Meet Miss Cora Rose Wood
From the time I was a teenager first working for the Saratoga Sun newspaper, I have had an opportunity to meet many interesting people, most of them “older and wiser” individuals who have stories to tell from their experiences in life. I’ve interviewed men who helped with some of the last true open-range roundups, World War I and World War II veterans, the man who owned the world’s largest wind turbine, world-class snowboarders, artists, cowboys, ranchers, tough women, and so many more.
The first time I saw Cora Rose Wood she was standing on a park bench where the light from a campfire flickered on her face and made her long blonde hair seem to be on fire itself. Mom, Laurie, played the guitar and Cora sang. I don’t recall what the song was, but I do remember that she had the audience transfixed … and she didn’t want to sing just one song! I believe that she was 4-years-old at the time.
That performance took place at the Grand Encampment Cowboy Gathering Campfire, and over the next couple of years she was back for every campfire performance. She did so well the second year that the Cowboy Gathering Outfit tapped her to perform on the night show stage. She did a marvelous job with her performance of a poem she had written herself.
“The first time I started I was 4-years-old,” Cora told me in a recent interview. “I just decided it would be really cool if I could do yodeling, poetry and singing. I started playing with Mom when I was four and then I just got invited to a couple of places and that was when I decided I would start writing poetry.”
Her first poem was about her pony Chester. “He’s one of the luckiest horses on the ranch because he gets his own stall to go into,” she said. But she quickly adds that she has other good pet buddies. They include “Ceecee, my Corgi, Bill Bob, the yowling cat, Snowflake, the rabbit, and two fish.”
“I try to take care of my cat, but my mom does most of the work,” Cora says. “I feed the dogs every night, try to take care of the rabbit, but when I forget, my mom kind of pitches in. I feed my fish every day.”
This second grader’s favorite subjects in school are reading, art, recess and gym.
I have an opportunity occasionally to do some film work, and when Cora was five, I worked on a piece that is used in the visitor center of the Kansas City Federal Reserve bank. One of the scenes we needed to film was cattle ranching, and through a lucky set of circumstances did the filming where Steve was moving some heifers on the ranch he operates. He had the assistance of the Wood family: Duane, Laurie, Cora and her little brother Bonner.
There I saw that this cowgirl poet and singer was not just another pretty little girl, but a real hand. She managed her quarterhorse better than riders far older than she, and she knew when to push a heifer, and when to hold back and not get in the way! And certainly all ranch dads know that is one of the most important lessons a ranch kid can ever learn.
I’ve come to know Cora, who is now eight, much better over the years. She is always interested in performing, whether that is on a stage before dozens (perhaps hundreds) of people or in my living room. She sometimes has difficult decisions to make, though, since she also likes to barrel race and that competition often conflicts with her poetry and singing opportunities. But with six belt buckles won for her skill around the barrels, poles, in ribbon roping and sheep riding, heading to a rodeo is often her choice.
She told me one of her favorite trips was to Riodoso, N.M., where she attended the horse races at Riodoso Downs – picking and betting on her favorite horses, which she said won! But this performer is, after all, still a kid and she told me some of her favorite things to do. “In the summer I like to go fishing and I like to play outside and go swimming in the ditch. In the fall I like to rake up leaves or sit outside and look at the pretty colors. During winter I like to go out and build a snowman … or make snow angels.” In the spring she takes “walks outside to just get fresh air. And I like to jump on the trampoline.”
Totally creative, she is also an excellent little artist (I have many refrigerator drawings she has done for me when visiting my house that I am keeping and intend to give back to her when she graduates from high school in another 10 years!)
With the definite support of her mother, a very talented singer and guitar player, Cora also makes it to many other cowboy gatherings besides our local event in Encampment each July. She has been invited to perform at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev., and as anyone who understands anything at all about Cowboy Poetry knows, that is the granddaddy of the genre and an invitation sought by nearly all cowboy poets.
One criteria for the Elko organizers is that they want performers who are truly cowboys, who have the experience of ranch work under their belts. Let me tell you (and them), they have that with Cora Rose Wood. She’s a hand even if she is only eight.
When she was interviewed this past fall by a writer for the New York Post, Cora talked about how she prepared for a stage performance. She told him she stood in front of a mirror to practice and added it was helpful to have a little brother in the background clowning around as that taught her how to focus on the performance and not be distracted.
But at a recent performance for the staff at a nursing home, she admits her “mind erased” during one of her songs. Skilled performer that she is, “I kind of saved it. I just stopped and let my Mom play the guitar until I found out where I was. It seemed like it covered it up to me. I don’t know if people knew I messed up. So I did that to try to make it sound normal.”
Cora, who in 2008 was named Youth Yodeler of the Year by the Western Music Association, co-wrote “Cora’s Cowgirl Yodel” with her friend Paul Harris, and that is the title of her first CD as well. She will be performing during several sessions in Elko, including one where she will be on stage with the great Cowboy balladeer, Don Edwards in a program called “A Cowboy and a Little Lady” on Jan. 29, beginning at 4:15 p.m., in the G Three Bar Theater.
Steve and I have plans to go to Elko to watch Cora perform in that significant gathering, and I encourage you to do the same. As I found last week, it is still possible to find a motel room in Elko – and to purchase tickets for various events associated with the gathering Jan. 23-30. (Cora performs Jan. 28-30). But if you happen to be in Arizona for the winter, you can also catch Cora and Laurie performing at the Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering Feb. 12-14 in Sierra Vista.
For more information about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, which also features performances by Waddie Mitchell, Andy Wilkinson, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Paul Zarzyski, Baxter Black, Doris Daley and many more, please visit http://www.WesternFolkLife.org. For more info on the Cochise County Gathering, please visit http://www.CowboyPoets.com. You can also see more about Cora on her web site at http://www.WoodWesternMusic.com.
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