Cowboy Jam Session: West of the Pecos |

Cowboy Jam Session: West of the Pecos

Jeri L. Dobrowski
for Tri-State Livestock News

Texas is long on history and ripe with interesting personalities. Both are represented at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering held on the campus of Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas. The event showcases artists of the Trans-Pecos–Big Bend region, with added guests from across the US and Canada.

Alpine is located within the arid, mountainous region of Texas, separated from the bulk of the Lone Star State by the Pecos River. A major tributary of the Rio Grande, the Pecos empties into it near Del Rio, the waters filling the International Amistad Reservoir. The second largest lake in Texas, it is a popular recreation venue. South of Alpine and north of the Mexican border, Big Bend National Park is another notable tourist destination.

Fort Stockton, Texas rancher and storyteller Apache Adams was among the artists featured during the 28th annual gathering held Feb. 21-22, 2014. He’s a regular. Raised on a 10,000 acre ranch bordering the Rio Grande and Big Bend National Park, Adams is a living legend. You need only to hear him tell his stories or read Don Cadden’s book Tied Hard and Fast: Apache Adams, Big Bend Cowboy (2011, Outskirts Press, 155 pages, 25 photos, softover, ISBN-13: 978-1432771171) to understand.

Unlike the tall tales about Pecos Bill, Adams’ stories are real and delivered without boast or bluster. The fact that Adams rode before he could walk was a matter of necessity. Born in 1937, Adams says his family was “ahorseback every day, drank water from the river, cooked on wood stoves, and read by coal oil lamps.” He learned the ways of the vaquero from Mexicanos who worked for his father, a rancher, whose operation included 500 head of brood mares. Ranching where a section supports five to 10 head of cattle, horses are essential. At 76, Adams still saddles up for a day’s work on his ranch.

Cadden did a first-rate job of portraying Adams’ life and adventures in the book. Whether recounting his days as a Houston horseshoer or everyday tasks on the ranch – breaking mules, crossing rivers, piloting his own airplane, gathering wild cattle, goats, and burros, or tracking cattle thieves – the stories are captivating. Photos add to the appeal. (For more on the book see

Tied Hard and Fast retails for $15.95 (plus $3 shipping) from Don Cadden, HC 65 Box 28-V, Alpine, TX 79830; (432) 364-2520; It is also available from online book sellers.

Ranch-raised singer and songwriter Craig Carter from Marathon, Texas, was another local appearing at the gathering. Mournful and contemplative or upbeat and danceable, many of Carter’s country-western songs bear a Spanish influence. He and his Spur of the Moment Band have a solid following of fans who appreciate the group’s old school “border country” sound. Carter has toured Europe where he’s known not only for his music, but also as the host of a Western-themed TV show.

For those who lament the direction today’s country-western music has gone, rejoice. Carter’s 12-track Texas Frontier album is a breath of fresh air. With his authentic western writing and talented studio players on keyboards, fiddle, and steel guitar, there’s a lot to like about this album. It has earned a place among my favorite travel CDs. The miles melt away with Carter’s original songs spinning, some reminiscent of Dwight Yoakam and Jimmy Buffett. Four tracks stand out as favorites: “Lorena,” “Texas Frontier,” “Because of You,” and “Let Go.”

Texas Frontier sells for $16 (postpaid) from Craig Carter, PO Box 94, Marathon, TX 79842; (323) 697-2808;

Alpine is home to renowned cowboy poet Joel Nelson. He is joined by fellow reciters Andy Hedges and Jerry Brooks on a collective recitation of “Anthem” written by Buck Ramsey: A project of the Nevada Museum of Art and the Western Folklife Center, it was filmed near Alpine. Often called the spiritual leader of the cowboy poetry movement, Ramsey (1938-1998) hailed from Texas. For more on Ramsey and “Anthem,” the prologue to his epic poem “Grass,” see