Rancher and Poet Uses Life on the Beach as Inspiration


Deanna Dickinson McCall, seen here riding horseback on her ranch near Timberon, New Mexico, draws inspiration for her poems, songs and stories from her personal experience living on off-grid ranches and working cattle on difficult terrain and extreme weather conditions. (Courtesy of Deanna Dickinson McCall)

Deanna Dickinson McCall is a rancher and award-winning author of Western poetry and songs. Considering the beginning of her life and the way she went on to live it, it would be hard to imagine things going any other way.

Deanna Dickinson McCall

She comes from ranchers in Texas, but she herself spent her early years on a ranch in the northern California foothills frequented by rattlesnakes, covered in lava rock and tangled with brush.

“I’m the first generation, on my father’s side, not to have been born in Texas since 1838,” McCall, 63, said in a phone interview from the ranch she and her husband, Dave, own. near Timberon, New Mexico. “My mother was from California. My mother’s family was all city dwellers.

She said her parents moved from a ranch in California’s Central Valley to the rough northern California region when her mother was pregnant with her.

“The house was at the bottom of a canyon and was very old,” McCall said of his first home. “The old windows, which had been brought in by mules, were slightly blue with bubbles in the glass. The house and the barn were made of oak trees ground on site in the 1880s. There was a generator that Dad started in the evenings.

It was there that she was not only introduced to breeding, but also to the power and beauty of words.

“I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, the one from Texas, when I was too young to go horseback riding,” she said. “To entertain me, we made everything rhyme. I loved old nursery rhymes.

Evenings at the ranch house were spent on or near the porch.

“Because it’s a hot country, with highs often over 110 in the summer,” McCall said. “My grandfather would tell the old cowboy stories (on the porch), and he would sing the old cowboy songs, play the harmonica and the jew’s harp and talk to the hired worker.

“Old stories, old poems, old songs – when you grow up with that stuff, it becomes quite natural.”

Wranglers and Workshops

McCall’s poetry has been honored by the International Western Music Association, which awarded his “Mustang Spring” collection Cowboy Poetry Book of the Year in 2014, and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. , who presented her with her prestigious Wrangler Award in 2019 for “I’ll Ride Thru It”, a CD on which she recites her poetry backed by musical accompaniment.

Last month, McCall, her husband and Rio Rancho Western musician and singer-songwriter Jim Jones received the 2022 Wrangler for Original Western Composition for their song “Old Horses and Old Men.”

Dave McCall, left to right, Jim Jones and Deanna Dickinson McCall with the 2022 Wrangler Award they received for their song ‘Old Horses and Old Men’. (Courtesy of Deanna Dickinson McCall)

“It came to me one day when we were working cattle,” McCall said of the song. “It came to me with a melody. I thought, ‘This is a song, not a poem.’ I sent it to Jim. We’d adjust a word or two and send it back and forth. But he was still missing something. Dave said, “He needs this” and he added a few lines. Jones recorded the song on his “Good Days Are Comin'” CD.

old horses, old men

Fixed in their ways

Remember the thrill

Of those days gone by

old horses, old men

Go out again

Eager to start, but nearing the end

The McCalls and Jones accepted the Wrangler at a ceremony in Oklahoma City on April 9.

On Saturday, June 4, McCall teams up with Jones and Western singer-songwriters Randy Huston, a rancher from New Mexico, and Jim Wilson, former sheriff of Crockett County, Texas, for New Mexico Western Experience, a day of workshops, stories and westerns. music at the Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn, 1015 Rio Grande NW.

It is an award-winning range. Wilson’s “Border Bravo” album received the 2003 IWMA Traditional Album of the Year award, and Huston got a Wrangler for the “Cowboys & Girls” album he made with it. his daughter, Hannah, and he won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for a song he wrote with Jones. You would need a great book to track the Wranglers, Spurs and IWMA accolades that Jones has racked up.

“Jim Wilson is going to do the Billy the Kid workshop,” McCall said. “I’m doing the ‘Writing the West’ workshop with Jim (Jones) and Randy. It affects almost all writing styles. We will all play at the concert. It’s always fun to get together. »

Lots of inspiration

When it comes to writing about working cattle, both the pleasures and the harsh realities of this life, McCall is never short of inspiration.

For 22 years, she and her husband lived and raised two daughters and a son on a remote ranch in northeastern Nevada with no electricity or telephone.

“For the first 10 years, the windmill was our source of water,” McCall said. The cold in the Great Basin region of Nevada, she said, is beyond bitter.

“It snowed there on the 4th of July. The only month that hasn’t snowed in Nevada is August.

But it was a bad drought that took the McCalls from Nevada to Idaho.

“After 22 years, we thought we had done enough,” she said. “The kids weren’t home, going to college or were married. We thought it was time to look at something different.

Two years in Idaho proved to them that wasn’t the kind of difference they had in mind.

“It was 117 in the summer and 30 below in the winter,” she said. “Everything over there is freezing.”

They moved to New Mexico in 2006.

Deanna Dickinson McCall, seen here riding horseback on her ranch near Timberon, New Mexico, draws inspiration for her poems, songs and stories from her personal experience living on off-grid ranches and working cattle on difficult terrain and extreme weather conditions. (Courtesy of Deanna Dickinson McCall)

McCall wrote a short story, cookbook and short stories, as well as poems and songs. She writes a column for New Mexico Stockman Magazine and articles for Range magazine. But perhaps it’s the poetry, the art of rhyme infused into his young bones on this ranch in the California foothills, that comes most easily to him.

She said she started writing her own poetry around 1987 while living in Nevada, and she and her entire family recited traditional Western poetry at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko.

“I was helping three kids with traditional poems, and I was scared when I went up there (to recite) I’d have a ‘Strawberry Roan’ struggling through the ‘Streets of Laredo,'” he said. she declared. “I thought, ‘I need to write my own poems.’ ”

And it worked pretty well.

When the cold hurts my bones

But there’s work to do

For these cows and calves

I will finish what I started

I will cross it.

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