02/10/2014 09:31 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Wrangling Words

Thirtieth Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Elko, Nevada

Renowned as host of the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, Nevada, is a former railroad byway that has transformed itself into a "can do" town of casinos, covered wagons, Basque heritage and Western verse. Cowpokes, cowgirls, would-be ranch hands and city-slickers decked out in Stetsons, blue jeans and spurs assemble every January to honor and perpetuate comic, moving and nostalgic down home verses that sprang from evenings 'round the campfire.

This year we packed up our leather fringed jackets, headed to Elko, and rustled up some rhymes of our own.


Bandanas are red, denims are blue
Hit the trail to the Cowboy Poetry do.

Buckaroo wordsmiths, bards of the West
Gather at Elko's annual Fest.

Mustangs and sagebrush, herds on the range
All come to life in the poems they exchange.

Arranging it all, the main event-er
Is the rustic Western Folklife Center


The Center plans programs held all over town
In the college, convention space, high school, downtown.

Seated in venues bursting the seams
With laughter and tears fans embrace homespun themes

Keynote speaker Temple Grandin told how empathy abets
Greater understanding among people and pets.

[photo by Charles Ekburg]

Dale Nystrom, Randy Rieman spoke verses by rote.
Brenn Hill and Mike Beck strummed every note.

We heard Michael Martin Murphey, a tunesmith of fame,
Ian Tyson, Bimbo Cheney, each a cowboy "household name."


Spoken in a Western drawl, in grammar sometimes strange,
Their verses were profound and free as life out on the range.

Thirty years since starting, this Fest shared a birthday date:
The 150th, Sesquicentennial, year of "the Silver State."


A poem called "Dame Nevada," a paean to commemorate,
Was penned by Waddie Mitchell, the official laureate.


Besides the recitations there are other things to do
Movies, dancing, silver workshops -- how to cook a bunkhouse stew.


For hanging out between the acts, belly up to the WFC bar
Or sip a Pico Punch at the authentic Basque Hotel Star.


Plus Elko has museums with artifacts that hail
The pioneering struggles on the California Trail.


Maintaining those traditions is a mission of the Fest
Honoring the past is a new challenge of the West.

Glenn Ohrlin, Georgie Sicking, old timers whom we cherish
Delivered works of heritage; tradition mustn't perish.

Yet youngsters, slams and hashtags, web postings online
Show the new generation is carrying on fine.


Facing up to modern life, both challenges and curses
Hardy people of the range embrace the world in verses.

And while there may be negatives, there is no stopping change.
Bless cowpokes who preserve in words their homeland on the range.


The 31st annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering is scheduled to be held Jan. 26-31, 2015.

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Western Folklife Center

California Trail Interpretive Center

Star Hotel

Photos courtesy of Sharon Hoge