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Friday, December 20, 2013

Badger Clark - A Cowboy Poet

In 'Murder in Custer State Park,' Merritt is tasked with designing costumes for the colorful cast of 'Dakota,' an original play based on South Dakota's rich history.

One of Custer State Park's most beloved real-life characters is South Dakota Poet Laureate Badger Clark.  Merritt enjoyed visiting the 'Badger's Hole' and researching a costume for Clark that would bring to life this Cowboy Poet.

Born on January 1, 1883 in Iowa, Charles Badger Clark's family moved to the Dakota Territory in his formative years.  His father served as a Methodist minister in Huron, Mitchell, Deadwood and Hot Springs South Dakota. 

A restless youth and dreamer, Charles Badger Clark, dropped out of Dakota Wesleyan University.  For six years he breathed in adventure, travelling to Cuba, Arizona and beyond.  He discovered a love for ranching, cow-punching, and the 'last of the old, open range,' in the Southwest.  He began to dabble in prose, coining 'Cowboy poetry.'

Badger was a self-proclaimed individualist, who never wanted to settle into a career.  He craved the freedom of the open skies.  He turned his love of the west into glorious poetry.

When his father's failing health drew Badger back to South Dakota, he gave up ranching, focusing on his writing and doing speaking tours for fun.  His deep love for the Black Hills, stirred Clark to request permission to build a cabin on state-owned land in Custer State Park in 1925.  It took five years to build the bucolic cabin.

The Badger's Hole was the hermitage of Clark's writing.  He spent thirty years living in the rustic, charming cabin, being an conservationist and cowboy poet.

In 1937, Clark was named Poet Laureate of South Dakota by Governor Jensen.  His work was published in Pacific Monthly, Colliers, Century Magazine, Sunset Magazine...

His most well known poem, 'A Cowboy's Prayer' is most often attributed as 'anonymous.'  That didn't bother Badger Clark, a humble man of incredible character.

To learn more about Badger Clark, a true Custer State Park character:
Badger Clark Society

Here is a Christmas Poem by Charles Badger Clark:
"The Christmas Trail."
The wind is blowin' cold down the mountain tips of snow
And 'cross the ranges layin' brown and dead;
It's cryin' through the valley trees that wear the mistletoe
And mournin' with the gray clouds overhead.
Yes it's sweet with the beat of my little hawse's feet
And I whistle like the air was warm and blue
For I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.
Oh, mebbe it was good when the whinny of the Spring
Had weedled me to hoppin' of the bars.
And livin' in the shadow of a sailin' buzzard's wing
And sleepin' underneath a roof of stars.
But the bright campfire light only dances for a night,
While the home-fire burns forever clear and true,
So 'round the year I circle back to you,
Old folks,
'Round the rovin' year I circle back to you.
Oh, mebbe it was good when the reckless Summer sun
Had shot a charge of fire through my veins,
And I milled around the whiskey and the fightin' and fun
'Mong the mav'ricks drifted from the plains.
Ay, the pot bubbled hot, while you reckoned I'd forgot,
And the devil smacked the young blood in his stew,
Yet I'm lovin' every mile that's nearer you,
Good folks,
Lovin' every blessed mile that's nearer you.
Oh, mebbe it was good at the roundup in the Fall,
When the clouds of bawlin' dust before us ran,
And the pride of rope and saddle was a-drivin' of us all
To stretch of nerve and muscle, man and man.
But the pride sort of died when the man got weary eyed;
'Twas a sleepy boy that rode the nightguard through,
And he dreamed himself along a trail to you,
Old folks,
Dreamed himself along a happy trail to you.
The coyote's Winter howl cuts the dusk behind the hill,
But the ranch's shinin' window I kin see,
And though I don't deserve it and, I reckon, never will,
There'll be room beside the fire kep' for me.
Skimp my plate 'cause I'm late. Let me hit the old kid gait,
For tonight I'm stumblin' tired of the new
And I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

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