The West That God Made
On The Back Porch
By Ol’ Jim Cathey
Cowboy poetry is the result of the creativity of old-time cowboys. Men that helped populate the west. They were wild and carefree young men that were more than likely forced to leave home because times were hard, and money was scarce.
As a result, they left home to fend for themselves for a variety of reasons, but usually it was because their families could not afford to feed them and all of their younger siblings, or they were tired of walking behind the switching tail of an old plow mule.
They were mostly uneducated, untrained, and willing to learn. Work for folks with those qualifications was mighty scarce.
However, ranches in Texas and the west needed hands to work cattle and horses and to become part of the trail drives. Hard work from daylight to dark and probably bedding down under the stars would be their home.
So, these young men made the best of their situation as they developed into a western cowboy. At the end-o-day, their entertainment was to tell about their day and this evolved into rhyming stories and songs. And cowboy poetry was born!
Eventually someone decided to preserve this history by writing down stories they heard and then writing their own stories. My own story started in a very different way.
Yes, times were hard, and money was short, but my family pulled together and made it work. God had a plan for us. True enough, our workday was daylight to dark and sometimes more and we made do with what we had.
Our clothes were threadbare but clean and we always had food, though sometimes it was just biscuits and beans and coffee. We worked hard and we survived the drought of the ‘50s and we stayed strong as a Christian family.
We grew up, got an education, and left to make our own families. I am convinced that God kept us going.
Now I suppose your question is, “How did I discover that I could write cowboy poetry?”
Well, I quit my day job in 2007 and I couldn’t even spell cowboy poetry. But my brother-in-law, Dr. Damon Stephen, asked me to read a couple of poems at a cowboy breakfast fundraiser for the library in Mabank, Texas.
I knew I didn’t like to listen when folks read their material, so I chose to memorize my material. I used “Reincarnation” by Wallace McCrae and “Tyin’ Knots in the Devil’s Tail” by Gail I. Gardner. I found them easy to learn and soon had added other poems to my list.
I paid my entry fees for Sam Jackson’s National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo where the mission was, “To make fair poets good and good poets better!”
At the NCPR, I went to a poetry writing seminar in 2009 and again to one in 2010.
I listened to advice from Sam Deleeuw, who taught me about meter and rhyme, C.R. Wood, who said, “Be yourself, write about what you lived and what you know.”
Ed Nesselhuf said, “keep it short! Go back and trim!” and Sam Jackson, pushing me to Edit! Edit! Edit!
Linda Kirkpatrick gave me lots of pointers on content and structure and Margo Metegrano added plenty of encouragement.
My ol’ pard J.C. Penny and I, along with Stella and Donna, our wives who were our support and audience to many a practice session, began to go to Cowboy Poetry Gatherings in Texas and throughout the west reciting a lot of cowboy poetry and meeting new friends.
Eventually we tried our hand at writing. My first poems had good material, but they were pitiful on meter and rhyme. Some came slow and tedious and some the Good Lord put words in my head quicker than I could spit them out.
But I kept on trying to write and improve.
Along the way, I learned more poems to recite, went to more Gatherings, and along the trail met hundreds of people that today call me and my young bride Stella… friend! A grand way to spend one’s retirement years.
I feel that this talent to write and recite is a gift from God and He helps me find ways to develop. My advice to all writers is, listen to your mentor’s advice, write every chance you get, and always thank the Good Lord for the talent that He has given to you!
This poem from 2008 is my first attempt to write cowboy poetry.
The West That God Made
It goes away back in history,
probably to the beginnin’ of time,
with folks a thinkin’ an’ visitin’,
and comin’ together in rhyme.
Eventually makin’ its way to America,
and on to the wild-n-wooley west.
Attributed mostly to Scotch-Irish immigrants,
that choose the cowboy quest.
Twas an existence that required folks to be tough,
since life can shore be quite unforgivin’.
So, they learned to cope with nature an’ such,
An’ make the best outta what God had give ‘em.
The God inspired gift that is abundant and free,
to be consumed and stored for the times,
when skies become dark and clouded with despair,
Then to lift the heavy mantle from mankind.
Yet the great hope of the spirit ever shines,
and as the oppressive gloom is dispelled,
the sweet essence of life floods o’er the senses,
that allows our God given purpose to prevail.
For western life is filled with beauty and freedom,
seasoned with a hardness that will strive,
to try the spirit yet build a strength and reserve,
for all that patiently endure and survive.
Now a cowpoke spends his time on the range,
dealin’ with weather that can make life hard.
An’ circumstances that sometime border on strange,
but he deals with all this, just he and his pard.
They git the job done cuz it’s there to do they say,
knowin’ that tough just won’t last forever.
That ol’ sun will soon melt the storm clouds away,
so there just ain’t no use to be a cussin’ the weather.
Now this moment in time calls for personal reflection,
on the many blessings while doing their duty,.
An’ they are constantly reminded at life’s connection,
appreciatin’ the good times an’ all this God given beauty.
So, they pull up quietly in a special place that they found,
a sort of Cowboy Church, with its own brand of serenity,
to give the Lord credit and thanks for blessings that abound,
an’ also for allowing them to enjoy this opportunity.
A quite reverence settles o’er this magnificent site,
an’ a certain beauty glistens with an exalted glow.
Man an’ pony sense the magic that melts away the fright,
an’ realize the majesty that the Good Lord does bestow.
The code of the West, thus developed through time,
with its honesty, loyalty, sense of fair-play, and accord,
soon becomes the legacy of a people sublime in,
their appreciation of these majestic gifts from the Lord.
© ol’ Jim Cathey March 2008
Pray for our Nation.
God Bless each of you and God Bless America!