Waddie Mitchell makes a living telling stories about his favorite people through his cowboy poetry. A recording artist for local Western Jubilee Recording Co., Mitchell heads the pack of cowboy poets who gather at his hometown of Elko, Nevada, each year at the wildly popular Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
Nine years ago, Mitchell turned his enthusiasm for the working American cowboy into the Working Ranch Cowboy Association, the sanctioning body of 22 U.S. rodeos featuring participants who are working ranch hands rather than professional riders. Two WRCA rodeos will he held this year in Colorado. Colorado Springs will see the second Ride for the Brand Rodeo on Fourth of July weekend, launching with a longhorn cattle parade at high noon through the streets of downtown on Friday, July 2, and culminating on Saturday, July 3, with a five-event rodeo at the Penrose Equestrian Center.
Mitchell, who grew up working on remote Nevada ranches, says he started the association because of what he calls "J.R. Ewing syndrome," a cultural perception of cattlemen as corrupt big businessmen and immoral outlaws, a perception that didn't jive with the American folk hero of his youth.
"I grew up in [the working cowboy world]," he said. "I didn't know they were the best folks in the world until I joined the Army and got out into the world."
The cowboys who participate in WRCA events are the same guys who drive cattle on working ranches, using the same equipment they use on the ranch rather than custom saddles and other paraphernalia used in professional rodeo.
Through association with the WRCA, says Mitchell, cowboys are eligible for emergency medical funds and scholarship dollars for their families. But the association is less about money than it is about extolling a time-honored American way of life.
"These cowboys and ranchers are hard-working individuals, following an awful lot of self-imposed rules," he said. "Not rules they speak about, but rules they live by.
"[Out on the ranch] you depend on your neighbors to come at the drop of a hat. These are hard-working people who don't have time to get involved in politics or to get involved in the marketing of their own product."
The audience can expect a fast-paced show, complete with commentary by Mitchell who will monitor the event from horseback. Range-grown cattle will be brought in from the Lazy M8 Ranch and the Harry Vold Rodeo Company for competitions in bronc riding, wild cow milking, trailer loading, team doctoring and a wild horse race.
Following the rodeo, spectators are invited to a free cowboy concert featuring Western harmony group Sons of the San Joaquin, and an awards ceremony with cash prizes for the first-, second- and third-place teams. Awards will also be presented for "Top Horse" and "Top Hand."
For Mitchell, it's a labor of love.
"It's nice to be able to introduce the people you think so much of to the rest of the world," he said. "There's nobody I'd rather be around than working cowboys."
-- Kathryn Eastburn
Ride for the Brand Rodeo
Longhorn Cattle Drive, downtown Colorado Springs
Friday, July 2, noon
Working Ranch Cowboy Association sanctioned Ranch Rodeo and post-rodeo cowboy concert and dance
Penrose Equestrian Center, 1045 W. Rio Grande St.
Saturday, July 3, 6 p.m.
$12.50 general admission, kids 6 and under free
Call 520-SHOW or Ticketmaster, Tickets also available at Western Warehouse, Colorado Springs and Pueblo locations