Bruce Kiskaddon Poems >>
The Stampede

The afterglow fades and the daylight is failing,
Deep gloom settles over the valley so wide;
The slow moving column of cattle goes trailing,
The men that were silent, now sing as they ride.
For the cattle are nervous-They break and they rally;
They've been getting worse since the set of the sun.
They're used to the mountains, they fear the wide valley;
They're off of their range and they're ready to run.
The leaders break back, and the herd ceases drifting;
The cordon of riders looks pitifully thin
For the army of steers that are surging and shifting,
But the boys from the mountains are holding them in.
The horses are ready and up on their mettle,
They know what it means, they're giving them room.
But slowly the herd is beginning to settle-
The cow-boys are bedding them down in the gloom.
"Oh beat the drum lowly and play the fife slowly."
Two cow-punchers sing as they meet and turn back.
One jolly vacquero sings "Billy Vaniero."
Another one sings of "The Tumble Down Shack."
You hear the old tune, with its sad wailing minor,
Of "Oh Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie."
While faint from the distance, but clearer and finer
Rings out the old melody "Mother Machree."
The hours drag on and the cattle are sleeping.
Except for the singing it's silent as death.
Through the yuccas and greasewood
the night wind comes creeping,
So softly you scarce hear the sound of its breath.
A gopher hole does it-a horse makes a blunder-
He recovers himself but he snorts as he leaps.
The cattle are off with a rumble like thunder
And over the valley the avalanche sweeps.
Race! Race for the front, every man that's behind them.
Get out on the point and help mill the stampede.
The holes and brush and the ditches, don't mind them
And ride for your life if you're caught in the lead.
There's tons upon tons in their onrushing forces,
These wild mountain cattle unruly and large.
They're bigger than mules and they're stronger than horses,
And swift in their rush as a cavalry charge.
The well-seasoned riders are not a bit tardy-
The cattle are quick but the men are the same.
On tough mountain horses, sure-footed and hardy,
The cow-boys are taking a stack in the game.
They're skillful and willing, they start the herd milling;
They circle around them, they sing and they call.
The mad pace grows slower, the dust clouds sink lower;
At last they stop running; They've started to bawl.
They halt and start backing; they jam-they are packing.
They stop. They are standing all silent and still!
Don't crowd them! Be steady! Keep wide but be ready.
They may settle down, but they're likely to spill.
A steer snuffs and bellows; two dare-devil fellows
Are caught in the front, but they're off at full speed.
You can hear them both singing-their voices are ringing-
Grim death's at their heels but they're crowding the lead.
The herd starts to scatter, but that doesn't matter;
It's every one now to do what he thinks best.
In front or behind them, they race where they find them;
They do what they can and turn over the rest.
At last the light comes and the stars have all faded,
The bleary-eyed riders look haggard and drawn.
Their strong mountain horses are weary and jaded
But slowly they gather the herd in the dawn.
On comes the "Remuda" and every one changes;
They breakfast in relays-they're back on their way.
It's little they worry-these boys of the ranges.
It's just what a cow-puncher calls a long day.
They are every one used to that sort of a battle.
It's just a hard night; they're glad it is gone.
It's nothing, so long as they don't lose their cattle,
And every one's there when they meet in the dawn.