Back at the Ranch: Cowboy Poetry & Music / Between Earth and Sky

Written and recited by Buck Ramsey
Audio Source: Hitting the Trail, Smithsonian Folkways

Photo © Sue Rosoff,1977. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © Sue Rosoff,1977. All Rights Reserved.

ANTHEM, Buck Ramsey

And in the morning I was riding
Out in the breaks of that long plain,
And leather creaking in the quieting
Would sound with trot and trot again.
I lived in time with horse hoof falling;
I listened well and heard the calling
The earth, my mother, bade to me,
Though I would still ride wild and free.
And as I flew out on the morning
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I was the poem, I was the song.
My heart would beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen now rode all with me,
And we were good and we were free.

We were not told, but ours the knowing
We were the native strangers there
Among the things of prairie growing—
This knowing gave us more the care
To let the grass keep at its growing
And let the streams keep at their flowing.
We knew the land would not be ours,
That no one has the awful powers
To claim the vast and common nesting,
To own the life that gave him birth,
Much less to rape his Mother Earth
And ask her for a mother’s blessing,
And ever live in peace with her.
And, dying, come to rest with her.

Oh, we would ride and we would listen
And hear the message on the wind.
The grass in morning dew would glisten
Until the sun would dry and blend
The grass to ground and air to skying.
We’d know by bird or insect flying,
Or by their mood or by their song,
If time and moon were right or wrong
For fitting works and rounds to weather.
The critter coats and leaves of trees
Might flash some signal with a breeze—
Or wind and sun on flow’r or feather.
We knew our way from dawn to dawn,
And far beyond, and far beyond.

It was the old ones with me riding
Out through the fog fall of the dawn,
And they would press me to deciding
If we were right or we were wrong.
For time came we were punching cattle
For men who knew not spur nor saddle,
Who came with locusts in their purse
To scatter loose upon the earth.
The savage had not found this prairie
Till some who hired us came this way
To make the grasses pay and pay
For some raw greed no wise and wary
Regard for grass could satisfy.
The old ones wept, and so did I.

Do you remember? We’d come jogging
To town with jingle in our jeans,
And in the wild night we’d be bogging
Up to our hats in last month’s dreams.
It seemed the night could barely hold
With all those spirits to embold us
While, horses waiting on three legs.

We’d drain the night down to the dregs.

And just before beyond redemption
We’d gather back to what we were.
We’d leave the money left us there
And head our horses for the wagon.
But ion the ruckus, in the whirl
We were the wolves of all the world.

The grass was growing scarce for grazing,
Would soon turn sod or soon turn bare.
The money men set to replacing
The good and true in spirit there.
We could not say, there was no knowing,
How ill the future winds were blowing.
Some cowboys even shunned the ways
Of cowboys in the trail-herd days,
(But where’s the gift not turned for plunder?)
Forgot that we are what we do
And not the stuff we lay claim to.
I dream the spell that we were under—
I throw in with a cowboy band
And go out horseback through the land.

So morning now I’ll go out riding
Through pastures of my solemn plain,
And leather creaking in the quieting
Will sound with trot and trot again.
I’ll live in time with horse hoof falling,
I’ll listen well and hear the calling
The earth, my mother, bids to me,
Though I will still ride wild and free.
And as I fly out on the morning
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I’ll be this poem, I’ll be this song.
My heart will beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen will ride all with me,
And we’ll be good, and we’ll be free.

© 1993, Buck Ramsey, All Rights Reserved

Things of Intrinsic Worth
written and recited by Wallace McRae
Audio Source: Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering
Western Jubilee Recording Company, 2005

Drawing by Clint McRae

Drawing by Clint McRae


Remember that sandrock on Emmells Crick
Where Dad carved his name in ‘thirteen?
It’s been blasted down into rubble
And interred by their dragline machine.
Where Fadhls lived, at the old Milar Place,
Where us kids stole melons at night?
They ‘dozed it up in a funeral pyre
Then torched it.  It’s gone alright.
The “C” on the hill, and the water tanks
Are now classified, “reclaimed land.”
They’re thinking of building a golf course
Out there, so I understand.
The old Egan Homestead’s an ash pond
That they say is eighty feet deep.
The branding corral at the Douglas Camp
Is underneath a spoil heap.

And across the crick is a tipple, now,
Where they load coal onto a train,
The Mae West Rock on Hay Coulee?
Just black and white snapshots remain.
There’s a railroad loop and a coal storage shed
Where the bison kill site used to be.
The Guy Place is gone; Ambrose’s too.
Beulah Farley’s a ranch refugee.

But things are booming.  We’ve got this new school
That’s envied across the whole state.
When folks up and ask, “How’s things goin’ down there?”
I grin like a fool and say, “Great!”
Great God, how we’re doin’!  We’re rollin’ in dough,
As they tear and they ravage The Earth.
And nobody knows…or nobody cares…
About things of intrinsic worth.

© Wallace McRae. 

The Cowboy's Soliloquy
Written by Allen McCanless, Sung by Glenn Ohrlin
Audio Source: Back in the Saddle Again / New World Records Anthology

Photo by Adam Jahiel © 2000. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Adam Jahiel © 2000. All Rights Reserved.

THE COWBOY’S SOLILOQUY, Traditional / Allen McCandless

All day o’er the prairie alone I ride,
Not even a dog to trot by my side;
My fire I kindle with chips gathered round,
And boil my coffee without being ground.

Bread lacking leaven I bake in a pot,
And sleep on the ground for want of a cot;
I wash in a puddle, and wipe on a sack,
And carry my wardrobe all on my back.

My ceiling the sky, my carpet the grass,
My music the lowing of herds as they pass;
My books are the brooks, my sermons the stones.
My parson’s a wolf on a pulpit of bones.

But then if my cooking ain’t very complete;
Hygienists can’t blame me for living to eat;
And where is the man who sleeps more profound
Than the cowboy who stretches himself on the ground.

My books teach me constancy ever to prize,
My sermon’s that small things I should not despise;
And my parson’s remarks from his pulpit of bone,
Is that “the Lord favors those who look out for their own.”

Between love and me lies a gulf very wide,
And a luckier fellow may call her his bride;
But Cupid is always a friend to the bold
And the best of his arrows are pointed with gold.

Friends gently hint I am going to grief,
But men must make money and women have beef;
Society bans me a savage and dodge,
And Masons would ball me out of their lodge.

If I’d hair on my chin, I might pass for the goat,
That bore all sin in ages remote;
But why this is thusly I don’t understand,
For each of the patriarchs owned a big brand.

Abraham emigrated in search of a range,
When water got scarce and he wanted a change.
Isaac had cattle in charge of Esau
And Jacob run cows for his father-in-law;
He started in business clear down at bedrock,
And made quite a fortune by watering stock.

David went from night herding and using a sling
To winning a battle and being a king;
And the shepherds when watching their flocks on the hill
Heard the message from heaven of “peace and goodwill.”