THE ROMANCE OF WESTERN LIFE, by Gail Steiger

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THE ROMANCE OF WESTERN LIFE
lyrics by Gail Steiger

The old black bull
got stuck in the mud
for six hours we pushed and we pried
finally took four horses
to pull him free
and when we got our ropes untied
he looked up at the sky
then he give out a big sigh
and he laid down his head and he died

we started for town
but the truck broke down
we walked home five miles in the rain
and we’d have been glad for that
but we had hay on the ground
and the timing was kind of a shame

and the romance ain’t completely gone
to this cowboy life we’ve chose
but the bliss that I’d been counting on
well it comes and then it goes
I could have been a lawyer or something
but it’s too late for that now
cause the only thing I know anything about
is a damned old hereford cow

well the creek come up
took the watergap down
our yearlings were nowhere to be found
only taken us a week to gather em all
be easier the second time around
at least that’s what I thought
till I seen Shorty there looking blue
just before we left for town
he turned our horses out there too
(they went with the yearlings)

and the romance ain’t completely gone
but it’s wearing kind of thin
I know that there’s a lot of things
I maybe could have been
I could have been a fireman
but it’s too late for that now
cause the only thing I know anything about
is a damned old hereford cow

no the romance ain’t completely gone
to this cowboy life we’ve chose
but the bliss that I’d been counting on
well it comes and then it goes
I could have been a lot of things
and I guess I still could now
but the only thing I really care about
is a damned old hereford cow

© 1986, Gail Steiger
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Listen to Gail Steiger sing his song , which is also on his cd of the same name.

Nothing replaces experience when it comes to authenticity in writing. Gail Steiger is a songwriter, filmmaker, and cowboy who has been the foreman of the remote 50,000 acre Spider Ranch in Yavapai County, Arizona since 1995.

In a 2014 interview Gail Steiger commented on the song:

It was originally titled “A Cowboy Looks at 45 On A Real Bad Day.” And I had a brother that I do a lot of work with, and I usually play stuff for him before I embarrass myself in public.

And he said, well, you might get away with that song, but you’re going to have to lose the title. It’s just way too negative. He said if you call that song “The Romance of Western Life,” it will put a whole different spin on things. So that’s where this song came from.

He told us the song is “… is really just an updated version of ‘Real Cowboy Life,'” which was written by his grandfather, Gail I. Gardner, who was perhaps best known for writing “The Sierry Petes.” Stay tuned here for “Real Cowboy Life” on Friday.

Find more about Gail Steiger at gailsteigermusic.com.

He joins the impressive lineup at the Western Folklife Center’s 36th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 27-February 1, 2020.

Thanks to Amy Hale Steiger for lending this photo of Gail Steiger. She works with her husband on the Spider Ranch and is also an award-winning writer and poet. Find more about her at her site, amymhale.com.

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

OLD ONES by Deanna Dickinson McCall

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OLD ONES
by Deanna Dickinson McCall

Before most life begins to stir
The music of bit and spur
Would sound and carry on
In the early light before dawn.

Voices floated on the air
Like a melody hung there
Soft Texas drawls
Held in by canyon walls.

The Old Ones readied to ride
Grass ropes coiled at their sides
Split reins in gloved hands
They rode for their own brand.

On strong horses they rode away
Into the foothill mist of day,
I cried in vain for them to wait
As they trotted out the gate.

They turned and I saw their eyes
And knew this was the final goodbye
Dad and Granddaddy riding away
Me pleading for them to stay.

With my heart pounding
I heard their words sounding
And felt the crash in my chest
As mere words pierced my breast.

I woke with deep regret
Soaked with stale sweat
For they had spoken true
And I knew what I must do.

The Old Ones were gone again
The last of clan and kin
Men of horses and stock
My shield and my rock.

Their message was clear
“Go on without fear”
They had taught me well
And in my heart would dwell.

We still run a cow outfit
And all the old ways still fit
In a different land and time
Taught by the Old Ones of mine.

Before most life begins to stir
The music of bit and spur
Sounds and carries on
In the early light before dawn.

© Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Fourth-generation rancher and award-winning poet and writer Deanna Dickinson McCall has received numerous accolades. Earlier this year, her CD, I’ll Ride Thru It, was awarded the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Museum. Her writing has also been recognized with awards from the Academy Of Western Artists, the International Western Music Association, Women Writing The West, the Will Rogers Medallion Award, and the New Mexico Book Co-Op New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.

She also has a highly praised book of stories and poems, Mustang Spring, three other books, and an another award-winning CD of her poetry, Riding. Her work appears in many anthologies and magazines and she’s a popular performer at gatherings. She is currently at work on a novel.

As her bio tells, “Besides ranching in several states, she’s ridden for paychecks, sold feed and received cattle at sales yards to make ends meet when necessary.”

Back in 2006, Deanna Dickinson McCall shared this circa 1912 photo of her grandfather. It became the cover photo of The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Three.

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Deanna told us about the photograph, “The picture was a post card—that was quite a fad—of my grandfather Perry Preston Dickinson. He went by ‘P.P.’ He was born in Denton County, Texas in 1896 to a ranching family. He got itchy feet and rode to Arizona at the age of 12 and stayed there quite a while. He “courted” my Granny back in Texas and had the card made for her. The picture was taken in the vicinity of Grand Canyon. It is signed ‘The 10X Bronc fighter,’ as he was the rough string rider and was working on the 10X ranch at the time. (Men weren’t boys for very long in those days!) He was a great influence in my life and taught me many of the old stories, songs, and how to ride.
He later was a Marshall and a special agent of the Texas Rangers.”

Find more about Deanna Dickinson McCall at CowboyPoetry.com; at her web site, deannadickinsonmccall.com; and on Facebook.

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

CAN’T SEE IT FROM THE ROAD by Marleen Bussma

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CAN’T SEE IT FROM THE ROAD
by Marleen Bussma

Hills are rolling to the valley
as they’ve done since time stood still.
Sky has softened from ink black to darkest blue.
From a ranch house aged and weathered
there are kitchen lights that spill
man-made sunshine onto prairie kissed by dew.

There’s a rutted road that runs off
’til it’s thirty miles away
then it fades into a blacktop street in town.
City folks see dusty gravel
driven thin to showing clay,
an exhausted route that’s old and beaten down.

They don’t see the life that’s thriving
where the road twists through and bends
’round the vital work that fills their dinner plate.
They are unaware a rancher’s
roots dig deep here where he spends
every day in grateful thanks, a family trait.

His herd streams across the green hills
like a ribbon in the breeze
grazing belly-deep, content, and gaining weight.
This sight settles like a blessing,
puts his cluttered mind at ease
as his livelihood spools out clear to the gate.

As a rancher he’s a gambler.
He depends on rain that falls
while he bets that cattle prices will not drop.
Grazing leases are not certain.
If the spring dries up he hauls
water to the thirsty herd each day, non-stop.

With his risk comes compensation
for his life out in the hills.
Nature gives a built-in bonus he can’t buy.
Star-lit skies are filled with light points.
Calls of screeching hawks give thrills
as they wing their way to thermals in the sky.

New-mown hay is summer’s perfume.
He inhales the smell of rains.
He can watch the young calves frolic in the spring.
Branded by the land he lives on,
like the livestock it contains,
he’s his own man and for him that’s everything.

© 2018, Marleen Bussma
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Award-winning poet Marleen Bussma comments:

I grew up on a small farm in North Dakota. We always had cattle, milk cows and stock cows. The cream checks kept us afloat until we could sell grain during the summer and then a load of cattle in the fall. I have a soft spot in my heart for the critters.

I wrote this piece as a response to the city folks who have no idea where the cellophane-wrapped meat comes from that they buy at the grocery store. With the political climate what it is today, some urbanites appear to want cattle to disappear off the face of the earth because of methane issues and climate change. They believe they can live without leather clothing or eating steak. How about insulation material used to heat and cool their house, industrial oils and lubricants, biodegradable detergents, automobile tires, and more than 100 drugs that make our lives safer and more comfortable, including insulin? This list doesn’t scratch the surface.

A cow and the person who raises it give back in so many ways–you just can’t see it from the road.

She includes “Can’t See it From the Road” on her latest cd, Snow on the Sage.

Rick Huff, in his Best of the West Reviews, writes, in part:

Utah’s award-winning poet Marleen Bussma strikes again with a well-rounded tour of the Western scene (a bit of hoss, a bit of lore, a bit of land, a bit of gore).

Bussma is noted for artful views of elements that some might overlook as being commonplace [for example] … of a cowboy prepping for a wild ride, Bussma writes: ‘He climbs into the saddle and shimmies for a grip / His backside hugs the seat just like the ocean hugs a ship.’ ….

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Marleen Bussma is just back from the Will Rogers Medallion Awards, where her book, Tales of the Trails, received the top poetry Gold Medallion. She has appeared at many gatherings and events, and was a featured performer at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Find her poetry, videos, reviews, books and cds, and more at marleenbussma.com.

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

GHOST CANYON TRAIL, by Bruce Kiskaddon

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GHOST CANYON TRAIL
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

There are strange things told of spirits bold,
And the trail to Sante Fe,
There is many a tale of the Chisholm trail,
And the trail to Laramie.
But this is the tale of an obscure trail
That few men travelled on;
Where a spirit was known to ride alone,
‘Twixt the midnight hour and dawn.

It would wind and creep through canyons deep
And over the mesa wide.
The men who knew this trail were few,
Where the phantom used to ride.
At times was heard a careless word
Some drinking man let fall,
But ’twas held a joke by the rangeland folk,
That no one believed atall.

I learned the truth from a hard youth.
He was one of those reckless men
Who could ride in the lead of a night stampede,
Ot the dust of the broncho pen.
On a winter night when the stars were bright
And the dying moon was low,
He was holding his course on a jaded horse
And the pace that he made was slow.

The cow horse flinched and cringed, till the cinch
Was almost against the ground.
His quivering ears showed deathly fear
And the cow boy looked around.
He felt the thrill of a clammy chill,
As it travelled along his spine,
For he saw at his side a phantom ride,
With never a word or sign.

He kept his place, for he set his pace
To the cow boy’s jogging speed.
There came no sound on the frozen ground
From the tread of his phantom steed.
He showed a flash of a long moustache
And a tilted campaign hat.
There straight and strong with stirrups long
The phantom trooper sat.

They were all alone. And the pale moon shone
Through the ghost at the cow boy’s side.
His courage fled as he rode with the dead
Alone on the mesa wide.
No sign of flight, no show of fight
The buckaroo displayed,
For slugs of lead won’t hurt the dead,
Through the mist of a vapor shade.

With the mesa past they came at last
To a canyon wide and dark,
Where some stone huts stood in the cottonwoods
That had long been an old land mark.
Each ruined shack had a chimney black,
And a roofless crumbling wall.
A living spring was the only thing
That was useful to men atall.

The chilling breeze through the leafless trees,
Gave a dreary, dismal moan.
The trooper stayed in the ghastly shade
And cow boy rode alone.
Strange tales are head of what occurred
At that place in the years gone by,
Ere that restless soul of the night patrol
Rode under the starlit sky.

What the trooper knows, or where he goes,
Nobody has ever found.
But the tale is told of the lone patrol
By the older settlers ’round.
There’s a cow boy trim with a face that’s grim,
Will never forget that ride
On a winter night in the pale moon light,
By the phantom trooper’s side.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

Halloween is upon us. Bruce Kiskaddon’s poem is from his 1947 book, Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems. Find many more Kiskaddon poems and more about him in features at cowboypoetry.com.

Popular musician and historian Rex Rideout created a haunting version of “Ghost Canyon Trail,” along with eerie sound effects and music on MASTERS: VOLUME THREE, the triple-cd of the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon.

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He comments on his choice of “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” music, saying, “…The song first appears in 1877, which is just about the most likely time that such a trooper could have come to an unfortunate ending.”

Find more about Rex Rideout at timetravelmusic.com.

Also catch the Halloween spirit with “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and the first-ever recording of it in 1949, by Burl Ives. Find our links to other videos of the song, including renditions by  Johnny Cash, Gene Autry (in a 1949 film trailer), Marty Robbins, Sons of the Pioneers, Chris LeDoux, Bing Crosby, Riders in the Sky, Jimmie Rodgers, Lorne Greene, Elvis, The Blues Brothers, the Outlaws, Judy Collins, at cowboypoetry.com, and find poems in the spirit of Halloween there as well.

Texas local historian, poet, writer, and reciter Linda Kirkpatrick shared this fitting photograph, taken in July, 2014. Find more about her at lindakirkpatrick.net.

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

DEEP OCTOBER, by Rod Nichols

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DEEP OCTOBER
by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)

There’s somethin’ ’bout the time of year
when fall is almost over,
September’s just a memory,
now lost in deep October.

The nights have changed from cool to cold
the trees from leafed to bare,
a breeze is now a cuttin’ wind
that hones the evenin’ air.

And overhead a muted light
casts shadows o’er the gloom,
like tricks upon All Hallow’s Eve
an orange October moon.

A melancholy, haunted place
this lonely trail tonight,
a grove of twisted, barren shapes
against that autumn light.

The sounds of evenin’ aren’t the same
no crickets, birds or frog,
instead a moan among the trees
or distant, mournful dog.

While overhead that muted light
casts shadows o’er the gloom,
like tricks upon All Hallow’s Eve
an orange October moon.

There’s somethin’ ’bout the time of year
when fall is almost over,
September’s just a memory,
now lost in deep October.

© 2007, Rod Nichols
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Rod Nichols told us, “‘Deep October’ was written after a ride one evening when the moon was almost orange in color. I was on a black Morgan that belonged to a friend of mine and I had to write this one when I got in.”

Rod is forever missed by his many friends and family. Find more about him and more of his poetry at cowboypoetry.com .

This photo is by New Mexico cowboy, songwriter, poet, entertainer, and talented photographer Mike Moutoux. He told us he took the photo in the Pecos Wilderness, northeast of Santa Fe, of his friend Ben Nelson of Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Mike’s Facebook friends enjoy his frequent wildlife and nature photos. Check out his YouTube channel for his videos with poetry and music.

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

MAKE ME NO GRAVE, by Henry Herbert Knibbs

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MAKE ME NO GRAVE
by Henry Herbert Knibbs (1874-1945)

Make me no grave within that quiet place
Where friends shall sadly view the grassy mound,
Politely solemn for a little space,
As though the spirit slept beneath the ground.

For me no sorrow, nor the hopeless tear;
No chant, no prayer, no tender eulogy:
I may be laughing with the gods—while here
You weep alone. Then make no grave for me

But lay me where the pines, austere and tall,
Sing in the wind that sweeps across the West:
Where night, imperious, sets her coronal
Of silver stars upon the mountain crest.

Where dawn, rejoicing, rises from the deep,
And Life, rejoicing, rises with the dawn:
Mark not the spot upon the sunny steep,
For with the morning light I shall be gone.

Far trails await me; valleys vast and still,
Vistas undreamed of, canyon-guarded streams,
Lowland and range, fair meadow, flower-girt hill,
Forests enchanted, filled with magic dreams.

And I shall find brave comrades on the way:
None shall be lonely in adventuring,
For each a chosen task to round the day,
New glories to amaze, new songs to sing.

Loud swells the wind along the mountain-side,
High burns the sun, unfettered swings the sea,
Clear gleam the trails whereon the vanished ride,
Life calls to life: then make no grave for me!

…Henry Herbert Knibbs

Linda Marie Kirkpatrick shared the sad news of the death of Diane Coggin Merrill on October 22, 2019. Diane was the daughter of Mason Coggin (1938-2000) and Janice Coggin (1937-2013) of Cowboy Miner Productions, publishers of cowboy poetry. This poem was delivered at Mason Coggin’s funeral and was a favorite of Diane Coggin Merrill.

Cowboy Miner published books with the poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, Henry Herbert Knibbs, Badger Clark, S. Omar Barker, D.J. O’Malley, and other classic poets. They also published contemporary poets, including Larry McWhorter, Chris Isaacs, Sunny Hancock, Jessie Smith, Ray Owens, Dee Strickland Johnson, Jane Morton, Rolf Flake, Linda Marie Kirkpatrick, DW Groethe, Michael Whitaker, Kent Stockton, and others. Their books, particularly in the pre- and early-internet days, were important sources for readers and reciters. Their daughter carried on the business until illness prevented her from continuing.

All three Coggins were great friends to poets (and to cowboypoetry.com) and were frequent participants at gatherings. Find a Diane Coggin Merrill Memorial page on Facebook.

The great troubador and music historian Don Edwards created an outstanding song from this poem. It appears on his Heaven on Horseback album.

It’s often noted that Henry Herbert Knibbs—known for poems such as “Where the Ponies Come to Drink” and “Boomer Johnson”—was not a cowboy. But Knibbs was not inexperienced with Western life.

Lee Shippey wrote about him in a 1931 article in the Los Angeles Times. He notes that Knibbs was born in the Canadian east, went to Harvard, and had a novel published while he was still a student there. He writes, “…when a man can come out of the East, handicapped by such an un-Western sounding name as Henry Herbert Knibbs, and become a man whose songs and stories are loved by the cow men and prospectors and adventurers of all the Western States, he must have something.”

He continues, “While still a young Canadian he tramped the great Canadian forests and all he asked was a canoe, a pack and a gun and he could supply himself with food and shelter. Later he came down into Maine and had a unwritten contract to supply several lumber camps with fresh meat. He was so successful in that business that a special game warden was assigned the task of catching him in some unlawful act.” He goes on to tell that the warden could never catch Knibbs doing anything wrong, and that Knibbs would sometimes lead him on wild chases. Then one day Knibbs found the warden in medical distress and nursed him back to health. The warden didn’t want to pursue Knibbs after that, and persuaded his superiors to call off the hunt. In fact Knibbs was offered a warden position, but he declined, as he had decided to head for California.

Knibbs headed West, and after some newspaper work, “He built himself a little covered wagon—a spring wagon with a canvas top on it—and set out to see California. For the better part of a year he jogged about, visiting many places where still motor cars cannot go, for good horses and a light wagon could take him to many places where there were no roads.”

It is noted that at the time of the column he had published a number of novels and that five of his stories were made into motion pictures. Shippey writes, “But it is probably that his poems will outlive his prose. For there are many western authors but few poets whose work really appeals to the men of plains and ranges, to cow men and prospectors and those who know life in that vanishing domain which is western in spirit as well as geographically.”

Find more about Knibbs at CowboyPoetry.com.

Find more about Don Edwards at westernjubilee.com and visit his site, donedwardsmusic.com.

This photo is from the Connecticut State Archives, available through Creative Commons. The caption describes it, “An autographed promotional photo of Henry H. Knibbs in the desert with 2 pack mules and a walking stick in cowboy garb…” [Connecticut State Library, State Archives, PG 460, Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, Box 2, Folder 7, Item 4; flickr.com/photos/ctarchives/4110253896/]

(This poem is in the public domain.)

DYING BREED, by Jay Snider

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DYING BREED
by Jay Snider

The note was neatly written
On an old brown paper bag
Bound and nicely folded
Inside a little American flag

We found it on the mantel
Near some pictures that he had
Of an old bay hoss he used to ride
His wife, his mother and his dad

It was pressed beneath a Bible
That sixty years ago was new
He often said when it was with him
He felt the Lord rode with him too

The note read smooth and easy
The words were simple, plain, and true
Reflections of a lifetime
Of an old time buckaroo

It read: “I’m just a simple cowboy
I’ve grown accustomed to meager ways
Cause it’s sometimes hard to make ends meet
On what punchin’ cattle pays

“But if wealth is somehow measured
By the many friends you’ve made
And success is hitched to freedom
Then I reckon I’ve been well paid

“But I’ve heard we’re nearin’ extinction
The cowboy’s just a vision from the past
His ways are old and antiquated
That our future is fadin’ fast

“But in my mind,” the note read on,
“I tend to disagree
Cause I see the cowboy in the young bucks
The ones who follow you and me

“I’ve seen ’em ridin’ rangy broncs
And spur ’em jump for jump
Then loose the rein and pet ’em some
When they’ve ridden out the hump

“I’ve heard ’em hoop and holler
Bustin’ brush and dodgin’ trees
Stand hat in hand and reverent
Old Glory wavin’ in the breeze

“I’ve watched ’em tradin’ horses
Swappin’ lies on a cattle deal
Then sign it proud and proper
With just a handshake for the seal

“I’ve seen a sadness in their eyes
For an orphaned calf in pain
When in spite of their compassion
All efforts were in vain

“I know they treat their elders
With respect and dignity
Still tip their hats to womenfolk
Just the way that it should be”

It read: “As long as little buckaroos
Dream of ridin’ wild and free
There will always be good cowboys
To follow you and me

“These words I write, though roughly penned
I hope fit somewhere in the cowboy creed
The cowboy will live eternal
We darned sure ain’t no dying breed ”

© 2002 Jay Snider
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Popular Oklahoma rancher, poet, and reciter Jay Snider comes from a long line of cowboys and his sons are growing the next generation.

Find Jay at the 31st annual Cowboy Christmas Poetry Gathering in Wickenburg, Arizona, December 6-7, 2019. Other featured performers include Mary Kaye, Leon Autrey, and Trinity Seeley.

Jay returns to the Western Folklife Center’s 36th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 27-February 1, 2020, in Elko, Nevada.  See Monday’s post for a list of participants and visit nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org for more, including descriptions of workshops, films, and other events at the gathering.

Jay Snider’s recent CD, Classic Cowboy Poetry: The Old Tried and True, showcases his fine reciting. He delivers poems by Bruce Kiskaddon, Henry Herbert Knibbs, Will Ogilvie, Sunny Hancock, and others, to carry listeners back to time when, to quote Kiskaddon,
“cattle were plenty and people were few.”

For a great look at how Jay Snider handles the classics, see a video of him reciting Sunny Hancock’s “The Bear Tale” at the 2010 Western Folklife Center National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Find more about Jay Snider at cowboypoetry.com , and at jaysnider.net.

Photo courtesy of Jay Snider.

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