Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 8-26-13

Gwen Petersen
Big Timber, Mont.

Once more, the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous has come and gone in Lewistown, Mont.

A sell-out crowd attended the 28th Gathering to enjoy three days of poetry, pickin’ and lots of grinnin’. Daytime sessions were held in the Eagles Club. A remuda of poets and pickers said their poems, played and sang their songs in four different listening rooms — sometimes to standing room only.

Mary Jacobs, loyal fan and follower of the Gathering has lived the cowboy life for — are you ready —101 years! Mary hasn’t missed a Gathering since it began 28 years ago — well, except for the one time she had an opportunity to ride horseback into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. That particular year, she chose the ride.

Now at 101, Mary gets about in a wheel chair. The Eagles is an old building with no handicap access to speak of. No problem. There was always a handy cadre of cowboys available to simply pick her up — chair and all — and descend or ascend steps.

Outside, under shady canopies, western gear vendors displayed their wares. On an outdoor stage, musicians belted out western tunes. Those who suffered an attack of the hungries could mosey on over to the chuckwagon for a pitchfork steak fry, burgers, dogs or sandwiches.

The night show — always a high point in any Gathering — opened with Dave Stamey, singer/songwriter who’s been called the Charlie Russell of western music. Wow! Lemme tell ya, Pard, that Dave can pick that guitar and sing those tunes to bring a smile to your lips or a lump to your throat!

Emcee, Sandy Seaton Sallee (and oh, yeah, Mary Jacobs granddaughter), handled the chute gates starting with some of her own poetry and songs. She held the crowd enthralled with poems about wind and wolves or chuckling aloud at Horsemanship 101. To call the throng back to their seats after the break, she cracked a whip — literally — on the hardwood stage floor. (It makes a sound about the same decibel level as firing a .22 pistol. Sure makes a person pay attention!)

The headliners this year? The King of the Cowboys descendants: Roy Rogers Jr., his son, Dustin Roy Rogers, and their band, The High Riders drove all the way from Branson, Mo., to give Montana Cowboy Poetry a BIG show. And did they ever! Roy Rogers’ singing talent lives on in his kinfolk. Their perfect harmony tunes took you back in memory to the Sons of the Pioneers.

These stars of Branson had no pretensions. Gracious, laid back, generous with their time, they stayed after the show to sign CD’s and books and chat with everyone. Sandy Sallee made sure to introduce her Grandma, Mary Jacobs, to the “Boys.” Every member of the Rogers group made a point to talk with Mary, not just once politely. No, they kept returning to exchange another story or two. After the night show, as they were preparing to leave, each one sought her out to say goodbye. Mary, at 101 remains a charmer. She kept up her end of the conversations with lively wit and style.

Keepin’ It Cowboy — the watchword of the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous. For 28 years the Gathering has been dedicated to “preserving and celebrating the history and heritage of the American cowboy.” In August of 2014, the Gathering is bringing Sons of the San Joaquin to Lewistown along with a corral full of cowboy poets and pickers for the 29th Gathering.

Mary Jacobs plans to be there to celebrate her birthday as she turns 102! Be sure to say howdy. She’ll be the bright-eyed, white-haired lady with the big smile seated in a wheel chair, likely pushed by a handsome cowpoke. ❖