2011 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, Nevada
The 27th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering held in Elko,
Nevada January 24 - 29, 2011 welcomed special guests from the
Hungarian puszta, grassland that covers most of the eastern
half of the country of Hungary.
It is the largest contiguous grasslands in Europe, comparable
to the pampas of Argentina or the Great Plains of the United States.
The puszta is home to the legendary Hungarian horsemen, or
csikósok, who have tended
and defended their herds of horses and grey longhorn Hungarian
cattle since the Magyars first crossed into the area of the
Carpathian Basin over a thousand years ago.
Imre Juhasz, Erika Molnar, Agi
Kemescei, and Imre Nagy.
In center is their American host Gail Steiger.
Hungarian guests live in the Hortobágy National Park on the
puszta, the herders wear the traditional garb of the nineteenth
century: loose-fitting royal blue shirts and pants, with black
boots, a thick belt, a black vest, and a broad-brimmed hat with a
feather in it. The park serves as a wildlife sanctuary for migrating
birds; as a center for the cultural heritage of the herdsmen; and as
a preserve for traditional forms of agriculture, including the old
animal breeds of Hungary.
Visitors to Hortobágy National Park are taken around in horse-drawn
wagons to see the indigenous breeds of animals and to witness a
horse show. Small museums in the village of Hortobágy display the
artifacts of a bygone day, while a crafts village allows travelers
to watch craftsmen creating a wide variety of products. The national
stud or equestrian center is located here, and horseback-riding
excursions are offered.
Erika Molnar demonstrates
disappointing, the Hungarian economy is in very bad shape, and it is
said in Hungary that the
csikós and other herdsmen are a dying breed that is being phased
out by mechanization, agribusiness, and a relentless economic crisis
that dates back many years.
as a people originated in Siberia, east of the Ural Mountains, where
they were primarily nomadic herders of livestock. Warfare with other
tribes and other factors eventually led the
Magyars to move westward,
arriving in the Carpathian Basin about the year 896 as seven
distinct tribes. Absorbing or expelling the local tribal peoples,
the Hungarians found the country ideal for stock-raising, and basic
agriculture. The Hungarian language is unrelated to any western
European language and has only minimal resemblance to its distant
cousins, Finnish and Estonian. The diet is heavy on meat, lard,
noodles, potatoes, bread, and cheese.
their horsemanship and animal husbandry, the csikosók have
traditionally relied upon the vast grasslands of the puszta
for grazing and livelihood. They have much in common with horsemen
and cattlemen in other parts of the world, including the American
cowboy. The 2011 Poetry Gathering explored this common ground
through conversations with Hungarian horsemen, performances of
pastoral music and poetry, workshops, and an exhibition on Hungarian
csikos and herding culture.
Gail Steiger of Prescott, Arizona, who was instrumental in
bringing the Hungarian guests to Elko, pointed out how quickly
things can change in the political world and how important it is for
us to preserve and understand our traditions and agricultural
Imre Juhasz, and Imre Nagy demonstrate
Hungarian herder braiding craft.
The Western Folklife Center has for years been reaching out to
herding cultures around the world, bringing representatives to the
National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, to sing songs and tell
stories or recite poetry about their lives. The WFC has taken
Americans on reciprocal trips to visit ranching communities in
Mongolia, Brazil, Argentina, and France. These exchanges bring
people together, building on things they have in common, encouraging
mutual understanding and appreciation. They also help preserve
traditions and knowledge about living simply, in sustainable ways.
matter what country you live in, livestock needs someone to do the
daily chores . Hungarian herders are no exception, they tend to
Article by Mike Laughlin
Photos by Lee