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BEACON Senior News

A cowboy poet who didn't even know it

Oct 03, 2022 11:59AM ● By Cathy Lussiana

Whether it was divine intervention or a muse of inspiration, locally acclaimed cowboy poet Nona Kelley Carver learned to write poetry completely by accident.

“[Writing and poetry] wasn’t anything I studied or learned,” said Carver, 86. “I feel it was a gift to me from God to help me through a difficult time in my life.”

You may recognize her name from some of her poetry in the BEACON or as a regular performer at the annual Western Slope Cowboy Gathering. Undoubtedly, her life experiences, including those as a rancher, contribute to the vivid imagery in her poetry. 

Carver’s a cowboy poet, meaning that many of her poems are rooted in stories of the rural west, modeled after those that cowboys used to entertain around the campfire.

“Ranchers and people that work with the land understand what I’m saying, whereas someone born in New York City may not have a clue what I’m talking about,” she said.

Carver married into a family of Mesa dairy farmers 70 years ago when she and her husband Alfred tied the knot. One of their wedding presents was five cows! 

She and Alfred purchased the family farm in 1966 and ran it for many years. When they decided to retire in 1977, they sold the farm but kept two acres. 

Although retired, becoming a poet didn’t even cross Carver’s mind until she was bedridden following a severe ankle injury. As she healed, words and stories started coming together and she wrote them down.

In 1994, she published her first book of poetry, “The Tarnish on the Golden Years.”

“It’s about wrinkles, retirement and rotten memory,” said Carver. 

She’s published three other books: “Cowboys, Cookstoves and Catastrophes,” “Carver Country Cowboys,” and “Spoken Songs from My Soul,” but she’s saving the few remaining copies for her six great-grandchildren.

Carver isn’t writing much currently. This time of year, she’s busy organizing the annual Western Slope Cowboy Gathering alongside musicians Terry Nash and Peggy Malone.

The seventh annual festival coming up on November 4 and 5 celebrates modern and classic cowboy culture and brings some of the country’s best local and national poets and musicians to Grand Junction, including this year’s headliner Doug Figgs. The festival takes place at the Grand Valley Event Center (the Masonic Lodge), 2400 Consistory Ct.

Daytime performances are free, while evening events are $15 (or $25 for two days). Carver, Nash and Malone are all scheduled to perform.

“Cowboy poetry is the stories of the West,” said Carver. “We tell stories that may have been about your grandma or your grandpa or friends. I think it’s a cleaner form of entertainment than we usually get today.”

For more information about this year’s Western Slope Cowboy Gathering and for a complete schedule of events, visit www.westernslopecowboygathering.com. Find the festival on Facebook @WSCG.gj

Mark Your Calendars

Western Slope Cowboy Gathering

November 4 & 5

Grand Valley Event Center, 2400 Consistory Ct.,Grand Junction

The Belle of Biloxi
By Nona Kelley Carver

A hurrying horde of frontier folk

Poured into old Harrigan’s hall.
They’d come for a fun time of frolic
That’s known as the Stock Grower’s Ball.

The gals were all gussied in get-ups
That turned every gentleman’s head,
When in stepped The Belle of Biloxi
All done up in deep shades of red!

She’d come in a big covered wagon
To the edge of the Western Frontier.
Where she flounced in her fine feathered fancies,
That faded some more every year!

She’d dreamed that each cowboy and rancher
Would woo her and ask for her hand,
But each one was just a mite wary
To put on a little gold band!

They looked, and they lolly-gagged ’round her,
But none of them quite ever stayed.
Tonight, she would catch one for certain,
Who’d save her from playing Old Maid!

The women folk, they kept their distance.
They didn’t know quite what to think.
She might take their sons or their husbands!
And brave hearts were starting to sink.

When in stepped a stranger from Sturgis,
And quickly, he nodded his head,
As he eyed the bright bevy of beauties,
And picked out the lady in red!

The orchestra paused for a moment,
And then set the scene for romance.
Each eye in the crowd was upon them,
As the stranger had asked her to dance.

She smiled in her most charming manner,
But tripped, as she reached the dance floor,
And fell in the arms of the stranger,
Who helped to upright her once more.

The crowd cheered and began relaxin’,
And suddenly everyone knew
She really was not that much different!
For they’d seen some cow poop on her shoe!

©1995 Nona Kelley Carver