Monday, August 20, 2007

"Colen Sweeten Remembered" By: Wayne Nelson

Just inside the lobby of the Convention Center in Elko back in 1991, there was a bulletin board where, if you had extra tickets to one of the many wonderful events put on by the Folklife Center, you could get your money back by advertising them there. I desperately wanted to see the night show in the main auditorium which had long since been sold out, and was scanning the board for the fifth or sixth time that Saturday morning. Just as I was about to give up, a man in advancing years approached and pinned up an extra ticket to the night show. I immediately reached for my wallet and snagged that ticket, feeling like I’d just won the Lotto! I thanked him profusely and we introduced ourselves. His firm, lingering handshake was full of warmth. As we chatted, I looked into a friendly face composed of features that bespoke strength, wisdom, determination and the ruggedness needed to carve out a living in our harsh, but beautiful, West. Most notable of all was the pair of honest, unassuming eyes, framed by a pair of horn rimmed glasses, which embellished an already owlish appearance, shaded by a pair of bristling, bushy eyebrows. A wide, thinlipped mouth that seemed always ready to break into a quick and friendly smile, then return to more serious subjects. High cheekbones and a strong chin above a sinewy, corded neck.

Except for the plain western cut business suit, you’d think he’d just stepped off a tractor in a hayfield or a well trained cow horse.

He had that extra ticket because his wife, Ruth, was needed at home. The seats were numbered with the tickets so we sat together and enjoyed the show, which featured a Mexican horse trainer who taught his mounts to dance out on the stage on two legs! Colen whispered to me how intently the horses watched their trainer, how important it was to keep the attention of an animal to perform such feats.

After the show we talked further, traded tapes, and when he found out that I, too, was an Idahoan, he suggested joining Cowboy Poets of Idaho. I did, and it made one of the most rewarding changes in my life.

Colen knew horses. He grew up at a time when all the work was done by them. He was a small boy in the Curlew Valley in the 1920’s when a J.C. Penney store first opened up in Malad. Colen needed shoes, so a rare trip to town was in order. There was a big selection of colors available and when the clerk asked the tiny boy which ones he liked best, he replied, “The sorrel pair!”
The clerk burst out laughing and it embarrassed Colen, who at that tender age, knew no other way to describe colors. They were better looking than the blacks or bays or palominos, or even the buckskins!

Growing up on a ranch that his father had homesteaded in the Curlew Valley nurtured the youngster to early manhood. He was called to serve his country in World War Two as a radar operator. He returned afterwards to farming and livestock. Never idle with his body or his mind, he continued his education when and where he could. A number of part time jobs kept him occupied, and were the subject of many funny and fascinating stories. One in particular was when he and his brother, George delivered rural kids to school in a dilapidated old bus that was made before the fuel pump was developed. The gas was all gravity fed from the higher than engine fuel tank. To keep the engine from stalling out when they came to those steep South Idaho hills, one would drive while the other sat on the fender, pouring gas into the carburetor!

Colen wrote poetry for and about cow people. His first book of Cowboy Poetry ( that I have ) was first published in 1980, five years before the first groundbreaking Elko Gathering, for which he was present. He was one of the few cowboy poets to be featured on the Johnny Carson Show, and has shared the stage with Baxter Black, Waddy Mitchell, Wally McRea, and often Michael Martin Murphy, who displayed his fondness for Colen by writing the forward in “Hoofprints and Heartbeats”, which Colen published in 1996.

History was a subject that Colen studied with great zeal. He burned much midnight oil poring over old documents which he came across often in his 21 years as the Oneida County Clerk, finding time to write several books and articles of historical nature, mostly about the Curlew Valley and the country around Holbrook, his boyhood home.

Patriotism ran deep in Colen Sweeten. He lamented to me on the phone one day about returning an American Flag to the store when he found it was made in China. He gave many presentations on patriotic stories to a wide variety of audiences.

Colen was deeply spiritual. He worshipped, taught, preached, counseled and led his fellow parishioners with a rock solid faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Colen loved kids. His face always lit up when they were around. They were always the first ones he talked to in a roomful of people. To illustrate I’ll give an excerpt from his book, “Father and Son” Copyright 1980:

“The other night as I was about to retire, I walked into the bedroom where my small son was undressing. As he tugged at his shoe, he looked up and said, ‘Next time we sleep out in the mountains, Dad, I am going to sleep in the old sleeping bag and let you try the new one. It sure is neat!’

This unexpected outburst set me back a little. I started to speak, then something stopped me. I just looked at him. I think I was about to say something like this:
‘Oh, no, that old sleeping bag was good enough for me in the war, it was good enough for Scout Master, and it was just fine for elk hunting trips into the wilds. I like it. You keep the new one.’

I looked down at the 8-year old boy pulling at his shoelace. At that moment he looked so unselfish and so satisfied that it finally struck me that this was a great moment for him.
It could be a great opportunity for me, also. I put my hand on his head and gently ruffled his hair.
‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘I’d like that very much. It was nice of you to think of it.”

Colen H. Sweeten rode across the “Great Divide” August 15, 2007. He led a long life filled with love for God’s creatures, his fellow man, and the wide open spaces that we all write, recite and sing about. He leaves a legacy that we can only strive to fill. His words and the hoofbeats of his many ponies will echo forever in the Curlew Valley and in our hearts.

Wayne Nelson August 19, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Colen Sweeten Passes Away

Howdy all:

Sad news for us all. Colen Sweeten, one of the nations most noted Cowboy Poets, died of Cancer in Springville, Utah on August 15th, 2007.

The following funeral info is from Becky Muench.

Tuesday, August 21st at noon in Malad, Idaho at the LDS Church House located at 1250 W. 1100 N.

There will be a viewing on Monday night, the 20th from 6-8at the Horsley Funeral Home in Malad, located at 132 W. 300 N.

There will also be a viewing from 11 a.m. to noon on Tuesday right before the funeral at the Horsley Funeral Home then the family will follow in procession to the church house for the funeral.

There is an obituary printed in the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune.The Deseret News link is:?

If you would like to send cards or letters to his wife, Ruth, her address is:

286 S. 1700 E.
Springville, UT? 84663

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Bottoms up" picture

My friend, "Montana Bob" took this picture at the Lewis and Clark Stampede and Fair this year.

Welcome to Rodeo!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Day Use Area, No Overnight Camping

“Day use area only. No overnight camping.” This seems to have become the unofficial mantra of the US Forest Service and the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks, at least in the West Yellowstone/Madison River areas.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that if camping were indiscriminately allowed everywhere that the littering problem would increase and so would the numbers of campers and tents on all our public lands. I don’t want to have a tent or a trailer every 50 feet or so along the Madison any more than anyone else. But, there has to be some way to fix it so that our public(?) lands are available for our use.

Here’s my problem. I travel a lot to and from music shows throughout the Northwest. Lots of miles, many of them at night after pretty full days. When I get sleepy on the road, I would like to stop and take a nap for a while instead of being a half-awake road hazard. But, since I drive a pickup with a (horrors!) camper on the back, if I stop at any of our “public” facilities, it won’t be long before someone with a badge comes to at least wake me up and move me on my way if not outright cite me for violating the “Day use area only. No overnight camping.” Rule. Maybe, instead of getting into my camper and laying down on my comfortable bed for a couple of hours, I should just lay down on the seat of the pickup (fat chance, with all the crap I have on the seat with me) so that it’s obvious that I’m sleeping, not camping. Or, confine my on-the-road sleeping to daylight hours.

Montana FWP manages many fishing access sites along the rivers and streams in our state. Along the Madison, from West Yellowstone to Ennis, the only one relatively close to the road Where I can legally stop and sleep is at Raynolds Pass Bridge. Why? There are no real differences between any of the FA sites that I looked at. They all maintain a toilet and have parking area and that’s about it. There’s no reason why we can’t stay overnight at the other FASs except that some bureaucrat somewhere decided that no one should. In addition, the Ennis FAS is a FEE CAMPING area and is no different from any of the others along the river. So, if I stop at the Ennis FAS for a few hours, the badges can come make me pay up, even though I wasn’t “camping” overnight. This isn’t right.

I’d like to see the Montana Dept of Fish Wildlife and Parks change the policy at their Fishing Access Sites to allow overnight camping, just like at Raynolds Pass. No fee. We pay enough fees to the state already. Why not? It doesn’t cost anything, except a little white paint to paint out the “Day use area” line on each FAS sign. Then, maybe all the public could use our public lands instead of just those who are there to fish. We all paid for it in one way or another.