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David Althouse’s "Cowboy Christmas Carol"

Updated on December 22, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

David Althouse



The speaker in cowboy poet David Althouse's "Cowboy Christmas Carol" spins a deeply spiritual yarn about an old cowboy whose mystical experience leads him to a state of grace and thankfulness that he lacked, even though he had lived a relatively carefree life in the open prairie.

First Movement: “For a hard-bitten ol' cowpoke like me a Christmas ain't always merry”

The speaker is a cowboy who has been practicing his profession for many years, and he admits that mending fences while tending cattle out on the prairie has not always been conducive to observing and celebrating Christmas. He felt that his heart had been dry without the spirit of Christmas for a long time, but then something happened to change his heart.

During one Christmas season, the speaker was out on the prairie rounding up some stray "doggies," drinking "rot gut whiskey," which helped him forget his hard life. He found himself alone, many miles from the "line cabin." It was cold with snow whipping across his face.

Second Movement: “Night came of a-suddin' so's I bedded down to rest”

The speaker has bedded down for the night with a tin of hot coffee placed on his chest to help drive out some of the cold. With the night's seemingly sudden arrival, he sees a celestial being approaching from the sky.

The cowboy/speaker describes the being in typical cowboy fashion: "sugar plums a-hangin' 'round 'er neck. / Holly laced 'er halo an' lustrous pearls adorned 'er wings, / An' 'er sweet little silver bell voice was a-trillin' little ting-a-ling-a-lings."

Third Movement: “'Cast away your fears, cowboy,' she says, 'I'm an Angel sent from on High'”

The being leaves nothing to interpretation for this cowboy; she identifies herself as an "Angel," and she informs him that she is being sent by the Divine. Furthermore, she instructs the cowboy to "cast away your fears."

Of course, the speaker is wonderstruck at first that this Angel sent by "Great Trail Boss in the Sky" would be visiting him. He suspects he is hallucinating from the bad whiskey or that he is just going wild in the brain.

The Angel tells him that her appearance has nothing to do with the whiskey. He knows then he is in the presence of something divine because she is reading him mind. She then informs him that it is Christmas time, insisting that he did not even know that season was upon him.

The cowboy has to admit that she has him "dead to rights"—he had not been aware of Christmas for so long that he had actually forgotten the last time he had thought about that season.

Fourth Movement: “'Why, thar ain't no time fer Christmas out 'ere Angel,' I says. 'It's absolut' absurd'”

Then the speaker protests that there is no opportunity for observing Christmas out here on the prairie with "orn'ry doggies" and "fences to mend." But to his excuses, the Angel counters, informing him: "You've sunk lower than the wild beasts, lower than a longhorn steer." She adds that at this time of year even the animals celebrate the spirit of Christmas.

The cowboy/speaker protests that "critters a-keepin' Christmas" is something he would have to see to believe. And so the Angel tells him to take hold of her arm, and they will "fly the night sky" to a place where she will prove the truth of her statement. With eyes as big as "poker chips," the cowboy obeys the Angel, and they fly off.

Fifth Movement: “To a quiet faraway meadow we flew, to a lonely stand o' pines,

The Angel brings him to an astral meadow that looks very much like a place the cowboy would recognize with a "lonely stand o' pines." But when he looks down, he can see "rabbits, squirrels, birds and deer," and " a coyote, wolf and mountain lion" are guarding them all as they rest peacefully in one area.

This inspiring scene is an allusion to Isaiah 11:6 (KJV), predicting the peace that will reign with the coming of the Christ: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them."

The Angel explains the strange vision: "They're huddled together because the spirit of Christmas fills the air." But the cowboy, practical man that he is, remarks that those little critters ought be scampering away from those bigger, dangerous ones.

Sixth Movement: “'They've nothing of which to worry,' she says. 'Peace fill their hearts upon this night'”

The Angel insists that it is only peace that reigns upon this night; yet the cowboy still insists that those little critter better be making "dust" before dawn.

Yet, even in his practical, worldly stance, the cowboy finds himself moved to tears, remembering all of his many past "wasted Christmases." And he then finds that his heart is changed. He vows to keep Christmas in his heart from now on—"I vowed I'd do thangs different, that I'd make another start, / That ever' day I had left I'd keep Christmas merry in my heart."

The cowboy then knows his life has been saved from his "demise" by this Angel of God, who after smiling at the cowboy's gratitude "a-fluttered back up" from whence she came.

Seventh Movement: “'A-many a year has passed since I beheld that angelic sight”

The cowboy/speaker's story demonstrates a change of heart, from one who had focused too much on the material world to one who would henceforth keep the spiritual world in his consciousness.

Although he had always been a good man, because of the mystical experience of being reminded to keep Christ-Consciousness in his heart, mind and soul, he becomes even better.

From the moment of that experience on, the speaker becomes thankful for his life. He becomes more aware that, "the Great Trail Boss" watches over him the way he watches over the cattle. That mystical experience places God's essence in the cowboy's awareness, allowing the cowboy to realize his love for the Divine every day of his life.

Writer, David Althouse, has also written a fine novel about the Old West, titled Hawk Eyes.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes


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