George Rhoades owns a hay farm in Stephens County, but his book of poems, “Along the Chisholm Trail” (Outskirts Press, $9.95), offers a broad picture of life, past and present, on the plains of Oklahoma and West Texas.
His several careers — soldier, printer, rancher and journalist — are reflected in some of the poems, but the majority paint a picture of bygone days on the plains. In the nostalgic opening, on the hardships and joys of the cattle drives, he sets the stage in the first two of 22 verses:
The cowboys who came up the trail,
Dusty, grimy, gritty, sweatin',
Drivin' the long, windin' herds,
Didn't know they were creatin'
A myth, a legend, shapin' a dream
For a nation and ridin' into history;
Epics, icons, symbols, heroic images
Emerged later to build the story.
Danger on the trail is covered in “Crossing the Red,” in which animals and cowboys are lost when they pick the wrong place to ford the river. “Farm for Sale” and “Dyin' Small Towns” tell of tough times, while “In Troubled Times” encourages folks to follow the cowboy's way of meeting adversity.
“Maggie Belle and the Yeller Moon Saloon” shows how trail riders relax and sometimes get in trouble. There is humor, too. In “Anger,” the poet vents about the driver of a shiny new Lexus who cut him off from a parking spot. A six-line verse “At Wal-Mart” observes the comings and goings of shoppers.
And in “How Hot and Dry Was It?” a group of cowboys “settin' around the campfire” come up with competing versions of the worst summer ever. Some of their comments might be appropriate today in Oklahoma.
Rhoades provides the reader with some easy-to-read history of his native state in an enjoyable book.
— Kay Dyer