The Walking Man Poem by Henry Herbert Knibbs

The Walking Man

Sunny summer day it was when loping in to Laramie,
I overtook the Walking Man, reined up and nodded 'How!!'
He'd been a rider once, I knew. He smiled, but scarce aware of me
He said, 'If you would like me to, I'll tell my story, now.
'They'll tell you that I'm crazy--that my wits have gone to glory,
But you must n't be believing every Western yarn you hear.
The one I'm going to tell you is exceptional--a story
That you've heard perhaps a dozen ways a dozen times a year.'
So he whispered while the shadow of my pony walked beside him,
'If good people go to heaven, do good horses go to hell?'
I slung one leg across the horn and sideways so, I eyed him;
'For I've seen the phantom ponies loping round the Big Corral.
'And I've seen my pony Yuma--yes, the horse that died to save me--
Come and nicker at the golden bars while I stood down below
Calling, 'Yuma! Yuma! Yuma!' and still wonder why he gave me
Such a friend; and why I killed her. It was twenty years ago....
'You remember, it was lonely when we used to guard the cattle;
When a man would ride the line for days and camp at night alone,
With nothing much to do but watch the sun rise up for battle,
And not a soul to talk to, or what's even worse--his own.
'So I taught my pony Yuma many tricks, for she was human;
To rear, shake hands, to nod, or pick up anything I dropped,
Till she grew as interested and as gentle as a woman,
Just to have me praise and pet her; but one day the teaching stopped.
'Three rustlers from the Notch rode up. I knew there would be trouble.
But I sat my pony easy and I rolled a cigarette,
And we talked about the rodeo, when, like a bursting bubble,
The leader opened up the fight. I felt my arm grow wet....
'It was three to one; but Yuma, like a rock, stood to the thunder,
For she seemed to know my need....two empty saddles....when the one
That tried at first to get me spurred up close and swung up under,
And I saw the trail to heaven in the muzzle of his gun.
'I flinched and played the coward. 'Up!' I called, and at the calling
Reared my pony; and she took his shot. I leveled quick and twice
I answered. In the smoke I saw a twisted figure falling;
I could feel by pony shiver ....Twenty years I've paid the price
'For my life. Yes, Hell-and-Texas leave the hoofprints in some faces;
We, the riders of the ranges, each of us has played his part....
Twenty years!' he whispered slowly. 'Twenty years in many places,
But I've never worn the print of Yuma's hoofprints from my heart.
'I'm the Walking Man forever. But I dream of mighty ranges
And the silent mountain-meadows in the glory of the stars;
And I see the phantom ponies in the dawn and sunset changes,
And I hear my Yuma nicker, just behind the golden bars.'
Sunny summer day it was when loping in to Laramie,
I overtook the Walking Man, reined up and nodded, 'How!:
He walked beside me for a while. He hardly was aware of me,
But I think I understand him, for I know his story now.

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