ELKO - With the theme "Across the Generations," the 21st version of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering running through the weekend in Elko is highlights efforts to preserve the frontier tradition.
The Western Folklife Center's contribution to perpetuating the tradition of cowboy poetry for more than two decades is a focus of the event that started Saturday night in Elko continues through the weekend, organizers said.
"It's what it's all about, passing (the tradition) along," said WFC host Meg Glaser, who helped organize all 21 gatherings.
"A lot of generations have come up through this event," she said at the opening Saturday night.
Some of the cowboy poets who helped get the Gathering started more than two decades ago packed the G Three Bar Theater for a "Local Roots" performance - Walter "Bimbo" Cheney, Jack Walther and the father-daughter musical duo of Larry Schutte and Riatta Brown.
"We thought we'd kick it all off with local talent because they are why this all started," Glaser said.
Most of the performances elicited telling reactions from the mostly local audience, from delighted laughter to silent contemplation of events described by performers.
"Preservation is the most important thing we do, keeping alive the cowboy persona," Cheney said during his stint on stage.
"Some people have been coming here for 20 years," Cheney said. "It's their Christmas and birthday all wrapped into one. All they talk about is coming back to Elko."'
Schutte remembered when it was just a "couple guys readin' poems in the park" and compared it to the cultural event the gathering has become.
"A lot of people ... are trying to relate to this (culture), still searching for the 'back in the brush' attitude, and this is their opportunity," he said. "We live here in the brush, and folks come here to get a jolt of it."
"It's really good for Elko," he added. "It don't matter who comes, as long as the tradition continues."
Brown said she keeps coming back "because of my family roots, and there is no other place I'd rather be."
"I recognize the importance of passing it on - it's a gift from God," she said. "My dad was an inspiration to me, and I hope to be an inspiration to my kids, as well."
The Western Folklife Center led cowboy poets from Australia and Columbia on a ranch tour Sunday, visiting Buckle D Ranch in Ruby Valley and the Thorpe Creek Ranch near Lamoille, where ranch manager Bob Groves gave the participants a sled ride using two Belgian draft horses.
The director of the group, Carlos Rojas, said through an interpreter, that he had visited the United States several times before but this was his first time seeing the countryside. He had always been in large cities.
"This is very special," Rojas said of his first visit to Elko County.
The first stop on the tour included some living history from one of Elko County's oldest residents at the Buckle D Ranch.
Lourinda Wines, 103, told how she came to live in Ruby Valley with her family from Gardnerville in the 1920s.
When one of the Colombian visitors asked what Lourinda's secret for her long life was, she said God has been good to her.
"I'm 103 years old and, God willing, I'll be 104 March 10," Lourinda said.