Cowboy poet draws on experience as a veterinarian to comment on life
By DESIRAI SCHILD
For the Capital Press
SODA SPRINGS, Idaho -- Appearing at last summer's Grainstock, one of many events around the West where he entertains appreciative audiences with his unique brand of humor and wisdom, Baxter Black was telling it like it is.
Black said he has a cattle herd in Arizona. The cattle are semi-wild because they are out on pasture and just moved from one field to another for grazing.
"They are like Kmart employees," he said. "You can't actually walk up to one."
Before the show, he talked about his life as a veterinarian, poet and storyteller.
"I'm always on the side of the farmer and the rancher," Black said. "I try to present stories they can relate to in a humorous way. We all need to laugh these days."
Black didn't start out as an entertainer.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1945, Black was raised on a ranch in Las Cruces, N.M. He rode bulls in rodeo through high school and college. "Until my brains came in," he said. He was also "a sorry team roper."
Black attended the University of New Mexico and Colorado State, becoming a veterinarian in 1969.
"I got to know a lot of the fine farmers and ranchers in Idaho when I worked for Simplot," he said. "My stories come from working with them and hearing about their experiences."
He lived in the Nampa, Idaho, area for several years before going to work as a troubleshooter for an animal health company based in Kansas. That precipitated a move to a small town near Denver.
"That only lasted a couple years before the health company changed hands and let him go because he was the last hired," his wife, Cindy, said after the show. "When he did trade shows ... he just talked and threw in a few funny stories. Pretty soon, people were asking him to speak at banquets."
A new career was born. He left veterinary work and became a full-time cowboy poet and entertainer in 1982.
Black was always a social creature.
"He'd go to the Denver stock show just to visit with friends," Cindy Black said. "Then, he'd call and say, 'I'm only bringing about 20 folks home for dinner tonight.' We set up a lot of beds in our basement and called it the bunkhouse. We had a lot of company."
In the late '90s the Black family moved to Arizona to be near Baxter's aging parents.
"We had a daughter who was graduating high school in 1997 and a son who hadn't started school yet, so it seemed like the perfect time to move," Cindy Black said.
Black writes his columns and poetry longhand, then types them on an ancient typewriter.
"I don't have a cell phone nor a television set," Black said. "In spite of all the computerized, digitalized, high-tech innovations of today, there will always be a need for people who can think stuff up. That's what I do. I think."
He thinks about how funny and consistent farmers, ranchers and rodeo folk are.
"You can always tell a header from a heeler in team roping," he said. "The header has ulcers and the heeler has a hangover. The header tells you the lineage of his horse. The heeler tells you the lineage of his tack. But they both agree on one thing. When they miss, it's always the header's fault."
He spoke of a heeler he met with casts on both his arms.
"He'd been riding this well-broke horse, hadn't bucked in two weeks," he said. "That horse went to bucking and pitched the guy so high up in the air he saw God. He was from Utah, so he saw Brigham Young, too. I asked him if they gave him any message to bring back. He said they both said, 'This is gonna hurt.'"
Black talked about his daughter, Jennifer, and her time as a feedlot employee. He said she came home from work one day looking like pea soup with eyes.
"When I was preg checking cows, I always asked they be dry-lotted and not fed for a while before I got there," he said. "You put a cow in a squeeze chute and if they are full they are armed and dangerous. If they've been on pasture, you end up looking like walking guacamole. You are cow pie à la carte."
Black is opposed to re-introducing more wolves to places where they've been eradicated to prevent predation on stock.
"They've got plenty of wolves in Wisconsin and Minnesota," he said. "Let them keep them there. Our livestock producers already have enough challenges here without adding more wolves."
Black recited his poem, "Of The Land," talking about the irony of the "power hungry kings," that sit in "ivory towers" and make decisions about what's best for the land loved, worked and honored by the small group of people who actually live there.
He warned that people and projects can "die of good intentions" and reminded the farmers that they are in the "10 percent of the people who do 90 percent of the work" to feed the masses.
He encouraged them to stick together because they are right -- even if they are outnumbered.
"We are farmers by our birthright," he said. "We are the stewards of the land."