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Bushwhack of Slip and Slack

Die First – Then Quit
November 23, 2021
Driftin’ or Destination-Driven?
December 7, 2021
My favorite inspiration for poetry unfailingly comes from the original art of others - mostly that will be a painting. In fact, it was the inspiration of a Teal Blake watercolor that got me started, or at least caused me to finally get serious, regarding this entire endeavor of posting my poetry on-line. When I came across this Bill Moomey painting I asked myself, "Why would a rider be leading two saddled horses?" The answer, considering empty saddles, didn't bode well.

Bushwhack of Slip and Slack

The longest ride I ever took
Was short, less'n half a day
I was leading a chestnut and a paint
Me, I was riding Foggy, my gray

Coulda' made it in half that time
If'n I'd'a been in any hurry
But I was just amblin' along
Held back by dread and worry

See those horses were empty saddled
They'd been filled by two good men
Two friends I'd rode the river with
Many a long day and time again

We called 'em Slip and Slack
I never knew their Christian names
Seems with our years together
I should'a and now it rather shames

Slip picked up his handle
By always slippin' in unexpected
Had a knack for showin up for breakfast
But he'd actually slept in camp undetected

Slack had acquired his monicker
Due to bein' always quiet and movin' slow
Seems if there'da' been a stampede
He'd'a been the last to know

But those two top-hand brothers
We're the friendliest, workinest pair
They'd ride drag or muck stalls
And do it all with pride and care

Two finer saddle companions
I had never come to know
Now what I had to do was tell their kin
About this tragic tale of woe

Yesterday we were headed back to Livingston
After deliverin' some beeves near Judith Gap
When some miles west of Big Timber
We blindly rode smack into a trap

They opened fire without warning
Slip and Slack caught the worst luck
Them hidden cowards shot them each twice
Before I could think, I lit a shuck

Maybe I should'a found cover and fought
But with them shot through the head
There weren't nothing to do but run
No question the brothers were dead

Both their horses lit out after me
We took cover a mile or so away
No one came a'lookin' for us but
Having only my hog-leg we hid out all day

After picketing all three horses
Afoot I sneaked back round midnight
Found Slip and Slack stripped to their longies
Deader'n doornails in the moonlight

Those murderin' thieves were long gone
I had no clue who they were
There'd no doubt been at least two
But maybe more I couldn't be sure

I returned with all the horses
Come sunup set about digging shallow graves
Using an air-tight from Slip's saddlebags
My nauseous vomiting coming in waves

No question that burying on the spot
Was the exact right thing to do
Their faces mutilated beyond recognition
Without clothes I wasn't even sure who was who

I mounded up some rocks over each
To discourage varmints from lootin'
I wanted to hunt those murderers
Roar wild into their camp a'shootin'

I tracked 'em to Boulder River
Where the sign completely disappeared
What would I even do if I found 'em?
Reckon I was stalling, avoiding what I feared

So I rustled up a fistful of courage
And leadin' two horses started west
I'd ride to their mother's diggin's
And tenderly get this off my chest

After I'd go pay a visit to the law
Over to the Sheriff of Sweet Grass County
I'd lay the whole story out to him
Then I'd see about setting a bounty

Hopefully there'd be a posse formed
And I would dang-sure be included
I'd ride long and hunt these killers
I wouldn't stop 'til it was rightly concluded

It was the very least I could do
For friends Slip, Slack and their Ma
These scumbags had murdered my compadres
They would hafta' pay by Western Law

With Thanksgiving coming up soon
I was mighty grateful to be alive
At the same time feelin' guilty
Why'd God choose me to survive?

If I had a hand in justice over evil
And watched a noose slip over their necks
Maybe that'd soften my responsibility
Allowin' me to grieve and pay my respects

by Rik Goodell

© 2021. All rights reserved

This evocative painting is the work of Bill Moomey,
an award-winning painter, designer and sculptor
whose work is represented in 15 countries. I am grateful
for the inspiration of this painting and the opportunity
to post it alongside my work.

See more of this artist's work at

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