My grandfather took a job in the early 1950s on a cattle ranch in Montana – some 400 miles from his southern Idaho home. He was married with a couple of children to support, but prospects for a man who wanted to make his living on the back of a horse were sparse. He and my grandmother packed up, leaving their familiar community behind to settle into a rundown cabin with a view of the Beaverhead Mountains.

Louder erica
Freelance Writer
Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

I grew up listening to my grandparents tell stories about their short time in Montana – they only stayed a year. Once, I asked why they left. Grandma laughed and told me about that winter.

Years later, my grandfather, good and properly retired, began writing his stories, the fictional, the true and the embellished, mostly in open verse. A natural storyteller, Grandpa performed his poetry and took up an emeritus career as a cowboy poet. I have always loved his Christmas cowboy poems the best. He has one that is somewhat famous in the cowboy poetry community. It is called A Cowboy’s Christmas Story. It tells a miraculous story, conjuring up a feeling a little attuned to O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. But there is one of his Christmas poems I like even better. It’s about that one Christmas they spent in Montana. It reminds me of Christmas with my little family, miles away from our extended family and with cows to feed. It is as fun as the other is somber.

“Twas the day before Christmas
Up Montana way
And it had been snowin'
All night and day

I’m out feedin’ cattle
With wagon and team
In the doggondest blizzard
I’ve ever seen


The old house we lived in
Was plumb full of cracks
Walk across the floor
And you was sure to leave tracks

Snow filtered in through the
Windows and walls
Settled on bed and table
And then down the hall

We had a big stove
Stuffed it full-a wood
It could heat the one room
And do it pretty good

We all moved in
Settled down for the night
Santa would find us
If things turned out right

Though we were snowed in
We had planned ahead
Santa did show up
After we’d gone to bed

Well, I had come up with a plan
That was sure to be a winner
If she’d help me feed cattle
I’d help her make dinner

We had a goose picked, stuffed
And ready to bake
But we couldn’t cook a goose
And still make a cake

So we decided on a pudding
Steamed on top of the stove
We had no idea
How that pudding would grow

While she drove the tractor
I fed the hay
And that job only took
A part of the day

Our three little kids
With a new sled in the snow
And what was goin’ on in the house
Well, who was to know

That pudding had grew up
Took the lid off the pot
Half way across the stove
Is about as far as it got

Filled the kitchen full of smoke
Cleanup took some time
Yet everything turned out
And the dinner was fine

No one came to visit
No folks passin’ by
Just our little family
‘neath the big Montana sky

Now our kids are grown
And some of their kids too
And we all get together
Like families should do

Of all of our Christmases
There's always the one
You remember the best
And had the most fun

Our older kids will tell you—
“Well there’s no doubt
It was the time in Montana
When everyone else was snowed out”