by Jim Keyworth
Cowboy poet and songstress Dee Strickland Johnson of Mesa del Caballo, who performs under the name Buckshot Dot, has been nominated for two awards by the Academy of Western Artists for her first videotape. The video, "Buckshot Dot: Live the Pioneer, Arizona," was nominated for best video. An original song from the video, "Old Hank Morgan's Place," was nominated in the best song category. In addition, the Western Music Association has nominated Johnson for 1999 Performer of the Year.
Johnson taped the video before a live audience at the Old Opera House, which was built in 1876, on the grounds of the pioneer Arizona Living History Museum near Phoenix. In the video, she evokes the transfixing tales and colorful characters that were an integral part of the cowboy era.
In addition to "Old Hank Morgan's Place," the video features nine original cowboy songs and poems by Buckshot Dot, including "Tomboy," "Dark-eyed Stranger," "The Hanging Tree," and "Crooked Trail to Holbrook." The tape, which also includes many of Buckshot Dot's original western drawings and a poem written by her mother, concludes with a sing-along version of the western classic "Ragtime Cowboy Joe."
The Old Opera House originally stood in Prescott, Ariz. a rough and tumble mining town 75 miles north of Phoenix. It was dismantled to make way for progress and moved brick by brick to the Living History Museum. In Prescott's heyday, the storied landmark hosted performances by such notorious characters as Jersey Lily Langtree, the beautiful British actress known for her scandalous affair with King Edward VII
According to legend, some of the opera house's occupants came along when it was moved. The dressing rooms are said to be haunted to this day. On the video, Johnson recounts the frightening legend of the haunted opera house backed by an original score she plays on a mountain dulcimer.
Given her Old West upbringing, Johnson's commitment to preserving its heritage is not surprising. The retired American history teacher grew up in Arizona's Petrified Forest and on the Navajo and Hualapai Indian reservations in a home filled with music, art, and dance. She also lived on a farm in Idaho and on a ranch in Arkansas.
One of Johnson's most vivid childhood memories is of an event that occurred on the Hualapai Reservation during the Great Depression.
"I dreamed of becoming a cowboy some day and wanted a horse so much," she said. "The wild mustangs used to run in an area of the reservation above and below the Grand Canyon Rim. There were several herds, including one of the little horses.
"One day we went on a picnic, and my dad said I could keep one of the little mustangs if I could catch it. Of course he was only kidding, but at the time, I thought him dead serious. The rest of the day I hid behind the sagebrush and ran after that herd whenever it got anywhere near. I tried so hard, my poor little lungs nearly burst."
In addition to such rugged childhood experiences, Johnson draws on family traditions, Western history, and tall tales to create the rich imagery in her poems and songs.
Recipient of the Academy of Western Artists' Will Rogers Award as 1997 Female Cowboy Poet of the Year and a finalist in 1998, Johnson performs at festivals and other venues throughout Arizona and around the nation. She also has published two volumes of Western poetry. Copies of her video can be obtained by sending $19.95 plus $2 shipping and handling to Buckshot Dot, HC3 Box 593F, Payson, AZ 85541.
"Dee has been entertaining audiences with her rich voice, accomplished guitar and huge repertoire of songs for many years," Warren Miller of Prescott's Sharlot Hall Museum said. "As you listen to her work, you'll find a depth that surpasses words and gets right to the heart."