The following poem was written by Al Mehl, a physician who comes from an old Colorado ranching family. It was inspired by Tom Lea's painting "And There He Was." Dr. Mehl often performs his poetry at the yearly Durango Cowboy Gathering events as well as other venues.
By this fire, I'll tell a story 'bout a Texas longhorn steer,
And by the time I'm done, I 'spect you'll Come to taste a trace off ear. 'Cause this longhorn isn't like the cattle you've pushed down the trail,
Just the thought of seein' him's enough to turn most cowboys pale.
Now, I'm told the steer looks old. As for his color, hard to say;
You see he's marked with black, and tan, and rust, and roan, and charcoal gray.
Measures wide across the shoulder, and he stands 'bout fourteen hand, And his eyes look even older, and he doesn't sport a brand;
You see, they say that he's a maverick from the herds of Pancho Villa, And he lives off sage and mesquite, and the leaves of manzanilla.
Wanderin' up from Northern Mexico, he crossed the Rio Grande,
And then he crossed the Devil Ridge, and then the desert of white sand, And he crossed the Southern Rockies, where the lower peaks allow.
Wears a marking like a crucifix across his leathered brow.
Seems he ran the Mason grassfire, and that's bow his hooves got burned,
And they say he gored a cowboy, and that's how one horn got turned.
Now, he's got to be a ghost, because they say he never ages,
Men have seen him walk through fence rails and the bars of makeshift cages.
I can see my story frightens, and it really isn't meant ta,
But they say that he's still out there ... in the desert near Kayenta.
They say if you see the Maverick, you will never be the same,
And you might newly be possessed of powers you cannot explain.
It's been said that if you see him, you will never take a wife,
And the horn you gaze on first just might predict your afterlife, For it seems one horn is pointed up, toward heaven, so they tell,
And the other horn is twisted 'round, and pointed down toward hell.
As for ifI've ever seen him, I'm not sure that I can say,
Although I s'ppose I ought to tell you 'bout one fateful August day.
Rode out alone, beyond the butte, there were some strays I'd hoped to find, And, well, the mid-day desert sun can maybe trick a cowboy's mind.
You see, my eyes were feelin' heavy, but my heart was racin' fast,
And when I crossed a steep arroyo, thought I heard those strays at last ...
And there he was! Just like a vision, as I dropped in from the gap,
That longhorn standin' by a crik that never showed on any map.
The Maverick stared at me, our eyes were locked; my pony turned his head,
And from the scent, the pony seemed to sense, this longhorn must be dead.
Then maybe time stood still; my breathin' stopped; that Maverick stood his mark.
And I did not show up in camp again 'til couple hours past dark.
And I could not remember nothin'! And they asked if I's insane.
And just how I made it back to camp, I never could explain.
And the trail boss called me loco, and the cowboys shook their heads, And a couple laughed at me while crawlin' back into their beds.
But me, I knew that somethin' happened in that August desert sun;
See, somethin' there was lost forever. But then somethin' else was won, 'Cause when I go to throw a loop now, well it seems I never miss.
And lately, under me, a wild bronc turns as gentle as a kiss.
And if I ride a moonless night, it seems my pony never falters.
And you know, of course, I never took a bride up to the altar.
Guess I'll finish up my story, now the fire is just an ember.
And which horn did I see first, you ask? Damned if I remember.