The Western Way

by ACPA Member, BJ Smith

Although some might find it surprising to discover Cowboy and Poetry in the same sentence, this art form has enjoyed a healthy existence for centuries.

It can be traced to the cattle drive culture in England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland as far back as the sixteenth century. Cowboy Poetry has its roots in the rural way of life and working with livestock.

During the huge cattle drives from Texas north prior to the nineteenth century, drovers riding night guard found it both essential and entertaining to talk to the cattle as they rode the perimeter of a resting herd. This reduced the element of surprise as the dark hours passed, keeping the bovines quiet and contented waiting the morning light.

Some wranglers could whistle, some yodel and some sang as they rode but most would simply tell stories to their cud chewing audience. Good stories bear repeating at the campfire and rhyme is a good way to remember, hence the birth of Cowboy Poetry.

To quote famed poet Bruce Kiskaddon, “they are the simple tales of the roundups and trails, when he worked on the range with the cattle; Not the wild woolly nights nor of gambling hall fights, But the days and the nights in the saddle.”

The western way is more a state of mind. This is apparent at authentic cowboy festivals and gatherings where folks with a genuine affection for ranching, farming, cattle, horses and horse trails congregate to share and enjoy the stories, poems and music of the real west. There is an array of material from horse wrecks to rainbows, from an assortment of performers aged nine to ninety.

Performances range from historical to hysterical, but are always suitable for all ages. Disrespectful, vulgar or degrading material is never tolerated in keeping with western tradition. Often the poetry and music capture the rhythm of the motion of a horse and paint pictures of rural landscapes.

The characters who perform are often just that, true icons of the past. Retired Ranchers, Bronc Busters, Mule Skinners and Mounties share the stage with working cowboys and farming folk. Their attire is that of the working west, wide brimmed hats, neckerchiefs or wild rags and high topped riding boots are in abundance. The messages are simple but powerful which is why audiences are prompted to return again and again.