Dennis Cassinelli: Annual cowboy poetry gathering returning to Elko

The 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will be held in Elko from Jan. 29 through Feb. 3. The annual gathering was started in 1985 as a place where Western cowboys and ranchers could share poems about their lives working cattle. Not only that, but it provided a way for these hard working folks to get together out of the bitter cold Elko County winter weather for a few days. Three decades later, it has grown to become a nation of Western poets, musicians, artisans, dancers, buckaroos, buckaretts and story tellers.

The Elko Gathering was renamed the NATIONAL Cowboy Poetry Gathering thanks to an act of Congress. The theme for 2018 is “Basques and Buckaroos: Herding Cultures of Basin Range and Beyond.” It’s six days of poetry, music, dancing, workshops, exhibits, conversations, food and fellowship. There will be 50 performers on seven stages for the event.

I’ve known and seen several of the singers, poets and musicians who participate in the Elko Gathering over the years and the talent they exhibit is phenomenal. Waddie Mitchell, one of the original founders of the event, and Michael Martin Murphey are some of my favorite performers. Michael Martin Murphey’s stories about the legacy of the 150-year-old Chisholm Trail brings to mind stories of my great grandfather, Pietro, who rode on the Chisholm Trail with his 1886 Winchester 40-82 to reach Dayton in the 1880s.

Having grown up on a ranch, where I did branding, milking cows, stacking hay and feeding livestock, I have an appreciation for western culture and I even prefer reruns of old western movies to all others. The closest I ever came to being a buckaroo was when I took a pack train trip with mules and horses from June Lake, crossing up over the Sierra Nevada mountains to Tuolomne Meadows in Yosemite Valley. How many others out there have ever crossed over the Sierra on horseback?

This year the event will have programs on Dutch oven cooking, poetry writing, rawhide braiding, Basque restaurants, sheep herding, portrait painting and too many others to even mention in the space of this newspaper column. You can Google the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for complete information on schedules of events, ticket purchasing, participant photos and other information about the event.

I usually go to Elko every winter, not necessarily to attend the Gathering, but to go ice fishing at Wildhorse or South Fork Reservoir and to sell my western theme books at the Northeastern Nevada Museum.

The old Pioneer Hotel at 501 Railroad St. in Elko is the headquarters of the Western Folklife Center. To find out about attending the Elko Poetry Gathering, you can contact the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority at 800-284-3556, website; or contact the Elko Chamber of Commerce by calling 775-738-7135, website

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted at or on his blog at All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount to reduce inventory and Dennis will pay the postage. These will no longer be available from Amazon.


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