Presented by the Douglasville / Douglas County Cultural Arts Center, the annual event has been organized by Douglas County Cowboy Poets founders Joel Hayes and Charlie Holloway since it was first held at Hudson’s By the Lake in 1997.
For the cowboy poet neophyte, the performance answered the age-old question: “What is a cowboy poet?”
Holloway, known for his chuck wagon cooking and cowboy poetry, writes from personal experience working with cattle and as a former rodeo bull rider.
In a poem, he explained, “…It’s stories about cowboys and it seldom ever ends.”
He explained, “It’s a verbal art form, born on the range long ago” and “stories about tough horses” and “blue skies and open ranges.”
Holloway, a cowboy historian, said that people often have a misconception of cowboys existing anywhere except for Texas and out West. He pointed out that Horace Greely wrote in 1870, “Go west, young man.”
“Your migration was by [Civil War] Gen. William T. Sherman,” he explained. “He burned everything, so people loaded up and went to Texas. Black and white young men started walking west and driving cattle.”
Actually, he noted, the first cattle drive began in Florida and went to market in the Caribbean Islands, Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico and they were paid with Spanish gold.
Holloway said cowboy poems and songs were created “out of sheer boredom.”
“The average age of a cowboy was 16 years old,” he said. “The old man of the outfit was maybe 25 and too old to ride.”
Cattle drives started in 1870 and ended around 1890, lasting usually 90 days and stopping because they began to fence the ranges.
Hayes, known as “the father of Georgia cowboy poetry” and his family have been in the cattle business in west Georgia for several generations. He said the Cowboy Poet Gatherings started out of friendship.
“I just started writing in the 1980s,” said Hayes, “then contacted Charlie (Holloway) and Jerry Warren (Georgia’s official cowboy poet.) It just started to evolve. Friendships were there before the poetry started.”
“I was born a cowboy and you write about what you know,” he explained. “This stuff is a reflection of life. Relationships are the core of the whole thing — whether it is a relationship with a cow or a horse.”
He echoed Holloway’s statement, “The contributing factor to this is boredom.”
Cowboy poetry also lends itself to humor.
“Things happen and you start telling about it,” said Hayes, “and you can only tell it so many times. If you give it meter and make it rhyme, you can tell it over and over again.”
One of his poems, “Gathering Cattle on Sweetwater,” describes his experience cowboying in Douglas County.
In it, he said, “…My cattle work has all been done, right here close to home. Guess I just never had a real big urge to roam.”