ELKO, by Colen Sweeten


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 reposted or reprinted without permission

The Western Folklife Center’s 36th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, often referred to simply as “Elko,” is getting underway in Elko, Nevada. We like to share the late Colen Sweeten’s poem every year, when it’s “Elko time.”

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, along with the late Rod McQueary. See a clip from the show here.

Find more about Colen Sweeten and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com,  where there are also tributes to him.

Find some other poems about Elko in our feature here.

This 2014 photo by Carol M. Highsmith, titled, “Fancy cowboy boots for sale at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo in San Antonio, Texas,” is from The Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Find the collection here, where it notes that, “Highsmith, a distinguished and richly-published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Starting in 2002, Highsmith provided scans or photographs she shot digitally with new donations to allow rapid online access throughout the world. Her generosity in dedicating the rights to the American people for copyright free access also makes this Archive a very special visual resource.”

Find more about Carol Highsmith and her work at carolhighsmith.com and on Facebook at Carol M. Highsmith’s America.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but please request permission for any other uses. The photo is in the public domain.)