Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Cowboy's Christmas Dream


Charles M. Russell, the "Cowboy Artist," loved Christmas and painted several pictures for the season. Although he spent winters in California in his later years, memories of Christmases on the western prairies stuck with him.

Winter was hard and often lonely for cowboys. Weather conditions made their work doubly difficult, and often a couple of cowhands spent months together in a line shack on the far reaches of the ranch, guarding their employer's cattle. Their winter horses had to be sturdy enough to support not only the rider but, at times, a half-frozen calf.

In the painting below, two cowboys pay a visit to a pair of lonely line riders, bearing a Christmas gift -- a freshly killed pronghorn. The near rider wears a western coat lined with wool fleece and heavy chaps to ward off the cold. Wolf skins stretched on the cabin walls, no doubt taken from recent predators, help insulate the rough abode. Steam from the horses' nostrils shows just how cold it was outside.

Christmas at the Line Camp. 1904, Charles M. Russell

Russell wrote the following poem in 1917. The misspellings (colloquialisms?) are his, not mine.
Last night I drifted back in dreams

To childhood’s stamping ground

I’m in my little bed, it seems,

The old folks whispering ‘round.

My sox is hung; Maw’s tucked me in;

It’s Christmas eve you see.

I’ve said my prayers, blessed all my kin,

I’m good as good kin be.

But suddenly I’m wakened wide,

From out this youthful dream.

By jingling bells that’s just outside

Hung on some restless team.

Reminded by rheumatic shin,

And lumbagoed back that’s sore,

Whiskered face, hair that’s thin,

I ain’t no kid no more.

And getting my boots I open the door,

And I’m sure surprised to see,

An old time freighter I knowed before,

But Its years since he called on me.

He’s an undersized skinner,

Good natured and stout,

With a team like himself,

All Small.

It’s the same old cuss

Maw tells me about,

Just old Santy Claus, reindeers and all.

He’s aholding his ribbons like an old timer would

When he nods his head to me,

“I wish you’d put me right if you could,

I’m way off the trail,” says he,

“I follow the trail of the stork – it’s strange,

Me missing his track”, says he,

“But I’m guessing that bird

Never touched this range,

For there’s no sign of youngsters I see.

You bachelors have a joyful way

When and wherever you’re found

Forth of July, or Paddy’s day

A-passing the drinks around.

But to get the joy that Christmas brings,

You must be acquainted with three,

A homes but a camp without these things,

A wife, the stork, and me.”

And then my bunk pal gives me a shake,

And growls in a cranky way,

“You’ve got all the bedding,

I’m cold as a snake.

I wonder what day is today.

Now here's an excerpt from Dashing Druid, in which Tye Devlin comes to town for supplies after a long winter stretch in a line shack with another cowboy.

Tye dismounted and wound his reins around a hitching post outside the general store, near a buckboard awaiting its owner. He’d volunteered to ride into Clifton and pick up supplies for the line shack he shared with a colored cowboy named Dewey Sherman. The trip was a welcome break from the winter tedium. Riding the border along their section of the ranch, to stop cattle from straying and drive off predators, was a cold, lonely job.

David had stationed him as far from the Double C as possible to keep him away from Lil – to prevent trouble with her father, Tye both understood and resented – but she was never far from his thoughts. He’d foolishly hoped this change of pace might take his mind off her for a short while. So far it hadn’t worked.

Two months had passed since the social in Meridian, yet he couldn’t stop picturing her in that tantalizing red dress, with her beautiful dark hair rippling down her back. He also couldn’t forget the way she’d gazed up at him when she was in his arms, and how feeling her excitement had made his blood pound. He still thought himself unworthy of her, but that didn’t stop him from longing to hold her and kiss her again. As always, he became half aroused at the mere thought.

Unbuttoning his jacket, he resettled his gun belt and told himself he’d simply gone far too long without a woman. While in town, he ought to stop by the saloon and take one of the birds of paradise upstairs for a while, but alas, the idea soured the instant it crossed his mind. He wanted Lil, no other.

Impatient with his unruly thoughts, he stepped up onto the boardwalk and crossed to the store entrance. He was about to open the door when it swung inward and an overloaded customer plowed into him. A feminine cry of alarm rang out as tinned goods and paper-wrapped parcels toppled from a crate the woman carried.

Tye grunted in reaction. Then, to his astonishment, he found himself face to face with the object of his pent up desires. Lil stared back at him, lips parted and brown eyes wide with shock.

“Careful,” he said belatedly, reaching out to stabilize the wobbling crate. Despite the gloves he wore when he touched her hands, her agitated emotions slipped past his mental barriers with ease, as always. Amid that confused mix of surprise and alarm, he detected a thread of gladness. An answering rush of pleasure swept through him. He longed madly to kiss her.

Dashing Druid for Kindle
Dashing Druid in print
Merry Christmas!


  1. Lovely Lyn. Hearing Poem and all reminds me why I like to write about the Old West. I'm old fashioned at heart and love the old stories. Thanks for this reminder.

  2. Lovely Lyn. Hearing Poem and all reminds me why I like to write about the Old West. I'm old fashioned at heart and love the old stories. Thanks for this reminder.

  3. Thanks, Sharla. We are so much alike. I also love stories of the old times, especially about cowboys. :-)

  4. It makes me cold looking at that photo with the family in front of the shack. As much as we complain about lives little mishaps, we sure do have it a lot nicer than they did.

    Beautiful poem.

  5. Lyn, I love Charles Russell's painting, but didn't know about his poem. Thanks.

  6. Paisley, that's the genius of Russell's painting. You are so right, we have it pretty easy nowadays.

  7. Caroline, neither did I until I started reading about him. According to one writer, Charlie was like a kid who never grew up. He had a whimsical sense of humor that often comes out in his paintings and in this poem.

  8. I have always loved his paintings.The poem was at once funny and sad...but filled with love. I adored that.
    The excerpt is very good--Lyn, you do have a wonderful writing style. Congratulations on your success! And Merry Christmas and whatever else is appropriate--

  9. Celia, I agree the poem is poinient, and I'm glad you enjoyed the excerpt. Thank you for your kind words. Merry Christmas!

  10. Thanks, Lyn for this post and sharing Russell's poem. I, too, am a fan of his paintings and now of his poetry. Merry Christmas!

  11. Carra, it's my pleasure to share Charlie Russell's glimpses of the Old West. I'm glad you like the poem.

    Happy holidays to you and yours!


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