The 34th annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering Parade drew about 1,500 people to downtown on Saturday, Pam Jacobs, parade coordinator, said. About 200 people and at least 100 horses, plus many mules and burros, from 28 entries participated in the parade.
The Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering started on Thursday with a western-themed variety show and performances by Academy of Western Artists and Western Music Association Hall-of-Famer R.W. Hampton, music and poetry train trips and trail rides on Friday. It continued with the parade and a gallery show featuring Sky Horse Saddles at the Sorrel Sky Gallery on Saturday and is scheduled to end with a potluck after inspirational poetry and music at the Durango Cowboy Church on Sunday.
The parade featured the likes of the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard of Colorado Springs, which pulled a restored 1883 wagon. The Color Guard members were dressed as cavalry and won two parade awards, Best Spirit Award and the Best Mules Award, Pam Jacobs said.
Other groups featured in the parade included the ever-popular Bayfield Belles, the Cow Farley Cow Folks, a home for kids without families who perform poetry every year, Grand Marshal Lorraine Taylor, who “represents every aspect of the Old West,” and other local groups, Jacobs said.
Kristi Nelson, Caroline and Richard Wilcox of Silverton, representing the Victorians group, paraded down Main Avenue while escorting a Willy Wonka-esque steampunk-inspired pedal-propelled vehicle that blew bubbles out of a chute on its front.
Nelson said the contraption was a nod to the Victorian era, noting that Durango was founded in the 1880s, and steampunk themes.
“It was just an eclectic little group here,” Caroline Wilcox said.
Nelson said the parade is an annual event for the group.
“For me, it’s a great place to meet a lot of my friends and neighbors,” she said. “It’s also a way to keep Durango’s cowboy heritage alive. Which is so important.”
Richard Wilcox said the parade is a great event for socializing.
“You usually think of Durango and tourism,” Caroline Wilcox said. “People come to see the mountains or whatever. I love seeing the goats. … We forget about our farming history. It’s almost like 4-H on display. So it’s fun.”
Karen and Pete Vogt watched their granddaughter participate with other Juniper School students in the parade on Saturday. The 34th annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering marked the first for each of them, Karen said.
Poets and musicians visited the Juniper School, a public charter school, on Friday to perform for students.
“They brought a younger girl singer and a gentleman singer and a poet. They sang some songs, ‘Home on the Range’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’,” she said. “They were teaching kids some good old cowboy songs.”
Pete said he enjoyed his first cowboy parade, it being “just a hometown thing to do.”
“Everybody broke out the cowboy hats,” he said.
The Juniper School had 25 students in this year’s parade and has participated in the annual event for about six years, said school officials.
Lindy Simmons, president of the board of Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering, said it all started in 1989 with a man named Kevin O’Farrel. He attended the national cowboy gathering in Elko, Nevada, and decided that Durango needed a Western tradition of its own.
“He wanted to give the cowboy poets and musicians the support, to share what they’re doing to preserve stories from the Old West, and to generate new poetry and music that involves Western life,” she said.
The Iron Horse Inn used to be performers’ main venue; once the gathering outgrew that, shows moved into the Strater Hotel and the Diamond Circle Theatre.
In the early days of the cowboy gathering, rodeo activities such as roping events were common. But when the events transitioned over to Main Avenue, fewer activities involving live horses and wagons were hosted, she said.
But, the cowboy gathering added trail rides and music and poetry performances on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for the entertainment of passengers, she said.
“It just continues to grow,” Simmons said.