Cowboy Poetry and Western Life

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Sierra Vista (Arizona) February  

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February, 2007
Annual Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering  Sierra Vista, Arizona

  Report by Nona Kelley Carver

  photos by Lori Faith Merritt,
photo by April Visell

Additional report below by William Merritt with photos by Lori Faith Merritt

Additional report below by Diane Tribitt


The Fifteenth Anniversary Celebration of the Cochise Cowboy Poetry & Music Gathering in Sierra Vista, Arizona was a huge success. Co-Chairs Steve Conroy and Bob Fusco, along with a host of volunteers put together a show to be
long remembered.

On Friday morning, two or three artists visited each of the schools in Sierra Vista and the surrounding area to share their poetry and music.

Friday night's Headline Artists were Greg Scott (what a sense of humor), Trey Allen (unforgettable in his delivery of both his own and Sunny Hancock's poems), Sam DeLeeuw (who had the audience howling with laughter), Sally Harper Bates (Lady with the Liquid Velvet voice), Les Buffham (master at entertaining), The Daughters of the Purple Sage, (incomparable harmony), and Call of the West who delighted the audience (with musical talents extraordinaire!). Student winners of the poetry contests presented their original poetry and received scholarships during the show.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
Two faces of Sam DeLeeuw, performing her "Spreading Sunshine"

Approximately seventy artists performed throughout the day on Saturday in eight venues when the show was free to the public.

Saturday night's artists included Joyce Woodson (great song writer and performer), Royce Hodge (those who heard his patriotic poem will never forget), The Desert Sons (the original four, taking us on a western journey of song),
Peggy Godfrey (once heard, never forgotten), Jon Richins (stories told with poetry & music), Bud Strom (from whose pen flows perfection). Call of the West (Jeanne Cahill and Jerome Campbell), both accomplished in writing and playing fabulous music finished out the night's entertainment. More student poetry winners had presented their work and were awarded scholarships.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
Buckshot Dot (Dee Strickland Johnson) and Royce Hodge

Sunday Morning Breakfast and Cowboy Church was held at the Windemere Hotel for all artists, sponsors, hosts and volunteers. Mike Moutoux asked a blessing before the breakfast. Student Poets began Cowboy Church. Mike Dunn
recited his poem, "Somewhere Between Heaven & Earth."
Nona Kelley Carver followed with her poem written for the occasion, titled "Cowboy Church." Nona remained onstage at Suzi Killman's request to sing harmony with Suzi as she played guitar and sang her original song, "Covered in Crimson." Van Criddle, new to the Gathering, from Eugene, Oregon, recited a poem he had written with a Christian message for all. Trey Allen followed with his poem, "Talking to God," written in memory of Sunny Hancock and Larry McWhorterKen & Lynn Mikell brought their harp and guitar to the stage with their unique sound, and Buckshot Dot closed by singing a benediction.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
Kathy and Van Criddle

Sunday's afternoon performance featured more student poets, T. J. Casey (Montana's Singing Cowboy), Buckshot Dot (Dee Strickland Johnson) (who claims to be younger than springtime and older than dirt), Andy Nelson (no words to describe him!), Joni Harms, (guitarist, songwriter), Trey Allen (family man). Each did their part, and the Daughters of the Purple Sage joined the Desert Sons for more musical talent than the soul could absorb. Yes, it was a great celebration, and will always stir the emotions of those who were present.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
Andy Nelson


photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
Barbara Hall

Other performers at the event included:  Bill Cavaliere, Jan Choate, Dean Cook, Jim Dalglish, Jack DeWerff, Bunny Dryden, Jim Dunham, Joel Eliot, Rolf Flake, Barbara Hall, Audrey Hankins, Sue Harris, Allen "Hook" Hill, Jim Jones, Kay Kelley, Mariachi Batiz, Jane Morton, Tony Norris, Jim and Nancy Sober, Diane Tribitt, Due West Trio, Trails & Rails, Way Out West, and Byrd Woodward.


See many more photos at photographer Lori Faith Merritt's site:

  Report by William Merritt 
photo by Lori Faith Merritt 

  photos by Lori Faith Merritt,
photo by Rene Lynn

(Additional report above by Nona Kelley Carver, photos by Lori Faith Merritt; Additional report below by Diane Tribitt)

The 15th Annual Cochise Cowboy Poetry & Music Gathering was held in Sierra Vista, Arizona February 2-4, 2007.  The theme for this year's gathering was "Cowboys and Vaqueros." The many participating poets and musicians celebrated this rich heritage in verse and song. Poetic tributes spanned the generations from the Western Heritage Program's youth poets to those cowboy and cowgirl poets further down the trail. The musical performances also represented some of the finest of what western music has to offer.

A common expression heard over and over again by many of the new and returning performers was this: the Cochise Cowboy Poetry & Music Gathering is one of the best festivals of its kind. Besides being a honest compliment, it is a tribute to the dedication of all the generous sponsors, the volunteers who work almost year round, the hospitality of host families
providing the artists a place to stay, and to the support of the Sierra Vista community at large.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
Les Buffham

Headliner poets and storytellers Trey Allen, Les Buffham, Buckshot Dot (Dee Strickland Johnson), Sam DeLeeuw and Peggy Godfrey  kept the hundreds of attendees moved from tears of laughter to tears of sadness. From Trey Allen's moving tribute to Sunny Hancock and the heartfelt verses from Peggy Godfrey to the hilarious offerings of Les Buffham, "Sam" Deleeuw and Buckshot Dot, the enthralled audiences had no idea which direction the poets would take them next.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
Peggy Godfrey

Spanning the poetry and music worlds on stage was T. J. Casey from Billings, Montana. and Sally Harper Bates brought her touching lyrics and music into the hearts of all that were there. Joni Harms made it down from her home in Camby, Oregon for the Sunday session and filled the auditorium with her charm and toe-tapping tunes.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
T. J. Casey and Mike Dunn

Returning to Sierra Vista as a headline performer this year, Joyce Woodson shared the romance and wonder of the west with her original songs.

More rare than having such a varied group of talented musicians together at one gathering was to experience different combinations of them together on stage. During the Friday performance headliners Call of the West (Jeanne Cahill and Jerome Campbell) led the charge with a virtuoso performance of the "William Tell Overture" (aka the "Lone Ranger" theme), and then were joined on stage by
Jon Messenger and the Daughters of the Purple Sage doing R. W. Hampton's tune, "Travelin' Light." The Daughters of the Purple Sage also lent their impeccable talents to Arizona's legendary Desert Sons.

photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
Allison Gunsch with Daughters of the Purple Sage

One point of pride for the gathering is the Western Heritage Program. With standards set by the Arizona Department of Education, Language, Arts and Social Studies, children from twenty three schools in Cochise county were encouraged to submit cowboy poems and Western songs for entry into a contest. The amount of submissions for the contest totaled close to two thousand! Winners of the contest appeared on stage during the main performances and had their works published in a collection called The Saddlebag of Poems 12. Proceeds from the sale of The Saddlebag of Poems
benefit the participating schools. The Saddlebag of Poems is available through, with the cover and children's photographs provided by Lori Faith Merritt (, the Gathering's official photographer.

Keep your eye on and mark your calendar for February 1-3, 2008 for the 16th Cochise County Poetry and Music Gathering.

To view images from the 2006 and 2007 Gatherings, visit:

photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
Buckshot Dot (Dee Strickland Johnson) and Les Buffham

See many more photos at photographer Lori Faith Merritt's site:

Dianetribitt2007.jpg (18039 bytes)    Report by Diane Tribitt
photo by Faust Photography

(Additional report above by Nona Kelley Carver and another report above by William Merritt, both with photos by Lori Faith Merritt)


The (15th annual) 2007 Cochise Cowboy Poetry & Music Gathering in Sierra Vista, Arizona was a great success, with a wonderful line-up of poets and musicians sharing their talents with a large and receptive audience.

Fred Jones and Bud Strom did the preliminary work getting the Cochise County School children involved in the music and poetry contest, with many of the performers following up with visits to the schools on Friday. Those artists also had a wonderful opportunity to participate Thursday evening at Big Nose Kate's Saloon in Tombstone, which was a great time!

This was my first trip ever to Arizona. The beautiful land will be a favorite memory of mine forever, and I would like to extend a grateful thank you to the artists who took me under their wing throughout the weekend.  We even stayed on a few days to get some team roping in!

Headline Artists included
Trey Allen (Manhattan, KS), Sally Harper Bates (Chino Valley, AZ), Buckshot Dot (Dee Strickland Johnson) (Payson, AZ), Les Buffham (Castaic, CA), Call Of The West (Stang, OK),  T. J. Casey (Billings, MT), Daughters Of The Purple Sage (Valley Glen, CA), Sam DeLeeuw  (Manti, UT), Desert Sons (Tucson, AZ), Peggy Godfrey, (Moffat, CO), Joni Harms (Canby OR), Royce W. Hodge (Fairplay, CO), Andy Nelson (Pinedale, WY), Jon Richins (Tucson, AZ), Greg Scott (Elgin, AZ), Bud Strom (Hereford, AZ), and Joyce Woodson (San Juan Capistrano, CA).

Participating Artists included, Nona Kelly Carver (Mesa, CO), Bill Cavaliere (Animas, NM), Jan Choate (Animas, NM),
Steve Conroy (Sierra Vista, AZ), Dean Cook (Glendale, AZ), Van Criddle (Eugene, OR), Jim Dalglish (Grand Forks, ND), Jack DeWerff (Mesa, AZ), Bunny Dryden (Thatcher, AZ), Due West Trio (Tucson, AZ), Jim Dunham (Prescott, AZ), Mike Dunn (Mesa, AZ), Joel Eliot (Sonoita, AZ), Rolf Flake (Gilbert, AZ), Barbara Hall (hurricane, UT), Audrey Hankins (Congress, AZ),  Sue Harris (Phoenix, AZ), Allen "Hook" Hill (Lordsburg, NM), Jim Jones (Corrales, NM), Kay Kelley (Alpine, TX), Suzi Killman (Wickenburg, AZ), Mariachi Batiz (Nogales, AZ), Jon Messenger (Sierra Vista, AZ), Ken & Lyn Mikell (Cottonwood, AZ),Jane Morton (Mesa, AZ), Mike Moutoux (Pinos Altos, NM), Tony Norris (Flagstaff, AZ), Ray Owens (Artesia, NM), Jim & Nancy Sober (Willcox, AZ), Trails & Rails (La Mesa, CA), Diane Tribitt (Hillman, MN), Way Out West (Tucson, AZ), and Byrd Woodward (Spring Valley, AZ).

We appreciate all of the efforts made by the multitude of sponsors and volunteers who supported this event, and to the host families who opened their hearts and homes to us.  Special mention goes to Steve & Marge Conroy, and Jim & Regina Rutledge for all of their time and energy invested in this gathering; with due respect to the volunteers of the following committees: Executive, Artist Liaison, Commemorative Art, Consignments, Historians, Host Family Housing, Marketing & Media, Photographers (Lori Faith and William Merritt), Planning, Social Events, Sponsorships, Tickets, Venues, Webmaster, Poetry, Music and Scholarship Committees. Our hats are off to every one of you.


photo by Lori Faith Merritt,
Diane Tribitt



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