Cowboys Gather To Entertain While keeping Flint Hills Traditions Alive

No horses showed up, but conversation and all other doings centered on them.

It was the first Flint Hills Cowboy Gathering recently at Alma.

Brainchild of some participating in the first Kansas Cowboy Poetry Contest earlier this year, the two-day affair was loosely patterned after the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering each winter in Elko, Nevada

“We wanted to showcase the authentic ranching culture and working cowboy heritage found in the Flint Hills,” said Trey Allen, Junction City rancher who won the state contest. He was instrumental in planning and also entertained at the most recent “Gathering.”

Abby Amuck, director of Wabaunsee County Economic Development at Alma, jumped on the opportunity to help coordinate and make it happen.

“We didn’t want another contest, but rather just a time of western family fun and education,” Amick said.

“Yes, poets, but also musicians, re-enactors, western artists, and gear makers were invited to participate, with everybody everywhere welcomed to come look, listen, and become involved as well,” she related.

And, they did just that. “We were pleased with the interest and participation from a wide area that attended our first ‘Gathering,’ and we intend to make this an annual event,” Amick evaluated.

Another of those on the ground floor of planning was Ron Wilson, Manhattan rancher, poet, and weekly rural columnist, who was moderator for several of the diverse programs and also recited his cowboy poetry.

“Cowboys gather cattle, and this event is a gathering of those who gather cattle and a gathering of everything to do with the cowboy way of life,” Wilson insisted.

Cowboy poets visited Wabaunsee County schools on Friday to interact with students while reciting poetry and talking about the Flint Hills and its Western heritage.

Headlining the Friday night session at Alma’s Lutheran Church were Geff Dawson, two-time national champion cowboy poet, along with Allen, wearing his “Governor’s Buckle,” signifying him as the best in the state this year. Each told tall and true cowboy tales as several of their most requested rhymes were recited.

Saturday’s line-up kicked off at the Wabaunsee High School in Alma with an early dinner featuring trail chili and dumplings with ice cream provided by the Cowboy Way Ranch and Vacations of Westmoreland.

Amick was at the door greeting the crowd handing out programs featuring the artwork of Don Dane showing cowboy poets Jay Snider, Oklahoma cowboy, and Trey Allen wearing his identifiable derby hat, on their gray horses gazing across the Flint Hills.

That painting was used in all promotion for the “Gathering,” and Dane was on hand to sign commemorative prints.

A number of his other artworks were on display as Dane explained, “I work out of my home at Olathe and generally paint subjects that reflect the tradition of the American West, the American cowboy and the rural way of life.”

Three floors of the high school had displays of vendors so visitors could browse through them during the afternoon, making purchases if so desired. Everything from jewelry to spurs, bits and knives to paintings, and other special Western artwork were presented.

Renowned cowboy author and former English Department head at Emporia State University Dr. Jim Hoy talked about his family’s cowboy life in the Flint Hills, told about his book, “Flint Hills Cowboys,” which was also for sale, and discussed other cowboys he knew or had heard about.

An added attraction was when Hoy picked up his guitar and accompanied himself with the original version of “Streets of Laredo.”

A syndicated columnist who serves as director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the university, Hay insisted, “There is no other place in the world like the native bluestem pastures of the Flint Hills in Kansas. We must protect, retain, and cherish this great wonderland for future generations.”

The history includes cattle being driven into the Flint Hills in the 1800’s after the Civil War for shipment to eastern slaughter and southerners learned that the lush native grasslands rapidly put pounds of meat on old Longhorn steers.

Consequently when railroads were built from Texas north, cattle were shipped to the Flint Hills for fattening during the summer, then loaded back on trains and taken to the packers.

“Not only is the Flint Hills a unique grassland, it is unique in operation,” Hoy said. “Much of the ‘Hills have absentee ownership by investors in other parts of the country. Then, cattle owners from a wide area ship cattle to the ‘Hills for summer fattening, and that’s where cowboys came into the picture last century.

“Cowboys look after the cattle on the Flint Hills during the summer. It is a three-part equation with the landowner, the cattle owner, and the cowboy who cares for the cattle.”

Hoy reflected the work specifically of Dusty Anderson of Skiddy looking after large acreages with thousands of cattle annually grazing the Flint Hills in several counties.

Additionally, the four Pinkston Brothers of the Bazaar and Cassoday area were responsible for more than 10,000 head of cattle on 40,000 acres in peak years.

Interestingly, Hoy recalled Bruce Behymer of KFH radio in Wichita always referring to Cassoday as the “Cow Capital of the World.”

It was there that Wilbur Countryman’s Fourth of July Rodeo became “famous,” according Hoy, who has fond recollections of involvement in the action right out in a Flint Hills pasture.

“My folks were secretaries of that Cassoday rodeo for many years, and I was always involved in some way or other, too,” said Hoy.

Countryman had broncs, bulls, and Hereford cows with calves in his pastures that were brought in for the rodeo as cowboys came from miles around to participate.

“A lot of cowboys drove up from Oklahoma to compete at Cassoday in the afternoon, and then went to the Fourth of July Night Rodeo at Moline,” Hoy said.

Hoy’s own father, Kenneth, and his Uncle Marshall handled lots of cattle and were rodeo competitors.

“Dad was a top hand, but Marshall competed in more rodeos, especially later in life,” Hoy said. “Uncle Marshall was a better steer wrestler than Dad. He could bulldog from the right or left side, which is really unique, even today.

“Dad and Uncle Marshall both had handlebar mustaches and looked a lot alike, so most people couldn’t tell them apart. Sometimes, they’d go to a rodeo and enter several events. Uncle Marshall would bulldog his steer and Dad’s too, and folks didn’t know the difference.”

A champion calf roper himself, Hoy collected his doctorate degree in English from Missouri, and then went to the nearby rodeo arena and collected first place in the calf roping.

One of his tough competitors in those earlier escapades was Cheese Marten, Alma cowboy, who was also in attendance at this “Gathering.”

Now headquartered on his ranch near Scranton, Marten is also a cowboy poet, and his wife, Judy, recited several of his works during the afternoon program.

One was about Marten’s first experience trying to bulldog a steer, although he later became a top steer wrestler, calf roper and all-around rodeo contestant, successful rancher and profitable Greyhound and Thoroughbred racer.

Cowboy poet Paul Schmitt joined Allen and Wilson to moderate the afternoon sessions on such topics as “Cowboy to the Bone, Tall Tale Windies, Spurs and Lace, Rodeo Rhymes and Had to laugh or Cry.”

Among others telling stories and reciting poetry were Dwight Burgess, Norman and Quentin Brackenbury, Eric Borden, Dwight Burgess, Charley Green, Tim Keane and Don Mock.

Western musicians “3 Trails West” also gave a preview of what their show was going to be like during the evening session at the Lutheran Church where Wilson and Schmitt again entertained as well.

Classic cowboy tunes and Western swing music of  3 Trails West were performed by the Elits Brothers, Roger and Leo, along with Jeff Elsloo and Gary Bury.

“All in all it was a great gathering, and there were no strays that got away, permanently at least,” Allen evaluated the first Flint Hills Cowboy Gathering, emphasizing that plans are underway for the second annual “Gathering” in 2012.

We Just Knew Him As Frank

By Cheese Marten

It was the time of the year when the colts were sold.

Judy and I stopped at the Double B.

There was a solid bay munching on hay

That stood to be chased in for gold.

Fat Denny could see I was in a whale of a pinch as the bidding began.

Judy said, “If there was a good one on the block, it is no time to crawl.”

I waved off, and she waved on; the bidding was quite brisk.

She said, “I am going to buy him, it is just one more risk.”

In his early days, he was used a bunch.

The riders that used him were quick to praise,

Saying: “Why don’t you leave him a few more days.”

He was a good one in the hills when alone.

Gene was a searching for a tough one that was bad to the bone.

The critter could hide from you easy most any day.

And he found out soon that we didn’t come here to play.

When this steer was flushed out of the brush,

Gene was quick to catch for he was riding some speed.

This old bay gelding could fill any need.

Why did I sell him? I don’t know why?

There are not many good horses that can really turn the crank.

But there is a day when you gotta go to the bank.

We just knew him as Frank.