A Cowboy Rides Away

August 3rd, 2011  / Author: culturedcowgirl
Denley Norman of Lusk, Wyoming, a respected horseman and ranch hand, was killed on July 27 from injuries sustained in a horse accident.

Denley Norman of Lusk, Wyoming, a respected horseman and ranch hand, was killed on July 27 from injuries sustained in a horse accident. (Photo by Lisa Norman)

In my job I meet and interview a lot of horsemen–some part of popular horse culture and the arena, and others content staying in the brush, out of the public’s eye. Denley Norman fell somewhere in between, but more toward the latter category.

I first watched Denley compete on the Haythorn Land and Cattle Co. team at ranch rodeos sanctioned by the Working Ranch Cowboys Association about seven years ago. He was never the big hero or top hand on the team, but he was a dependable team player, consistently there to help get a job done efficiently. And he always had a smile and seemed to have fun in the process. You couldn’t help but cheer for him.

In 2006, I was assigned to write a story on Denley’s wife, Lisa, who is an artist and photographer and had just published a coffee-table book titled Haythorn Land & Cattle Co.: A Horseman’s Heritage. (You can see that article, “Chronicle of Cowboy Life,” in the March 2007 issue). I stayed two days with the Normans at their home on a section of Haythorn ground near Keystone, Nebraska. Their life was so wholesome, simple and pure, almost storybook in an old-fashioned sense. There were no televisions in the house. Denley and Lisa’s young daughters, Kate and Carly, played outside and did their little chores after school, as kids should. When Denley returned home from working cattle, the girls were happy to see him, running into his arms and asking when they could ride their horses next. Dinner was eaten at the table together, and the family spent the rest of the evening reading, singing and making music, working on arts and crafts, or just being together as a family. I remember feeling so content and creative from a lack of technological stimuli, and thinking how this lifestyle was a reflection of both Denley and Lisa’s upbringing and a testament to their strong faith and value in family.

After more than 14 years working on the Haythorn, the Normans moved to the 4-3 Ranch in Lusk, Wyoming, where Denley trained horses for the public and was starting his own cattle herd. On Thursday, July 27, Denley sustained fatal injuries in a ranching accident. He was sorting cattle in the pens with three other cowboys. While moving the cattle up an alley into the pens, his horse reared up, lost his balance and fell backward on Denley. One of the other cowboys, Darin Hanson, was an EMT and immediately administered CPR, but could not revive the fallen cowboy. Funeral services were held in the Lusk High School auditorium on July 30, and Denley was laid to rest in the local cemetery.

Denley is the subject of this painting by Mikel Donahue, called "Haythorn Hand." Mikel send me a copy of the painting a couple of years ago and it's always held a special place on my wall. Now it's even more important, knowing it's a depiction of Denley.

Denley is the subject of this painting by Oklahoma artist Mikel Donahue, called "Haythorn Hand." Mikel send me a copy of the painting a couple of years ago and it's always held a special place on my wall. Now it's even more important, knowing it's a depiction of Denley.

Raised on ranches in New Mexico, Denley became a cowboy like his father. Only 44 years old at the time of his death, he lived a full life as a son, brother, horseman, husband and father. Before landing at the Haythorn, he worked on the Bell Ranch in Oklahoma, and the Kendrick and Padlock ranches in Wyoming. He and Lisa met in Wyoming, married in 1991 and went to work for Buster Welch in Texas.

Oklahoma artist Mikel Donahue did this drawing of Denley Norman called "Denley's Crease." Mikel Donahue also did this drawing of Denley Norman called “Denley’s Crease.” (For more on Mikel, visit mikeldonahue.com.)

Denley was a soft-spoken, humble man, who always wore his shirts buttoned to the top and sometimes had his jeans cuffed on the bottom. He’d just as soon listen and observe than speak and show off. Horses were his livelihood, and he was a perpetual student of horsemanship, always working to refine his techniques and find better ways to create versatile, handy ranch horses. His quiet mannerisms and hours of study and observation didn’t go unnoticed on the ranch or in a ranch rodeo or Ranch Horse Association of America competition. He also enjoyed teaching his daughters to ride. He was compassionate, expressing concern for others, including myself when I went through a trying time last fall.

Respected by ranch hands throughout the West, Denley will be missed but never forgotten by those whose lives he touched. I remember the last time I spoke to Denley. He told me how difficult it was to make a living as a horseman, but it was really what he felt he was meant to do. I grieve for his family and the loss of a great horseman. But I take comfort in knowing that Denley rode away to greener pastures, quietly and peacefully, as any cowboy would want to do.

Condolences and memorials can be sent to Lisa Norman, 251B Greasewood Road, Lusk, WY 82225. A trust fund has been established for Kate and Carly through Wells Fargo Bank. For information on contributing to the fund or to leave a message for the family, visit denleynorman.blogspot.com.

-Jennifer Denison

A Ride to Remember

August 2nd, 2011  / Author: culturedcowgirl

In its 75-year history, Western Horseman has commemorated many of its own milestones, as well as those in the horse industry. However, I think most longtime readers and staff from past and present would agree that none compare to the 75th Anniversary Celebration and Ride that occurred this weekend in Colorado Springs, Colorado. With more than 150 people in attendance, from 19 states and Germany, and several top Western clinicians, there was no shortage of conversation and camaraderie.

Mike Kevil, Buck Taylor and Craig Cameron were among the "celebrity" guests along for the ride.

Mike Kevil, Buck Taylor and Craig Cameron were among the "celebrity" guests along for the ride.

The event kicked off with a mixer on Friday night, which I wrote about in my previous post. Then on Saturday, before dawn, glossy-eyed from only a couple of hours sleep, I wandered into the pasture to catch my horse and haul him to the U.S. Air Force Academy for a day of riding along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Besides spending time with magazine readers and celebrating the publication we all grew up with and admire, this ride was going to be even more special than most because my dad decided to join me with his mule, Fred. He also brought another mule for art director Ron Bonge to ride.

When I arrived at 7:30 a.m., horses were saddled and picketed, ready for the day's ride.

When I arrived at 7:30 a.m., horses were saddled and picketed, ready for the day's ride.

When we pulled into the staging area, a large meadow on the west side of the government property, horses from the AFA string, as well as those brought in from Sombrero Ranches in Meeker, Colorado, and M Lazy C Ranch in Lake George, Colorado, were picketed. Some early birds who brought their own mounts were saddled and ready to go, while others eagerly waited to meet their assigned partners for the day. Having lived in Colorado my entire life, I often take for granted its towering terrain and scenic beauty. But thanks to people I met from Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have such riding opportunities in my backyard.

To start our ride out right, Western recording artist Michael Martin Murphey rode in on a stagecoach provided by Jim Newell of Fountain, Colorado. The sound of the rumbling stagecoach, thundering hooves and jingling harness, as well as the sight of dust flying as the horse-drawn vehicle made its way up the gravel road was like a scene from the Old West. Newell’s coach is a replica of a 19th-century Abbot Downing Co. model, which Mark Twain once praised as like a “cradle on wheels.”

Murphey, a resident of Southern Colorado, exited the coach and sang his rendition of the National Anthem. The echoes of his pure voice and acoustic guitar echoed over the mountains, a sound I soon won’t forget. Then everyone set out for the ride.

Riders experienced a mix of terrain, from mild meadows to rocky climbs on the ride.

Riders came from 19 states and Germany.

The first half the ride, we meandered over a small water crossing and along a gradual trail. Besides a few rocks, the terrain was mild and suitable for horses and riders of all levels. After a brief lunch break, catered by The Pinery, riders has their choice of continuing on a shorter or longer ride. Of course, I chose the latter. After all, I had hauled all the way down there. Even though I rode drag the entire time to avoid the bottlenecks, several riders made it back to visit me. These were some of my favorite comments:

“Where would you get to see this many clinicians in the saddle at one time?” “Western Horseman, trail riding, Murphey–this an all-American event, that’s for sure.”

“Only Western Horseman could put on an event like this.”

“Water, and lots of it, is a good thing at this altitude.”

“I didn’t mind the stop-and-go, it just gave me more time to meet and talk to people.”

“Follow a trail? I don’t think so, I’d rather blaze my own.”

Heidi MacIntyre, Shari Balzer and Leslie Schafer were among my fellow Colorado horsewomen on the ride. They are shown with Martin Black (left) and Curt Pate (second from right).
Heidi MacIntyre, Shari Balzer and Leslie Schafer were among my fellow Colorado horsewomen on the ride. They are shown with Martin Black (left) and Curt Pate (second from right).

I met nobody who didn’t enjoy the ride, and the entire weekend for that matter. Those of us who worked in the Colorado Springs office always sensed Dick Spencer’s presence often, and joked that the occasional sounds of footsteps or slamming file cabinet drawer heard in the early morning or late night were because Dick was working right there with us.  As I reflect on the meaning of this ride, I can’t help but think that each time I felt the tingling warmth from a ray of sun, it was Dick Spencer riding beside us, smiling at what this weekend was all about–bringing together horses and riders from around the world to celebrate the things that meant the most to him, the Western stock-horse industry, cowboy culture, Western Horseman and its readers.

–Jennifer Denison

Years in the Making

July 30th, 2011  / Author: culturedcowgirl

Nearly six years ago, the Western Horseman staff sat down around a table together and began planning our 70th anniversary issues. What stands out most to me about that meeting wasn’t a particular article idea, but rather a comment from A.J. Mangum, who was editor at that time. “Before long we’ll be planning the 75th anniversary, so we should probably start thinking about that, too.” At the time, the 75th anniversary seemed so far away. But tonight, after years of painstaking planning, Western Horseman kicked off one of the most significant milestones in the magazine’s long history.

An estimated 150 people–a mix of staff, Western artists, horse-industry influentials and readers arrived at Latigo Trails Equestrian Center in Elbert, Colorado, the staging area for the long-awaited Western Horseman Celebration and Ride. The three-day event includes a mixer, trail ride at the United States Air Force Academy, a dinner and Michael Martin Murphey concert, and a clinicians’ round-table discussion. It’s been more than a year since the magazine’s headquarters moved from my home state of Colorado and moved to Fort Worth, Texas, so it’s sentimental–and even a little emotional–to once again feel its presence and heritage in its longtime home.

An all-star lineup of past and present magazine staff and trainers and clinicians turned out for the night’s mixer. We didn’t have a red carpet to roll out, but a concrete entry into the indoor arena area, seemed to be a more appropriate platform to showcase our guests as they entered. Bob Avila, Martin Black, Jack Brainard, Craig Cameron, Doug Carpenter, Chris Cox, Al Dunning, Marty Martin, Robert Miller, DVM, and Curt Pate were among the horsemen mingling in the crowd. Readers, such as Joe and Connie Vara, from Chappell Hill, Texas, took advantage of the chance to meet the “celebrities” they read about in the magazine.

“Where else would you see all these guys together in one room,” said Joe who competes in Stock Horse of Texas events.

Joe and Connie Vara traveled to the Western Horseman 75th Anniversary Celebration and Ride from Chappell Hill, Texas.

Joe and Connie Vara traveled to the Western Horseman 75th Anniversary Celebration and Ride from Chappell Hill, Texas.

Making information from top horsemen accessible to our readers has–and continues to be–a priority for the Western Horseman staff. Bringing some of the best horsemen together to meet readers seemed impossible not that long ago, considering the trainers’ and clinicians’ travel schedules. But that’s the power of Western Horseman, you can’t help but want to be a part of it.

–Jennifer Denison

Campfire Songs & Horse Stories

March 2nd, 2011  / Author: culturedcowgirl


On a dead-end street on the east side of downtown Colorado Springs, a modest clapboard building is nestled against the railroad tracks. Most passersby wouldn’t notice this nondescript structure, built in 1887 as a warehouse for the Santa Fe Railroad. But local cowboy music fans know its significance.

Since 1996, the building has housed Scott O’Malley and Associates and Western Jubilee Recording Co., the agency and record company that represents Western entertainers, such as Cowboy Celtic, Don Edwards, Waddie Mitchell, Rich O’Brien, Sons & Brothers and Sons of the San Joaquin. Whenever a cowboy act rolls into town, whether it’s for a visit or to record a new album, it’s likely O’Malley will book them for a “secret” show at the recording company. Only those on the exclusive mailing list receive postcards about the concerts, and tickets sell as fast as biscuits are eaten around a chuckwagon.

The sound booth and concert hall is a big warehouse room that’s been converted into a small, old-time theater. Corrugated tin lines some of the walls and exposed insulation blankets the ceiling. One hundred or so old theater seats and church pews sit in view of a small stage covered in mismatched Persian-looking rugs and stand-up microphones. A variety of vintage instruments and a collection of quirky Western memorabilia decorate every inch of wall space. Colorful crazy quilts serve as the stage backdrop and enhance the acoustics.

I attended my first concert at “the Warehouse” in 2002 upon recommendation from my co-workers at Western Horseman, and have since seen each of the entertainers mentioned above, plus John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ian Tyson and most recently Michael Martin Murphey.

Murphey sings with the passion that has captivated audiences for five decades.

Murphey sings with the passion that has captivated audiences for five decades.

Murphey’s performance was being recorded for a live album tentatively called Lone Cowboy II. Cloaked in a frock coat over a vest and red shirt, and wearing a tasteful tan cowboy hat edged in chocolate brown and a gold wild rag neatly tied in a square knot around his neck, Murphey stepped onto the stage with a confident, cowboy presence. Strapping on his guitar, he explained he’d chosen 12 ballads to sing, as though we were all sitting by a campfire.

The last time I’d seen “Murph” perform was in the early 1990s at Westfest at Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado. I forgot how much his story-like lyrics and crystal-clear voice paint vivid pictures of horses, cattle and the freedom of the open range in my mind. He also has a unique way of picking a guitar so it sounds like a flowing creek, the wind blowing through the trees and other acts of nature.

As I listened to his smooth melodies and message-filled songs, I was reminded of another Colorado singer, John Denver. Next thing I knew, Murphey was singing “Boy from the Country,” a song he wrote and that was recorded by Denver. The words reminded me of today’s ranchers, the real environmentalists and stewards of the land.

He tried to tell us we should love the land//We turned our heads and laughed//And we did not understand//Sometimes I think that boy from the country//Is the only one who sees//Because the boy from the country//Doesn’t want to see the forest from the trees.

However, my favorite Murphey songs are those about horses. A longtime horse owner and promoter of stock horses, Murphey sings and writes songs only a horse owner can appreciate. “The Running Blood,” “Quarter Horse Rider,” “Run for the Roses,” “Ponies” and, of course, his blazing 1975 hit “Wildfire” are just some of the horse-related songs from his 1997 album The Horse Legends. He sang a new song that tackled the issue of horse slaughter and related kill pens to human faith, sin and redemption. He cowrote the gospel tune with his wife, Karen, and had an interesting story to tell about the song’s evolution.

Murphey's gentle voice, friendly smile and ranch-relevant lyrics have earned him a loyal fan base.

Murphey's gentle voice, friendly smile and ranch-relevant lyrics have earned him a loyal fan base.

Murphey had attended a horse sale with his three daughters. The girls had looked through all the pens and found a palomino mare they wanted to buy. Murphey is known for expressing his opinions on land use and conservation, but at this performance he shared his views on horse slaughter with members of the audience, many of whom didn’t own horses. He explained how the different pens are set up for horses at sales and the palomino mare could have landed in the kill pen. He also touched on the overpopulation of horses and how without slaughter houses in the United States many of these horses are being transported across the border to Canada and Mexico where there aren’t regulations for the humane processing of animals. With so many celebrities promoting radical, animal-rights groups and policies, it’s nice to see one rooted with realistic views of the West and livestock.

Murphey’s story has a happy ending. When the horse was brought into the sale ring, Murphey bought it for “a song,” or little money. On the way home, the mare tore up his trailer and wasn’t receptive to being handled. But one day, his youngest daughter, Morgan, who was 9 years old at the time, held out her hand and was able to touch the horse’s face. That started a lasting bond between the girl and the horse. Murphey said that today the horse is one of the best in his family’s string.

One rainy morning, Karen was gazing at the drenched horse outside. She turned to Murphey, tears streaming down her face like rain on the window panes, and handed him a napkin with the words that became the muse for the song.

The couple currently lives in Beulah, Colorado, where they raise horses and cattle. Murphey performs at Fir Amphitheater, a solar-powered, environmentally friendly facility in southern Colorado. His gig is part of the Rio Grande Scenic Railway train ride from Alamosa to La Veta. Murphey also will be the featured entertainer at Western Horseman’s 75th Anniversary Celebration and Ride this July in Colorado Springs, Colorado. For more information, see the link on the Western Horseman homepage.

~Jennifer

New Trail for a Cowboy Icon’s Collections

July 30th, 2010  / Author: culturedcowgirl
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Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are once again headlining events.

I wasn’t raised during the heyday of the silver-screen cowboy like many of our baby boomer readers. However, my parents and grandparents exposed me to many an evening of watching The Roy Rogers Show, Annie Oakley, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza and Gunsmoke reruns, and old spaghetti Westerns. I can quote Tom Mix, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, James Arness and others with the best Western boomer. I also enjoy hearing stories of my grandfather playing high school sports with Leonard Sly in southern Ohio, before Leonard became the iconic American cowboy hero Roy Rogers.

Even though Roy and Dale Evans weren’t as influential in my decision to live in the West, ride horses and be a cowgirl as they were to my parents and grandparents, I was saddened last fall when I received notice that the Roy Rogers Museum in Branson, Missouri, was closing after 42 years of operation. Steady decline in visitors was one of the factors that led the Rogers family to close the doors on their family heritage.

I never had an opportunity to tour the museum, which made it all the more important that I attend Brian Lebel’s 21st Annual Old West Show & Auction in Denver, Colorado, this past June. The Rogers family consigned 127 items to the auction, including Roy’s personal firearms and hunting gear, and his 1964, bright yellow, Lincoln Continental Convertible.

As a purveyor and promoter of cowboy culture, I feel obligated to immerse myself in Western heritage, and Roy and Dale were a very important part of shaping a generation’s perceptions of the West. Seeing their personal memorabilia confirmed in my mind that Roy and Dale were a classy couple and had impeccable taste in gear.

This wax figure of Roy Rogers, dressed in his personal clothing, sold for $6,000. Roy's 1964 Lincoln convertible sold for $17,000.

This wax figure of Roy Rogers, dressed in his personal clothing, sold for $6,000. Roy's 1964 Lincoln convertible sold for $17,000.

The highlight of the auction was watching one of Roy’s holsters and belt rigs, and matching gold-plated Crockett spurs sell for $90,000 and $16,000, respectively. The lavishly tooled, gold-trimmed Buscadero gun rig was made by Nudie’s of North Hollywood for Roy in 1948 and came with two Colt single action revolvers. The gold-plated spurs were Crockett’s popular Pattern 1368 and had 2.5-inch, 20-point gold rowels and Nudie spur straps made to match the holsters and gun belt.

Three weeks after Lebel’s auction, High Noon Western Americana partnered with Christie’s to auction off the remaining museum memorabilia in New York City. An emotional, history-making event, the auction placed Roy’s silver parade saddles, sports memorabilia, costumes, furniture, vehicles and the most famous movie horse, Trigger.

Roy bought Trigger in 1938, and the golden palomino was his partner until the horse died in 1965. I’m sure by now you’ve heard that the stuffed, rearing mount sold for $266,500 to RFD-TV. Another high-selling item was the silver-dollar encrusted and longhorn-adorned Bonneville convertible that Roy and Dale used in special appearances, which brought $254,500.

_Z5Y0329I doubt the television and film industries will ever see another iconic cowboy couple like Roy and Dale, which is unfortunate for members of Generation X like me and those generations that follow mine. However, I’m someone who looks for the silver lining in every story. Although the closing of the museum and the auctioning of its contents were emotional to the Rogers family and fans, I don’t see the events as the end of the trail, but rather a new trail that will allow collectors and other museums to display the items and share the silver-screen stars’ legacy for those of us who didn’t grow up with our own cowboy and cowgirl heros.

In the words of Roy and Dale, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again.”

~Jennifer

Only in Elko

July 22nd, 2010  / Author: culturedcowgirl
The Silver State Stampede is the oldest rodeo in Nevada.

The Silver State Stampede is the oldest rodeo in Nevada.

“So, what brings you to Salt Lake City,” the airport shuttle driver asked me while muscling my many bags and camera cases into the vehicle.

“Actually, I’m headed to Nevada for a weekend getaway,” I replied.

“Vegas and Reno both have airports. Why in the world would you fly here?” he wondered.

This is an all too familiar conversation I have with shuttle drivers each time I go to Nevada. It’s a logical assumption that I’m traveling to Vegas and Reno, as most Nevada-bound vacationers make those cities their destinations. But this cowgirl is not like most. The sagebrush-dotted high desert of northern Nevada calls my name.

When I told the shuttle driver I was headed to Elko, he furrowed his brows and said, “Why?”

I could tell he just didn’t get it and this conversation would go nowhere, so I replied, “Oh, just to attend a little rodeo,” and left it at that.

That little rodeo was the Silver State Stampede, held July 8-10, at the Elko County Fairgrounds. The oldest rodeo in Nevada, the Silver State Stampede was started by legendary bit and spur maker G.S. Garcia in 1913. The gear maker’s legacy continues at the rodeo, with winners of each event receiving a pair of ornate Garcia spurs.

I’d heard buzz about this rodeo for years, so I decided to pack my bags and take a little trip to see what it was all about. The event offered all the slice-of-life charm I appreciate from a small-town rodeo, and surprisingly attracted some of the top competitors in the PRCA. But the rodeo’s wild, Old West ways made it a real cowboy’s rodeo in my mind.

Since 2003, the Silver State Stampede has differentiated itself from other PRCA-sanctioned rodeos by adding ranch bronc riding to its lineup of events. The contest brings 20 working cowboys and buckaroos, mostly from Idaho, Oregon and Nevada, off the their remote ranches and into town to vie for a stash of cash and prizes. It also draws huge local crowds who know and respect these hands, and come primarily to see them compete. Unlike PRCA saddle-bronc riders, Old West bronc riders use their everyday working saddles and can hold on to a rope or nightlatch. That doesn’t give them much advantage though against stock contractor Wally Blossom’s rank, reservation-raised broncs.

Eli Burr won the ranch bronc riding. "I ride each bronc as an individual," he says. "I ususally don't remember one from the other."

Eli Burr won the ranch bronc riding. "I ride each bronc as an individual," he says. "I ususally don't remember one from the other."

This year, the Western States Ranch Rodeo Association (wsrra.org) sanctioned the Old West Bronc Riding. The WSRRA will hold its inaugural championship event this November in Winnemucca, Nevada. Cowboys have competed all year, trying to earn points to qualify for the finals, which I’m told is going to be a great event.

Western Horseman sponsored the bronze trophy at the Silver State Stampede for the Old West Bronc Riding, which is appropriately a cast of Frederic Remington’s sculpture Bronco Buster. The trophy will remain on permanent display at an undetermined venue in Elko, and each year the winner of the bronc riding will have his or her name added to it.

I proudly presented the trophy to this year’s winner, Eli Burr, a buckaroo on the Y-3 near Jackpot, Nevada. Burr, who also won the contest in 2003, scored 73 points in the first round and an 82 in the championship round. He took home a pair of Garcia spurs donated by J.M. Capriola Co., a trophy buckle from Skyline Silversmiths and more than $1,000. Pretty good money to supplement cowboy wages.

A friend described Burr to me as a “bedroll” cowboy, and it fits him to a tee. Raised in Victor, Idaho, he set out to buckaroo right out of high school, working on outfits in Nevada, Oregon and Utah. Moving from ranch to ranch was a way of life for many years, but now the 27-year-old cowboy says he’s reaching a point in his life where he’d like to stay put for a while. However, he added, he still likes to see different places.

“When I started out all I had was a single-cab pickup and a bedroll, so it was easy to pack up and go to the next place,” he says. “Now I have a crew-cab pickup, stock trailer and five horses, which makes it more of a hassle to move.”

I had the honor of presenting Eli Burr with a bronze sponsored by Western Horseman. The trophy will remain in Elko, and Burr's name will be added among the other bronc-riding winners.

I had the honor of presenting Eli Burr with a bronze sponsored by Western Horseman. The trophy will remain in Elko, and Burr's name will be added among the other bronc-riding winners.

His entire life, Burr aspired to be a working cowboy and bronc rider. He competed in saddle bronc riding in high school, but had limited success. Once he discovered ranch bronc riding, though, where he could ride in his ranch saddle, he was hooked. It’s hard for a working cowboy to leave his duties on the ranch, but Burr tries to hit as many ranch bronc riding competitions as he can. The contests have become popular in Idaho, Oregon, California and Nevada, so there are plenty of opportunities for ranch cowboys to meet for some friendly competition, showcase their skills and win some extra gear and money.

Besides the Old West Bronc Riding, the Silver State Stampede also has a team-branding competition, mutton busting for the kids, a trade show, and a live band and dance each night. At the conclusion of each round, the “Ring of Fear”  is held. Those brave (or crazy!) enough to enter, go into a pen where a bull is turned loose. Each contestant stands inside a flour circle and “battles” the bull till there’s only one person left standing in his or her circle. I’d never seen anything like this and was standing on my chair to rise above the crowd to see it. What a way to end an already action-packed rodeo!

The Silver State Stampede exceeded my expectations, and was a good reminder that in this age of pyrotechnics and stage-show rodeos, there’s still a bit of the real West left. I just have to go to Elko to find it.

~Jennifer

Fourth of July, Cowboy Style

July 5th, 2010  / Author: culturedcowgirl
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R.W. Hampton

Cowboys are a patriotic set. Attend any rodeo or horse event, and there’s always a grand entry with flags flying and time set aside to recognize the different branches of the military and to pay tribute to the United States with the national anthem. You see flags on trucks and trailers, shirts, chaps and saddle blankets. Strands of red, white and blue are woven into everything from fringe and hatbands to horses’ tails. As I celebrated Independence Day this weekend, I took a moment to think about what makes cowboys so loyal to their country, and I asked the cowboys in my life for their opinions.

The obvious conclusion is that the cowboy icon originated in America, although his gear and methods come from a melting pot of horse cultures. His presence and influence, thus that of America, is sought worldwide.

Many of our country’s cowgirls and cowboys, including my own father, at one point in their lives have had to hang up their spurs, leave their home ranges and go to foreign lands to defend our country and its freedoms in combat. It’s those who were able to return and ride again, as well as those who left empty saddles behind, that we owe gratitude on this day and every day.

I also believe that cowboys feel freedom on a deeper level than most people. Few jobs allow a man (or woman) to work solo in wide-open spaces, far from any town or technology, relying only on himself and his horse. He senses the vastness felt by the American Indians and pioneers, the freedom represented by an eagle floating on the wind and a close connection to the the land, animals and the cyclical rights between seasons. There’s a fundamental freedom to his job that captivates most of us who make our livings behind desks.

Just in time for the Four of July, cowboy singer R.W. Hampton of Cimarron, New Mexico, wrote a new song called Note For Sale to honor America and the men and women who have paid the price for our freedom. Best sure to check out his video at this link:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChXt_c0uO…

A member of the brotherhood of working cowboys for many years, Hampton writes songs from experience and sings them from the heart in his smooth baritone voice. This patriotic tune, inspired by the upcoming deployment of his son, U.S. Marine Corps. Sgt. Cooper Hampton, is an appropriate reminder of how lucky we are to have the freedom to live a Western lifestyle, to be able to own and ride horses, and to choose to be a rancher, cowboy, horseman or in my case, a writer of Western ways.

The Western Horseman staff sends its best wishes to the Hampton family and our thanks to Sgt. Hampton for his service to our country. May he make a safe return back home soon.

~Jennifer

The Best in Western Art

June 15th, 2010  / Author: culturedcowgirl

If the Western art scene has a prestigious, red-carpet event, it’s definitely the Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition, hosted by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Held each June, the art show features two- and three-dimensional artwork by the top contemporary Western artists, as well as educational seminars, receptions and an awards banquet.

Sunrise in the Golden Gate; Downeaster "Benjamin F. Packard, 24-by-38-inch oil by Christopher Blossom. Winner of the Prix de West Purchase Award.

Sunrise in the Golden Gate; Downeaster "Benjamin F. Packard, 24-by-38-inch oil by Christopher Blossom. Winner of the Prix de West Purchase Award.

Labyrinth of Space, 42-by-42-inch oil by George Carlson. Winner of the Frederic Remington Painting Award and Robert Lougheed Memorial Award, chosen by exhibiting artists.

Labyrinth of Space, 42-by-42-inch oil by George Carlson. Winner of the Frederic Remington Painting Award and Robert Lougheed Memorial Award, chosen by exhibiting artists.

I attended Prix de West for the first time in 2006. It as the first major Western art show I had ever attended, and it continues to be the standard to which I measure any art exhibition. This past weekend, I traveled to Oklahoma City for the show’s sold-out opening events, which featured more than 300 pieces of artwork by 110 Western artists, seven of which were first-time exhibitors. As in years past, I left with a greater appreciation for Western art and the artists whose intense passion for Western life, heritage, landscape and wildlife is infused into each piece they create.

This year’s Prix de West kicked off June 11 with a reception in which ticket holders could meet the artists, preview the artwork and mingle in the cultural splendor of the cowboy museum. As I entered the gallery in which most of the artwork is displayed, I was greeted by a breathtaking oil painting by Greg Beecham titled The Chase. Displayed in an elegant silver frame, the painting depicted four wolves running through the snow. The artist’s use of light, action and different shades of white created a stunning piece. Later in the weekend, this painting won the Major General and Mrs. Don D. Pittman Wildlife Art Award, a $3,000 cash award for artistic merit for a wildlife painting or sculpture. The painting also garnered the Nona Jean Hulsey Rumsey Buyers’ Choice Award, a $3,000 cash award for the most popular piece of artwork as voted by show patrons.

Clash of Thunder, 32-by-38-by 9.5-inch bronze by Tim Shinabarger. Winner of the James Earele Fraser Sculpture Award.

Clash of Thunder, 32-by-38-by 9.5-inch bronze by Tim Shinabarger. Winner of the James Earele Fraser Sculpture Award.

The Chase, 26-by-40-inch oil by Greg Beecham. Winner of the Major General and Mrs. Don D. Pittman Wildlife Award and the Nona Jean Hulsey Rumsey Buyers' Choice Award.

The Chase, 26-by-40-inch oil by Greg Beecham. Winner of the Major General and Mrs. Don D. Pittman Wildlife Award and the Nona Jean Hulsey Rumsey Buyers' Choice Award.

As beautiful as the wildlife and landscape paintings are, I was there to see the horse and cowboy art. I count on a long list of longtime Prix de West artists to give me my fix of cowboy art, including Bill Anton, Carrie Ballantyne, Tom Browning, Keith Christie, Tim Cox, Bruce Greene, Harold Holden, Wayne Justus, Mehl Lawson, Herb Mignery, Bill Owen, Jason Rich and Robert “Shufly” Shufelt. Each one of these artists once again showed realistic portrayals of the subject matter Western Horseman readers and myself enjoy. I was also thrilled to see that two of my favorite cowboy artists, Steve Devenyn of Cody, Wyoming, and Mikel Donahue of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, were invited to exhibit in the show this year.

Working the Remuda, 48-by-36-inch oil by Howard Post. Winner of the Express Ranches Great American Cowboy Award.

Working the Remuda, 48-by-36-inch oil by Howard Post. Winner of the Express Ranches Great American Cowboy Award.

Arizona artist Howard Post’s painting Working the Remuda, received the only award dedicated exclusively to cowboy art, The Great American Cowboy Award, sponsored by Robert A. Fun, owner of Express Ranches.

Martin Grelle, who’s best known for his portrayal of Native American culture, had a painting of a Texas cowboy this year. In the June issue of Western Horseman I wrote a profile on Grelle and how he’s returning to his roots in cowboy art. Still, his Native American works dominated in sales. His painting Apsaalooke Foot Soldiers, based on an excerpt in Frank B. Linderman’s book Plenty-Coups, Chief of the Crows, sold for $151,800 in the minimum-bid auction, more than $60,000 over the minimum bidding price.

Chuck Schroeder, president of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, reports that the weekend’s sales totaled $3,294, 440, which included sales from the exhibition, minimum-bid auction and live auction. Schroeder also notes that approximately 80 percent of works on offer were sold during the opening weekend.

All Prix de West artwork will remain on display and for sale at the museum through September 6. You can view the artwork in an online catalog at nationalcowboymuseum.org/catalog. Watch for more posts on my blog this week from my experience at Prix de West.

Random Act of Kindness

May 8th, 2010  / Author: culturedcowgirl

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Traveling throughout the West to ranches, artists’ studios and craftsmen’s shops, I’m constantly reminded of the generosity of those who live the Western lifestyle. Kind folks invite me into their homes and daily lives, share home-cooked meals and wonderful stories, and sometimes present me with pieces of their handiwork. Even though I arrive as a stranger, I most often leave as a lifelong friend.

Last Saturday I’d just arrived at the Reno Events Center in Nevada for the Californios Ranch Roping & Stock Horse Contest. In true journalistic fashion, I grabbed my notepad, tape recorder and camera, and went right to work. My first goal was to photograph the three custom championship saddles on display in the trade show. While focusing my lens intently on the saddles, I felt someone tap my shoulder. It was Karen Ross, also known as Prairie Karen (prairiekaren.com), who just wanted to say a passing hello. Knowing I’d see Karen later and want to shop in her trade-show booth, I quickly acknowledged her with a wave and started back to work.

Before I could pick up my camera again, the silver-haired man with Karen, whom I didn’t know, handed me a brass bell and closed my fingers around it. The random gift, presented by the stranger, took me by surprise. The polite thing to do would’ve been to say, “Thank you,” but the only words I could muster were, “What is this for?”

The man said it was for luck and to scare away gremlins that get in my way, and then walked off. I thought it was a nice gesture, tucked the bell in my coat pocket and went back to work without giving much thought to the tiny token and the influence it would have on my day and week in Nevada.

As I scurried around the Silver State, quickly passing from town to town, and in and out of people’s lives, immersing myself–sometimes selfishly–in my assignments, I sometimes heard that little bell jingling in my coat pocket and would smile and remember the man who gave it to me.

I never saw the man again, and I probably never will, but I’ve since learned that he is Matt Davis, a lifelong horseman and a real-estate broker from Wichita Falls, Texas. He and his wife, Catherine, had come to the Californios to learn more about vaquero horsemanship. They’re known for handing out bells wherever they go.
As I’ve traveled this week with my little brass bell, I’m reminded of the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life in which the little girl says, “Each time a bell rings and angel gets its wings.”

Attaboy, Matt.

~Jennifer

Cowgirl Valentine

February 6th, 2010  / Author: culturedcowgirl

Calling all cowboys. The countdown to Valentine’s Day has begunvalentine400.  If you are looking for a unique Valentine’s Day gift for your cowgirl sweetheart, I suggest ordering a personalized, limited-edition gift set from cowboy crooner R.W. Hampton. It’s a gift she will treasure for many years and can take with her everyday.

The package includes a necklace and matching earrings with a heart on one side and a cowboy and cowgirl on the other side, a personalized copy of Hampton’s CD Always in My Heart, which is full of love-song serenades, and a handful of chocolate truffles to satisfy her sweet tooth. Everything is packaged in a pink heart-shaped tin box.

The price for the complete set is $66.95, plus shipping. But a gift package with just the necklace is also available for $47.95, plus shipping. Quantities are limited, and Hampton will personalize the CD to your loved one. To order, visit on-line www.rwhampton.com, or call (800) 392-0822 or (575) 483-0042.

-Jennifer