Ranch hands reciting poetry may seem to play against type, but the tradition goes way back among working cowboys, says Warren Miller, jigger boss at this year's gathering. ("Jigger boss," a roundup term, means second in command.) The question is not so much why cowboys did recitations -- they were a popular form of homemade entertainment in Victorian times -- but why the tradition continued.
One explanation may be the simplicity of the form. No equipment is needed out there on the range, just a good memory and a knack for storytelling. Plus, Miller explains, "if you had the ability to entertain the fellows out on a roundup camp, you were a little bit more desirable as a ranch hand." A boost to the résumé, if you will.
Not all of the performing poets are men. Female cowboys -- not cowgirls in satin shirts, thank you very much, these ladies ride the range -- make up about a third of the participants. Watch for a performance by invited poet Georgie Sicking, a Wyoming cowhand who spent decades rounding up mustangs and broke her own horses until she was 81.