Cowboy gathering brings 'old west' history to Ellensburg

ELLENSBURG - Hundreds of fans of the western way of life will come to Ellensburg wearing their cowboy finest next February.

The eighth annual Spirit of the West Cowboy Gathering is set for Feb. 16-19, 2012, in Ellensburg.

The best of cowboy culture including music, poetry, art and chuck wagon cooking will assemble for this event.

Spirit of the West has been held annually since 2005. Attendees travel from throughout the region and nation to experience and celebrate western traditions and cowboy way of life.

In the unsettled American West, the absence of law and order led cowboys, ranchers and frontier families to develop a set of values and unwritten laws founded upon their enduring convictions of respect and honor. Over time, this creed for living came to be known as the "code of the west". That value system, together with the legends of the old west and cowboy culture have been romanticized, and are passed forward still today.

The cowboy gathering in Ellensburg strives to perpetuate the same values of honesty, self reliance and consideration of others by passing on this American heritage to future generations.

A highlight at this year's event is the chuck wagon cook-off competition.

"It's the chuck wagon cook-off that I can't wait to see, smell and taste. We'll have camp cooks and their historic wagons arriving from a number of western states, all coming to demonstrate their own unique culinary talents using old-time Dutch-oven methods. They'll feed a hungry crowd, and the best of them will take away some top prizes," said Keith McGowan, chairman of Spirit of the West Cowboy Gathering event committee.

Chuck wagons from Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, British Columbia and Alberta have been invited to participate this year. The event, in cooperation with the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the American Chuck Wagon Association, will have authentic and restored chuck wagons demonstrating cooking methods and a cook-off competition for the finale. Some of the wagons are Army surplus wagons and others have traveled the Oregon Trail.

Chuck wagons are still used on ranches today. Meal tickets are limited for the event.

Michael Martin Murphey will be leading the entertainment line-up this year. He has recorded more than 35 albums and is considered one of America's most popular cowboy singer/songwriters. Other main-stage entertainers include Dave Stamey, Bar J Wranglers, Brenn Hill, Adrian, Chris Isaacs, Sourdough Slim, Gary Allegretto and Carin Mari.

Spirit of the West organizers announced last week an additional concert will be held in collaboration with Central Washington University and the CWU symphony orchestra. This concert will contain a colonial suite, Civil War suite and a western Americana suite.

A gear and art show will also take place, with a series of demonstrations of traditional crafts. A Saturday night dance will feature the Saddle Cats, a California-based band that displays the genres of swing, cowboy ballads, blues, Tin Pan Alley, honky-tonk, string band music, polka and just about any other western style.

"I love the Spirit of the West Cowboy Gathering. I guess one reason is my favorite event changes with each year's new offerings. I first discovered the Spirit of the West through the free downtown venues. I knew some of the performers, having been introduced to them on trail rides, pack trips and campfires.

"I really enjoy good guitar picking, traditional trail songs and the wit of the cowboy poets," McGowan added.

For tickets and more information about this event, visit


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