John Search The Enemy

It was a hot day in August 1931 when a Sioux Indian Chief (John Search The Enemy) invited me to sit with him on a blanket in front of his tipi at the Custer County Nebraska Fair.

Of course, I was only three years old so I didn’t know his name. However, a few years ago in 2009, I got curious and inquired of the fair officials by email as to what chiefs were present at the fair that year. At first they replied that they didn’t have such information…it was too many years ago. About half a day later, another email arrived, this one from the fair manager. He said he was curious so he checked some old records and had found a daily paper, The Daily Fair Edition for August 18, 1931, which contained a list of all the Sioux in attendance at the fair and he had mailed me a copy of that page. What a wonderful gift!

There were two chiefs present, Iron Shell and John Search The Enemy. From their descriptions in the article, I knew that the one who spoke to me was the latter one because he was slightly younger than the other.

The chief must have entertained me for close to an hour, telling me stories of The People and how they came to be as well as tales of The Coyote, a joker who could lead a person astray! He told me I would remember him and I certainly do! As I left he reached into his pocket and pulled out a buffalo nickle which he gave to me. The coin has  an image of a buffalo on one side and the head of a chief on the reverse.

Somewhere around here I must still have that nickle given to me nearly 85 years ago by John Search The Enemy, a Sioux Indian Chief.

Poem Hunter

You know, it’s sometimes tough being a poet. There are times when writer’s block hits the poet and the bucket full of titles just dries up like spit on the sand. It’s then that the poet gets down and dirty in hunting for a poem, accepting even the ridiculous as brilliant and sublime!

He had been on the trail for weeks,
hunting there, on his own,
but the target was elusive
’cause he did hunt alone.

It would have been much easier
had a friend come along,
at least company on the ride,
a ride so very long.

The target was so ill defined
just one line would not do;
it would take a full paragraph
to describe it for you.

But that long ride was tiring.
Vowing, when he got home
he’d give up the poetic search
and never more would roam.

But then he saw it at long last
his target, very terse.
It was a simple one he saw,
a poem with one verse.

Oh, yes, there was big game out there
but this one verse would do.
Better have just one stanza now
than wait around for two.


Quatrains offer a neat challenge to the poet because each requires a complete thought, image, or story in four simple lines.

There Were No Mourners
Western cooks had tough lives and, although
berated and cursed, most managed to survive.

Beneath this stone lies Cookie.
They buried him here today
‘cause he ate his own cousine
just before he passed away.

A Rural Third Grade Saga
Rural school districts often hired teachers
right out of high school and, honest,
some of the students were older than the teachers!

The teacher married a student,
perhaps her choice was fine,
but she was only seventeen
and he was twenty-nine.


At the Dance

We all looked forward to the dances held down at the schoolhouse each month. Although the events were generally peaceful, there were those occasional times when a fight might erupt, fueled by white lightnin’ and ignited by the glances of some country belle. Maryann was a cute little gal and an accomplished flirt.

It was an amazin’ rukus
there at the dance tonight.
A few cowboys was liquored up
and lookin’ for a fight.

That fight was over pretty quick
and no one went to jail
but black eyes did abound tonight
and sev’ral folks looked pale.

How it started no one would tell.
It just erruped there
and soon ev’ry one was involved
in that sordid affair.

But Maryann knew very well,
it was her flirtin’ way…
flippin’ her skirt, blinkin’ her eyes,
at the young lads today.

A cowboy gets mighty lonesome
ridin’ all by himself
so he gets mighty attracted
to a sweet western elf.

Today it’s back t’ward home
to nurse his blackened eye.
Rememberin’ sweet Maryann,
he breathes a heartfelt sigh.

One Regret

Here’s a simple three stanza cowboy poem written spontaneously to illustrate to a class the effective use of consistent meter and true rhyme. The poetic form is that of a ballad with a metric pattern (syllable count) of 8-6-8-6 and rhymes of ABCB in each of the three verses.

To be a cowboy for the brand,
he lived a lonely life.
The only true regret he has…
he never had a wife.

Oh, he had a bunch of chances
but he just passed ’em by
’cause he was havin’ too much fun
to give that life a try.

So today he’s old and lonely
just waitin’ for the end.
This cowboy has no wife or kin
on which he can depend.

A Cowboy Duo

This poem was written for a friend who was just that day celebrating the birth of a new grandson. His question to me was whether I had ever written a poem about baby cowboys. I hadn’t, but now I have!

Johnny is a cowboy
with boots and other stuff
just learnin’ of the west
where life is sometimes tough.

He rides a magic horse
across this western land,
just a baby cowboy
a-ridin’ for the brand.

A real experienced hand
at 18 months of age,
he greets new brother, Max,
this youthful cowboy sage.

Now in boots and levis
this duo rides the land,
just two baby cowboys,
learnin’ our west first hand.

A Shakespearean Observer

The other day I was just wonderin’, as many cowboys do, about how Shakespeare would have reacted if he were to have experienced life in our Great American West. This poem presents one possibility.

Forsooth, a cowboy indeed he might be
seen here from the balcony of the mill.
He doth look the part in dress and manner
yet fearful I stand lest he do us ill.

They come not too frequently to this place
burdened with weapons yet do ride so free
but stop to rest and quaff the ale we brew
and frighten the fair maidens they do see.

Must we, Brutus, tolerate these riders
who encroach so freely on our domain
to satisfy the urges of their souls,
to indulge themselves and then leave again?

Shall our fair maidens then be not so fair
when these invaders ride away scot-free;
shall barrels stand as empty monuments
with nary a drop left for me and thee?


In the old days, before helicopters and four-by-fours invaded cow country, cowboys actually rode horses to accomplish their work. That sure gave them a lot of time to think and wonder about just darn near everything. Of course answers often eluded them but the questions remained to cogitate on the next time they rode out.

My feet was in the stirrups
and the reins was in my hand
and I began to wonder
as I rode out for the brand.

I rode toward the sunrise,
just a lookin’ for some strays
while I was still a wondrin’,
about all these western ways

Us cowboys like to puzzle
about almost ev’rything
such as how this earth was formed
and how prairie birds can sing.

How the gals in town survive
tendin’ drinks at the saloon
and when can I retire
darn, it just can’t come too soon.

But I rounded up the strays
and I headed them back west,
my won’drin day is over
and it’s time I got my rest.

Star Light, Star Bright

Cowboys are great about cogitating, there are so many mysteries on the prairie, especially at night when the landscape is lighted by the moon and a myriad of stars!

The star is twinklin’
to brighten the sky
on long prairie nights.
It seems so nearby.

That star in the sky,
it’s twinklin’ tonight,
makes a man wonder
about it’s old light.

The light is ancient,
it’s traveled so far,
a million light years
since leavin’ that star.

It’s a true myst’ry
as we ride along
‘neath this ancient star
with light still so strong.

A Cowboy’s Proposal

A lot of cowboys were confirmed bachelors…but some had the resources and the will to forego the siren call of the soiled doves in town and settle down with their true love. The proposal might have been in the form of a song.

I’ll give you my love,
I’ll give you my life,
if only you will
become my dear wife.

I love you darlin’,
the love of my life,
and I beg you now
to please be my wife.

We’ll live in the west
on this prairie land
and grow a fam’ly,
where life can be grand.

We’ll live on the land
like other folks do,
we’ll have our cattle
and garden crops too.

We’ll never be rich,
but never be poor,
just like the ranchers
who’ve lived here before.

So darlin’ I pledge
my whole life to you
and when we’re wedded
I’ll always be true.