"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Through the ragged skies


Watercolor, 140# Kilimanjaro paper

" ...Plowin' through the ragged skies, and up a cloudy draw...."

Few would describe the Texas Panhandle as beautiful. Terrible is a more apt word, in isolation, vastness, winter or summer, or the vagaries of spring and fall.
But I love it and saw this today, heading home from Amarillo, immediately thinking of Ghost Riders in the Sky.


It was written in  1948 by Stan Jones from Arizona, but I somehow think he must have seen the Illano Estacado and Caprock of the Panhandle.

The song tells of a cowboy who has a vision of red-eyed, steel-hooved cattle thundering across the sky, being chased by the spirits of damned cowboys. One warns him that if he does not change his ways, he will be doomed to join them, forever "trying to catch the Devil's  herd across these endless skies." Jones said that he had been told the story when
More than 50 performers have recorded versions including Vaughn Monroe, Frankie Lane, Marty Robbins and my favorite, Johnny Cash. Some say it inspired the doors song "Riders on the Storm.

I have loved and cursed the Panhandle's long stretches of road, the endless skies, the heavy I-40 traffic, the lonely back roads, the brutal winter,  spring and summer weather. Few people. Ranch country, Comanche Country. Buffalo country. While many may call it boring, I do not. There is room for imagination here.

"An old cowboy went ridin' out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red-eyed cows he saw
Plowin' through the ragged skies, and up a cloudy draw
Their brands were still on fire, and their hooves were made of steel
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky
For he saw the riders comin' hard, and he heard their mournful cry
Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred their shirts all soaked with sweat
They're ridin' hard to catch that herd, but they ain't caught 'em yet'
'Cause they've got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snorting fire, as they ride on, hear their cry
As the riders loped on by him, he heard one call his name
"If you want to save your soul from hell a riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today, or with us you will ride
Tryin' to catch the devil's herd, across these endless skies"

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