Transcript of Cowboy Poets
COWBOY POETS - FILM TRANSCRIPTION
Johnny Carson Show
JC: It's Waddie, right?
JC: Good to see you again how are you?
W: just really good, thanks.
JC: It's the 2nd or 3rd time...
W: Third time.
JC: Third time. (To other guest): And you, it's your first?
Guest: Yes, Sir.
JC Your first time out to the shoot, eh?
Guest: Yeah, and I'm proud to be here.
JC: So, Hmmm. (Audience laughs).
Waddie at home
Waddie: When we got there it was, they gave us a room. And it's got your name on it. It's got a little thing, just on a piece of paper. But-it says it's the 'Tonight Show and it has your name printed, kind of a nice keepsake. And its your dressing room. Which, by the way, you don't dare get dressed in there because people just come in and out as they please.
And the second year I was there, they had Don Rickles on the show. And I was sitting there trying to go over in my mind what I was gonna do. And I was listening and I knew I was gonna to be on before long and I was gettin' scared and trying to make sure I knew these lines 'cuz I'd just written a poem. And when you write a poem, a lot of times you just go off different ways, and then decide not to use that. Well, I just got done writin' it and I was afraid I was gonna to get on a dead-end street that I left off instead of going on the way I was. So I was really workin' hard on it. A fellow walks in, had a suit on, and I hate to admit it, but I didn't recognize him. And I said: "Oh, its time?" I stood up and tucked in my shirt and stuff. He said: "Time? Where the hell have you been?" He said: "We had to stick the women on out there without you I" And he says: "You know what you're costing the network here? You know what it costs for you to do foul-ups like that?" "Oh, Oh, I am sorry." He said: "My name is Don Rickles, how are you doing?"
About 2 minutes later I had to go on. That was a calming effect, believe it or not, you know. By that time I was all shook up. By the time they opened the curtain I was okay.
JC: I want to ask you, cowboy who do cowboying for a living, how do you feel about Hollywoods depiction of cowboys in motion pictures?
W: I've got a story about that.
W: ... if you want to hear that...
JC: Yeah, ok.
W: ... written by Gail Gardner.
JC: Yeah, yeah, ok.
I want to tell you a sad, sad story
Of how a cowboy fell from grace
Really this is something awful,
There never was a sadder case.
One time I had myself a partner
I'd never known one half so good
We'd throwed our outfits in together
And lived the way that cowboys should.
He savvied all about wild cattle,
And he was handy with a rope.
For a gentle well-reined pony,
Just give me one he'd broke.
He'd never owned no clothes but Levis
And he wore them 'til they slick
Never worn a great big Stetson
'Cause where we rode, the brush was thick.
He never had no time for women
So bashful and shy was he,
But then he'd know that there is poison
So he'd always let them be. (Laughter)
Then he went to work on distant ranges
And I hadn't seen him for a year,
But then I hadn't cause to worry,
I'd know some day he'd appear.
One day I rode in from the mountains
A'feelin' good and stepping light
For I had just sold all my yearlins
And the price was out of sight.
But soon I seen a sight so awful
It caused my joy to fade away.
It filled my very soul with sorrow
And I never will forget that day.
For down the street there came a-tripping
My old time pardner as of yore,
And although I know you won't believe me
Let me tell you what he wore.
He had his boots outside his britches,
They was made of leather, green an' red.
His shirt was of a dozen colors
Loud enough to wake the dead.
Around his neck he had a kerchief,
Knotted through to a silver ring;
I swear the God he had a wrist watch,
Who'd ever heard of such a thing.
I say: "Hi, old scout whats your trouble?
It looks like you've been eating loco weed
If you'd tell me how to help you,
I would've get you anything you need."
Well, he looked at me for half a minute,
And then began to bawl.
He said: "Bear with me while I tell you
What made me take this awful fall.
It was a woman, from Chicago.
Who put the Injun sign on me.
She said that I was handsome
As a man can be
I'm afraid there is not much
You can do to save my hide
I'm wrangling dudes instead of cattle.
I'm what they call a first class guide.
I saddle's up their pumped-tailed ponies,
Fix their stirrups for them, too.
I boost them up into their saddle.
They give me tips when I'm through.
Just like horses eaten' local.
I couldn't quit even if I tried.
I'll go on wranglin' dudes
Forever til the day that I shall die."'
So I drawed my gun and throwed it on him
I had to turn my face away,
But shot him squarely through the middle
And where he fell I left him lay.
I hated for to do it,
But what's done you can't recall
But when a cowboy turns dude wrangler
He ain't no good no more at all. (Big applause)
WM at home.
W: When I come home, it's just home. It's not different in some way, it's still home. I mean the trash still has to be taken out and the cows still have to get milked. My obligations in neighboring and with our social group, our friends and stuff, are still expected of me.
Kid's voice: Ready?
W: Oh, come on right in. Meet the family. (House voices and noises.)
W: Our life started out 15 years ago, long before any performing had anything to do with it and there's been time I have already come home and told my wife it ain't worth it.
The only thing that would justify my going off and doin' all these strange things, going to big cities and living that kind of life, is the possibility that there might actually be a ranch in it someday for me - It's impossible anymore for a working man to acquire a ranch.
Tootie: Go get the little kids all washed.
Sunday lunch table.
W: With all the things that God's blessed us with (recites grace)
Take all you want, but eat all you take, that's the only rule.
W: We really make an effort to once a week spend a night with the family in some sort of a special way. And a lot of times it will be me telling them stories. Some of the ideas I have for my poems come through these stories.
W (VO.): My imagination, I think, was put in use at an early age. I didn't have the
television to sit there and make all the pictures in my head for me, so I gotta make my
own pictures. (Car door bang) School had very little to do with it. It was probably after
I quit school and had gone off to work as buckaroo that I really got into the reading.
And found out that I loved reading and loved literature as it is.
Feeding the cow on Sunday.
W: (speaking of the cows) All waiting at the gate like they are hungry, spoiled.
(to his kid, driving) You have to go to your left... Now stop.
Lot of times people ask me if I think our kind of life is a romantic life. And I suppose my normal answer is "No", 'cause I know the realities of it, but you see I grew up with Hoot
Gibson and Roy Rogers and Gene Autry the same as most other Americans and I have
the same fantasies about certain aspects of cowboys that everybody else has. And I
guess I never really let my fantasies just intertwine with the realities of it.
This might be an appropriate poem because it's Sunday afternoon, and you know, I usually don't feed cows with my tie on. But I wrote this poem one day on a Sunday afternoon, just got home from church and sat down; I was inspired. not saying anything about the fellow that talked in church that day. But it goes:
This story is of three bulls
All of a bovine breed
Who're traveling the desert
Together in search of a little feed.
When on a knoll they came upon a meadow
A spring had made with bright green grass
And trees about that allowed for a little shade.
Now the largest of the three bulls bowed his neck
And some snot was blown
Which was warning enough for the smaller two
That he wanted this place for his own.
So now there's just two bulls traveling in search of a place
To stop to fill up on green grass and water
Which they found on the mountaintop.
Now, this place suited both bulls to a "T"
But as oft happens as history will show,
The larger one thumped the smaller one good
So back the trail he did go.
Now this story has a moral,
And one I hope you'll learn today:
It's that sometimes a little bull
Will go a long, long way.
W: Cowboy poetry is a tradition, now. I guess anything that's been around for over 100 years, you have to call a tradition, passed along mostly orally, from cowboy to cowboy over campfires, bunkhouse situations, to entertain each other, I suppose. And lost very much in the obscurity of the insider's group of ranch folks and country people.
Bruce Kiskaddon, in my estimation the premier cowboy poet, was a cowboy all his life until about 1924. And as the story's told to me, he and some friends went on to Hollywood and become movie stars and they got some jobs. I guess he was in the original Ben Hur movie, driving them chariots around. But there's a lot of cowboys in Hollywood at that time, looking for the same kind of work, and I guess it wasnt a very steady paycheck, so he ended up puttin' on a monkey suit, riding an elevator up and down for the rest of his life. And that always sounded like a real sad story to me, but y'know, after I got thinkin' about it, I consider it a blessing, because as he was riding that elevator up and down, he'd carry a little stubby pencil behind his ear, and he'd write down memories and put them to verse. And I think probably the greatest of all the cowboy poetry came out of an elevator. He had to have been there to write what he did.
W recites poem:
Though you're not exactly blue,
Yet you don't feel like you do
In the winter, or the long hot summer days.
For your feelin's and the weather
Seem to sort of go together,
And you're quiet in the dreamy autumn haze.
And the last big steer is goaded
Up that chute, and safely loaded;
And the summer crew has ceased to hit the ball;
Well, a fellow starts to dragging
To the home ranch with the wagon,
When they've finished shippin' cattle in the fall.
Only two men left a standin'
On the job for winter brandin'
And your partner he's a loafin' at your side.
And a brand new saddle creakin',
But you never hear him speakin'
You feel it's goin' to be a quiet ride.
But you savvy one another,
You know him like a brother,
He is friendly; he's just quiet, that is all:
He is thinkin while he's draggin'
To the home ranch with the wagon--
When they've finished shippin' cattle in the fall.
And the saddle hosses stringin'
At an easy walk swinging
In behind the old chuckwagon movin' slow.
They are weary, gaunt and jaded
With the mud and brush they've waded,
And they settled down to business long ago.
Not a horse is feelin' sporty,
Not a horse is actin' snorty.
In the spring them brutes were full of buck and bawl;
Now they're gentle as they're draggin'
To the home ranch with the wagon,
When they've finished shippin' cattle in the fall.
And the cook he leads the retreat
Perched up high on his wagon seat,
With his old hat pulled down forward on his head.
He used to make the old team hustle,
Now he doesnt move a muscle,
And a feller might imagine he was dead.
'Cept his old cob pipe is smokin'
As he lots that team go pokin'.
Hittin' every hump, holler in the road.
No ,the cook aint been drinkin'
Just settin' there, thinkin'
'Bout the people and the places that he's knowed.
He watches the dust a trailing
Two little clouds are sailin'.
Big mirage like lakes and timber tall.
And it's lonesome when your are drivin'
to the home ranch with the wagon
When they've finished shippin' cattle in the fall.
It was awful hard to come by a good poem, and so when you came by one, you ... I'd trade about anything to got a hold of it. And I was working on an outfit that had an old guy, they called him Kicky. Kicky had a piece of a poem it seemed like for anything that would come up during the day, he could shoot out a line that would be appropriate, and a lot of times very clever and neat. One night sitting around the bunkhouse, he told us a poem. And I was the youngest guy on the crew. I remember being emotionally moved and at the age of 16 or 17, whatever I was, I was putting on this mask everyday of being a regular man with the rest of these guys, and I remember having to turn away 'cause I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. And when I turned back to see if people were watching me be emotionally moved by this poem, there wasnt a cowboy, even these big rough gruff guys, that I idolized, were standing and sitting around the bunkhouse with tears in their eyes, and not looking at anybody else but looking at the floor. And I thought, I want to be able to do that, I want that poem.
On stage. Annie Laurie song.
I wonder why I feel so restless.
The moon is shinin' and still in bright
Cattle all are restin' easy
But I just can't sleep tonight
Ain't no cactus in my blankets
Don't know why they feel so hard
Unless it's warbling Jim
Singing Annie Laurie
Out on guard.
Annie Laurie, wish he'd quit it
I couldn't sleep now if I tried
It makes the night seem big and lonesome
My throat feels sore inside.
How my Annie used to sing it
And it sounded good and gay
Nights I'd drive her home from dances
When the east is turning gray
And her brow was like a snowdrift
Her eyes like sullen streams
And her face, I can still see it
Much too frequently in my dreams
And her hands were soft and trembly
That night underneath the tree
When I couldn't help but tell her
She meant all the world to me.
But her folks said I was restless, wild, unsettled
And they was right. But I lean to punchin' cattle.
I am at a still tonight, Heard she
married Doug Wilkins
Oh my Lord, but that's hard
I wish that fool a'quit singing
Annie Laurie out on guard
I just can't stand it thinking
Of the things that might have been
All the good times now that passed me,
That never seem to come again
What? My turn? You bet, I come a running
Warm me up some coffee, pard!
Least thatll stop old Jim
From singing Annie Laurie out on guard.
Waddie with admirers at a show.
Woman: You'd get a lot of exposure. A lot of people go crazy over your stuff
W: Thank you.
Woman: You'd have a little booth...
W: But see, thats really where we're at right now. I'm still a cowboy, that's, think, that's what I still want to be. I don't think I want to do this full time. You know. And so they are only so many things I can do.
W (VO): Well, surely, the aspect of a career is important in a fellow's life, you know, and you want to be good at it. In fact for a lot of years, that's all I wanted to be good at, that's where all my total energies went was to be a good cowboy, totally good, not just a cowboy, not just a buckaroo, but a cowman. When the family started coming around and I started analyzing what I really wanted out of life, come to find out what I wanted number one was to be a good husband and a good father. And that's kind of helped me keep perspective on things.
Waddie and kids outdoors.
W (to son): Now don't lean back so far. If you lean back, you know whats goin' to happen and so, as you go up, grip, and really hold as you come down. OK? Ready?
Kid: (scared) Yeah, (falls) Oh man, that hurts!
W: Chores give children responsibility at an early age. And if you have to get up in the morning and make sure your bedroom's clean before you go to school, the consequences of you not doing it are that you have a messy bedroom when you get home. But the consequences of an animal not getting fed, property taken care of, are a lot more immediate and dramatic.
(Music and trotting of animals)
W (talking to his baby): ... milk cow...
W: I would hope that at least, out of all these sons that I'm raisin', a few of them would want to stay in this business, and I would hope there would be this business for them to stay in.
Interviewers voice to 2 girls: What's your favorite part about the ranch?
Girl 1 and 2: Oh, I don't know...
Girl 1: Riding sheep.
Girl 2: She is going to be in a rodeo and ride a sheep
Tootie (speaking of the smaller kid): He waits all day long for the kids to get home so he can ride. We've got to put the things up here, get the pony out.
Tootie: When you want, him to turn that way, you go that way, OK. And that way, that way. OK? What do you do when you want to stop?
Tootie: Wahtdo you do when you want to stop?
Tootie: Wooh. OK.. Don't get mad at him, OK?
Announcer (VO): Mr. Waddie Mitchell.
W: How is everybody enjoying this poetry gathering? Hey, really, can I just have the lights turned on so I can see these folks, I can't see 'em. Can you guys do that for me? Thank you. (Applause)
W: When we talk, when my wife and I talk about the possibilities of what the future might bring, we think, well what if we can be assured in some way that if we were to do this for X amount of years we could get our own ranch and not have to do it anymore. She said 'You'd be doin' it whether you're making money at it or not, don't forget that you've done it all the time I've known you. And thats right, I have, 'cause I love the poetry.
It's nice to think that you can make some money at it. Boy, just the thought of that, you know, because the only way I made extra money before was go shoe some neighbor's horses or start a colt on the side or something like that. Itd be pretty hard to imagine doin' it, actually doin' it full time. I don't know though , things are goin crazy. People are callin' on the phone all the time, wantin' you to do this or that, and I don't know. I don't know where it's goin'.
I'm willing to do about anything to make our future more secure, but I'm not sure I'm ready to give up life style
Song: The Old Night Hawk
When I am up tonight in the pinnacles bold
The rim rocks tower high
The air is clear and the wind blows cold
Theres only the horses and I
The desert swims like a silver sea
In the light of a big full moon
And strong and clear there comes to me
The lilt of the first guard's tune.
Fire camp is burning bright,
Cooks got more wood than he needs
Well be telling some awful tales tonight
Of races and big stampedes.
I'm getting too old for that line of talk:
The desperados they've known,
Their wonderful methods of handling stock
And, the fellows they have seen get thrown
What's that I see walking fast?
It's a horse thats slipping through.
He is trying to make it out through the pass:
Come mighty near doin' it too.
Get back there. What are you trying to do?
You have no chance to bolt.
Old boy, I was wrangling a bunch like you
Before you was even a colt.
Oh it's later now
The guard's changed.
His voice is clear and strong.
He is singing the tune of the old time range.
I always did like that song.
W: Other folks like it too. I think probably, what the essence here is, is the gathering. Although we've set it in a Western mood, I think, in a Western setting, I think that we are touching the hearts and the lives of everybody in America. And they all felt good about it.
For some reason they seem to all come together at the gathering. Still the tradition is there and the beauty of it is there. People still live their life and write about it.
Slim on stage at gathering.
S: One time there was a real old lady, grandma, and she's pretty feeble. And they couldn't get her to eat. And she is gettin' worse everyday and all the kinfolks had gathered in and the doctor said: "Maybe you could get grandma to drink some milk, that would help her, I'm sure it would".
She had a smart aleck grand son, about 16, and he said, "I'll get you a glass of milk, grandma." So he ran into the kitchen and got a carton of milk and a glass and poured some milk in it and he looked and theres a bottle of vodka, sittin' there. And so, he looked around and there was nobody lookin', so he poured in a pretty good slug of vodka and started to put it back. And there still was nobody lookin', so he dumped in a little more. (Laughter). And filled the glass up with milk and took it to grandma and said: "Here, grandma, drink this, I'm sure you'll feel better."
So she took a little bit of drink and kind of set it down, and a little bit she drank about half of what was left and set the glass down and sat there. And pretty soon, she looked around and her eyes kind of sparkled and she just grabbed that glass and drunk it always, and set her down, and said: "Don't sell that cow!" (Laughter)
S: I was born in Oklahoma, right on the bank of the Red River in the Southwest corner. I was born in 1906. 1911, we come to New Mexico in a covered wagon. And stayed in New Mexico until I branched out and went to work for myself. About 14 years old. And finally got to where I could ride a buckin' horse, make a hand. And by the time I was 18, 1 was breakin' horses. In 1927 I went with a herd of steers from New Mexico to Garden City, Kansas. And they couldn't find a cook that could cook and drive 4 horses to a wagon. And it paid $10 a month more. So I took it. I cooked for 'em. There was nine. Regulars. And then every time wed get close to a town and them canteens would find out that a trail herd over there, well everybody that could would come out. They wanted to eat at a chuck wagon. I made sourdough biscuits all the time. The bosss wife come out to the wagon and brought a lady from Chicago. And when I started to wash the dishes up, she was dryin' the dishes for me. And she ran onto that sourdough keg. She said, "Here, you want to wash this?" And I said, "No, thats my bread can, its what you make sourdough with. You keep a mix started, you see." She said, "Well, those biscuits were good. But if I knew they come out of that keg, I wouldnt have eaten them."
I spent pretty nearly all my life on a horse. I learned to be a good bronc rider. and a good roper, and when I got a family, the punchin' cows couldnt make enough. So I went in business for myself, and buildin' fences was the only thing I know how to do. Because I didn't have any education, I could hardly read and write! But I done pretty good in that fence business. I didn't like it but there was money in it. And that's what I needed. Instead of holdin' up a bank, I built a fence. This is what we wound up with.
Ella repairing the truck.
Ella: Slim was never at home. And when things went wrong, somebody had to fix them. We didn't have the money to fix em, so I 'd just go and fix 'em myself.
S: Can I help you any?
E: No. I think I can manage.
E: Oh! I didn't mind doing it. It was just part of the day.
S: You may not know it, but them screws is what you adjust the high and low beam with.
E: I know, but somethin' has to hold this on there!
E: And there is a notch farther.
S: OK. Let's get it fastened on there.
E: Well, you just take off, and do your little thing, and I take care of this. (She laughs).
E: We just try to make fun of life, thats all. Sometimes its hard to do and we do it anyway. And I don't care what he says, and he don't care what I say, 'cause we both know we're just joking.
He's never been an older person. 'Course, it's showin' on him now. You know. There at things he cannot do. But you can't convince him of it. The best thing to is let him go.
Cowboying makes him happier than anything. And he's always liked poetry. And thats the reason he's always tried to learn; Western, you know, the cowboy poetry. He doesn't care for this other stuff. That is not poetry, as far as he is concerned. Just his is poetry.
Slim and Ella in the kitchen.
S: The coffee keeps me going.
E: Well, sometimes it puts you under too. (spoon turning in cup.) he gets sick to his stomach if he drinks too much...
S: You dont have to tell anybody whats wrong with me? I know what's wrong with me. I'm old! (They laugh.)
E: Is that what it is?
Ella doing dishes.
E: The only thing I ever minded, was so many men to cook for.I was always around men, no women, just men, you know. Constantly. I would cook for all these cowboys. I would cook for all these fence builders. (She laughs) I never put on a housecoat and people wonder why. Well, around a bunch of men, you don't come flaggin' out in your housecoat to cook breakfast. Or I don't.
Slim at home.
S: Oh, I think if I had it to do it over, I'd do it. It wouldn't be any different. Ive done what I wanted to... No I wouldnt change anything.
Interviewer's Voice: Do you have any advice for us youngster3?
Ella repeats, louder: "'Do you have any advice for us youngsters?"
S: Oh. I might tell you somethin' but you wouldn't do it! (He laughs). No. "There ain't no more cowpunching. Its over. Cowboys have left the country and the camp fires have gone out..." Did you ever hear that poem? Do you want to hear it?
The last breathin' longhorn
Lay dyin' by the river
For the lack of vegetation
The cold wind made him shiver
The cowboy sat beside him
With sadness in his face
To see the fatal passing
Of this last and noble race.
The longhorn quivered
And raised his shaking head
Saying, I do not care to linger
When all my friends are dead
These jerseys and Holsteins
They are no friend of mine
They belong to the noble man
That lives across the brine
Tell the Durham and the Hereford
When they come agrazin' round
And see me lyin' stark and stiff
Upon the frozen ground
I don't want them to bellow
Because I am dead
For I was born in Texas
Near the river that is red
Tell the coyotes when they come at night
A' lookin' for their prey
They might as well go further;
They'll find it will not pay
For if they attempt to eat me
They very soon will see
My bones and hide are petrified
They'll find no beef on me.
I remember back in the 70s
For many summers put
When there's grass and water plenty
But is was too good to last
And a little dream came to me
Some twenty summers hence, here
Come the farmer with his wife
And kids, his dogs and his barbed wire fence
The cowboy rose up sadly
And mounted his cayouse
Sayin' the day has come
When cowboys and longhorns are no use
He rode off a-gazin' backward
Upon the dead bovine
His bronco stepped in a foghole
And fell down and broke his spine
Now, you'll miss him at the round-up
Its gone, his merry shout
The cowboys' left the country
And the camp fires' gone out.
S: I recited poetry and sung for my own. Thats the ony audience I had. You have to do somethin', that's better than talking to yourself. When you're out. You hear a good poem, you learn it, you hear a good song, you learn it. Any poem or song that I like kinda tells a story.
WMcR recites poem.
"What does reincarnation mean?"
A cowpoke asked his friend.
His pal replies, "It happens when
Yer life has reached its end.
They comb yer hair and warsh yer neck
And clean yer fingernails
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life's travails.
"The box and you goes in a hole,
Thats been dug in the ground,
And reincarnation starts in when
You're planted 'neath a mound.
Them clods melt down, just like yer box,
And you who is inside.
And then you're just beginnin' on
Yer transformation ride.
In a while the grass'll grow
Upon your rendered mound.
Till someday on your moldered grave
A lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by
And graze upon this flower
That once wuz you, but nows become
Yer vegetative bower.
"The posey that the hoss done ate
Up with his other feed
Makes bone and fat and muscle
Essential to the steed.
But some is left that he can't use
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground
This thing that once was you.
Then say by chance I wanders by
And sees this on the ground
And I wonders, and I ponders, at
This object that I found.
Why, I thinks of reincarnation
Of life, and death, and such,
And I come away concluding: Slim,
You ain't changed all that much."
WMcR: It's too bad somebody can't describe the way we feel when suddenly our community, our business, I mean our industry, is thought to be non-essential. We think that this is important. We think that our culture is important. We think that the history of this region is important. Who is going to tell our story? How are we going to get across the way we feel to other people?
My family has been in this corner, southeastern of Montana, for a hundred
years. We celebrated our centennial year in 1986. My father's father came in this country, '82, came from Scotland on a sailing vessel, at Brownsville, Texas, and then worked his way north to Miles City, which was as far west as the Northern Pacific Railroad had gotten. The winter of '86 and7 came rolling through, and my grandfather lost all of his sheep, and, very nearly his life - In fact they tell a story that a friend of his had rented two horses and rode on one and led the other one. Went out to find my grandfather and ran into him out there on a south slope, trying to pick up as much solar energy as he could. Said, "I brought this horse for you to ride back out to
town. If you stay out here, you are goin' to die." And my grandfather said, "I can't leave these sheep, they're the only thing I own in the whole world." And the guy told him, "Well, the sheep are going to die and if you stay here, you're gonna die too". And my grandfather told him, he said, "Well you may be right, but when the last sheep dies, I'll be here to skin it." And that's the way it worked out. In the spring, all he had left was the pelts, but he sold the pelts and that started the McRae Ranch and we have been
here ever since.
Thats another nice thing about a ranch is that you kinda have a blending of the generations. I admired and respected my dad, he was a good friend of mine. And I think Clint and I tend to have the same relationship. We like each other because we work together. We're part of a team. And we have mutual admiration and respect for one another, just like my dad and I did. I'm sure my dad and his father had the same sort of relationship.
Cowboys have probably always been kind of popular. You know the movies, and the TV, and everything like that, has always looked for kind of a hero figure, and maybe we fit in that. And so if people can get inside of that life through meter and rhyme, it's got a combination of appeals.
I think the kind of poetry that you write a lot of times depends upon where you come from. Not only philosophically, but geographically as well. Because one of the largest strip mines in the United States is in my backyard, I've written several poems about the effect that coal-oriented industrialization has upon cowboy culture.
This is about some neighbors of mine, named Harold and Virginia Sprague:
A sharpie in a leisure suit
With eyelets in his shoes
Who faintly smelled of talcum
And a little less of booze,
Drove into my neighbors yard
And gingerly got out,
A little gimpy from the drive,
The altitude, and gout.
He tried to pet their barking dog
While edging to the door,
But once inside his confidence sallied to the fore. "
I've come to lease your land for coal,"
Was how he launched his spiel.
He'd been given "authority"
To grant a "generous" deal.
"The nation needs the coal," he said,
"As I am sure you know.
We need more power every year
To make our nation grow.
Its the patriotic duty
Of each American
To help to get the coal mined,
And expedite our plan.
"Now, you may not like strip mining,
And tearing up the earth,
But its your duty. isn't it,
To the land that gave you birth?
For too long you've reaped the benefits
From places far away.
Your turn has now come up," he said.
"And now you folks must pay."
"Your power, and the food you eat,
And the lumber in your house,
And all the luxuries you have, caused other folks to grouse.
But now your chance has come, at last,
To set the old debt straight.
Just sign the papers I have here,
And you can compensate
All the time this lecture droned,
My neighbor masked his face.
How could he tell this pompous fool
Their food came from that place;
The lumber came from yonder
North-slope of the hill;
That "make-do" was their motto;
That need meant need, not frill.
The stranger felt he'd seldom
Better delivered his stroke,
He had but to get a signature
From these poor country folk.
His boss would be ecstatic,
His stock would surely rise.
The rutted road, a rainbow,
Leading to this prize.
He'd do these folks a favor,
Save them from this place.
Though it was dusk, he still had time,
Tonight, a bar to grace.
"If we could have some light," he said,
"You folks could sign the forms.
I could leave here in an hour,
The forecast spoke of storms."
"We wont keep you," said my neighbor.
"No need to stay an hour.
We'll light a lamp to show you out.
You see ... We don't have power."
If there is one rule in the cowboy code, it dictates that we be hospitable. Even people that maybe don't deserve hospitality, our code dictates that we be hospitable. And the leasehounds that came around, I think misinterpreted hospitality for encouragement or commitment, to what they were trying to do. And they didn't treat us well. They lied and they pitted one neighbor against another, and it wasnt a pretty sight and it offended us. It really did.
I think that probably one of the things that coal development or any kind of industrialization or urban pressure does, is it tends to coalesce your neighborhood and you go back to the touch stone of your cultural values, and maybe have a reawakening, or a re-birth, or at least a recognition of those cultural values that are being threatened, are still important.
W.(sitting down in the grass): ..."Only left the cheap seats."
I know that coal development, in our area here south of Coal Strip, probably has made our cowboy culture that much stronger.
The ritual that branding is has a lot of the characteristics of Native American rituals, Because there's a blood ritual. And theres an incense. Youve got the branding smoke. And everybody that is a part of a culture wears a particular costume. And you can tell the cowboys from the civilians, and we have both at a branding. But the cowboys for the most part will wear the costume appropriate for that ritual. It's a renewal of our whole culture.
I think a lot of people assumed that any sort of opposition to coal-oriented industrialization was based purely on environmental grounds. I think that our concerns were more cultural, or social. And finally long-term economic. I mean, hell, we've been here a hundred years. Are we going to be here a hundred years from now? What are we going to be left with, if they come in and condemn our surface for coal?
Remember that sand rock on Elmo's Creek
Where Dad carved his name in thirteen
Its been blasted down into rubble
And interred by the drag line machine
Where Fatels lived at the old Miler's place
Where us kids stole melons at night
They doze it up in a funeral pyre
Then torched it. Its gone, all right
And the "C" on the hill and the water tanks
Are now classified reclaimed land
And they are thinkin' of building a golf course
Out there, so I understand.
The old Eagan homestead an ash pound
They say is eighty feet deep
And the branding corral at the Douglas camp
Is underneath a spoil heap
And across the creek is a tipple now
Where they load coal onto a train
And my folks in Miller-Coolie Homestead
Its no more, except in my brain.
There is a railroad loop and a coal storage shed
Where the Bison Kill site used to be.
The Guy place is gone and Ambroses too.
Beulah Farley's a ranch refugee.
But things are blooming.
We've got this new school
Its envied by the whole state.
When folks up and ask:
How's things goin' down there?"
Oh, I grin like a fool and say: "Great."
Great God how we are doing?
We're rolling in dough
As they tear and they ravage the earth.
And nobody knows or nobody cares
About things of intrinsic worth.