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Medora (North Dakota) May

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May, 2008
22nd Annual Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gathering  Medora, North Dakota


  report and photos by Slim McNaught
[photo of Slim McNaught by Jen Dobrowski]



Now, everyone knows I’m a softhearted feller. Have sympathy for less fortunate folk. And right now I sure am feelin’ sorry for those people who missed the Twenty-Second Annual Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gathering that took place May 24 and 25 at the Medora Community Center in Medora, North Dakota. What an experience!

An apology is in order here for not having an assortment of pictures. The pictures for this article were on their way down from North Dakota and either the pony express rider got shot or the horse ran out of oats, haven’t found out which.

We had driven all morning in rain and mist, and for our drought stricken area, it as a gratifying experience. That set the day off to a great start. When we walked into the hall at Medora the first thing that came into view was a neatly waxed handlebar mustache with a black hat perched just high enough above it so that Bill Lowman could look out and give us a hearty welcome. It was so good to see Bill and JoAnn Lowman again. This Medora gathering is just like a family reunion. It just makes the world seem right when you get to see all the old friends that show up and meet the new ones just coming for the first time. And then we miss the ones who weren’t able to make it, but we talk about ‘em anyway. That’s what they get for not showin’ up. But it’s a sure enough handshakin’, huggin’ event.

JoAnn got us registered in and we set up our leather booth and we were good to go. The schedule for the one o’clock Saturday performance was filled with some of the best talent around. Paula Harkins graced us with her presence as emcee. This year she didn’t have her whip and stop watch, so things may have ran over a little on time. We found out her bark was worse than her bite. But it was a great afternoon.

A good crowd gathered and performers lined up and kept them entertained. On stage was: Ila Mae Prestangen, Watford City, ND; Lynn Bueling, Mandan, ND; Ann Secrest Hanson, Bowman, ND; Jarle Kvale, Dunseith, ND; Carole Rosencrans, Janice Hanson, Jim Hegland and Alice Anderson (a brother and sisters musical group), Hettinger, ND; Slim McNaught, New Underwood, SD; Susan Wright, Cedaredge, CO; Wayne Wipf, Spearfish, SD; John Ulberg, East Helena, MT; Brenda Rekow, Ellendale, ND; Gil Ost, Beulah, ND; Terry Schwartz, Jamestown, ND; and Linda Tesky, Jamestown, ND. During the performance, Bob Petermann accompanied Paula Harkins with his guitar as she gave us a couple songs with her beautiful voice.

At break time the crowd mingled with the performers and the place was buzzin’. More good conversation going on than you could shake a stick at. Many of the same folks attend each year and many of the performers are return entertainers so it gets to be quite a reunion. The folks manning the artist’s table were kept busy selling books and CDs for the performers. The four vendor booths and the Dakotaland Art Show were very well attended. Seemed like folks were stacked about four deep around each display.

The 2:45 Saturday session got underway with Fran Armstrong as emcee. Performers in this session were: Fran Armstrong, Medora, ND; Dean Johnson, Beach, ND; Dick Kuske, New England, ND; Chris Sand, Dunn Center, ND; Donelda Oberlander, New England, ND; Michael Kuchenski, Dickinson, ND; Dale Nystrom, New Rockford, ND; Jr. Seifert, Bowman, ND; Bea Wall, Sheldon, ND; Celia Yates, Hammond, MT; Bob Petermann, Wibaux, MT; Nikki McAlpin, Grassy Butte, ND backed by Valerie Entzi and Kurt Rockeman from Watford City, ND. What a great assortment of talent. You won’t find this range of entertainment at very many gatherings.

The vendor booths consisted of Slim’s Custom Leather, Slim and Darlene McNaught, New Underwood, South Dakota; The Big Hat Society, George and Lois Welsch, Medora, North Dakota; Jay Urlacher, Leather Art Works, Dickinson, North Dakota; and Northern Trails Saddle Shop, Bill Engen of Belfield, North Dakota, saddle maker/owner. Bill is donating a hand carved saddle, breast collar and head stall honoring Medora’s 125 years, to be raffled off at the North Dakota Cowboy hall of Fame’s February Annual Banquet at Mandan’s Seven Sea’s. Proceeds will be equally split between the Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gathering and the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.

In the Roosevelt Room again this year, the Dakotaland Art Show exhibit which includes artists from across the Dakotas whose work reflects rural and western life, continued the tradition set by the Badlands Art Association for many years. There was an on going art demonstration by Scott Nelson and also saddle making and leather art by Chip Leibel. This event was sponsored in part by The Interstate Western Works, exit 147 west of Mandan, North Dakota; Scott Nelson Ranch and Artwork, Solen, North Dakota; and the Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

The crowd thinned down for the supper hour, but a sold out crowd was anticipated for the evening performance. Bill Lowman emceed the Saturday evening performance and what a group he gathered up for this one! Five outstanding performances included:

Brent Voigt from Rhame, North Dakota has been a professional musician and entertainer for over 30 years. He has shared the stage with Chris LeDoux, Red Steagall, Baxter Black, Moe Bandy, Eric Church, Jean Sheppard, Joe Diffy, Ricky Van Sheldon, Gail Davies, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Williams & Ree. In 1985 Brent was a finalist in Nashville at the Dodge/Wrangler country Showdown. At the National Cowboy Poetry gathering in Elko this year Brent was invited to perform at the “Best of the Open Mic” Show. This was Brent’s second appearance at the Medora Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

The Radio Stars, consisting of Merrill Piepkorn on harmonica, guitars and vocals, RP Sell on bass guitar and vocals, and Gregg “Smokey” Temple on guitars, including the pedal steel guitar and vocals. The three of them have worked together in various configurations for over thirty years and have recently been performing regularly as the Radio Stars. Merrill came to the Poetry Gathering sixteen years ago to record some interviews for a radio station and has been coming back every since. He emceed the evening show the year that Bill Lowman and the gathering were placed in the Library of Congress’ Local Legacy project. They ended their performance with a rendition of “In Flanders Field” that left the audience breathless.

“V” (Laurie Vigyikan), raised in upstate New York, established her interests in horses and music at a young age. In 1995 she went to work at a remote ranch in the Wyoming Rockies where she has since worked as a caretaker. Here, she has preserved a piece of history, accomplishing the yearly chores with horsepower, snowbound for the winter months and living without modern amenities as the homesteaders once did. In the summers she hires out for day work on local ranches, guiding pack trips and cowboying for the Green River Drift, America’s largest cattle association, whose summer cow camps surround the ranch where she lives. This lifestyle has been her inspiration for many original songs. She accompanies her “campfire vocals” with the acoustic guitar or one of her homemade banjos. As her bio states, “Nothing fancy, but guaranteed authentic.”

Audrey Wipperling has lived in Baker, Montana with her husband and daughter since 2001 after working for ranchers. They own a small acreage that is just large enough to keep a few horses, chickens and such. Just enough to keep ties with their western lifestyle. Audrey grew up in the north central part of North Dakota in New Rockford and then, after being married, moved out to Western Montana in the Big Hole country of Wisdom and Jackson, Montana. While being young and learning the hard life of ranch hands, Audrey heard Patsy Cline’s music for the first time on the ONE radio station they could get way up in those mountains. Audrey tried singing Patsy’s music and found it easy for her low alto voice to match the rich tones of Patsy Cline. Audrey has been hooked on singing ever since, but found it hard to sing in front of people for twenty years. Audrey, no longer afraid, has now been singing for the public for four years.

Diane Tribitt is a rancher and poet from Hillman, Minnesota. Working side-by-side with her fiancé and children, Diane runs a 650 head cow/calf operations as well as a grain bin construction crew. Diane knows first-hand that cowboying is not only about surviving droughts, blizzards, diseases, floods (and heck – even the banker!), it’s about living and working and raising your children to know, understand and appreciate this lifestyle. It’s about the horses, cattle and dogs. And mostly, it’s about the cowboys and cowgirls who keep it all alive. Diane was honored by, the world’s largest collection of cowboy poetry, as the current Poet Lariat Laureate.

Emcee Bill Lowman owns and operates the home ranch he grew up on, some twenty miles northeast of Sentinel Butte. Along with his ranching interests, Bill and his wife, JoAnn operate a small fleet of heavy earthmoving equipment, a guest house/hunting lodge, and Bill entertains about fifty banquets a year as a cowboy humorist. Lowman is the founder and director of the Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Medora, the nation’s oldest regional cowboy gathering.

Sunday morning found us back at the Center for the Charlie Hunt Memorial Cowboy Gospel Singing. Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns put together a very nice three hour program. I lost count of the performers, but many of Saturdays participants joined in with a variety of gospel songs and poems. I was honored to have Bob Petermann on guitar and Paula Harkins singing “Amazing Grace” cover me while I recited one of my Cowboy Prayer poems. What a fun event. Paula and Bob also graced us with their combined talents performing more gospel songs.

The Sunday afternoon poetry session got under way at 1 o’clock with emcee Jarle Kvale keeping things running smoothly. Performers were: Fran Armstrong, Medora, ND; Dean Johnson, Beach, ND; Dick Kuske, New England, ND; Bea Wall, Sheldon, ND; Donelda Oberlander, New England, ND; Jr. Seifert, Scranton, ND; John Ulberg, East Helena, MT; Michael Kuchenski, Dickinson, ND; Ila Mae Prestangen, Watford City, ND; Jarle Kvale, Dunseith, ND; Nikki McAlpin, Grassy Butte, ND, backed by Valerie Entzi and Kurt Rockeman from Watford City, North Dakota.

After a short intermission, the second session got underway with Paula Harkins once again doing the emcee honors. Performers in this second session were: Carole Rosencrans, Janice Hanson, Jim Hegland and Alice Anderson from Hettinger, ND; Susan Wright, Cedaredge, CO; Wayne Wipf, Spearfish, SD; Jim Lowman, Fairfield, ND; Ann Secrest Hanson, Bowman, ND; Slim McNaught, New Underwood, SD; Brenda Rekow, Ellendale, ND; Chris Sand, Dunn Center, ND; and Paula Harkins, Billings, MT. Paula was accompanied by Bob Petermann on guitar.

The evening performance, again featured Brent Voigt; The Radio Stars; “V”; and Audrey Wipperling, with the addition of Jody Strand of Baker, Montana. Jody was born and raised on a Minnesota dairy farm. Horses were always her biggest interest, so when she wouldn’t quit riding the calves, Jody’s dad finally bought her a horse. Then came the saddle, boots, and hat and then she felt like a real cowgirl so it only seemed natural to marry a cowboy and go to work on ranches. That’s when the real education began. For the next twenty years Jody learned the ways of range cattle, calving, doctoring and everything associated with ranch life that was expected of her. Often she had things to say and no one around to listen so Jody began writing down each day’s joys and sorrows. What began as a journal evolved into short stories and poems. In 1989 Jody started reciting in public and has preformed in various states. She has been a regular at Medora’s spring gathering and Cowboy Christmas, Marmarth’s fall show and was invited to perform in Elko, Nevada at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering there. Jody has been published four times, each book having a different selection of poems or short stories.

Emcee for this Sunday evening performance was Bob Petermann from the remote Cedar Creek area of Wibaux County, Montana. Petermann has two CD recordings. Thanks for the Rain is a collection of original and traditional gospel songs. Takin’ up Slack celebrates his Western roots. Petermann has been a featured performer at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, Nevada; Jim Thompson’s Heritage of the American West, Spearfish, South Dakota; The Cowboy Roundup, Sheridan, Wyoming; Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Medora, North Dakota; and Bob Penfield’s Cowboy Opry, Lemmon, South Dakota. Bob took an unscheduled break during the evening performance and called Bill and JoAnn Lowman to come on stage. There they were each presented with a hand carved, personalized leather organizer, just a small token of appreciation for the 22 years they have organized and hosted this event. “First time I ever saw Bill Lowman speechless”, was one comment I heard from the audience. We sure surprised them.

What an event to have to drive away from! Goodbyes were tough, promises for ‘next time’ ran rampant, and we all went away filled with that great cowboy feeling, “friends are what it’s all about”!




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