National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Celebrates Black Cowboy Culture

Historically, one in four cowboys working in the West was black.

WORDS Laura Beausire
January 2020

Photography © Sydney Martinez

Since 1985, fans of horses and haikus, cowpokes and quatrains, have converged on Elko, Nevada, for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to illuminate the American West in folklore, music and verse. This year’s festival (January 27 through February 1) will highlight the often-overlooked culture of America’s black cowboys and cowgirls from the Mississippi Delta to South Central Los Angeles.

Historically, one in four cowboys working in the West was black. “Yet, representation in history and pop culture doesn’t reflect the contribution that black culture has made to the Western lifestyle,” says Karyn Erickson, a coordinator for the event. The small city in the shadow of the Ruby Mountains attracts plenty of bootstrapped bards each year, but there’s much more than versifying at the six-day event. Hands-on workshops range from rawhide braiding to cocktail mixing, and evenings typically resolve in rollicking square dances.


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