Cowboy poetry boosts Elko economy

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering draws thousands of out-of-town attendees to Elko each January.

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering draws thousands of out-of-town attendees to Elko each January.

One of the most popular events held in Elko is also a nice shot in the arm for the local economy.

The 32nd Elko National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which will be held Jan. 25-30, draws between 7,000 to 8,000 people to venues across town, including Elko Convention Center, Western Folklife Center, Flag View Intermediate School, Elko High School and the Great Basin College theater. Western-themed movies also are shown at the Crystal Theater.

An economic impact study conducted by the Nevada Commission on Tourism in 1997 found that the total economic impact of the event in Elko was $7 million during the week of the Gathering.

Though many Cowboy Poetry attendees are locals, roughly half are estimated to come from out of town, says Darcy Minter, communications director for Western Folklife Center in Elko, which produces the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

And while the event is hardly Elko’s largest special event, its importance to tourism revenue in Elko County can’t be denied since it takes place during one of the slowest months of the year.

Minter says the late January date has always been in place and was chosen because it’s one of the only months of the year that ranchers can find a bit of free time.

“The restaurants are packed, retail businesses do great business that week, and lodging is pretty full.”

“It’s a quiet time for ranchers — they are not calving and can just find someone to feed them and come here,” Minter says. “Calving starts in February and March, then comes haying. This is the time of year when it’s most flexible for them.”

Elko has grown quite a bit from the festival’s early days when there weren’t enough hotel and motel rooms for all the out-of-town participants and cowboys often slept in their trucks during the dead of winter, Minter adds. Elko now has nearly 2,000 hotel rooms to accommodate guests, including 245 additional hotel rooms after the completion of a Hampton Inn, a Fairfield Inn by Marriott, and a Ledgestone hotel.

As the event has grown, so too have the number of exhibitors selling everything from western gear, saddles, cowboy hats, silversmithing goods and western-themed art. Casinos in town also feature entertainment connected to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

This year, 55 performers are scheduled to perform at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, including poets, singer-songwriters and musical groups. The event also brings together people concerned about preserving western traditions and the rural ranching lifestyle.

The keynote address at the 32nd Gathering will be delivered by Dan Flores, a cultural and environmental historian of the plains. In his work, Flores takes a longue duree approach, accounting for both history and the present, so that today’s westerners can more effectively make decisions that are best for the long-term health of the land.

The poster artwork for the 32nd Gathering is from Comes Back, by Donald F. Montileaux, an Oglala Lakota ledger artist.

Ledger art is a Northern Plains Indian art form that refers to the accounting ledger books that were a common source of paper for the Plains Indians from the 1860s to the 1940s. Montileaux has rekindled ledger art with a collection of striking images that capture the unique Lakota ways of life.

Tickets to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering can be purchased online at, or by calling 888-880-5885. Western Folklife Center members can purchase tickets now, and non-members can purchase tickets beginning Oct 8. Contact Darcy Minter at for more information.


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