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It's not an easy thing being a cowboy in a place where cowboys are no longer cool.

Take the city of Hamilton, for instance.

You could walk the streets of this western Montana town for days and never spot a cowboy hat coming your way. You would be hard put to hear folks talking about cattle prices over a cold brew at one of the local watering holes.

For the most part, it seems like people have forgotten about this rich piece of history that helped settle the country under the big sky.

But then there's Doug Hogan.

This tall drink of water isn't anywhere close to being ready to put that all away.

On almost any summer morning or evening, you'll find him commuting to work on the back of his favorite horse along the backroads just east of Stevensville.

When he's not irrigating or helping a neighbor work their cows, Hogan whiles away his days recounting a life lived atop a horse or on some remote ranch - employing the West's own brand of oral history: cowboy poetry.

On this sunshine-soaked early morning, Hogan was taking some time to ride through his employer's herd of black angus pairs before he started his daily date with some cracked orange-canvas dams and the long ribbons of irrigation ditches that crisscross the place.

With his legs covered in well-worn leather chaps, a cowboy hat pulled down tight on his head and a baby-blue silk kerchief tied around his neck, Hogan idled through the bawling cattle before stopping a moment to survey the scene.

"People ask me if I dress this way all the time," Hogan said, with a bit of smile. "I tell them yes. It's who I am. I've always been and always will be a cowboy."

In case people wonder what that means, Hogan and a group of well-versed others will meet them this Saturday on the Ravalli County Museum lawn to share an afternoon of cowboy poetry and music. The event is part of the annual celebration of the National Senior Pro Rodeo at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds.

The Rodeo Association's best are honored at the NSPRA Hall of Fame housed in the museum.

On Thursday, the museum will fill with everything cowboy at the yearly induction ceremony, barbecue and street dance, all of which starts at 4 p.m. and ends sometime near dusk.

Then on Saturday, rodeo-goers will mix with townsfolk on the museum lawn from 3-5:30 for an afternoon stroll back in time with a host of Montana cowboy poets and musicians.

"The oral history that is cowboy poetry has always been part of the Ravalli County Museum," said Tamar Stanley, the museum's executive director.

More than 20 years ago, the museum boasted a robust cowboy poetry program and still retains a good cache of original material in its archives.

"This event is a good opportunity for us to recapture this essential part of the history of the Bitterroot Valley," Stanley said. "Their poetry, with its unique prose and rhythm, truly captures the cowboy's life story."

Cost for the entertainment and catered meal is $18. Tickets are available at the museum, fairgrounds and at Accu-Tax, 1226 Eastside Highway in Corvallis.

Hogan and his musical partner, Charla Bowman, will oversee the evening. It will feature cowboy poet performances by Shad Pease, Albert Douglas and others. Strings of Fire, a family band known for its incendiary renditions of traditional Celtic music and Texas style hoedowns, will help keep the celebration lively.

"We're really trying to build this into something big," Stanley said. "It should be a really nice way to spend an afternoon under the big beautiful trees on the museum's lawn."

Hogan's introduction into the cowboy music world started nearly a half-century ago when his father bought him a guitar, and he began strumming old-time trail songs from the likes of Gene Autry.

Growing up on a sprawling cattle ranch in eastern Oregon, Hogan's world has always been centered on everything cowboy.

"My music really took a leap when I entered a talent show when I was in about sixth grade," he said. "All the little girls really liked it, and so I just kept singing."

When cowboy poetry took off in the early 1980s, Hogan made the transition into that realm.

"I just love performing," Hogan said. "I'll sing a few songs and then tell a poem. ... They're often old-time trail stories. Some were passed down to me from my grandpa."

Many of the poems begin as an idea that strikes while Hogan makes his way from one job to another at the speed of a horse.

"I might get a line or two, and then I'll start working with that," he said. "You know, there's time to think when you're on horseback. I think a lot."

The old ways are new for many people these days.

Hogan believes that's part of the allure for those who enjoy spending time listening to those stories of yesteryear.

"The cowboy way of life has had its mystique," he said. "It has a way of pulling people in. It's a history that people yearn to learn more about."

Reach reporter Perry Backus at 363-3300 or pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

 

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