Highlights of the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

The Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering is a whirlwind entertainment experience with talented performers singing, reciting, splash16even gyrating. This year’s installment was no exception, with scores of standing-room-only, sold out performances and the state’s only non-mechanized parade (itself a wonderful display of horses and horsemanship.) Next year, it’s right before next year’s BestHorsePractices Summit.

Here are some highlights:

Wylie Gustafson & the Wild West

Wylie is a fifth generation Montanan who’s no stranger to hefting hay bales, tending to cattle, and raising horses. He wove stories and songs seamlessly during two energetic evening shows (complete with Wylie’s hilarious hip gyrations) with his talented four-man band.

Wylie Gustafson

Wylie Gustafson

Gustafson said his father was a veterinarian and a rancher who called long days of haying his “Character Development Program” and who sang and played guitar for the family in the evenings, after the Lawrence Welk show. Wylie’s childhood influences were, he said, Myron Floren (accordianist for Lawrence Welk) and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. No wonder he excels at cowboy and rockin’ country music.

Gustafson instills love and respect for equines in nearly every song. “Our heroes were the horses,” the performer recalled as he displayed a custom guitar with 18 horses crafted into it.

Check out Wylie here.

I was privileged to host a new storytelling session featuring four Colorado horsemen in one of many venues of the historic Strater Hotel. The session followed a poetry recitation gig hosted by Mike Dunn and featuring Gary McMahan. McMahan, from Bellvue, Colorado, gave us this brilliant response to Ralph Lauren’s marketing of the cologne called “Chaps.”

Reprinted here with permission.


By Gary McMahan

Gary McMahan

Gary McMahan

A poem made from a letter Dick Spencer wrote to Ralph Lauren on how to pronounce the word chaps. Dick Spencer was the publisher at Western Horseman Magazine for 40 years and is also my father in law.

chaps (chàps, shàps) plural noun

Heavy leather trousers without a seat, worn over ordinary trousers by ranch hands to protect their legs.
[Short for American Spanish chaparreras, from Spanish chaparro, chaparral. See chaparral.

chap·ar·ral (shàp˝e-ràl´) noun

  1. A dense thicket of shrubs and small trees.


(This begins the actual poem.)

To: Mr Ralph Lauren

505 5th Ave

New York City


I seen on the TV Mr. Lauren

66994mThat you have a men’s cologne you call “chaps”

And it’s probably a manly scent

Or you wouldn’t have called it that.


I confess I’ve never used the stuff

And this may sound a little harsh

But I suspect men use cologne to hide

The fact that they didn’t warsh


So I can’t really comment on the product

Though I’m sure it smells just fine

It’s the way you say the name “chaps”

That chaps my cowboy behind


You see the name is derived

From the Spanish word chaparro well

It in turn got its name

from the word chaparral


Which again in Spanish means

A dense thicket of thorny brush and trees

Which all manner of cowboys

have ridden through for centuries


Thus needing protection for their legs

These chaparro’s were fashioned from cowhide

and are the leather leggin’s cowboys wear

That comes without a backside


Then us gringos got hold of the word

And shortened chaparro to chaps

Kinda like when we took the word

Tappaderos and condensed it to “Taps”


So that’s why “ch” is really pronounced

With an “sh” sound you see

And to an ol’ cowboy that’s worn chaps all his life

It seems a travesty


That you would use the cowboy’s manly image

To sell you fancy smell to the herd

And never even take the time

To learn how to say the word


‘Cause fact is Mr. Lauren

Even though I’d like to console-ya

anyone who says “chaps” for chaps

Don’t know chit from chineola


The Durango Gathering is the kind of event where one finds treasures (of the people and moment varieties) in every corner.

Check out this quick video of an impromptu lesson on tying a Buckaroo Knot, by Linda O’Dell:



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