Seems they’ve done it most of their lives… bringing the spirit of the west alive in their rhymes. So say the dozens of cowboy poets who attended the 23rd Cochise County Poetry & Music Gathering this month, where annually storytelling meets live music, and where cowboy humor and everyday life become poetry that speaks to the western experience.
The Cochise gatherings began in 1993, after a recital of cowboy poetry and music inspired by Prescott folklorist Warren Miller was included in a local celebration of southwest heritage encouraged by the Sierra Vista Arts and Humanities Commission.
The first gathering was held as part of the Sierra Vista Third Annual Winter Arts Festival, and so popular that they became annual events, introducing a Western Heritage curriculum to the third through high school grades in Sierra Vista. This program has expanded to schools throughout Cochise County.
The Cochise gatherings intend to recognize the cultural value of cowboy, rancher and rural west traditions, with this year’s program hosting more than 50 attending performers at the Arizona Folklore Preserve and other venues, as well as an artist meet-up at Tombstone’s Big Nose Kates before the formal events. Having the poets entertain at local schools before each gathering also is part of tradition. Almost all poets stay with local, volunteer families during the gathering, forming a strong bond with the community.http://cowgalpoet.com/photos.php
She speaks the Cowgirl Code
Three-time Western Music Association Female Cowboy Poet of the Year Sam DeLeeuw has participated in at least 10 Cochise gatherings. Hailing from the small town of Roy, Utah, Sam grew up herding horses, cows and sheep and rode her first horse when she was four years old. A rancher’s wife for decades, Sam says all her original poetry is inspired by her family stories and everyday ranch life of people she’s met and the places she’s been.
Poets give you renditions that go along with life, the worst and the best parts, she said recently in a Sierra Vista radio station interview. She spoke about how gatherings are like large family reunions for the poets and musicians, but that they take a lot of dedication.
According to Sam, when family men needed to find work after the civil war, they started trail drives to round up the cattle for food. In the evenings around campfires, the men had time on their hands and would share stories as well as some of poetry of their European ancestors. Some mimicked the rhymes and added their own stories, often accompanied by harmonicas or fiddles. That stirred cowboy poetry beginnings.
The poetry comes from belief in keeping music alive, and it’s entwined with a belief that cowboys are a part of history, she says.
One theme found in many of her poems is Strong Women, as exemplified in a stanza from her “Cowgirl Code”:
…Well, the cowgirl code is here to stay…no matter what, oh, some men might say
each woman is now equal to the rest
so if her horses you don’t saddle
and she’s branded her own cattle
you’ve just met…a real woman of the west….”
Gatherings as Western Folklife
Cowboy poetry gatherings have their roots in Elko, Nevada, when, according to the Western Folklife Organization, “polite society” was invited to a 1926 gathering at the Elko High School Gymnasium to hear Badger Clark, a minister’s son born in 1883, who wrote A Cowboy’s Prayer: “The local paper said of Clark: ‘There is the naturalness of the westerner about him and about his writing which proves that his heart not only was in the west but has beaten in tune with it ever since it began its human labors. He is not an easterner come west — he is a westerner who never goes east — unless he must do so in the line of duty.’”
The Western Folklife Center revived the gatherings in 1985 and in 2000, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution naming the Elko Gathering the “National” Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Read more at: http://www.westernfolklife.org/General-Information-on-the-Gathering/the-history-of-the-gathering.html).
- The Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering is a designated Arizona Treasure and was named True West Magazine’s Best of the West Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2014. Learn more at: http://www.cowboypoets.com/
- Read A Cowboy’s Prayer by Badger Clark here: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/badger.htm#Pray
- Meet Sam DeLeeuw: http://www.samdeleeuw.com/
See her performance at 2013 Cache Valley Rendezvous https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCwV2E_lbNg#t=29
- Read “On The Trail of Cowboy Poetry,” an essay by Dave Stanley about the history of cowboy poetry as a traditional art form: http://www.westernfolklife.org/images/stories/explore/ncpg/CPG2004_Dave_Stanley_Essay.pdf