Mid-winter, between the roundup in the fall and calving in the spring, ranch folk and those interested in cowboy poetry and prose travel to Elko, Nev., to participate in the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The 2009 event marked the gathering’s 25th anniversary, and following a long tradition, Utah State University was represented.
Since the first gathering, USU’s library has been a part of the action through its Cowboy Poetry Book Collection. The collection was found at the gathering in the coat check room of the Elko Convention Center.
“Since the first gathering in 1985, these books and their caretakers travel to Elko to help gathering participants locate a favorite poem or consult a rare S. Omar Barker cowboy poetry book,” said USU’s Fife Folklore Curator Randy Williams.
In honor of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering’s 25th anniversary, USU’s Merrill-Cazier Library will host “Books and Buckaroos: USU’s Cowboy Poetry Collection,” an exhibit highlighting examples from USU’s extensive cowboy poetry collection held by Special Collections and Archives. The exhibit opens June 15 and continues through Sept. 21 in the foyer area on the first floor of the Merrill-Cazier Library.
“The exhibit will display posters from all 25 years, as well as gathering pins and booklets, in addition to rare cowboy poetry books from the library’s collection,” Williams said.
USU’s cowboy poetry collection was originally assembled through a grant from the L.J. and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation. The collection supports and assisted the development of the gathering.
“The gathering organizers partnered with USU’s Fife Folklore Archives, housed in the library’s Special Collections and Archives division, to act as the repository for the books and all the gathering organization’s fieldwork.”
Brad Cole, associate director for Special Collections, said the collection is one of the largest publically owned cowboy poetry collections in the world and is used by scholars and researchers throughout the year.
The collection continues to grow with donations each year from cowboy poets and library book purchases.
“The cowboy poetry collection is one of the gems of Special Collections,” Williams said.
Special Collections and Archives has a long tradition of preserving the voice of the cowboy. Efforts began in 1966 with the donation of folklore scholars Austin and Alta Fife’s extensive collection of cowboy and ranching music and culture, now known as the Fife Americana Collection.
“These renowned cowboy poetry collections inspired the family of singing radio cowboy John I. White to donate his collection of cowboy and western folksongs and ballads to USU,” Cole said.
Williams said the exhibit will include examples of fieldwork from the Fife Americana Collection and materials from the John I. White Collection, including White’s cowboy hat.
“Books and Buckaroos: USU’s Cowboy Poetry Collection” is free and all are welcome. For information on the exhibit, contact Williams, (435) 797-3493.