The Campfire an’ the Bard
Civilization allowed history to be properly recorded and preserved for ages. But in uncivilized societies, history was preserved by “the one that remembers'' or “the storyteller.”
This gift belonged only to a few, usually elder members that held dear the ways of the ancient ones. This evolved in the New World, especially in the American West, where reports of the happenings of yesteryear became our window into the lives of our ancestors.
What they did, when they did it, where they did it, and even why they did it is revealed by stories often given through the spoken word, at the end of the day in camp around the cook fires. Many of these stories were passed by word of mouth and as they were shared, often things were left out or added in until heroes emerged.
A good storyteller never lets the truth get in the way of a good story!
Eventually, these stories, sometimes put to music, were recorded by an adventuresome journalist that would help the story be immortalized as a romantic history of the west! Our western heritage continues to live through historical accounts of events first published in the “penny dreadfuls'' and then later, the “dime novels.”
By the 1900s, pulp magazines gained popularity until the true novel appeared. In 1902, Owen Wister published his novel, The Virginian.
This opened the chute for a flood of western novels by authors such as Zane Grey and Clarence Mulford and eventually such natural storytellers as Louis L’Amour, Luke Short, and Elmer Kelton. The Silver screen brought the west alive and then came television series.
The romance of the west began to wane in the 1960s, but our western heritage will not give in because new interest tends to surge and emerge!
The classic cowboy storytellers or poets brought western life to a hungry population and helped others to carry on this time honored tradition. This popularity grew until cowboy poetry gatherings were prevalent throughout the west.
The granddaddy of them all has been drawing crowds to Elko, Nevada for thirty plus years and has spawned numerous gatherings where the western way of life is continually immortalized.
My poem, “The Campfire an’ the Bard” illustrates how it happened.
The Campfire an’ the Bard
Way back in the days of old, lifes story was sometimes told
by those around the old campfire.
Jest happenin’s of the day, quaint tales along the way,
pert near anything that might transpire.
Some stories seemed to share, some had their own flair,
most all of them were lots of fun.
While some would dip an’ dart, others tried to come apart.
Not many knew just how they had begun.
Whether right or whether wrong, some stories made a song,
because of the rhythm an’ the beat.
They danced an’ they swayed while the geetar picker played,
the end result was shore ‘nuff quite a treat.
So when chow time was done, with last rays of settin’sun,
the ol’ campfire gave a settled glow.
As cowhands began to mingle, the spurs with their jingle
seemed to always set the tempo.
Some would jest lite a smoke, listen as someone spoke,
or laugh at another feller’s claim.
Cowhands would tell a tale, sing a song ,or just sit a spell
addin’ firewood to the flame.
Someone would strum a tune…on the horizon, a full moon
gave coyotes want to howl.
An’ the darkness of the night, was bathed in silver light,
startin’ night critters on the prowl.
Around the firelight’s shimmer, hands often gave a glimmer
of what went on throughout the day.
The first liar stood no chance, ‘cuz the next feller would prance
right up and jump into the fray.
Soon, one was singled out for the stories he would spout,
he gained the reputation of a bard.
He embellished and he shined, no tale was left behind,
mostly about the doin’s of his pard.
Yet every man was fair game, all were treated just the same,
tho sometimes the facts were stretched a bit.
They were nurtured thru an’ thru, you never knowed which ones wuz true,
sometimes they shore did seem to fit.
At last the flames grew lower, stories were no more,
purty soon light would show in the east.
The night hawk’s song was heard, as he crooned like a bird,
hopin’ to soothe the restless beast.
Well, that’s the way it seemed to be, there upon the lone prairie,
Sometimes, this life ain’t so hard to take.
Now, you had done the best you could, knowin’ the others shorely would,
you bed down jest waitin’ fer daybreak .
Night sounds lull you to sleep, you know your thoughts will keep,
an’ you dream of Texas, far away.
You hear the Jingler getting’ up, hear him pour himself a cup,
Light in the east signals break o’ day.
So yore sleep is done, you think back upon the fun
You had ‘round the campfire last night.
This day’s work will soon unfold into late day’s sun of burnin’ gold,
So… you best jump up an’ join the fight.
© Ol’ Jim Cathey
It is important that you tell your story!
God bless each of you and God Bless America!