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Badger Clark: Cowboy Poet 

Dakota Wesleyan University Archives

This article is from the October 2023 edition of SDPB Magazine. See past issues HERE.

A Cowboy's Prayer
(Written for Mother)

Oh Lord, I've never lived where churches
I love creation better as it stood
That day You finished it so long ago
And looked upon Your work and called it
I know that others find You in the light
That's sifted down through tinted window
And yet I seem to feel You near tonight
In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains.

I thank You, Lord, that I am placed so well,
That You have made my freedom so com-
That I'm no slave of whistle, clock or bell,
Nor weak-eyed prisoner of wall and street.
Just let me live my life as I've begun
And give me work that's open to the sky;
Make me a pardner of the wind and sun,
And I won't ask a life that's soft or high.

Let me be easy on the man that's down;
Let me be square and generous with all.
I'm careless sometimes, Lord, when I'm in

But never let 'em say I'm mean or small!
Make me as big and open as the plains,
As honest as the hawse between my knees,
Clean as the wind that blows behind the rains,
Free as the hawk that circles down the

Forgive me, Lord, if sometimes I forget.
You know about the reasons that are hid.
You understand the things that gall and fret;
You know me better than my mother did.
Just keep an eye on all that's done and said
And right me, sometimes, when I turn
And guide me on the long, dim, trail ahead
That stretches upward toward the Great

A Cowboy's Prayer; you might have heard it at the rodeo, a wedding, or perhaps even a funeral. For ages, cowboys and those of similar lifestyles have found comfort and familiarity in the words of this poem. Maybe even more significant than the poem itself is the man behind it, Badger Clark. Born Charles Badger Clark Junior on January 1st, 1883, this writer of nature started his profession while simply working as a ranch hand. His time in solitude was spent in observation and consideration, and what began as a poem to his stepmother became one of the best-known cowboy poems in history.

Throughout his lifetime, Badger wrote books of poetry and inspired others with his way of living. A man of simple means paved the way for arts in our state and nation. This October, we will air an hour-long documentary that will tell the story of his life. To introduce the feature, we talked with Brad Dumke, producer of Badger Clark: Poet Among The Pines. Brad owns 1856 Media, a production company based in Sioux Falls specializing in films and video for businesses.

"When you have a compelling character like Badger Clark," says Brad, "it was easy for me to dive into it because he was so interesting. There were two different sides of him. There was the one who wanted to be left alone and live alone, and then there was another side who just absolutely adored the public, especially kids. I think the folks who met him found him really dynamic and just wanted to be around him. In a world of distractions that we live in right now, it's important that you do take time out of your day to put away the phone and just be able to connect with what your true self is. That's what he did. He was able to control any distractions around him and think about what was important to him, write it down, and share it with the public. That's probably the most important lesson with him, is to be able to find your true authentic self by being alone with your thoughts."

South Dakota State Historical Society Foundation

Badger is South Dakota's first poet laureate and was the genesis of this genre. While some may not have thought cowboy literature so profound, Badger's writings united a state of familiar feeling with his words and character. Brad expands on this.

"He invented the genre. He invented cowboy poetry. Now, were there cowboy poets ahead of him before him? I'm sure there were, but none could write like him, and none of them put their thoughts to paper like he did and got published. The folks that go to these poet conventions, especially cowboy poetry conventions, have been influenced by Badger Clark. They model their poetry after him. That's the most prominent influence he had in the state."

After diving into the life of Badger, Brad shares how those who want to learn more about him can get a personal insight into the man he was.

"One of the best ways for people to connect with Badger Clark is to visit his cabin at Custer State Park. It's available during the spring, summer, and fall. His home has been preserved perfectly, as he had left it when he passed away in the fifties. The best way to learn about Badger is to just to be where he was, follow his footsteps, and think about what's most important to you. Even sitting on his porch and maybe closing your eyes to connect with nature."

For an inside look at the life of Badger Clark, watch Badger Clark: Poet Among The Pines on Thursday, October 5th at 8pm Central (7 MT). Additionally, SDPB is partnering with Custer State Park to host a Badger Clark Day on October 14th. Mark your calendars for activities and artifacts at the Visitor Center and Badger Hole. We hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to learn how a single man paved the way for art and literature in our state.