COWBOY LAUNDRY by Rodney Nelson


by Rodney Nelson

Brides-to-be have much to learn,
there’s more to marriage than joy—
especially if the mate she’s found
is a sure-nuff country boy.

She’s no doubt optimistic—
oblivious to her fate…
The dangers that will come to pass
she can’t anticipate.

She dreams of newborn colts and calves,
anticipation makes her grin—
But ranch life quickly dims these myths
and reality sets in.

There’s calves to work, cows to feed,
meals are often late.
Unpaid bills, and drought and dirt
are things she learns to hate.

It starts when “hubby” saunters in,
a guy she’s never seen unclean—
He’s reeking and he’s filthy,
and she thinks it’s kinda mean…

When he piles his duds upon the floor
and gives her a big squeeze,
says “I need clean clothes in the morning,
so wash these up, if you please.”

She’s gotta pick them off the floor,
though the thought makes her kinda sick,
She thinks she sees them crawling,
so she jabs ’em with a stick!

She’s gotta get them to the washer,
though it fills her heart with dread—
She shuts her eyes and throws ’em in…
lightness fills her head!

But like a dose of smelling salts,
the odor jolts this lass,
It’s made up of sweat, of grease, or crud—
and stuff that once was grass!

There’s pine-tar too, and branding smoke,
horse sweat and a drained abscess,
Diesel fuel and scouring calves,
and a shot of KRS.

But the task is still unfinished,
as she is well aware,
there’s one more chore, for on the floor,
lies her hubby’s underwear!

She’s seen some Hitchcock movies,
storms have caused her awful fright,
But nothing she has seen before
has prepared her for this sight!

An older, wiser ranchwife
would read them like a book—
she’d know he’d oiled the windmill,
and with another look…

She could see old Brownie had thrown him
by the telltale gumbo mud—
And he’d repaired another prolapse
’cause the front was stained with blood.

There are countless other stories
that a cowboy’s briefs could share
Like if he had been eating chili
or had a real bad scare!

But the new bride lacks the knowledge,
and in her frenzied state,
She grabs them with a plier
and shows them to her mate.

“Don’t jump to conclusions, Hon,
you know what that stain means…
I wasn’t careful where I sat
and it soaked on through my jeans.”

She just can’t quite believe it,
and she’s plum filled up with doubt—
She says “If what you say is true, my dear,
you wore this pair inside out!”

Oh, it won’t be long ’til scenes like this
will be common to the bride—
and countless other problems
she’ll learn to take in stride.

Yes, she’ll see her share of troubles
that the coming years will bring—
But if she can handle COWBOY LAUNDRY,
she can handle anything!

© 1995, Rodney Nelson
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Of all the poems that have appeared on the ten volumes of The BAR-D Roundup CDs from, this one by Rodney Nelson, North Dakota rancher, poet, columnist, and Senior Pro Rodeo champion, receives the most radio play. Rodney’s long-suffering wife has been the subject of some of his other poems and perhaps inspired this one.

He comments on his photo, “This is my favorite rodeo photo. I was trying to smile for the photographer but I missed it a bit. That is my wedding shirt, so it was taken after 1980, but I’m not sure what year.” See this photo along with others in a Picture the West feature at

Rodney Nelson writes the popular “Up Sims Creek” column in Farm and Ranch Guide and he’s just released a second volume of columns, Up Sims Creek – 100 More Trips. Find more about the new collection here.

Find more about Rodney Nelson, some of his poetry, and information about more of his books and CDs at

Events: May

Find links to all months here.

• through May 13, 2018
13th Annual Cowgirl Up! Art from the Other Half of the West Wickenburg, Arizona

• through May 28, 2018
Trappings of Texas Custom Cowboy Gear and Western Art Exhibit Alpine, Texas

• May 2-5, 2018
Second annual Bryce Canyon Mule Days Tropic, Utah

• May 4-5, 2018
South Texas Cowboy Gathering Seguin, Texas

• May 4-6, 2018
Cowboy Way Festival Gene Autry, Oklahoma

• May 5, 2018
20th Annual Cowtown Society Of Western Music Swingfest Mineral Wells, Texas

• May 10-13, 2018
The Western Heritage Classic Abilene, Texas

• May 11-12, 2018
Cattle Barons Weekend Pendleton, Oregon

• May 20, 2018
57th Annual Topanga Banjo•Fiddle Contest & Folk Festival Agoura Hills, California

• May 22-27, 2018
48th Bishop Mule Days Bishop, California

• May 25-27, 2018
Art in the Park Ritzville, Washington

• May 25-28, 2018
38th Annual Old West Days Jackson Hole, Wyoming

• May 25-28, 2018
13th Annual Cowboy Legends Memorial Day Celebration Antelope Island, Utah

• May 26, 2018
Cross Timbers Cowboy Poetry and Stories Mineral Wells, Texas

• May 26-27, 2018
28th Annual Chuck Wagon Gathering and Children’s Cowboy Festival Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

• Memorial Day Weekend,  2018
32nd Annual Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gathering Medora, North Dakota

• Dates not yet received for 2018
Kansas Cowboy Poetry Qualifying Contest (1)  Benton, Kansas

• Dates not yet received for 2018
Kansas Cowboy Poetry Qualifying Contest (2) Fredonia, Kansas

• No event in 2018
22nd Annual Black Cowboy Festival Rembert, South Carolina

THE OLD NIGHT HAWK by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)


photo © 2017, Amy Steiger


by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

I am up tonight in the pinnacles bold
Where the rim towers high.
Where the air is clear and the wind blows cold,
And there’s only the horses and I.
The valley swims like a silver sea
In the light of the big full moon,
And strong and clear there comes to me
The lilt of the first guard’s tune.

The fire at camp is burning bright,
Cook’s got more wood than he needs.
They’ll be telling some windy tales tonight
Of races and big stampedes.
I’m gettin’ too old fer that line of talk:
The desperaders they’ve knowed,
Their wonderful methods of handling stock
And the fellers they’ve seen get throwed.

I guess I’m a dog that’s had his day,
Though I still am quick and strong.
My hair and my beard have both turned gray,
And I reckon I’ve lived too long.
None of ’em know me but that old cook, Ed,
And never a word he’ll say.
My story will stick in his old gray head
Till the break of the Judgment Day.

What’s that I see a walkin’ fast?
It’s a hoss a’ slippin’ through.
He was tryin’ to make it out through the pass;
Come mighty near doin’ it too.
Get back there! What are you tryin’ to do?
You hadn’t a chance to bolt.
Old boy I was wranglin’ a bunch like you
Before you was even a colt.

It’s later now. The guard has changed.
One voice is clear and strong.
He’s singin’ a tune of the old time range —
I always did like that song.
It takes me back to when I was young
And the memories come through my head,
Of the times I have heard that old song sung
By voices now long since dead.

I have traveled better than half my trail.
I am well down the further slope.
I have seen my dreams and ambitions fail,
And memory replaces hope.
It must be true, fer I’ve heard it said,
That only the good die young.
The tough old cusses like me and Ed
Must stay still the last dog’s hung.

I used to shrink when I thought of the past
And some of the things I have known.
I took to drink, but now at last,
I’d far rather be alone.
It’s strange how quick that a night goes by,
Fir I live in the days of old.
Up here where there’s only the hosses and I;
Up in the pinnacles bold.

The two short years that I ceased to roam,
And I led a contented life.
Then trouble came and I left my home,
And I never have heard of my wife.
The years that I spent in a prison cell
When I went by another name;
For life is a mixture of Heaven and Hell
To a feller that plays the game.

They’d better lay off that wrangler kid.
They’ve give him about enough.
He looks like a pardner of mine once did.
He’s the kind that a man can’t bluff.
They’ll find that they are making a big mistake
If they once get him overhet;
And they’ll give him as good as an even break,
Or I’m takin’ a hand, you bet.

Look, there in the East is the Mornin’ Star.
It shines with a firy glow,
Till it looks like the end of a big cigar,
But it hasn’t got far to go.
Just like the people that make a flash.
They don’t stand much of a run.
Come bustin’ in with a sweep and a dash
When most of the work is done.

I can see the East is gettin’ gray.
I’ll gather the hosses soon;
And faint from the valley far away
Comes the drone of the last guard’s tune.
Yes, life is just like the night-herd’s song,
As the long years come and go.
You start with a swing that is free and strong,
And finish up tired and slow.

I reckon the hosses all are here.
I can see that T-bar blue,
And the buckskin hoss with the one split ear;
I’ve got ’em all. Ninety two.
Just listen to how they roll the rocks —
These sure are rough old trails.
But then, if they can’t slide down on their hocks,
They can coast along on their tails.

The Wrangler Kid is out with his rope,
He seldom misses a throw.
Will he make a cow hand? Well I hope,
If they give him half a show.
They are throwin’ the rope corral around,
The hosses crowd in like sheep.
I reckon I’ll swaller my breakfast down
And try to furgit and sleep.

Yes, I’ve lived my life and I’ve took a chance,
Regardless of law or vow.
I’ve played the game and I’ve had my dance,
And I’m payin’ the fiddler now.

…Bruce Kiskaddon

This poem appeared in Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1924 book, Rhymes of the Ranges, and was revised for his 1947 book, Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems. The 45 variants are included in Bill Siems’ Open Range, which includes almost all of Kiskaddon’s nearly 500 poems. The above poem is the 1947 version of “The Old Night Hawk.”

Bill Siems writes, in another of his books, Shorty’s Yarns (the collected stories of Kiskaddon) about how this poem inspired him. His eloquent comments include how city people and ranchers might see each other, and, he comments on ranch people:

“…Besides feeding us, they are the stewards of our land and keepers of our connection with the natural world. They have come closest, after the Native Americans, to harmony with a landscape that is both beautiful and harsh. This harmony is a significant and difficult achievement, essentially in opposition to our romantic notions that are driven by need but not grounded in reality. It is one thing to love the land from a climate-controlled vehicle, but it is another to love it in the wind and sleet on horseback. Cattle as a backdrop for western entertainment are a world apart from cattle as living creatures that must be cared for and slaughtered. Standing with honesty and humility on such bedrock facts of life gives a person authority, however gently it may be asserted…this is the poem that first caught me up in Bruce Kiskaddon’s words…”

Find more about Kiskaddon, Open Range, and Shorty’s Yarns at

This stunning photograph is by writer and ranch hand Amy Steiger (Amy Hale Auker) who cowboys with her husband@Gail Steiger in rugged country at Arizona’s Spider ranch. She comments, “We often make camp below this butte when we are working our Cottonwood Pasture. Late evening and early morning highlights the rock faces, and I can’t help but stand in awe.”

Look for Amy Hale Auker’s new book, Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs, from Texas Tech University Press this month. Find more about her at her web site, on, on Facebook,  and on Instagram.


20th National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, August 4-6, 2017


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From the NCPR:

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We are very proud to announce that the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo was selected as a Top Ten Cowboy Event in the American West by American Cowboy for 2017!

It’s not too late to put the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo on your calendar. Join us August 4-6, 2017, for the 20th Annual event in Abilene, Kansas.

Entry Forms, Rules, and scheduling information are available for the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo on our web site at

This cowboy/cowgirl poetry competition is the only one of its kind with ADDED MONEY and big payouts.  It is held during the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo and Central Kansas Free Fair in Abilene, Kansas each year.

Competition is open to the World if you meet the qualifications: You don’t have to compete at any other event to qualify.

We begin the festivities the evening of August 4th after the parade at the Shockey & Landes Building with open mic and appetizers.

Then Friday and Saturday mornings we start in with the cowboy poetry rodeo competition with free admission until we are done each day.

Following the Saturday competition—be sure to get your tickets for the Saturday afternoon 4:00 p.m. Matinee show where the winners will be crowned and perform their winning poetry followed by the Chisholm Trail Western Music Show with Geff Dawson & Dawn and Cowboy Friends. For more information, visit our web site at Tickets will be available online.

Many poets who have participated in the NCPR have had high praise for the experience, including Pat Richardson, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Doris Daley, Linda Kirkpatrick, DW Groethe, Andy Nelson, and others. A celebration of “excellence through competition,” many lasting friendships get made.

Take time to see all the sights in Abilene and the area while you are in Kansas. You can see one of the biggest free fairs as well as the Wild Bill Hickok PRCA rodeo while you are there, plus many, many more attractions. Some of our contestants and judges will be performing during the rodeo each night so don’t miss it!

Don’t miss eating at the Brookeville Hotel where they serve family-style fried chicken dinners. If you would like to come as a contestant or a spectator, contact Geff Dawson, or call 785-456-4494 and we will get you hooked up. You’re not going to want to miss this event. We have several special guests coming to judge and entertain, and contestants can win thousands of dollars and prizes. Entries are open now.

Find more about the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo on Facebook and at



Submission Guidelines



Send one poem to:

•     Include your poem’s title in the subject line.
•     Use plain email, no attachments
•     Do not type in all CAPS
•     Include your name with your poem

Our focus is on stories about the life of rural communities and today’s real working West. We look for poems and lyrics that say something original about cowboying, ranching, or rural life, well-written poems and lyrics with strong, developed stories with themes that are uniquely Western.

We encourage poems and lyrics inspired by personal experiences.

We look for works that go beyond platitudes, seeking those that say something new, or say something in a new way about today’s real working West.

We are not looking for idealized “Old West” poems or lyrics. We do consider works with factual historical themes that relate to cowboying, ranching, or rural life.

We are not looking for poems or lyrics inspired by a “Hollywood” view of the West, worn jokes turned into poems or songs, or “bathroom humor.” We do not accept blatantly political, patriotic, religious or romantic poems or lyrics that are not original, well-developed stories about today’s working West. Our focus does not include Christian cowboy poetry.

Works should be suitable for our wide audience, which includes young readers. Works that have been published elsewhere previously are welcome.

Occasionally, poems outside of those guidelines are posted, at the invitation of the editor. Such works are usually poems of merit by poets with a body of work at

All are welcome to submit poetry and lyrics. We respond to all submissions; we do not have the resources to offer critiques. Our editorial decisions are final.

Accepted poems and lyrics are posted.



Works must be submitted by email (no attachments; please make the subject line your poem title). We do not accept postal mail submissions.

Poems and lyrics submitted must be your original work. They may have been published elsewhere previously.

Send just one poem or song.

We do not accept unsolicited prose, essays, or commentary.

Occasionally, poems outside of those guidelines are posted, at the invitation of the editor. Such works are usually poems of merit by poets with a body of work at

All submissions are judged for acceptance.

Send one poem to:

•  Include your poem’s title in the subject line.
•  Use plain email, no attachments
•  Do not type in all CAPS
•  Include your name with your poem

Once you hear back about whether your submission is accepted (we confirm receipt right way and then generally respond about acceptance within 8-12 weeks) you may send another. Accepted works get posted at

(Find the submission page on here.)

Above image from a postcard in the Center’s collection, postmarked 1910.

TRUE GRIT by Elizabeth Ebert


by Elizabeth Ebert

The crowd had all left the rodeo ground,
Just a bunch of old cowboys were hangin’ around.
Hunkered down on rheumatic haunches,
With balding pates and protruding paunches,
Drinkin’ to the old days way back when
The horses were tougher and so were the men.
And every time that the jug went ’round
The toasts got longer and more profound.
“Here’s to the world’s best buckin’ horse!”
(That was Tipperary, of course.)
“To the Pony Express that carried the mail!”
“To Old Man Chisholm and his trail!”
To ranchers and rustlers and those in between,
To the rivers they’d crossed and the mountains they’d seen.

Then old Bill said, with a hearty burp,
“Let’s drink to the lawmen—to Wyatt Earp
And Morgan, and Doc, and that OK crew,
They were real brave men, but I’m telling you,
The man I remember most of all,
He weren’t no real lawman a’tall.
But that fellow from down at the picture show,
The one that had ‘True Grit,” you know.
I was a lawman once myself.
My guns are at home on the closet shelf,
But if I could ride for the law again
I’d ride in the hoofprints of John Wayne
When he played that Rooster Cogburn fellow.
Now there’s a marshall who wasn’t yellow,
With his reins in his teeth and his guns in his hand
He rode right into that outlaw band.
He was old like me, and tired and fat.
I wish I could make one ride like that!”

Then Ed said, “By pure Providence,
There’s a horse standin’ over along the fence
With a saddle that looks like a pretty good fit
And we’re here to judge if you’ve got true grit.
If you want that ride, you can make it still.”
Old Bill stood up, “By God, I will!
But Rooster Cogburn wore a patch,
And so to make it a fairer match
I’ll stick my glasses here in my pocket,
Then the ride will be square and you can’t knock it;
But when I take them off, of course,
You’ll have to point me toward that horse.
I was a lawman as you well know,
My guns are at home and I’ve told you so
But my pickup truck holds a twenty-two
And an old twelve-gauge, and I’ll make ’em do!”
So they helped him on and he sat up proud,
Said those famous words and he said ’em loud
And they sounded just like poetry.
Said, “Fill your hands, you S.O.B.!”

Then he struck the reins into his mouth
And he kicked that horse and they took off south.
He raised up the shotgun and fired a round,
The fellows they all hit the ground
While the pellets riddled the pickup truck
And the horse went into a crow-hop buck.
Bill might have stuck on, as like as not
He might have stuck on, but he plumb forgot,
Forgot that his teeth were the store-bought kind
And he wore ’em loose so they wouldn’t bind.
They slid from his mouth, still chewin’ that rein
And Bill came down in a world of pain.

His pocket was filled with shards of glass.
His teeth were scattered across the grass.
His hat was smashed and his Sunday clothes
Were spattered with blood from his busted nose.
But he staggered up—to their vast relief.
Said, “A gritty man don’t need no teeth
No glasses neither! You know darned well
He can spot a jug by his sense of smell!”
So they passed it around and they had to admit
John Wayne never had no truer grit.

© 1997, Elizabeth Ebert, used with permission, from Crazy Quilt

South Dakota’s much-loved poet, 92-year old retired ranch wife Elizabeth Ebert, has delighted audiences across the West. Carson Vaughan recently profiled her in an article,”The Grande Dame of Cowboy Poetry,” for American Cowboy Magazine. Read the article here.

Elizabeth Ebert has a wide range, creating memorable poems both serious and humorous. Baxter Black has said of her (and referring to her serious poem, “He Talked About Montana”): “To say that I admire Elizabeth’s writing seems meager comment on her talent. She writes from inspiration with such graceful force it’s like her pen has power steering. There are so many first class pieces in her books, most contemporary cowboy poets would covet even just one so good in their armory. If her poems were mountains and the verses peaks, this would be the eagle soaring over all: ‘Before war and wife and whiskey/ Had bent him out of shape/ Now the war and wife were history/ And the whiskey was escape.'”

Elizabeth Ebert has CDs and books. Find more about her at

After listening to the new MASTERS CD from, Elizabeth Ebert commented about some of the poets included, “…I sat at a book table one day with Larry and watched him draw horses and other animals on the white plastic table cloth. He was quite an artist and much too young to die. J.B. fascinated me as he reminded me of a corner post–straight, solid and unmovable. I could not believe that he never wrote down a poem until it was finished in his head, and never changed a word after it was written. And Sunny with that mean look he loved to startle people with when he was really such a sweet guy. We spent a lot of time with him and Alice at gatherings. Out at Prescott [Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering] he asked if he could do ‘True Grit’ and it just seemed to fit him so well that I never recited it again until after he had died….He was certainly one of a kind.”

This c. 1922 photograph by the Bain News Service is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. It is described, “Cowboy riding bronco while other cowboys look on.” Find more about it here.


REASONS FOR STAYIN’ by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)

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photo by Kevin Martini-Fuller

by J.B. Allen (1938-2005)

“What’s the myst’ry of the wagon?” asked a townie, green as grass,
As he visited on a dreary autumn day.
Fer there weren’t a sign of romance nor no waddies’round with class,
And he couldn’t see why one would want to stay.

“Well, don’t be askin’ me,” says Jake, when asked that very thing,
“I’ve only been around here thirty years;
If I’d learnt some floocy answers to the questions you-all bring
I’d not be tough as brushy outlawed steers!

“It’s a dang sight more romantic in the bunkhouse, snug and warm,
When that winter wind is blowin’ from the Pole
Than the livin’ at the wagon through the same ol’ freezin’ storm
And the call of nature sends you for a stroll!

“The smell of beans and beefsteak born in bilin’ coffee’s breath
Pulls a feller from them soogans, clean and dry,
‘Stead of half-cooked food that drownded so you’ll not git choked to death
As you look around and git to wonderin’ why.

“But I reckon, since you asked me, it’s the challenge that you git
Testin’ what you got for gizzard through the squalls,
And not just nature’s doin’s but the kind that’s stirred a bit
When a cowboy, bronc, or critter starts the brawls.

“Take them fellers that’s a-squattin’ ’round that soggy campfire there,
That big-uns done some time for murder one,
But I’ll guarante you, feller, when you think your flank is bare
You’ll hear his boomin’ laughter through the run.

“The scroungy-lookin’ half-breed kid can ride a bear or lion,
Thought he mostly rides the rough-uns for the boys.
Black Pete would rope the Devil through a stand of burnt-out pine,
And Ol’ Dobb would mark his ears to hear the noise!

“What I’m gettin’ ’round to sayin’ is them boys will back yore play
Though their outside shore ain’t groomed or show-ring slick;
It’s their innards that you count on when you work for puncher’s pay,
And the reason why the wagon makes you stick.”

© 1997, J.B. Allen, used with permission

Texan J.B. Allen was a working cowboy for over three decades. He was known for writing poems “in his head” before committing them to paper. In a 1993 article in Tulsa World, “Cowboy Poets Weave Western Yarns,” by Bryan Woolley, J.B. Allen is quoted, “”How do I go about writin’ it? I don’t go about writin’ it. The way I do it, a line will come to me in my head, and I’ll write that down. And then another’n. And another’n. A lot of times the thing’ll take off in a different direction than what I thought it was goin’ to. Halfway through the poem, I still don’t know how it’s gonna end. But I git there.” Read the article here.

You can hear J.B. Allen’s recitation of this poem on this week’s Clear Out West radio from Jim and Andy Nelson, available online (and archived for later listening).

He was a frequent performer at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and also at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Nara Visa, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, and other events. His poetry is included in many anthologies and in his own books and recordings. His book, The Medicine Keepers, received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998.

This poem and others by J.B. Allen are featured in a new CD from, MASTERS, along with the work of Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, and Ray Owens. The compilation includes recorded poems, “live” performances, and their recitations of other masters’ works (Buck Ramsey, S. Omar Barker, and Henry Herbert Knibbs) with an introduction by Jay Snider.

Find more about J.B. Allen at

This photo of J.B. Allen is by top photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed participants of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. Find some of those photos at his site.