Featured Cowboy Poet

Bette Wolf Duncan

                       SHANEY RIDGE

They rode into Montana with a pocket full of poor, their appaloosa ponies and the homespun clothes they wore. what was it about Shaney Ridge That drew the brothers there? Clear springs of mountain water!!! They glistened everywhere.

Through icy chills and six foot drifts, Through mud and sleet and mire, Across the range their claim spread out from Shaney Ridge to Pryor. None of it was easy. One crisis spawned another; but through it all good-humored George cheered his worried brother.

Winters tortured Shaney Ridge; and when the tenth one passed, nature begged forgiveness and the range thawed out at last. Caleb's spirit blossomed out as soon as winter died; and that spring,Caleb left the Ridge to fetch a promised bride.

When Caleb and his bride returned, two months had passed them by. The parching sun was over head. The water holes were dry. The cattle languished on the range; and George was not around. As searing as a red-hot brand. the note that Caleb found.

One night, it seeemed that George played cards with other gambling men. He lost his cash.and saddle. He lost his horse and then- he bet the spread at Shaney Ridge. He lost his bet again! George wrote that he was leaving that someday when he'd earn enough to buy their holdings back, then only, he'd return.

It took a while for all the words to really filter through. But when they did, the pain evoked each curse that Caleb knew. The dream called Shaney Ridge was gone and Caleb had a bride. So Caleb started over and hid the rage inside. Slowly, slowly years passed by, as slowly as his ire; and just as slow, he gained control of all the range near Pryor.

What became of Brother George? Caleb never knew. His brother simply vanished like Rocky Mountain dew. Just like the evanescent dew, impossible to find; yet when he viewed the Pryor spread, George often crossed his mind. He knew he'd chuck the lot of it- each acre, steer and calf- just to see George once again and hear his brother's laugh.

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How must the untamed plains of Montana appeared to a
pioneer, especially a woman, seeing it for the first time?


How primitive it seemed to her;- such wild and untamed glory. Not even yet a full-fledged state, but just a territory. Just miles and miles of untamed range. Montana! Even its name was strange.

Just a newly married bride, She rode with Caleb by her side. Montana! Such an Indian land, with such an Indian name. Sagebrush lurked like hoary scrags upon the windswept plain. It seemed to grow more savage the farther west she came.

So distant from New Brunswick and Emma's genteel life. She wondered what possessed her to become a rancher's wife. But she loved Caleb more than she loathed hardship, pain or strife; and Emma vowed she'd find the strength to make a rancher's wife.

When they reached the Shaney Ridge, everything went wrong. Caleb's dream- the Shaney Ridge- his ranch and spread were gone. It was Emma, gentle Emma, gave him strength to carry on. Together they faced years of toil. They conquered each dilemma-_ Caleb, with his dream renewed, and gentle, genteel Emma.

The early pioneers and ranchers who settled the west lived under conditions we can't imagine. It was another world a million miles away. Blizzards hit without notice and babies were born irregardless. How many fathers helped their wives deliver a child in the absence of a midwife or doctor? Probably, a large number of them. The following poem is what I imagine a typical reaction of one such rancher and pioneer, Caleb Duncan, might have been.

                   THE PAINTER'S HAND

He'd seen the painted, twilight sky- the gold and purple morn, but never saw the painter's hand until his son was born.

He'd never been a man to ponder what was life about_ too consumed with life itself to question it or doubt.

It was enough to wake and hear the chorus of the birds. No need to ever think about some preacher's mystic words.

But when he saw his newborn son, with certainty he knew that all the things he'd heard about a mighty God were true.

He'd seen the vibrant prairie blooms painted on the land. But on the day his son was born, he saw the painter's hand.

About Bette Wolf Duncan

My name is Bette Wolf Duncan. I am currently finishing a collection of poems titled PRYOR CREEK. All poems in it relate to the experiences of Caleb and Emma Duncan, My husband's grandparents. They were among the first ranchers to settle in the southeastern section of the Montana territory. My husband was raised on their Pryor Creek ranch. We are currently doing geneology work on relatives. This collection of poems is an adjunct to this study. It will be published late spring hopefully. I am retired; and am spending my time writing... which I have always enjoyed. When PRYOR CREEK is finished, I will finish a novel started two years ago.

You can contact Bette Wolf Duncan at wacobill@uswest.net

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