The Campfire and the Bard

The birth of America gave rise to a country that could boast of cultures and varied ways of life from its eventual inhabitants. Traits and characteristics brought to this new world would sometimes co-mingle and evolve into the customs that are observed today. Yet, much of the old world remains unscathed. 

An example would be the skill to “turn a tale” that seemed to grow just as the country grew. No, it was not overnight as the growth pains are the same throughout. However, it was enhanced by the migration to the west after the internal conflict known by so many in our western country as The War of Northern Aggression. 

Survivors of the Civil War were faced with the basic needs of food, shelter, and a way to sustain their lifestyle. Great numbers pushed westward toward promises of wealth, land, adventure, and another chance to preserve the memories of ancestral ways. Though they experienced trials and hardships, they continued to forge a new way of life. 

This journey would weed out the weak and bolster the strong, and the strong would manage to preserve much of the ways of their ancestors. Thus, America gained strength through the prowess of these bold settlers. 

The people and the setting developed a mentality that provides a platform for western folk art, music, stories, and poems. 

You might say a virtual record of a magical, enchanting way of life. The rugged lifestyle of men and women helped make the living history of the American West. And with it, through character, grit, and a determination to live a life of freedom, a way of life developed that gave us new avenues to commerce in many forms, one of which was the establishing the great ranches of the west with their need for people to perform the task of  “Get ‘er done!” 

This need for help and the influx of people after the Civil War gave rise to the era of the cowboy! It has evolved to what we have today, thus helping to preserve our Western Heritage. Gathering around the chuck wagons or cook shacks at the end of day, these cowboys entertained themselves and others by talking about the adventures of that day. 

Next, someone would bring out a musical instrument and play tunes from the old country or bawdy ballads from pubs and saloons. Soon, the stories were put to music or maybe just to meter and rhyme, tales that were pleasing to the ear. 

Sometimes, one would be singled out as having a knack to “turn a phrase” or maybe being called “windy.” This very likely spawned the old saying, “The first liar doesn’t stand a chance!” Now, most of these ol’ boys possessed the “gift of gab” and probably had “kissed the blarney stone.” 

Since great numbers of these immigrants were of Scotch-Irish extraction, it stands to reason that their vocal skills derived from an ancestry known for being able to embellish a simple tale. And so, America remains the land of the free because of the brave, but it is also blessed to be a land that is famous for those that maybe don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story. With that said, I expect the cowboys in this poem had Scotch-Irish backgrounds. 


The Campfire an’ the Bard

 Way back in the days of old, life’s 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 yore sweetheart, 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    


God bless each of you and God Bless America!

The Marlin Democrat

251 Live Oak St
Marlin, TX 76661
Phone: (254) 883-2554
Fax:(254) 883-6553