The Cowboy Way Tall Tales and Rhymes

Writer Fadi Sitto

Photography Cowboy Poets of America

Sharlot Mabridth Hall, one of the first true cowboy poets, was born in 1870 and died in 1943. She wrote about a summer parade at the rodeo that continues today in Prescott, Arizona. With any luck, you can hear a contemporary cowboy poet read her words at this year’s Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. 

“There is never a loss for words, and the poets here speak from their hearts,” says perennial Cowboy Poet Gathering attendee and Prescott resident Allison Brader. “I never miss this event. I just love it here.”

Prescott, Arizona is known for being one of the cowboy capitals of the world. The city comes alive this month with spirited cowboy poetry during its Annual Gathering of Cowboy Poets at Yavapai College Performing Arts Center.

More than 40 cowboy poets and singers will perform for three days, sharing the heritage and culture of the American cowboy. Along with live entertainment, workshops and local cuisine, organizers of the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering believe in educating new generations about the authentic way of the cowboy and how their poetry and music continues to develop and evolve.

The event also features free day sessions during which attendees can meet cowboy poets and singers to enjoy stories, ask questions and learn about the colorful history that celebrate our Western heritage.  

Cowboy poetry originated just after the Civil War during the great cattle drives. Cowboys had plenty of time to ponder, with long days on ranches and dusty trails for surroundings and circumstance. Many of them put their words to rhyme. It has since evolved into a competitive narrative art form, with enduring gatherings worldwide.

The rhyme and rhythms come from the heart. It comes from experience. The Arizona Cowboy Poetry Gathering gives select artists who enjoy composing, writing and reciting cowboy poetry an opportunity to get up on the stage and share poems, songs, and stories that are most important to them.

“Some will make you laugh, some might bring a tear to your eye, and some might make you think about what’s important to you. Most cowboy poetry and music is not Western novel and movie fare. It comes from real life, out here in the real West,” says Jim Buchanan, Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering’s board president.

This year’s event is keeping its focus on the working cowboy, their land and their livestock. This is evident when you see the event’s collectible poster titled A Cup of Joe by Joe Netherwood, which features a cowboy on a horse receiving coffee from a fellow cowboy. 

Gathering patrons can come in and view original paintings and sculptors by Joe Netherwood, Bill Nebeker, Steve Atkinson, Shawn Cameron and Marless Fellows. Regional scenery, animals and real-life cowboys are all captured in their one-off pieces and depict the American West. 

New to the show will be five selected up-and-coming Western artists and their art on display in Yavapai College Art Gallery, adjacent to the lobby where the show takes place.

Those who arrive early are invited to experience more about the cowboy lifestyle during Coffee with the Cowboys Saturday morning. Nightly poetry recitals and live musical performances begin Thursday and go until Saturday evening. 

Thursday night will feature award-winning performer Trinity Seeley. Friday night’s featured performer is Chris Isaacs, three-time winner of the Academy of Western Artists Will Rogers Award. The trio The Cowboy Way, made up of Doug Figgs, Jim Jones and Mariam Funke, will be the featured act Saturday. 

“We think this year’s poets and singers are the finest group of reciters and singers available,” says Buchanan. “We’ll give them five venues to perform in and open our doors to the greatest audience in existence.” 

Even with all the pomp and pageantry, the events take place in an intimate setting. The Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering invites men and women who are now, or who have been in the past, part of the working cowboy’s environment and workplace. 

“It’s the dedication of our more than 100 volunteers that make this event possible year after year,” Buchanan says.

Here in the Northern Arizona high-desert terrain and the center of the area’s ranching lifestyle, this gathering commemorates the end-of-the-cattle-drive festivities that defined the Old West. An unmistakable camaraderie complete with tall tales, poetry, singing, dancing, thick steaks and strong drinks.

For 32 years, Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering has been an anticipated featured event in the Southwest. It has succeeded in preserving and perpetuating the values, traditions and history of cowboy poetry and music as it was enjoyed for decades past, and is being presented in the contemporary form today.

The Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering

Yavapai College Performing Arts Center | August 8–10 | 8 a.m.–10 p.m.  | 1100 E. Sheldon St., Prescott  | 928-713-6323 |

See website for entertainment schedule and pricing 

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