| || Notes for Squire Omar Barker:|
http://www.abqtrib.com/here/urh122498_cowboy.html. The Albuquerque Tribune, December 24,1998:NEWMEXICO,U.S.A. Church on the range By Ollie Reed Jr. TRIBUNE REPORTER
New Mexico author S. Omar Barker and his palomino horse, Nick, pose for a photograph during a 1950 hunting trip. Barker, who grew up hunting and working cattle in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, wrote thousands of articles, poems and stories and won two prized Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America. He is best remembered for "A Cowboy's Christmas Prayer," verse about a cowhand's talk with God.
A simple, soulful prayer from the heart of a cowboy becomes part of Christmas tradition
In November 1962, New Mexico author S. Omar Barker received a telegram asking permission for his poem"A Cowboy's Christmas Prayer" to be read on the Lawrence Welk TV show.Barker, a sunup-to- sundown,every-day-of-the-week professional writer for much of his more than 90 years, telegraphed back that for $100 they had a deal. Back again comes a telegraph from the TVshow's agent asking if Barker would settle for $50."Fifty bucks no steak. Beans," Barker wired in response on Nov. 26, 1962. "But will accept anyway to help TV poor folks."
Jodie Phillips, wife of Barker's nephew Bob Phillips, smiled as she pointed out copies of the telegrams pasted in a thick scrapbook put together by Barker himself and kept by the Phillipses in their Santa Fe apartment."If he didn't sell apoem, he didn't eat,"Jodie Phillips said of Barker, who died in Las Vegas, N.M., in April 1985, just a couple of months shy of his 91st birthday.Apparently the Welk show decided not to use the poem.That was a rarity.Tennessee Ernie Ford and sausage king-country singer Jimmy Dean read it on national television, and it has been reprinted much more than 100 times in collections of Barker's works, anthologies, magazines and Christmas cards.
Leanin' Tree cards of Boulder, Colo., has used the Barker verse -- about a humble cowboy's chat withGod at Chrimastime --more years than not formore than two decades.You wouldn't want to bet the ranch on it, butthere's a chance that outside of Holy Scripture, Clement Moore's "Night Before Christmas" and maybe the words of two or three popular carols,Barker's cowboy prayer has appearedon more American Christmas cards than anything else ever written.
"Omar said he made more money from that poem than from any other one thing he did,"Jodie Phillips said.That's because the poem,which appeared in Barker's 1954 book "Songs of the Saddleman,"strikes a chord with people -- ranchers, farmers, outdoorsmen -- who find God in the beauty andharshness of nature rather than in the pews and pulpits of a church."It's a classic," said GordonSnidow, a New Mexico artist who has made a living out of painting pictures of working cowboys and working ranchers.In the early 1970s, Snidow's painting of a cowboy standing in front of his horse, hat in hands and boots ankle deep in snow, was used to illustrate a Leanin' Tree Christmas card containing Barker's cowboy prayer.
In a phone interview from his Ruidoso home, Snidow said Barker's prayer does in words what he tries to do in paint -- capture the essence of men who work cattle for a living."I think it's marvelous," he said. " I'm proud to be associated with that."
Barker did not have to do any research to come up with the feelings expressed in the prayer by his "sinful cowpoke." He was too self-effacing to claim the gloried title of cowboy, but he had lived the life. Squire Omar Barker (He got a kick out of his S.O.B. initials and once raised cattle under the Lazy SOB brand) was born June 16, 1894, in a log cabin in Sapello Canyon near New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains.He was the youngest of 11 children born to Squire Leander Barker and his wife, Priscilla Jane."They say he was born in Beulah," Jodie Phillips said, "but Beulah wasn't a town. It was what grandma Barker called her house. She named it for the promised land in the Bible, and she had a post office there -- in a desk in the living room."
Omar Barker was college-educated. He got his bachelor's degree from New Mexico Normal University(now New Mexico Highlands) in Las Vegas in 1924 and taught English there. He was a World War I veteran and served one term in the New Mexico Legislature. He became a full-time writer in 1925, and he was, according to Jodie Phillips, a quiet but witty person.He also was tall -- more than 6 feet --and a vigorous man of the wide-open spaces from the inside out and back again to his gizzard.Omar Barker grew up riding horses, working cattle on his father's homestead, and hunting deer and mountain lion in the rugged New Mexico mountains.
For a year before entering military service, he was a U.S. forest ranger in the Carson National Forest. Jodie Phillips said that Omar and his brother Elliott, a noted New Mexico conservationist and an author in his own right, were excellent riders who loved their horses and knew the high country of the Sangre de Cristo range better than many men know their own back yards."Those men used to talk about trees up there,"she said. "They'd say, 'You know that tree that is fire scarred and has a branch on only one side.'Those men were just amazing."
Barker's only novel, a 1966 work aimed atyoung people and titled "Little World Apart," was about growing up on a mountain ranch.It has chapter titles such as "Gathering the Cattle," "Branding Day" and "Snorts in the Dark,"and it was more than a tad autobiographical."
Barker didn't call himself a cowboy, but he had a lot more right to do so than many who do.He did admit to being a writer, but he could hardly get away with claiming otherwise.During his lengthy career, Barker, known as the Sage of Sapello and the Poet Lariat of New Mexico, churned out 1,200 articles, 2,500 poems and 1,500 stories and novelettes, including nine pieces of fiction for the Saturday Evening Post.The Post paid Barker about $2,500 for stories such as "My Gun Talks for Me," "The Girl Who Busted Broncos" and "Don't Pull That Knife!"That was a princely sum in the 1940s and 1950s. "Whenever he would sell something to the Saturday Evening Post, he would buy anothercar," Jodie Phillips said. "He always bought Chevys."
Another major market for Barker and his wife,Elsa, also a writer, was "Ranch Romances," a popular pulp magazine a few decades back.Everything Barker wrote, he methodically cut out and pasted in books that he had bound and stamped with titles such "Pulp Yarns," "Pot Boilers" and "Big Windies." The total output comes to 17 large volumes.Barker's widow died in Albuquerque severalyears ago, so Bob and Jodie Phillips ride herd on Barker's written legacy. The Phillips are responsible for getting two collections of Omar Barker's works published this year:"Ol S.O.B. Sez: Cowboy Limericks,"TwoDot/Falcon Publishing, P.O. Box 1718, Helena, Mont. 59624; paperback; $9.95.Foreword by cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell.And "Cowboy Poetry Classic Rhymes by S. Omar Barker," Cowboy Miner Productions, P.O. Box 9674, Phoenix, Ariz. 85068; hardback; limited edition of 2,000; $19.95 each. Foreword by western novelist Elmer Kelton.
Jodie Phillips is happy about those books but she'd like to see more of Omar Barker's work back in print, "Little World Apart," for example."It's not a sexy, grownup novel, but how many stories do you have about boys growing up in the New Mexico mountains 100 years ago?" she said. "It should be republished.So should 'Born to Battle.' It's such a good collection of animal stories."But, if S. Omar Barker had written nothing otherthan "A Cowboy's Christmas Prayer," his place in cowboy literature would be safe.Of the neatly collected 17 volumes he left behind, the heftiest, most densely packed is the one containing materials relating to the poem -- cards and magazine pages on which it is printed, deposit slips recording payments for its use,letters about it from school children, other writers and former President Dwight Eisenhower.
"A Cowboy's Christmas Prayer" will last because the man who wrote it honored God, respected cowboys and had faith in both.Jodie Phillips said she never heard Barker talk about what inspired him to write the Christmas prayer, but she thinks it's based on his own brand of theology.""There were no churches where Omar grew up," she said. "He believed in God, and I think he had a very strong religious conviction. But he belonged to no sect. He never went to church services.""A Cowboy's Christmas Prayer" will last because even though he never claimed to be a cowboy, S. Omar Barker had a cowboy's heart and a cowboy's soul.
Ollie Reed Jr.'s Trail Tales, stories rooted in the rich history and legend of New Mexico and the Southwest,runs monthly in the You Are Here section of The Tribune's print edition..
"A COWBOY'S CHRISTMAS PRAYER"
I ain't much good at prayin', and You may not know me, Lord -
I ain't much seen in churches where they preach Thy Holy Word,
But You may have observed me out here on the lonely plains,
A-lookin' after cattle, feelin' thankful when it rains,
Admirin' Thy great handiwork, the miracle of grass,
Aware of Thy kind spirit in the way it comes to pass
That hired men on horseback and the livestock that we tend
Can look up at the stars at night and know we've got a Friend.
So here's ol' Christmas comin' on, remindin' us again
Of Him whose coming brought good will into the hearts of men.
A cowboy ain't no preacher, Lord, but if You'll hear my prayer,
I'll ask as good as we have got for all men everywhere.
Don't let no hearts be bitter, Lord.Don't let no child be cold.
Make easy beds for them that's sick and them that's weak and old.
Let kindness bless the trail we ride, no matter what we're after,
And sorter keep us on Your side,in tears as well as laughter.
I've seen ol' cows a-starvin', and it ain't no happy sight:
Please don't leave no one hungry, Lord, on Thy good Christmas night -
No man, no child,no woman,and no critter on four feet.
I'll aim to do my best to help You find 'em chuck to eat.
I'm just a sinful cowpoke, Lord - ain't got no business prayin' -
But still I hope you'll ketch a word or two of what I'm sayin':
We speak of Merry Christmas, Lord - I reckon You'll agree
There ain't no Merry Christmas for nobody that ain't free.
So one thing more I'll ask you Lord:just help us what You can
To save some seeds of freedom for the future sons of man!
- S. Omar Barker,1894-1985
From Rawhide Rhymesby Squire Omar Barker
Jack Potter’s Courtin’
Now young Jack Potter was a man who knowed the ways of steers,
From bur-nest in their hairy tails to ticks that clawed their ears.
A Texican and cowhand,to the saddle bred and born,
He could count the trail herd on the move and never miss a horn.
But one day on a tally,back in eighteen-eighty-four,
He got to actin’ dreamy,and he sure did miss the score.
The Trail Boss knowed the symptoms.Jack,you ain’t no good like this.
I’ll give you just ten days to go and find just what’s amiss!
A "miss" was just what ailed him,for he’d fell in love for sure
With a gal named Cordie Eddy,mighty pretty,sweet and pure.
So now Jack rode a hundred miles,a-sweating with the thought
Ofsweetsome words to ask her with,the way a fellow ought.
I’m just a humble cowhand,Miss Cordie,if you please,
That hereby asks your heart and hand, upon by bended knees!
It sounded mighty simple thus rehearsed upon the trail,
But when he came to Cordie’s house,his words all seemed to fail.
‘Twas Howdy,ma’am,and how’s the crops?And how’s your pa and ma?
For when it came to askin’ her,he couldn’t come to taw.
He took her to a dance one night.The hoss she rode was his.
He’s a dandy little horse,she says.Well,yep, says Jack, He is.
They rode home late together and the moon was ridin’ high,
And Jack,he got to talkin’ ‘bout the stars up in the sky,
And how they’d guide a trail herd like they do see-goin’ ships,
But the words of love and marriage - they just wouldn’t pass his lips!
So he spoke about the pony she was ridin’,and he said:
You’ll note he’s fancy-gaited and don’t never fight his head.
He’s sure a little dandy!she agrees,and heaves a sigh.
Jack says:Why,you can have him - that is - maybe - when I die.
He figured she might savvy what he meant or maybe guess,
And gave him that sweet answer which he longed for,namely yes.
But when they reached the ranch house, he was still a - wonderin’ how
He could pop the question,and he had to do it now
Or wait and sweat and suffer till the drive was done that fall,
When maybe she’d be married,and he’d lose her after all.
He put away her saddle,led the pony to the gate:
I recon I’ll be driftin’,ma’am.It’s gittin’ kinder late.
Her eyes was bright as starlight,and her lips looked sweet as flow’rs.
Says Jack:Now this here pony - is he mine,or is he ours?
Our pony, Jack!she answered,and her voice was soft as moss.
Then Jack, he claims he kissed her - but she claims he kissed the hoss!
S. OMAR BARKER
They asked me: 'What's a windy?'... Well, us cowpokes love to spin
Our yarns around the campfire. Listen how them tales begin:
“Well, boys, I'm goin' to tell you 'bout the time I hunted b’ar.
The fall work all was finished, so I took a pasear
A way up in the timber where the hoot owls have their fun,
To see if I could find some bear and maybe shoot me one.
The day was kinder warmish so I laid down for a nap.
I woke up late that evenin' when I heard a great big snap,
And there beside me stood a bear - I tell you, boys, it's true -
This bear had took my rifle and he'd snapped it right it two!
He throwed the pieces at me as I shinnied up a tree,
Then gave a grunt, spit on his hands and clumb right after me.
By that time it was gittin' dark. I reached the topmost limb.
That bear kept right on comin', so I knowed 'was me or him.
Well, boys, that tree was mighty tall - a lucky thing, no doubt -
For by the time he got it clumb, ol bruin's tongue was out
A lollin' through his slobbers, such a tongue you never see,
As purty, pink and limber as a rubber singletree.
That's what I grabbed aholt of, and I swang him round and round
Until I yanked him inside out, then flang him to the ground.
But here' the part that's funny: I had started down when, wup !
Here come that doggone bear again, a-climbin' right back up !
Looked like he'd somehow turned hisself all right side out once more.
All I could do was grab his tongue the way I had before,
And yank him inside out again. I heard him hit the earth,
Then started squirlin' down that tree for all that I was worth.
But I'd no sooner started down than by the gobs I'll swear,
Tongue out and climbin' fast again, here come that doggone bear !
Well, boys, we kept right on that way until the break of day:
Ten times I yanked him wrong side out, but still he wouldn't stay.
At least that's what I figgered, but as soon as it was light
I saw what I'd been doin', boys, throughout the dark of night.
There lay upon the ground below - my word please do not doubt -
Not one but ten dead grizzly bears, all turned plumb wrong side out.
Big windies, ” if you'd like to know, are tales us cowboys spin
To kinder kill the lonesomes when night comes closin' in:
About the mighty Pecos Bill, with cyclones in his loop;
About the wring-tailed wowser and the barbwire-tailed kadoop.
In fact the so-called windy of the well known cow range stamp,
Ain't nothin' but us cowpokes huntin' grizzly bears - in camp!
Notes from Dorothy from New Mexico.
Thanks for the information! I am a writer and my mother was a writer--not famous like Omar Barker--but my mother was fairly prolific and was also a newspaper reporter for the Las Vegas Daily Optic. I grew up in Las Vegas. I know who Marjorie Phillips is. I have been here all my life, so I know most of the people who are the "old timers." I just retired as a professor from New Mexico Highlands University. I wrote a book (biography) on Dr. Carl Gellenthien, the director of Valmora Tuberculosis Sanatorium which is near Las Vegas.(HOVELS, HACIENDAS, AND HOUSE CALLS.) In it I quoted his poem "Mountain Cemetery," one of many I like. When the book was being written, Omar was elderly and somewhat ill. I wrote to him to ask him permission to quote his poem. He wrote back a very nice letter giving me permission to quote any of his work I wanted!! I was thrilled!
Elsa was a member of PEO. If you ask around, you will probably find some women who belong to it. Most towns have a chapter. It is a women's club which sponsors Cotty College and is a kind of service organization. I used to see Elsa at meetings quite often.
I first heard Omar Barker speak when I was in high school and he was asked to come to my English class at Las Vegas Robertson High School to give a lecture. He talked about poetry. What is poetry?He spent much of his time giving definitions of poetry and verse. He also read a few of his short poems. He had a great sense of humor. I heard him speak a time or two after that, once in an English class when I was in college at New Mexico Highlands University, I think.
He used to tell a funny story about his name, which I'm sure you've probably heard, but I will relate it to you here anyway. He said he went to the livestock office to register a brand. He wanted to use his initials, S.O. B. with the S lying sideways, which is read or said as a LAZY S. So his brand would have beenLazy S - 0 - B.But he said he couldn't get that brand because it was already taken. "Some other Lazy S O Bbeat me to it!" he said. Everyone laughed at that! He also signed some of his books with the Lazy S - 0 - B "brand" after his name, just to be funny. I think those books are worth a lot. Around here nothing by S. Omar Barker sells for less than $100, but a signed edition goes for more.