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Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 2-21-11

If you live in the Rocky Mountain West, you’re as familiar with Charlie Russell artwork as you are with your teeth. That’s because you grew up cutting your choppers on photos, prints, reproductions, books and museum collections of Charles Marion Russell’s paintings, drawings, sketches and poetry. If you’re a late comer to Out West and ignorant of the cowboy artist’s work, what’s the matter with you?

Likewise, if you’re unaware of – or condescending toward – cowboy poetry gatherings, you have a lot to catch up on. One way to do that – come Aug. 11-14 – is to attend the 26th Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Lewistown, Mont. The theme: “Keepin’ It Cowboy.”

Which brings me back to talking about Charlie Russell. In an illustrated letter to a friend, Charlie wrote these words: (Note that his spelling and punctuation weren’t all that particular).

From an old time hoss rangler C M Russell to his friend Wallace D Coburn

a cowman of the same day.

Here’s to days of the open range.

When the grass that God planted was free

And there wasn’t a fence from the

Mexican Gulf north to the Arctic sea

But they ain’t no use kickin’, Wallace

The cow man’s had his day.

The Nester’s here with his fence an plow

an it looks like he’s here to stay.

Yes, Charlie, the Nester got here and he stayed. And Charlie, the West is still changing. New Nesters (we call ’em “Newbies” nowadays) arrive faster than grasshoppers in spring or sticktights on a dog’s fur. These Newbies feverishly clutter up the bits of remaining open spaces. I know it is true that nothing and no one remain static. Unless stuffed by a taxidermist like Roy Roger’s Trigger, everything changes. It’s a condition called life, so the feller says. However, Charlie, some of us are doing our the best at Keepin’ It Cowboy.

At the annual Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous, you can soak up the rhymes and music pouring from the hearts of cowboy poets and pickers. You’ll laugh – sometimes only a chuckle, sometimes with a doubling over belly guffaw. Or you’ll choke up and brush away a tear when a cowboy relates a tale about his favorite horse or dog. (There are hardly any tear jerking verses about pigs, sheep, chickens or goats. Maybe someone should form a Pig Poetry Gathering or perhaps a Chicken Chronicles Collective. Although there are a few poems and songs about goats – Bill Grogan’s Goat, for example – who ate Bill’s red longjohns and coughed them up in time to flag down a train). Sheepmen have penned a few cantos about the ovine animal. So have cowboys – but not necessarily in an admiring fashion.

After the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering formed in Elko, Nev., in 1985, Montana was the first state to saddle up and produce the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Today the event is headquartered at The Yogo Inn in Lewistown, Mont., an appropriate spot. Lewistown is in the geographical center of the state and you can’t throw a rock without danger of striking a cowboy – or his horse.

Dates: Aug. 11-14. Friday and Saturday: Hourly cowboy poetry and music sessions. Friday night: A Jam ‘n Dance open to the public. Saturday and Sunday: Western Art and Gear Show. Saturday night concert: Starring Riders in the Sky. Sunday morning: The Hallelujah Trail cowboy church.

So, Charlie, we’re doing our durndest at “Keepin’ It Cowboy.” If you’re ridin’ the trail this direction come Aug. 11-14, stop on by the Yogo Inn in Lewistown, Mont. You’ll hear some good stories and songs and I’d lay odds your name will be mentioned a lot.

“The mission of the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering is to preserve and celebrate the history, heritage and values of the American cowboy in the Upper Rocky Mountain West.” (www.MontanaCowboyPoetryGathering.com.)


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