Ken Blacklock 1937–2016


Suzanne Aardema send us the sad news of popular Alberta poet Ken Blacklock’s death. She wrote, “It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to inform you of the passing of Ken Blacklock, cowboy poet and all around good soul. On December 1 Ken passed away when the car he was diving hit two loose horses that were on the road near his home near Onaway, Alberta, Canada. He was the lone occupant of the vehicle.”

Find an obituary here, which states, in part:

It is with great sadness and much love that we say goodbye to Kenneth Raymond Blacklock (known as Smoke or Poet to many); father, grandfather and valued friend who passed away suddenly on December 1, 2016.

…An Albertan beginning to end, he was born on February 16, 1937 in Jasper Park, Alberta. Over a long and widely traveled life he was a Scout leader, truck driver, RCAF corporal, tax accountant, expeditor, storyteller, coal miner, blaster, cowboy poet, Folk Festival volunteer and many other endeavors where a quick mind, solid work ethic and willingness to try new things were an advantage.

A celebration of his life will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday the 17th of December 2016 at the Hope Christian Reformed Church located at 1004 Highway 16 Parkland County (corner of Highway 16 and Highway 779).

As an expression of sympathy, memorial contributions may be made in Ken’s name to the Canadian Diabetes Association or to The Royal Canadian Legion.

101 WAYS TO LOSE A CALF by Linda Nadon


by Linda Nadon

There’s a hundred ways to lose a calf, reckon we’ve all heard that before
But, when it comes to losin’ a calf, I can tell you ‘bout one more

It was calvin’ time, water was runnin’ and the sun was shinin’ bright
I headed out to check the cows, to make sure everything was alright

A little Red Angus cow had calved and she was lookin’ after her little guy
As I walked up, a ripple, in a bull hole behind her, caught my eye

I really couldn’t believe it ‘cause only his nostrils was stickin’ out
I reached in and grabbed a-hold, it was a new born calf, no doubt

I don’t know how long he was in there, I’ve no idea how he’d fallen in
I dragged him over to the little cow and she claimed him, reckon he was her twin

Momma cow was working him over good, I figured he’d soon get up and suck
It was warm and sunny, he’d be dry in no time, I couldn’t believe our luck!

I reckon we was ’bout half done calvin’ these twins would put us up by one
And momma cow definitely wanted them both, we was havin’ a real good run

Didn’t look like they needed my help at all, decided I might as well go
I thought, I’ll let “Mother Nature” do her thing I’ll come back in an hour or so

Ya see, I’ve been known to interfere, perhaps, on occasion, more than I should
But this time, I figured no help was required, things was going too good

When I returned, I couldn’t believe it that calf was stone, cold dead
He had suffocated, his brother had stumbled over and was laying on his head

Now a dozen “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” went racing thru’ my head that day
And now you’ve heard My story of how we lost a calf the 101th way

© 2016, Linda Nadon
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author’s permission.


Saskatchewan rancher Linda Nadon also sent these photos of twins, and told us, “This is a true story, unfortunately, it doesn’t have a happy ending. It does provide an accurate description of calving on the ranch. As a rancher, you never know when to interfere and when to leave things be. In this situation, I made the wrong call. I guess that’s ranching.

Linda Nadon has a recent CD, North of 54 Degrees.


It is described:

North of 54 is Linda’s debut CD which includes a sample of her own cowboy poetry. Linda and her husband, who she refers to as “my Larry,” raise beef cattle near Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada (which is located on the 54th parallel). Her poems are depictions of her many, and often humorous, experiences on the ranch. The critters and calamities associated with everyday life on the N7 Ranch provide a never-ending supply of poetry material. The CD also features songs performed by Linda and her children, Lacey and Landon. Her brother and producer, recording artist Rocky Lakner, also added musical accompaniment and her favorite song which he wrote and recorded some years ago. CD’s can be ordered directly from Linda at for $15.00 pp.

Find Rick Huff’s review here  where he comments, “I don’t recall coming away from hearing a CD by a poet who focuses on family ranching with more of a clear-cut sense of the family than this one provides…”

Find more about Linda Nadon at

SEEIN’ SANTA by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)


“Seein’ Santa” by Charles M. Russell, 1910
C. M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana  reproduced with permission


by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)

Ol’ Charlie sat with cup in hand,
“Hot coffee, that’s for me.
I’ll never touch another drop
of spirits, though I freeze.”

The bunkhouse crew now gathered ’round;
ol’ Chuck was talkin’ strange.
“What happened, son,” the foreman asked,
to bring about this change?”

The cowboy took another sip,
“Just let me ketch my breath.
You won’t believe what happened, boys,
but scared me half to death.”

“I’d been up in the north country,
and stopped by Miller’s shack.
We jawed awhile and afterwards,
I started headin’ back.”

“The wind was raw and bitter cold.
It had me in it’s grip.
I thought to warm my innards up,
and took a little nip.”

“When all at once against the sky
and down a cloudy draw,
a sight like nuthin’ on this Earth,
this frozen cowboy saw.”

“It were a sleigh, I swear it, boys,
and drawn by antlered deer,
a driver, too, in cap and fur,
and laughin’ loud and clear.”

“I’d never seen its likes before
nor nuthin half as strange;
That driver seemed to tip his cap
and called to me by name.”

“When that there rig flew over me
with driver, deer and sleigh,
I took one look at what I’d drunk,
and threw the rest away.”

“Then as they mounted to the sky,
I heard him clearly say,
‘Peace on the Earth, goodwill to men
on this most wondrous day.”

” I know you won’t believe me, boys,
but, how do you explain,
this lariat he left for me
that bears my given name?”

For there upon his saddle horn
a rope with leather bands
that bound the length at either end
to hold the woven strands.

And on one band, a message read
“To Charlie Russell, Hand.
A Merry Christmas to you, pard,
until we meet, again.”

© 2004, Rod Nichols, used with permission

Texas poet Rod Nichols wrote this poem for a Christmas Art Spur with this Russell image at

Rod Nichols is dearly missed by his many friends.

Find more about Rod Nichols and much more of his poetry at

DECEMBER by Rod Miller


“Cold Gather” © 2016, Mark Kohler;

by Rod Miller

I don’t wear no white hat—
it’s only fallen snow;
blankets both my shoulders,
caps boots, stirrup to toe.
Horse’s eyelash frosted,
his maneline salted white.
Tracks made by his horseshoes
soon disappear from sight.

The wind, it ain’t blowin’
and this cold I can stand—
bow my back, cowboy up,
and ride on for the brand.
Do the job I’m paid for.
Ain’t no need to pout.
Snow’ll melt come springtime,
like whiskers, grass’ll sprout.

A fire sure would feel good;
a cup of coffee, hot;
sougans in the bunkhouse
rolled out on ropeweb cot.
I’ll get home ’bout midnight.
Can’t wait to feel that bed.
Slim’ll wake and tell me
I can sleep when I’m dead.

Ride again at first light,
never mind snow and cold—
shake flakes off m’ back and
forget I’m too damn old.

© 2016, Rod Miller, used with permission

Utah’s Rod Miller excels as an essayist, journalist, novelist, short-story writer, poet, and more. He told us that this poem was “…inspired by season and circumstance.”

He has received the Western Writers of America’s prestigious Spur Award three times: for his poetry, short fiction, and a novel.

See his insightful and entertaining articles about writing and reciting cowboy poetry (and more of his poetry) at

Subscribe to Rod Miller’s blog.

This outstanding painting, “Cold Gather,” is by award-winning artist Mark Kohler, known for his watercolors and oils. He states on his web site, “I have a passion for the American West, and for the last 18 years I’ve dedicated my God-given talent to one goal: documenting the independent spirit and pride that the modern working cowboy has inherited from his predecessors. It is uniquely American and worthy of preservation.”

Mark Kohler also has a beautiful new book, Going West, which, he describes, “Like my first book, ‘Working Cowboys,’ it records the amazing experiences I have had chronicling the American West.”

Visit his website,; find him on Instagram; and on Facebook.

A BUSTED COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS by D.J. O’Malley 1868-1884


by D.J. O’Malley 1868-1884

I am a busted cowboy
And I work upon the range,
In summertime I get some work,
But one thing which seems strange,
As soon as fall work’s over
I get it in the neck
I get a Christmas present
Of a neatly written check.

I come to town to rusticate,
I’ve no place else to stay
When winter winds are howling hard
Because I don’t eat hay.
A puncher’s life’s a picnic?
It is one continual joke.
But there’s none more anxious to see spring
Than the cowboy who is broke.

The wages that a cowhand earns
In summer goes like smoke,
And when the snow begins to drift
You bet your neck he’s broke.
You may talk about your holidays,
Your Christmas cheer and joy,
They’re all the same to me, my friend.
Cash gone, I’m a broke cowboy.

My saddle and my gun in soak,
My spurs I’ve long since sold,
My rawhide and my quirt are gone,
My chaps, no. They’re too old.
My outfit’s gone, I can’t e’en bum
A cigarette to smoke.
For no one cares what happens
To a cowboy who is broke.

Just where I’ll eat my dinner
This Christmas, I don’t know,
But you can bet your life I’ll have one
If I get but half a show.
This Christmas holds no charms for me,
On good things I’ll not choke,
Unless I get a big handout
I’m a cowboy who is broke.

…D. J. O’Malley, 1893

D.J. O’Malley was born in San Angelo, Texas, in 1868. He worked on the open range for nearly 20 years, starting in Montana in 1884.

The University of Arizona’s Cowboy Songs and Singers: of Lifeways and Legend site comments on this poem: “This was written on a winter night after Mr. O’Malley had been parted from $2 by a fellow with a long spiel. He says that at that time there were many ‘summer hands’ or ‘mail order cowboys.’ They were only good enough to fill in as herders or extras during roundup time, but when they told it around the stove in winter they were all ‘top hands.’ The poem appeared in the Stock Growers’ Journal on December 23,
1893. It was signed Iyam B. Usted.”

See their collection of poems about D.J. O’Malley and commentary about him by John I. White here.

Find more about the poem and about D.J. O’Malley at in our feature that includes selections of his poetry and prose.

This photograph of D.J. O’Malley is from the Montana Historical Society, used with permission. Credit: Montana Historical Society Research Center Photograph Archives, Helena, MT: 944-212 D.J. O’Malley (Kid White) taken in Forsyth, Montana 1897, photographer unknown. Catalog # 944-212

(Please respect copyright. Permission is required from the Montana Historical Society for this image. The poem is in the public domain.)




by Red Shuttleworth

This overarching happiness
is a fresh-painted red truck on gravel…
an empty cattle trailer rattling behind it.
All that rust shaken off and windblown.

Tomorrow I shall get up at four a.m.,
drive to Walla Walla, listen to Russell
sing “Blue Wing” over and over again.
Tomorrow: snapshots of drought country,
lines in a red-as-lifeblood notebook.

It will be Sunday tomorrow…
like day-old roadside shell casings.
This happiness will be chalky memory.

© 2015, Red Shuttleworth, from Woe to the Land Shadowing, used with permission
Poet and playwright Red Shuttleworth’s Woe to the Land Shadowing poetry collection “…presents poems from the Washington State fire season of summer-2015.” It received the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s 2016 “Wrangler” Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Poetry (Blue Horse Press).

Past Texas Poet Laureate Larry D. Thomas praised the book, “If the American West could write, these poems would be its story…”

Read Paul Zaryski’s words and a short review of Red Shuttleworth’s Brief Lives, which includes a poem here.

Red Shuttleworth has received three Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and has been named “Best Living Western Poet” by True West Magazine.

Find more about Red Shuttleworth at his blog; his web site,; and on  Facebook.


Picture the West: Mike Moutoux

Picture the West looks for images that give a glimpse of the ranching, cowboy, and rural and working life of the West of today and yesterday. We’re looking for vintage and contemporary photos: family photos, images of where you live and work, and the area around you.

If you have a photo to share, email us.

Find many years’ previous photos at



New Mexico cowboy, songwriter, poet, entertainer, and photographer Mike Moutoux shares pictures below from this fall. He writes:

“A good friend of mine, Randy Huston, asked me to come up for a branding and of course I made the long drive to be there. That is what friends do. Turns out, Randy has a lot of friends who do the same and together we made short work out of branding his crop of Corriente calves. It was a picture perfect shirtsleeves by 8:00 in the morning day, and with all the help he had, I got permission to just run a camera for a while.

(All photos: © 2016, Mike Moutoux, Request permission for use.)




“It is always a pleasure to be in a branding pen; for me it is much more enjoyable than a rodeo. There is the pleasure of getting work done, being side by side with folks you both like and admire, occasional misses and slip-ups offset by slick catches and quick thinking ropers and flankers speeding up the work and keeping each other and the livestock safe. The dust, the smoke and the noise are unique to the work and create an atmosphere I love to be in the middle of.




“My song’s line below, ‘Seen fine roping done by the best of quiet men’ was inspired by this particular crew that Randy puts together. It is a pleasure to ride beside them and watch them work. They make it look easy; they make me proud to be part of the crew; they understand if I sit out a spell to take photos like these so I can share it all with others. They are the best of quiet men.”


(All photos: © 2016, Mike Moutoux, Request permission for use.)


lyrics by Mike Moutoux

I’m grateful for the chances given me
For places that could set my spirit free
Been reckless when I had to be
No, long days never bothered me
‘Cause I saw things I’d never get to see
Trading time for one more memory

Rode mountain trails where aspens twist and sway
Where Douglas Firs threw shadows deep and long
And columbines nod gently in the shade
Where canyon creeks made music all day long

I’ve been blessed to see a new life come to be
Helped a time or two when the birth was rough
And the mourning of a cow inspired me
When she lost a calf she never got to love


Been in the thick of things in the branding pen
Survived the swirling dust and kicking calves
Seen fine roping done by the best of quiet men
Each of us all giving all we have

Saddled up my horse in the pearly light of morn
Seen the last stars kiss the morning moon goodbye
Watched the eastern clouds greet the sun as it was born
The beauty and romance would make me sigh


I’m grateful for the chances given me
Tried to share it all with songs and poetry
Stretched the truth now if I had to
Sang my heart out and was glad to
Grateful for the chance to set you free
Grateful for the time you took for me.

© 2016, Mike Moutoux, used with permission

Find some of Mike Moutoux’s poetry and lyrics and more about him at; at his web site,; and on Facebook.