Update on the Poets | Folkstreams

Update on the Poets

Update on the Poets

"Cowboy Poets" was produced in 1986 at the beginning of the cowboy poetry revival. Kim Shelton wanted to make a documentary that would show cowboy poets from different regions of the West, from different generations, and guys that both wrote their own poems, and those whose talent was based in the memorized recitation of well-loved poems. At that point, there were few women involved in cowboy poetry, something that has changed dramatically during the ensuing years.

After discussion with Western Folklife Center, Shelton settled on profiling the lives of three men, Waddie Mitchell, a young buckaroo with a large family, who at the time, managed a small ranch for the LDS church outside of Elko, Nevada; Slim Kite, an old-time cowboy from the mountains of Arizona; and Wallace McRae a fourth generation rancher from eastern Montana.

To most Americans, even rural westerners, cowboy poetry was something new, something unexpected. The film showed the lives of these men in detail and examined the traditions and inspiration that brought poetry into the lives of ranch folks. It was a hit at film festivals and garnered a spot on both National Geographic Explorer and on PBS's POV series.

In January of 2004 the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada will celebrate its 20th anniversary. A lot has gone under the bridge. The Cowboy Poetry movement has enriched a lot of lives even though it has not enriched many pocketbooks. Here is a little update on the 3 gentlemen who were profiled in "Cowboy Poets"

Waddie Mitchell's life has been most changed by cowboy poetry. All the little kids running around in the film are pretty much grown-up. Waddie realized that entertaining had a better chance of buying his dream ranch than a cowboy's wages. His amazing talent brought on demands and before long he began traveling most of the time. He says that these days he's on the road 300 days each year. He has several CD's out. He and his singing partner Don Edwards perform symphony shows all over the country with their own scores. Waddie has written the official poem for both a Super Bowl and for the 2002 Winter Olympics. He and his bride Lisa Hacket now have a big piece of ground outside of Elko, NV and they are now dreaming about a house, barn and a place to enjoy life.

Slim Kite lived a few years after the film was out and performed poems at small events until his death.

Wallace McRae is one of the most respected poets in the West. He still ranches but has turned some of the day to day operation of the family ranch over to his son. He is still active, writing poetry, short stories and keeping a political profile. Wallace has the distinction of being the single poet who has been featured every year, 20 in all, at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.