“There’s a hundred years of history,Baxter Black, “Legacy of the Rodeo Man”
And a hundred before that
All gathered in the thinkin’
Goin’ on beneath his hat.
And back behind his eyeballs
And pumpin’ through his veins,
Is the ghost of every cowboy
That ever held the reins.”
Out in Big Bend Country each February, the largest assembly of cowboy poets, singers, musicians, and storytellers in Texas gathers on the campus of Sul Ross State University in Alpine to perform new works among peers.
Known as “The Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering” for the last thirty-three years, after the founding group retired in 2019 a group of enthusiastic supporters formed a new board to host what’s now called the Lone Star Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
The event features top artists of the genre. Red Steagall, musician, recording artist, poet, and band leader, is always a highlight, along with Jean Prescott, Jeff Gore, Joel Nelson, and syndicated columnist, TV personality, poet and former veterinarian Baxter Black. These stars are joined by dozens of performers from all around the country.
JR Smith, an Alpine radio personality, artists and musician, explained the difference between cowboy poetry and other traditional verse. “The folks that create this art form most always have something to do with ranching, farming, and nature,” said Smith. “The inspiration comes from riding pastures, working cattle, breaking horses, and just overall living the western heritage dream.”
Although it is not necessary to be a “cowboy or cowgirl” to render a poem, song, or story, most of the performers at gatherings around the country have that background.
Texas Lifestyle magazine said this about the Lone Star Gathering: ”Cowboy poetry is a primary part of our western heritage and history [and] authentic cowboy poetry gatherings keep it alive today. It is a historical treasure.”
It is not clear how poetry and the cowboy merged into an “art form.” One could surmise the men and women working and driving cattle 150 years ago would alleviate the tediousness of being on horseback for long hours by telling stories, creating rhymes, and occasionally sing about the day. As practical as this may be in history, the reality is a bit closer to the middle 20th century.
With the advent of recorded music and moving pictures, the singing cowboy grew into a stock favorite on the silver screen. Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gene Autry, and others from the era popularized and romanticized the cowboy lifestyle. As this medium grew in popularity, men and women used the inspiration to create their repertoire for entertainment purposes.
Despite trends today that suggest fewer families are involved in the ranching life, the love for that lifestyle is on full display in gatherings around the state and the nation.
EDITOR’S NOTE / UPDATED ON NOVEMBER 14 2020:
Due to ongoing concerns with the COVID-19 Pandemic, changes have been made for the 2021 Lone Star Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Organizers have a very creative concept to stream a series of 90-minute professionally-filmed cowboy poetry events, beginning November 2020. Each virtual event will showcase three or four performers. Viewing will be accessed via ticket purchase. Members will get free or reduced-priced tickets. Fans can watch events of their choice over the span of the series.film and stream a series of ticketed virtual cowboy poetry events beginning November 2020. For details, see Lone Star Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
The next in-person Gathering will be held February 18-19, 2022, and each year thereafter on the 3rd Friday and Saturday of February.
Randall Kinzie is owner and manager of the Stone Village Tourist Camp in Fort Davis and member-manager for the Texas Mountain Trail Region on the Authentic Texas LLC board.