Myrtis Dightman

Eighty-four year old Myrtis Dightman, the Jackie Robinson of rodeo and seven time NFR bull riding competitor, left, and Rodney Nelson, right, at the 36th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering held recently in Elko, Nev.

I haven’t been very popular in Sims lately, as I left the Missus home alone for a week when I went to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev. She grumbled before I left, “Have fun in Elko where people think you’re great.”

It is fun to go to Elko where fans of the Gathering from all around the U.S. meet us performers on the street, smile, and greet us by name.

 I first performed in Elko in 1988. I was one of the young performers at that time. Now I am an old-timer. I miss lots of the old-timers who were at those first gatherings. Many of them became good friends but have passed on or no longer perform, but I have never run out of friends at the gathering because I meet lots of new people who almost immediately feel like they are old pals.

I instantly gained a new pal in Elko about 14 years ago when a tiny, sweet, five-year-old girl poked her chin up above the edge of the table I was sitting near and asked if I’d like her to yodel for me.

“Of course I’d like you to yodel for me,” I told her. She was amazing for a five-year-old and already sang and yodeled great. She probably weighs 95 pounds now, and plays the fiddle and sings great enough to play center stage anywhere. When I tell her she was cuter before she gained all that weight, she beams with delight. Her younger brother Johnny Reedy, is a fabulous guitar player.

A couple years ago I was on the same session with a first-time performer from Oregon. Annie Mackenzie was a (cuter than a bug) 20-some year old ranch girl who was so nervous the paper she was trying to read from shook like it was taped to a jack hammer. Much to the delight of the crowd, I got up and grabbed her hand to steady her. She was back again this year full of confidence.

Her poetry was memorized and her descriptions of her ranch life were delightful. The one thing that hadn’t changed was her radiating smile. She makes you wish she was a neighbor girl. I envy boys young enough to take her by the hand and go out to pull a calf or fix some fence.

Cat Clifford, a first-time performer from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, is a tall, slim bull-rider and guitar player. His sheepish grin made for an almost instant friendship. He is the kind of kid you’d sure like to take along on a road trip.

I met a lovely 11-year-old cowgirl/singer/songwriter by the name of Marinna Mori. I promised to attend one of her performances. I was sure glad I did and was part of the crowd that gave her a standing ovation.

Black cowboys were featured at this gathering. Myrtis Dightman, 84 years old, the Jackie Robinson of rodeo and seven time NFR bull riding competitor, was there. I wrote a column about Myrtis in April of 2013 but had never met him. I was delighted to take a photo with him and share some stories.

Jarle Kvale from Dunseith, N.D., was an invited poet this year. Although he is a favorite poet of mine, he is now a crowd favorite. I should have never encouraged him as I am now jealous of his wit and his popularity.

Although the Gathering is 36 years old, it remains a very popular event where thousands come to be entertained. Sold out shows were the norm and it seemed like crowds were bigger than ever. It is fun to talk to first-time attendees. They fairly bubble with delight with what they have seen and admit they are already thinking about the next year. I have known Jimmie and Beth from Idaho for four days and they have invited me to stay at their home – even if they are not there when I come through. Brett and Caroline invited me to their branding in Nevada. I am tempted to go, even though it must be 1400 miles to their ranch.

This column could go on forever if I named all my favorite people at Elko, but if I got outside to do some chores I may regain one friend at Sims.