"Cowboy Poets" was produced in 1988 at the beginning of the cowboy poetry revival. Kim Shelton wanted to make a documentary that would show cowboy poets from different regions of the West, from different generations, and guys that both wrote their own poems, and those whose talent was based in the memorized recitation of well-loved poems. At that point, there were few women involved in cowboy poetry, something that has changed dramatically during the ensuing years.
After discussion with Western Folklife Center, Shelton settled on profiling the lives of three men, Waddie Mitchell, a young buckaroo with a large family, who at the time, managed a small ranch for the LDS church outside of Elko, Nevada; Slim Kite, an old-time cowboy from the mountains of Arizona; and Wallace McRae a fourth generation rancher from eastern Montana.
To most Americans, even rural westerners, cowboy poetry was something new, something unexpected. The film showed the lives of these men in detail and examined the traditions and inspiration that brought poetry into the lives of ranch folks. It was a hit at film festivals and garnered a spot on both National Geographic Explorer and on PBS's POV series.
Funding: The National Endowment for the Arts (Folk Arts), Arizona, Montana and Nevada Humanities Councils, Levi's Western Wear, Charles Redd Foundation, George Gund.
Brought to you by the Western Folklife Center, using story and cultural expression to connect the American West to the world.