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S. Omar Barker's "Three Wise Men"

Updated on November 27, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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.

S. Omar Barker

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Three Wise Men"

S. Omar Barker's "Three Wise Men" narrates a story of the Magi in an American Southwest setting with cowboys performing the roles of the three wise men. The story, of course, seeks to parallel that of the story of the first Christmas.

Barker's poem dramatizes a tale about three lonesome cowboys camped far out on the prairie. Because they are so far from home, they hanker after a celebration of Christmas in the good old-fashioned, traditional way.

The story features the cowboy dialect and plays out in riming couplets. (Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Three Wise Men

Back in the days when cattle range was prairies wide and lone,
Three Bar Z hands was winter-camped upon the Cimarrón.
Their callin' names was Booger Bill and Pinto Pete and Tug,
And though their little dugout camp was plenty warm and snug,
They got plumb discontented, for with Christmas drawin' near,
They couldn't see no prospects of no kind of Christmas cheer.

Pete spoke about the bailes he'd be missin' up at Taos.
Tug said he'd give his gizzard just to see a human house
Alight with Christmas candles; and ol' Booger Bill avowed
He's shoot the next galoot who spoke of Christmas cheer out loud.
They sure did have the lonesomes, but the the first of Christmas week,
A wagonload of immigrants made camp off down the creek.

They'd come out from Missouri and was headin' farther west,
But had to stop a little while and give their team a rest.
They seemed to be pore nester folks, with maybe six or eight
As hungry lookin', barefoot kids as ever licked a plate.
"We've just got beans to offer you," the wagon woman smiled,
"But if you boys will join us, I will have a big pot b'iled
On Christmas day for dinner, and we'll do the best we kin
To make it seem like Christmas time, although our plates are tin!"

Them cowboys sort of stammered, but they promised her they'd come,
Then loped back to their dugout camp, and things begun to hum.
They whittled with their pocketknives, they sewed with rawhide threads,
They hammered and they braided and they raveled rope to shreds.
They butchered out a yearlin', and they baked a big ol' roast.
They scratched their heads to figger out what kids would like the most,
Till when they went on Christmas day to share the nesters' chuck,
They had a packhorse loaded with their homemade Christmas truck:

Bandanna dolls for little gals, with raveled rope for hair;
Some whittled wooden guns for boys, and for each kind a pair
Of rough-made rawhide moccasins. You should have seen the look
Upon that nester woman's face when from their pack they took
A batch of pies plumb full of prunes, some taffy made of lick,
And a pan of sourdough biscuits right around four inches thick.

That ain't the total tally, but it sort of gives a view
Of what three lonesome cowboys figgered out to try and do
To cure the Christmas lonesomes on the Cimarrón, amid
The wild coyotes and cattle--and they found it sure 'nough did.

Commentary

First Stanza: No Christmas Cheer This Year

Back in the days when cattle range was prairies wide and lone,
Three Bar Z hands was winter-camped upon the Cimarrón.
Their callin' names was Booger Bill and Pinto Pete and Tug,
And though their little dugout camp was plenty warm and snug,
They got plumb discontented, for with Christmas drawin' near,
They couldn't see no prospects of no kind of Christmas cheer.

The narrator begins by reporting that three cowhands from the Bar Z ranch are winter-camped upon the Cimarrn. Their names, that is, their nicknames are Booger Bill, Pinto Pete, and Tug.

Even though their dugout camp was comfortable enough, the trio started to lament that they could see "no prospects of no kind of Christmas cheer." With Christmas nearing, they were becoming melancholy about being so far from civilization and home.

Second Stanza: Three Cowpokes Deep in Christmas Blues

Pete spoke about the bailes he'd be missin' up at Taos.
Tug said he'd give his gizzard just to see a human house
Alight with Christmas candles; and ol' Booger Bill avowed
He's shoot the next galoot who spoke of Christmas cheer out loud.
They sure did have the lonesomes, but the the first of Christmas week,
A wagonload of immigrants made camp off down the creek.

Pete complained that he would miss out on the dances (bailes) up at Taos. Tug missed seeing a human house, saying colorfully, he'd give his gizzard just to see just one. Bill was so morose that he threatened "to shoot the next galoot who spoke of Christmas cheer out loud."

All three cowpokes were deep in the Christmas blues, missing civilization all decked out in Christmas attire and the social events that accompany the season. Then a wagonload of travelers made camp off down the creek.

Third Stanza: Folks Moving West

They'd come out from Missouri and was headin' farther west,
But had to stop a little while and give their team a rest.
They seemed to be pore nester folks, with maybe six or eight
As hungry lookin', barefoot kids as ever licked a plate.
"We've just got beans to offer you," the wagon woman smiled,
"But if you boys will join us, I will have a big pot b'iled
On Christmas day for dinner, and we'll do the best we kin
To make it seem like Christmas time, although our plates are tin!"

This load of immigrants is traveling from Missouri and "headin farther west." They had to stop to let their animals revive themselves before pressing on. These travelers are very poor with "hungry lookin, barefoot kids." There must have been six or eight people in the party "all pore nester folks."

The woman of the group smiled pleasantly and invited the cowboy trio to join them for Christmas. Even though they have only beans to offer them, she promises to make it seem like Christmas time despite their impoverished lot and their plates being tin.

Fourth Stanza: Homemade Christmas Stuff

Them cowboys sort of stammered, but they promised her they'd come,
Then loped back to their dugout camp, and things begun to hum.
They whittled with their pocketknives, they sewed with rawhide threads,
They hammered and they braided and they raveled rope to shreds.
They butchered out a yearlin', and they baked a big ol' roast.
They scratched their heads to figger out what kids would like the most,
Till when they went on Christmas day to share the nesters' chuck,
They had a packhorse loaded with their homemade Christmas truck:

The cowboys feel somewhat dubious at first but promise to return on Christmas. Then after the three have returned to their camp, they begin creating all sorts of gifts for the travelers with whom they would celebrate Christmas.

They whittled with pocketknives, they sewed with rawhide threads making toys for the children. They hammered and they braided to make dolls for the girls. They whittled toy guns for the boys. They butchered a yearling and made a roast to take to the party. When Christmas day arrived, they loaded up their packhorse and headed off to the celebration.

Fifth Stanza: Wise Men Bearing Gifts

Bandanna dolls for little gals, with raveled rope for hair;
Some whittled wooden guns for boys, and for each kind a pair
Of rough-made rawhide moccasins. You should have seen the look
Upon that nester woman's face when from their pack they took
A batch of pies plumb full of prunes, some taffy made of lick,
And a pan of sourdough biscuits right around four inches thick.

The wise men came bearing gifts for the children including rawhide moccasins. The wagon woman looked astonished as they produced from the packhorse a batch of pies "plumb full of prunes, taffy, and sourdough biscuits."

Sixth Stanza: Cure for the Christmas Blues

That ain't the total tally, but it sort of gives a view
Of what three lonesome cowboys figgered out to try and do
To cure the Christmas lonesomes on the Cimarrón, amid
The wild coyotes and cattle--and they found it sure 'nough did.

The narrator makes it clear that those wise men also brought many other items that helped the little traveling party and the lonely cowboys celebrate Christmas. The Christmas blues was "cure[d]," and among the wild coyotes and cattle, the little group of wise cowboys resurrected the spirit of Christmas with their big hearts and generous giving.

Reading of Barker's "Purt Near!"

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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