Cowboy Poets Aren't All The Same; Here's One, Pardner, Who's A Dame

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Dee Strickland Johnson, aka "Buckshot Dot," may have been named "Female Cowboy Poet of the Year" by the national Academy of Western Artists in 1997.

And for her Saturday appearance at the First Annual Rim Country Western Heritage Festival in Green Valley park, this Payson/Phoenix resident may be billed as a poet, singer, author, artist and historian.

But there's another descriptive noun that leaps to mind the moment you meet her:

Entertainer.

Specifically, the kind of entertainer who can't cross a room or sit down in a chair without entertaining. Even if she's playing to an audience of one.

All cowboy poets, for example, could be fairly classified as storytellers. But Johnson is a story inhabitor.

When she spins her tales whether they be of true or highly doubtful origin she plays all the parts, does all the voices (dialects included when necessary), makes all the faces, and assumes as many different sets of body language as there are characters in the piece.

And when Johnson recites her poetry which is, after all, what she's most famous for she somehow manages to transport you to a mental cowboy's campfire out where the tumbling tumbleweeds tumble.

But when the poem's punchline comes there is often a punchline you realize something else about Johnson.

This is one unusually funny cowgirl.

Take, for example, her most recent, "Recipe for Rough."

A little boy climbed on his grandfather's knee,

Said "Grandpa, how come you're so tough?

You rope and you ride, and you chew on rawhide.

What makes you so rugged and rough?"

The old cowboy grinned; said "I'll let you in

On my little secret for roughness:

Gunpowder on oatmeal for breakfast each day!

That's sure to assure tough-enoughness!"

Well, the little boy did as his grandpa had said,

Gunpowder for breakfast is great!

He died hale and hearty at his own birthday party

At the age of one-hundred and eight.

He left 17 kids, 40 grandkids,

67 great-grandkids in all;

He also left, when he died, a hole 15-feet wide

In the thick crematorium wall.

One might guess that the creative influences in Johnson's life were, oh, Dale Evans, Minnie Pearl or the Grand Ol' Opry.

One would be wrong. In fact, it is quite easy for Johnson to pinpoint the sole influence on her unusual career path.

"My father," she says. "He was the only influence I ever had. We've never watched television. We don't go to movies. We enjoy classical music. We don't listen to anybody in the Western music field. But I do folk music and a lot of folk music is cowboy music. That's what my Dad sang.

"I grew up singing and dancing with my Dad. He was such a happy, cheerful person you couldn't help but get caught up in the joy of it."

Born in Flagstaff and raised on the Navajo and Hualapai Indian reservations, Johnson discovered marriage (to husband John), kids (they adopted three) and teaching (American history and drama) long before she discovered prairie rhyming a mere seven years ago.

Within four years of that momentous occasion, Johnson self-published two books of poetry and won the Female Cowboy Poet of the Year award.

Since then, she's recorded a live-performance video, two audio cassettes and a soon-to-be-released CD all of which are available for purchase at Johnson's performances and Web site (www.BuckshotDot.com).

As if all that weren't time-consuming enough, Johnson is now in the process of finishing her third poetry book while traveling all over the country performing in cowboy poet gatherings much like this weekend's Rim Country Western Heritage Festival.

"I always take somebody with me because my mind is so disconnected," she says with a laugh. "I've got so much going on trying to figure out where I'm going next, I've got my guitar and my camera and my briefcase. I'm always leaving something somewhere. So I need somebody to look after me."

There will be plenty of folks looking after Johnson at Green Valley Park this weekend, when she performs along with three additional cowboy poets a "top flight" group she's assembled herself a gaggle of Western authors signing and selling their wares, and the live cowboy music of Eddie Armer's Bunkhouse Band.

"Cowboy poetry has been going on for years and years and years," Johnson explains. "You see the pictures of the cowboys around the campfire. Half of them couldn't sing. They were reciting poetry. Very often it was stuff they themselves had written. Or they would take a song like 'The Old Chisum Trail' which originally had 82 verses nobody could remember and add to it.

"And they really did sing to the cattle. That's not fictional. They sang to the cattle to keep them quiet and let them know there was somebody around to protect them and to cover up the night sounds.

"Of course, nobody had a guitar. That didn't come along until the Sears-Roebuck catalog. But once in a while there'd be a fiddle in the chuck wagon. And if someone could play it, or a harmonica or a jew's harp, they were sought-after as entertainment."

Much like Dee Strickland Johnson.

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