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Day of the Cowboy Poem: State of Mind

July 21, 2009
Man on horse

By Tim Rush

Real cowboys are a dying breed,"
Old Len Johnson said to me one day.
"Every year I more and more concede
That this life's a goin' the way

"The wolf and buffalo have gone.
Just a few survivors still remain
Old timers, like me, almost alone,
Who balance the old ways with gain.

All my years I've looked toward
Movin' cattle spring and fall.
A' horseback, pushin' em' forward
And back ag'in. Tendin' the season's call.

"Started out, a kid in school's grade four -
Fall roundup with my dad
And ranchers all 'cross this valley's floor.
Bone tired, mostly. But, always glad

"To be out in the prairie air
That rang with the cattle's voices
And show I had the nerve to dare
To ride and make hard choices.

"Stock, now's "drove" in noisy crates!
Big diesels and a solitary man.
Flyin' eighty down the Interstates,
Trailin' cows in a perforated van."

And, I thought how Len's regret was right
But, only in a way.
Yes, the horseback treks into the night,
Have nearly passed away.

And few remain who knew the strong
Bond of neighbors on the range,
Before fences, who took all October long
To gather cattle of their grange.

Yet, believers in the values of the ranch
Have increased ten thousand fold
In those like me who missed the chance
Of the long drive in the cold.

But, who know the horse and gear -
Ties to the cowboy's past.
Who sees the right thing crisp and clear,
And finishes the necessary jobs in the last

Hour of the night. Hard and tough,
On the outside, maybe. Inside, soft
As the hand, though he's had enough,
Helps the little kitten down from the loft.

Who, each day's early morn, rises to the call
Of duty - however it's defined.
Shows me how maybe, after all,
"Cowboy's" a state of mind.

- R. Timothy Rush

Tim Rush, professor of elementary and early childhood education at the University of Wyoming, joined the UW faculty in 1982. He has cooperated in teacher preparation with the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone people of the Wind River Indian Reservation to revitalize their ancestral language and culture.

As a cowboy poet he has written a bit, taught a couple of courses on the genre, entertained on stage, at chuck wagon campfires, and in classrooms, as part of weekly lessons on writing. These often involve a few guitar chords, harmonica music - melodies and some blues riffs.

For a couple of years, he has helped provide safe haven for 500 BLM mustangs. Over the years, he has helped neighbors gather and drive, doctor and brand, thousands of cattle. "Lightening struck so close one day that it lifted us a foot off the ground," he says. "Horse work can be risky, but I feel most alive doing necessary work with horses."

UW observes National Day of the Cowboy


Posted on Tuesday, July 21, 2009

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