photo © 2015, Betty K. Rodgers
by Colen Sweeten (1919-2007)
They came to the mid-winter gath’ring,
Leaving haystacks and dehorning chutes.
Dressed true to old west tradition,
Levis, Stetsons, and high heeled boots.
A few were in casts or on crutches,
Some looked like I’d seen them before.
Each wore the hat no one touches
And had high polished boots on the floor.
The faces were brown as a saddle.
Some mustaches wide as a door.
And they walked with a half-cocked straddle,
Like the part that they sit on was sore.
Their poetry, sprinkled with sagebrush,
Was not meant for the city galoots.
And there each one sat in his ten gallon hat,
And a cow and a half worth of boots.
© 1987, Colen Sweeten, used with permission of the Sweeten family
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission
The Western Folklife Center’s 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, often referred to simply as “Elko,” takes place this week in Elko, Nevada.
During his lifetime, Colen Sweeten was a part of every Elko gathering, except one. He had an enormous repertoire of poems, stories, wisdom, and humor. He always had a kind and cheerful word for all, and as he often said, so many friends that he “wasn’t even using them all.”
Colen Sweeten appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1991, and you can watch a video of the performance, which also includes the late Rod McQueary.
Find some other poems about Elko in our feature here.
This year the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering has a stellar lineup, including poets, musicians, and dancers: Ardi Baltza, Amy Hale Auker, Mike Beck, Ryan Bell, Muzzie & Willy & Cody Braun, Adrian Buckaroogirl, Caleb Klauder Country Band, Cowboy Celtic, John Dofflemyer, Carolyn Dufurrena, Maria Lisa Eastman, Elko Ariñak, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dom Flemons & Brian Farrow, Jean Flesher & Amerikanuak, Patricia Frolander, Pipp Gillette, Martin Goicoechea, Jesus Goñi, Kristyn Harris, Andy Hedges, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Rita Hosking & Sean Feder, Oihana Iguaran Barandiaran, Ross Knox, Maialen Lujanbio Zugasti, Betty Lynne McCarthy, Carlton McCord Lewis, Wally McRae, Waddie Mitchell, Mercedes Mendive and Melodikoa, Michael Martin Murphey, Terry Nash, Joel Nelson, Rodney Nelson, Shadd Piehl, Vess Quinlan, Henry Real Bird, Brigid Reedy, Riders in the Sky, Randy Rieman, The Rifters, Matt Robertson, David Romtvedt & Caitlin Belem Romtvedt, Jack Sammon, Sean Sexton, Sand Sheff, Andy Wilkinson, Wylie & the Wild West, and Paul Zarzyski.
The 34th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering also includes workshops, films, exhibits, dances, and more. Find more at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org.
Idaho photographer and filmmaker Betty K. Rodgers caught this image of Montana rancher and poet Wallace McRae’s boot in 2012 at the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
Betty K. Rodgers is co-producer (with Ken Rodgers) of I Married the War, a documentary-in-progress about the wives of combat veterans. They also created the award-winning film Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, about Ken Rodgers’ company of Marines during the siege of Khe Sanh in the Vietnam War. Find more about Betty K. Rodgers in a feature at CowboyPoetry.com. Find more about I Married the War at imarriedthewar.com and on Facebook, more on “Bravo!” at bravotheproject.com and on Facebook.