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'Reincarnation' Lives On

Medora 2013

For those who love it, and for those who've never heard of this classic bit of cowboy humor:

by Wallace McCrea

"What does Reincarnation mean?"
A cowpoke asked his friend.
His pal replied, "It happens when
Yer life has reached its end.
They comb yer hair, and warsh yer neck,
And clean yer fingernails,
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life's travails."

"The box and you goes in a hole,
That's been dug into the ground.
Reincarnation starts in when
Yore planted 'neath a mound.
Them clods melt down, just like yer box,
And you who is inside.
And then yore just beginnin' on
Yer transformation ride."

"In a while, the grass'll grow
Upon yer rendered mound.
Till some day on yer moldered grave
A lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by
And graze upon this flower
That once wuz you, but now's become
Yer vegetative bower."

"The posy that the hoss done ate
Up, with his other feed,
Makes bone, and fat, and muscle
Essential to the steed,
But some is left that he can't use
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground
This thing, that once wuz you."

"Then say, by chance, I wanders by
And sees this upon the ground,
And I ponders, and I wonders at,
This object that I found.
I thinks of reincarnation,
Of life and death, and such,
And come away concludin': 'Slim,
You ain't changed, all that much.'"

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Wally McRae (born 1936) is a rancher, an American cowboy, a cowboy poet and philosopher. He runs the 30,000-acre Rocker Six Cattle Co. ranch on Rosebud Creek south of Rosebud, Montana.

McRae attended grade school and high school at nearby Colstrip, Montana. He graduated from Montana State University in 1958 in zoology and chemistry.

He received the Governor's Award for the Arts in Montana and the 1990 National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Award. He was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve on the National Council of the Arts. The Missoulian has listed Wally as #42 in the Most Influential Montanans of the Century.

The American journalist Charles Kuralt discusses McRae's efforts to preserve the land and the cowboy way of life in the small community in his book, Charles Kuralt's America.

Wally recites "Reincarnation" (to Paul Zarzyski) at the 2009 Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Chérie Newman is a former arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. She founded and previously hosted a weekly literary program, The Write Question, which continues to air on several public radio stations; it is also available online at and
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