As the cowboy poet of Texas, Red Steagall takes great pride in his poetry, as well as his songs. He considers “Born To This Land” from his first book Ride For the Brand and “The Fence That Me and Shorty Built” from his latest collection to be his banner poems. “The Fence That Me and Shorty Built” reflects the pride that Steagall has in his craft, whether it be composing a poem or song or building a fence.
We’d picked up all the fencing tools
And staples off the road.
An extra roll of “bob” wire
Was the last thing left to load.
I drew a sleeve across my face
To wipe away the dirt.
The young man who was helping me
Was tuckin’ in his shirt.
I turned around to him and said,
“This fence is finally done,
With five new strands of bob’ wire
Shinin’ proudly in the sun.
The wire is runnin’ straight and tight
With every post in line.
The kinda job you’re proud of,
One that stands the test of time.”
The kid was not impressed at all,
He stared off into space.
Reminded me of years ago,
Another time and place.
I called myself a cowboy,
I was full of buck and bawl.
I didn’t think my hands would fit
Post augers and a maul.
They sent me out with Shorty
And the ranch fence building crew.
Well, I was quite insulted
And before the day was through,
I let him know that I’m a cowboy.
“This ain’t what I do.
I ain’t no dadgummed nester,
I hired out to buckaroo.”
He said, “We’ll talk about that son,
When we get in tonight.
Right now you pick them augers up.
It’s either that or fight.”
Boy, I was diggin’ post holes
Faster than a Georgia mole.
But if a rock got in my way
I simply moved the hole.
So when the cowboys set the posts,
The line went in and out.
Old Shorty’s face got fiery red
And I can hear him shout,
“Nobody but a fool would build
A fence that isn’t straight.
I got no use for someone who ain’t
Pullin’ his own weight.”
I thought for sure he’d hit me;
Glad he didn’t have a gun.
I looked around to find a place
Where I could duck and run.
But Shorty walked up to me
Just as calm as he could be.
Said, “Son, I need to talk to you,
Let’s find ourselves a tree.”
He rolled a Bull Durham cigarette
As we sat on the ground.
He took himself a puff or two
Then slowly looked around.
“Son, I ain’t much on schoolin’,
Didn’t get to far with that.
But there’s a lot of learnin’
Hidden underneath this hat.
I got it all the hard way,
Every bump and bruise and fall.
Now some of it was easy,
But then most weren’t fun a’tall.
But one thing that I always got
From every job I’ve done,
Is do the best I can each day
And try to make it fun.
I know that bustin’ through them rocks
Ain’t what you like to do.
By gettin’ mad you’ve made it tough
On me and all the crew.
Now you hired on to cowboy
And you think you’ve got the stuff.
You told him you’re a good hand
And the boss has called your bluff.
So how’s that gonna make you look
When he comes ridin’ through,
And he asks me who dug these holes
And I say it was you.
Now we could let it go like this
And take the easy route.
But doin’ things the easy way
Ain’t what it’s all about.
The boss expects a job well done
From every man he’s hired.
He’ll let you slide by once or twice,
Then one day you’ll get fired.
If you’re not proud of what you do,
You won’t amount to much.
You’ll bounce around from job to job
Just slightly out of touch.
Come mornin’ let’s re-dig those holes
And get that fence in line.
And you and I will save two jobs,
Those bein’ yours and mine.
And someday you’ll come ridin’ through
And look across this land,
And see a fence that’s laid out straight
And know you had a hand.
In something that’s withstood the years.
Then proud and free from guilt,
You’ll smile and say, Boys that’s the fence
That me and Shorty built.’”
Copyright © 1993. Reprinted from The Fence That Me and Shorty Built with permission from the author.