Cowboy poetry

Emcee Andy Bales, right, introduces fiddler Bailey Vernam, of Enterprise, on Friday during last weekend’s 14th annual Max Walker Memorial Cowboy Poetry Gathering during the 39th annual Hells Canyon Mule Days at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds.

Nearly 100 spectators listened to cowboy poetry set to music or recited during Friday evening’s 14th Max Walker Memorial Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Fiddler Bailey Vernam, of Enterprise, opened the gathering in the fairgrounds show barn performing the national anthem, as Andy Bales, who was raised in Joseph, served as emcee as well as performing on guitar and singing.

One of the highlights of the gathering was Suz Grandy and her husband, Tom Welch. Grandy, who was raised in the Wallowa Valley, often returns here, although she and Welch now live in Jacksonville, Fla.

Grandy recited a particularly touching tribute to her friend Larry Walters, recalling his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. In Grandy’s piece called “I Will Remember You …”, she said, in part,

“You wander among your memories, ragged yet combined, to make a story only you can comprehend. We struggle to follow the plot line and yearn to hold your attention in realms that we can understand. But the cobwebs hold you prisoner in a place we can’t seem to reach …

“But I will remember you, when the Mountains meet the moonlight, and the Milky Way is a blanket for my soul. When the river called Imnaha chants rhythms down the canyon. Stay strong, old friend, and simply know – I will remember you.”

Others in the lineup of Western poets and musicians included Jim Littlepage, of Wallowa County; Lonnie Shurtleff, who grew up in the Owyhee desert and eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains; the Panhandle Cowboys – poet JB Barber, Genesee, Idaho, and Dave Fulfs, of Pullman, Wash.

The gathering was dedicated to the late Max Walker, of Wallowa County, considered one of the founding fathers of Hells Canyon Mule Days who spent 20 years working on the event in many capacities. He was the first chairman and provided the initial financing for the event. He and his wife, Marcel, and their mules served as the official escorts for many years. Mule Days honored them as Grand Marshals in 1992.

The Max Walker Memorial Fund was established in 2005 by Hells Canyon Mule Days Inc. The Cowboy Poetry event is one of the fundraisers for scholarships. The 2020 scholarships will be awarded in the spring.

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