September's Cowboy Poetry Feature
Charlene Schilling

About Charlene Schilling

Charlene was born an raised in northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border. She says she first opened her eyes in a one-room-tar-paper shack on the Gunflint Trail. World War II brought the family to Duluth, where her father worked in the shipyards. Charlene and her husband Bob sucumbed to the lure of the West in 1974, moving to Idaho. They celebrated their Golden Anniversary in April. There are four children, ten grandchildren, and one great grandson. Her poetry comes of experiences and from the heart. She says she can best describe their life style with these verses from Golden Memories, the poem she wrote for their anniversary celebration.

Charlene has published her poetry in her book, Times and Places.

Contact Charlene Schilling at


We've rode the great white water, Life at its very best. We've had our spills as cowboys, With boots, and hat, and vest.

We've been to the mountain top; We've watched the sunset glow. We've hunted across the ridges, And in the meadows below.

But ever of an evening, When a new moon is high, When stars are brightly shining, Lighting up a purple sky,

Hand in hand we watch and wonder At how the time has flown, And at our great good fortune To have the love we've known.

And when this century ends, And the new millenium starts, My dear, it's good to know We'll still be young at heart.


I don't claim to be an all-round cowboy, The kind that won the West. My boots don't have riding heels, And I never owned a leather vest.

My horse is mostly out to pasture Except a couple of times a year, When I ride down in the canyon To bring the cows back up here.

I mostly use the 4-wheeler When I want to check the herd. My truck's an old Ford Ranger, And my wife drives and '85 Thunderbird.

My kids are both in high school, But they don't Jr. Rodeo; They're too busy doing schoolwork And planning how their lives will go.

My wife don't belong to ladies clubs; She's never been to a quilting bee, She's two dang busy correcting papers And teaching American History.

Oh, I keep a little herd book In the pocket of my jeans, Daughter enters it in the computer And tells me what the figures mean.

Joe, he's a whiz a figures-- Understands all that economic stuff. Me, I just feed the cows and cross my fingers, But he says today that's not enough.

Now you might think we lost our way And forgot what ranch life means; But, Pard, you'd be dead wrong, Because we work here like a team.

Just watch that girl of ours While she tends a sickly calf. She's no rough-neck cowgirl, She's just a sweet and tender lass.

But she knows every breed their is And which ones bring best cash. She knows all the historic brands, And what will make this ranch land last.

Joe, he'll go off to college When the haying's done this fall. Ma and I sure will miss him, But he says it won't be long at all

He'll be ready to run the place, Then I can take a rest. Well, I'm not just ready to quit, I think I've just reached my best.

This land belonged to Great Grandpa Jake, Passed from him to Gramps to Dad to me. Looks like our kids will own it too, And that's the way it's meant to be.

It's not just making money, Although a living we got to have, It's watching good cows come fresh When you've raised them up from calves.

It's watching purple clover come to bloom. It's a crop, and we sell the seed, But it's that clover smell in springtime, More than money, that's what it is I need.

It's watching a blazing sunset, And holding children on your knee. I don't claim to be an all-round cowboy, But this family ranch means a lot to me.

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The place names in this poem are real places in the Blue Mountains, south of Clarkston, Washington.


Old Ben Laird, from the Crooked Bar S, Called up for a volunteer crew. The Ranger had give the last notice-- Move the cow herd to new pasture On your lease in the Washington Blues.

We was all willin' to ride for Ben, >From the camp at Indian Tom Springs, And we was ready an stompin' to go (Me and Pyke and Ringo and Jim), When this unlikely rig rolled in.

The young cowboy stepped down Out a the mud-spattered truck, N' with a cool look straight at Ben, Said he heard there was work to do, And he'd thought to hire on with us.

Then he nodded all round and said, With kind of a respectful air, "I kin see you ain't payin' wages, Sir, But I'd cover a good share a ground For a little gas and feed for the mare."

Old Ben looked plum thoughtful N'meandered round the boy's rig, "What ya doin' up here in the Blues? The last time I saw this here outfit Was on York's place, up north a Biggs."

"Yes Sir, John York was my Gramps, An I'd rather be their instead, But lots a things hev happened; He lost his lease; the bank got the herd, An now old Gramps is dead."

Well, Old Ben pointed out the camper That took the place of the old cook shack, An he told the kid to feed his horse N' fix the rails on the old corral, And they'd have a talk when Ben got back.

Well, then we rode out to Red Pond To clean the pairs off of Smiley Ridge; But most of the talk that afternoon Was 'bout the kid and the good-lookin' mare That done showed up from north a Biggs.

Not a man among us would fault the boy, But ya know, we was all thinkin' inside That his old dog didn't look like much, And we've all seen it a time or two When a man would jest talk a good ride.

We pushed fifty-three pair in easy-- Those cows was scentin' familiar trail-- An when we come to the Springs at dusk, There was nineteen more in the corral An that boy was sittin' the top rail.

"Well, thunder'n tarnation, boy! Where did ya come about them cows?" He found the Cold Springs trail to water, And they was layin' there in the shade-- Weren't no doubts about the cowboy now!

Next day we rode down in George Creek-- Tough place to ride, all brush 'n log, Some calls it "Little Hells Canyon." Well, I'm tell'n ya, the credit that day Went to the boy, the mare, and his dog!

Old Ben told us kind of low and quiet How old York come to raise the lad After 'n accident took both his folks. Weren't related--nary a bit-- But, when no one wants ya, well, it's sad.

Old York must'a raised him right Cuz it weren't jest that he could ride; He treated us gold guys respectful, too. You could see he was taught some pride.

Well, we rounded up a hundred more head >From of'n Triple and Hogsback Ridge; Moved the whole lot to new pasture. Then, it was time to say are goodbyes To Ben and the young cowboy from Biggs.

Ringo passed round his old Stetson, And we all stuck in a few bucks; Ben, he loaded him up with some gas An told him to come see him next spring If'n he were still down on his luck.

Well, then we loaded up and left out. Passed the cowboy, he was travelin' slow. He pulled over to wait out our dust. I guess a body ain't in much hurry When he can't think of no place to go.

Well, now it's a couple of years later, and we run into our young friend again. He had got himself down to Nashville and won a music contest, made a cd, and was having pretty good success; but he didn't forget the men who had befriended him when he was down and out, and one day he stopped by old Ben Laird's place; however, our storyteller had to tell him:

Old Ben Laird died the other day: They say a broken, misspent youth Hurried him along the way, But I don't think that's true.

You see, we came here in '25, Ho, the grass was green and good; Horse-belly high in early July, Out from the edge of the wood.

Once we climbed up that canyon And sat our horses on the rim, You could see a pure abandon-- That land just caught ahold a him.

Well, you know, I liked it too, But I'd just been dodgin' round, Didn't really have a clue On honest work and settling down.

Met up with Ben down on the plains. Little place called Arco Town Was fixin' to put me in chains, But Ben paid the money down.

Said he'd need a good hand, Said he seen me work the pens; Would I sure ride for the brand? Right then, I needed a friend!

Anyway, he pointed out this knoll Right here by the edge of the trees, Said I should start cutin' poles, This's where the bunk house'd be.

Had 'er finished before snow; Moved in outa the cold. You know, a good barrel stove Is worth twice it's weight in gold.

Replaced her a few times; There ain't nothing warmer I know Then a red-fir fire, songs and rhymes, While coyotes howl out in the snow.

Puts me in mind of a feller-- Gordie--he came here in about '39. Gordie sure could play that guitar, And we'd sing and stomp in time.

He'd play over to the Grange For a doin' on a Saturday night, But with a jug hidin' on that stage, He was sure to end up in a fight.

Ben, he never held with drinkin'-- Oh, he'd take a friendly tip For a weddin' or a birthin' Or fight off a cold with a nip.

Gordie now, he's down there in town, Sings and plays by the saloon door Until he can buy another round. He don't come around here no more.

At the last Ben rode a hard trail; Sixty years, he was boss and friend, So there were't no sittin' the rail, Stayed on that job to the end.

Hitched? Naw, Ben never married. Had him a lady when we came. There was a picture he carried, But I never knew her name.

He got letters now and again; She was someplace around LA. They quit, let see, spring of '27. Fer what reason, I couldn't say.

We never knew your name neither That day you rode in from Biggs. Man, you could ride that mare! We just called you the Kid.

Well, I'm real glad yer doin' good, An thanks for this here cd; Ben'd like to hear it if he could, "Ned Cole--Blue Mountain Melody".

His marker's already there, He'd like it if you stopped by. The writin' just says, "Ben Laird, At the bunkhouse in the sky."

Poems by Charlene Schilling

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