I will never forget the sound of Johnny Kendrick crooning the song he wrote for the event, “Echoes of the Trail.” He sang it to open the show each Saturday night in June, and the haunting lyrics are posted on www.cowboypoetry.com.
In the beginning, we had three chuck wagons set up where the Danny and Willa Ellis Family Fine Arts Center now stands, under a great old sycamore tree. I mourned the loss of that tree, but then in 2011, the famous Don Edwards sang his heart out in the beautiful new theater!
Many other great musicians, poets, artists, and historians came to perform for just a small honorarium when we were struggling to build up the annual event. Among them are Del Shields, Eli Barsi, Barry “Bear” Ward, Judy Coder, Chuck Milner, Geff Dawson, Jim Hoy, Doug Watson, Jerry Shaw, W.W. O’Bryan, Katie O’Bryan McCroskey, Harold Carpenter, and Gary Hawk, to name a few.
We had one-man ranch rodeos, cowboy poetry and music contests, historical presentations, special fund raisers with performers like Buckaroo Adrian, Del Shields, and Johnny Kendrick and sons Jackson and Sam. We had dog shows, colt starting events, and even pony rides one year! And our crowning glory was the year that Del Shields brought Best of America by Horseback here, and Diann and Raymond Tucker provided their ranch as a site for the filmed trail ride! What a great time, and what wonderful people!
We always had at least one chuck wagon, in most of the past years manned by Denny and Donna Williams and their crew, even if they had to pack up early due to a Kansas summer storm! For most of our 20 years, we had Cowboy Church on Sunday morning, led by our wonderful and devoted Richard Dunlap, and later by Rev. Steven Spalding. We had a guest evangelist, Bill Beaty in 1998, and I accidentally started his CD before he was ready. Lots of laughs over the years, like when the microphone wouldn’t stay upright on the stand, and would slowly droop, or when Geff Dawson called our founders and other greats up on the stage and had them mooing like a herd of cattle! We had one dance where only five people showed, but our last dance June 17, 2016 was wonderful, with about 100 people! The band was great: Jason Richison with Fort Scott Idol singer Kinley Taylor Rice gave us an unforgettable evening of cowboy music! Del Shields even sang during the open microphone! The dancers two stepped and did country swing and line dancing like professionals!
I will never forget the misty Sunday morning when a Native American in full-feathered regalia walked out of the fog, toward the chuck wagon! It was Duane “Three Feathers” Feighner, who played the Native American flute. He was with us for many years after that unforgettable morning, and I am sure his flute can be heard still, in heaven.
A great cowboy poet, Gail Burton, was with us for many years, and surprised us this final year by coming from Benton, Arkansas in spite of his stage four cancer. He displayed the wonderful quilt hand-pieced by his wife, depicting 29 of the poems he wrote, in addition to photos of ancestors and other mementos. What a wonderful monument to a well lived life. Thank you Gail, for making the trip and giving us one last performance. Our prayers are with you.
One of our performers signed on as a robust cowboy poet, and “cowboyed up” to perform in 2016 in spite of a 210 pound weight loss as the result of a bone marrow transplant. He gave a poignant performance with his lovely daughters, and even joked about his weight loss. On July 7, 2016 we learned that he had passed to that great roundup in the sky. Our heartfelt condolences go to his family and we mourn the loss of a great man and a fine cowboy poet.
And of course, I think everyone who’s ever heard Harold Carpenter mourns the loss of this tall, lanky cowboy poet. His droll humor, terrific poems, and wonderful performances were greatly missed this year.
One of our fans, Gary Plumb, was the winning bidder for my husband’s guitar, which we placed in the Silent Auction. He went on to play it in church, and now plays several instruments! He and his wife came every year, always donated, and always purchased auction items.
And who could forget Joy Melendy, who year after year would sit at the CD sales table, selling the performers’ wares and cheering them on. She moved to Neosho, Mo. with her son, and could no longer make the trip. We are indebted to her for many years of service and support.
Then there was Janet Schryer, who gave $500 each year, and never missed a year’s event, even when she had to be on crutches or in a walker due to surgery! She gave her last $500 in memory of Harold Carpenter, and she was unable to attend our final event due to a wedding she just had to attend! Janet deserves a medal for being our best individual donor.
And all of us, but Judy Johnston in particular, miss donor and attendee Harold Palmer. For years he was a major donor and always had Judy Johnston shine his boots! We were deeply saddened at his passing.
And of course, we would not have had the event without the use of Fort Scott Community College, and the support of their maintenance and print shop departments, and especially the talent of Martha Acri Dare.
So, I want to give my heartfelt thanks to all the people who attended each year, all the donors, all the volunteers who sat at the entrance or the CD/book sales table, the Missouri Cowboy Poets Association from which we drew most of our performers, the pie contest bakers and purchasers, the Bourbon County 4-H, our great web site designer John Boswell, and all of our hard working committee members, past and present, such as Betty and Dale Johnson, Judy Johnston, Del Shields, Diann Tucker, Marlene Arndt, Steven Spalding, and of course, our founders, Johnny Kendrick and Arnold Schofield. Thank you also to Tammy Helm for the great Fort Scott Tribune coverage.