Colorado’s celebrated cowboy bard
Floyd Beard penned one of his most recent cowboy poems, Riding Wet Today, from his ranch south of Kim, Colo., overlooking the canyons that are unique to the area. That day he wrote the fog was as “thick as flour gravy” and the country, which had long been dry, was steaming as the rain fell. It’s a poem all cowboys can likely relate to, even if not in recent months.
Beard writes and rhymes and performs cowboy poetry but much of his poetry thrives as a result of the power of place he lends to each line. The memories of breathing in the smells of “water on the sandstone” and “wet sage on the breeze” are sensory memories won through a lifetime as a cowboy. He worked as a cowboy on the western slope in the 1970s and 80s and would write in the evenings, not even yet aware that cowboy poetry was a genre. He began sharing his poetry and has continued throughout his life, making a name for himself as one of the nation’s premier Western entertainers.
Previously named the Male Cowboy Poet of the Year by the International Western Music Association twice, Beard has performed classic poems and his original pieces throughout the western U.S. and Alberta, Canada.
“A lot of the people I knew in the Western entertainment business that I held up on a pedestal as stars, I got to know them and got to be on a first name basis with them,” he said. “A lot of the stars today in Western entertainment are good friends of ours.”
Beard and his wife, Valerie, who is a cowboy poet in her own right, will travel to Elko in January for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Beard said he plans to perform two of his newest poems, Riding Wet Today and Mount Up, as well as some classics of his own and others. One of his favorites to perform is The Man from Snowy River by Australian cowboy bard, Banjo Paterson. Other favorites include Henry Herbert Knibbs, known for his landscape descriptions, and Bruce Kiskaddon, who cowboyed beginning in 1898 in the Picket Wire Canyonlands of southeastern Colorado and who was frequently published in Denver’s Western Livestock Journal. Though some don’t consider Robert Service a cowboy poet, Beard said he’s certainly a Western poet and when he performs Service’s 1907 The Cremation of Sam McGee, he said it is a crowd favorite.
“I’m a visual person,” he said. “I love word choice and putting those words together to build a picture in your mind. So that’s where a lot of my poetry starts.”
Beard also enjoys penning and performing humorous poems, and among his most popular original poems is Harley’s Last Parade. Written on the trip back from the Columbia River Cowboy Gathering and Music Festival, it is about a cowboy who, through a series of events, unintentionally gives his brother a ride in the fair parade. Of course, his brother is in his casket in the back of the pickup truck, his last request, and turns many heads when he sits up and begins waving to the crowd.
When he initially wrote Harley’s Last Parade, he said he added too much detail and killed the poem. Never one to throw out notes or drafts, the poem sat in his file for several years before he tackled it once again.
“I discarded about two-thirds of it, gave it a whole new meter and rhyming scheme, and started over,” he said. “It came out as a wonderful poem.”
Beard said he writes every day and draws on a lifetime of places and experiences, weaving a poem filled with imagery from hundreds of thoughts and moments. He said he’s enthusiastic about the younger cowboy poets that are performing and said there are a number of talented young poets coming up the ranks. He said the audiences who come to gatherings and performances are passionate about the genre of cowboy poetry and the Western lifestyle.
Beard has released four albums of poetry, Braided Reflections Volumes 1 and 2, Short Grass Country, Horse Tales and Cow Trails, and a book titled Four Aces and a Queen. The latter is a collection of original cowboy poetry by Beard, Valerie Beard, Dennis Russell, Terry Nash and Dale Page. All are available on floydbeardcowboy.com.
Riding Wet Today by Floyd Beard
Fog! Thick as flour gravy,
Water dripping from the trees,
Shore wish I had my slicker,
Hoss is soaked up past his knees.
And he’s slipping just a little,
Water running down the trail.
But I don’t mind big wet raindrops,
Long as there ain’t no lightning bolts nor hail.
I like the sound of splashing mud,
As my hoss plods on through the mire.
But the fun of riding ends real quick,
When clouds start throwing down ice and fire.
The smell of water on the sandstone,
Wet sage on the breeze.
I love the rain here in the canyons,
Though I’m soaked from dripping trees.
This country is sure resilient.
Years of drought then a week of wet,
The grass just starts to grow,
Sure as the evening sun will set.
The grass is already growing,
Signs of life can now be seen.
A few days of warming sunshine,
The entire range will be cloaked in green.
Meadow flowers will soon be blooming’,
As nature presents it’s own bouquet.
And it will turn hot and dry again.
But my socks are wet today.
Yes, drought here in the West,
Is a rancher’s constant bane.
But today I’m riding wet,
Soaked head to toe by blessed rain.