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Exploring our Western Heritage:
Taking Cowboy Poetry and Western Heritage to
the Schools

Mike Puhallo describes his educational program:

Since 1998 I have been touring rural areas of British Columbia reading my cowboy poetry and speaking in libraries and schools. These tours were sponsored by British Columbia Government. Library Services under their "Writers in Libraries Program." Along the way I kept track of the responses and questions from students and teachers and  kept adjusting my program to address the matters they raised.

In May, 2002, I was asked to take part in a major school presentation with the Royal British Columbia Museum. My program was on the Hispanic influence in our ranching heritage. I spoke to 500 students in two days.

In February and early March of 2003 I was hosted by the Kamloops Museum for a series of school presentations, on cowboy poetry and  our ranching heritage.

The school programs I have developed over the last few years are fun, versatile and educational. The combination of cowboy poetry and stories has been a hit with the students right from the start and is rapidly gaining acceptance with teachers as well. (Although some teachers don't appreciate being used as roping dummies!)

I believe similar programs could be developed in all regions of the West and would be of lasting benefit in creating a greater appreciation of our Western Heritage among today's youth.

Below you'll find:

Information About the  Program

Some of Mike Puhallo's Poetry Used in the Program

The Dream Team of the Cariboo
Dog Creek, Where Our Traditions Began

Contact Information

Mike Puhallo, photo rustled from his web site

Read more about Mike Puhallo and his poetry here.

 


About the Program

 

Exploring Our Western Heritage, 
Taking Cowboy Poetry and Western Heritage to
the Schools

(See the introduction above.)

Mike says: I am a cowboy Poet and Cattle Rancher. My presentations all involve a combination of poems and stories about the life of ranchers and cowboys past and present. The presentations vary according to the age and interests of the students involved. The following layouts are quite general. The programs for younger students involve a lot more interaction and story telling, as I move up to the older children and attention spans increase the emphasis shifts to the poetry. I am open to questions on all aspects of ranch life and poetry. I have presented writing workshops for professional authors and hosted kindergarten classes on an all day farm tour, been a guest speaker for a college journalism class and entertained at a biker wedding. I have served on environmental advisory committees and spent all day shoveling out the barn. I am not afraid of hard questions, my presentations have been well received by a wide variety of students. I can easily vary my program to cover areas of interest if you contact me ahead of time.

Following is a brief outline of the presentations offered for each age group.


Primary ( K to Gr. 3)
A Cowboy Is  My program for primary students is designed to introduce them to the working cowboy /rancher. It entails a lot of Show and Tell, some stories and poems about the life and work of a cowboy and the equipment we use. With each presentation the direction is determined in part by the questions asked. I also include a quick lesson on how to use a lariat to rope a cow, which is usually very popular.


(Grades 4-5)
Cowboys and Ranchers This presentation for the intermediate grades touches briefly on the History of the Cattle Industry; from the Ice Age through Ancient Egypt, from Spain to the Americas. I point out the influence of the Hispanic Vaqueros on the culture of the West today and the difference between the Hollywood myth and the reality of the working cowboy. The presentation utilizes stories and poetry more and is somewhat less
interactive than the primary program, but I still finish off with a roping lesson.


(Grades 6-7)
Cowboys And Ranchers, A Quick Tour Through the History of the Cattle Industry from Ancient Times Until Now  A look at the Hispanic influence on the Cattle Industry in British Columbia, as well as the influence of other ethnic groups in those early days; a little bit on the History of the Cariboo Trail from California to the BC interior; a little more emphasis on telling the stories through poetry at this age; and an introduction to Cowboy Poetry as a means of preserving the folklore of the West.


(Grades 8-10)
The Culture of the Cowboy
After moving quickly through the ancient history of the Cattle Industry we look in a little more depth at the history of the cattle industry in Canada. The Cultural influences of the Hispanic, British, Metis' Hawaiian and Indian Cowboys along the Cariboo Trail are visited in stories and poems. We also look at the role of the cattle industry in modern terms, most young people have no idea how many of the products we use every day come from cows!


(Grade 11-12)

Literature
Cowboy Poetry, the Folklore of the West
For Literature Classes etc., a reading of Western Folklife Poetry with the emphasis on the poet's role as a minstrel of his age. The poetry will cover much of the same historical ground as other presentations but the focus is on poetry and story telling as art forms. Included are a number of classic poems of the West as well as my own compositions.


History
Ranching Heritage in Western Canada
A look at the history, heritage and culture of our  Cattle Industry. The influence of the Hudson's Bay Company, the California Vaqueros and Packers, the Metis', Scots, and Indian Cowboys and how they helped shape the province and the cattle industry of today. This is not a 45 minute history lecture.  It is a collection of stories and poems about the men and women of  our ranchlands past and present.



There is a large element of flexibility in all of these programs. I always allow for questions, if there aren't many questions then there is time for a few more poems or roping lessons.

Other possible topics that may be discussed include:

  • Urban myths about cows (the beef industry and the environment)

  • Roots of western songs (cowboy poetry and Celtic ballads)

  • Cattle and horses through the ages (the genesis of the cowboy)

  • Hollywood lies (the real West was more interesting than the one they
    invented.)


Some of Mike Puhallo's Poetry Used in the Program

Mike Puhallo likes to say that he doesn't know many Cowboys who aren't also Indians.  Much of his educational work takes him to remote ranching regions of the province, and he has written some poems particularly with that audience in mind.  Mike says "All the other course materials are so urban-oriented; you should see how those kids light up when I mention one of their grandpas in a poem!"

 

The Dream Team of the Cariboo

Way back in the nineteen thirties,
they were mighty hard to beat.
The Hockey team from Alkali Lake,
Who would not accept defeat.

You know there wasn't very many of them,
so they could not often change their line,
The other teams had about twenty guys,
Alkali just nine.

Mathew Dick, he was the goalie,
Clemine and Johnson played defence,
Sylista was their superstar,
and man he was intense.

Pat Chelsea and Alfred Sandy,
Where Sylista's two main wingers
Joe Dan, Gaby Jack and Squinahan
were back up the second Stringers.

They went by team and wagon,
gone at least three days for every game.
No matter who they played that year,
it ended up the same.

In ragged wore out uniforms,
and old skates with buckskin laced.
They where the Champions of the Cariboo
and beat every team they faced!

They even went down Vancouver,
and played against the best.
and lost that series by just one goal,
against the Champions of the West!

Just nine young Indian Cowboys,
Who came from Alkali,
But boy, they could play hockey,
Put on them skates and Fly.

The New York Rangers, tried to hire Sylista,
But their deal he wouldn't take,
He said "I already got a job,
I cowboy for Alkali Lake."

2003, Mike Puhallo
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

In Honour of David Johnson, Mathew Dick, Alec Antoine (Sylista), Joe Clemine, Pat Chelsea, Joe Dan, Alfred Sandy, Gaby Jack, and Francis Squinahan also Louie Amiel and Peter Christopher from Canim Lake who joined them for the Vancouver series.

It should be noted that most of the Cariboo Dream Team members were also very well known for their exploits in the Rodeo Arena as well. Alec Antoine (Sylista) was struck by lightning while fixing a fence in 1938, he died a few months later, without him the team never again reached the same level of competition.

From left: Joe Clemine, Pat Chelsea, Mathew Dick, Joe Dan, David Johnson, Alec Antoine (Sylista), Louie Amiel, Peter Christopher, and Alfred Sandy 
Vancouver Province Newspaper Archives

Mike says: This picture shows the Alkali Lake Hockey Team in about 1936.  They were all Shuswap Indians from the Alkali Lake band except Sylista who was a Chilcotin, who had been adopted into the band.  Most if not all of them worked as ranch hands.

Patrick Chelsea was also noted as a great bronc rider and race horse jockey. Nearly all  of the team members were accomplished rodeo cowboys but they never traveled to far from home. I have met many of their descendants. most of them are good rodeo hands and working cowboys.

I had several descendants of the team members in the classes I spoke to recently, which was a nice treat for me and for them.  Hockey is still big in that area, as is rodeo in the summer.


This poem was written for Mike's April, 2003 visit to a rural school at Dog Creek, where the old freight trail winds along the Frazer River:

.
Dog Creek, Where Our Traditions Began


Where Dog Creek meets the Frazer,
There's good grass and not much snow.
So Raphael started wintering his horses here,
about a hundred and fifty years ago.

It was here he staked his homestead,
The first ranch in the Cariboo.
He built a little road house,
for strangers passing through.

My Father came to cowboy here,
When world war two was still ablaze,
He learned their style of horsemanship,
those old, California ways.

For Raphael Valenzuela,
Along with the Tressierra's and old Jesus,
left their mark on the style and methods,
that most BC horsemen use!

The English came with money,
The Scots, might know a cow,
But, when it come to handling horses,
those old Vaqueros, taught us how!

2003, Mike Puhallo
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


 

Contact Information 

 

Mike Puhallo, photo rustled from his web site

Read more about Mike Puhallo and his poetry here.

 

You can contact Mike Puhallo:

Twilight Ranch Productions
8584 Westsyde Road
Kamloops, BC V2B 8S3
Canada

Phone / Fax: (250) 579-5667

mikepuhallo@direct.ca   or   mikepuhallo@msn.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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