Jeri L. Dobrowski: Passing along family and cultural traditions |

Jeri L. Dobrowski: Passing along family and cultural traditions

There’s a brisk 22-mile-per-hour breeze blowing from the northwest today. It’s perfect for winnowing the chaff and pod hulls from dried beans and black-eyed peas. This past winter, as we were planning our garden, I came across an account of my Great-Grandmother Warkins raising Great Northern beans as a cash crop. It inspired me to plant dry, edible beans in our garden this year.

The story, handed down from my paternal grandmother’s family, tells how Grandma Warkins planted a large patch – several acres in size – of beans. Her children, my grandmother included, tended, hoed and harvested the patch. Keeping back what they needed for their staple meal of cornbread and beans, Grandma Jessie hauled the rest to Miles City, MT, a 10-day, 130-mile trek through rugged hills, over a gumbo prairie, and up and down precipitous creek banks. The proceeds paid for winter supplies for the family

Family traditions can be born of necessity or fueled by celebration. From western Canada to southern Oklahoma, this month the focus is on preserving and passing down traditions.

Canadian poet and songwriter Mag Mawhinney preserved her experiences from the Canadian West in a 31-track CD of original Western/cowboy works entitled Passin’ It On: Cowboy Poems and Songs. Abe Zacharias provides background guitar accompaniment for the poems and lends his voice on the vocals.

Born in Duncan, British Columbia, Mawhinney lived in a float house on Vancouver Island and later in the Cariboo Region near 100 Mile House. Set north of the Medicine Line, her stories have a wilderness flavor about them. Still, there’s a common thread to be savored in “Christmas on the Homestead,” with its exceptional imagery of days past; in “Winter Range,” about hauling water to cattle; and in “The Standup Radio,” which reminded me of my grandfather’s cabinet radio that stood near his chair. For an audio sample, go to Additional information and poems are at

Passin’ It On is available for $15 Canadian (postpaid; PayPal or check) in the US and Canada from Mag Mawhinney, 835 Chapman Rd., Cobble Hill, B.C., Canada V0R 1L4; Mag’s new 122-page book, with 8-song CD, entitled Western Spirit is $30 Canadian from the same address.

Rancher, author, storyteller, Crow elder, and past Montana Poet Laureate, Henry Real Bird, shares tribal traditions in Rivers of Horse, a 23-track CD. Recorded and produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis, Real Bird intertwines his native tongue with English as he relates proud and painful traditions passed down among his people. It is a frank and enlightening collection.

In a delivery that is both spoken and sung, Real Bird probes his culture through the generations, going far beyond the feathers and finery displayed at pow wows. Describing the importance of the horse to the Crow, he says great horses made great warriors; great horses made a great people. Amid mentions of gathering wild turnips and a litany of names bestowed by a horse culture, Real Bird addresses contemporary topics such as “Alcohol Fetal Syndrome.” For more about Henry Real Bird, his poetry and books, see

Rivers of Horse is available for $18 (postpaid) from Lucy Whiteman Runs Him, P.O. Box 144, Garryowen, MT, 59031. Real Bird’s Horse Tracks, published in 2010 by Lost Horse Press, was the recipient of Montana’s 2011 High Plains Book Award. It is $23 from the same address.

Ken Cook, who hangs his hat in Martin, SD, and Jay Snider, who hails from Cyril, OK, teamed up to share insights into their work-a-day worlds in a chapbook entitled Passing It On: Poetry by Great Plains Cowboys (Lamesteer Publishing, 2012, 56 pages, illustrations, audio CD, ISBN: 978-0-9857659-0-3). Artwork by Tyler Crow and Roger Archibald enhances the selections, 10 of which are included on an audio CD tucked in at the back of the book.

Raised at opposing ends of the Great Plains, Cook ( and Snider ( share a deep respect for family and acquaintances who passed cowboy and ranching traditions on to them through their words and deeds. They are doing the same for a new generation, through the medium of poetry. Both are favorites at cowboy gatherings across the country. Those who are already familiar with them will certainly want to add this book to their collection. Those who are not will find two-for-the-price-of-one satisfaction awaiting between the covers.

Passing It On is available for $20 (postpaid) from Ken Cook, 23154 Teal Lane, Martin, SD, 57551-6601, (605) 685-6749,, and/or Jay Snider, Rt. 1, Box 167, Cyril, OK, 73029;