By Christy Swift

From joy to grief, humor to spirituality, cowboy poetry creates an authentic snapshot of rural America featuring horses, ranch life, and sometimes an old hat.

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Week is January 24th through 29th. The most famous celebration takes place in Elko, Nevada, where the Western Folklife Center has been bringing together cowboy poets since 1985.

With our ranching traditions in Florida’s Heartland, we have plenty of cowboy poets of our own. Let’s meet a few of them.

Brad Phares

Brad Phares is an 8th generation Florida rancher, artist, storyteller, and conservationist. His family owns and operates the Lazy JP Ranch in Okeechobee. Brad started storytelling in elementary school and got serious about writing poetry in high school. “Working at the ranch in the summer, bouncing around on a tractor—doing that sort of job you got a lot of time staring out the windshield with not much else to do,” he says.

“A Cowman’s Valentine” depicts the very real struggle cattlemen have to maintain their livelihood amidst factors they can’t control, like market behavior.

These days, Brad’s poetry focuses on conservation and the history of ranching in America. His poem “Crooked and Clear” is a kind of love letter to the Kissimmee River. “It’s a metaphor looking back at the river historically, how it was when our ancestors knew it, and how it was and has been abused through the years,” Brad says. You can hear him recite the poem in a video on his website at www. as well as order a signed copy of his book, “Celtic Cowhunters.”

A Cowman’s Valentine

So here it is Valentine’s Day
And I’ve got something to say; While most folks are buying gifts; Spending cash hand over fist; Know with half a chance I would too; And I’m not just ignoring you

But those calf prices sure took a fall; Still, with you I’ve got it all So please take my IOU,
And I’ll make it up to you
When the market turns around; And new calves are on the ground

I ain’t bought a dozen roses; Damn they’re high, holy Moses!
No candy or mushy Hallmark card; No jewelry nor plants for the yard; Didn’t buy you pretty lingerie;
Lucky, you prefer t-shirts anyway

Damn this market for taking a fall; Thank God with you I’ve got it all; And that you trust my IOU
Knowing I’ll make it up to you; When the prices turn around; And new calves are on the ground.

Despite hardship, we’ve got true love; That shines just like the stars above; Two hitched together as a team; Forging ahead, chasing one dream; It takes a very special bride;
To go through life at a rancher’s side

So let the market take a fall
No matter what, we’ve got it all; I’ll offer another IOU Knowing I’ll make it up to you; When the prices turn around; And new calves are on the ground

Sean Sexton
Indian River County

Sean Sexton grew up on his family’s Treasure Hammock Ranch in Indian River County and divides his time between managing a 700-acre cow-calf and seed stock operation, painting, and writing. More of a “poet cowboy” than a “cowboy poet,” Sean is deeply involved with the poetry community, having read at the Miami Book Fair International, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, and the High Road Poetry and Short Fiction Festival in Winston Salem, North Carolina. He’s currently on his second term as the poet laureate for Indian River County and is in the running to become the state’s poet laureate. This February 17th and 18th, Sean has been invited to perform at the Lone Star State Poetry Gathering in Alpine, TX.

Sean has kept a daily sketch book and writing journal since 1973, capturing thoughts and images of daily life on the ranch. He shares his poem “Old Cow Museum” originally published in the Night Heron Barks journal in 2022, which talks about that place on every ranch where they put cows that they can’t do anything with. “In a way it’s about old friends,” Sean says. “It’s very sentimental and very real, very sad, too.”

You can hear Sean read “Old Cow Museum” at His books of poetry, “May Darkness Restore” and the brand-new “Portals” can be found at https://www. His poetry book “Blood Writing” can be found at

Like soldiers from the front, they come hobbling—veterans of time’s war—dragging limbs, comporting brokenness—shambling on to assemble at the trough. The heifer with a turned back foot is always in the lead, maimed in calf-hood in a bovine crush, and culled from the August load to stow here, unsalable, where she’s grown and got bred out of season when a Brahma bull spirited in and fertilized her like Danae.

The elderly blind dam smells her way to feed—outpaced by the throng. We can’t send her to market—that maze opened on the trailer door as grim as her own labyrinth —where and how would she go? They’d foot us a bill for the pathetic parody played out. Here she stays until death closes her paddock of memory: every shallow and rise branch, and barb relearned again in her daily trace unless she must follow her ear—or reckon the air.

Time stands still in the Old Cow Museum,
time present, time past that empties and
fills the wombs of calf streams. Time of
no season, no accounting as the daily orb arrives to no consequence. Where the crippled brahma that can’t make it down the lane,
glows in the distance like a cumulonimbus over the Bahamas. She calved, her first year in captivity, whelp—slight as her udder— melted into the woodwork soon as we caught sight

of him. Here she stays, barren augury of an unspoken beatitude—

violating every scruple of cattle-breeding— companion to the arthritic angus matron bought one year in the Carolinas at the end of a sale. Attrition could be her name as she struggles to her portion like your grandmother through the aisles of the grocer, cries loudest when Sunday’s brunch must wait ‘til after church. And every calving season orphans emerge— to count among the world’s brood, be added in: the first timer’s get she wouldn’t own, an unclaimed twin,

Daughter of the cancer-eye cow that withered away two months shy of the wean, a listless starveling of the fretful

Madonna of the swollen teats—taken and
given to shoulders and wits, and wastrel whose mammy up and died mid-winter, she—wild as a snake—to be gotten out and finessed into this house of mishap; anyone in this business needs what they contain: an out of the way place, quelling grain, and peace of ancient dames.

At the end of suffering there is a door.

And some bright morning, we’ll find another gone off to the unfenced field, a shadow curled beneath a bough: collect of leather and bone, gather of manure, birds already there. And what we’d always taken for the wind, an unceasing benediction.

Clint Raulerson

Fifth generation rancher and former PRCA bullfighter Clint Raulerson hails from a family that came to Florida in the 1800s. His dad and grandfather were renowned cowboys. “It’s all I ever wanted to do,” says Clint, who is now managing a Nextgen Cattle operation in Kansas. His cowboy poetry is born from the things he’s experienced as well as the stories he’s heard from others.

Clint published “Cowboy Legacy, A Lifetime in the Saddle,” a compilation of poetry and short stories, in 2016 and plans to re-release it this year, along with two new books. He’s also working on a children’s book series.

“White Cadillac” is based on a true story experienced by a fellow cattleman’s wife out at Yeehaw Junction. It’s humorous and not for the weak of stomach, but I’ll let Clint tell it… You can listen to Clint recite this poem on his Facebook page.

I’m gonna tell you a story about an old cow truck And a lady in a Cadillac with the worst kinda luck

The Semi was driven by old Billy Beam
A load to the market would make for a good day it seemed

Ole Billy left Bull Hammock about noon on that day Rolling along with a load of beef cows makin’ his way

From the Martin county grade to hwy 70 he shifted through every gear He’d made this trip to the market a 1000 times over the years

But today was a day he’d never get out of his mind
Cause what was about to happen would put the whole outfit in a bind

Ya see when Billy reached ole Hwy 441 the stop light was glowin’ red So he eased her to a stop, his heavy load weighing 1200 lbs a head

He was sittin’ there a waitin’ for his light to turn green Then something happened like nothing he’d ever seen

He looked in the mirror and here came a big fancy Cadillac car It was too fancy for Chobee it was kinda bizarre

It was long and white and it had no top
It pulled next to the trailer and that’s where it stopped

And that lady drivin’, she looked like she was straight outta Hollywood
Bleached blonde hair, low cut top and fancy fingernails said she’d been livin a life that’s good

And what she didn’t see was one of those cows had her hind end to the side And you know that old cows belly was shaken from this long truck ride

What happened to that poor lady next was kind of obscene Cuz out of that ole cow shot a substance that was green

Her face was a look of shock and dismay
At what had came out of that danged old Charolais

She tried to go but couldn’t retreat
And that green recycled grass landed right in her seat

From that high up it hit that seat and it scattered
In her hair in her eyes even in her shoes it splattered

Billy got out and tried to assist
But that lady fussed and hollered and hissed

She drove away cussin’ with a mess
on her clothes
And she really needed an old water hose

So remember folks If your traveling through old Okeechobee in your convertible Cadillac If you like your pretty clean seats, you better stay back!!!