THE CREAK OF THE LEATHER, Bruce Kiskaddon

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THE CREAK OF THE LEATHER
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

It’s likely that you can remember
A corral at the foot of a hill
Some mornin’ along in December
When the air was so cold and so still.
When the frost lay as light as a feather
And the stars had jest blinked out and gone.
Remember the creak of the leather
As you saddled your hoss in the dawn.

When the glow of the sunset had faded
And you reached the corral after night
On a hoss that was weary and jaded
And so hungry yore belt wasn’t tight.
You felt about ready to weaken
You knowed you had been a long way
But the old saddle still kep a creakin’
Like it did at the start of the day.

Perhaps you can mind when yore saddle
Was standin’ up high at the back
And you started a whale of a battle
When you got the old pony untracked.
How you and the hoss stuck together
Is a thing you caint hardly explain
And the rattle and creak of the leather
As it met with the jar and the strain.

You have been on a stand in the cedars
When the air was so quiet and dead
Not even some flies and mosquitoes
To buzz and make noise ’round yore head.
You watched for wild hosses or cattle
When the place was as silent as death
But you heard the soft creak of the saddle
Every time the hoss took a breath.

And when the round up was workin’
All day you had been ridin’ hard
There wasn’t a chance of your shirkin’
You was pulled for the second guard
A sad homesick feelin’ come sneakin’
As you sung to the cows and the moon
And you heard the old saddle a creakin’
Along to the sound of the tune.

There was times when the sun was shore blazin’
On a perishin’ hot summer day
Mirages would keep you a gazin’
And the dust devils danced far away
You cussed at the thirst and the weather
You rode at a slow joggin’ trot
And you noticed somehow that the leather
Creaks different when once it gets hot.

When yore old and yore eyes have grown hollow
And your hair has a tinge of the snow
But there’s always the memories that follow
From the trails of the dim long ago.
There are things that will haunt you forever
You notice that strange as it seems
One sound, the soft creak of the leather,
Weaves into your memories and dreams.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

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, including this one, first published in his 1947 book, Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems.

Find many more poems and much more about Kiskaddon in features at
cowboypoetry.com.

It is one of the compelling features of cowboy poetry to hear how different reciters present a poem, particularly a poem as lyrical as “The Creak of the Leather.”

Vess Quinlan recites the poem at a Library of Congress Veterans History Project event that took place in November, 2019, and includes Jerry Brooks and Bill Jones. Find the video at here and the poem at 55:25. (It is of course worth listening to the entire webcast in which the poets talk about their introductions to poetry, recite poems, and more.)

Andy Hedges has a fine interpretation of “The Creak of the Leather” on one of his recent Cowboy Crossroads podcast, which also features an interview with singer and songwriter Corb Lund.

Gary McMahan has an equally fine recitation of the poem on the 2019 triple CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, which has over 60 tracks of the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, recited by voices from the past and from today’s top reciters and poets.

Linda Marie Kirkpatrick offers her unique interpretation of “The Creak of the Leather” on THE BAR-D ROUNDUP: VOLUME FIVE (2010) from CowboyPoetry.com.

The above 1939 photo by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cowboy on horse with equipment on cattle ranch near Spur, Texas.” It 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.

This poem and photograph are in the public domain.

BAD JOB by Buck Ramsey (1938-1998)

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photo of Buck Ramsey © Kevin Martini-Fuller

 

BAD JOB
(also known as “Bum Thinking Nowhere Near a Horse”)
by Buck Ramsey (1938-1998)

If you see me sittin’ sorrowful, all busted up and stove-up
And you wonder how a puncher gits that way,
I can tell you at the start-off to avoid all work aground
If you rope and ride ahorseback for yore pay.

It’s all right to shoe yore horses and to braid and mend your tack,
All that work aground that keeps you in the saddle.
But yore mind gits misdirected if you try yore hand at chores
Beneath stomping out the broncs and punchin’ cattle.

Now and then old Majordomo, he’d come roust me during slack
And suggest I patch his roof or plow his garden,
Or do some posthole diggin’ or go scale some tall windmills,
But I’d always tell ‘im, “Please, I begs yore pardon.”

But it so happened that one Sunday I was early in from town
And was holdin’ down the bunkhouse all alone
When the boss, he done convinces me that if I’d pull one chore,
Tackin’ hack hooves next day would be quicker done.

“All them shoes are in a whiskey barrel up in the barn hayloft,
Standing right beside that hayloft pulley door.
Though it took us five to hoist ’em up, I figures comin’ down
All that gravity is worth them four men more.”

Wal, I’m nowhere near a horse, so it makes good sense to me.
I go don my chaps and spurs and gits my rope,
Then I ambles to the barn and up the ladder to the loft,
Thinkin’ I can git this job done in a lope.

So I straps a big old jug knot tie around that whiskey barrel,
Runs the rope out through the pulley to the ground.
Then I delicately balances that barrel on the edge,
And I rushes out to gently let ‘er down.

Well, I runs the rope around my tail and takes a hitch in front
To control the downward progress of the barrel.
Then I gives the jerk that tilts the barrel out of that hayloft door—
And that’s the insult that begins our little quarrel.

See, that barrel of horseshoes had to weigh a good four hundred pounds,
More than twice what I would weigh all wet and dressed.
So when I tell you that my rope hitch HITCHED and slipped up underarm,
Then I figure you can guess most of the rest.

I plumb parts with earth quite suddenly, ablastin’ for the sky,
But I meets that barrel ’bout halfway up that barn.
This wreck, it slows my progress some, but it ain’t slowed for long
‘Fore I’m headin’ for that pulley and yardarm.

When that barrel hits the bottom and my pore head hits the top
And it rings that pulley like a midway gong
Where those fellers swing the hammers for to show off with the girls—
Wal, you might think that it’s over…But you’re wrong.

See, the crashin’ of that old stave barrel all weighed down with that steel
Caused the bottom to bust out and dump its load,
So I’m plummetting from heaven now about the speed of sound,
And I’m speedin’ on a dang’rous deadend road.

But that devil barrel, it slaps me blind and sideways one more time
As it flies up and I’m acrashin’ down.
THEN you’d think this stubborn accident would be about played out
When I breaks a few more bones upon the ground.

No. The rope goes slack. The hitch unhitches. I lie gazin’ up.
Then I close my eyes and gives me up for dead.
‘Cause the last thing that I see before I wakes, all splintered up,
Is that cussed barrel acomin’ fer my head.

© Buck Ramsey, used with permission

Tomorrow is “Buck Ramsey Day,” a celebration of the man called cowboy poetry’s “spiritual leader.” Find more on Facebook at the Buck Ramsey Memorial Page.

Buck Ramsey—cowboy, poet, songwriter, musician, National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Award recipient—continues to inspire poets and songwriters.

Hear Andy Hedges’ excellent recitation of this poem on his COWBOY CROSSROADS episode 8 (with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Part Two).

Watch Buck Ramsey sing “The Goodnight-Loving Trail” at the Western Folklife Center’s 1991 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on their YouTube channel, where there are
many great additional videos.

In a 1993 book, introducing the epic poem for which he is best known, Grass, Buck Ramsey wrote, “For some years back there I rode among the princes of the earth full of health and hell and thinking punching cows was the one big show in the world. A horse tougher than me ended all that, and I have since been a stove-up cowpuncher trying
to figure out how to write about the cowboy life. Some consider this poem to be the peak so far in that effort…”

A book of the entire Grass was published by Texas Tech University Press in 2005. It also includes photos, friends’ recollections, Buck Ramsey’s original short story on which he based the poem, and a CD of the original 1990 recording of Buck Ramsey performing Grass in John Hartford’s home studio in Nashville, introduced by Andy Wilkinson.

Top poets and reciters Joel Nelson, Jerry Brooks, and Andy Hedges recite Buck Ramsey’s “Anthem,” the prologue to Grass, in an impressive film interpretation, Between Grass and Sky: Rhythms of a Cowboy Poem, which begins with Buck Ramsey’s voice.

Find “Anthem,” more poetry, and more about Buck Ramsey in our features at cowboypoetry.com.

This photo of Buck Ramsey is by noted photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller, used with his permission. He has photographed participants of the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. Last year, an exhibit of his photographs was mounted at the gathering and throughout the town of Elko, Nevada, home of the gathering. Find the “Portraits of the Gathering” exhibit site at portraitsofthegathering.org, which also includes poetry by the included poets.

Find more of Kevin Martini-Fuller’s photos at his site.

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

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

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THE REAL THING
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 CowboyPoetry.com features recitations by Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens.

Read more poetry by Larry McWhorter and more about him at cowboypoetry.com.

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.)

COLD MORNIN’S, by Bruce Kiskaddon

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COLD MORNIN’S
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I been out in the weather since I was a boy,
But cold mornin’s is sumthin’ a man cain’t enjoy.
It makes me feel like I wanted to quit
When I ketch up my pony and thaw out my bit.

There ain’t any cow puncher needs to be told
That my saddle is stiff and the leather is cold.
The blankets is froze and the hoss shakes like jelly
When you the pull the old frozen cinch up on his belly.

He snorts and he’s got a mean look in the eye.
He is humped till the back of the saddle stands high.
He ain’t in no humor to stand fer a joke,
But I belt on my chaps and I light me a smoke.

There may be some trouble between me and him.
It is like goin’ into cold water to swim.
It gives me a sort of shivver and scare
But once I git started; well then I don’t care.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon, 1937

Kiskaddon has a number of cold weather poems, no doubt inspired by his cowboying years in Colorado. This poem appeared in the Western Livestock Journal and on the Los Angeles Union Stockyards calendar.

This year’s triple CD from CowboyPoetry.com, MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, has over 60 tracks of the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950), recited by voices from the past and from today’s top reciters and poets.

Find more about Bruce Kiskaddon at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photograph is from top cowboy poet, South Dakota rancher, and quilt champion Yvonne Hollenbeck. It was taken a few years ago, and she commented, “Ahh, the life of a ranchwife in South Dakota in winter. We just scooped two long lines of bunks (wet heavy snow) so we could feed the calves…That was just half of ’em in the picture. We feed ground feed into the bunks. I think there’s two rows of 11.”

Yvonne is headed to the Western Folklife Center’s 36th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 27-February 1, 2020 in Elko, Nevada. She joins a great group of poets, musicians, and others at this “granddaddy” of all gatherings. Go! And find more at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org.

Find more about Yvonne Hollenbeck at cowboypoetry.com/yh.htm and at yvonnehollenbeck.com.

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

A COWBOY’S NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

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A COWBOY’S NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

As one who’s been a cowhand since the wildcats learned to spit,
I’ve made some resolutions for the comin’ year, to wit:
Resolved, to ride a shorter day and sleep a longer night;
To never come to breakfast till the sun is shinin’ bright;
To draw a top-hands wages when they’re due or quit the job
And hunt a wealthy widow or an easy bank to rob.
Resolved, to quit the wagon when the chuck ain’t up to snuff,
To feed no more on bullet beans nor chaw on beef that’s tough.
Resolved, to straddle nothin’ in the line of saddle mount
That ain’t plumb easy-gaited, gentle broke, and some account.

Resolved, that when it blizzards and there’s stock out in the storm,
To let the owner worry while I stay in where it’s warm.
Resolved, that when it comes my turn next spring to ride the bogs,
I’ll don the bib and tucker of my town and Sunday togs,
And tell the boss, by gravies, if he craves to shed some blood,
Just try to make me smear ’em tailin’ moo-cows from the mud.
Resolved, that when a thunderhead comes rollin’ up the sky,
I’ll lope in off my circle to the bunkhouse where it’s dry.

Resolved, to do such ropin’ as a ropin’ cowhand must,
But never when the air ain’t free from cattle-trompled dust.
Resolved to show no hosses, and resolved, to swim no cricks;
Resolved, no dead-cow skinnin’, and resolved, no fence to fix.
Resolved, to swing no pitchfork, no pick, no ax, no spade;
Resolved to wear my whiskers—if I want to—in a braid!
Resolved, to take this New Year plenty easy through-and-through,
Instead of sweatin’ heavy like I’ve always used to do.

As one who’s been a cowhand since before who laid the chunk,
It may sound like I’m loco, or it may sound like I’m drunk
To make such resolutions as you see upon my list,
And others purt near like ’em that my mem’ry may have missed;
But gosh, they sound so pleasant to a son of saddle sweat!
And New Year’s resolutions—well, I never kept one yet!
So why make resolutions that bring furrows to your brow?
Let’s make ’em free and fancy—’cause we’ll bust ’em anyhow!

© 1966, S. Omar Barker, from Rawhide Rhymes, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker

Happy New Year, all!

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

Jay Snider recites this poem on MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, the poetry of S. Omar Barker.

This photograph is by Colorado rancher Terry Nash, taken in late 2013. Terry’s most recent CD is the award-winning, A Good Ride. Find more about him at CowboyPoetry.com and at his site, terrynashcowboypoet.com.

Find more New Year poems at CowboyPoetry.com.

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

NEW YEAR’S EVE by Rod Nichols

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photo © 2015, John Michael Reedy

NEW YEAR’S EVE
by Rod Nichols

I’ll saddle the roan then ride out alone
‘neath a clear moon with frost on the ground,
to a high ridge I know
through the dark pines and snow
far away from the dim lights of town.

In a short space of time a hillside I’ll climb
to the top with my face to the wind,
and there I’ll just wait
as the hour grows late
and a new year once more will begin.

I’ll take a look then on where I have been
and the changes the old year has brought,
the good times and bad
some happy some sad
as the faces of time fill my thoughts.

In the silence of night from that small patch of white
I’ll say “Adios” to lost friends,
with a small prayer at last
for the present and past
then I’ll ride down that hill once again.

© 2000, Rod Nichols
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Rod Nichols is forever missed by his many friends and family. This is one of the early poems he shared. Find more about him and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 2015 photograph, “Roper in the Snow,” is by Montana photographer, songwriter, musician, and poet John Michael Reedy. See additional impressive photography at his site.

Find more about John Michael Reedy at CowboyPoetry.com and visit twistedcowboy.com.

Catch up with the Reedys at the Western Folklife Center’s 36th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 27 – February 1, 2020 in Elko, Nevada. John’s daughter, poet and musician Brigid Reedy is a featured performer, and she’s sure to be accompanied by her brother Johnny “Guitar” Reedy and maybe even her father. Find more about the event at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org.

Find more New Year poems at CowboyPoetry.com.

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

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