Featured at the Bar-D Ranch


Jim "Curly" Musgrave
received standing ovations at every performance
photo by Lloyd Shelby


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This is Page 3 in our story about the 2002 Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, an event  conceived and produced by our past Lariat Laureate Sam Jackson, held in conjunction with the popular Western Legends Roundup. 

Below you'll find information about the other Western Legends Roundup Events and Evening Shows.

Thanks to Lloyd Shelby for all the photos on this page.



There are two previous pages about the 2002 Rodeo:


The 2002 Cowboy Poetry Rodeo and Western Legends Roundup 

The Poetry Workshop Page 1

The Competition Page 1 and continued on Page 2
2002 Purse Winners  Page 2
What the Competitors Say About the Event  Page 2

Western Legends Roundup Events and Evening Shows This Page 

And you'll find more background information about the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo on additional pages at the BAR-D: 


More About the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo
Background and reports of other years' competitions

What is Cowboy Poetry and How do You Write It?
articles by Sam Jackson with poetry and commentary 


Visit the Western Legends Roundup site for more information about the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo and other festivities at their annual gathering.



Western Legends Roundup Events 

The poets were kept busy with the preliminary competition starting early on Friday and lasting all day, and then with the finals that began early Saturday and ran until noon.   The other Western Legends Roundup events were on-going daily, and poets, musicians, and others enjoyed those events along with the evening shows (described separately, below) and the late night jam sessions.


The opening events started on Wednesday evening at the Kanab High School, and included dinner and entertainment, along with a Dale Evans Plaque presentation, special guest Robert Fuller, and the Kanab Symphony of the Canyons. 


Among the workshops, events, and demonstrations on Thursday were "Cowboy Poetry Writing," "Western Photography," "Old Fashioned Hand Quilting," "Clay Pottery Making and Decorating," "Western Painting Instruction," "Silversmithing and Engraving," "Western Dress and Hat Making," and "Western Swing Dance Instruction."  There was a a Levi Stuart Foundation Dinner, and the evening's Western Legends Roundup Show (described below).

After the evening show, the BAR-G Chuckwagon hosted Thursday's Jam Session in its spacious and comfortable setting.  Kanab Mayor Kim Lawson welcomed all, and the appreciative audience was treated to entertainment from poets including Doc Hayes, Stan Tixier, Perry Payne, Trey Allen, Sam Jackson, Colen Sweeten, Ed Nesselhuf, Ronnie Olsen, Andy Nelson, and a local resident, who read an old cowboy poem found among his late father's belongings. Rick Pitt recited his "Hell's Half Acre":

Hell's Half Acre

Gather round all pardners,
     There's a story I must tell.
'Bout a place up in Wyoming,
     I myself call cowboy hell.

They were pushin' little dogies,
     Down the sage brush covered trail.
They were headin' up to Casper,
     Where they'd send 'em down the rail.

They were movin' sorta northeast,
     In the early mornin' sun.
It was maybe half past seven,
     When they all heard someone's gun.

They rode on through the sage brush,
     Where the prairie rattlers dwell.
Then they came upon a stretch of land,
     That truly looked like hell.

As they looked across the prairie,
     Not a cowboy made a sound.
It was pretty clear to all of 'em,
     They'd have to go around.

The trail boss rode up to the edge,
     With shock upon his face.
Never in his life had he seen,
     Such a Godforsaken place.

It's a place of desolation,
      Way out in the prairie sand.
And it looks like it was carved there,
     By the devil's own right hand.

The point man spotted somethin',
     And the trail boss gave the word.
He said ride on up an check it out,
     So it doesn't spook the herd.

Well the thing that he'd seen movin',
     Was a boy packin' a saddle.
The kid he really looked like hell,
     Like he'd fought a losin' battle.

As the boy told 'em his story,
     He would start to shake an shiver.
He said he was headin' west,
     To some kin in Powder River.

He said this wasn't his country,
     That he'd had a chance to roam.
But he'd fought with his ol' pappy,
     So he'd ran away from home.

He said he was just ridin',
     When he felt a sudden jolt.
Said he thought it was a rattler,
     That'd caused his horse to bolt.

Said he'd tried to hold 'em back,
     But the bronc was movin' fast.
When they dove into the hell hole,
     Said he thought he'd breathed his last.

When he came back to his senses,
     On the jagged rocks below.
Started lookin' for his pony,
     Where he was he didn't know.

He crawled down a little further,
     Then his face formed in a frown.
Cause he knew his horse was hurt bad,
     And he'd have to put him down.

Well they put him in the wagon,
     And they took him on back home.
And they knew that he'd be wiser,
     'Bout the places that he'd roam.

     All the cowboys they were happy,
Cause he hadn't met his maker.
     In that hell hole on the prairie,
That they now call Hell's Half Acre.

© 2000, Rick Pitt

Brothers Rick and Verlin Pitt

Mike Dunn recited the "poster poem" he had presented at the previous weekend's Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering in Prescott, Arizona, "Spellbound":


The view is vast from the middle rim;
dismounted... he gazes across the land
The same land more than a century before,
 in settling, his family had taken a hand.
Weather's dry in a cloudless sky,
        summer'll be hot, he can tell.
But the gathering, along with springtime chores,
        has really gone quite well.

Three mama cows and earmarked calves
        graze upon the offside ridge.
A quarter mile on, a doe and fawn
        are near its upper edge.
Sister's mare with her new foal,
        he watches down below,
Along with Dan, his old retired horse,
        oh... it was hard to let him go.

 The rim's edge... is a rugged ride,
        checking for the last of the strays
But the trail is so, once starter down,
        they'll pretty much find their own way.
And it's no chore, it's a welcome ride,
        one he's done time and again.
When first he rode along that rim...
        he'd had not yet reached ten.

The age, his kids are now far beyond,
        which gives him cause to pause,
In awe... of how life's played out
        and how it continues on.
Both up and down his eye are filled
        with that of earth and heaven,
With wonders of life, more often then not,
        only passing thoughts are given.
His horse stands quiet as stars appear,
        the cowboy lingers longer.
Immersed in thought of past and present,
        it's the cowboy's time to ponder.
He's got to go, he tells himself, but
        suspended, gazing through time's eye,
His delay continues, even though the ranch
        is still a two-hour ride.
With sounds of night, the skyline's lit,
        the city's glow has sat upon,
Breaking the dark, above the ranch,
        some thirty miles beyond.
In the valley there's a single, distant light... 
        from the ranch house his granddad built.
Humbled... knowing family is there,
        far safer then their forbearers could have felt.

Thoughts are deepened, petition laid... 
        as if in prayer he asks to tell,
Why life, with all its blessings,
        has cared for him so well?
Time holds fast the past and present
        and for the cowboy... a glimpse is given,
The wonders of life that leaves him Spellbound, on a rim...
        somewhere between earth and heaven.

© 2002, Mike Dunn

Musicians entertained as well, including crowd favorite Jim "Curly" Musgrave, whose wide repertoire is impressive in its inclusion of contemporary songs, original works, Spanish ballads, and those from the Celtic/British tradition "in his heart." That tradition led to his exquisite performance of "Annie Laurie," which he told the crowd was sung to him as a childhood lullaby by his English mother and her Glasgow friend.

Hal Cannon, the founding Director of the Western Folklife Center and its National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada and Cowboy music expert, offered additional exceptional musical moments, playing "I'm Leaving Cheyenne" and other tunes on his 1860's Martin guitar. The happy crowd didn't want to leave, and the music and poetry continued well into the night.  


In addition to the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, among the workshops, demonstrations and events on Friday were a Western Arts and Crafts Show, an Old West Historical Reenactment and multi-denominational tent Revival, "Wagon Building," a Longhorn cattle display, Navajo Rug Weavers, an antique machinery and equipment display, a quilt show, blacksmithing demonstrations, and much more, including the Western Legends Roundup Show (described below).  A Western Legends 50's & 60's dance was held at Kanab High School, and featured Lone Hawk Band and vintage Western music.

A special event, repeated on Saturday, was the showing of Why the Cowboy Sings,  produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis.  The film premiered in January 2002 as a signature event of the Salt Lake City Olympics, and has been awarded a Rocky Mountain Emmy and a Gold Special Jury Award at the Houston Film Festival.  The film features Stephanie Davis, Glen Ohrlin, Henry Real Bird, and the Schutte family of Nevada.  The lyrical introduction lets you in on the deep roots of Hal Cannon's love for Cowboy music, and gives a glimpse of him performing, and some footage of the earliest National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada. As more contemporary shots of some of the Elko stars are shown -- such as Linda Hussa, Paul Zarzyski, and Wallace McCrae -- Hal Cannon asks Waddie Mitchell: "Why does the cowboy sing?"  Waddie responds: "Why does a frog croak?"  The film blossoms to show the profundity underlying the humor of that response.  The in-depth pieces with the featured subjects shed some light on why the cowboy sings, but perhaps even more importantly, they show an authentic portrait of the people of the real West."  You can read our feature about the video here.

Hal Cannon chats with the audience after the video showing

The Friday night jam session at Fernando's Hideaway was held outdoors in the beautiful warm evening.  Performers from the evening show and other poets and musicians in the audience took part.  Among the highlights were performances by Jim "Curly" Musgrave including a song from an Elizabeth Ebert poem, music from Jo Lynne Kirkwood, poetry by Allen Clark, and eric lee's "Things a Cowboy Knows":

Things a Cowboy Knows

Daddy came to California in the spring of `ninety-eight
And brought me back to Texas, just to stop and breathe awhile.
The place looked much the same, but Mama, waitin' at the gate
Looked like it was a struggle, just to try and find a smile.

My world had took a beatin', and the truth is that I ran.
When I looked in the mirror, was a stranger that I saw.
I'd tried hard to be the thing that I thought was a man
But LA took away what should have seen me through it all.

But the Texas sun brought home to me what I was raised to know;
That a man stands tall, no matter where the wind decides to blow...
That the work gets done, come rain or shine,`cause that's just how it goes.
I was raised to know the things a cowboy knows.

I never had forgotten things like faithfulness, and trust,
And I'd kept alive the part of me that knew to do my best,
But the part that wouldn't quit got buried, somewhere in the dust
Of a place where people wear two faces...and I'd failed the test.

Now, I remembered what it meant to ride the fence-line, days on end,
And how easy you can fall asleep, just by countin' stars,
Where a saddle-mare can show you what it means to be a friend
`cause a friend's what you can count on, even while you're countin' scars.

And in a Texas summer sunrise, I remembered what it meant,
To hold your head up high, and to take whatever's sent
That you go on, whatever comes, `cause that's just how it goes...
And you take the wind, whichever way it blows...
I was raised to know the things a cowboy knows.

© 1998 eric lee

Other outstanding performances were Sam DeLeeuw's "Harley's Helper" (from her book Hilda and Friends) and Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks recitation of "Mornin' on the Desert":

Mornin' on the Desert

Morin' on the desert, and the wind is blowin' free, 
And it's ours, jest for the breathin', so let's fill up, you and me.
No more stuffy cities, where you have to pay to breathe, 
Where the helpless human creatures move and throng and strive and seethe.

Mornin' on the desert, and the air is like a wine, 
And it seems like all creation has been made for me and mine.
No house to stop my vision, save a neighbor's miles away, 
And a little 'dobe shanty that belongs to me and May.

Lonesome? Not a minute: Why I've got these mountains here,
That was put here just to please me, with their blush and frown and cheer.
They're waiting when the summer sun gets too sizzlin' hot, 
An' we jest go campin' in 'em with a pan and coffee pot.

Mornin' on the desert-- I can smell the sagebrush smoke. 
I hate to see it burnin', but the land must sure be broke.
Ain't it jest a pity that wherever man may live, 
He tears up so much that's beautiful that the good God has to give?

"Sagebrush ain't so pretty?" Well, all eyes don't see the same,
have you ever seen the moonlight turn it to a silvery flame?
An' that greasewood thicket yonder -- well, it smells jest awful sweet, 
When the night wind has been shakin' it -- for its smell is hard to beat.

Lonesome? Well, I guess not! I've been lonesome in a town.
But I sure do love the desert with its stretches wide and brown.
All day through the sagebrush here the wind is blowin' free. 
An' it's ours jest for the breathin', so let's fill up, you and me.

The author of "Mornin' in the Desert" is unknown, though the poem is sometimes attributed to John R. Nielson. [Editor's note, 2006: see our feature on the poem here, and its author, Katherine Fall Pettey.] It is said to have been found written on the door of an old cabin in the desert.  Jerry Brooks delivered the poem -- as she does with all of her recitations -- as if she had written every word and possibly also invented the alphabet.

Jerry Brooks



Saturday, the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo finals went on until noon, and many Western Legends Roundup activities continued all day, including breakfast with the Movie Stars and the Western Film Festival, re-enactments, ropers, 10-up Horse Wagon Rides, and a host of other demonstrations and events, including the on-going Western Arts & Crafts Show. All the poets and many others took part in the High Noon Cowboy Parade down Main Street.  

There were two evening Western Legends Roundup shows, one at 5:30 PM and one scheduled for 8:30 PM.  Because the shows ran late (read about that below) there was no official jam session Saturday evening.


Cowboy Church was held Sunday morning, and by all accounts, it was a moving celebration, reflecting the good will and friendship that was such an important part of the Western Legends Roundup and the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo.  People continue to talk about Byrd Woodward's recitation of her poem, "The Last Nail":

The Last Nail

Ya might not think I'm much t' look at with my ol' boots turned up at th' toes,
Th' heels is run down an' the sole's comin' loose from the nails workin' outta their holes.
M' hat is flat-out disgraceful and these batwings is wore down to bat-ears;
Th' belt I'm wearin' looks pretty fair since I been tight'nin' it up all these years.
M' shirts wore through at th' elbows, my kack's been rode down t' th' wood,
M' hair's curlin' round m' collar an' these pants ain't holdin' up like they should.
Nope, I never made or saved money, ridin' fer day work all over these parts,
Th' way I look prob'ly has somethin' to do with th' fact I ain't broke many hearts.

Maybe I oughta point out some I do have since what I ain't got's purty plain:
I got th' sense God gave a goose and I know to git outta th' rain.
Ya might think this rangy ol' geldin' is played out an' not up t' th' game,
But you turn him t' cuttin' an' ropin'...he'll put other ponies t' shame.
When he's worked all day an' half th' night, a bait of grain'll bring back his stout.
Been offered top dollar at round-ups but I'll keep this toppy ol' mount.
Looks don't tell much about what makes a hand an' my rep's sound as any round here.
My shake's good as gold, I don't raise much dust... any cowman'll buy me a beer.

I got 10,000 sunsets an' dawnin's packed under this ol' hat,
An' pards who'll trust me t' git 'em home, whether I say it's this way or that.
I got a daughter I'm proud of, dogs don't growl when I show up at th' gate.
That li'l gal I saved from drownin' that time's got a boy calls me Uncle Jake.
So...if I leave friends behind in Montany whenever or how come I die,
If I don't show up fer spring brandin' an' damp shows in somebody's eye.
If th' folks I worked with remember that when I said I'd do it...I did,
I b'lieve my maker'll be satisfied when they pound th' last nail in th' lid.

© 2002, Byrd Woodward


Western Legends Roundup Evening Shows

Robert Houston

Western Legends Roundup Executive Director Robert Houston was the MC for many of the top-quality evening shows.  All age groups made up the audiences at these shows and all the Westerns Legends Roundup and Cowboy Poetry Rodeo events, an indication of the wide appeal and family-friendliness of Western entertainment.

On Thursday, Houston opened the show with the comment that all involved were helping to preserve western heritage through entertainment:  poetry, music, and film. Much local talent was a part of this first evening show, including the Prairie River Band, the BAR-G Wranglers, and the energetic high school music and dance group, the Lariettes.

The Cowboy Poets -- as would be expected at the home of the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo -- were excellent.  Poet Jane Morton gave a flawless presentation of some of her best poems. The audience was in stitches with her Yoo-hoo, and they responded with warm recognition to the situations in her "City Folks" and His Tractor.

Jane Morton and the "Yoo-hoo!" greeting


My mother always called, "Yoo-hoo," so we would look her way.
She did it at the sale barn one cattle auction day.

Dad brought his cows to market there, as he did every spring.
He liked to watch the auction and his cattle in the ring.

Some Hereford cows were milling round, and others bawling loud.
The auctioneer was trying hard to stir the morning crowd.

My folks were in their usual seat where they had said they'd be,
And I had started toward them when my mother spotted me.

She jumped up quick and called, "You-hoo," and then she waved her hand.
She'd bid on thirty Herefords with our own CU brand.

The auctioneer looked toward my mom and gave a little nod.
A feedlot buyer raised her bid, and I was thanking God.

I didn't dare to signal her for fear they'd think I'd bid,
And Mom had no idea at all of what she almost did.

So needing to get down there fast, I headed for the stair.
Then came another, "You-hoo Yo-ooooo," that caught me unaware.

I'd almost closed the distance when my mother waved once more.
The auctioneer acknowledged her, the way he had before.

I watched the feedlot buyer as I slipped into my seat,
And when the fellow didn't bid, my heart near ceased to beat.

My dad sat focused on the ring completely unaware
Of all the action going on right there beside his chair.

From up in back there came a bid, and I could breathe again.
I prayed the field had narrowed down to real cattle men.

I took Mom's hand soon as I could and held it tight in mine.
I said, "How are you doin', Mom?"  She said, "I'm doin' fine."

Now Mom had been to auctions, and she knew what not to do. 
Of course a real no no would have been to call, "Yoo-hoo."

But Mom forgot herself that day and learned to her chagrin
How close she came to buyin' back the cows that Dad brought in.

© Jane Morton

His Tractor

My father's Massey-Ferguson went back to Adam's time.
At any rate it had been years since it had seen its prime.

The neighbors always joked about the bailing wire and gum
That held the thing together and that really made it hum.

Though Dad had fixed it many times, replaced it part by part,
He couldn't get it working right.  In fact, it wouldn't start.

We said, "Why don't you give it up?  It's time to let it go.
You can buy a new one Dad, we know you've got the dough."

He took off his old DeKalb cap and scratched his balding head.
He squinted in the noonday sun.  "Well, I heard what you said."

"But if I bought a new one, then I'd have to fix that too,
Which when the thing broke down someday, I wouldn't know how to do."

He took no break despite the heat--'twas ninety in the shade.
The sweat was dripping from his brow by time repairs were made.

And so he went on driving the tractor he knew best.
He used it for the smaller jobs and farmed out all the rest.

For all I know it might have been a valuable antique,
Except for all the different parts that made it too unique.

And when he died they hauled it to the ranch dump where it lies,
Half hidden by the sage and sand behind a little rise.

Now no one else can make it work.  No one will even try.
Times have changed, and as they did, they passed that tractor by.

It is a monument of sorts to those who could make do.
They used it up and wore it out instead of buying new.

© Jane Morton

Denise McRea of Idaho, who served as one of the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo judges, also had the audience in her thrall. The breadth of her work was well illustrated with the somber and reflective "Empty Houses," her "Irrigating...Why I do it" (below) that shows how a common task can hold extraordinary pleasures, and in her "Ranch Wife's Resume" (below) that met with whistles and applause from the knowing audience:

Irrigating... Why I do it

It's spring, I'm irrigating,
Out shoveling up the sod,
The pay is pretty skimpy,
But I really love this job.

I get to hang out with the curlews,
And laugh at the killdeer,
Today my little boy's with me,
And I'm awful glad he's here.

'Cause for him it's just like having
A three hundred acre yard,
The day is warm and sunny,
The wind ain't blowing very hard.

He's making little stick boats,
And floating them down the ditch.
He could not be having more fun,
If we were filthy rich.

He gets to playing in the shallows,
Where the water's not too cold.
The way he laughs, it makes me wish
That I was six years old.

So I'll keep on irrigating,
'Though the pay is kind of low,
'Cause grass hay ain't the only thing
I'm getting to watch grow.

© April 22, 2002, Denise McRea

Denise McRea

Ranch Wife's Resume

I was helping my sister the other day,
She was writing up a resume.
I got to thinking how mine would read.
Some things would sure look strange, indeed.
"What is 'cow bait'?"  they might say,
Well, I'd answer, it works this way.
When you're in the corral with a cow that's mean
This will do as good as anything.
You stand in the gate, and when she charges you,
Jump out of the way and let her through,
Then hop back over and slam the gate.
That's what's meant by being 'cow bait'.
Then, tractor puller, not the one
That's a sport, or meant for fun.
Lots of patience is a must.
Remember, ease out on the clutch.
Don't want to snap ol' hubby's neck
Or stronger words are used than "heck."
Next up, blade weight.  This don't take much skill,
But husbands can get looks to kill.
They ask you to stand out on the end of the blade.
The reason, well, they need more weight
So they can scrape the stackyard free of old hay,
But hubby don't earn no points that day.
I can be a fencepost or a gate,
Often times that's been my fate.
Hold that cow, don't let her through.
You're sure in trouble if you do,
'Cause you change from fencepost to cowdog.
It's awful helpful if you can jog.
Equipment mover, this one I hate,
Trying to squeeze them through the gate,
Combine, hayrack, rake, or baler,
Backing up a fifth wheel trailer.
Never learned to do that right,
Wonder it don't cause a fight.
Hand lines are a tribulation,
But I'm pretty good at flood irrigation.
I can dig ditches, and shovel sods,
Set canvas dams with rocks and clods.
I've got such lovely calloused hands
From chasing water cross alfalfa lands.
But the one of which I'm proud,
And I'll say this right out loud--
"Bovine Obstetrics and Nutritional Knowledge."
Now, don't that sound like I been to college?
But all them fancy words fall flat
When you stop and realize that
All it means is I pitch hay
To them big ol' cows all day,
Then leave my nice warm bed at night
To look at their bums with my flashlight.
After looking at my resume,
It looks funny, I should say.
Hope I don't have to go and look
For another job...sure glad I can cook!

© Denise McRea

Poet Colen Sweeten, introduced by Denise McRea as "a cowboy's cowboy and a gentleman's gentleman," entertained with a selection of his great poetry. His first offering, "The Philosopher," was a tribute to poet Owen Barton, a poet who was at the first National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada (the book that resulted from that gathering, Cowboy Poetry, A Gathering, includes two of Owen Barton's poems). 

The Philosopher
(A Tribute to Owen Barton, 1987)

They gave me a gentle old pony
Too fat and lazy to run,
And sent me out on the rangeland
To see what the drought had done.

I could see it was only a Grandpa chore
To get me out of the way,
So I filled my canteen with water
And quietly rode away.

When I reached the forks of the draw
There was no water in the ditch.
In just two hours my horse had the scours,
And I had a case of the itch.

The spot where the beaver pond once stood
Is a big dusty salt lick now,
But I can remember when late in September
There was water to drown a cow.

But the ditch rider came along one day
With five sticks of dynamite;
He drained every drop of water
And blew the dam clear out of sight.

The beavers were the best engineers
Our valley ever had,
But the Government trapper took 'em out,
He said their influence was bad.

The cowboys dug out Moonshine Spring
To get water in big supply,
And now there is a four-inch pipe,
And the whole dam thing is dry!

I sat down there on the rim-rock
With these troubles on my mind,
And then I saw a hereford bull
The cowboys had left behind.

His head was hangin' near the ground
With a tongue too dry to drip.
And a protected species magpie
Roostin' on his hip.

'Twas then I saw a flash of brown
In the shaded brush near by,
A mangy, thirsty old coyote
Just waitin' for the bull to die.

I was wishin' for a rifle
As she walked over to a hole,
But when I  saw her starvin' pups
I was ready to shoot that bull!

It's tough to get confused and old
After all the miles I've trod,
Me, a sittin' on the rim-rock
Tryin' to act like God.

While criticizin' all the dumb mistakes
I've seen some people make,
I should surely know by now
Life ain't no piece of cake.

But I've got my satisfaction
And had my biggest thrills,
Just watchin' coyotes and magpies
And thinkin' about red ant hills.

© Colen H. Sweeten Jr.

The crowd just loved Colen Sweeten's tale of "The Day We Branded Pigs," based on a true account of one of the many escapades he and his brother George had growing up on a remote Idaho homestead.  These two ranch kids, after hearing about recent horse and cattle rustling decide to take preventive measures for protecting their pigs: "...We were not the kind for trouble/Being helpful was our one desire./So we locked the pigs all in the pigpen/And built ourselves a branding fire...."  Both poems are included in Colen Sweeten's book and tape, Back at the Ranch.

Other musical guests included the accomplished Red Rock Wranglers, who incorporate Cowboy Poetry with their musical performance; Hal Cannon, the founding Director of the Western Folklife Center and its National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada; and Jim "Curly" Musgrave, the acclaimed writer and singer.

Hal Cannon

Among his many accomplishments, Hal Cannon is a musician and authority on Cowboy music.  His performance was nearly a spiritual experience, as he arrived on a spare stage, playing a lovely old tune on his mandolin for many minutes before uttering a word. He played the "Black Hills Waltz" and "Trouble up the Nine Mile," two tunes that were first played "a long time ago" on the Arizona strip where Kanab is situated.  

He continued with the 1860's era "The Mormon Cowboy":  "I am a Mormon cowboy, Utah is my home/ Tuscon, Arizona, is the first place I did roam/And then into El Capitan, a place you all know well/To describe that brushy country, no mortal tongue can tell."  In his book, Old-Time Cowboy Songs (see our feature on the book here), Cannon says the song is still being sung, "sometimes with the boy going home to safe innocence and other times marrying the wild and woolly girl met at the dance."  

It was a special treat to hear him perform "Hittin' the Trail Tonight," a Bruce Kiskaddon poem that he set to music.  The song has been recorded by many others (Cannon's humble understatement was that "it's gotten around quite a bit") including the legendary Buck Ramsey.  You can hear Buck Ramsey sing the song at the Western Folklife Center site.

Jim "Curly" Musgrave

The Thursday evening audience was in store for more exceptional music, from Jim "Curly" Musgrave, who has "performed for royals, prime ministers, presidents, potentates, paints and pool tables, for grand kids on his knee or just friends in need of a song."  He started with several songs from his first album, Born to be a Cowboy (his latest is called Cowboy True).  He told that his "The Ornery Camp Cooky's Stew" was filmed by the Westerns Channel and "I got pretty full of myself, but I'm married, and that didn't last long."  It's probable that even his wife would say this warm and engaging entertainer is never "full of himself," though the audience thought that he deserved to be.  

His inspirational "The Master's Hand," he said, "Is the answer to where I worship.  I say 'everywhere,' especially from my saddle." His great sense of humor also came through in his performance, as did his humanity and grace in the wide range of songs he presented. 

Musgrave is known for his poetry and songwriting, but he has also created beautiful arrangements from the work of other top poets and songwriters, including two he performed based on Elizabeth Ebert's "Bluebell Blue" and Ellie Corrigan's "Satan's Stallion."  He has also collaborated with Michael Fleming of New West, and others. His single of Cowboy Poetry Rodeo organizer and fine poet Sam Jackson's Becky O' stayed high on the Western Music charts for weeks.  (In the Cowboy Poets' workshop earlier on Thursday, he talked to the poets about writing lyrics for Western singers.)

"My Daddy's Hat" got a resounding reception. He introduced the song saying it was based on his own childhood, when his father would come home from his chores and put his hat on his head.  He said he would smell his essence, and feel powerful.

But the best was yet to come, when Curly Musgrave performed his ballad about the closing of the ranges and today's other challenges, in his "Escalante Adios."  Sung in the shadows of their beloved Escalante, the audience returned a long standing ovation, a perfect ending to a great evening.


Brenn Hill

Friday evening's show was another star-studded event, featuring the music of R. W. Hampton and Blue Sage, poets Brenn Hill and Jo Lynne Kirkwood, and many others.  We weren't able to attend that show, but we know that the crowd welcomed one of Kanab's favorite daughters, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, and her popular poem, "Requiem: Kanab"; Jim "Curly" Musgrave's "Escalante Adios" from the previous evening was an echo of her work:

Requiem:  Kanab

When Dahl was less than eight years old his dad put him in a saddle
and took him to the desert range to check up on their cattle.
And there against the western sky his pa opened up his heart
And explained to Dahl the reasons he had chose the rancher’s part.

It’s in the blood, his daddy said.  It’s in the DNA.
It’s inherited from ancestors who lived the cowboy way.
It’s the freedom of an open trail, the sun’s clear blinding light
The clean serene of pristine skies inside a starry night.

It’s the proclaimed right to stand up tall and own your self-respect.
The undisputed gift of pride a rancher can expect.
It’s the heritage that claims the land from generations long
since buried in the rocks and sand, a legacy of strong
men who stood up proud and tall against this desert sky.
Their skin burned tough, their gaze grown fierce.  Unafraid to die.

Dahl listened to his father’s voice,  and knew his heredity,
He sat tall, there in his saddle, wonderin’, “How long until it’s me?”

And on canyon wall kachinas laughed
and wove their secret dance
above the gaze of mortal eyes
or human circumstance.

Dahl saw the writing in the sky when he was ten years old.
Men played roulette and his town lost to decaying yellow gold.
From Houserock to Los Alamos they hauled that ticking ore
Then sent it back as poisoned wind across the desert floor.

It burned his cattle, killed the sheep, and brought down healthy men.
It moved by chance, a reaper’s path, and struck, then struck again.
Yes, it’s the DNA that claims this land.  Dahl saw the mockery
of watchful worry.  Who comes next? How long until it’s me?

There’s a one way ticket punched for us. And we’re all on that last stage
conversing with a coach of fools all doomed by fate, or age,
or freakish chance, unlucky breaks, genetic malformation
or genocide experiments allowed by this great nation.

Dahl saw the words across the land and knew things just weren’t right
when a staircase appeared suddenly in the middle of the night.
With ink and paper men decreed an executive proclamation,
yet kept their distance, as though ashamed, these leaders of this nation.

Then Dahl read  the message in the stones, and thought it mighty strange
that they’d pushed big boulders ‘cross the road, blockin’ his summer range.
Those trails were formed by feet of men who walked in old time days, won
before test sites, or habitats, or roadless designations.

They were made by hooves of cattle, and steel forged horses shoes,
sheep camp rims and wagon spokes and the wheels of trucks they’d use
To haul the stock and herders up from the desert floor
Movin’ ‘em out like their daddys did, and like those who’d come before.

Yes, it’s the heritage that claims this land.  Dahl read the message strong
of watchful worry.  What comes next? How long can I hang on?
And on canyon walls Kachinas laugh, and weave their secret dance
above the gaze of mortal eyes and human circumstance.

There’s honor in this ranching life.  Tradition in its ways.
Our lives were built on bones of those who lived in bygone days.
There’s the ghosts of men who died lonely, gunfighters who drew too slow.
Cholera and Typhus both took their awful toll.

There’s specters of existence too mournful to contemplate
and spirits of babes born dead in the night when the doctor came too late.
We’ve irrigated pastures where sagebrush only grew,
and kept our skies a clean serene pristine shade of blue.

But the writing’s on the wall for us, and we’re at a desperate stage
Some folks have traded reason for environmental rage.
Misguided men have claimed this land, and we face a fearful test
as we live out these last chapters of the book of the old west.

©  Jo Lynne Kirkwood


R. W. Hampton, Brenn Hill, and Trey Allen backstage


The Saturday evening shows started out with the sort of anxiety that could drive a stage manager over the edge:  Headliner Michael Martin Murphey, who was to appear at the 5:30 PM and the 8:30 PM shows, was hundreds of miles from Kanab when the band's bus broke down.  After frantic repairs and pushing the speed limit (rumor had it that the officers who pulled them over ended up escorting them to Kanab) the band showed up at least an hour after the first show was supposed to have ended.

Executive Director Robert Houston kept his cool at the stage door 
as the crowds waited for Michael Martin Murphey's arrival

But the Western Legends Roundup was not about to shortchange either full-to-capacity audience, so they entertained those who had arrived for the 8:30 show in the high school auditorium, while the held-over first audience was finally able to enjoy an energetic performance by Michael Martin Murphey and his band.  The professionalism and courtesy of the organizers and the patience and enthusiasm of the audiences said quite a bit about the kind of people who live in and visit Kanab.  "Never was heard a discouraging word."   

Talented young trick ropers were part of the entertainment for those waiting for the later show on Saturday night, and the wait also offered an opportunity to socialize.  There was a chance to talk with one couple, Janice and Jack Young of Salt Lake City, who had attended every session of the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo.  It was their first visit to the Western Legends Roundup and Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and they had come to see their friend Dan Bradshaw perform.  They said that they were up at 5:30 the first morning to get ready to be in the audience, and Janice said "we just got hooked."  They said they were particularly impressed with Trey Allen and Hank Mattson, and that they really liked the poem "about the cowboy in sneakers" ("The Ballad of Dogie Munroe," by Hal Swift). 

Michael Martin Murphey arrives ( with a police escort?)

Nearly two hours late, the last evening performance began with a stirring rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner," sung without music, in the clear and moving voice of R. W. Hampton.  Then all veterans were asked to stand and were recognized by the audience; surely every member having his or her own thoughts about past conflicts and the looming anniversary of September 11.

Next, two local cowboys, Southern Utah Western Legends, were honored, Wallace Ott, born 1911 and Trevor Leach, born 1920.  Trevor Leach "can still outride most men and ride all day."  He says "There might be a horse I couldn't ride, but not one I wouldn't try."  His official bio says that "He believes in his word and a handshake...and will always be a cowboy."  

Friends Wallace Ott and Michael Martin Murphey backstage

Wallace Ott has owned cattle for over 85 years, and is said to probably be the last person alive who saw and visited with Butch Cassidy.  His bio tells that he has planted 1700 Ponderosa Pines in the last five years, and that he works among them daily.  Both men were presented with hats and buckles by Michael Martin Murphey, a long-time friend of Wallace Ott.

Hal Cannon

The affable Hal Cannon was the show's MC, and he started the entertainment by commenting that "The quality of the poetry has been fabulous."  Cowboy Poetry Rodeo organizer and poet Sam Jackson and each of the rodeo champions were brought on stage, and the poets received their buckles: Mike Dunn (Poet/Serious); Stan Tixier (Poet/Humorous); Trey Allen (Reciter/Serious); and Sam DeLeeuw (Reciter/Humorous). Each performed during the show, and Hal Cannon again commented on the "universally excellent poetry" and had all the participating poets in the audience stand and be recognized.  He also reminded the audience to visit CowboyPoetry.com and the Western Folklife Center web sites for more Cowboy Poetry.

Cowboy Poetry Rodeo Champions Sam DeLeeuw and Stan Tixier backstage

Once again Jim "Curly" Musgrave delighted the audience with "Cowboy True," "My Daddy's Hat," and "El Gringo de Ramona Linda."  Showing his customary sense of humor, he quipped that when a song is "based on a true story, it's a poet's way of saying 'I've thrown a bunch of lies in the mix."  And as he had in earlier shows, he earned a standing ovation from the crowd for his beautiful ballad that tells a story that is close to their hearts, "Escalante Adios."

The popular David John and The Comstock Cowboys are based in Virginia City, Nevada, and that historic setting influences their attire and their music, with many  songs about the history of the Old West.  David John spent some time in Nashville, which encouraged him to move West and play Western music, the type that is no longer heard in Nashville.

Michael Martin Murphey and his band were no doubt worn out from their travel travails, but they gave the audience their all in an energetic show.  They did many of their most-requested tunes, and several new songs having to do with the James Brothers and Younger Brothers gangs that terrified the West in the late 1880's.  The standout piece of the evening was a beautiful arrangement with hammered dulcimer of "The Bard of Armagh /Streets of Laredo" that is on the band's latest album, Cowboy Classics: Playing Favorites II.   

Michael Martin Murphey

Michael Martin Murphey


As the exciting evening ended the satisfied audience went away with what Robert Houston had promised at the outset: the preservation of western heritage through entertainment.

More Photos and Activities

Below, a group of the competing poets take some time out to explore the outdoor events and Kanab's restaurants and shops: 

Rick Pitt, Verlin Pitt, Lloyd Shelby and Hal Swift in front of Denny's Wigwam

The above photo was taken in from of Denny's Wigwam, a busy gift shop, offering a huge variety of western wear, Stetson hats, boots, navajo rugs, and the largest selection of Indian jewelry in the Southwest. 

One of the main attractions at Denny's Wigwam is the pottery of Reneé Jackson (the man behind the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, Sam, happens to be her husband): 

Reneé's Desert Image Art is a blending of art and clay.  Her unique pots of all sizes are inspired by her own heritage and her associations with Native American friends in Southern Utah.  (For a catalog and  more information, call or write Reneé Jackson, 4675 E. Vermillion Ave.; Kanab Utah, 84741; 435-644-5459)

Old and new friends gathered at Houston's Trail's End restaurant, whose owner Robert D. Houston is the Executive Director of the Western Legends Roundup.  In his bustling restaurant that features some of the best food in Kanab, it was impossible to not rub shoulders with the many Western movie stars, poets, and musicians such as R. W. Hampton and Jim "Curly" Musgrave who were entertaining during the Western Legends Roundup.

Fernando's Hideaway, at the edge of town, was the site of the Friday night jam session and another gathering  place frequented by poets and their friends for lunch and dinner:

Mike Kirkwood, Jo Lynne Kirkwood, Margo Metegrano, Ronnie Olsen, 
Woody Woodward, Byrd Woodward, Denise McRea, and Sam DeLeeuw at Fernando's Hideaway 

Many of Jo Lynne Kirkwood's family lived in and around Kanab for generations.  Some of her ancestors are buried at the nearby Kanab Cemetery, and after the above-pictured lunch she recited one of her poems inspired by family stories:


See this box?  It was my mother's.  It used to hold her pearls.
I'd to love to see her wearing them, when I was a little girl.
Now this box is mine.  I keep it to hold my souvenirs.
My ma died from cholera, in '73.  I was nine that year.

Ma used to say I'd wear those pearls, someday, when I wed.
But they was gone by then.  Pa took to drinkin and cards, after Ma was dead
And he sold 'em to Frank Miller.  Had to, to cover his debt.
But he saved me the errings, to remember her. Tho' Frank would of give more for the set.

And this?  Oh my.  This is a curl from my little Billy's hair.
He come a-running on those chubby legs to his mamma's arms.  I declare,
When he would smile, his sweet face would plumb light up the skies.
Oh laws.  Such a beautiful baby.  He had his daddy's eyes.

It was that lye soap that done it.  Terrible stuff, that soap we make from lye.
It blisters and burns, and it killed my baby.  It took him three days to die.
I'd left the soap to simmer down, on a bed of burned mesquite,
And it looked like milk to that little boy, all frothed and foamy sweet.

Thing is, if there'd been any milk, maybe that would have helped some.
But the cow was calvy, so  we'd dried her up, to be strong when her baby come.
Oh, the milk wouldn't have saved him, but it might have helped. It hurt him so much to die
With his throat and insides so tore up and bleedin', he couldn't even cry.

I sat and rocked him that whole long time.  Oh Billy, I ache to hold you now.
When he was finally gone they had to tear him away. My arms wouldn't let go, somehow.
Eli's sister come, and wrapped my baby in the silk from my wedding gown.
And Eli buried him by that little pine tree.  See?  It's that first little mound.

I tried to get wild flowers to grow on them graves,
 but this summer's been hot and dry
And time any of them would get a blossom,
they'd mostly just fade and die.

Eli and me, we always figured there'd be more babies come,
but none never did.  Least none that lived.  There was that lonesome one.
A little blue baby, born in '97.  But he come early, and died.
Hot knifing cramps, worse than the others, that ripped me up inside.

Whole walls of pain that doubled me up, and threw me on the floor.
I screamed for Eli.  He tried to help, but that babe, it had to be bore.
And when he was born he was tiny and cold, and couldn't no more than mew.
I tried to warm him, but he stayed cold and still.  I didn't know what to do.

He died the morning after he was birthed, small as a newborn pup.
No bigger than the palm of my Eli's hand. God, I hated to give him up.
And I thought I would die from longin', when my milk came, after three more days,
There.  That next one's his mound.  Right close to Eli's grave.

Jen, that's Eli's sister, she's married and lives in town,
She says it ain't fittin' for me to stay, a lone woman with no man around.
She ain't got room, she says, but she figures I wouldn't stay long.
There's plenty of widower men, with kids.  And I guess that wouldn't be wrong.

It's sure I would have done better had there been a woman around.
But, Lord, to quit this place?  I put everything into this ground.
Ah, Eli.  Eli.  Why did you have to leave me?
I could no more move off of this place than let go of my body.

Eli. We put everything into this land.  Everything.
Dear God, some days I think you've give me more than I can stand

©2001, Jo Lynne Kirkwood 

The entire experience in Kanab was marked with such magic moments. 


Along the road, south from Kanab....





Thanks to Lloyd Shelby for the photos in this report.


Sam Jackson's campwagons are always a great photo backdrop.
Dick Morton, Margo Metegrano (reporter for this article) and Jane Morton



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