Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Saddle Up, Youth Performers! |

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Saddle Up, Youth Performers!

The Dakota Western Heritage Festival will be celebrating its ninth year September 13 – 15, 2019. From a germ of an idea planted by Yvonne Hollenbeck the event has grown each year, always focused on educating and entertaining the public. We live as close to the open range country as anyone does, being residents of western South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana, yet much of our history and traditions have faded away in a few short generations. Our goal is to reverse that trend by providing exhibits of our history, including saddles made by South Dakota saddle makers, past and present, antique quilts, wagons, horse gear, demonstrations by boot makers, hat makers, rope makers, silversmiths and etchers, braiders and many others, including a wheelwright who demonstrates the craft of building a wagon wheel, a farrier and a blacksmith. These all represent part of daily life for our ancestors, and we hope to keep that part of history fresh.

We also do this through music and poetry from our freedom stage. Performers, the majority who are the “real deal”, with their day jobs listed as being a cowboy, perform original and traditional music and poetry that reflects the life of the cowboy and homesteader. We have amazing performers throughout this country, and it is a testament to their passion for the cowboy life that they travel and perform at gatherings all over the West.

We are focusing on the youth this year, making a big push to excite and encourage youth to participate in a talent contest by writing original poetry and music with an eye on performing on stage at the Festival in September. We have enlisted, among others, Miss “V”, a true-blue settler that has lived a primitive life on a ranch for several years, doing all the work with horses, mowing, stacking hay, logging, plowing, etc. She also is a great musician, building her own banjos and writing songs of her life experience. She has spent considerable time in the surrounding schools this winter introducing grade school through high school students to the opportunity of not only writing poetry and music reflecting their lives on farms and ranches, but giving them a reason to talk to parents and grandparents about how their daily lives were a generation or two ago. Student’s work must be submitted by July 1, to be judged by veteran performers for originality and content. There are age groups that will be reflected in the judging also. The winners will be awarded with over $1,500 total cash prizes, a plaque and the opportunity of reciting their poem or performing their music on the freedom stage as part of the awards ceremony.

The only way the traditions and history of our country are going to survive is through our youth. We hope to instill in them the importance of that history and encourage them to preserve it and hand it down to their children. I hope that this article finds youth that are interested in being part of the Festival. If you would like an entry form or more information, please contact me at: You can check the Festival out on Facebook under ’Dakota Western Heritage Festival’. We have over thirty unique western vendors on hand, and if you want to go on the one day wagon train, bring your saddle horse or team and wagon and explore the beautiful country along the Bad River. There is a charge for the wagon train of $40.00, all other activities are free, no gate admission. The event is held in the huge Expo Center in Ft. Pierre, so rain or shine people can enjoy a taste of the Old West. Come join us!

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