ANTELOPE ISLAND – After a hard day of riding and roping cattle, most cowboys spent their evenings telling each other stories.
That tradition lives on in the form of cowboy poetry, which celebrates life experiences, tall tales and the things that make the American West unique. Cowboy poet C. R. Wood will share classic poems and some of his original work on Sept. 28 from 3-4 p.m. at Fielding Garr Ranch.
“Cowboy poetry is oral history,” said Wood. “It’s the stories, legends and myths of the one great icon in America — the cowboy.”
Many of those legends and myths were created and perpetuated by the cowboys themselves, who needed to keep one another entertained after they had made camp for the night. They also talked about their lives and things that were bothering them, two habits that are also reflected in modern cowboy poetry.
“These boys used to solve all the problems of the world around the campfire,” said Wood.
Many modern-day cowboy poets have also spent some time in the saddle, though the lives of ancestors who lived in more rugged times can also serve as fodder.
“For me, it’s just a way of remembering the family stories,” said Wood. “It’s easier for me to do it with metering and rhyming verse because I can keep all the details where they’re supposed to be.”
Even for some of the most well-known cowboy poets, memory served as the best inspiration for their work. Bruce Kiskaddon, who published three collections of his poetry and was very popular in cattle journals, worked on ranches in both Australia and the U.S. Several of his poems, however, were written while he worked at a hotel in San Fransisco.
“Most of his best poetry was written while he worked as an elevator operator,” said Wood. “While he was working, he always had pen and paper on him.”
One of his most well-known poems, “When They’ve Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall,” follow the thought processes of the cowboys as they make their way home.
“He’s a fine, fine author,” said Wood.
Banjo Patterson, the Australian poet who wrote both “Waltzing Matilda” and “The Man From Snowy River,” didn’t spend time as a cowboy at all.
“He was actually an attorney and journalist,” Wood said. “He was also a lot of fun.”
Though the reading is free, entrance to the island is $10 per carload of up to 8 people. Bicycles and pedestrians are $3 per person. For more information, call 801-773-2941.