By Ian Croft
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With some of the first European settlers to lay roots in southern Alberta being farmers and individuals who worked on the ranch, their traditions and customs would naturally be Alberta’s heritage. David L. Woodruff, chairman of the Taber Cowboy Poetry and Western Music Gathering Group, seeks to preserve this heritage by setting up a cowboy poetry showcase here in Taber. Before talking about his plans of preservation, Woodruff briefly discussed the origins of cowboy poetry.
“The buffalo had pretty much been wiped out by the late 1870s and the Mounties came out and decided with all the grassland here (in western Canada), we should be raising cattle,” said Woodruff. “Two years after all the Buffalo were all gone, the Canadian government started leasing land to big ranches for a penny an acre, and they started bringing in cattle from the United States. The ranches sent guys down to bring cattle up to stock the ranches up here and cowboys, whether they’re taking cattle from Texas to Canada, they always had stories — things always happened and so they had stories to tell around the campfire. Then some of them put that into poetry and others put the poetry to music — then you get the cowboy poetry and western music out of the deal. Back in the 60s or sometime around then, people decided that we needed to have gatherings to showcase the poetry and western music because we needed to keep the story alive and so cowboy poetry gatherings were started.”
Woodruff provided a brief overview of some of the cowboy poetry showcases that happened previously and discussed how he went from playing in the band at these events to performing poetry on stage.
“There were a lot of people that had cowboy poetry (and it) was a part of their way of life before the gatherings happened, but the gathering sort of helped to showcase it. We had Pincher Creek and Maple Creek start a long time ago and had gatherings. When Taber decide to have one 25 years ago, I was in a little band called the Grassy Lake Oilers and we were asked to come to present our music. Four or five years into it, one of the MCs said, ‘David, why don’t you get your own spot on the show? Playing bass for the Oilers that’s all well and good, don’t quit, but get your own spot on the show.’ I asked some other individuals to sing with me and they were so good that it didn’t take any practice and we put together groups years after that. Then the museum society (decided) to not hold them (cowboy poetry showcases) anymore. My feeling is after being to other gatherings, we are missing out and we need to get it going again.”
To read the full story, pick up a Taber Times issue or subscribe to an ePaper digital subscription! You can sign up for digital or traditional subscriptions on tabertimes.com by clicking subscribe under ePaper on the home page.