The History of The Gathering
Elko, Not the First Cowboy Poetry Gathering
By Hal Cannon, Founding Director
Some people say the Cowboy Poetry Gathering was born in January 1985. Now called the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, it was decreed thus by the U.S. Senate and all the crown heads of Europe. However, most people just call it "Elko." When it started, people described it as a parting of the sea, a gathering of tribes, a "Class A" drunk in a long series of various-classed drunks. Some journalists say it's the most honest and open-hearted festival in America. Ranchers say these few days contain the highest concentration of lies in any one place at any one time. Twenty years ago, Glamour Magazine said it was one of the best ten places in America for a woman to find a real catch. All of this makes a sensible person wonder.
The fact is that what we think of as the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko was hardly the first. The old Pioneer Hotel still echoes from a hundred years of poems, lies and lost dreams. There was a little arts and crafts festival in the 1970s that says it was the first cowboy poetry gathering. The fact is that the first cowboy poetry event in Elko where polite society was invited took place April 3, 1926 when Badger Clark came to Elko and entertained a large crowd at the Elko High School Gymnasium. The local paper said of Clark: "There is the naturalness of the westerner about him and about his writing which proves that his heart not only was in the west but has beaten in tune with it ever since it began its human labors. He is not an easterner come west - - he is a westerner who never goes east - - unless he must do so in the line of duty."
Read "On The Trail of Cowboy Poetry," an essay by Dave Stanley about the history of cowboy poetry as a traditional art form,