His beautiful vision had come to grief,
So he baked his biscuits and fried some beef.
And drank some coffee black and strong;
But all that day as he rode along
He thought of the saint who had butted in,
And he said to himself with a wicked grin,
“I wish I had holt of that old saint chap,
I’d grab his whiskers and change his map.
I’d jump on his frame and I’d stomp aroun’
Till I tromped him out of his saintly gown.”

And all of his life as he roamed and toiled,
He thought of his vision so sadly spoiled.
And the meddlesome saint that has caused it all
When he gave the alarm from the Jasper wall.
He didn’t repent nor he didn’t pray,
But he always wished they had let him stay.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

Even when it comes to fantasy, Bruce Kiskaddon is a master of detail. This poem appeared in his 1947 book, Rhymes of the Ranges and other poems.

In the foreword to that book, Frank M. King writes, “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.”

Find much more poetry and more about this favorite classic cowboy poet at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1934 photograph is titled, “Working Cowboy.” 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.)




by Andy Nelson

You taught me to give, by giving me horses,
And set me adrift on uncharted courses.

You taught me to love, by loving them truly,
Not just the tame, but the wild and unruly.

And when one was given to a neighborhood boy,
You taught me instead, the true meaning of joy.

You taught me to work, by working beside me,
Training our horses, with you there to guide me.

You taught me to serve, by serving together,
No matter the time, no matter the weather.

And when one grew old and crippled with blindness,
You laid him to rest and taught me ‘bout kindness.

You taught me respect, by respecting each steed,
And treating them gently, no matter the breed.

You asked much, for you knew their ability,
Asked forgiveness, and taught me humility.

And when one was ill, in some sort of fashion,
You aided him right and taught me compassion.

You taught me to trust, by trusting their actions,
And not taking heed to outside distractions.

You taught to me share, and to give of yourself,
And not put your talents away on a shelf.

And when a few coyotes, ran one through the fence,
You taught me that actions come with consequence.

You taught me gratitude, and of thanks giving,
That horses, not things, make my life worth living.

And when one was stricken, I learned of remorse,
You taught me your best, when you gave me a horse.

© 2013, Andy Nelson, used with permission

Pinedale, Wyoming’s Andy Nelson is a second-generation farrier, cowboy poet, emcee, humorist, rodeo announcer, and co-host (with his brother Jim) of the popular syndicated Clear Out West (C.O.W.) radio show.

Known as a funnyman, this poem is a heartfelt serious piece. Watch Andy Nelson recite his poem, along with songwriter and musican Jared Rogerson, on Youtube.

One of Andy’s daughters is shown in this photograph, courtesy of the Nelson family.

Andy is in demand at gatherings across the West, and will be at the Heber Valley Music & Cowboy Gathering in Heber City, Utah, October 26-30, 2016.

In Heber City, he’ll join other poets: Waddie Mitchell, Doris Daley, Jeff Carson, DW Groethe, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, Ross Knox, and Walt “Bimbo” Cheney; and musicians Michael Martin Murphey, Suzy Bogguss, Bar J Wranglers, The Highwaymen Live Tribute Band, Dave Stamey, Wylie & The Wild West, The Haunted Windchimes, Joni Harms, Belinda Gail, New West, Trinity Seely, John Wayne Schulz, Heifer Belles, Molly in the Mineshaft, Olivia Harms, Miss Devon and The Outlaw, Dansie Family Band, Kenny Hall, Ken Stevens & Jerye Lee, and the Heber Valley Orchestra.

Andy Nelson’s latest CD is “I Won,” and it features a wide range of poetic moods, from nonsense to reverence, that show the breadth of his talents. He is accompanied by friend and top songwriter Brenn Hill—who produced the album—on several tracks. The great-looking package sports a cover by noted cowboy cartoonist Ben Crane.

Find more about Andy Nelson at CowboyPoetry.com, ; at his web site, www.cowpokepoet.com; and at the Clear Out West (C.O.W.) website and the show’s Facebook page.

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

THE JEWEL (lyrics) by Ray Doyle



(lyrics) by Ray Doyle

There’s a place upon this good green earth
like nowhere else you’ve ever seen
where misty mountains soar above, majestic and serene
clear and gentle waters flow, past grazing elk and buffalo
like a picture from the past, inside a dream

But sleeping restless deep below the summer sun and winter snow
there lies a secret waiting to be told
and with a shudder and a rumble wakes,
as pulses race and timber shakes
like they did as mighty ages rolled

It’s the meeting of the water and the fire
a merging of a heaven and a hell
a land of wonder and surprise
where water flows up to the skies
a place of sulfur, smoke and ash
where god must surely dwell

If you believe in heaven high
then you should go before you die
and see the jewel we call Yellowstone

If I could paint a canvas right
like Remington or Russell might
you’d see my little picture bright and true
But I’ve just got words to close the deal
a piece of wood and strings of steel
this postcard sent with love, from me to you

It’s the meeting of the water and the fire
a merging of a heaven and a hell
a land of wonder and surprise
where water flows up to the skies
a place of sulfur, smoke and ash
where God must surely dwell

If you believe in heaven high
then you should go before you die
and see the jewel we call Yellowstone
and see this jewel we call Yellowstone

© 2007, Ray Doyle, used with permission

This beautiful song, from Ray Doyle’s acclaimed Emigrant Trail album, was a Gold Award winner in a Yellowstone and Tetons songwriting contest held by the Western Folklife Center.

For over twenty years Dublin-born Ray Doyle was an integral part of Wylie & the Wild West. He now performs solo and with other musicians. Find more about him at CowboyPoetry.com.

Listen to “The Jewel” here on YouTube:  and find more on YouTube.

This photo by Fred Leslie of “an extensive pack trip through the Teton Wilderness Area, which lies directly to the south of Yellowstone Park and is the most remote wilderness in the lower 48,” was shared by rancher and poet Paul Kern for a 2013 Picture the West.

Paul added, recently, “That pack trip was in a way a memorial pack trip after Dad’s passing. He and I had once camped on the Yellowstone river at the delta where it flows into Yellowstone Lake about ten miles to the north of where the picture was taken. That evening the wolves came alive like nothing I had ever heard before – very magical and the inspiration for my poem “As Evening Sets on the Yellowstone.” You can see that poem at Paul’s site, here.

You can share this photo and this poem with this post, but any other uses require permission.)

MY CANVAS HOME by Sam Jackson




by Sam Jackson

When as a lad, I camped alone,
while tending to my wooly flock.
Now more than sixty years have flown,
would if I could, turn back the clock?

From time to time my mind replays
fond scenes of how those days were spent
engaging in the humble ways
that come from living in a tent.

In many ways, those times were good,
self-confidence, experience gained,
though doubting that today I could,
for progress has me luxury trained.

Could I, one hour before the dawn,
arise as coyotes greet the day
to light a fire then stumble on
to find a steed that’s grazed away?

It mattered not how sweet the grass
how tall, nor tender, near the camp—
you’d swear that buckskin horse’s ass
would trek a mile to make me tramp.

Some sights and sounds come drifting in
so sharp and real it seems that I
can taste and smell and hear the din
from eggs and bacon as they fry

Scoop out the breakfast from the pan
hot coffee perkin’ in its pot
the dogs er smellin’ hotcakes, an,
are hopin’ that you’ve cooked a lot.

The pine bough bunk serves triple role
as table, bed and easy chair.
and hangin’ from the center pole
your digs are lit by lanterns glare.

Designer cupboards proudly stand
displaying manufacturer’s pride—
“Pure Sun Kissed prunes, the healthy brand!”
exclaim “These shelves are bona fide!”

Beside the Spam, boxed flakes of wheat
their corners gnawed some, here and there
Danged chipmunks likely had a treat—
no more that right that we should share.

A stove sits perched across the aisle
its coat of rusty weathered tin
ain’t seen no polish for a while
top’s bent and sides are wearin’ thin

Still sittin’ on the same old stone
that keeps its belly off the ground
we move, but it stays here alone
until next season rolls around.

‘Bout once a week I’d keep an eye
a peerin’ down the home ranch trail
expectin’ Dad would soon come by
a fetchin’ fresh supplies and mail.

It’s lonesome? but I ain’t afraid,
jist “shepherd up,” get over it!
Six bits a day, I’m gettin’ paid—
while we’re at war—I’ll do my bit!

© 2008, Sam Jackson, used with permission

Utah’s Sam Jackson started herding sheep as a young boy. Sam has written, “My father, Alvin Jackson, was a 5th generation sheep rancher, or ‘woolgrower’ (a term more commonly used in the industry). The outfit was strictly a ‘range’ operation with the sheep not seeing the inside of a building during their entire life other that 20 minutes a year during shearing.”

“I’d dare say there aren’t many left who have spent time in the mountains living in a tent and being supplied by packhorse during the course of making a living. Although I hesitate referring to this as ‘Roughing it’ (for each generation has their own definition of the term) it may come pretty close, but for whatever it’s worth, here are some recollections of time spent in my ‘canvas digs’ while herding sheep for my Dad during WW II…”

Read the rest of the story along with the poem in a “Western Memories” feature at CowboyPoetry.com.

Sam’s poem, “Toast to the Sheepherder,” is included on a CD from the Western Folklife Center, Songs and Stories from Sheepherding. Sam comments that the CD “documents the history of a nearly forgotten industry that had much more to do with the successful settling of the West than most folks realize.”

Sam conceived and produced the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo (NCPR), inspired by his belief in “excellence through competition.” The NCPR is now headed by Dawn and Geff Dawson.

This Russell Lee (1903-1986) photograph, taken in 1940, is titled, “Sheepherder with his horse and camp outfit, Ouray County, Colorado.” It is from The Library of Congress Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Find more about it 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.)

SUMMER TIME by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)



by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

There’s a heap of times when ridin’
after cattle shore is tough.
When every thing is goin’ wrong,
or else the weather’s rough.
The whole world seems ag’in you.
You can do yore level best,
But you ain’t a gittin’ nowheres
and yore nearly dead for rest.

But it’s purty in the summer
when yore ridin’ through the hills.
Where the tall green grass is growin’
and the air is soft and still.
Cows and calves is fat and gentle.
They jest look at you and stare.
You can hear the little insecks
go a buzzin’ in the air.

You may run onto some places
that is mighty steep to climb,
But you ain’t in any hurry,
and you give the hoss his time.
You figger that it ain’t so bad,
a bein’ a cow poke,
And you feel so plum contented
you don’t even want to smoke.

No, a cow boy’s life ain’t easy
when you git it figgered down.
He don’t have a lot of comforts
that the people have in town.
But he don’t deserve no sympathy
fer how his life is spent.
Fer there’s times he’s jest a bathin’
in a ocean of content.

There is nothin’ there to bother him,
he doesn’t have to hurry.
He is doin’ what he wants to do,
he isn’t in a hurry.
Yes, it pays up fer the frost bites,
all the falls and all the spills,
On them lovely days in summer
when he’s ridin’ in the hills.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

The poem and its illustration by Katherine Field (1908-1951) appeared on the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar in November, 1942, and also in the Western Livestock Journal that year.

Bruce 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.

This image is from the CowboyPoetry.com collection of Los Angeles Union Stock Yards calendars. Cattle prices are given on the back of calendar page, and includes, “Range cows of common and medium quality are selling at $8.75 to $10.50 …. Bulls continue in fairly good demand at $10 to $11…”

(This poem is in the public domain.)