Cowboy Poems: Bull and Barrel

Two poems from Waddie Mitchell at the annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee.
January/February 1990
http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/cowboy-poems-bull-barrel-zmaz90jfzshe.aspx
The poem "The Cowboy's Accident" describes a painful mishap involving a pulley, a rope, and a barrel of horseshoes.


ILLUSTRATION: TIM BORGERT

Well sir, I just got in from the yearly National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee. Had a rousing good time being entertained by 15 professional yarn spinners, including that calf-punching, bronco-busting, handlebar-mustached cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell of Elko, Nevada. Waddle gave lilt to more than a dozen sentimental and humorous ditties, such as this one: "A Little Bull." (Read it out loud, pardner.)

This story is of three bulls
All of a bovine breed,
Who were traveling the desert together
In search of a little feed.
When on a knoll they came upon a meadow
A spring had made,
With bright green grass
And trees about
That allowed for a little shade.
Now the largest of the three bulls
Bowed his neck and some snot was blown,
Which was warning enough
For the smaller two
That he wanted this place for his own.
So now there's just two bulls traveling
In search of a place to stop
To fill up on green grass and water,
Which they found on a mountaintop.
Now, this place suited both bulls to a tee.
But, as oft happens, as history will show,
The larger one thumped the smaller one good,
So back to the trail he did go.
Now, there's a moral to this story,
One I hope we'll learn today.
And it's that sometimes
A little bull will go a long, long way.

Another verbal saddle-gem that Waddie related is Tony Ilardi's poem "The Cowboy's Accident." Pull your hankies out first, though: It's a tearjerker.

Now a cowboy's life is kind of tough,
And it's easy to get hurt.
Like when you get throwed from your favorite horse,
And land in a heap in the dirt.
You've got to think ahead all the time
And use all of your God-given wit;
Or you can wind up all mangled and maimed
And throwin' yourself quite a fit.
I had a friend who got hurt real bad,
And I went to the hospital to see
If he could tell me what happened to him.
And this is what he said to me.
"You know that old hay barn,
The one over four stories tall?
Well, I went up in the loft to get some horseshoes
I'd stored up there last fall.
The shoes were inside an oak whiskey barrel,
It was full almost to the rim.
I couldn't find the sizes I wanted
'Cause the light was just too dim.
So I decided to lower those shoes to the ground,
Empty the barrel and sort 'em out.
So I rolled the barrel to the upper door,
And tied on it a rope sling stout.
Last fall when I put that barrel in the loft,
It took four men to hoist it up.
But I figgered I could get it down by myself:
Comin' down's easier than goin' up.
So I balanced that barrel delicately
On the edge of the hayloft door,
And to it I tied the rope that ran
To the roof peak and down to ground floor.
I knew with one pull of the rope
That barrel would swing free in the breeze.
Then hand over hand I could lower it down
And sort them shoes with ease.
Well, I really underestimated the weight of that barrel,
It must have weighed five hundred pounds.
I'm a pretty stout guy, but even with my clothes
I only weigh two hundred pounds.
Well, you can imagine my surprise when I pulled that rope,
I lost my presence of mind.
I got jerked off the ground so doggon' fast,
I forgot to turn loose of the line.
Halfway up the side of the barn,
I met the barrel comin' down fast.
This explains my fractured shoulder
In the wreck we had as it passed.
Slowed only slightly,
I continued my rapid ascent,
Not stopping till I hit the pulley
Where my hand got all broken and bent.
At the same time the barrel hit the ground
And the bottom, it split in two.
After spillin' them shoes, the barrel in pounds
Now just weighed a few.
Well, as you might well imagine,
I began to plummet to the ground.
And halfway down I met that barrel
As it sped up from the ground.
This accounts for my fractured ankles and knees
And the cuts on my legs so deep.
But it slowed me down some, and when I hit the ground,
I only broke both feet.
As I lay there in pain unable to move,
I again lost my presence of mind.
As I moaned and groaned I forgot myself
And turned loose of my hold on the line.
The last thing I remember,
Before waking up here on this bed,
Was that empty barrel falling fast,
And heading right straight for my head."


Waddie Mitchell recites 19 cowboy poems on his album, "Tradition,"available from Cowboy Poetry. For more information, visit the National Storytelling Festival website.