Ed Brown: Mt. Whitney Pack Trains Packer and Cowboy Poet
Cowboy Poetry by Ed Brown
Out of Print |I [Ray DeLea] first met Ed in the summer of 1965 while working for Mt. Whitney Pack Trains. I was as green as they come city slicker who hadn't the faintest bit of knowledge about mules or horses. I don't recall even seeing either up to this point in time. Ed, on the other hand, was your typical "aggie" guy who seem to know quite a bit. Even if he knew nothing, he just appeared to know more than me. With his red hair, he was immediately nicknamed "Red." Being only 5' 7" I was soon to be name "the pigmy packer." Ed was quite the smoker. It seemed that he always had a cigarette between his lips. With his cowboy hat and boots, he seemed quite the cowhand. I'll never forget our first summer at the pack station. Ed, my brother Tom, and I spent an entire week camped out in relentless rain at Outpost Camp on the Mt. Whitney Trail. Outpost Camp was located 5.3 miles up the trail in an area dominated by rocks, streams, and willows. Every day the three of us would make the trek another 3 miles up the trail from Outpost Camp to Trail Camp where we would tie up our horses, unpack our mule of shovels and pickaxes and hike another mile up the trail where the 97 switchbacks are. There we would begin shoveling snow off of the Mt. Whitney Trail. At 13,000' this was quite the laughing picture. Every day we were pickaxing and shoveling snow while it was snowing at 13,000'. Without the pickaxe the job would have been more than impossible. The repeated snowing and melting rendered bands of ice in between layers of snow up to a total thickness over 6 feet deep in places. I think you are beginning to get the picture of the pure hell we endured for five days. It was even more difficult for Ed who was gasping for air at 13,000' because of his relationship with smoking. Every day Ed would swear that he would never light up another cigarette; but, as soon as he got into our soaking wet camp at Outpost Camp ... that was the first thing he lit up.
Ed was a great packing buddy. He worked for the outfit on and off during my high school and college summers, while I worked there every summer. I'm sure glad he gave me a copy of his poetry book at our Mt. Whitney Packer's Reunion in 1995. I will always have fond memories of Ed and his book of poetry to go along with those memories.
Where are you Ed?
The rancher's son had lost his heart
To a gal so sweet and nice;
So he sought out this old cowboy
To acquire some advice.
On the sacred state of marriage
This old cowboy spoke out true;
Most successful men are married.
Of the failures, most are too.
On longevity of married folks
Now he was heard to say
You really won't live longer
But it sure will seem that way.
That two can live as cheap as one
Has passed down through the ages.
The old boy said that probably
Didn't take in cowboy wages.
For a rancher to take on a wife
The old cowboy had found
Was most successful when she had
A payin' job in town.
His final thoughts on marriage
He swore were truly tested.
Never argue with a woman
When she's tired -- or she's rested.
I've been known to spend time in barrooms,
Call 'em saloons if yo choose,
But whether I stay and spend all my pay
Depends on lots more than the booze.
Now I don't go to town all that often,
From the ranch it seems really quite far,
But if I'm to return less the few bucks I've earned
Depends on who's behind that bar.
If there's an old boy in an apron,
Who's friendly but white as a sheet,
I'll have a few drafts and maybe some laughs
And wander on off down the street.
If I stay 'til my pockets are empty,
Then borrow and beg and write checks,
You can bet that the gender of the bartender
Is one of the opposite sex.
If I walk in and she lets out "Howdy,
Have a seat Tex, I'm glad that yer here",
Even though my name's Buck, I feel I'm in luck
And I'm stuck from the very first beer.
She may be a shade short of gorgeous,
Maybe run hard and put away wet,
But if she sounds sincere with what I want to hear
I ain't met one that I don't like yet.
When I go broke and swear not to come back,
I know that those are useless vows
'Cuz that old bar gals face just can't be replaced
By the back end of these danged old cows.
I started him at three years old;
He was quick and keen to learn.
Lots of easy outside work
Taught him to stop and turn.
For two years in the hackamore
He learned the ways of cattle;
Then two-reined 'til he rode straight up
Light hands is half the battle.
A jillion pairs cut at the gate
Taught him their every move.
Then slowly he developed style,
Both confident and smooth.
And so down to the county fair
I hauled this special horse,
To show folks what a hand I am
And promptly went off course.
A cowboy saddle's judged three ways,
Though some would argue four;
How it fit your horses, rubs your rump,
And how it lasts, no more.
The fourth thing is the way it looks,
To reflect the owner's taste,
But skipping step one, two, or three
Makes number four a waste.
Like many other things in life,
I've found out, with regret;
It's just not always the same thing - -
What you see and what you get.
The craftmanship that I admire
Enhances, not disguises,
So artistry and usefulness
Need not mean compromises.
The outlaws made their getaway
Horseback on rocky ground.
The posse was made up of clerks
And other men from town.
But the sheriff was a tracker
Of wide renown, you see,
Besides being an expert shot
And law authority.
He knelt beside the fading tracks
He knew he was the best.
"I'm on the rascals' trail now,
Four of 'em, headed west"
"One of 'em riding a by mare
Who drags one foot, off rear
Two sorrel geldings, shod three weeks
And a small mule with their gear"
One of the clerks took this all in
But was confused, at least
The other stuff might just be true
But the tracks were headed east.
I mean to tell you that I've paid my dues
And cowboyed all over the west,
I've rolled my bed and scratched my head
A searchin' for one of the best.
I've worn out good saddles and worked lots of cattle
For some good men, but listen:
Just what I've needed I know have conceded
Was somethin" that seemed to be missin'.
Like the outfit up north that screamed back and forth
I can still feel the old foreman's rages
Everything that they done was performed at a run
Well, they don't pay me hollerin' wages.
Or the cattle got fat and you had a new hat
And had started a coupla nice horses,
And were thinkin' you'd got you a permanent spot,
Then the owner he up and divorces!
Or the calves shipped and gone, the last shoe nailed on,
And the licks all a rimmin' with salt,
The Boss says no harm in comencin' the farmin';
You tell me is leavin' my fault?
Winters that snow and horses that blow
Can sure make that old highway beckon.
But I don't feel inclined that the problem was mine
So it must be their problem, I reckon.
I hungrily sign my name on the line;
Cash is low and there ain't much more gas.
When they cut me my horses I know that of course
This job isn't the one that wil last.
But the place looks all right, the fences are tight
There's good grass and a clear running stream
I think I'm in luck 'cuz it's awful good chuck
And I notice the cook's shirt is clean.
The first day of work and we make a big circle
To mark calves and sort off the dries.
I do what I can to hold up my end,
And for once I am gladly surprised.
There ain't no big hurry, no whipin' and spurrin'
But they're gettin' an awful lot done
There's a calf on the ground each time you look around
And I ain't seen a horse in a run.
The crew's a collection, Nevadans to Texans,
From oxbows to long tapaderos.
There's concho collectors, Montana defectors,
Cowboys, buckaroos and vaqueros.
Each man does his share, and performs it with care,
Though their backgrounds are not all the same.
Their styles all blend - - they're cow workin' men
And teamwork's the name of the game.
The grub is supreme, the cowboss a dream,
Responsible, honest and fair;
The bunkhouse is heated, the livestock well treated,
and the hands can sure handle their share.
It's been a long quest, been all over the west
For the right horses, country, and men,
It's been several years and you'll still find me here
And I doubt I'll be driftin' again.
Now when it comes to roping,
I guess I'm pretty tough.
I've been known to seldom miss 'em,
If the field is big enough.
And with my reputation,
I rarely miss a chance
To drag 'em to the branding fire
At every neighbor's ranch.
But the day I'm telling you about
And I'm not making fun,
I actually and cross-my-heart
Didn't miss a one.
We'd gathered and we'd split the herd,
And these calves they were beauties.
And then we looked up toward the boss
To divvy up the duties.
He looked at us, assigning chores
"You do that one, you do this one"
And then he looked at me and said"
"Catch heads until you miss one!"
And so I necked the first one,
Really fast and neat;
He waited and when things looked right,
He came up with two feet.
We kept it up for several more,
I started thinking this:
Maybe this could be the day
When I actually don't miss.
And so we went down through the calves,
Me heading and him heeling
My shot was working every time,
A quite unusual feeling.
We went through a hundred and some-odd calves
And I'm catching like a fever.
And then I realize this old boy
Ain't missing nothing either.
The last one finally showed up
And I caught him like the others.
The old boy caught two feet again,
And we turned 'em with their mothers.
I realized what I had done.
It nearly made me shiver.
I hate to say it but my loop
Was made by Powder River.
I'd run that calf table headcatch
For almost the whole morning.
I made this little poem up
'Cuz it sure got real boring.