The Atlantic

The Podcast Spreading the Love of Cowboy Culture

A new audio series aims to connect a vibrant community of western poets, singers, and storytellers with a wider audience.
Source: Ted S. Warren / AP

In the first two decades after the Civil War, more than 10 million cattle were driven north from Texas to railheads in Kansas, where they could be shipped to larger markets in the east. Fighting boredom on the trail, cowboys would often improvise poems and songs. They’d sing on horseback and around the campfire, collectively writing verse, adding a new line or amending an old one, usually in the form of an English ballad. Thus cowboy poetry was born.

While the cattle-drive era has long since passed, the poetry hasn’t stopped. In the early 1980s, a small group of folklorists, having stumbled upon this underground genre, sought out cowboy poets from all over the west. In 1985, the Western Folklife Center hosted the results at the inaugural Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. This year, the center hosted its 33rd gathering, a weeklong event that now annually attracts thousands, urban and rural alike. The national event has spawned a tight-knit

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