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Cowboy Poetry

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FC: For most people there's a spot that lives forever, Deep within their fondest memories. Tho' I have been a rover I have never Seen any place that I would rather be than... ~When the Bloom is on the Sage

1: Hugging the Curb I was no more than fifteen when Daddy said to drive His old '49 Ford bobtail with a load of cattle south to San Antone. With that big truck, on the road I'd never had to strive, But I climbed right in and cranked it up, and soon we were gone. Driving south on I-35 was really no big deal, There was plenty of room, the lanes were wide, and traffic fairly light. But then we hit the city and with white knuckles I gripped the wheel; The lanes were narrow, cars were plentiful, with entrance ramps on the right. He told me to keep the truck in the far left lane, So with merging traffic I'd not have to contend. I did what I was told, while trying to stay sane, As cars whipped by on the right, moving like the wind! Laredo Street exit and Union Stockyards finally came into view; I checked the mirror, hit the signal and down the ramp I went. I tried to look calm, but inside I know I must have said "Whew!" As I parked; I'd made it there in one piece, without a scratch or a dent! Daddy got out and walked around, the tire condition to inspect; I heard him say, "Just as I thought," when he was at the left rear. I looked, too, and saw the side wall was scrubbed quite black; As I was told, I'd stayed left, but so far I'd hugged the curb too near! Copyright 2003 James Alexander

2: The Night Drive The East Texas cattle arrived in Bastrop feeling sick; They came in by train after having been dipped in arsenic. They rode in cattle cars and the fumes they had to breath. East Texas still had fever ticks but the central part was free. Granddad told his boys, "Move'm west on down the highway." "We'll hold them in the pines and rest'em 'til the cool of day." War was near in '41, and Camp Swift was down the road, Highway 71 was carrying quite a traffic load. When it neared dark they moved the cattle out, And down the road they went with a whoop and a shout. The traffic posed a hazard, the darker it became, What was needed was a light, any kind of flame. So my grandmother went to Austin, to get lanterns for the men While the cows were kept a movin', on the lookout for a safe haven. The owner of the herd came driving up with good news, "There's a lane a ways ahead that surely you can use." "Let's get'em off the road then!" Granddad shouted. So the herd was turned and down the lane they trotted.

3: When they reached the end, he began cussin' the owner. "Move'em back to the road before one of us is a goner!" For the lane ended in an old black graveyard, And why they couldn't stay, to figure out is not hard! Back on the highway the herd was driven west, They now had the use of lanterns but it was still not the best. They finally reached Dry Creek, which was boggy despite its name. A concrete slab across it served as a bridge of only one lane. In the middle of the bridge my grandmother's car did stall, So Andy and Mac roped the bumper and their horses gave their all. With a mighty tug it was off the bridge and cattle could cross; And were delivered to Garfield, surprisingly, without a loss! Copyright 2002 James Alexander

6: The Missed Gear In '37, Mac and his cousins, Allie and Ralph, headed southwest, To the town of Rocksprings to enter a roping, hoping to be the best! Ralph stopped on the way to buy a new suit in the town of Kerrville; Met some old friends there and spent the night drinking his fill. The boys bedded down that night at the fairgrounds near town; Come morning Ralph's head caused him to be wearing a frown. With achy head and shaky hands, Ralph headed the rig on west, Across a bridge and then up a hill, the truck straining for its crest. With unsteady hand Ralph missed the gear when he shifted down; In neutral, the truck began to roll backwards, eliciting a frown. He stood on the brakes, but no way could they hold all of the weight; It seemed the Chevy, horses and men would soon all meet their fate! But trees lined the road, the brush there was quite thick; The truck veered off headed backwards, moving real quick! While headed for the creek, going lickety-split, It backed over the trees while the horses threw a fit. The truck came to rest in the trees like a bird; Suffice it to say, a collective sigh was then heard! Mac got out and slowly climbed to the ground, To the back of the truck he made his way round.

7: He stretched his arm high and barely could touch The bed of the truck, it was off the ground by that much! Thankful for deliverance, Ralph hiked back into town And got a tow truck to pull his rig back onto solid ground. Copyright 2003 James Alexander

8: Texas Pear Back in '71 our pastures were failing, Way things looked there'd be no hay for baling. Our cattle were hungry, in fact quite famished, Without any rain, the grass had all vanished. My dad was worried he needed a solution, Finally one day he announced, "I've reached a conclusion!" "The cattle are hungry so we'll just feed'em pear, Not Bartletts, but Texas type, the prickly ones right there!" To a green horn, feeding pear a problem poses, "How do they eat it without getting thorns in their noses?" The answer is that it must first be torched, The cows can eat it once the spines are scorched. The methods have varied some fancy some plain, It began with a torch and progressed to propane. From fire on a pitchfork to a thrower of flame, The cattle didn't care, the results were the same.. In the back of the pickup we loaded our rig, We pulled in the pasture and the cattle danced a jig. In front of their noses the feed was right there, All it needed was to get rid of its "hair."

9: One day I was sent by myself on a mission - "Get the cows fed and improve their condition." I started to burn and the cows began to jostle, Sometimes the job seemed a tad bit colossal. Then lightning began striking and raindrops were falling, I decided about then, burning pear was not my true calling. Standing on a hill with a metal rod in my hand, Seemed a sure way to not extend our clan. When I got home my dad was unsettled, "You weren't gone long enough to feed all the cattle." "I rushed the job a little bit," I admitted, "But with lightning flashing I was not committed" "To burning more pear when there was enough To keep the cows' bellies from feeling too rough. They all got enough," I said with a nod. "I just didn't feel like becoming Sparky the Lightning Rod!" Copyright 2002 James Alexander

10: An Ode to Uncle Joe As close relations, Joe and Andy fell in love with 1st cousins. They married the girls and had children numbering half a dozen. As double cousins we kids were all close. City and country merged -- just perfect for this prose. Ann and Leila were great friends and the relationship of our mothers Meant we kids got to spend more time together and that suited our druthers. Hide and seek, cowboys and Indians, swimming in Austin and Sunday dinners, Our parents' friendships clearly made us kids the winners. But I digress... A proud veteran of WWII Joe drove a truck for the Army, And was very blessed to return home to his young family. Govalle was where they lived when I was but a young boy, And then they moved to Northridge, while we remained at Elroy. His first job I recall was as a truck driver delivering Schlitz around town Skillfully wheeling the cases on his dolly, so none ever hit the ground. Because he loved to cook, when he quit driving truck, he opened the Patton Cafe, Where he worked the counter and served down home cooking while my father put up hay. While we drove Oldsmobiles, Joe was dedicated to Ford, One of them, a '56 tan and white sedan down the road soared, When in 1960 the families toured West Texas, including the vast Big Bend, We saw the Lodge, the mountains, the Fort and Langtry where Roy Bean's days did end.

11: One of his favorite sayings, I still recall from my childhood days, Referenced their little rat terrier, which occasionally Joe's ire could raise. Out of orneriness, but clearly in jest, Joe uttered these words that could have brought tears, "If that dog doesn't stop it, I'm going to cut his tail off right behind his ears!" Early memories of Joe involve fishing camps on rivers; In a world of takers, his readiness to help made him one of the givers. He loved to garden and grew many things with his green thumb, Producing a bountiful patch to assure those who visited never left without some. Those days have come and gone. Memories and long held relationships have been drawn. As with all families I see a bit of Joe in my cousins and their young; And now we're here together to consider from where we've sprung. Copyright 2011 James Alexander

14: A Close Encounter Her name was Lettie Mae, but we called her Mamaw She was our mother's mother, our grandma. She had a full life and became a world traveler She saw the lights of Paris from top of the Eiffel Tower, Her visits to the Egyptian Pyramids and the Brussels World's Fair Were surely adventures but in our minds could not quite compare To the story we heard of her up close and personal encounter, During the depths of the Depression with a notorious gangster. They were living in a dugout near Vaughn, New Mexico On a hard scrabble farm just waiting for a new place to go. Their time was spent tending chickens, pigs and Spanish goats, Fighting off predators trying to eat up their little choates. When a roadrunner began tearing the hens' nests asunder, Mamaw decided it had to die, by thunder! That it was the state bird just didn't matter, She had a family to feed and its feathers she would scatter. With her shotgun in hand the hunt was engaged, She began searching the property somewhat enraged. Then out of the east came a car with men in blue. They stopped to ask directions and said, "How do you do?"

15: "We were chasing Pretty Boy Floyd," they said with chagrin, "His gang robbed a bank in Clovis and got clean away again!" Directions back to Clovis she gladly provided, Then resumed her hunt, her attention undivided. Soon another carload of lawmen arrived. And to say the least, Mamaw was surely surprised, When they told her whom the first car did contain -- None other than Pretty Boy Floyd and his bank robbing gang! They had ambushed some cops and uniforms taken, But Mamaw with her shotgun could not be shaken. She repeated the directions she'd given before, Then began hunting the nest robbing bird once more. Copyright 2002 James Alexander

16: The River Crossing It was 1936, the sixth day of that year, Andy and his boys and nephew Ralph had on their cowboy gear, Ready to drive 75 Hereford pairs to Austin, hoping nothing died; Up Wolf Lane to Highway 71, then on to Riverside. It was dawn as they moved the herd toward the west, Each of the cowboys was committed to do his best, To assure the herd arrived at the railroad shipping pens with no hoof lost. Little did they know when they headed out what this drive could ultimately cost. The drive was uneventful, 'til they reached the Colorado, For the Montopolis Bridge had washed out about a year ago. They had to cross the river; the pens were on yonder side, But they reached Longhorn Crossing just about eventide. The shore was a slab of rock made slick by the growth of moss. They knew they'd be lucky if without injury they got across! If a horse were to lose its footing and happened to slip and fall, A man could drown or only break a leg if he was even lucky at all. They slipped their feet from the stirrups to quickly leave the saddle For this was a new experience, swimming a herd of cattle. The cows quickly hit the water, but began to mill about. The cowboys pushed the cattle, they hollered and did shout.

17: But it was all to no avail and they had to bring them back, Then try it all again because in resolve they did not lack! Since it was dark,m the cattle couldn't see and didn't want to cross, But Andy and his crew wouldn't quit -- this job would not be a loss! After many tries Ralph finally took the lead, He roped a calf and hit the river on his worn out steed! Ralph had broken off his saddle horn at a ropin' awhile back, So his rope was tied through the fork as he took up the slack. Across the cold dark river with a bawling calf in tow, Ralph's efforts finally enticed a scared momma cow to go. Across the flowing water they went up on the other bank, Then he came back again and his loop on another calf sank. Throughout the night Ralph threw his loop over and over again Until the whole herd finally did across the river swim. It was about midnight when the herd was finally crossed. The drive had started at daybreak and not a hoof was lost. The herd was penned and the weary horses in stalls were placed, The exhausted cowboys bedded down having conquered the challenge they'd faced. The entire herd was delivered the next day as agreed, Then back to Cedar Creek the cowboys rode, each upon his steed. Copyright 2002 James Alexander

18: The Cattle Drive In 1937 no local market existed; Fort Worth was the place to sell, buyers insisted. Andy and Mac were a couple of young bucks, When their dad went off to look at new trucks. A '37 Ford looked like it would handle the load; $100 added a bobtail bed and they hit the road. They made three round trips hauling cattle each week, To the Fort Worth Stockyards from their ranch near Cedar Creek. North, up the Old Chisholm Trail they went, But most of it was now paved with modern cement. These trips were made before freeways and their bypasses; Straight through the towns they went, waving at lasses. Each week one would make one trip and the other one two. The next week they would switch, that's what they had to do. Four years of hauling their own stock and some for others, They mostly hauled vealers and sometimes their mothers. Once they ran out of gas in the middle of the night, So they added another tank and could make it all right.

19: Mac was hauling a full load for some others; The owner rode along as well as his brother. Near the stockyards were a hill and a stoplight. Mac stepped on the brakes; there was a cop to his right. Imagine their surprise as they came to a stop, When a bawling bull calf flew over the top. The front panel had slipped and the calf hit the hood, There was nothing to do but catch him where he stood. They tied up the panel and stuffed him back in, Unloaded at the Stockyards and headed south again. On the Old Chisholm Trail, eight hours up and eight hours back, They made these cattle drives without a stampede or Indian attack. Copyright 2002 James Alexander

20: Elroy, Texas I grew up in Central Texas at a place called Elroy. It was just a wide place in the road, a great place to be a boy! Elroy was founded by immigrants from Sweden. Common names were Blumquist, Johnson, Nelson and Pearson. Their big, white farm houses dotted the land; My dad bought one overlooking Austin, its view was grand! Our house was built by a man called "Hackberry" Johnson; He surrounded it with hackberry trees, it was a grand one! We were "outsiders" because we weren't Swedes; But nobody minded and all traded good deeds. My dad was the local "vet" and all around cowboy; He doctored the neighbors' cows because they were just farm boys. There were two stores, a gin and a blacksmith shop. One store was "general", the other was not. Nelson's garage had drinks and food items on hand; That was before convenience stores began to blight the land. Hokason's General Store was a real delight, With penny candy, lunch meant and plow parts in sight. In the summer the bookmobile came out once a week. It parked at Hokanson's and new books we would seek. There was a school house with one big room. It had a worn wooden floor we swept with a broom.

21: Sometimes there'd be a dance where couples would twirl, Or on the stage a play starring a local boy and girl. Each year a tractor dealer would have an event, With bingo, door prizes and the latest equipment. Each summer softball games were held under tall lights, Teams came from all around, it was all for fun, there were no fights. The first generation has all passed on. And the second generation is now almost gone. The third one is all scattered about; Virtually none are left, they've all moved out. Elroy is not the place it used to be. There's not a real sense of community. Newcomers are there, quite a lot of strangers. With increased population comes more dangers. When I was a kid Elroy was a safe place to play. We didn't hear sirens fly by on the highway. But now when I visit, almost without fail, A fire truck or ambulance goes by with a wail. Austin will grow and eventually absorb Elroy. It isn't a place where it is safe to be just a boy. The memories will fade and finally be gone; Of a neat little place I once called my home. Copyright 2003 James Alexander

22: How I long to be living where the prairie flowers grow, I'd be willing to start walking to the place that I love so. It beckons and I reckon I would work for any wage, To be again, be free again, where the bloom is on the sage. ~When the Bloom is on the Sage

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  • Title: Cowboy Poetry
  • Dad's poetry about Grandad, the homestead, the Alexander family
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  • Published: almost 8 years ago