Remembering cowboy poet Baxter Black

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Baxter Black
Submitted photo.

On June 10, 2022, Baxter Ashby Black, large animal veterinarian, cowboy poet and philosopher, husband, father and papa rode his old horse on home. Just before sunrise on that day, Jesus signed on one more ol’ cowboy to ride the Golden Fields across the Jordan. 

Beginnings

The iconic cowboy poet and storyteller had humble beginnings. He was born to Robert and Teddie Black at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital just before the end of World War II. He was the first of what would eventually be four brothers: Baxter, Bob, John and Stephen. The family traveled through West Virginia, Texas and ended up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which Baxter would call home. 

When Baxter was 15, his life changed dramatically as his father, Robert, who was the youngest dean of agriculture at New Mexico State University, passed away unexpectedly and he became the man of the house. All while doing his part for the family, he continued to play the guitar among many other things, but he always went to church on Sunday. 

He made his first attempt at writing in high school where, as he would recall, “I wrote something religious I think …” His teacher’s encouragement, after marking an F the size of Texas in red on the paper, was, “Baxter, write about what you know.” 

As Baxter began college he started wondering about what he would major in. His first love was agriculture; there was also a war going on again and he didn’t want to get drafted. He did go in on more than one occasion and take his physical for the Navy. He “wanted to fly one of those big planes,” is what he would tell those recruiters. 

Vet school

His decision to apply for veterinary school came when he realized that no matter what came about, he could always “fix your cow.” He applied to Colorado State University. He was accepted providing that he finished a few math classes. At the end of his third year the only thing standing between him and vet school was a 58% in “triggernometry” (60% was passing). 

He went “begging” his teacher to give him a D. The graduate teacher finally conceded as long as he vowed to “never take calculus or trigonometry again.” He kept that promise the rest of his life! 

Veterinary school saw his jovial and entrepreneurial spirit and vigor take flight again. Baxter made and sold leather belts, brewed coffee in the mornings, cut hair and did laundry, all for those willing to pay a few cents. He even counted ants one summer for a grad student’s research project. He also earned a few dollars playing in a band with a couple of his classmates on the weekends. 

Baxter graduated from veterinary school in 1969 and eventually ended up in Idaho working as the company vet for the J.R. Simplot company. It was while out there driving around and talking to the old cowboys where his storytelling started to take root. 

Storytelling

There were no TVs and very few radios in those days, so he would take his guitar and tell stories. He found that he could take the cowboys’ stories, write a poem about it, tell it back to them and they loved it. In 1980 he ended up in Denver, working as the troubleshooting vet for a pharmaceutical company. 

Baxter’s reputation as an entertainer spread. Soon the constant requests for his brand of poignant, insightful and hilarious programs allowed him to transition from part-time cowboy poet to full-time cowboy entertainer. 

Shortly after forming the Coyote Cowboy Company, he married his wife of 39 years, Cindy Lou, and became the father of Jennifer. A decade later, his son Guy was born, and after Jennifer graduated high school, they moved down to Benson, Arizona. Over his 40-year career, Baxter wrote about what he knew: cowboys, cowgirls, rodeo, cattle, horses and ranch life. 

He wrote with a flair that still captures the imaginations of everyone who reads his stories today. He spoke throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. 

His column was printed in over 130 newspapers and his radio program was on 150 stations through the years. He sold over 2 million copies of his books, CDs and DVDs. He was on the Johnny Carson show on several occasions and was a regular commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition for 20 years. 

All that matters

He lived his life guided by a simple faith in Jesus and his admonishment to “Love God, practice forgiveness and mercy to all who offend, and to care for the least of these.” No one was a stranger to Baxter, whether you sat next to him on the airplane for 30 minutes or knew him for decades. Every person he met was a friend. 

Something that Baxter would always say after getting home from one of his frequent trips seems profoundly fitting for his journey through this life. Should Jesus look at him and say, “How’d it go,” it is easy to imagine Baxter, with a beaming smile shining out from under his mustache saying, “Lord, I made ’em laugh, and that’s all that matters.” 

Family. Baxter is survived by his wife, Cindy Lou Black; his daughter Jennifer Cubbage, her husband Will, and their children William and Savannah; his son Guy Black, his wife Jessica, and their children Gwendolyn and Magnolia; his two brothers, Bob and Steve, and his two dogs, Solomon and Rudy. 

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center, 26284 Oso Road, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675; Canine Companions, 2965 Dutton Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95407 or to a favorite charity of your choice.

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