Dee Strickland Johnson, one of the headliners for this weekend's First Annual Rim Country Western Heritage Festival, grew up around music and poetry, but she fell into cowboy poetry almost by chance.
"My entire family was very musical, especially my dad, and my mother was a writer and a poet," Dee recalled. "Music and poetry were just big parts of my life."
Dee also sang at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Ark., where she and husband John owned a ranch. "John is an electrical engineer and he was in charge of sound at the auditorium. My kids and I sang there three times a week," she said.
"We performed old-time country music, which they defined as anything written before 1935. But I also did other kinds of folk music."
After retiring from a career as a high school history and drama teacher, including a stint at Payson High School, Dee decided to pursue her singing career in earnest. "While I was teaching, I really didn't have time for anything else," she said.
It was while appearing at the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering in Prescott that she first became interested in cowboy poetry. "I had been asked there to sing," she said, "but some of the cowboy poets on the program really got to me.
"On the way home to Payson, I kept pulling off the road to write down lines of cowboy poems that were in my head. When I sorted them out later, I ended up with my first two cowboy poems.
One was "Old Hank Morgan's Place." The line she pulled off the road to write, "We would meet beside the windmill on old Hank Morgan's place," was inspired by a windmill she had just driven past."
The other poem, "A Cowman's Wife," was based on the thought that a cowboy's love of the land can be every bit as intense as loving a person.
Now Dee, whose stage name is "Buckshot Dot," is a regular cowboy poet at the Prescott gathering, which is held each year in August. And she's also performed at the mother of all cowboy poetry gatherings in Elko, Nev., and at festivals in 13 states and British Columbia.
She has high hopes for the Rim country event unfolding this weekend. "I've wanted to see an event like this in Payson for a long time. It fits in so well with what we're all about here, with our heritage and our history.
"An outside entrepreneur came into Payson a few years back and tried to stage a couple cowboy poetry events. We had a lot of fun, but nobody came," she recalled with a laugh.
This Saturday, Sept. 2, you can see Dee and several of Arizona's best cowboy poets and storytellers at the new festival in Green Valley Park. From noon to 2 p.m. the poets will be performing free outside the Rim Country Museum along with Eddie Armer's Bunkhouse Band. Then at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. they'll appear in concert inside the museum, with its Grazin' Saddles and western art exhibits serving as a dramatic backdrop. Tickets for those concerts are $5, and seating is extremely limited.
Despite the awards and acclaim Dee has received over the years, including Female Cowboy Poet of the Year, the compliment that means the most to her is one that came from a real cowboy.
"I was performing in Sierra Vista, and afterward this old cowboy named Al Culver came up to me and said, 'Lady, you're a kick in the britches.'"