I enjoy cowboy poetry.
I reckon that’s because I was weaned on 1950s Western TV shows and cap pistols, not because I grew up a cowboy. I did once shake hands with Rex Allen, and more than a half-century later I sat in an El Paso hotel lobby one night and visited for a couple of hours with Dale Robertson.
I even worked for more than three years in a Bonanza steakhouse, cooking steaks named after Hoss and Little Joe, but that didn’t make me a son of the West. Though truly just an Ozarks farm boy, I’m still a lover of everything Western. Of late that’s come to include the writings of a genuine daughter of the West now living right here in Dallas County.
Her new book, “Sundown Horses,” is for all who appreciate cowboy poetry, horses, cattle, childhood, country living, the romance of Western skies and the charm of Ozarks hollers and glades. Did I leave anyone out?
No? Neither does Ozarks transplant Betty Lynne McCarthy in her 41 selected “Fragments of a Cowgirl’s Life.”
Now, I don’t make a habit of writing book reviews, even less of writing about books of rhymes. But, that’s not exactly what Betty’s book is, at least not in the vein of Robert Frost or William Shakespeare. It’s more akin to the works of Waddie Mitchell or Baxter Black, but not quite that, either.
It’s pure Montana cowgirl — pure, unadorned Betty, just writing about her life, as in the opening lines from “Winter Shoes”:
Horse steps falling, our hearts calling,
steaming breath against the cold
the horse and mine to intertwine,
steel shoes squeak on frozen snow.
Give you chill? If not, the opening lines of “Tested” will:
Cold October gumbo spread
a chill along my back,
I was staring at the cinches
tied to my old kack.
The colt within these latigos
was laying mighty still.
I remember little of our
sliding, rolling spill….
It gets better, but I won’t spoil it for you.
In a different vein, the vivid opening lines of “Evelyn’s poem”:
October frost had decorated
Salt grass covered bends
And flats along our Cedar Creek
Below Grue Ranch pens.
A bronco’s squeals and grunts cast echoes
Agains the clay cutbanks
An early morning chill had touched
This frisky pony’s flanks.
To better understand what Betty writes, it helps to know where she’s from and what she’s done, but you’ll figure it out within a few pages.
Just to give you a leg up, though, I’ll explain: Betty is a younger daughter of the Grue family, Norwegian immigrants who established the Grue Ranch in eastern Montana in 1904. The chronology of the ranch is outlined in a spiral-bound book recently published by Betty, “Lives & Legacies of Grue Ranch; Four Generations.” It’s not poetry, just tales of the generations, struggles and rewards of life in some of the most daunting and beautiful country God ever made.
It’s where Betty grew up on the backs of horses and among cattle and sheep, as well as tough-as-leather real Westerners. She sums that up in a paragraph about riding one evening “across the sage-covered hills” with her dad, Charles: “He shared memories of past sheep camps and four-up hitches, pieces of his glory days. I realize now this was the wealth beyond production and ownership. Our life was the glory and the gold of growing up on Grue Ranch along the banks of East Fork Cedar Creek.”
Grue Ranch as Betty had known it ceased to exist in 1996. She and husband Sean McCarthy took their share of the cattle and tried ranching in New Mexico, then moved in a couple of years to a sprawling spread in the hills of Dallas County, where they continue to live much as if they were still in Montana.
An accomplished poet, well-known in the Western United States and Canada, Betty is a regular participant at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering each January in Elko, Nevada, and a member of Western Writers of America. “Sundown Horses” and “Lives & Legacies” are available by writing Betty at P.O. Box 230, Buffalo, MO 65622. “Sundown Horses” is also sold locally at Headings Brothers Feeds and Greasy Creek Store near Buffalo, as well as at Yates Rustic Range Trading east of Preston on US 54.
Copyright 2021, James E. Hamilton; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of his works in Ozarks RFD 2010-2015, available online or from the author.