Ashley: Cowboy poet with Hill Country roots
I was conflicted as a child. Stranded somewhere between “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” and “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”
Friday nights found me in front of our black and white TV, dressed in my horseshoe printed PJs, high-heeled, pointy toed boots, my Daddy’s old Stetson perched at a cocky angle, toy gun belt sliding down my skinny hips — eagerly awaiting the opening scene of “Gunsmoke.” Marshall Matt Dillon and I outdrew the bad guys every time.
The next morning, while most kids had cartoons with their Cheerios, I sat watching “Roy Rogers and Dale Evans,” “The Lone Ranger and Tonto,” “My Friend Flicka” and “out of the clear blue of the Western sky comes Sky King!”
The working cowboys of the Texas Hill Country were my weekend mentors. It was on our family cow-calf operation at Red Bluff Creek that I learned to rope and ride, shoe a horse, make steers out of bull calves and build a fence that was “bull strong, pig tight and horse high.”
My primary reasons for choosing TCU in Fort Worth (aka “Cowtown) for higher education? “Where the West Begins” painted on the billboards leading into town. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art. The Fat Stock Show and Rodeo. Don Edwards on Friday afternoons at the White Elephant Saloon in the Stockyards.
Need I say more?
Fast-forward to 2015 in Fredericksburg. My first season as a volunteer football coach at Heritage School. The team roster showed our starting QB to be one Blake Ashley Jr. Found myself flashing back, thinking a fellow named Ashley served on the board of trustees at TCU. And occasionally, that iconic singer-songwriter Red Steagall would recite a poem by “my good friend, Carlos Ashley” on his syndicated Sunday morning radio program, “Cowboy Corner.”
So just who was this fellow from my native Hill Country?
The rest of the story…
Turns out, Carlos Clinton Ashley was the patriarch of the Ashley clan here in Fredericksburg. From his obituary: “Carlos Ashley (1904-1993) was a true son of the Texas Hill Country. His accomplishments as a lawyer, politician, rancher, poet and raconteur grew out of a happy childhood spent in the towns of Cherokee, San Saba and Llano.”
He attended TCU, where he served as student body president, sports editor of the school paper, lettered in baseball, sang with the Glee Club and won the coveted Bryson Poetry prize.”
After graduation, he returned to San Saba where he taught English and coached several sports teams before moving to Tennessee with his new bride, Cynthia Johnson, to earn a law degree.
The family lived in Austin after Texas Governor Coke Stevenson appointed him First Assistant Attorney General in 1944.
In 1948, Ashley was elected to the State Senate where he served for 10 years. Among his most notable accomplishments were supporting salary increases for teachers, rural electrification and water development.
All the while, he pursued other interests — writing poetry, raising quality beef cattle and breeding thoroughbred race horses.
In 1949, Carlos Ashley was named Poet Laureate of Texas. His love for the people, wildlife, customs and folklore of the Texas Hill Country infuses his poetry with graphic imagery.
From the obituary: “Through his poetry, Ashley sought to record the speech and customs of the people of the Texas Hill Country in the vernacular of their everyday lives.
“His three published works included ‘That Spotted Sow and Other Texas Hill Country Ballads,’ first published in 1941. The Ashley Family: Blake Sr., his wife, Wendy and their children, Blake Jr., Ben and Celia, all reside in Fredericksburg.”
I told them of my interest in reprising the works of their iconic ancestor and they were most gracious in granting me permission to do so. To learn more about the life and works of Carlos Ashley, dial up www.cowboypoetry.com/carlosashley.htm.
April 15-21 marks Cowboy Poetry Week, celebrated annually during National Poetry Week in the United States. The Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry (cowboypoetry.com) initiated the celebration in 2002 and supports it each year with various programs in schools, libraries and communities nationwide.
To honor Carlos Ashley on the homefront, I’m collaborating with the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post and Texas Hill Country Broadcasting. The Standard-Radio Post will publish several of his poems, then I’ll read them aloud at 10 a.m. Friday, April 20 on KNAF 910 AM’s “Talk of the Texas Hill Country” with host Jerry Sotello. The program can be accessed online. Simply go to www.texasrebelradio.com and click on KNAF AM at the top.
Finally, save the date for our first annual “Texas Hill Country Cowboy Gathering: A Celebration of Song, Story, Poetry and Art,” scheduled for Nov. 9-10 at the Steve W. Shepherd Theater.
This family friendly event features internationally acclaimed, regional and local talent. Songwriters, poets, balladeers and artists will celebrate the legend and spirit of the cowboy in all of us.
Lindy Segall is a Fredericksburg resident and retired executive at GSD&M in Austin. Email him at email@example.com.