What is a cowboy?
In the introduction to his book, “The Bunkhouse at Elkhead Creek: Stories and Verse of Present-Day Life and Living in Northwest Colorado,” author Les Hampton poses that question and then gives his impressions about a cowboy.
“A cowboy today,” he writes, “surely owns a horse, rides, ropes and wears the hat, works with cows and lives in the remote regions of the West.”
Besides that, Hampton believes that, among others, cowboys are independent people who like working with cows. They are stewards of the land and don’t like interference from others, especially from the government.
Even though Hampton and his wife, Bonnie, own livestock, he doesn’t consider himself a cowboy.
Hampton thinks the poetry he has written for the book isn’t “pure cowboy poetry,” either. His only hope is that people will enjoy the book.
The book is indeed enjoyable, poetry and all. Besides that, the reader finds some food for thought, too.
Hampton’s book is divided into 28 chapters, which probably average about six pages each.
Each chapter begins with a story based on one of Hampton’s experiences in Moffat County and ends with a related poem.
Of the many things I enjoy about his book, the one that stands out for me is the way he transitions from story to poem.
For example, in chapter one, “The Best Thing About the Future is That It Comes One Day At a Time,” Hampton remembers the time he spent as a member of Craig’s Grand Old West Days planning committee.
After he suggested adding cowboy poetry to the event’s activities, Hampton set out to write a cowboy poem of his own. “A Map,” which Hampton said was his “first serious attempt at poetry,” was the result.
At the end of this chapter, right before “The Map,” Hampton includes a paragraph of biographical information that helps the reader better understand the poem.
The reader learns that before moving to Moffat County, Hampton served in the Navy for 20 years, 15 of which were spent at sea.
When he left the Navy, Hampton came to Craig to work in “a newly-constructed coal-fired electrical generating plant.”
I like all of the poems in the book, but “The Map” is my favorite.
Other chapters in the book deal with Hampton’s thoughts on a variety of topics, including absentee landlords, his time as a Moffat County Commissioner, the Moffat County Cattlemen’s Association, politics, his “truck dogs” and a lot more.
Especially interesting is Hampton’s recounting of the time he was involved in the Elkhead expansion project, which at one time threatened to impact 13 Moffat County families, including Hampton.
Two chapters representing different times go into detail (with references) about this project. One chapter concludes with a poem titled, “Folks with Good Intentions.”
Another chapter, also with references, deals with the time Hampton served on the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s wolf management working group.
All of the book’s chapters have creative, thought-provoking titles.
Consider these examples: “He is Rich Who is Satisfied,” “The Best Preparation for Tomorrow Is the Proper Work of Today” and “The Best Way to Save Money is to Be Too Busy to Spend It.”
The book ends with a chapter in which Hampton summarizes the new “job skills” he developed after moving to the country.
He presents skills such as fence work, weed and pest control, and hay production in a humorous but all-too-true manner.
Country people will relate to this chapter and enjoy a chuckle, too. Especially amusing is a paragraph on artificial insemination.
Scattered throughout the book are quotes by people from all walks of life, including those by Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Paul Harvey, Horace Greeley and Hampton throws in some of his own, as well. The illustrations in the book were done by Hampton, and the book cover drawing of the bunkhouse (on Hampton’s property) was done by Clancie Gwinn, of Quiet Pencil Studio in Craig.
In the introduction to his book, Hampton writes that he doesn’t consider himself a cowboy, but I think his writing style reflects the independence, common sense and “no holding back” characteristics of a cowboy.
The book’s contents will remind readers of some of the past issues in Moffat County (how soon we put memories behind us), and Hampton ‘s humorous writing style, partly due to the use of clever analogies, makes the reading enjoyable.
I don’t know whether the poetry is “pure cowboy poetry,” but I can say that it’s a great read.
“The Bunkhouse at Elkhead Creek” is published by AuthorHouse (2010), and can be found at the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Wyman Museum. The cost of the book is $14.95.