Author Archives: krysm1

Dreaming of Our Future

By Kristin Windbigler, Vice Chairman,
Western Folklife Center Board of Trustees


Several trustees and staff members got together last year in Salt Lake City, Utah, to talk about our dreams for the Western Folklife Center. We asked ourselves what could this organization be in five years? How about 10? Who do we want to reach and what are our goals? In my role as vice chairman of the Board of Trustees, I gave a short talk at the annual Stakeholders’ Breakfast at the recent National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to share our progress and plans for the future. We were thrilled by the enthusiastic feedback we received, and thought it would be a good idea to make this information available to the whole community. That’s because we hope you will want to get involved!

It can be difficult to get where you want to go if you don’t have some kind of map, so we wrote a new strategic plan that will help us set priorities and focus our collective energy to ensure we are working toward the same goals. It includes fresh vision and mission statements that were polished until they became so crisp and clear that anyone could learn them, even the most memory-challenged among us. If you weren’t sure what to say in the past when someone asked you what the Western Folklife Center does, try these on for size:

Vision Statement: Explore and give voice to traditional and dynamic cultures of the American West

Mission Statement: To use story and cultural expression to connect the American West to the world

Don’t worry. If I see you on the street, I won’t ask you to recite them, but there is nothing like a little clarity and focus to get everyone headed in the same direction. I would like to note, though, that when we say “the world” in the mission statement, we mean that we value both the connections the Western Folklife Center fosters among individuals within the West as well as between the West and the rest of the country and, of course, the world. Not many of us will forget the memories of incredible experiences made possible at the Gathering because of the cultural exchange program, and we hope there will be more of those to come in the future.



What We Do

The strategic plan also spells out what the Western Folklife Center does. Most folks who attend the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering know it’s our signature event, so that, of course, is highlighted, but the Folklife Center has a long history of producing rich and robust programming throughout the rest of the year. In order to make sure we were all in agreement about what it is that we do, we focused our scope to these four points:

  • The Western Folklife Center provides a platform for rural and urban communities to communicate and exchange new ideas and avenues of expression.
  • We produced the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1985. Our National Cowboy Poetry Gathering continues to celebrate and promote the artistry and ingenuity of life in the American West. It remains our signature event, with programming changing to reflect contemporary realities and issues of the American West.
  • Throughout the year, our fieldwork, research, exhibits, website and archives preserve, document and share the heritage of the West.
  • Our media and educational programs entertain and engage, deepening the understanding of the vitality and challenges of Western communities.

Priorities for the Immediate Future

Using these guidelines, we set priorities for the immediate future. Remember that part above where I said we hope you’ll want to get involved? Well, the first thing we want to do is invigorate and grow our community by creating more opportunities for anyone to volunteer or contribute. We have a wonderful, passionate community who feels a deep connection to the Gathering and our organization. It’s not uncommon to hear from folks who have just attended their first Gathering that they were surprised by how inclusive it is. We want to extend that feeling year-round.

We’ve already partnered with other organizations in Reno and Yountville, Calif., to produce shows we’re calling the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on the Road. We want to expand this concept and are exploring possibilities for shows in Texas, Montana and other sites around the West. These events create opportunities for us to showcase our community of talented artists as well as reach new audiences who may not be aware of the scope of our work or the rich diversity of voices we represent.

Another way to expand our reach is by leveraging social media even more to highlight both new and existing fieldwork. There is some amazing stuff in our archives that most of the world has never seen and many of you may have forgotten. Some of that could be repackaged for an online audience, but we’re also hoping to both bolster our preservation efforts and make the entire archive more accessible by partnering with a program or facility that values its contents as much as we do.

We also want to experiment with new content and programming that can be distributed online. The Moving Rural Verse poem-films that were unveiled at this year’s Gathering and our recent collaboration with StoryCorps are great examples of content with the potential to reach people who have never heard of the Western Folklife Center. We might also examine how we can use live video streaming most effectively or consider a podcast. Nothing is off the table. I, for one, am particularly interested in educational formats that can encourage the kind of skill-sharing that will continue to nurture the traditional forms of Western cultural expression on which the Western Folklife Center was founded. We must cultivate as well as preserve the wealth of knowledge within our community for the future.

And finally, in order to better understand what you want from the Western Folklife Center, we plan to field a survey soon to learn more about how we can better serve you. We want to hear your ideas, we hope you will volunteer to help, and we want to make sure that everyone is recognized and appreciated for his or her contributions. You are part of our family and we want to make sure you feel included. If you would like to chat, feel free to reach out by contacting the Western Folklife Center office or find me on social media. I would love to hear from you!

Meet Wyoming Poet Maria Lisa Eastman

By Darcy Minter

Every year, we look forward to welcoming new poets to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and this year is no exception. One of those poets is Maria Lisa Eastman, who ranches with her husband Skip in Hyattville, Wyoming, on the west side of the Big Horn Mountains. Maria and Skip have a wonderful tradition in their home. When they have dinner guests, they scatter poetry books around the table and ask people to browse through them and read a poem if they are inspired. Skip encouraged Maria to read her own poetry to their guests. And, she says, he has been “bugging” her to apply to perform at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for a long time. She says she finally did it to shut him up. And she couldn’t believe it when she was accepted!


Maria says she started writing poetry as a young girl needing to express her pre-adolescent angst. And she has been writing poetry for more than 40 years. Her poems are often about horses which are her passion. She started taking riding lessons when she was five years old and has ridden ever since. Whether riding in the rainy countryside outside of London, England, scrimmaging polo ponies in Santa Fe, or working cows and riding fences on ranches in New Mexico and Wyoming, she’s always made sure horses were near. While riding colts out and collecting native grasses in New Mexico, she earned a master’s degree in range and watershed management. Currently, she operates Rainhorse, a nonprofit organization offering equine-assisted activities and therapies, and she trains in dressage on her 18-hand gelding Brego, a horse she rescued six years ago. Many of the horses that Maria works with in her equine program are rescued.

FullSizeRender[4].jpgMaria is new to Elko and new to performing her poetry. Fresh off her recent readings at a local book store and book club, Elko will be her third time in front of an audience. Her poetry has always been personal, written for herself. Now she is ready and looking forward to sharing it with us!

You can see Maria perform several times throughout the Gathering. Check out our full schedule of events here.

By Maria Lisa Eastman

When I wake in the morning
I can’t wait to see my dear friends –
The animals who live around me.

The dogs wag and grin, they
Groan in delight as they greet the early day.
Horses stretch and nicker across a sleeping pasture
They prick their ears as one
When oats splash against a wooden pail.
Barn cats unfurl their downy limbs and blink –surely they are smiling-
In the slow building heat of the sun.
Baby calves, black against the quicksilver grass
Buck and hump, butting their quiet mothers
Who graze together with studious pleasure.

Do we need a reason to be glad of the day?
Look at all those around us- for them it is enough
That the sky brightened
And enough that the sun warms
For these wise ones, enough to live one more simple day.


The Making of the Poem-Film “Homesteaders, Poor and Dry”

By Chris Simon, Filmmaker

The Western Folklife Center has been working on a series of four poem-films that powerfully communicate contemporary rural issues, ideas and insight—particularly the subject of water in the West. Titled Moving Rural Verse, these films are produced in collaboration with respected Western poets and experienced video artists, and will premiere at the upcoming National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 30-February 4, in Elko. Filmmaker Chris Simon worked with poet Linda Hussa and Reno filmmaker Jerry Dugan to produce a film of Linda’s poem “Homesteaders, Poor and Dry.”

John Hussa, Rylee Dickson and Linda Hussa.

John Hussa, Rylee Dickson and Linda Hussa

When Meg Glaser, Artistic Director at the Western Folklife Center, told me about her new project, Moving Rural Verse—four poems on water in the West made into films—I was intrigued. When she asked, “Would you like to do a poem by Linda Hussa?” I was thrilled.

Then Meg said, “It’s ‘Homesteaders, Poor and Dry’.”

“Isn’t that about drought?” I probe, gazing out my window at the pouring rain. “That’s right!” Meg says brightly.

“And don’t they have to kill a cow and drop a little girl down a well so that the baby won’t die?”

“Can’t you get creative? And no blood.” She hangs up fast.

“Homesteaders, Poor and Dry” is an incredibly powerful poem about the hard emotional impact of drought on a family. It is told from the perspective of the young daughter. It would not be an easy film to make.

I wrote out a scenario for how I’d like to interpret Linda’s poem. Getting from what was on paper to film… well, that was a problem. I’m a documentary filmmaker. I usually film what is there, not create it. Dropping a camera down a well to show a little girl’s point of view is not in my skill set. I decided to collaborate with Reno filmmaker Jerry Dugan who made Buck Ramsey’s poem “Anthem” into a film for the Nevada Museum of Art. As a commercial and extreme sports filmmaker, Jerry could bring the technical skills needed plus additional creative perspective. We arrange to film at the Hussa Ranch at the northeastern tip of California. Linda and her husband John start combing the country looking for a hand-dug well. Their milk cow, Blossom, is offered a starring role. Fortunately, it has stopped raining.

Linda Hussa and Jerry Dugan

Linda Hussa and Jerry Dugan

Jerry and I rendezvous in Reno. I generally work with only a sound recordist (if I’m lucky); Jerry brings a crew of six. That’s seven including me. What can they all do?

The next day it becomes clear. Everyone has a job and everyone is busy. Jerry is on camera assisted by Ryan. Mike does stop-action camera. Trent and Keaton are in charge of MoVi. They will rig the camera down the well. Canyon operates the jib, a complicated apparatus that will give us overhead shots. In truth, everyone does whatever is needed.

Rylee and the rig.

The jib, in position at the well

 A sleepy Rylee Dickson, nine years old, arrives with her mother to play the girl. They had to get up at 4:00 am to make the three-hour drive from Reno. We dress her up in overalls and braid her hair. Keaton is drafted to play the dad and he gets overalls, too. With some dirt smudges they can pass for 1930s ranchers. Blossom is brought into the barn. She looks pretty healthy for a cow that is drought-stricken, but you can’t have everything. Blossom does not like the look of the knife in Dad’s hand. She really doesn’t like the camera being poked in her face. She rolls her eyes and pulls back. This translates well onto film. She goes back to her stall with an extra ration of hay.

The actors: Keaton and Rylee.

The actors: Keaton and Rylee

After shooting all morning at the ranch, we set out for the hand-dug well John Hussa found. It’s half way between the Hussa Ranch and Gerlach, Nevada, out on the sagebrush plains. It is perfect. We pull off the covering boards and when the guys drop a bucket down it comes back with dead scorpions floating in the water. We all take an extra step back.

Lowering the camera into the well.

Lowering the camera into the well

Rylee going down the well is accomplished through the magic of cinema and the technical expertise of Jerry and crew. Then it’s time for her big scene—the one that will make or break the film. Rylee nails it and as Linda, Jerry and I watch the screen, tears come to my eyes. This is even better than I had imagined.

You can see for yourself when “Homesteaders, Poor & Dry” premieres at the upcoming National Cowboy Poetry Gathering as one of the Moving Rural Verse Series.

And, don’t worry, no cows nor children were harmed in the making of this motion picture.

It's a wrap: the end.

It’s a wrap: the end.

See “Homesteaders, Poor & Dry” and three more Moving Rural Verse poem-films on:

Thursday, February 2, 12:15–1:30pm Ruby Mountain Ballroom #1, Elko Conference Center
Friday, February 3, 11:00am–12:15pm, G Three Bar Theater, Western Folklife Center

Moving Rural Verse was produced with major support from the National Endowment for the Arts, ArtPlace America, the Community Foundation of Utah and from Western Folklife Center stakeholders.

The View from the Western Folklife Center’s Wiegand Gallery

By Meg Glaser

Meg Glaser, by Kevin Martini-FullerThose familiar with the Western Folklife Center know that our small staff wear many hats, donning whatever is needed on any given day. As Artistic Director, one of my “hats” is exhibitions curator, envisioning our beautiful Wiegand Gallery as a multi-sensory entry into the American West and our organizational mission.

Some of my favorite exhibitions are those that bring together diverse types of arts—folk art intermingled with contemporary paintings, photography, historical imagery, and increasingly, audio-visual installations. As an organization we embrace the blurriness of cultural lines and the opportunity to draw on a deep pool of creativity in order to represent our culturally complex region out in the world. One of the first exhibitions we produced along these lines remains one of my favorites: Trappings of the Great Basin paired William Matthews’ exquisite watercolor documentation of the Great Basin and its people with the elaborate handcrafted horse gear favored in this region.

William Matthews painting, photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland

William Matthews, painting, photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland

As he visited and re-visited remote Western ranches and cowboy gatherings to seek visual inspiration, Matthews witnessed the renaissance of gear-making paralleling that of poetry and music. In 1992, with William Matthews’ encouragement, leadership and support, the Western Folklife Center established its Contemporary Gear Fund and Collection to reflect the craftsmanship of some of the West’s most respected artisans.

We extend our gratitude to Willie and the many individuals who have contributed funding and gear to this growing and highly regarded collection.

Exhbition installation, photo by Meg Glaser

In the Wiegand Gallery, September 17, 2016 through May, 2017: Horses of the American West and From the Western Folklife Center Collection.

Visitors can study this unique collection, along with two William Matthews’ paintings, as part of a larger exhibition—Horses of the American West—featured in the Wiegand Gallery through May 2017. The curators for the Nevada Museum of Art’s Horses of the American West drew inspiration from the classic poem “Equus Caballus,” written by our friend and Texas poet Joel Nelson. Filmmaker Paul Moon made an eloquent poem-film of “Equus Caballus” that shares the gallery with a selection of historical and contemporary paintings, photographs and sculptural works drawn from the permanent collection of the Nevada Museum of Art, along with a few special items from private collections. All those interested in the horse and horse gear will not want to miss this exhibition. Time your visit to coincide with the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to enjoy gallery tours by art and gear historians Kathleen and Griff Durham, as well as other related talks and demonstrations.

The Crew - John Ditz, Griff Durham, Beth Carpel, Brian Eyler and Chris Martin - photo by Meg Glaser

The installation crew – John Dits, Griff Durham, Beth Carpel, Brian Eyler and Chris Martin – photo by Meg Glaser

In September, we had the pleasure of working side-by-side with Nevada Museum of Art staff members Brian Eyler and Chris Martin as they installed Horses of the American West at the same time our crew were bringing saddles, headstalls and ropes from our collection into the Wiegand Gallery for the current exhibition. The week of being immersed in artwork; working with our generous, skilled and knowledgeable volunteers Beth Carpel, Griff Durham, John Dits and Karen Martin; and working with Nevada Museum of Art staff on site and back in Reno, once again reminded me of how fortunate I am to be wearing this hat.

Art “Placemaking” or Art “Placekeeping” in Downtown Elko?

By David Roche

When the Western Folklife Center was awarded an art “placemaking” grant from ArtPlace America in the fall of 2015, it initiated a creative process already stimulated by Elko’s own plan for redevelopment of the downtown corridor. Bordered by Commercial and Railroad streets between 3rd and 9th, this area was the heartbeat of old Elko. The railroad tracks once ran smack down the middle of town. And not only carrying freight and passengers from the West, the trains delivered entertainers to the Commercial Hotel and Stockmen’s—including, famously, a very chilled Xavier Cugat mambo orchestra one frosty winter night in the late 1940’s. Elko was the casino entertainment capital of Nevada for a time.

Photographer and date unknownPhotographer and date unknown

The arteries of the city branched out from the Pioneer Hotel at 5th and Railroad and along adjacent blocks on Idaho and Silver. But with the tracks removed to the edge of town in the 1970’s, sadly, the area began to wither. Auto and truck traffic along I-80 and the suburban housing developments expanding outward in all directions meant business relocated to shopping malls adjacent to the Interstate entrances and to big box retailers and fast food outlets. Downtown saw more shop closures and boarded storefronts.

By 2014, the greening of the downtown corridor and sprucing up of old buildings had become a focal point for civic redevelopment. Store owners, local citizens and the city’s Planning Department pulled together for group meetings. Two different consulting teams were engaged. Designs were drawn up. Comments were gathered.

WFC Pioneer Hotel , 2009




2009 photo by Steve Green

Pioneer Hotel Building, 2012




2012 staff photo


How to bring more folks back downtown? Was it housing or was it park-like amenities to attract families that could turn the tide? A permanent outdoor performance area? Trees and green hillocks? A water works for a summer splash pad or a skating rink for the winter? Maybe a Ferris wheel? All these ideas and more ended up in a $20-million-dollar plan presented to the city. Ultimately, when put to the vote of the City Council, the plan was scaled back considerably.

CPG2003 Youth Education ProgramsElko County School Children attend an event, photo by Steve Green.

The Western Folklife Center looked at this populist civic activity and decided to try to carve out a productive niche for ourselves, appropriate to the arts and culture footprint we occupy in Elko. How could we best contribute to the redevelopment plan? While the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering had established itself over three decades as a major event in town, what could we do to enhance the quality of life in Elko the rest of the year?

Pioneer at night, by Jessica Brandi Lifland-2011ncpgA night at the Gathering, photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland

Given our curatorial skills in producing, presenting and exhibiting, what could we do to become more of a year-round arts and culture magnet for Elko, right in the heart of the city—and the heart of the redevelopment efforts? We found a willing investor in ArtPlace America, a consortium agency comprised of 16 funders from around the country who had joined together on a 10-year plan to support thoughtful nonprofit art placemaking projects in every state. We applied and were honored to become the first Nevada recipient.

Deon Reynolds art, wall mock-upWall photo mural project model by Deon Reynolds,
©2016 Reynolds Photography

The renaissance of art placemaking in America (sometimes called “creative placemaking”) is traced to the New Urbanist Movement of post-World War II. Jane Jacobs’ (1961) provocative book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, while centered on large cities and designs for remedying urban decay, provides a basic text for the mindful redevelopment of cities of whatever size. As Jacobs writes, “Designing a dream city is easy. Rebuilding a living one takes imagination.” Art placemaking, then, is the shorthand way of indicating a variety of renovation and redevelopment strategies in which public art becomes a major factor. The artist or curator becomes a significant player at the table along with the city planner and manager, the developer and the neighborhood citizens invested as stakeholders in building better public spaces.

Jam On! May 14, 2014, photo courtesy of Southwind photo fileJam On! Every second Tuesday of the month.
Photo courtesy of Southwind photo file

But it is a second, related concept of public art works that may be more to the point in the case of Elko. “Art placekeeping” is a term favored by community arts activists Jenny Lee and Roberto Bedoya to counter the idea that development is more than creating anew. It is not simply about preserving and renovating old buildings – with the possibility of uncontrolled gentrification – but it is also about keeping the cultural memories attached to a historic district vibrant and real– to continue to tell the personal and community stories, dance the dances, and celebrate the music of the streets and local establishments. Keepin’ it real—la pura vida—rather than bland homogenizing and fakelore.

Dance photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland, 2013Dance photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland

Our home at the Pioneer Hotel can help. We can be an arts and culture anchor, “placekeeping” the neighborhood. Programs like ”Let’s Dance!” and “Jam On!,” our ongoing dance and music instruction and improvising sessions, have started the ball rolling. For the future, visual arts exhibits, both moving images and static exhibitions, will open up the building, welcoming folks to come inside for workshops and other activities. Our cigarbox guitar-making workshop with Matt Downs—back by popular demand—and Hallowe’en concert this week with “Haunted Windchimes” are just two current examples of bringing the outside inside to experience some hands-on art making at our place. Keeping the Pioneer Hotel as the place to be in the heart of old Elko is a start toward making our contribution to the grand plan. Come join us.

David Roche
Executive Director

Cigar-Box Guitars and Haunted Windchimes

By Katie Aiken

muddybootsrootsrevival-202In October, two musical groups join us at the Western Folklife Center. Both are influenced by American roots music. Both bring an ingenuity and innovation that keeps their sound fresh. And both celebrate the creativity and tradition of making music with family and friends.

On Wednesday, October 26th at 7:00 pm, The Haunted Windchimes play at the G Three Bar Theater – just in time for Halloween. Learn more about them, their Pueblo, CO, beginnings, and their vintage-tinged folk and blues sound here.

This upcoming Saturday, October 22nd, Muddy Boots & the Porch Pounders play the Pioneer Saloon at 7:00 pm. Before they take the stage that evening, Matt Downs (of Muddy Boots) hosts his second annual build-your-own cigar-box guitar workshop at the Western Folklife Center. Matt was kind enough to answer a few questions about the peculiar instrument he has chosen and how (and why) he became obsessed with the cigar-box guitar (from here on out, referred to as the CBG). Be warned: the conversation below is paraphrased… Matt talks fast when talking about his love for the CBG!

Western Folklife Center (WFC): The cigar-box guitar seems like a fairly uncommon instrument, at least around here. How did you first get introduced to the CBG?

Matt Downs (MD): Well, probably the best way to tell it is… I wanted to play guitar as a kid. I took two years of guitar lessons in high school and I learned a lot about the guitar, but I still couldn’t play a lick of it after the two years. In 2009, I had just gotten the internet at home and learned about YouTube. I found a video of a guy playing a CBG and I said, “I think I can do that”… and the very next day, I went to a smoke shop and found a cigar box.


WFC: Did you teach yourself? How did you learn to play?

MD: I didn’t tell anybody that I’d made my first CBG. I made it around Christmas-time and I just wanted to be able to play ONE song at the family Christmas party. There was nobody on YouTube teaching how to play the 3-string CBG, so I had to figure it out for myself. Since I had a different approach than people who play “normally,” it was easier for me (than the guitar lessons had been). Something on the radio would catch my ear and I’d figure out how to play little bits of things until I could piece songs together.

WFC: When did you tell people you were playing the CBG? How did your family react?

MD: I gave away the first CBG I built that Christmas as a white elephant present at a gift exchange. It was kind of a big joke. My life is kind of a series of big jokes, ha. So, my family was expecting something weird. The CBG was a novelty at first. But, I really enjoyed it. The CBG really lends itself to the blues (with its three strings and slide playing). When I first started, I’d tell people, “this is a blues guitar, but I do not have a blue bone in my body.” But, I loved it so much that I started learning, studying blues music, tracing influences back to where the blues started. That’s how I started to understand it and be able to play it. My family probably thinks I’m completely insane, but I’m just having fun!

WFC: What about your band members? How did they react? How did you find people to play with?

3629363MD: Right after I learned how to build a CBG, I decided to do an open mic at a music festival in Ogden to play in front of people. It was a bluegrass festival and I did a terrible job. I had never played standing up before. I had never sung into a microphone! But, everybody was gracious and told me to play something else. I only knew two songs at the time. The whole experience was so encouraging, though, it lit a fire underneath me.

What possessed you to get up on a stage at that point?

MD: Ha! I’ve always been kind of a show-off. From riding motorcycles to yo-yo. (yep, that’s right, yo-yo). And, when I find something I enjoy, I dig in and become a bit obsessive. In fact, I was the yo-yo state champion in Utah when I was younger. I don’t usually put that on my resume. It doesn’t come up in conversation much. (Sorry, Matt, the secret’s out.)

Actually, the jam sessions at the [WFC’s National] Cowboy Poetry Gathering were a major inspiration for me to be able to play with other people. I wanted to do that—to be able to jump in, on the fly, with other musicians and be able not just to follow along, but to actually add something.

I knew that I needed to learn to play with others before I could improve. When I moved to Elko, I put an ad on Craig’s List. Once I told people that I play the CBG, most of them stopped responding. (Luckily, he kept it up and found some like-minded musicians who were open to playing what some might call “weird stuff”one of his current bandmates had even responded to that original Craig’s List ad though they actually met a few years later.)

WFC: How do you describe the style of music that Muddy Boots plays?

MD: That’s always a sticky situation… I’ve sort of coined the term trans-genre music. It’s a little bit of this and little bit of that… roots rock might be the best description. We’re heavily influenced by the blues, folk rock, and roots rock.

WFC: What do you want people to know about the CBG?

MD: It’s really amazing to play an instrument that you made yourself. I used to think instruments were almost magical. Building your own instrument takes a lot of the mystery out of music. I’ve built instruments out of all kinds of things—garbage cans, mailboxes, motorcycle parts. It makes you realize music does not have to be commercialized; music used to be made on your front porch at night, it was homegrown, something you could listen to in your back yard, at home. This is a way of taking music back (out of a commercialized and monetized realm) —you can make whatever style of music you want on any instrument you can make.


The 2015 Cigar Box Guitar class at the Western Folklife Center

Join us on Saturday, October 22 – meet the guys who joined a band led by a cigar-box guitar-playing yo-yo champion. And, maybe you’ll be inspired to demystify the music-making process yourself and strike a tune on the next cigar-box… or coffee can… or haircomb… or spare car part… you stumble across.

Cow Camp in the Big Horn Mountains – An Ultimate Western Experience

By Teresa Jordan

When Jesselie and Scott Anderson and Bob and Katharine Garth, longtime supporters of the Western Folklife Center, saw the Ultimate Western Experience packages offered in the silent auction during the last National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, they knew they wanted to go on at least one of them. They started bidding and in the end won two out of the four offerings. This past week they enjoyed their first adventure, at Stan and Mary Flitner’s White Creek cow camp in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. They invited my husband, WFC Founding Director Hal Cannon, and me to join them, and the six of us were treated to three days of stunning scenery and Wyoming’s best outback hospitality.


The adventure started at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West with a personal tour from the illustrious Alan Simpson, the former Wyoming U. S. Senator and Buffalo Bill Center Board Chairman who is known for his colorful turns of phrase and wide-ranging areas of expertise and enthusiasm. Although the Senator, now 86, carries a walking stick, it is not for support so much as to propel him at his characteristic long-legged gallop. Don’t tarry, don’t tarry, he constantly reminded us as he squired us through the five separate museums that make up the center—the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indians Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Draper Natural History Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum. Left to right: Bob and Katharine Garff, Jesselie and Scott Anderson, Senator Alan Simpson.

From Cody we headed up into the Big Horn Mountains and arrived at Stan and Mary Flitner’s White Creek cow camp just in time for dinner.


Stan was stirring the coals under the Dutch oven, well on his way to making the best fried
chicken any of us had ever eaten.

He also treated us to his Dutch oven sourdough bread followed the next morning with sour dough pancakes.

After breakfast, Stan and Mary showed us the lay of the land. From here, we could look down at Shell Creek and the Big Horn River to Cody and across to Red Lodge and the Bear Tooth Mountains.

Later, Mary read to us from her forthcoming memoir, a story of family ranching and the many generations of experience that have shaped Stan’s and her lives, and which they have in turn passed down to their children.

The title of Mary’s book is A Detailed Map of the Trail. Perhaps she should use this map on the cover!


Hal sang Texas Traveler, a song popular with African American cowboys in the 19th century as they herded cows north from Texas.


Laura Bell came to Wyoming in 1977 from Kentucky and herded sheep before she started night calving for Flitners. What she thought was a six-week stint turned into six years, an experience we got a taste of as she read to us from her acclaimed memoir, Claiming Ground.

Everyone pitched in to make this an extraordinary experience. We discovered that Scott has a talent for pot scrubbing.

Girls just want to have fun! Right to left: Jesselie, Mary, Laura, Katharine, and Teresa.

Mary always has fun. Here, she shares a joke that only someone with a life of experience with cows can tell properly.

The last morning we woke to snow – as if it wasn’t already hard to leave this beautiful place!

New friends in an old West … Mary, Bob, Stan and Katharine

Our heartfelt thanks to Stan and Mary Flitner, Laura Bell, and Senator Alan Simpson for giving us what was truly an Ultimate Western Experience. As Jesselie said over breakfast our last morning, “This adventure was so much richer than I could ever have envisioned that now I can’t imagine going through life without having experienced it.”


Thank you, Mary and Stan. And the dogs were welcoming, too!

Teresa Jordan is a member of the Western Folklife Center’s National Advisory Council and a former member of the Board of Trustees. She is a well-known writer and artist and is married to Hal Cannon, founder of the Western Folklife Center and a member of the Utah band 3hattrio.