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Henry Herbert Knibbs.

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"Brothers, we, on many trails, then why the last alone?"

31



Saddle Songs

Fragrant were the tall pines, pleasant was the weather,
Where we shared the hide-lodge laced with many a
thong:

Silent in the lodge door we gazed afar together:
He had made a picture, and I had made a song.



DAN PRICE

DANNY was a young hand working on a farm:
Everybody liked him no one wished him harm,
Danny saved his money, married Nellie Gray,
Then he took a homestead and tried to make it pay.

Then there came a railroad busting through the land,
Buying up a right-of-way, playing sleight-of-hand:
Danny had n t proved up, so they made it plain
That black was white by right, they said, of "eminent
domain."

Lost his little homestead, but did n t lose his grit,
Got a job at wiping, slaving in the pit:
Steady as time-clock, working hard and late;
Got a job of firin on a local freight.

Danny knew the schedules, and every foot of rail
Down on his division along the iron trail:
Years he labored faithful, thinking steady, when
Long came his promotion, pulling Number Ten.

Number Ten, the fast train, passenger, express,
Danny knew her habits and failings, more or less:
When she carried boodle, where the boodle went,
And what the railroad owed him, even to a cent.

33



Saddle Songs

Mighty unexpected Danny set the air,

Slidin down a long grade call it "Anywhere,"

Some one climbed the cab-step and made it mighty plain,

That Danny and his fireman were n t handling that train.

The papers said the robber was slender, young, and mild,
That Danny marched ahead of him as scary as a child:
The messenger saw Danny and did n t dare to shoot,
When they cut his car and ran ahead to lift the loot.

Danny was suspected and lost his liberty;
But they could n t get a jury that would n t disagree :
Danny quit the railroad and took to raising grain;
Now who d suspect a lady of holding up a train?



SONGS OF MEN

To please the pale, aesthetic mind is not our chief desire or

hope,
Nor yet to charm the woman s ear who comes upon this

rhyme by chance;
Our song is loud we-all allow, of spur and rifle, horse and

rope,
Of trail and trouble, wind and sun, and many a crimson

circumstance.

You ll find no noble sentiment, although in every verse

you look;

Nor classic melody entwined about a theme of sob or sigh;
But like the rest we up and went and saw, and what we saw,

we took
To monument our glory-trail and leave a name to know us

by.

We, partners, bought a horse apiece and learned how far a
man may fall

And rise again without the aid of crutches, splints, or angel-
wings :

We learned to save the bacon grease and flop the flapjack,
large or small:

To ride and shoot and punch the dough drink alkali,
and other things.

35



Saddle Songs

We learned to throw the diamond hitch and swim a ford

grown impolite;
To rope and tally, brand and cut the steer we wanted from

the herd:
To never call a man a name unless we were prepared to

fight;
This rhyme internal staggers but you re welcome to

supply the word.

We traveled high, we traveled far, and found a trail or
made our own;

Ate tough tortillas in the heat or thawed our grub at Fifty-
Three;

We dallied at The Klondike bar, or played the wheel hi
San Antone;

We locked the door on Vain Regret and, poco pronto, lost
the key.

We crossed the border, drifting down to dark Sonora in

the South;
Bought trinkets for the Spanish girls and ammunition

on the side
Made love in old Sonora-town and kissed Romance upon

the mouth;
Blew out a Chola light or two and then we simply had

to ride.

We paid to hear the bottles pop; and paid for silk, chiffon,
and lace;

36



Songs of Men

Wore tans and gaiters, tinted socks, and graced the side
walks of New York;

Got pinched at Maxim s bribed the cop, but never
learned to quite outface

The early morning looking-glass so shunned the gown
and flying cork.

Of late we ve felt the touch of age and found the saddle

pretty hard:
Our ponies, too, have lost the stride that once they had

when tough and young;
So now we ride the printed page instead of round the cavia-

yard,
To pick a top-horse here and there the bronco songs

that men have sung.

Oh, bronco songs that pitch and squeal and thrill the heart

that pulses red!
Oh, mountain dawn and desert night and tinkle of the

pack-horse bell!
The belted thigh, the roweled heel, the unregenerate hope

that led
Our eager feet along the trail we loved so long and love

so well!

Old-timers in an ingle-nook we sit and drowse beside the
flame;

87



Saddle Songs

We Ve stuck together through it all, and dream we live it

all again.
We read the book and read the book and in our hearts we

play the game,
And monument the sunset-trail for those who love the

songs of men.



38



THE BRONCO

THE bronco s mighty wild and tough,
And full of outdoor feelin s:

His feet are quick, his ways are rough,
He s careless in his dealin s.

Each mornin he must have his spree,
And hand you plenty trouble

A-pitchin round the scenery
Till you are seem double.

Or mebby-so, you think he s broke,

And do a little braggin ;
"Plumb gentle hoss!" he sees the joke,

And leaves with reins a-draggin*.

Or, mebby-so, you think he 11 jump
That little three-foot railin :

When all he does is stop and hump,
And stay while you go sailin .

But when his pitchin* fit is done,
And ropin , cuttin , brandin ,

Is on the bill I 11 tell you, son,
He works with understandin*.
39



Saddle Songs

At workin stock he s got his pride:
Dust rollin , boys a-yellin

He 11 turn your steer, and make you ride,
And he don t need no tellin .

Perhaps you re standin middle-guard,
Or ridin slow, night-hawkin :

And then your bronc is sure your pard,
At loafin , or at walkin .

Or, when the lightnin flashes raw,

And starts the herd a-flyin ,
He s off to head em down the draw,

Or break your neck, a-tryin*.

A bronc he sure will take his part,

At gettin there, or stayin :
He 11 work until he breaks his heart,

But he don t sabe playin*.

He may be wild, he may be tough,

And full of outdoor feelin s:
But he s all leather, sure enough,

And he puts through his dealin s.



40



SANDY RUE

A GRAY horse in the moonlight, a shadow on the wall;

Like laughter of a soul bewitched, a far coyote s call;

Three horsemen drew beside the gate that took the door
way light,

And one he called for Sandy Rue to ride with them the
night.

" It s long we Ve had a word of you and far we made the

ride,

We Ve waited by The Burning Hill and by the river-side,
Nor once have you come back to curse the places where we

died."

Another spoke and Sandy Rue put hand upon the gray,
And fumbling gave the horse the bit, nor had a word to say,
As: "So you saddled in the night and rode to shoot me

down,
And still you bear a killer s name in old Sonora-town."

"It s long we ve had a word of you; Chiquita s mouth is

cold;

Forgotten is the song she sang, the secret that she told,
Yet you remember, Sandy Rue, the sin you did for

gold."

41



Saddle Songs

Another voice and Sandy Rue drew leather through the

ring,
And pulled the cincha, made the tie, and gave the rein a

fling:
His boot was to the stirrup; then, "You ve not forgot the

knack,
As when we crossed the San Gorgone, but only one came

back.

"It s long from here to San Gorgone, the wliere you let me

lie

Beside the empty water-hole, beneath a burning sky,
Your sin the promise that you gave and left me there to

die."

Then spoke the first, as Sandy Rue, with swift and cunning

hand,
Drew gun and fired at phantom things that gave the dark

command;
While spent the shots were lost in space that whistled to

their flight,
"Put by the gun and mount your horse; you ride with us,

the night."

The cabin window-panes were red with dawn across the

hill,

And Sandy s cat was curled against the sunlit window-sill,
And Sandy Rue had gone to join the ghosts he could not

kill.

42



Sandy Rue

Beyond his cramped and wasted hand lay Sandy s empty

gun,

And so a rancher found him, stark, beneath the desert sun,
Yet not a mark of harm to show, or trace of those who ride,
For trackless are the phantom trails across The Great

Divide.

So evil turned upon itself and slew the thing it made;
And simple praise was on the stone where Sandy Rue was

laid,
And kindly hearts with desert flowers his lonely grave

arrayed.



43



OVER THE RIDGE AND HOME

WHEN the buck jumps out of the little pines;

Over the ridge and home

When the Airedale, tracking the grizzly, whines;

Over the ridge and home

Then pack your kill to a hunter s song:
"The trail to the lodge is hard and long,
But we got our meat and we re going strong
Over the ridge and home."

When the bull moose trumpets his call to fight;

Over the ridge and home
When the elk of the upland top the height;

Over the ridge and home

Then pack your kill to a hunter s song:
"The trail to the lodge is hard and long,
But we got our meat and we re going strong
Over the ridge and home."

When the flag is set for the caribou;

Over che ridge and home

When the big-horn staggers against the blue;

Over the ridge and home

44



Over the Ridge and Home

Then pack your kill to a hunter s song:
"The trail to the lodge is hard and long,
But we got our meat and we re going strong
Over the ridge and home."

When the dogs are bunched on the lion s track;

Over the ridge and home

When the wolf of the timber leaves the pack;

Over the ridge and home

Then pack your kill to a hunter s song:
"The trail to the lodge is hard and long,
But we got our meat and we re going strong
Over the ridge and home."

So once again let a health go round:
" Here s to rifle and pack and hound,
And here s to The Happy Hunting Ground
Over the ridge and home."



45



SIGN-TALK

MOCCASIN-SHOD, and his dusky hair silvered with rain,
Ni-tan-man-kwi-i, The Lone Wolf, made gesture of

greeting:

Hard riding; the night, and a galloping horse on the plain,
A camp in the hills thus the journey that led to our
meeting.

He flung himself close to my fire and in silence he lay,
His gaze on the embers his dark eyes were somberly

dreaming.
The shadows fell swiftly, and swift on the wind went the

day.

In the firelight his blanket and rain-sodden shoulders
were steaming.

"Lean hunger kept pace with your ride over desolate

sands,"
So I told him, endeavoring pictureful words without

speaking.
He nodded and smiled; then a swift, graceful turn of his

hands;

"Yet riding is better than walking and finding, than
seeking."

46



Sign-Talk

"Your horse," I made sign, "lie is out in the night and the

storm."
The Lone Wolf s quick fingers were laced in the form of a

tipi,
Then twinkled as grass that is growing. "Round-bellied

and warm,

He stands in your stable, head-nodding " plain sign-
talk for "sleepy."

We ate by the fire, as of old. We had made many fires
On the trail and the hunt; in the lodge when the rough

winter weather
Was wild as the spirit that surged through his warrior

sires

Many moons, many suns since The Lone W 7 olf and I rode
together.

Once he found me outworn in the desert a chattering

ghost;
He had given me water and fought my hot frenzy of

drinking;
Helped me up to his horse, led the long, weary way to the

post.

A fillip of chance made us brothers . . . The embers were
sinking.

He read in my eyes that our youth was the theme of my
thought.

47



Saddle Songs

He touched his breast lightly, then, closing his finger
tips, hollowed
A cup thus he imaged a memory suddenly caught

From the chasm of years that divided the trails we had
followed.

He slept by the fire while the roar of the wind and the rain
Died away to a whisper. I woke with the dawn; it was

snowing.
I saw from the portal a rider far out on the plain.

He was gone. On the hearth a dim ember was fitfully
glowing.



48



THE REATA

FERNANDO slowly plaited close the long, strong rawhide

strands;

Inch by inch the stout reata grew beneath his horny hands
As he sang a Spanish love-song sang until his work was

done,

Knotted in the woven honda, when the shadow of his son,
Young Miguel, crossed to the patio, paused and stood

beside his sire,
And the new, smooth-coiled reata filled his heart with keen

desire.

Old Fernando took the olla from the shadowy pepper-tree,
Drank the fresh, cool water slowly, sighed and most con
tentedly
Rolled a cigarette and smoked it blew a ring within a

ring,

Said: "You like the new reata? It is yours, if you will sing
That old song your madre taught you; song and singer,

years ago
Silent ..." Then the old song in the sunlit patio:

/ More swift am I than the flash of wings!

Stronger am I than steel!
Luck to the hand that my fleet coil flings,
49



Saddle Songs

Mine is the song that my master sings,
Rounding me reel on reel.



; What of the herd were it not for me,

The reata, lithe and light?
What of the horses that break and flee
To the hills in the starry night?

"Swift they may flee, but the swifter I

Leap to the running steer,
Or loop a foot as the ponies fly,
When ye may not come as near.

"I, the reata, fold on fold,

Coiled and uncoiled again;
Swift as the serpent to strike and hold
In the dust of the branding-pen.

"Yea, you may jingle your bright bell spur,

Your conchas like stars may shine,
As you proudly ride past the eyes of her , .
But the soul of it all is mine.

"For I earn the gold; with the same ye buy

Saddle, scrape, spur,
Sombrero and steed, but the king am I,
As ye ride past the eyes of her."
50



The Reata

Old Fernando Ruiz wove it, drawing close the rawhide

strands,

Inch by inch the stout reata grew beneath his horny hands :
With a song Miguel had won it; with a song he rode away,
While Fernando in the shadows dreamed of faces brave

and gay.



51



TWITTERING BILL

HE was seldom seen in the desert town,

Except when he punched his burro down

And packed some grub in each worn kyack,

Throwing a hitch with a handy knack;

And hardly a word as he went his way

Drifting out of the living day

Into the spaces, wavering, dim,

That seemed to open their arms to him.

But he never failed, as he jogged along,

To whistle a wonderful, wild-bird song;

Trill and chirrup, triumphant, shrill;

Chirrup and trill, prolonged and sweet,

Followed him down the desert street;

Twitter and plaint, reply and trill,

And he went by the name of "Twittering Bill."

I rode where the rock was piled and tossed
Clear to the crest the trail was lost.
Shin-tangle and shale, it was thick and tough
That I found on the down-side, steep and rough;
And here and there was a burro track,
And way in the bottom a little shack,
Sheltered by shadowy pepper-trees,
52



Twittering Bill

Till a fellow could almost feel the breeze

Fanning the heat from the burning air,

As he looked at that cool, green spot, down there.

Flowers, yellow and red and white,

And blue flowers catching the lower light,

Till it eased my eyes just to look and look

At that Garden of Eden picture book. . . .

Then I ambled down from the hillside heat,

Watching close where I put my feet,

When, into the picture, straight and still

And full man-size, stepped Twittering Bill.

"How!" said Bill, and his big, red paw
Closed on mine lijke the grip of Law.
He made a fire and we had some chuck,
Then he led me down where he found his luck.
There was the black sand in the creek,
And flakes of the real stuff, plenty thick,
But instead of sluicing the water through
To riffles, like all folks used to do,
He ran it down by an easy pitch,
In a kind of an irrigating ditch,
To the garden stuff every plant and flower
Wasting a sight of that water power. . . .
I was wondering just what the place would pay,
When I heard a twittering, far away,
And a whistling answer a wild-bird tune;
Bill smiled; "My friends will be coming soon."
53



Saddle Songs

I listened for jingling bits and spurs,
And a whoop from desert adventurers;
Instead, from over the southern hill,
Flames of gold flew, twittering, shrill,
At first no bigger than bumble-bees;
Then yellow birds till the pepper-trees
Turned to musical scores unrolled
In melodious, fluttering notes of gold.

Twittering Bill stood a right long while,
A dream in his eyes his bearded smile
Changing the look on his homely face
Changing that shadowy garden-place,
Till it seemed the center of time and space.
And how long we stood is a guess with me;
For I could n t hear and I could n t see
Things as they were when I first came down.
I knew there were shadows, long and brown,
With patterns of sunlight drifting through,
And over it all a world of blue,
As Twittering Bill grew big and strange,
In the woof and web of the light and change.
His beard grew silvery, long and white,
And he wore a robe that was silver-bright;
A river flowed from his upraised hand
And fell like rain on the hungry sand;
Fell and rippled; before it sank,
The flowers bent to the earth and drank,
54



Twittering Bill

And the trees were bowed in the sunset rays,
And the air was filled with a song of praise.



In his other hand was a branch of green,
That grew and spread till the twilight scene
Dimmed as the crimson, sunset bars
Closed and the sky was flecked with stars.
The valley dusk was a velvet hush,
Except for the soft and rippling rush
Of water, down from its mountain-hold
Water that turned the world to gold!

The birds were still when I topped the steep;

The valley below was a song asleep.

I had clean forgotten my old cayuse,

And in fumbling round for a good excuse,

I found a thought as I rode the night;

There s something in using the whole world white;

So I set to whistle and made a plan

That had nothing to do with a pick or pan.

I m not a warbler, by any means,
It was Bill for the birds and me for beans.
We shook, and he held to the stakes he drove,
And plenty of water to keep his grove
Smiling; but down where the valley spreads,
I built my stable, corral, and sheds;
55



Saddle Songs

Strung my fence and located there,
And got the valley to blooming fair;
And whenever I m lonesome, over the hill
Are the trees and birds, and Twittering Bill.



56



THE LOST RANGE

ONLY a few of us understood his ways and his outfit queer,
His saddle horse and his pack-horse, as lean as a winter

steer,

As he rode alone on the mesa, intent on his endless quest,
Old Tom Bright of the Pecos, a ghost of the vanished West.

His gaze was fixed on the spaces; he never had much to say
As he jogged from the Rio Grande to the pueblo of Santa

Fe;
He favored the open country with its reaches clean and

wide,
And called it his "sagebrush garden the only place left

to ride."

He scorned new methods and manners, and stock that was

under fence,
He had seen the last of the open range, yet he kept up the

old pretense;
Though age made his blue eyes water, his humor was

always dry:
"Me, I m huntin the Lost Range, down yonder, against

the sky."

That s what he d say when we hailed him as we met him

along the trail,

Out from the old pueblo, packing some rancher s mail,

57



Saddle Songs

In the heat of the upland summer, in the chill of the thin-
spread snow . . .

Any of us would have staked him, but Tom would n t have
it so.

He made you think of an eagle caged up for the folks to see,
Dreaming of crags and sunshine and glories that used to be :
Some folks said he was loco too lazy to work for pay,
But we old-timers knew better, for Tom was n t built that
way.

He d work till he got a grub-stake; then drift, and he d

make his fire,

And camp on the open mesa, as far as he could from wire :
Tarp and sogun and skillet, saddle and rope and gun . . .
And that is the way they found him, asleep in the noonday

sun.

They were running a line for fences, surveying to subdivide,
And open the land for homesteads "The only place left

to ride."
But Tom he had beat them to it, he had crossed to The

Other Side.

The coroner picked his jury and a livery-horse apiece,
Not forgetting some shovels and we rode to the Buck-
man lease,

Rolled Tom up in his slicker, and each of us said, " So-long."
Then somebody touched my elbow and asked for an old-
time song.

58



The Lost Range

Tom was n t strong for parsons so we did n t observe
the rules,

But four of us sang, "Little Dogies," all cryin we gray-
haired fools:

Wishing that Tom could hear it and know we were stand
ing by,

Wishing him luck on the Lost Range, down yonder, against
the sky.



OLD BILL

YOUNG SAM went broke and hoofed it out of town,
When, on the mesa trail, came riding down
His partners of the range, a cowboy crew,
Rough-witted, ready-fisted, tough and true,
But bound to have their joke and Sam was it,
And did n t like their talk a little bit.

"How, Sam? You took to walkin* for your health?
Or mebby-so you re lookin for yore wealth,
Prospectin like, and gazin at the ground;
Good-luck, old-timer when you git it found!"

Another puncher turned as he rode by
And made a show of dealing, low and high,
But never said a word while Sam, he cussed
And watched his outfit kicking up the dust.

Sam wished he had some dust safe in his kick.
Last night he d spread his wages pretty thick
In town and he d seemed to overlook.
A gambler from The Dalles promptly took,
Even to young Sam s outfit, horse and gun,
Then Sammy quit because his dough was done.

Yet, as that cavalcade of punchers passed,
Old Bill, the foreman, and the very last
60



Old Bill

To pose as a Samaritan, came by,

A sort of evening twinkle in his eye,

Pulled up and told the youngster what he thought

About the easy way that he d been caught :

Called him more names, with adjectives between,

Than ever had been either heard or seen

Till then then slowly finished, "which, my son,

Was comin to you. Now you Ve had yore fun,

Take this here lead-rope."

Sam he mouched across:
"I see you done that gambler for my hoss."

Bill nodded once and slowly rolled a smoke:
"Yes. That there Dalles gent would have his joke;
He run five aces on your Uncle Bill,
But he ain t runnin now. He s keepin still."

Sam gazed at Bill with wide, astonished eye;
"You plugged him!" Bill just gazed across the sky
And pulled the flop of his old Stetson hat.
"Well, son, there s some alive would call it that.
Jest fork your hoss, set straight, don t bow yore head,
Or tell the boys a gosh-durned word I said.
Come on! Yo re livin yet, and you are young;
But you 11 be older, next time you git stung."

Bill drew his gun poked out an empty shell,
And Sam rode thoughtful-like, for quite a spell.

61



RENEGADE

WHEN Carmen sang in Sandoval, that summer night in

Sandoval,

Vaqueros drank tequila with Rurales from the South,
While scornful of the show they made a somber Gringo

renegade,

Watched dark Felipe r as he played and Carmen s
saucy mouth.

An insolent adventurer, he tossed a golden coin to her;

Significant bravura as he read her languorous eyes,
Her glance a subtle message fraught with warning swift

and swiftly caught;

"The loot is much, a Gringo naught to-night the
Gringo dies."

The music ceased, the song was done. He heard a little

whisper run,

Like wind along the desert sand a sinister murmuring;
Rising he crossed the crowded floor a Rural barred him

from the door;
"El estranjero leaves before he hears the Carmen sing? "

Like the culebra s vicious stroke, the Gringo s hand spat

flame and smoke . . .

Among the horses in the dusk he snatched a hanging rein,
62



Renegade

Leapt to the saddle, spurred to flight, his farewell whistling

down the night . . .

One staggered in the doorway light . . . ahead the starlit
plain.

From valley trail below the pass he saw the dawn s bright

legions mass,
And march across that barren land, their lances tipped

with fire,
While following with lunge and leap, foam-breasted horses,

breathing deep,

Bore down the wild and winding steep their riders hot
desire.

Lone, unbefriended, fugitive, the spur of hate, the will to

live,

Fought for a vantage, wearing down interminable miles;
The sly coyote s leisure feigned a pace unurged, a pace

sustained,
By craft of grim restraint he gained far lava-strewn defiles.

Fronting that purple-shadowed maze of riven wall and

trackless ways,

The gaunt Rurales held aloof; to trail the Gringo then
Meant empty saddles, empty hand, against the threat of

ambush planned

Deep in that unremembering land, the haunt of missing
men.

63



Saddle Songs

With taunt of curse and fist outflung the riders of Sonora


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Online LibraryHenry Herbert KnibbsSaddle songs and other verse → online text (page 2 of 4)