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Special Cowboy Poetry Feature

Spring/Summer 2004, Volume 21.3

Cowboy Poetry

Waddie Mitchell

Photo of Waddie Mitchell.

The face and name of Waddie Mitchell have become synonymous with the literary genre called "Cowboy Poetry." Waddie has appeared in numerous television programs, from The Tonight Show to documentaries produced by educational stations. He is a regular at many western festivals and is one of the original founders of the world famous National Cowboy Poetry Gathering held each winter in Elko. His life as a poet is a busy one—he is "on the road" about 250 days a year.

Throughout his life, Waddie has been, first, a working cowboy and, second, a poet. But for Waddie the life of a cowboy and composing poetry are one and the same. His poems tell his story, which is that of a "real life" cowpuncher and ranch hand. He is representative of those hearty individuals who settled the West and established a way of life that fit in with the harsh yet beautiful landscape where it took root. As tough and hardy as the cowboy life was, it is now threatened by technology and overdevelopment. Because of his commitment, and that of others like him, twenty-first century America is again beginning to relearn the importance of the life of the cowboy and why holding on to it is necessary both historically and socially.

Check out these other works by Waddie published by Weber Studies:  Conversation with Waddie Mitchell,    Essay—Keynote Address: 2001 National Poetry Gathering

That "No Quit" Attitude

While gatherin' cattle near the ruins of a long abandoned homestead,
In the shadows of the mountains, questions swarmed around my mind
Of the people who had claimed there, most forgotten now and long dead.
Still, I wondered what had prompted them to leave their world behind

Searching for a life uncertain in a vast and rugged region,
Up and leave their home and kin for opportunity to find,
Taking little more to start with than an idea and a reason
And the dream of their succeeding in a future yet defined.

Soon these queries led to more, like why it is that some folks always
Need to push their borders out beyond the furthest milestone
On some never ending quest to find new ways and trails to blaze
And, in the process, stretch the realm of what is built and done and known.

From the little draw above me in my pard rides with his findin's,
Throwing his bunch in with mine now shaded up and settled down.
I could see he'd gone through battle for his pony's sportin' lather
But his smile claimed he'd made it in with everything he'd found.

The sweat and dust and brush streaks on that pair done heaps o' speaking
As he pulled up near, dismounted, loosened latigo a bit.
Said "We jumped 'em in the roughs and would've lost 'em had we weakened
But, I swear, this here caballo ain't got one half ounce of quit."

And that "no quit" phrase speaks volumes on one's character and makin's
To the cowboy drawin' wages ridin' ranges of the West.
Those who have it, you'll find, usually conquer most their undertakin's
For the best in them is drawin out when their spirits' put to test.

Then I spot my cowdogs brushed up stayin' well hid from the cattle
Knowin', with a cue, they'd give all to do anything need done
And I thought, then, how the most of us will opt to shun that battle,
Never knowing fully what we could accomplish or become.

Still I believe, like dogs and horses, we're all born with resolution,
And, like muscles and good habits, it needs use and exercise.
If left dormant it's in jeopardy of loss to evolution
For eventually it shrivels up in atrophy and dies.

But, when flexed, it blossoms heroes and a source of inspiration
For we recognize the virtues in that "no quit" attitude.
And it proves its attributes in competition and vocation
Which evokes appreciation and a show of gratitude.

And since mankind started walking it's been swifter, higher, stronger
As if pushed by some deep need to keep their limits unconfined.
Almost thriving, always striving for things bigger, better, longer
In an unrelenting pursuit of perfection redefined.

And, in this world of soft complacence, there's still a few among the masses
Who will readily give all to see a job or dream fulfilled.
It's a trait that's void of prejudice towards races, sex or classes
Just demanding its possessor be of valor and strong willed.

Then, as we point our cattle homeward, letting dogs bring up the rear,
And we leave what's left of, once, somebody's hopes and dreams behind,
I'm convinced that "no quit" attitude will always persevere
And that's the essence and the promise and the crown of humankind.


Infraction Distraction

Chaz has always got good stories of some mishap or a wreck
And I wanted one to take back to the ranch
And though I knew it'd take some coaxin', I just figured what the heck
I best get it now before I missed the chance

So we stepped inside a greasy spoon and took ourselves a booth
Ordered up a slice of pie and cup o' brew
He don't use exaggeration, just his verbiage and the truth
'Cuz he's a guy that stories wanna happen to

He fin'lly starts one 'bout a pard of his who near a week ago
Had been to patronize the local Quickie Stop
Said he just grabbed a few particulars and paid the clerk his dough
And then was amblin' back out through the parkin' lot
Where he sees one of our finest writin' out a ticket there
For violation of some city parking law
He yelled he hadn't been five minutes, gettin' ticketed ain't fair
And how that cop's the biggest jerk he ever saw

But that policeman just ignores him, finished writin' in his pad
Then slips that parking dupe beneath the wiper blade
Well, that got his buddie's fur up, he starts actin' rabid mad
Sez, "That might be the worst mistake you've ever made
'Cuz I know the mayor's mechanic and could prob'ly get you fired
So apologize right now or you'll regret it
I'll get you eighty-six'd from Doughnut World 'cuz there I'm most admired
Or… just rip that ticket up and we'll forget it"

With that the flatfoot stuck a smirk on, licked his thumb and flipped a page
An' starts to writin' out citations left and right
Our hero's fumin' and a spewin' out profanities in rage
Like he's a constipated badger on the fight
It seemed for every ticket wrote the bigger fit that he is throwin'
'Twas hard to tell if he's just naive, dense or brave
While Mister Constable's a wonderin' if that feller's even knowin'
His shenanigans are diggin' his own grave

That trooper writes out tickets fer bald tires and no tailgate
And fer things that didn't make no sense et all
Like tickets for a bent up bumper and because the mirrors were mismate
And because the truck's antenna was too tall
He wrote another 'cuz the bolts that hold the license plates were rusty
Which, in the realm of common sense, was plumb obscene
But when he wrote one out 'cuz he perceived the dashboard was too dusty
our pard screams like a chimpanzee on caffeine

The cop had written every ticket that he had in his black book
warns, "One more word and I will take you into jail."
Our friend believes him and he shuts up, dons his best submissive look
No doubt he's doubtin' anyone would go his bail

The officer seemed proud of the infractions that he wrote
And all them fines added up to a tidy sum
"You damn fool" Chaz sez, "You made yourself the sacrificial goat
You shoulda quit before he wrote the second one
'Cuz if you'da kept yer trap shut, took your truck and gone on home
Five measly bucks is all the parking fine you'd owe
But no, you had to run yer mouth off, can't leave well enough alone
Maybe you'll learn now since it cost ya all that dough"

"Naw, he said, "it cost me nothin' when the smoke had finally cleared
Twasn't me that was the sucker had'ta pay
'Cuz that old truck that I was screamin' 'bout weren't mine as it appeared
Ya see, my truck was parked three vehicles away"

Well that's the story that Chaz told me in the coffee shop in town
The chance that it ain't mostly true is pretty slim
But I wonder where it happened, and if I maybe know that clown
And if that pard of his in truth was really him

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