Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Working hard: Cowboy poet tells it like it is

Story by Matt Meyers
April 12, 2022

Dave Knight of Keith County, Neb., is one of 11 inductees into the Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame this year.

Dave Knight represents the fourth generation of the H.H. Knight family who homesteaded and Kinkaided land in the North Platte River Valley, starting in 1886. Through the guidance of his father, Fred H. Knight, and mentoring from Bus Wendt, his life’s course was directed toward ranching.

At the age of 37, when his father unexpectedly passed away, he assumed the responsibility of managing the Red Rose and Red Cedar Ranches, located in Keith and Lincoln counties.

Today, looking back, his entire life has been devoted to ranching, stewardship of the land, and preservation of its history. He has become a dedicated cattleman, a reluctant mechanic of hay equipment, a former bull rider, a writer of cowboy poetry and music, and a community and church leader.

Dave is sometimes described as the Knight family curmudgeon. However, it’s known that his exterior covers an awfully soft heart that comes out in the care he provides for his mother, siblings, wife and family, neighbors, a herd of Red Angus/Hereford cows and calves, and his well-loved border collies.

His heart is reflected in the poetry and music he writes of the cowboy life.

Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame chooses 2022 inductees Editor’s Note: The Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame is inducting 11 new honorees with a ceremony June 11 in Valentine, Nebraska. Each week through mid-June, we’ll meet the inductees.

Dave Knight was born in Keith County, on July 7, 1953, to Fred and Gertrude Knight. He was raised on the Red Rose Ranch established by his great-grandfather, where his mother still resides. In addition to his parents, Bus Wendt, who worked on the Red Rose for over 22 years, played an important role in Dave’s upbringing by teaching him about horses, horsemanship, fixing windmills, and how to fence your land properly. According to Bus, the objective of fencing was not only to keep your cattle in but, of maintaining goodwill with your neighbors – keep it straight and keep it tight! A good fence makes good neighbors.

To this day, according to his sister, Rita, “whatever Dave does, it is done the hard way, but it is done right!”

Another way of stating that fact is a Sally Haythorn reflection, who truthfully noted, “If there’s a hard way to do it, that’s how the Knights will proceed.” If truth is to be told, stubbornness may be a family characteristic Dave Knight has inherited.

In 1974, Knight married the love of his life, Deborah Huebner, and established a home on the Red Cedar Ranch, north of Keystone and part of the Red Rose. This is where they raised their two sons, Josh and Elijah, and now, with the addition of five grandchildren all under the age of 8, they continue to raise little cowboys and cowgirls. In addition, over the years, many young folks interested in the cowboy life have worked with Knight on the ranch and continue to return as members of his “extended” family.

The middle child of seven Knights – and being the first son with three older sisters – put him in an unenviable position where he learned he had to get along and be responsible. His siblings include Freida Lange of Lincoln, Valarie Olson of Brule, Bonnie Mueller of Ogallala, Rita Glenn (his sidekick in the hayfield) and also living on the Red Rose, Russell Knight of Lewellen, and Paul Knight, who has left the hayfield for New York City.

Dave Knight attended Ogallala High School where he excelled in football, wrestling, and track. Upon graduation, he studied at Winfield, Kansas to become a member of the Lutheran clergy, but left to join his father in running the ranches at Keystone. However, many will attest to the fact that he can still deliver some pretty eloquent sermons, generally delivered in the form of poetry and song which he has been writing, reciting, and singing for over 30 years.

He captures the life of a ranch in the words he puts together while waiting – waiting for that calve to be born, waiting to get into a wet hayfield, waiting for parts to come in, or waiting for his wife (captured in his poem, “Oregon or Bust”).

His venues of delivery vary from the family’s front porch, church and community gatherings, schools, meetings, reunions, and cowboy poetry gatherings across Nebraska, the Midwest, and Elko, Nevada.

His rodeo career was short-lived, but while active, it involved bulls and a father who didn’t share the same enthusiasm Dave had for the 8-second endeavor.

There was always the chance of injury and if injured, “You can’t do the work that needs to be done,” quoting his father.

Well, Dave actually stuck on pretty good, even winning a few belt buckles. But, sure enough, he did get hurt. However, by golly, he showed up for work!

So, while this was not a career that led to fame and glory, it certainly provided excellent fodder for cowboy poetry.

The same can be said for his work at the Ogallala Sale Barn, where he helped occasionally on sale days and ultimately gained profound inspiration regarding the idiosyncrasies of cattle and horses stimulated by his own personal broken leg, wrist, and finger (captured in a poem called, “The Bet”).

Throughout Dave Knight’s life, his love for family, friends, and western values has endured him to many. He’s ready to help anyone in need and his word is bond. He’s a man of integrity with deep appreciation for life lived simply. At the top of his commitments is his faith, undoubtedly instilled by his mother.

All of these attributes come out in his book of poetry, “Wrecks, Rhymes, and Ranchin’” poems that range from love of his wife to his intense dislike of the snow – with Noah’s Ark, vegetarians, and the U.W. Mail somewhere in between.

For a number of years in the 1980s he was part of the Front Street show in Ogallala, adding his talents to “The Old Time Gang,” that entertained the local citizens as well as tourists going through the area.

He serves on the board of directors that preserves the world-famous Little Church at Keystone, thus helping to support the history of his community. In addition, Knight volunteered many years to service to the Keystone/Lemoyne Volunteer Fire Department (KLVFD) contributing to the efforts of the dedicated individuals who continue to be on call to help maintain this Sandhills land and its communities.

For years he has been part of the election board for Whitetail Voting District where you could count on him to good-naturedly tease any incoming voter. He has served his home church in a variety of capacities including Sunday school superintendent and he continues to serve his church as an elder.

At this point in life, he is trying to retire but it is hard to let go. He was born to the ranch life, wakes in the morning to the needs of the cattle, and continues to look out onto the valley that has nurtured six generations of Knights. Nebraska and its Sandhills are home and Knight definitely has sand in his boots.

The Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame inducted 11 new 2022 honorees at a ceremony on June 11 in Valentine, Nebraska. 

Editor's Note:

This article was sent to me by a friend, Tom Graves, who knows Dave Knight. After reading the article above about Mr. Knight, I totally agree with Tom when he wrote to say, "Good guys like Dave rarely get the attention they deserve. Seven days a week in the Nebraska heat, cold, and wind deserves a medal."

Yes, Tom's right. And sadly, the public doesn't know or understand what it takes to provide our nation with food. Most don't realize what ranchers and farmers have to do. And frankly, I truly believe that most people today don't appreciate the personal commitment, the physical toll, the toil, and dedication that that way of life requires. 

And no, it's not just a job. It's a way of life. It's a way of life that takes rising early every day, swallowing any gripes about how early one's days start, the poor pay, the lousy benefits, the changing conditions, the cold, the snow, the wind, the dust, and of course the sweltering heat. While it sounds like a life not worth living, it is to those who live it. And while the hardships are all parts of a way of life, it is a way of life unknown to most who have never or will never live that life. Of course, that's the life that Dave Knight knows so well because that's the life of a true American Cowboy. Yes, Dave Knight is a true American Cowboy. 

I am very grateful and flattered that my friend Tom Graves suggested that I post Dave's story here. Of course, this story is being reprinted here on The American Cowboy Chronicles with the permission of its author Matt Meyers. My thanks go out to Mr. Meyers for allowing me to post this story here. 

Thank you so much.
Tom Correa